The Adirondacks: Visiting an Old Friend

DSC0639 s

The Lake Placid region of the Adirondacks has always been one of my favorite places to photograph. In a sense it was the place where I cut my teeth photographically, as many of my earliest serious endeavors took place there, back in the days of Fuji Velvia film and my dear old Nikon 6006 camera. My last visit there, however, had been a foliage trip in October 2010, and so it was more than time for a return. Thanksgiving weekend I took to the roads, fully expecting to get some gorgeous shots of the High Peaks in the sweet early morning sunlight–so lovely at this time of year when one doesn’t have to get up and out at an ungodly hour to make such images!

The weather had other ideas. The flurries I encountered on the Northway north of Schroon Lake–it’s always fun to drive through flurries, and they weren’t supposed to amount to anything–turned into some serious stuff by the time I was halfway between Exit 30 and Lake Placid on Route 73, and it became obvious that this wasn’t going to go away. Scratch the sweet sunlight shots; this was going to be snow close-ups in the Wilmington Wild Forest. Which I did. But after a lunchtime break at High Falls Gorge (more on that another time), as I was driving back toward Lake Placid along Route 86 (one of my favorite roads in the universe), the sun did make an appearance, just as i decided to pull into the parking area at Monument Falls.

Monument Falls is one of those iconic spots with a great view of Whiteface Mountain. I had photographed it countless times before, but years pass, you learn more about your craft, and you have a better camera and considerably expanded knowledge of post-processing, so I wanted to give it a try. In place of the late autumn foliage I had originally expected, there was, of course, snow, and the late afternoon sun was lending a nice glow to Whiteface. Out came the Nikon D90 and tripod, and I made several images, vertical as well as horizontal. I was more aware of the extra interest added by the mountain’s reflection in the water (the Ausable River, a branch of which runs through here).

Then came the post-processing. I worked on a horizontal that I thought was OK but decided to try a vertical as well in order to minimize the dark clump of trees that otherwise can threaten to be a distraction. When post-processing my historic or dilapidated buildings or my street scenes I like to give my creativity fairly free range, but my nature images I prefer minimal post-processing, on the theory that nature itself does it best. Still, I brought the image into Nik Color Efex Pro 4 (yes! I just upgraded to Pro 4). For some reason I decided to experiment with the Tonal Contrast preset, which I normally avoid in my nature shots out of concern that the result will look too artificial. Lo and behold, it worked. I moved the sliders to 44 (highlights), 50 (midtones), 20 (shadows), and 20 (saturation), and it was just enough to produce a “pop” without resulting in an inappropriate, contrived look. The result is what you see above.

Ed IMG_0350 sThis was also my first visit to Lake Placid since I got seriously into my street scenes and window reflections photography. Here I used my brand new Canon Powershot G15. Below is one of the results. Click on the image and it will take you to other images from this trip, just uploaded onto my website.

Advertisements

Sunflower Photographs: 2 + 2 = 2

Sunflower season is upon us, that time when fields are filled with endless rows of these dear, stately flowers. After trees, I think that sunflowers are the most anthropomorphic member of the plant kingdom: their bright yellow smiles and their spread-out leaves seem to offer a hearty “Welcome! Look at me!” to all who pass by.

Thanks to a tip-off from fellow photographer G. Steve Jordan of New Paltz (more about Steve in a future blog), I found a huge field of sunflowers on Route 299 leading out of town; they were flanking a big tree that belongs in a painting by 19th-century landscape painter Asher B. Durand. Nice! An “anchor” for my photos. And the eight-feet-tall sunflowers’ welcoming qualities came into play when I hid under them during a sudden rain shower and they protected me from getting soaked!

The sunflowers in the photo I’m going to show you here aren’t from the Hudson Valley, however, but from Connecticut: Buttonwood Farm in Griswold. I’ve been there several times during their annual “Sunflowers for Wishes” week in July, and I believe this photo was from my second visit. The barn wall is from a recent trip to the Delaware Water Gap with fellow members of the Ridgewood Camera Club, and so you’re looking at some artwork combining photos from Connecticut and Pennsylvania and made by a photographer in New York. Who belongs to a New Jersey camera club.

Starting by ensuring that the two photos were the same size and then cloning out the rusty nails in the barn wall photo, I combined the two photos in Photoshop. For the first one I dragged the sunflower photo over the barn wall photo. I wanted that wall to provide texture for the photo. I used the “Darken” blend mode with 100% opacity, then selected the flowers and increased the brightness. There are many different blend modes available, of course, but I preferred “Darken” because it made the end result look as if someone had long ago painted sunflowers on the wall and it was all now peeling. Finally, I applied the Color Contrast preset from Nik Color Efex Pro to make the entire picture a lot brighter.

The second version gives an entirely different result. This time I began by changing the blue sky in the sunflower photo to the rich brown you see here, then I pulled the barn on top of the sunflowers. Here the blending mode was “Color burn” at 56% opacity. It gives a rather dramatic result, I think; at least two friends have commented on the “3D” effect. Regular readers of this blog will know that I love to photograph old buildings, especially old buildings that are sort of hurtling toward a state of ruin. I keep fantasizing that maybe someone will come along and liven up one of those old buildings in Spruceton Valley in the Catsksills by painting sunflowers like this on it. Anyhow, please tell me: Which of these two versions do you prefer, and why? I’d love to hear from you.

Just Do It. Now.

Back in May I wrote a blog post about my “Seen Better Days” series of photographs and the interpretive post-processing of this sort of image. Here is one more extremely important piece of advice for any of you who may be interested in pursuing the Ephemeral, the old, somewhat dilapidated building, with your camera:

If you find yourself passing a building like that on a regular basis and thinking each time, “I really need to plan to take my camera along and just get out and start shooting”–

Just do it. Don’t keep thinking about it. Do it. Sooner rather than later.

In mid-June on a brief weekend trip to the Catskills I discovered that not one but two of my “Seen Better Days” places had been changed–one of them irrevocably and unrecognizably. One was the red wooden building featured in my post in May, in which I showed different ways of processing the photo. In mid-June the door was swinging wide open and there was a huge “For Rent” sign in the window. But the other–the really heartbreaking one–was the Arkville Country Store. Words aren’t needed. Here are the “before” and “after” images.  Which reminds me–that gloriously dilapidated, weed-overgrown house I’ve been eying on Route 17 for months….

Before

After