When Your Photography Surprises You

Have you ever ventured out, armed not only with your camera but also with some preconceived notions of the images you want to make? It happens to me on week-long visits to New England as well as on half- or full-day trips closer to home. And does it then also sometimes happen that you end up with images radically different from what you thought you were setting out to take — perhaps because the lighting wasn’t what you expected or that tree wasn’t there anymore or etc., etc., etc.? Sometimes that’s a fun part of the game.

And then there are times I go out with no specific ideas for images but just respond to what’s around me. Again, I like the element of surprise.

Here I want to share two images from my recent trip to the northern New England coast, both of places I’d been and things I’d photographed before.  Each had its own unique element of surprise.

The Sunday I decided to drive along the Maine coast toward Ogunquit was sunny and quite windy. After stopping along the coastal road (Rt 1A) to photograph buildings that took my fancy, I ended up, as I knew I would, at the famous Nubble Light. Nubble is probably the most photographed lighthouse in the USA (if not possibly the world, though I wonder whether Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia might be a competitor) because it’s so accessible — you just walk up to it. No boats, no sneaking onto private property, no long hikes on soft sand — just drive up, park, and get out your gear.

As you well know, ease of access doesn’t guarantee ease of getting a great photograph. For one thing, it was midday, usually not the optimum time to chalk up any photographic masterpieces. Also, on a Sunday afternoon in early spring chances are quite good of getting people wandering into your otherwise perfect composition.

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Well, out of the several images I took, here’s the one I think was best.  What made it work? (1) The clouds. Thank you, Mother Nature. As famed New England foliage expert Jeff Folger observed when he saw it, it looks as if the clouds are emanating from the lighthouse. So, yes, while I did get closer-up images, this with the clouds was “the” image. (2) No people. There was a person off to the left, but I was cropping that side of the image anyway since it had too much superfluous “stuff.”

Photoshop processing, after my usual preliminary moves with the Raw file in Lightroom, was relatively minimal.  I took the image into Nik Viveza, moderately cranked up the Brightness and Structure, and brushed these settings onto the lighthouse and the foreground rocks to make them stand out from the blue water and sky. Back in Photoshop, a very slight degree of opening the shadows in the Shadows and Highlights. And there you have it: my surprise that any of the images taken under less than optimum conditions would be successful.

The second one contained a surprise of a different kind. This is a well-known tree on the New Hampshire coast at Great Island Common (a.k.a. New Castle Common) near Portsmouth.  I first shot it a year ago while out with New England photographer Jeff Sinon, and that time we had the sweet evening light in our favor. This time I was there midday because it took me a good while to find the place due to the weird location of the sign. Actually, I considered this trip a “study” for, hopefully, a revisit later in the day under better lighting conditions, and I used my Olympus SH-1 instead of my Nikon DSLR.

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First, here’s the original. A nicely composed image of this venerable tree, but what boring light! What could be done?

On my way to and from this New England trip I stopped for lunch at the same restaurant. Each time I was seated in a different section, and each of those sections had old oil landscape paintings on the walls in which the colors were not natural but nor were they monochrome. They were sort of a tint. I stared at them and thought there must be a way to recreate this effect in appropriate photographs. Information tucked away in my brain for later use.

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With a completely open mind I decided to take the image into Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and see what the different presets would do. (Remember my post about letting limitations work for you? My current limitation is that my Topaz plug-ins aren’t saving correctly and so I’m making the best of the Nik Suite.) The first preset I clicked (they’re listed in alphabetical order) was Bi-Color Effects.  As you can see from the screenshot, there’s an extensive selection of color combos, and each of those can be tweaked still further.  I tried them until I came to Moss 4. That was it. And — not that I was consciously looking for this — it somehow approximates that effect of hovering between not-quite-natural and not-quite-unnatural that I had observed on those oil paintings.

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Please — let me know what you think! I appreciate your comments. Click here or here if you would like to order a print or other product.

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Photography Workshop with Jeff Sinon Does Not Disappoint

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Want to go on a photography workshop? You’re in luck — whatever your location, your subject matter of interest, your topic of interest, it’s not difficult to find something to suit your requirements. It’s then a matter of matching up the logistics — the where and when — with what you can afford to pay.

DSC3818 sI’m enamored with the New England coast. I’m a New England wannabe. Having spent years traveling to and photographing Rhode Island, I discovered the northern Massachusetts and New Hampshire coasts a little over a year ago. New Hampshire can boast of only 18 miles of coastline, but what an amazing variety of visual experiences it offers. How can a visitor from New York make the most of it in a short time?

Enter photographer Jeff Sinon. A member of the

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prestigious New England Photography Guild, Jeff lives in the area and knows every inch of the New Hampshire coastline. By wonderful coincidence, Jeff had just put out a notice that he was beginning to offer workshops, and I was just a few weeks away from a week-long visit to the area. Could we arrange a meetup? We sure could.

While Jeff organizes workshops around places he thinks would interest people — New Hampshire waterfalls was one recent offering, and he has one coming for (of course) the famous Lupine Festival in Sugar Hill — he will also design one tailor-made to a client’s needs, whether it be a small group or, like me, an individual. My requirements were simple: My time — any time — I spend in this gorgeous region is limited; can you show me a selection of places that would otherwise have taken quite a while to discover on my own, if at all? That’s it — I know how to use my camera, I’m fine with postprocessing, I just want to find the places and, within those places, any special views I should be aware of.

DSC3808 5 x 7Jeff picked me up at my hotel in Seabrook toward late afternoon — he had decided, quite rightly as it turned out, that this would best be done toward sunset — and we worked our way northward.  We came upon a lovely little harbor with lobster boats. We also stopped at some picturesque coves that, because of the tall rocks that separate the road from the beach, wouldn’t be visible (and therefore known) to anyone not familiar with the area. And there was Great Island Common, popularly known as New Castle Common, near Portsmouth. Great Island Common offers great views of two lighthouses, Portsmouth Harbor Light and Whaleback Light, the latter of which is actually in Maine waters.  But Jeff pointed out two other unique features: the “lone maple tree,” one of the most photographed trees around, and The Seascape Artist, a metal sculpture that you can photograph so as to have it frame the scene and look as if the artist is painting it.

The one improvement I could have wished for was totally beyond Jeff’s control: it was a chillyDSC3791 s and unbelievably windy evening. Not entirely conducive to getting completely into the meditative zone I need in order to concentrate on getting the best possible images (or to getting tack-sharp images with my 70-300-mm telephoto maxed out). But I think I came away with some good ones. You can judge for yourself by what you see here.

If you’re planning a visit to New Hampshire and want to check out workshops, whether preorganized or self-designed, I highly recommend that you contact Jeff Sinon.  He knows what he’s about, and in a self-designed workshop such as mine you’ll get exactly what you want — he’s knowledgeable and respects his clients’ wishes. And he’s a master photographer. He has just been chosen to represent New Hampshire in the U.S. edition of Photography’s Traveling Journal. Click here for Jeff’s website.

Repeat Visits Pay Off in Photography

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Photographers who teach and write will often tout the benefits of returning to a spot again and again. It pays to get to know a place well. The season of the year, time of day, weather, light — there’s a whole host of factors that, in an almost unlimited number of combinations, will pretty well guarantee that the spot will never look exactly the same twice. Add to that such factors that are more under your control — your vantage point, lens, focal length, exposure, etc. — and if you’ve found a place you like, it can be a virtual goldmine of different images for you.

I’m going to illustrate this for you with examples of images I’ve made from one of my favorite spots over the years: Second Beach in Middletown, Rhode Island. Water, sand, rocks, light, people — all these and more go into ensuring an endless variety of photo opps.

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The rock with the wave breaking against it is for me one of the main visual attractions on Second Beach. Rhode Island’s coast is often windy and it didn’t disappoint on this January morning. It’s a matter of taking several shots, trying to anticipate what an approaching wave is going to do, and hoping you got a couple of good images out of the perhaps dozens you took. Tip for wave photography: Be sure your Exposure Delay Mode is turned off!

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Here’s a complete contrast. The tide is in and the water is calm. I made these images in the evening in order to be able to get the long exposures needed to get that ethereal look in the water.

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This features a close-up of the piece of rocky coast that’s on the right of the first image. I deliberately heightened the contrast between light and shadow in order to make the most of the morning sun highlighting the people.

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When the waves are up, this is a popular spot for surfing, including surfing on these stand-up boards, which attracts all ages. Here I’ve turned slightly to the left to make the most of the golden early morning light. In the background is the silhouette of Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge, a favorite site for photographers and birders alike.

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Again looking left, this time a wide-angle view featuring clouds and reflections toward the evening.

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Finally, a classic example of “Don’t forget to look behind you”: the spires of St. George’s School against a red setting sun.

Another featured attraction close by is the famous rock where Bishop Berkeley used to sit, ponder, and write. It was Bishop Berkeley who posed the question, “If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it still make a noise?” Berkeley’s rock is a photo opp all in itself.

Recovering My Nautical Roots

In our home town we say, “I have Long Beach sand in my shoes”—in other words, you can move many miles away from your nautical beginnings (as I did), but figuratively speaking that sand will remain in your shoes, and the salt water in your blood.

Those of you who know my work know that I photograph frequently in Rhode Island, where the lure of historic buildings and quaint towns joins the Ocean State’s beautiful, windy coast to ensure that photographic subjects are never lacking. But for a serious recovery of my nautical roots I recently chose Cape Ann, on the North Shore of Massachusetts, because a friend once gave me a collection of card-sized prints of paintings by Edward Hopper for my birthday, and I treasure these as inspirations for what can result when Art and The Nautical meet.

Rockport was my base, where I stayed at the wonderful Eagle House Motel – within easy walking distance to just about everything in this delightfully charming village.

Over the next few blog posts I’ll be presenting some of my photos of Rockport and Gloucester and telling you something about these history-drenched places. I’ll be including Portsmouth, New Hampshire because the proximity of the Granite State’s only coastal city made it irresistible. But let’s start, appropriately, with Rockport and with Motif No. 1.

In the late 17th century two things drew people to Rockport—fishing and timber. In the 18th century came the quarries—more about that in a future post. Like much of New England—again one thinks of Rhode Island’s Aquidneck Island, with its beaches in Newport and what is now Middletown—Cape Ann, including Rockport, attracted many artists beginning in the 19th century. One of the favorite subjects of the artists who flocked to Rockport was a fishing shack located on Bradley’s Wharf in the Bearskin Neck section of the village. The fishing shack was built in the 1840s, and its red color, position on the wharf, and the way the light strikes it at certain times of day made it a “must” for the painters, and later, as well, for photographers. It was likely the artist Lester Hornby who first called it “Motif No. 1,” referring to its probable identity as “the most painted building in America.

So beloved is Motif No. 1 that when it was destroyed by the Blizzard of 1978, it was promptly—very promptly rebuilt. Rockport even celebrates an annual “Motif No. 1 Day,” which this year happened, coincidentally, to be yesterday, May 17.

I arrived in Rockport knowing only that I wanted to photograph nautical subjects. Boats, beaches, reflections in water, maybe a lighthouse or two. I knew nothing of Motif No. 1. But when I ventured onto Bradley’s Wharf  and saw this red nautically themed building during my initial exploration of Rockport, I knew I had to photograph it. Here are a few of my “finished” products.

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The light was perfect and the reflections and sky worked. If you want to see a version partially processed in B&W, check this out.

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My friends in the New England Photography Guild were discussing whether it’s possible to find a new way to photograph something that’s been done 12 million times. I don’t know, but here is my attempt:

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Thank you for looking! More on other parts of beautiful Rockport later.

What a Difference a Night Makes

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In April I had the great fortune to be on the Rhode Island coast during the spring high tides. The full moon combined with high wind to produce some really dramatic surf at Sachuest Point, one of my favorite places on earth.

The evening’s fading light allowed me to use relatively slow shutter speeds to capture some silky water textures as the waves either shot into the air upon impact with the rocks or rolled over the rocks when their power was spent. Here is a shot I got with an aperture of f 8, ISO 200, and shutter speed of 0.3 second.  It was quite an exciting experience because when I was looking through the lens at the wave action I had no idea what was happening immediately around me–one of those waves could have been about to engulf me and I’d have been quite unaware until after the fact!  Such are the adventures one has for the sake of one’s art.

The following morning brought bright sunlight and still the strong wind. (Is there ever a time without any wind when you’re near beautiful Rhody’s coast?)  I returned to the same spot, and here I was able to use a shutter speed of 1/1000 second to freeze the wave action and get quite a different effect. 

It seems paradoxical that by freezing the action you actually convey a greater sense of action, but so it is. I never tire of shooting somewhere along this amazing, rocky coast.