In the Steps of Jervis McEntee

Do you go into mourning once the fall foliage season has ended? Is that it for photography until next summer mercifully cools to an end or, at best. until a blanket of snow adds some brightness to what’s often referred to as “stick season”?

That needn’t be the case. I’ve contended that “there is beauty in bleakness” ever since my trips to Arctic Sweden in the 1990s, and that includes the bleakness of November par excellence. One of my most enduring and endearing photographic memories is of a shoot at Copperas Pond in the Adirondacks a number of years ago. The subdued, diffused light provided by the pale sun made the delicate red berries — I’m not sure what they are, but here’s a photo of some similar berries from last winter in the Catskills — stand out.

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But what about the wider landscape? Is it possible to extract a usable photograph out of the vast, brown sea of bare trees that confront us as we survey a wide-angle landscape during that time between the colorful leaves and the white snow?

I found the answer in two exhibitions of Jervis McEntee, the 19th-century landscape painter who worked mostly (if not exclusively) near or in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Even McEntee was unusual in admitting that November was his favorite time to paint. Fortunately, both exhibitions — one in Kingston and the other (open until December 13) at SUNY New Paltz — and their catalogues carried examples of the works he created at this visually challenging time of year, so I was able to study them before going out on my own November shoot.

The secret, I think, is to work with the bleakness, not against it — that is, to accept it and decide how to make it an advantage rather than try to “correct” it by (for example) enhancing the values of your Vibrance or Saturation slider or going too heavy with filters. For illustrations, here are two of the images I made from my November shoot at Ringwood Manor in Northern New Jersey. Ringwood is one of those places that offers photo opportunities in every season and in almost every kind of light. What could I do with it on a late, rather heavily overcast afternoon in November?

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The first thing the above image needed was a dialing down of the green grass; having been a loyal Fuji Velvia shooter back in the film days, I tend to keep the setting on my Nikon DSLRs on Vivid, which gives that characteristic saturated green. Then, the browns in the image needed the reverse: a bit of enhancement. Finally, to get a hint of a “painterly” look I used the BuzSim preset in Topaz Simplify 4 and increased the detail just a bit.

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This image also benefited from BuzSim and an increase in the detail, as well as an overall dialing down of the saturation.

I think I succeeded in getting what I wanted from these images. I learned from McEntee’s paintings, not because I wanted to “imitate” them and turn my photographs into paintings but because I wanted to see how I could produce what are still recognizably photographs, but ones that show the November landscape to its best advantage and that it is possible to do this.

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A Photograph’s Unexpected Odyssey

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In late June Anton de Flon (check out his site — he is “the” Catskill Dude) and I went out to North-South Lake for a short hike. When we came to the point where the trail ascends these rocks, I decided to stop and take in the spirit of Hudson River painter Asher B. Durand, whose presence I sensed nearby. Asher loved to paint studies of rocks.DSC4400 original s

Here is the original of the first picture I took. I wanted a vertical. Yes, it’s a bit far off, but that’s me — I like to begin zoomed out and then gradually move in closer. Same way I like to get to know people.

After some very basic processing in Lightroom, I took it into Photoshop to do the main work. One of the first things I did was to zoom in to clone out one of those blue round trail markers. Then I looked at the zoomed-in picture and it struck me — Hey! I rather like that!  Yes, I wanted a vertical, but I have at least three other verticals from that day, better compositions all of them, so … I cropped the image down to exactly what i saw on the screen, then lopped a tiny slice more off the bottom.  It’s the one at the top of this post..

OK, what to do with it now?  I had been thinking of a monochrome with lots of the detail DSC4400 Nik 028 sshowing. So, into Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 we went.  And I realized it wasn’t working, at least not with the detail I had envisioned.  But among the presets I tried was this — and I liked it a lot. Very atmospheric.  I think Asher would have approved of it — as a sketch, anyway.  (I also tried a sepia preset that made it look like something you’d find at the bottom of a drawer in the archives of the Adirondack Museum. Can you see the headline now?  “Obscure 19th-century Print in ADK Museum Collection Now Discovered to Depict the Catskills.” I did not save this version.)

OK, but then what? Well, let’s see what Topaz Adjust 5 has to offer. Click, click, click on various presets — and then came the revelation. This one — called “French Countryside” — the problem was that leaving in all the details was making for too confused an image, and what it really needed was to be smoothed out. This one worked best for the purpose.

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What do you think?

Winter Monochrome at the Lake

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Here in the Northeast we had a big snowstorm the day before Thanksgiving. On the day itself the snow was still coming down a bit and we went for a walk to Cooper Lake. It was very cold, the turkey was in process of roasting, so I grabbed my Olympus SH-1 point and shoot rather than my DSLR with tripod.

The images I’m showing you here are the best of the results from that walk. Conditions were a winter photographer’s dream come true. The processing was minimal — very minimal. No B&W conversion was involved; this is completely natural. I tried experimenting with converting one image to B&W and didn’t like the result; it wasn’t the right tone, somehow too warm. The cooler tones right out of the camera were spot-on for the feeling of that day. Hope you enjoy these; comments welcome!

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Last but not least — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thank you for being readers of my blog.

Paying Photographic Homage to a Catskill Ruin

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Abandoned buildings get a lot of attention from me and my cameras, and the Cold Spring Resort in Tannersville, NY is one I’ve returned to again and again. It’s one of the few still remaining from the heyday of the Catskills resort industry. On Saturday I visited for the fourth time—or was it the fifth? In any case, the poor building is in such condition that I never know when a visit will be my last before the place finally gives up the ghost.

Speaking of ghosts, if there are any of those occupying the Cold Spring Resort’s many empty rooms, they are friendly ones. The place has a palpable, positive energy about it that I attribute to the countless people who vacationed here back in the day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are photos from the latest trip. When working on a unified project (which this visit was in aid of) it’s best to process all pictures in a fairly uniform way, but I had to make one exception here with the monochrome image; it was taken with a point and shoot, which produced a color cast that, try as I might, I couldn’t get rid of except by completely desaturating it. (Even without the persistent color cast the image fairly screamed monochrome – there was no color to speak of except for that bit of greenery that, well, isn’t all that green.) I finished it off with Nik Silver Efex Pro.

The other images—made with the Nikon D7100—were subjected toNancy_6_9 rather minimal postprocessing, by which I mean that I did the usual basics in Lightroom and then finished the enhancements in Photoshop – but no plugins, despite my array of Nik and Topaz products. The day was overcast with a sky almost (fortunately only almost) verging on blah washed-out monotone, and in order to help the building and surrounding flora to emerge from the murky grayness I selected the sky, used Brightness/Contrast to darken it and increase the contrast where necessary, then inverted the selection and increased the brightness and the vibrance to make the building pop—not only the building but also whatever greenery, foliage, and flowers were present. Nancy_6_4It was important to me to make enough images showing the building (or parts of it) among the vegetation that’s slowly taking it over; a contrast between the dying building and the lively-colored vegetation that, ironically, in its autumn colors represents the dying of the year. At least for some it does; my favorite poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote that “Nothing is so beautiful as spring,” but then Fr. Hopkins had never experienced the stunning colors of autumn in the Northeastern USA.

I owe the idea for the postprocessing approach to renowned photographer and teacher Rob Sheppard, who is an unfailing source of wisdom as well as technical insights, though, as they say at the end of the Foreword to every academic book, “Any imperfections are strictly mine.”

 

“The Old Barn” Scores at Windham Art Fest

On Saturday I was fortunate to be able to participate in the annual Art Fest in beautiful, bucolic Windham, NY — a friendly, wonderful community of artists (painters, photographers, woodworkers, pottery makers) displaying their artworks for sale and enjoyment. For me it was an interesting lesson in taking risks: at the last moment I decided to include two photos among my fine art cards, thinking that no one would buy them, but, to my surprise, they were the first ones that sold — all the copies!  Here they are:

Cold Spring Resort, Tannersville, NY

Cold Spring Resort, Tannersville, NY

Mountain Top Historical Society HQ, Haines Falls, NY

Mountain Top Historical Society HQ, Haines Falls, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each participating artist was asked to donate one piece to the Silent Auction. My donation was a wood-framed, matted 11 x 14 titled Adirondack Barn, here renamed The Old Barn because I was afraid people wouldn’t be interested if they realized it wasn’t from the immediate area. It’s true, people like to buy local subjects. But not only did I sell two cards of it — it was also (in the organizer’s words) “the hit of the auction”! More tickets in my box than in any other. I’m so glad that someone is now enjoying The Old Barn, which is a personal favorite among my pictures. Here it is. If you’d like to purchase it for yourself, click the photo to get to my website.

The Old Barn

The Old Barn

My summer is crammed with more events — exhibitions and talks featuring my book Historic Hudson Valley. More about that in my next blog.

Two Hudson Valley Events

 

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Happy spring! I recently spent a few days on the New England coast north of Boston and will be writing some posts featuring my images and the history of that very picturesque region, but for now I want to tell you about two events occurring right now.

The Hunter Foundation is located in what to me is the most beautiful area in the Catskill region; you can visit their website to learn more about the Foundation.  I was invited to donate one of my photographs to their 2014 Online Auction, and so I chose one of my most popular images, Catskill Woodland Glow (shown above). The winner will receive this photograph, signed and beautifully framed, along with a copy of our book, Historic Hudson Valley: A Photographic Tour.  Please visit the Hunter Foundation’s website to see the page for my entry — there are many good prizes here. Why not place a bid on something? You may win something you’ll enjoy having. Bidding is going on now through May 1

Also — if you’re in the Albany area, this Sunday Anton and I will be speaking about our Historic Hudson Valley book at the Albany Institute of History and Art. That’s Sunday April 27 at 2 pm. We’re quite excited to have been invited to speak at the home not only of one of the most impressive collection of Hudson River School paintings anywhere but also of the complete collection of Thomas Cole’s papers.  You can get directions from the AIHA home page, and here is the page featuring our talk. We’d love to see you there!

Look Behind You

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Pictures of lots of photographers all lined up jostling for space so they can get their shot of that “iconic scene” are legion. To counter this, you have wise, experienced photographers who advise you, “Look beyond the obvious!” Turn in another direction!” “Look behind you!”

I was reminded of this recently not by a top-notch photographer but by a lady I met in the course of a walk at one of my favorite spots — Cooper Lake in the Catskill Mountains of New York. It was Christmas Day and the relentless chill that would (little did we then know) plague our entire winter here in the Northeast was just settling in. I set out with my new Nikon D7100 hoping to get some shots of the lake while the ice, not yet very thick or snowed over, still had some interesting patterns in it instead of  the boring, uniform white that would develop later.

People you meet along the lake are usually very open and friendly, and this lady, who said she often brings a little camera along but didn’t have it with her that day (only a fanatic like me was actually going to stop in that freezing cold to set up a camera and shoot), told me that farther along, on the side of the road away from the lake, dripping water was producing some interesting ice activity on the rocks and branches — in other words, don’t just look at the obvious — the lake — and pass up this close-up potential.

Sure enough, a little farther along and there it was. It had grown much too cold to have the patience to set up the tripod and try to get intricate shots that would really have done justice to the scenes, so the best I could do was to put on my Tamron 75-300mm Vibration Reduction lens, turn on the VR, and shoot handheld.  This is a lot of trial and error, but if a couple of good shots result, it’s worth it. Here are my couple of reasonably good shots.

DSC0168 BW sI had a few icicle photos to choose from, and the one at the top of this post was the best. I processed it in blue for an unusual effect. Then, out of many snow-ice-branch and twig-rock images, I selected this one on the left and processed it in black and white; the color did nothing to enhance it, and the B&W enhanced the starkness of this winter weather.

And yes, I did get a fairly decent image of the lake itself with the ice patterns. Here, below, is the one I chose. A good deal of cropping from the bottom was necessary, and retaining the color — actually, processing it so as to bring out the color — was the way to go. You can click on this image and on the top image of the blue icicles to see the larger photos on my website.

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Again, remember that it’s always worth looking away from the obvious — you never know what you’ll find that will make an interesting photograph.