I decided to head over to New Hampshire last night for some Milky Way photos. The state is only 15 miles from my house in Vermont and has a very different look than where I live. Finding good places to shoot the Milky Way is tough, I always want to have something interesting in the foreground and not just stars overhead. Getting away from light pollution is very hard and I use a couple of websites and apps to help but you never really know until you’re there on a moonless night. So finding a place with those two main criteria requires a lot of snooping around in daylight and then going back at night to see how it really looks. I went to one pond that I spotted an island on Google maps yesterday but there were houses along the shore and no place to park so I’ll have to go back during the day and make some friends to gain access. I went to another large pond, Goose Pond, to a spot I had scouted before. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could tell there would be a lot of light pollution to the south east, which is where the Milky Way is located. It was bright enough to light the water and some of the sky to diminish the Milky Way’s colors but the stars reflecting on the water looked cool.
Then I went over to a boat launch on Mascoma Lake, which I guessed would be bright and I was right. I street light in the parking lot lit up the moored boats which ended up looking rather good. Finally I went to a small pond I had scouted and tromped out into a wet field in the darkness. Again there was plenty of light pollution on the horizon which reflected in the pond but the area was open enough to photograph the entire Milky Way’s arch. After processing the photos today I was liking them more than when I shot them. That makes for a good night.
If I wasn’t a photographer I might be a sculptor. I wouldn’t be carving things out of rock, although that would be fun too. I met a guy in Iceland who I visit every summer who does some great stone carving but it is tough work. I’d be the kind of sculptor who makes big things out of scrap metal. I think that would be a lot of fun and pretty satisfying to see a big something come from nothing. Last night I went with some friends to a cool sculpture park, Lemon Fair, near Middlebury, VT. It is basically a big field, near nothing, with lots of sculptures like the ones I would make. And some of them are mighty big.
When photographing other art I like to add something to the picture to make it more than just a snapshot of what is sitting there. So I went at night to capture the stars behind the art. Since I was out in a dark field, I used a flashlight to illuminate the objects. It created some fun pictures as the Milky Way rose through the sky.
Click on a photo to see a larger version, then you can scroll through them by clicking on the arrows.
I love when when great planning comes together to create a good picture. I love even more when dumb planning and incredible luck combine to create a special image. I was out shooting star trails over a pond last night and lined up a cool looking shot. I planned on getting some good reflections from the trees I was lighting with my flashlight in the water. Star trails are essentially very long exposures and the stars blur due to the earth’s rotation. This photo was made in a period of 2 hours and 45 minutes, but rather than being one shot it is about 275 photos that were 30 seconds long each. They are then assembled with software to show the movement of the stars. I add some light to the trees so there is a nice foreground and I knew I’d have a pretty cool shot. As I’m sitting out in the dark the International Space Station flew over. It is always fun to see it streak past but this time it looked like it was going to be in my shot. About 90 minutes later it came by again, this time lower in the sky and not as bright. Hey, I might catch that one too, I thought. Today when I put the photo together I was thrilled to see the ISS flew right in front of Polaris, which is the star the others rotate around. Now that is cool. Plus I have the second ISS pass lower in the shot. Damn I’m good.
So much happened in Cuba with the coronavirus hanging over our heads, even there was very little evidence of it in Cuba but there was the constant concern that we may be delayed coming home. But the week was magical and we made some great photos. I didn’t do a great job editing, so here are a bunch of photos I shot. If you click on one it will bring up a larger version and then you can use the arrows on the extreme right and left to scroll through the images.
I have to admit that before I went to Iceland I was thinking that maybe I have been there too much and had seen it all. This was my sixth trip in the last two years and I take new workshop participants to the same places, knowing there will be exciting photos there for the photographers. My main goal for workshops is not to make pictures for myself, it is to help others make great images. But I like to get a good shot once in a while too. That sure wasn’t a problem on this trip, the beauty of Iceland is astounding and we were treated to a wonderful display of the Aurora Borealis. To see colorful lights dancing in the sky is beyond words and I may have sounded like a little kid giggling while we were standing out in the dark capturing the beauty with our cameras. We did an early morning hike back to an ice cave and got there before the tourists showed up to crowd the cave as they took selfies. It was a beautiful cave and created unique images for everyone. Even the places I’ve been to several times made for fun, new shots. A favorite place is Diamond Beach where pieces of blue glacial ice wash up on the black sand beach. The sun was low in the sky and the scene was magical as the light creeped into the ice releasing the blue colors. I look forward to returning in August and again next year.
Iceland is full of wonder, maybe one of the most amazing is ice cave in the glaciers. The caves are formed by rivers flowing through the ice in the summer, carving out tunnels during the annual melt. Once winter arrives with colder temperatures, the hollowed out ice becomes a special place. I’ve been in several caves during my Iceland journeys but the one we went to today was a special one. I hired a private guide for our group, which is the only way to get there. We rode 45 minutes in a van with huge oversized tires to traverse the bumpy road to the glacier. We then hiked a little over a mile to get to the cave before the sun rose. The hike was long but pretty easy and the scenery on the way was special. There were other photographers at the cave, it is impossible to go to an empty cave. But the photographers worked together to not get each other in the photos. Once the regular tourists appear, the caves become crowded and making good photos are tough with everyone trying to make selfies.
The glacier glows a wonderful blue as light makes it way through the ice. I moved to the side of the can and used an extreme wide angle lens as one of the other guides posed with an ice axe. The person in the shot provided a sense of scale and helps the scene make visual sense.
We walked farther back in the cave where there were fewer people and the pictures were equally cool. Again, having a person in the photo made the shot. It was a special day and one I’ll remember forever.
Nature is amazing and one of the most unique sights is the Aurora Borealis – the northern lights. To see them in full fury is a thrill and we had a great display tonight in Iceland. It takes the right combination of dark skies, sun spot activity and no clouds. There is a scale of 1-9 that rates the solar activity and they predict it three weeks in advance. Last week it was showing that we would only be at a 2 all this week, so I sent a note to my Iceland workshop participants not to expect much in the way of aurora.
Then two days ago when I checked tonight’s rating was 3, which isn’t bad. We had dinner and then went out of town to an area I know would make a good foreground. As we were driving the aurora was glowing bright on the horizon. Once we parked we were treated to an amazing show of light. We had a small mountain in front of us and the green light started on the right side. Then it started appearing on the left side of the mountain. I was doing a happy dance as the aurora danced across the sky. After a while a hook of light appeared on the right side creating a classic Icelandic aurora. We stood out in the dark for over two hours being amazed by what we saw. It finally diminished and we went back to the hotel with a special memory.
There is something special about a snow covered landscape. The world becomes much simpler looking, everything is clean and free of distractions. I love making images that are simple and minimal and winter is the best time to do that. Before the workshop I drove past a pretty little white barn sitting up on a hill. There was a pure white blanket in front of it and a single white birch off to the side. The scene is one that I am always looking for, simple, clean and pretty. I was pretty happy with the shot and the others I made during the weekend.
Last night was a fun workshop in New York City. All day there was heavy rain and miserable conditions. I had postponed the workshop from the week before due to snow and ice predictions and it turned out to be a wise idea. Yesterday it looked like the rain would stop around 6:00 p.m. so I decided to go ahead with the workshop. I warned everyone to be ready for rain, it is important to keep yourself as dry as your equipment. Once you get wet clothes you are cold until you change into something dry.
I made some adjustments to our schedule so we would start with shooting indoors at Grand Central Terminal and then head right down to Brooklyn. My genius came through and it stopped raining by the time we were done at Grand Central. One of the great things about changing weather is that the light usually becomes much better and yesterday it became absolutely special. We went south of the Brooklyn Bridge to photograph old pilings in the East River with lower Manhattan in the background. It was rather blah when we first got there and then as darkness approached the clouds starting doing cool things, clear skies mixed with clouds and it looked great. Then fog rolled in, making for a different look. As we were finishing there I had my back to the city for 30 seconds and when I turned around the fog had covered all of Manhattan and you couldn’t tell the city existed. Pretty cool.
We went up the Dumbo area to photograph around the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge. There was still some fog hanging around so I used part of the Manhattan Bridge to frame in a shot of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan. The light combined with the wet ground and fog to make an eerie image. There are always lots of great photos in that area.
We finished the night at a special spot on 42nd St. in Manhattan where we photographed traffic and car lights streaking past. A beautiful way to end the day that started out dismal.
I got a nice new Apple Watch for Christmas from my lovely wife Robin. It is pretty cool but a little too advanced, it wouldn’t work with my old iPhone 6, so of course I was forced kicking and crying to to upgrade my phone! OK, I’ve been eyeing one for a while so it wasn’t too painful, other than the price. I got the spiffy iPhone 11 Pro Max since it has what is reputed to be a great camera built in. I hear a lot of people saying their phone can make images as good as my expensive DSLR camera. I tell them to come to my gallery and I’ll show you plenty of shots you aren’t going to make with that phone. But now that I have the fanciest around I need to give it a try.
All phone cameras have an extremely wide angle lens but this gets even wider. While a nice soft snow was falling this morning in Vermont, I went out with our dog Pudge to give the phone a little trial run. I shot some photos on normal setting, some with the telephoto and then the wide angle. Any camera would handle these conditions pretty well so it hard to tell what the camera will really do but so far they look pretty good. I got Pudge to sit and pose and used the extreme wide angle to really make her dominant in the photo. Like most cameras, it made the image too dark because of all the snow. It made the snow gray rather than white and I needed to correct it in post processing but it wasn’t off that far. I got the normal wide angle distortion in the trees but that is to be expected. The image looks pretty sharp but I’m not making a 60″ print. That will be the real test.
I keep getting older and life keeps getting better! Sure, creaky bones and old man stiffness is coming on strong but my brain still thinks I’m in my 20’s. I am fortunate and thankful that I am loved by my wife Robin, have great family and friends and am doing the work that I love.
One of my life dreams, opening a photography gallery, came true this year and I’m traveling to places I could only have imagined not too many years ago. I made trips to Italy twice, exploring the beauty of Tuscany and visiting Venice before it gets sadly destroyed by flooding. Iceland is one of my favorite places and I’m glad I don’t have to decide if I like it better in winter or summer since I go there in both seasons. And I had the thrill of chasing a total solar eclipse in northern Chile. It is one spectacle that I can’t get enough of.
I spend as much time as I can at my Vermont house, which is a great place to photograph snow in the winter, the Milky Way all summer and the immense beauty of fall foliage in October. This year’s foliage was one of the most colorful in recent years and I’m blessed that my neighbor allows me access to her special property nearby. It is where I made the shot above.
Getting out and working with other photographers during my many workshops is very fulfilling. Whether we are getting together at my gallery or around New Jersey, going into New York City, cruising up the Maine Coast, checking out scenic Bucks County, PA, stomping around Vermont or going international, it is fun to see what other photographers come up with.
Entering a new year and decade is exciting and I look forward to seeing what new adventures await.
Below are some of my favorite photos I made in 2019. Move your mouse over a photo to see where the image was made or click on a photo to see a larger version and then you can click the arrows to move through the pictures.
A fun workshop that I do with fellow professional photographer Ron Lake is a tour of New York City’s big bridges. We can’t hit them all in one day but we go to five of the most photogenic. Our first stop is usually the George Washington Bridge and the little known Little Red Lighthouse that sits underneath. I’ve written in my blog about it before but it is still fun to take people to something they didn’t know existed. We then go to one of the prettiest bridges, the Queensborough, then the industrial Williamsburg Bridge. Finally we go over to Brooklyn to shoot the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Photographing the Brooklyn Bridge at dusk as the lights of lower Manhattan start glowing is always a favorite. A helicopter zipped past tonight as I was doing a long exposure creating a streak of light and dashes from a flashing light. It is a lot of fun and the scene never gets tiring.
Many people in Vermont said the foliage this year is the best it has been in years. And it has been a long time since I’ve seen it looking this good. There aren’t a lot of the deep reds that we sometimes get but the lighter reds, oranges and yellows are shining through. I did two fall foliage workshops this year and as usual people came from all over the country. It is fun to host people who live in different places and see their reaction to the changing colors. They have usually seen a few trees change but not whole forests of brilliant foliage.
I created a little group of photos that I shot the last week or so, I hope you enjoy it. Click on a photo to see a larger version and then you can click on the right or left side to scroll through them.
One of the techniques I enjoy doing with my photography is light painting. Much like it sounds, I illuminate subjects in a similar way as painting a wall. But I use a flashlight, sometimes a big one. During my Vermont Fall Foliage Workshop I like to take people to Chittenden Reservoir and light up an island that is about 250 yards from the shore. I have a big 18 million candle power flashlight that does a great job on the island. The best shots come 20-30 minutes after sunset when there is still some light and color in the sky and it is dark enough that the background is dark. We use a 30 second exposure which gives me time to light up the island. Just like painting a wall, I don’t try to cover the whole island in one splash of light, I paint across it so any one area may get only 5-8 seconds of light. When the conditions are right, it can be a fantastic photo.
Maine’s coast is hard to beat for great scenery and when you toss in a bunch of lighthouses it becomes a true visual treat. I hosted a workshop this weekend that started with driving from New Jersey and picking up people along the route to Portland in my 12 passenger Sprinter van. We had people from five states including Florida for the fast three day excursion and we photographed 10 lighthouses. The weather was ideal giving us brilliant sunrises and colorful sunsets. We went to classic locations that every photographer should see including Portland Head and Nubble and some lesser known ones.
I rarely take groups to places I haven’t been before but I had a gap and did a ton of research to find us another place to shoot between Portland and our Saturday night location in Rockland. Squirrel Point lighthouse looked good in my research and I knew it would be a fairly long hike but as we were walking out we crossed a small bridge and I noticed the tide was coming in. I tried to see if I could find a high tide line or something to tell if the water came up to the bridge but I couldn’t see anything. Since I hadn’t read about any problems and I couldn’t see anything, we ventured on. We photographed the lighthouse for a while and some of the group was ahead of the rest and a gentleman out running told them to hurry because the rising tide would be a problem. And it was. When we got to the bridge both ends we almost a foot deep in water. Our runner friend came back and asked if there was anything he could do to help. I had some cheap plastic boot covers in the van and he was kind enough to run the 1/4 mile to get them and bring them back. Some of our people had already ventured across before I got there and either took their shoes and socks off or just went ahead and got their feet wet.
The runner came back, seeming to enjoy running through the water and helping us. I assisted the rest of our group put on the little plastic bag/boots and they made their way dryly through the water. Disaster averted.
For me the best part of the weekend was sunset on Saturday at Marshall Point Lighthouse, which just happened to be where Forrest Gump finished his run. The evening clouds were great and as darkness set in I got out my trusty flashlight and did some light painting of the walkway and the lighthouse. We were given a great show and it was a wonderful weekend.