Don't Forget to Look Down!
My day trip to Ricketts Glen was carefully planned. A pair of calls to the park office gave me redundant information. Both individuals indicated that the leaves in the falls ravines were going to be peak and one said that the water flow was good (that was necessary for waterfalls of course). This information aligned perfectly with the weather forecast calling for very light wind (enabling flora to remain still for long exposures), heavy cloud cover (keeps lighting low and free of harsh shadows) and light rain likely throughout the day (keeps the crowds at home, out of the frame and provides saturated colors).
After driving 1.5 hours in the fog, I arrived to find ... no wind. The leaves were indeed peak, but they were peak at the top of the mountain – not down in the deep falls ravines. The fog cleared to a mostly sunny sky and my opinion of a good water flow differs greatly from the person I talked to.
Fortunately, there are always great photo opportunities in this park. And, after photographing in the early morning shade for over an hour, the clouds eventually came and were present for a number of hours, creating good light.
Especially high up in the falls trails, there were some good leaves, but ... many of them were on the ground. However, the ground can be a great place to photograph leaves, especially when they are wet from a stream they have fallen into or nearby. During the fall, especially late in the local fall foliage season, look for colorful leaves on the ground that can be worked into an image.
Don't forget to use a circular polarizer filter to reduce glare and increase saturation of these leaves. The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens was the only lens I used this day. I didn't need a focal length that it didn't contain and the image quality coming from this lens is very impressive.
35mm f/11.0 6s ISO 100
Fern-Covered Rock and Hidden Falls, Rickets Glen State Park
Wildlife photographers can spend many days or weeks working with the same subject at the same location and, due to ever-changing behaviors of their subjects, they can continuously capture unique images. Sports photographers have unique action at every game/meet/match/race/etc. at the same field/track/event location. Street photographer are always finding new entertainment at the same locations. Wedding, event and portrait photographers have a steady stream of new subjects coming through the same locations. But you, landscape (and cityscape) photographer, usually find the same subjects in the same positions each time you go back. However, you still have reasons for going back.
Basically, you most often go back in hopes that something might be different this time.
Perhaps you didn't get it right the first time. You didn't provide adequate depth of field or didn't focus to the right distance to keep everything in the image sharp. Or, perhaps you want to use a wider aperture lens to better define the primary subject. Perhaps the focal choice was not ideal and part of the scene was cropped too tightly. Maybe you were too close or too far away and didn't get the ideal perspective. You want to move up/down, left/right or closer/farther to get it right the next time.
You now have better skills. Closely aligned with getting it right this time are your improved photography skills. You are now better at reading a scene and better able to select the composition, perhaps including a foreground element or better aligning the background within the foreground framing.
You go back to work on your creativity. The more bored you become with photographing a scene, the more likely you are going to find a creative new way to photograph it.
You go back because you have better gear. While we sometimes think that camera and lens technology is not moving forward fast enough, what is available today is far better than what was available not long ago. Taking your new camera(s) and lens(es) to a past-visited favorite location is an easy recipe for bettering your portfolio. Your higher resolution, lower noise camera and sharper lens will create results that look better, especially at high resolution. Taking a circular polarizer filter, a neutral density filter, etc. that you did not originally have can make a huge difference in your repeat visit results.
You go back in hopes for better weather conditions. You hope for better skies, a better sunrise, a better sunset, better clouds, more/less fog, less (or possibly more) wind, warmer light, etc. Everyone loves a fiery sunrise or sunset and those don't happen every day – you might need to go back repeatedly to find these. Fog? Some locations have it with some regularity, but many others have it only occasionally.
You go back because the timing is different or better. You may have better water flow, creating better waterfalls that give images a completely different look, one well worth the effort of a revisit. The seasons of the year provide a very different look to many locations. Spring brings bright green foliage and (usually) good water flow. Summer brings darker foliage and warmer weather (required for the snow to melt enough to access some areas). Late summer and fall brings amazing color to the trees in many areas. Winter brings snow, completely redecorating the landscape.
The timing of the visit also dictates the position of the celestial bodies. Go back when the sun, moon and/or stars (the milky way) are better aligned. Perhaps the sun shines between two mountain peaks at a certain time of the year. Perhaps you want to go back when the milky way is best aligned over a scene. The same applies to the moon with a specific desired phase and position.
Perhaps the scene has indeed changed and is no longer physically the same. While there are not usually macro changes occurring to landscape without a significant environmental disaster (such as a tornado, hurricane, fire, etc.), micro changes frequently happen. Trees fall, erosion occurs, sediment moves in streams during strong flows and fields have a different crop in rotation. If the scene is significantly altered, new images will be more current than those taken before the alteration. Before and after photos may be valued in this case.
Sometimes, you go back just because things can happen. Wildlife showing up can add a prize-winning element to any image.
If you are considering going back, the location is probably amazing and somewhere you love to be. That alone is a great reason to go back as just being there is awesome. There is no reason why the same location cannot be enjoyed time and time again. If you like the location that much, perhaps you want to share it with a friend or friends.
You go back because the location is a known entity. You know that it is repeatedly good for a quality image – an image worth sharing is sure to come out of the effort.
You go back for practice. If the location is relatively close to home, visiting the location to practice skills and technique prior to a big photo trip is a great idea. Unlike riding a bike, more like distance running, photography requires practice to stay in top shape. It also affords the opportunity to test the camera gear that will accompany you on the trip.
Again, a primary reason to go back is that something might be different this time and the reason that different is desirable is for, minimally, variation and, ideally, for bettering. Photographers are constantly striving to better what we have already done, to raise the bar, to take another step forward in our passion/profession.
The previous time I visited Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, was convenient, but not so well-timed for photography. It was mid-summer (not bad in itself). The sun was high and the leaves were green. The sky was forest fire-hazy. While my cameras and lenses were the best-available at the time, they were not as good as those I'm using today. I was happy with my results at the time, but they do not hold nearly as much value to me from a photographical perspective now.
Recently, I was blessed with a revisit to this very photogenic location. And, the results from my revisit were much higher grade in many accounts. Though I'm missing the moose that was in my first set of images (it was so small in the frame that I didn't know it was even there until reviewing the images back at home), but my late summer (photographer's fall in this location), early morning timing for the second visit to Oxbow Bend combined with my now-current camera gear and 9-year-upgraded skillset turned in much better results this time around. I'm sharing one of my favorites with you today.
16mm f/11.0 1s ISO 100
World Trade Center Transportation Hub
The World Trade Center Transportation Hub, or "Oculus", is a relatively new addition to New York City and, immediately upon seeing the unique architecture of this structure, looking something like a monster coming out of the streets of the city, my to-do list grew one line longer.
I was in the city for the PhotoPlus Expo and with the expo closing at 5:00 PM on weekdays, I always have time to go to a location not too far away, do some quick scouting and set up for a blue hour photo shoot (especially if I cut out of the show a little early). This year, I made that location the WTC Transportation Hub.
Upon arrival, I walked around the hub, looking for the best photographic angles with blue hour imagery being my primary objective. You are now looking at one of my favorite images coming out of that effort.
The first concept to share here is that the ultra-wide 16mm full frame focal length allowed me to get close enough to frame the entire structure without obstructions and because I was close and the hub was the closest building, perspective made it appear large relative to the other buildings. I included the crosswalks in the foreground because I liked how they balanced with the fins of the hub. Along with the crosswalks come a pair of streets that nicely frame the hub.
Another key to lack of obstructions in the frame came from the multiple-frame 8-second exposure composite. Moving people were blurred out of view during the exposure and those not moving were often in a different location in another frame captured just before or just after the primary one. The longer exposures come naturally when the sky starts getting darker and balancing with the lights (though a neutral density filter can also be used). The narrow f/16 aperture also helps extend the exposure time. I didn't need f/16 for the deep depth of field it provides, but in addition to extending the exposure duration, I like the starburst effect f/16 creates from bright lights, such as those on the police car on the left side of the frame.
And that brings me to another point. Before you attempt to recreate this image, check on the tripod rules for this location. As I was capturing the last frame included in this composite, with the tripod legs set narrow, between my feet (for both safety and courtesy reasons), the police officer drove over and stated "This is New York City. Tripods are not allowed on public property." Well, I have read (and experienced) otherwise, but ... some jurisdictions have their own rules (I'll have to research this one). I was tired, not interested in creating an issue and ... I already had the image I wanted. So, I moved on, though wishing that I had brought my Feisol TT-15 Mini Tripod along to make subsequent images significantly easier to capture.
16mm f/16.0 8s ISO 100
9/11 Tribute in Light, Brooklyn Bridge, One World Trade Center and Manhattan
I spent some time researching the optimal destination for my daytrip to New York City with photographing the 9/11 Tribute in Light as the primary goal. While the lights can be seen from anywhere with a view over the city, I was looking for something especially nice. I decided that the perspective from the Manhattan Bridge, as shared here, was the ultimate one for a variety of reasons.
The first is that I would have an elevated view on the city. This means the river would fill a larger portion of the frame (all things equal, water surface area fills more of the frame as the camera gets higher). Because the tribute lights need to go straight up through the frame, the camera needed to be level for both pitch and yaw. While a tilt-shift lens could have solved this issue, shooting from a higher elevation permits a higher framing of the scene.
What can be seen from this location was another reason for selecting it. Starting on the left side, Jane's Carousel is always an attractive element to have in a NYC frame. It is also hard to go wrong with the Brooklyn Bridge, One World Trade Center and the rest of the South Manhattan skyline, any of which individually make great subjects. Even the Statue of Liberty can be seen through the bridge cables on the left side. I didn't plan on the American flag being prominently featured on top of the bridge, but it is very fitting to have it in this scene.
Having water in the frame means reflections and this location had that feature. While the water was not still, there are still reflections and the reflected light colors were smoothed by the long exposure
The Manhattan bridge span is a very long one and that meant the position on the bridge needed to be selected. Because bridges move when traffic crosses them, I like to photograph over the piers where the amount of movement is minimalized. Using online maps, I verified that there was a walking area for crossing the bridge and I could see the location of the piers. I also determined that one of the bridge piers provided alignment of the tribute lights so that each was behind the pointed top of a skyscraper. That same pier appeared to also provide the best perspective of the city overall.
The plan was to arrive at Brooklyn Bridge Park (seen in the left side of this image) early enough in the afternoon to scout the primary shooting location and to find secondary locations for later use. I walked the park down to the end of Pier 1, back up to beyond the Manhattan Bridge and then proceeded up onto the bridge. The online maps clearly showed a walkway across the bridge and that was indeed present. But what I couldn't see was the high fence that bordered the entire walkway, from one end to the other. I was disappointed, but it was early and I went forward with my scouting plan on the bridge.
As I moved farther out onto the bridge span, I realized another significant problem, one that I thought was a show-stopper. This bridge had a very significant amount of vibration and when I arrived to the pre-selected pier, I discovered that this location was not insulated from that significant movement. However, I also discovered that someone had cut small holes in the fence at two places at this pier. While the holes gave me the view I needed, I didn't think there was a chance of getting a sharp long exposure image after dark.
I decided to walk the rest of the bridge span into the city. I found one more hole in the fence over the pier on the Manhattan-side of the East River, but the vibrations were no better at this location and the view from the first pier was as I wanted. I decided to head for solid ground, but upon arriving at the preferred bridge pier, I decided to attempt a long exposure image through the hole.
I set up a camera and lens and installed a 10-stop neutral density filter with a circular polarizer filter to simulate darkness. I was shocked to find that 30 second images were rather sharp. I was timing the image captures between the (very loud) subway trains passing and the long duration of the exposures were allowing the vibrations to equalize out of the final result.
As I was mentally finalizing my plans to come back for sunset and blue hour photos, another photographer arrived and began setting up at the other hole in the fence. It was only about 4:00 in the afternoon and sunset was not until 7:11 PM. But ... if other photographers were arriving already, I decided I need to stay the duration to retain my optimal shooting location.
The other person was very friendly, additional photographers began showing up and the time passed quickly. While waiting, I determined that a very-carefully placed camera and medium-sized lens without a hood could *just* fit between the about-4" diamond-shaped metal crossbars at the bottom of the fence and I was able to deploy a second camera and tripod I had along.
The 90-second image shared here was captured just after 8:00 PM with the shutter being opened just after the ferry entered the frame, creating a long streak of colorful lights.
This is a single-frame capture with the Brooklyn Bridge Park area being brightened slightly. The blue channel was boosted for a cool look and saturation was increased to bring out the colors.
Check out the 9/11 Tribute in Lights Reflection with One World Trade Center for more of this day's adventure.
24mm f/16.0 90s ISO 100
On the Ledge at R. B. Ricketts Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park
The timing was perfect for a visit to Ricketts Glen State Park. The new beech tree leaves were coming out with their light spring green color looking great. It had rained a significant amount the prior day and the forecast was for rain all of this day.
Waterfalls, of course, thrive on rain, rain saturates the landscape, rain requires clouds and clouds ensure even lighting, and also helpful is that rain keeps the (smarter?) potential park visitors at home and out of images. On this day, I had the Falls Trails completely to myself until I was hiking out near dark.
Rain also makes photography a bit more challenging. I was wearing Gore-Tex clothing (boots, pants, and jacket) that kept me completely dry. At least dry until I overheated a bit while hiking up out of the canyon at a fast pace with quick-drying clothing resolving that problem quickly after I was back in the car. I carried a large umbrella to work under (awkward but very helpful) and had a microfiber cloth readily available to wipe water drops from the front of the lens. When shooting waterfalls, a microfiber cloth is often needed regardless of the rain situation. Note that nano-coated filters are easy to keep clean and easily worth their additional cost on days like these. The camera and lens were in an inexpensive rain cover that I was evaluating and that is now on the to-replace list as it was not "waterproof", leaving the camera and lens wet enough that a towel was needed (get a LensCoat RainCoat). This is an example of when weather sealing can save the day.
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens were the only camera and lens that came out of my BackLight 26L on this day. It was the perfect combination for this image and all of the others I wanted. Also in the backpack was an EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens. The BackLight's rear access meant that cameras could be swapped without setting the backpack down on the very wet ground and without taking the rain cover off.
I've mentioned that I rely on my tripod for personal support at times and this was one of those. Working up onto this ledge over wet rocks was not easy and a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Carbon Fiber Tripod saved me from a serious fall when my footing broke loose. The ledge position meant that the lower tripod legs were planted rather far below me, making every inch of the "Long" length of this tripod very useful. Saving my images by cutting reflections and increasing saturation was a Breakthrough Photography circular polarizer filter. Had I forgotten this filter, I would probably have just turned around and gone home.
Overall, it was a great day in Ricketts Glenn SP. I'll likely be sharing more of the images captured on this day at some point.
With 24 named waterfalls, including some of the most photogenic falls around, Ricketts Glen State Park is waterfall photography heaven. I spent over 45 minutes capturing a variety of compositions of this falls alone and finally forced myself to move on, leaving some options for another day. If you are interested in photographing with me here, I need to know. This will likely be the destination for an upcoming waterfall photography workshop!
16mm f/11.0 5s ISO 100
Composing Symmetry, Empty Sky Memorial, Liberty State Park, NJ
When photographing a symmetrical subject, either take the time and effort to make it perfectly aligned in the frame ... or don't come close to doing so.
An image of a symmetrical subject that is perfectly symmetrically framed (or at least nearly so) usually looks great. An image of a symmetrical subject that appears intentionally non-symmetrically framed can also look great. It is when an image of a symmetrical subject is almost symmetrically framed that it appears you have made a mistake.
Some symmetrical subjects are far more forgiving than others. A tile floor is typically symmetrically unforgiving and note that any geometric distortion in a lens increases the in-camera alignment challenge. Another challenge is slight asymmetry in the subject.
This image appeared ideally aligned in-camera, but it still needed to be adjusted slightly in post-production to finish off that task. I thought I had the image ready to go when Sean mentioned that the monument was not quite perfectly straight. Measuring structure positions in Photoshop made it appear straight with some subject asymmetry showing at the bottom of the monument. A tile was lifted by a noticeable amount on the right side and the left side had stone showing on the outside of the perimeter drain that was not showing on the right, both creating optical illusions of asymmetry. I decided those fixes were needed and made some other adjustments (sometimes these small projects take on a life of their own). After revisiting the image a couple of times, I decided that Sean was still right and adjusted rotation slightly to move the image closer to perfection.
In this image, Abe Curland of B&H is carefully aligning his shot of the Empty Sky Memorial in Liberty State Park, NJ. The lines in tile flooring provide valuable assistance for finding center.
In light of the Should I Get the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III or EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens? article just posted, I'll mention that this image could have been equally captured with the less expensive Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens. The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens was my choice for this trip because I was shooting from a tripod and wanted larger-sized stars to be created from the city lights during the blue hour and after dark. I was pulling a Think Tank Photo Airport Security rolling case around the city, so gear weight was not an issue.
16mm f/11.0 0.8s ISO 100
Cascade in Ricketts Glen State Park
It was just another typical rainy weekday in Ricketts Glen State Park. It was the perfect time to take my favorite ultra-wide-angle zoom lens and landscape camera body, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens and Canon EOS 5Ds R, for a hike.
I am not aware of this cascade having a name, but I always find it photo-worthy. It is hard to go wrong with a series of lines leading into the bottom of the frame and the leading lines in the rock are the big draw to this location.
Camera height is something a photographer usually has some control over, at least within their physical reach ability or the height of their tripod if such is being used. When photographing flat water (pond, lake, ocean, slow-moving river, etc.), a higher camera position will often provide a higher percentage of the frame being filled with water than a lower camera position IF a similar overall scene framing is used. For example, photographing an ocean from a standing position with a level camera will result in far more water percentage in the frame than doing the same while lying down at the edge of the water due to the angle of view across a flat surface. Often, supporting that big IF requires that the camera angle be changed and camera angle also plays a role in determining how much of the frame is filled with water. A downward-tilted camera can include more water than a level camera.
The key is to find the right balance for the scene you are photographing and there may be multiple right answers. Work with a scene until you can find no more camera positions that work well. Then move on.
The small waterfalls seen here do not qualify as flat water, but there is still a lot of near-flat water in this scene. The right balance for this image was using an ultra-wide-angle focal length positioned with enough downward angle to show a significant amount of water and low enough to gain the right perspective to emphasize the foreground rock lines.
I don't always take the time to photograph this cascade, but especially with the wet rock bringing out strong color (saturation aided by a circular polarizer filter), I couldn't resist stopping on this day.
16mm f/11.0 1.3s ISO 100