The Adirondacks in June

 

 

Adirondack Steak and Seafood (Sony RX 100)

I have a home in the Adirondack region of New York State, which I typically visit 3 times a year, generally in late summer, January, and in early March. As it is a roughly 6 hour drive from my Pennsylvania home, I do not visit as often as I would like, the distance in my mind, requiring more than a few days stay to make the drive worthwhile.

I have visited at other times of the year, most notably, October, and once in early April (mud season in the Adirondacks). I had never visited in June, but this year with some free time, my wife and I decided to make the trip.

Visiting during a new season is refreshing photographically. The scenery is different than in late summer, the foliage light green and fresh looking, and there are flowers that one does not see later in the year. There are also events occurring in late June and early July, that I have not witnessed before.

Wildflowers at John Browns Farm (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 57mm f1.2)

Most notably in the latter category, is the Lake Placid Horse Show, an event that draws a decidedly upscale crowd to the Olympic Region.

June is a wetter month than later in the year, and threatened to rain much of the time we were there. On Wednesday of the week it pretty much rained all day, to a total of around 3 inches, which severely limited any outdoor activity.

Because of the time of year, I was concerned about black flies, but by the time he arrived, the season was almost finished, and I experienced very few of the annoying little critters.

We had a wonderful gustatory experience during the trip. Being without our children (who are an internships this summer), we ate out every night. There is a lot of good food in the Adirondacks, particularly in the Lake Placid region. The owner of one of our favorite restaurants, the Paradox Lodge, informed as he was retiring from the restaurant business (but will still run the bed and breakfast). This was a superb restaurant, and it will be missed. I can only imagine what the breakfasts must be like.

Red in his Kitchen (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 57mm f1,2)

 

For those who would visit Lake Placid, we had meals at a variety of other venues, including the Moose Lodge, at the Whiteface club, a spectacular setting right on the Lake Placid shoreline with a spectacular view of the lake and Whiteface Mountain . As always, the meal there was first class.

Steve at the Moose Lodge (Fuji X 100s)

Other restaurants we visited and enjoyed included Adirondack Steak and Seafood, Lisa G’s, The Cowboy, and in Saranac, Lake the Downhill Grille. I also spent a funny interlude, in one of my favorite pubs in the region, the Belvedere, where the regular patrons are very friendly, and can be incredibly amusing.

The Belvedere (Fuji X 100s)

 

But we didn’t just eat and drink. Outdoor sports are the reason one visits the region. We did a variety of hikes, on some old favorite trail systems in the Lake Placid and Paul Smith’s area. I have a wonderful memory of passing Connery Pond, at the foot of Whiteface Mountain, on a cool crisp Thursday morning, with mournful loons calling in the distance.

Connery Pond, June Morning (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 57mm f1.2)

Kayaking in the Adirondacks is also a favorite pastime, and quite unique, given the regions, abundant waterways, and the historic reliance on boats for transport in the remote regions during the 19th century, when a road system was decidedly lacking. Settlers in the region made provisions to travel from lake to lake, and many of those accommodations still exist. Throughout the region, there is a system of short portages, rivers, canals and locks which are still navigable.

Towards Jones Pond ( Sony RX 100)

We paddled on Osgood Pond, Near Paul Smith’s College. Here, there were beautiful “great camps”, many built in the late 19th and early 20th Century including the White Pine Camp, where Calvin Coolidge, once summered. Also, unique were the canals, dug at the turn of the 19th Century, which link Osgood to 2 smaller ponds. This facilitated boat travel to a nearby chapel (which is still there) so that vacationers could attend Sunday services.

Through the Canal (Sony RX 100)

Though in disrepair, the canals are still navigable. On the east end of the lake there is also a river channel which is quite beautiful, that leads to a more distant body of water (Jones Pond). We paddled upstream until a beaver dam blocked our progress.

Turtle ( Sony RX 100)

We did attend the horse show. We watched the jumping events, and marveled at the incredible outlay of money apparently required to participate in this sport. Many owners had extravagant tractor-trailers painted in a unique livery housing multiple expensive horses. The young riders travel to and from the makeshift stables on golf carts, while the staff warms the horses up. A modest selection of equestrian related venders catered to very expensive tastes. There was one venue with food and beer, but the tables were “pre-sold” and we were apparently not one of the buyers.

Walking the Course ( Fujifilm X Pro 1, XF 50 200mm f3.5)

 

It was fun to photograph the jumping action, but, otherwise, this was not my favorite Lake Placid event.

Up and Over ( Fuji X Pro 1, XF 50 200 f3.5)

Speaking of cameras; I took a variety of cameras on the trip including my Nikon D600, my Sony RX 100, and my Fuji bodies. I shot mainly with 2 cameras at my side, the X100s, and the X Pro 1 with the XF 57mm f1.2. This proved a wonderful combination for landscape shooting, the longer focal length lens allowing me to focus on and separate small details of the lush June landscape.

Three Birches and a Pine (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 57mm f 1,.2)

I did shoot the X Pro 1 with the XF 50- 200mm f3.5 during at the horse show grounds, and found it fairly easy to obtain good action shots. I used the Sony in the kayak, and around town, but on a bright sunny day, definitely missed having a view finder to compose with. I still find its image quality quite compelling for such a small camera. Once the new RX 100 MarkIII (which has a viewfinder) drops in price, I may buy one.

One unfortunate event: the hotshoe popped off my X Pro 1. A Google search suggests that this is not an isolated event, but may be a weak spot in the Fuji body’s construction. I have not had a flash on the camera, but did have a thumb grip loosely inserted into the hotshoe. I have now taken the thumb grips off my other Fuji cameras. Be warned.

Bridge at Herron Pond (Fuji X 100s)

So June turns out to be a pretty good time to visit the North Country. As always we had a wonderful outdoor experience, and had a great time with our friends. Though I love my home in Pennsylvania, I look forward to returning to the ‘Dacks.

 

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Weather Sites for Photographers

 

Early November Snow (Fuji S5 Pro, Tamron 17-50mm f2.8)

As a landscape photographer, it is important to have a fairly intimate sense of the environment in which we work. Knowledge of seasonal events, topography, and the native flora and fauna, are important when planning a day in the “out of doors”. Knowledge of the weather is paramout among these.

Thus, a vital service to outdoor photographers is an accurate source of weather information. It is important for a variety of reasons, affecting both the aesthetics culture work, and your personal comfort and safety.

Understanding the character of light one will be shooting in, is extremely helpful in planning your day. An example of this is the difference between shooting on cloudy versus sunny days. On shooting days I tend to awaken early if I know that the weather will be clear. It will be worth it to drag my butt out of bed, anticipating that there will be interesting lighting at, and around sunrise. If I know it will be cloudy, I will sleep in, secure in the knowledge that the light at the  more leisurely hour of say, 10:00 AM will be essentially the same as the light at 5. Understanding the weather well enough to predict a heavy fall hoar frost, or or morning fog, can open up new shooting opportunities for the intrepid photographer .

Sunbeams (Olympus E-20n)

On a sunny day, I will have a selection of polarizing filters packed for various lenses I may use, on cloudy days (unless I’m shooting flowing water). I will tend to leave them at home. Again on a brightly sunny day, I will likely forgo a tripod for a more convenient monopod, as the light will be abundant, and the shutter speeds higher.

Having accurate weather information helps one to understand, how to dress, and what protective gear you will need if any, for your equipment. Different elevations will have different weather conditions on the same day, and having an information source that takes this into account can be very helpful, if not life-saving.

Asters and Storm Clouds (Fujifilm S2 Pro, Tokina 28-80 ATX f2.8)

Having accurate and specific weather information is extremely helpful to avoid hazardous situations. If I am shooting for instance from a kayak, it is important to know whether thunderstorms may be lurking in the distance. Being caught in the middle of a large body of water during a storm featuring high winds and/or lightning can be extremely dangerous. Accurate real-time weather information is extremely helpful to avoid this.

 

So, needless to say, I have had a great interest in various weather services and websites (particularly the latter) over the years. It is particularly helpful, that increasingly sophisticated “smart phones” can allow us to bring that information with us when we’re in the field

The various for-profit weather services have been in him a sort of “arms race” with their websites. Unfortunately, much of the evolution of the sites I think has been to facilitate the advertising that they feature, rather than to make him more functional for users.

For the last several years, I have made use of Accuweather’s website and mobile app. This is in part because it was founded by a group of Penn State meteorologists, whom I have memories of watching as boy, when they appeared on the university’s own weather show. It is also because I have grown to dislike its main competitor, The Weather Channel and it’s constant moralizing on “global warming”, “climate change” or, whatever we’re calling it now.

Whiteface Fall Morning (Fujifilm S2 Pro, Nikkor 70-200mm VR f2.8)

The problem with both of these weather services however, is the lack of specificity of their weather reporting. Forecast and real -time temperatures for instance, will be reported as the same for both my  home township, versus Wilkes-Barre, which located in the “Wyoming Valley” is between 800 and 1500 feet lower. Turns out that the major weather services  recognize only the temperatures measured at our local Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport, which is situated  at an intermediate altitude.

I live at a location that is fairly high for Pennsylvania. Temperatures at my home can be as much as 12 degrees cooler than those in the city, depending on weather conditions. Especially in the early spring and late fall, this can be the difference between a valley rain event, and significant snow in the mountains.

There are other problems. Recently Accuweather has adopted a strategy of making the “free” website extraordinarily irritating by allowing you to open advertisements by merely scrolling over them (rather than clicking on them). This makes the website very difficult to use. Featured prominently on the site however, is a “premium offering” with no advertising and a more convenient format. It is definitely more usable, and I was willing to sign up for this, but at $8 a month, it seems somewhat pricey. So I began to look for other options.

I should mention another useful weather site run by NOAA, which is www.weather.gov. This features tons of useful information on both the atmospheric and hydrologic conditions  throughout the US. I particularly like the “graphical forecast “page, which has multiple weather variables which can be overlaid over a map of you region which progress as you scroll through the upcoming days and nights, giving you a good sense of when and where for instance, the rain forecast for tomorrow will start and stop.

Looking Back (Nikon Coolpix 4300)

In my search, however, for a “bread and butter” weather source, I revisited Weather Underground. In past experiences, this free site was intriguing in concept, but quirky and not very useful. It was apparently founded at the University of Michigan’s meteorology department, but the current entity is a commercial organization, that in 2012 was purchased by The Weather Channel. The infusion of cash may be the reason that it seems to have evolved.

It is based on an interesting premise, linking web-linked private weather stations, some with associated webcams into a network, allowing access to very specific weather data. Coverage is spotty, particularly in wilderness areas, but it is still more useful than the very nonspecific data offered by its parent organization and their competitors.

The website and smartphone app are now particularly useful. Once configured with your location, virtually all of the data you might need, from a radar map, current conditions, forecast trends, sunrise and sunset times, and hour-by-hour forecasting are all available at your fingertips on the main page. There is no need to scroll page- to-page like the other popular weather sites.

The site allows, you to choose a weather station that is most germane to your desired location, or will find one automatically. It also appears to base its forecast in some way, to the conditions relative to the station chosen. A weather reporting site located for instance, in Wilkes-Barre will have a different forecast high temperature, than a nearby one at higher elevation. You can store a variety of favorite weather stations for future reference.

You can choose a map showing wind speed, direction and temperature data, for all of the stations in your vicinity. Some will have webcam icons associated with them. Clicking on the icon will bring up the image in your browser. Also, the Android application that I use can locate you on a map using cell tower information, or better yet GPS. This can be very helpful, when you’re out in the wilderness, away from landmarks, and there is foul weather approaching.

October Snow at Glen Summit ( Olympus E 510, Zuiko 11-22mm f2.8)

The advertisements featured on the site, are not intrusive. It has a clean, uncluttered layout with large fonts, perfect for aging eyes. Much of the site can be customized to suit the user.

Weather Underground has thus become my default weather source. Its convenience is no small thing to me, and I suspect other outdoorsman, and particularly photographers, who utilize it.

 

I just hope The Weather Channel doesn’t screw it up.

 

 

 

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The Gear that I Use: The Fujifilm XF 56mm f1.2

The Old Orchard (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 56mm f1.2)

I have heard it said, that painting is the art of inclusion, because as a painter, you are free to rearrange and even add elements to a scene to create the vision you see in your mind’s eye. Photography, on the other hand, is said to be the art of exclusion, because, at least until the digital age, we were unable to modify images except for tonal changes, cropping and sharpening.

So acquiring great photographs, is often about composing the image in a way that eliminates distracting elements and captures only  that which defines the story you wish to tell, or the feeling you wish to convey. And often it is easier to achieve this with a telephoto lens.

I think it is easy, as a landscape photographer, to slip into the habit of shooting in the “mid-wide” to “normal” focal lengths. I know I do. I periodically forget that longer focal lengths can often be used to make compelling landscape images. In fact, when I go out, armed with such lenses, I find that my ratio of “keepers” to “duds” tends to increase. I’ve written on this before.

Aspens in the Spring (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 56mm f1.2)

 

Recently I was reacquainted with this effect when I purchased the XF 55-200mm lens which stayed on my X Pro 1 for some months. But now it has been wrapped in its pouch, and placed back in my photo bag. I have replaced it with the new Fuji XF 56mm f 1.2.

Now there have been lots of reviews of this optic. It is almost universally recognized for what it is, a very fine portrait lens.

Japonica (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 56mm f1.2)

Most formal reviews find the newest 56mm to be sharp in the center even wide open, then extremely sharp across the entire frame by f2.8. The 56mm focal length translates in to an 85mm field of view given the X cameras APS-c sized sensor.  Rendering of out-of-focus elements is generally thought to be smooth. Though these attributes are generally associated with portraiture, they also make for a lovely landscape lens.

Despite its wide aperture it’s not a huge lens. There is a large front element which is thankfully somewhat recessed for protection. It uses the same lens hood as the 55-200mm zoom, which is rather large, perhaps unnecessarily so. It handles quite nicely on my X Pro 1.

X Pro 1 with XF56mm f1.2 (Sony RX 100)

 

First, here’s an obligatory portrait.

Elliot (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 56mm f1.2)

The image was shot in fairly low light@ f2.8 and demonstrates nicely how nicely the lens isolates the subject, with enough but not too much detail. The speed of the lens allows me to shoot in situations where I would otherwise have to pass. I am eager to get it into the studio.

I have been shooting it in the field, generally accompanied in the bag by my 35mm equivalent X 100s, which makes for a nice mix of focal lengths. What I find particularly unique about this lens is the detail it can render, detail which really “pops” the elements of the images one chooses to focus on.

Field in Nescopeck (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 56mm f1.2)

 

Backgrounds are nicely smoothed, especially at wide apertures and a distance; at narrow apertures OOF portions of the scene are slightly coarser.

Shooting at 85mm FOV makes you scan your surroundings somewhat differently. You must think in smaller, tighter vignettes, or stand further back to frame a scene, keeping in mind the magnification of distant objects that occurs with telephoto lenses. Most of the time, the effect is flattering.

Crowd at the Band Shell (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 56mm f1.2)

 

I used the lens for some street shooting during Wilkes-Barre’s Fine Arts Fiesta, held every May in the city’s Public Square.

Erica and the Girls Choir (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 56mm f1.2)

 

Longer lenses have a great advantage in this situation, as they allow you to frame scenes  from a longer distance than you would for instance with the classic street shooting 35mm focal length. This allows you to shoot more discreetly, and capture spontaneity.

Making the Pitch (Fuji X Pro 1, XF 56mm f1.2)

This is another wonderful lens. I am thinking that along with the 14mm, 23mm and the 35 mm XF lenses, they will reside in the bag in which I carry the X Pro 1, forcing me to shoot primes when I travel with this camera (I’ll keep the zooms with the XE-1).

Given this purchase, I’m finally content with the camera and lens selection that I currently have available for the Fujifilm system. The upcoming splash proof zooms aren’t of much use to me without a weatherproof body like the new XT-1.

Hmmm… an XT-1

It just never ends.

 

 

 

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Capturing the Flow of Water

Falls at Glen Onoko (Fujifilm S-5 Pro, Nikkor 16-85mm VR f3.5)

 

It is April in Pennsylvania and the streams are running hard.

As a landscape photographer, one tries to anticipate events and conditions that predictably (or sometimes sporadically) occur, at different points in the calendar. One of these events is occurring now. As I write this, the region’s creeks in rivers are filled to capacity, and sometimes beyond, by the melting snow pack, spring rains, and by the water released as the ground finally thaws.

This occurs at a time, in the northeastern US, when there is little other visual interest in the outdoors, which has returned to the browns, and greys that we gratefully left behind in November prior to the first winter snow.

It is during late March and April in the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania, that the exuberant water flow provides us an opportunity for some interesting imaging, that will last hopefully until the first blooms of May. In fact, it is these rivulets, brooks, and torrents that ultimately enable the greenery that will be the focus of our efforts, later in the season.

Spring Rivulet, Sand Springs Trail (Fujifilm X Pro 1, XF 55-200 f3.5 @1/7 sec)

Hiking in the Appalachians in April, one can observe water during the various stages of its journey, from a melting snow drift, converging into streamlets that follow seldom used courses over the mountainsides, searching out better established stream beds. Here and there they form tiny cascades, often quite beautiful, but also quite ephemeral.

Small Falls (Fujifilm X Pro 1, XF 55-200 f3.5 @1/4 sec)

Creeks and streams run hard during these times, the water cold, the current formidable, enough that trout struggle to hold their usual feeding positions behind the rocks and boulders. A creek bed, that contains barely a trickle in August, can be uncrossable during the first warm days of spring.

Most avid photographers I think understand the basic concepts of shooting moving water. It is common among less experienced photographers, to work toward the classic cloudlike water flows that are often seen in waterfall imaging. But there are actually multiple techniques to depict water flow in ways that are evocative of its character and setting.

Standard equipment for shooting flowing water includes a good camera/lens combination capable of shooting at higher (tighter) apertures but still retain sharpness. The ability to mount neutral density filters to further reduce light levels is also very important. Neutral density filters are dark, color-neutral, on-lens filters: essentially “sunglasses for the imager” that allow one to use slower shutter speeds than would be possible given the amount of ambient light. This is important for smoothing water flow. A tripod and a remote release are essential to prevent camera movement.

Over the Glen ( Fujifilm XE-1, XF 18-55mm f3.5 @1/6sec)

I have been shooting this spring with a variety of cameras, including my Nikon bodies, and the various Fuji’s. Perhaps the most intriguing cameras to use, however over the years, have been my X 100, and later my X100s.

Now my Nikon bodies are certainly also useful, but require more lugging and more shot discipline (for slow speed shots, one should use mirror lock-up and trigger them remotely).They are weather sealed however and have wonderful imagers.

I have also been shooting with my Fuji equipment. Certainly the X Pro 1 and the XE-1 work nicely in this setting. But it is the X 100s and its predecessor, the X 100 that offer several unique features and attributes that make them particularly adept at shooting moving water.

First and foremost, the Fuji imager (like the Nikon) has a wide dynamic range, which allows, you to “pull back” the exposure of an image where the water itself is frequently “blown out” by the extended exposure times needed to smooth the flow of water. These cameras however, are much smaller which is helpful to minimize the weight one must carry, particularly when hiking to remote sites.

Unlike the other Fuji’s, they have a leaf shutter, which tends to minimize shutter-induced movement artifact. This can be an issue in other cameras, particularly DSLRs, which may suffer from “mirror slap” as well as the effects of focal plane shutters. Reducing camera induces vibration, in turn allows one to utilize lighter tripods than would be necessary for DSLRs.

Spring Flow on the Nescopeck (Fujifilm X 100s @4sec)

The X100 twins have built in neutral density filter. Adding a second neutral density or polarizing filter in front of the lens amplifies its effect and allows the cameras to blur water in surprisingly bright light.

There is also a threaded, shutter button that facilitates the use of a simple cable release.

For me the only 2 disadvantages, of the X 100/X100s is the fixed lens, which does reduce their versatility a bit, and the native ISO of 200 which tends to push exposures towards faster shutter speeds than would an ISO 50 or 100. And I suppose it would help, if the camera was weather proofed a bit, to reduce the anxiety of using it near high-flow waterfalls, where there is often mist and spray at the base.

It does appear that the new and splash proof XT-1, perhaps with an on-lens variable neutral density filter might be useful around moving water, especially when weather proofed lenses are available.

Back to technique; like snowfall, one can use different shutter speeds to achieve different effects. The violence of flowing streams and waterfalls can sometimes be displayed better by freezing the action, with all of the churning and splashing in graphic display. On the other hand, blurring the water evokes tranquility, and a sort of “mystical quality” to the scene.

Riffles (Fujifilm X 100s @ 3sec)

Shooting at tighter apertures slows things down, but too tight a iris can lead to diffraction, and thus blurring of details that you want to appear sharp.

Shooting at sunrise, or at dusk is generally desirable, but particularly when photographing moving water. Here not only the quality of the light, but the diminished quantity of the light, has definite advantages. Shooting at midday, often it’s better cloudy than sunny. On a partly cloudy day, I will often set up the camera and tripod, and wait for a moment when the sun is obscured to shoot. This again reduces scene contrast, and allows you or the camera, to select a lower shutter speed.

Dam at Hickory Run (Fujifilm X 100s @1/3 sec)

After a long winter I think there is something joyful about all of this. I think we as humans, find peace near to watercourses. Maybe our archaic instincts find comfort in celebrating through photography what is for us, a life giving resource.

As photographers, the April runoff offers an opportunity for powerful imaging, prior to the emergence of “botanical” spring.

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A Walk in Spring

Spring Ice, Farmstead Trail (Sony RX100)

Yesterday, perhaps for the first time this spring, the sun was bright, the temperatures mild to a degree where a midday walk would not become an exercise in moving, just to stay warm.

I elected to walk in my local state park. Given the relative preciousness of the spring sunshine, I chose a trail that involved mainly old farmland, there I could bask in the warmth.

Saplings (Sony RX 100)

I assumed the scenery would be bleak, so I carried with me only a pocket camera, my Sony RX 100, in case I did come upon a photographic opportunity.

On the way, in the truck, I resolved to challenge myself to “reach” a bit and see whether I could come up with enough reasonable images, even given the slim photo “pick in’s” in late March in eastern Pennsylvania, perhaps to feature in a an article. You can be the judge of whether I have succeeded.

Early spring images it seems to me, are often less about colors, and more about patterns. In some captures, moving to black and white is helpful in subtracting the monotonous browns and greys, allowing the eye to focus on what is visually interesting.

Wind Blown ( Sony RX100)

The weather (mid 50′sF) was on my side allowing me to by more contemplative than I am when it is 40 degrees colder.

The temps have been cold here, but the March sun is fairly strong, and our robust snowpack has been reduced to a few  patches  where there is shade, or where the winter winds formed deep drifts.

Snow by the Field’s Edge (Sony RX 100)

As I begin my walks, I note that robins are calling; I catch a glimpse of a fleeing plover who is is alarmed at my approach.

Small vernal streams and ponds are thawing, soon, there will be clusters of frog and salamander eggs at the edges, hoping to hatch before the water disappears.

Melting ( Sony RX 100)

The fields give evidence of the harshness of the previous season, with the grass matted down from the heavy winter snows.

Spring Grass (Sony RX 100)

Some remnants of the late summer remain: these spent milkweed pods were swaying to-and-fro in the gentle March breezes.

Milkweeds in Spring (Sony RX 100)

Sadly as I write this, a front has passed; it is 32 degrees and intermittently snowing. There is talk of a snowstorm later in the week. Such is March and April in the Pennsylvania mountains. Patience is a virtue.

Now, did I succeed in my challenge?

 

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