Best Photographs of 2017

Here are my favorite images taken in 2017, posted in the order in which they appear in my 2018 calendar.

If you wish to purchase prints, or other products with the image on them, just click on the photo you’re interested in and you’ll go directly to that photo on my website. Thank you for looking! Hope you enjoy them.

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Lobster Traps in Galilee, Rhode Island

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Spring Flowers and the Barn

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Stone Wall in Rhode Island

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The Rondout at Eddyville

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Jamestown Marsh with Pell Bridge

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Sauer Farm, Mt. Marion

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Beacon of the Berkshires

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This is Mt. Greylock, at 3,491 ft. the highest point in Massachusetts. Specifically, it’s located in the Berkshires region, a culturally and naturally rich area in the western part of the state. I took this picture during my visit there in October. The mountain, which has a motor road up to the top, is easily reached from Williamstown, a lively college town where I stayed.

If you look closely at a point to the right of the center of the image, you’ll see a tower. I could have cloned it out but I deliberately didn’t, in defiance of the purist view of nature photography that rejects any hint of human activity. Think of iconic peaks of the Northeast USA such as Whiteface (Adirondacks, NY) or Mt. Washington (Whites, NH); those of you in other parts of the country can undoubtedly name your own. Both these mountains have important structures on top. What’s a photographer to do when entering a picture of one of them in, e.g., a nature competition or forum? Clone the structures out  and thereby produce an unnatural image? Avoid shooting the peak at all, at least from the angles from which the structures are visible?

Rhetorical questions. The point (no pun intended) of Greylock’s tower is that it’s a broadcasting tower. For years it has broadcast the signals of WAMC Radio, the local NPR station for northeast New York and western New England. Now, because the TV station that also uses the tower is leaving, WAMC has the opportunity to purchase the tower for itself and thereby assure its future. Fundraising is taking place right now, in advance of the usual February fundraiser, to ensure that the tower on Mt. Greylock remains a beacon for our area.

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If you’re visiting or live in the mid Hudson Valley, you might want to stop in to the Emerge Gallery in Saugerties to enjoy the current show, Primar(il)y Red: An Exhibition of Art Celebrating the Color Red. My popular photograph of the old Adirondack Barn at the junction of Rts. 73 and 9, which was demolished a year ago, is in the show. The barn has been an important part of Adirondack history and I’m glad to have been able to preserve its memory in this way.

Happy New Year to all my readers!

Fall Foliage and a Gallery Show

Ed DSC0959 sThe foliage here in the Northeast has been a bit of a bust this year, but the marshes, with their autumn-golden grass, never disappoint. I got to photograph two marshes during a brief trip to Rhode Island last week–one from the little parking area at the Coggeshall Farm Museum in Bristol and the other a hidden gem on Jamestown island. These images are quickly processed from the jpg versions. When I have time, I’ll give them (and others) the full treatment, putting the Raw files through Lightroom and then Photoshop.

The image at the top of the page shows the marsh visible from the Coggeshall Farm. The sky during a break in the almost relentless rain on this day added some drama.

The marshy land in the Great Creek was quite a discovery. I was on my way to photograph the famous Jamestown Windmill and happened to pass this. The windmill was quite close by, so it was easy to turn around to go back to the creek, which had its seemingly statutory now-closed-for-the-season seafood shack in whose parking area one could stop.

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I always love the way the marshland itself intersects with the surrounding waters to produce interesting shapes and what sometimes appears like a maze–Cape Cod has its share of those, as do the Essex marshes north of Boston–and for this shot I wished I were about six inches taller to have been able to minimize (or better, eliminate) overlap between the different sections of marshland. Anyhow, if you think you see a bridge lurking in the background, guess what–

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–you were right! The Pell Bridge, which connects Aquidneck Island (on which Newport lies) with Jamestown island. I got several shots but like the way this one includes the flag.

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If you’re in (or visiting) the Hudson Valley during November, we’d love to welcome you to an art show opening at the Emerge Gallery on Main Street in Saugerties. The theme is “Petit”–it consists of smaller works of art–and I have two pictures in the show. In addition to the framed works on display, a variety of matted prints is also available for sale.

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Photographing History: The Doughboy

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One hundred years after the United States’ entry into World War I, doughboys are again in the news. This morning, in a big parade in Paris, France that both celebrated the French National Day (Bastille Day) and commemorated the centenary, a corps of American soldiers marched in the parade as a salute to President Trump, who had been invited to view the event, and several of the soldiers were dressed as WWI doughboys.

First, “doughboy” is an informal term referring to a member of the United States Army or Marine Corps, especially those who served with the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, although it was apparently in use during (and possibly originated in) the Mexican-American War in the 1840s.

In case you’re wondering, no, I’ve never photographed an actual doughboy; the last one to have served in the First World War, Frank Buckles, died in 2011 in West Virginia, aged 110. But a few years ago, at the invitation and request of the archives of the Dominican Order’s Eastern Province, I photographed a rather famous statue of a doughboy located in North Providence, Rhode Island (the Order’s archives are housed at Providence College, a few minutes drive from where the statue stands).

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Rev. Nicholas Serror, OP, photo courtesy of Dominican Archives

The statue is titled “On to Victory” and was designed by John G. Hardy, a sculptor from Warwick, RI.  The connection between the Dominicans and the statue? The model for the statue is said to have been a Dominican priest, Rev. Nicholas Hugh Serror, OP (1896-1972), who served in the infantry in WWI. Clearly destined for a life of service, Nicholas Serror entered the Dominicans, received the habit in 1927, and was ordained a priest in 1934. A faculty member at Providence College for many years, he collaborated with a colleague at nearby Brown University in the development of a drug that ended an epidemic of ringworm in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, in 1950. 

Photographing this statue was a challenge. It stands right up against St. Albans Church and so there’s always going to be some background interference. In addition, I was taken there on a bright, sunny day–though fortunately, in very late afternoon, not in the most garish period of midday light. The best solution was to select the two best “poses” of the shots I took, blur out (or remove altogether) the background, and–which was especially appropriate given the historical nature of the subject–convert them to B&W. Here are the results; you’ll note that the one photograph is a crop of one of the others to provide a close-up. (I’m tempted to go back and reprocess one or two of them in sepia to give them a “vintage” look.)

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I want to thank my Dominican friends at Providence College for the opportunity to photograph this historic statue and for honoring the results by framing one of the images to hang in their archives.

 

Record Shot and Art Photo: Composition Challenges

A lot of my camera time is spent photographing historic structures. They could be anything from a fine house that’s been lovingly preserved to a ruin ready to succumb to the weather or the wrecker’s ball, and everything in between.

The question I always ask myself, especially if it’s a subject I’m photographing for the first time, is, how should I present this? As a straightforward record shot or in an artistic interpretation? Actually, as long as you’re there, it’s as well to do both. Record shots–or in this context one might say documentary shots–are, for me, a way of getting to know the subject: introducing my camera to it and vice versa. After I’ve taken one or more of those, I move in, look more closely, and evaluate the subject for possible artistic interpretations.

Saugerties, a river town on the Hudson River some 45 miles south of Albany, has a vast treasure of historic subjects, including the famous lighthouse that also serves as a B&B. Yesterday the light was just right for photographing a home that adjoins the Reformed Church–actually, it’s the parsonage for the church–because the rhododendrons were out in full force and offered a burst of spring beauty and color.

Here is the first image I made–the record shot: the front of the house with the door, windows, and, of course, the two rhododendron bushes.

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But I wasn’t satisfied to stop there. It’s a good record shot, a bland postcard shot, one might say, but there must be something more here.

Of course, there was. After all, what had attracted me to the building in the first place–a building I walk or drive past frequently but had never before thought of photographing? The rhododendrons, of course. Here’s the result.

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Please note: Both images are the jpgs “right out of the box,” with only minimal postprocessing. I’ll get to that stage later. But I want to point out that in this blog post I’m concerned primarily with the compositional aspects: how to get from the record or documentary shot to a personal interpretation. But there needn’t be a complete dichotomy between the two, because even a documentary shot can be transformed into something artistic depending on how you decide to process it. (This is especially useful for this historical photography because you can use a program such as Topaz B&W Effects or Nik Silver Efex Pro to make your documentary shot look like an old-fashioned historic photograph.) But that’s another story!

Back to composition: My fellow Hudson Valley photographer Robert Rodriguez, Jr. frequently writes about composition, and offers invaluable tips, in his blog and in his newsletter. If ever there was a photographer who proves that you don’t need to travel out West for the “iconic shots” to produce stunning photography, Robert is such a photographer. Click here to get to his website — I promise you’ll be glad you did. His motto is “Inspiring the Creative Spirit,” and that he certainly does.

Another Reason I’m Glad I Brought My Camera

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As a historian and a photographer I like to photograph historic sites, broadly defined. So when I discovered that the opening of a photography exhibit to which I was invited was being held in an old, restored mill in Kingston, New York, I slung my Canon G9X around my neck on the way out the door, figuring that at least I might get an interesting shot of the building’s exterior.

Kingston, in the mid Hudson Valley, is rapidly garnering a reputation as a major artistic center. Artists are flocking there to live and to work. In 2013 an organization called the Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO) purchased a now abandoned historic building (built 1903) that originally housed the  United States Lace Curtain Mill  and transformed it into a center with apartments and studio space for artists as well as, on the ground floor, space for exhibitions.

As expected, the exterior was worth photographing, and I lined everything up and got the image I wanted before going inside to see the exhibition I had come for. A friend I was with drew my attention to a little corridor and suggested I might find it interesting. Anticipating  more artwork, I was instead surprised to note that some of the machinery that had once been used to operate the mill was still there, in its original place.  Another reason I’m glad I brought my camera! Who could resist that? And I was in good company.

Here are some of the photographs I took along with descriptions of how I processed them. First, the one at the top of the page: This is the only interior shot that I took with the camera’s straightforward settings (as opposed to artistic or “scenic” presets). The very low light level required an ISO of 1600, so the first thing I did was to get rid of the noise using Nik Dfine. I then took the image into Nik Viveza, which I always find is a powerful tool for making selective adjustments accurately and fairly quickly. Since the color came out too warm I decreased the saturation to -35, and in order to maintain definition I upped the contrast to 10 (always remembering Rick Sammon’s dictum “Shadows are your friends”) and gave the structure an ever so slight bump to 2.

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Those of you who know my work are probably wondering why I didn’t go for one of my “modern vintage” looks in the photo of the building’s exterior, possibly sepia or B&W. I tried it many different ways but didn’t like the results. The brickwork made for too much detail, and thus a monochrome looked confusing. You’ll notice the image is virtually square; because of the time of day, the setting sun threw the side of the building into bright, warm sunlight and the front into shadow. Regardless of what I tried, the only solution was to crop most of the building’s side out of the photo. (Reminder to self: Return with camera on an overcast day. That way the front and the side will better integrate with each other.)

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The other machinery photos were all taken with the camera’s “Nostalgic” scenic preset. This obviated the need for a high and noisy ISO, but it did result in a somewhat soft, well, nostalgic look. In the one above the processing was simple: In Lightroom, again wanting increased definition, I bumped the contrast up to 24 and the clarity to 21. Then I took the saturation down to -17 for a look approaching monochrome but not quite getting there. In Photoshop I used Viveza to increase the structure on the little horizontal bar that has a chain on each end.

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Finally, attracted by the pattern cast by the shadow, I made an abstract (above).  Wanting increased definition, in Lightroom I bumped the contrast up to 21, darkened the shadows to -38, and slid the clarity up to 19. In Photoshop I used Viveza to decrease the saturation and to increase the structure on the main object in the picture (sorry — I’m a photographer not an engineer, so I have no idea what any of these things are called except “thingamajig”).

That was an interesting day out. Thanks to the friends who invited me to the show, and to RUPCO for breathing new life into a century-old building in midtown Kingston.

Don’t Leave Home Without It

How many times have you been out somewhere and had reason to exclaim, “Oh NO! If only I had the camera along!”? The best way to avoid that frustrating situation is always to have some kind of camera with you, because you never know. Here are some reasons why, just from the last few days:

One of the main roads into the village where I live is crossed by railroad tracks a couple of miles outside the village. I’m not talking passenger trains, I’m talking freight trains. Long ones. Sometimes verrrry long ones. When you’re approaching this crossing and the lights flash and the gates go down, you know you’re going to be stuck.

On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve I was returning from shooting my favorite ruin on the Mountaintop when the lights flashed and the gates descended just before I got to the crossing. Nothing to do but to wait. Well, this turned out to be an exceptionally slow and long train. Fortunately for me, (1) my little backup camera, the Canon G9X, was sitting beside me in the passenger seat; (2) I was only the second car in the queue, thus no obstructions. Below you see a couple of the better samples of how I whiled away the time (and retained my sanity).

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This morning after hearing the weather forecast I decided to go out for a walk before the dreaded wintry mix arrived.  As it was chiefly for the exercise it was meant to be a walk at a good pace and not my photographic moseying pace, but I slung the G9X around my neck like a piece of jewelry anyway. Here is what I saw in an antiques shop window a few blocks up Main Street:

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I then turned the corner into the village’s chief shopping and restaurant thoroughfare. A few doors down is a thrift shop run by a Christian religious organization. They always have nice window displays and one of the windows often has handwritten posters with religious texts. It happens that I have a historical interest in evangelical poetry. Here is what I found in the thrift shop window today; I couldn’t wait to send the photo to someone with whom I’ve sung this hymn many times:

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So, you never know. And P.S.: I’m still waiting for the dreaded wintry mix.