Sun Behind the Clouds? Be Prepared for Surprises

Ed IMG_1616 sWith Labor Day weekend upon us, the weather forecast looking none too good (I would rather have a foot of snow than hazy hot and humid)–including the possibility of thunderstorms all over the Hudson Valley and Catskills–and knowing that I had to get out with the camera gear at least once to avoid a severe attack of cabin fever, I decided to stay fairly local. Cross the Bear Mountain Bridge, drive up Route 9D, walk around Cold Spring and photograph, then back south to the Boscobel House and Gardens to buy some goodies at the Cold Spring Farm Market and scout a vantage point from which to photograph a ruined mansion called Castle Rock. Perched high above the Hudson, Castle Rock, the former estate of railroad magnate William Henry Osborn, is written up in detail in Hudson Valley Ruins, a very fine book by Thomas E. Rinaldi and Robert J. Yasinsac, who have meticulously chronicled the history and current status of a vast number of threatened or already demolished structures from Westchester County up to Albany.

Having read a forecast that called for sun early in the day, I had my mind specifically fixated Ed IMG_1626 s on photographing Storm King Mountain from the riverfront park in Cold Spring. Since Storm King rises up from the west shore of the Hudson, this is definitely a great morning shot with the sweet light on the mountainside. But the weather wasn’t cooperating after all; the sun, such as it was, was weak. No matter—I made friends with a sunflower on my walk from the Municipal Parking to Main Street, then photographed some street scenes (Cold Spring is rich with possibilities), including these delicately colored glasses displayed in the window of Kismet at Caryn’s, whose proprietor graciously allowed me to photograph these close-ups.

Ed IMG_1632 sThen on to Boscobel. By now the sun, which had been peeking through ever so slightly while I was in Cold Spring, had disappeared completely and a misty gray overcast lay over all. Normally I would never, in my right mind, have deliberately gone to Boscobel in such weather. Sometimes it pays to ignore your “right mind,” and this was one of those times. I didn’t anticipate these beautifully-colored roses, much less the cute bees scrambling in and out of them, and the “usual” view of the Hudson overlooking Constitution Marsh was totally transformed into an almost abstract landscape that definitely lent itself to black-and-white treatment. As an added bonus, the mist completely obscured the Bear Mountain Bridge, making the view even more one of an abstract landscape. (What, you might ask, is an abstract landscape? Doesn’t an oxymoron lurk somewhere in there? No – an abstract landscape, in my definition, is one in which such elements as shape, pattern, or texture take precedence over the literal content of the image.)

Ed IMG_1641 BW s

Yet another added bonus to Boscobel was that I rounded off my walk with a visit to the gift shop and discovered that our book, Historic Hudson Valley, was on display! I introduced myself to Renate Smoller, the Museum Manager, and offered to sign the three copies they had in stock. (I know from my own buying experience that the author’s autograph is an effective selling point.) She was grateful, and so was I, for the opportunity.

Boscobel currently has an exhibit (until November) about the Hudson River painter Robert Weir. I must admit, shamefacedly, that I had never heard of him. But since I consider those chaps to be an important part of my artistic inspiration, I’ll be making a return visit, sooner rather than later, to see this exhibit, when I don’t have a home-made fudge torte, a broccoli-cheese quiche, and assorted veggies, fruit, and herbs in the trunk of my car in 80-degree weather.

And Castle Rock? Can’t see it from Boscobel, but could see it very well from numerous locations driving south on Route 9D. Now all I need to do is scout a place to park and wait for the right weather. This is a late afternoon shot and needs very good sun.

Light Touch on Catskill Spring

My son Anton (who is arguably a better photographer than I, though we agree that he’s the “landscape master” and I’m the “buildings master”) refers to spring as the “pre-fall” season, meaning that it’s equally rich in color, though colors of a more subtle kind. This year we actually had a spring in the Northeast — as opposed to a winter that stubbornly drags on and then suddenly, and shockingly, morphs into the unbearable heat of summer — which enabled me to get up to the Catskills several times, drive around, and get some good images.
OK, so I’m the reputed “buildings master” and will share those pictures with you in due course, but for now I want to share three landscape images that I made on Mother’s Day, in the Northern Catskills region they call the “mountain top.” I wasn’t looking for these specific sites — just driving around until I saw something that attracted me. The point I want to make is that in each case I used a light touch in the postprocessing. Even if I used several layers or filters, the values were tweaked very little, if at all, beyond the presets. I have no patience with overprocessed, especially oversaturated images of nature; it’s one thing to use one’s processing tools to coax that Raw image into displaying what one actually saw in that scene, quite another to “improve” on nature as if God had a bad eye for color.
Enough preaching! Here’s the first image:

DSC0224  levels 236 sThe first thing you’ll notice is that the original image has been cropped. The sky lent nothing to the overall effect. In Nik Efex Color Pro 4 I made very subtle use of Pro Contrast, Brilliance/Warmth, and Tonal Contrast, and then finished it off with Unsharp Mask at 25 %.

DSC0226 sThe second image (above) isn’t a different crop of the first — it’s a totally different picture in which I had zoomed in more. Here, in CEP 4’s Brilliance Warmth I used 20 % Warmth and then, in Tonal Contrast, set each value, including Saturation, at only 15 %. Once again, Unsharp Mask at 25 %.

DSC0228 sFinally, the above scene caught my eye as I was driving along one of the main east-west roads up there. Perhaps it’s not spectacular, but the red of the house set into nature’s spring colors made for an attractive, typically Catskill pastoral scene. The horizon needed some straightening, and I did a small amount of cropping on the sides. Then I used some Warmth/Saturation in CEP 4 and, again, 25 % Unsharp Mask.

In all cases these are in addition to the basic Raw processing before bringing the image into CS5.

There you have some views of the Catskills in May. If you’d like to comment, I’d be curious about which of the first two pictures you prefer — the wider-angle or closer view of the trees and mountain.