Ever had these thoughts rolling through your mind?
When revisiting a familiar location or even one that has become a favorite, there are several things I like to do to keep it fresh. And to avoid falling into the been there, done that trap.
Sometimes I will limit myself to using only one lens. Or if using a zoom, I will restrict myself to one focal length. Another method is to use my tripod only at a low height. This can get hard on the knees, but a fresh perspective almost always reveals something new. These aren’t hard and fast rules I follow, but guidelines I use to get the creative juices flowing.
One of my favorite places to revisit is the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in southeastern Pennsylvania. It is an old iron making furnace that was in operation from 1771 until 1883. And was one of 20 or so furnaces in operation in Pennsylvania during the 1700’s and 1800’s.
I have been there many times, in good weather and in bad. But I always hope each visit will bring a new discovery. Because I understand the light and weather will most likely be different from my last visit.
On this particular spring morning, it was sunny and the temperatures were cool. So I spent a good part of the shoot outside photographing the buildings and old equipment used in the iron making business.
As the morning progressed, the temperatures quickly rose to what felt like summertime. I soon realized I was way over-dressed for the occasion. Knowing it always feels cooler inside the old restored buildings, that’s where I headed.
This is part of the old blast furnace. While I have been inside this building many times, I never witnessed the sunlight pouring down the chimney as it was on that morning. This photo was taken only with the available light in order to capture the golden color. Because of the long exposure needed to capture the light in this situation, the use of a tripod was an absolute necessity.
shutter 1/4 second
“Chase the light. Find the light. The magic is in the light.”
“The camera captures light, our mind captures images.”
“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
In essence, these quotations all say the same thing. And I do believe light truly is the key to photography. It’s what we all try to capture on film or on a digital sensor. For me, taking a second look or finding a different vantage point to capture the light is worth the effort.
These tulips were growing in a small flower bed next to the side of a building. As I approached them, I couldn’t help notice their vivid color. However, when I sat down on the ground to get to their level, and I saw the sunlight accenting the petals from that angle…that was the moment the small grouping of flowers became even more visually impressive.
I metered this shot for the flowers rather than the overall scene. Also by slowing the shutter speed one half stop from the camera’s recommended setting, the background went dark and become under-exposed. This made the flowers really pop.
Dramatic light can occur at anytime of the day or night, and not just in the early morning, late afternoon, or immediately after a major storm passes through the area. This photo was taken a few days ago, shortly after 5:00 pm.
When we left on the doggie walk yesterday morning, I saw these tulips in our next door neighbors front garden. They were still shaded from the rising sun which really made the color pop. I had to get a few shots.
Later in the day I asked our neighbors if I could photograph them the following morning.
They said “go to it!”
I told them I wanted to ask first if it was okay that some man was crawling around in their front lawn at 7:00 am with a camera.
They said they wouldn’t have even known.
Imagine another neighbor talking to them and saying “K&J, there was a prowler crawling around in the grass right in front of your window this morning. Did you call the police?”
Glad I asked first.
I know I have mentioned this in the past, but garden centers, farmers markets and other local outdoor venues can provide a wealth of photographic opportunities. This time of year in the area where I live, garden centers are my personal favorite.
Whether I am shooting indoors in a greenhouse or outdoors in the nursery, I like to wander around a bit before I get out the camera. By really looking at the displays, I see things I may have missed had I not taken the extra time to snoop around.
This is what I would like to illustrate here. The first photo is a close up of the spring flower blossoms from an Echeveria plant. The second shot is an overall view of the whole plant as I first saw it in the greenhouse. Clearly, the first photo is more dramatic. Had I not scouted the location first, I may have passed by this beautiful plant due to the uninteresting setting and distracting background.
Spending a little more time in your surroundings before picking up the camera is worth the effort.
Photo of the flowers
Photo of the overall plant
Finding good vantage points for sunrise and sunset photos in the valley near where we live is not that difficult. Most of the small country roads criss-crossing the farms and small towns in the area eventually make their way to the rims of the valley. From these vantage points, the views can extend for miles, so it’s just a matter of waiting for the right light. And for the relentless wind to end. A good sturdy tripod is a necessity.
This time of the year, we’ve been experiencing sustained winds of 10-20+ mph and gusts to about 30mph. March came in like a lion and never left. For several nights I have witnessed magnificent skies. But with the high winds, and the real-feel temperatures in the teens, it just wasn’t practical for photographing sunsets.
Finally one night the conditions eased up a bit as the sun neared the horizon. I mounted the camera on my tripod and got a few shots of this sunset. And I didn’t even have to tie sandbags, heavy boulders, or a ship’s anchor onto the tripod to keep it from blowing away.
This shot was underexposed 1 full stop from the camera’s recommended setting in order to intensify the color a bit.
Quite a few years ago, I went on a weekend hiking trip with a few of my friends on part of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. We started the hike in Port Clinton and headed up the mountain and east to our destination, which is an overlook named the Pinnacle. It is perched high on the top of Blue Mountain, near the Hawk Mountain Bird Sanctuary.
In our haste to go hiking in super October weather, we neglected to do prudent research about this part of the trail. A few steps from the trailhead begins an almost vertical climb up. The trail consisted of pebbles, stones, rocks, boulders, and tree roots, with a sprinkling of gravel mixed in for good measure. Looking back, it would have been better to do this part of the trail during daylight hours rather than starting at 10:00pm. The flashlights we were carrying were feeble at best and barely illuminated the treacherous path in front of us.
After about an hour and a half of slipping and sliding, numerous scrapes and falls, we made it to the crest of the mountain to set up camp and rest for the night. Finding a flat spot on the top of a mountain is a comedy of errors, so we set up right on the trail. We figured the odds of another group of hikers coming by in the middle of the night were slim.
We awoke a few hours later, emerged from our tent, and were stunned to see how we had perched ourselves on the crest of the mountain yet somehow managed to stay there all night.
After eating breakfast on that glorious Autumn morning, we strapped on our backpacks and continued on our way. Five and a half miles later we met a few hikers coming the opposite direction. We chatted about trail conditions and they told us we should have an easy day of hiking. Knowing what was ahead of them, we advised them to lace up their boots tightly and find a walking stick for balance. We suggested climbing ropes for the way down would be handy also.
A few miles later we stopped for lunch. While dining on our rations, a man ran past us on the trail with no backpacking gear. We thought that was odd. Where did he come from and how did he get there? A few minutes later, another man ran by dressed in some official looking uniform. He stopped and asked if we had seen anyone. We advised him of the direction the first man was headed. The uniformed man sped off down the trail. Where did these two people come from and why did they not appear to be tired or out of breath. We were after all on top of a mountain.
We made our second camp a few hundred yards from the Pinnacle lookout in the daylight hours, thinking it would be easier to find a level spot to put the tent. Amazingly it was. Then we gathered our camera gear and headed out to the lookout to enjoy the views and watch the variety of migrating birds soar on the updrafts.
Another oddity of this trip was seeing a few dozen people at the lookout freshly bathed and in clean clothes. They had driven up to the sanctuary and took the relaxing stroll to the pinnacle overlook. Wimps.
I don’t recall the camera settings I used for this shot, but I do know I used a zoom lens. The farm buildings you see are several miles away from the lookout. I really like the patchwork of colors and patterns created by the harvested fields and those that are still green.
This past weekend I was on a shoot in a nearby arboretum. The flowering plants have recovered from the extreme heat of the summer since we have had some rain and the temperatures are more seasonable.
While wandering in the gardens, I discovered these rather steep stone stairs. I’ve been to these gardens many times but never noticed them. They apparently had been heavily overgrown and hidden from view.
Now that someone recently cleared them of underbrush and debris, the connection has been re-established with the pathway in the gardens below street level, to the city streets above.
The stairs appear to be old as they have been repaired a number of times over the years. I imagine these steps have assisted many pedestrians to escape the busy life above and to retreat to the peacefulness of the gardens below.
This photo was taken with the available light of early morning. Sunlight was just starting to make its presence known on the upper steps.
ISO 200, 35mm lens, f1.8 @ 1/100th second, handheld
In our travels last weekend, we discovered a farmers market that is new to us. We enjoy shopping in places like this for several reasons. Not only is the food grown or raised locally, but it is also educational. The folks there love to chat about their farms and products they sell.
It is a rather lengthly list of what venders were marketing, but here are some examples. They were selling fruits and vegetables, homemade noodles and pasta, fresh meats, baked goods, honey, fresh homemade cheeses, and other dairy products, jams, jellies, and other canned/preserved items. One family operation was selling various kinds of flour that is grown, harvested, and milled at their farm.
This display of colorful woven baskets was just outside the entrance. We couldn’t resist buying one to carry all our purchases. It is harvest season, so our basket will be put to good use in the weeks ahead.
When using tripod in the field, I have often found myself facing the challenge of making the transition from a horizontal to a vertical orientation. I am forced to loosen the adjustment knobs so I can flop the camera into the vertical orientation, then move the tripod to the side a little bit in order to re-compose the shot. And it is a rather annoying experience to attempt to capture a vertical image with a camera that is not centered over the tripod.
Several manufacturers have risen to the occasion over the years to solve this dilemma and developed an “L” Bracket configuration. These devices mount to the bottom of your camera in the tripod socket, then the camera and bracket are inserted into a quick release device mounted to your tripod head. These brackets allow you to shoot in the horizontal format then easily convert to a vertical. Simply release the camera from the quick release, rotate the camera 90 degrees to the vertical format and re-mount it in the quick release. Now everything is centered on the tripod.
Kirk Enterprises and Really Right Stuff are just two of the manufacturers of “L” Brackets and quick release plates. They build great quality products, but depending on your budget, they can be on the expensive side.
I have been using a quick release system from Manfrotto for years, but unfortunately their camera plates are not compatible with other manufacturers. And a new system was more than I wanted to spend. Besides, I like my Manfrotto. My problem was, I still wanted that “L” Bracket for the added convenience in the field.
So I reached for my pirate’s hat and came up with my own version of an “L” Bracket which would be compatible with my Manfrotto parts. After making some preliminary calculations, I headed down to the hardware store and bought a strip of aluminum, some machine screws and nuts. I bent the aluminum to shape, cut the piece to length, then measured and drilled the appropriate holes for mounting purposes and for my cable release. Next, I mounted the quick release plates to the aluminum strip. Then I placed a strip of thin rubber between the bracket and the bottom of the camera for protection, and tightened the whole assembly.
Presto…a homemade “L” Bracket and quick release system and it only cost me $13.53 including tax. Now when I want to shoot a vertical composition, I simply mount the camera in that position. And if I want my next shot to be a horizontal, I open the quick release and mount the camera in that format.
Now, I never have to re-position the tripod, and it’s way faster to set up. Yabba-dabba-dooo!!!
Back in the day I took a boat trip down the Intercoastal Waterway from Maryland to Florida. This photo was taken when we were in the Albemarle Sound, North Carolina. It is the largest freshwater sound in North America, roughly 50 – 60 miles across.
I was head cook on this voyage, and normally when I was down below preparing meals, the guys went easy on me. After all, it was up to me to feed them. On this particular afternoon lunch detail, something was a little different. Judging by the sounds of the engines and the pounding of the boat on the waves, I knew we were moving along at a good clip. Ripping across large bodies of water like this at full throttle can make food prep a challenge.
I heard conversations from up on deck which explained a few things.
“Dad, can we head over this way?” “How about over here?” “Can I turn the boat real hard and make it lean?”
“Ok Son, just go easy. Uncle David is down below trying to make us lunch.”
I came up from my station below decks with a pot of steaming shrimp we had bought fresh a few hours before. And there was my eight year old nephew at the helm, kneeling on the seat with the biggest grin I have ever seen on his face.
In fact, we got some pretty amazing looks and smiles from other boaters as the young boater zoomed past them…at a safe distance of course.
Well, that novice boater who had the smile from ear to ear while running the boat has grown up to be a fine young man. He is getting married in a few weeks and he still gets that big Cheshire grin whenever we bring up stories of boating and running at full throttle.