There’s a new way to see the images I post.

Dam at Herron Pond (Smug Mug)

I have not been happy with the look of my images on this site.

Frustrated with the lack of detail and crispness to the images seen on Henrysmiths cottage, I have purchased a Smug Mug account, and will, from here forward use that as my photo repository.  It can be accessed here. Eventually I plan to set thing up so that the images can be purchased there, and printed at number of online photo finishers. Feel free to visit, particularly when a new article appears.

Hopefully, this will help the images here. You can compare this image(click on it) to the image in the previous article.

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An Ancient Forest

Giants in the Forest Cathedral ( Fuji S2 Pro, Tokina 28-85mm f2.8)

“An old-growth forest (also termed primary forest, virgin forest, primeval forest, late seral forest, or in Britain, ancient woodland) is a forest that has attained great age without significant disturbance and thereby exhibits unique ecological features and might be classified as a climax community”

-Wikapedia

I have always been fascinated by forests. When I was a young boy, growing up in suburban Philadelphia, I remember being drawn to a small patch of “forest” I would encounter on my walk to school.

Now these were safer times, when it was perfectly normal for a 6-year-old to walk unaccompanied 5 or 6 blocks to the parochial school I attended. In my off hours, I would return to the woodland (which my  father tells me it was no more than a “copse” of trees) imagining myself as a trapper or hunter in some distant wilderness.

Later, when my dad was done with his medical training, we moved home…back to northeastern Pennsylvania, to Mountaintop. Here there is real forest, and real deer, real trout, real bear. I spent my youth immersed in the outdoor life.

Big Birch on big Rock( Nikon D600, Nikkor 50mm f1.8)

Now, 50 years later, I still spend a good portion of my recreational time, in the ”woods”, hiking, mountain-biking , and cross-country skiing. Over the years I’ve become rather fascinated by forest ecology, and have read quite a bit on the topic.

I am particularly interested in the character of forests that existed prior to European colonization, particularly in my region of the continent. In the intervening centuries, the forests of the eastern US, were gradually denuded, by armies of timber men, converting what were vast expanses of Majestic Pine and Northern Hardwood forest, into the much more scraggly, deciduous forests we have today.

Behind the Back Lake at Nescopeck

But there are places, even in the populated East, where there are pockets of timber that have never known the lumberman’s axe. These are old-growth forests, found in both accessible and inaccessible regions of the eastern US. These wonderful places, are dominated by truly ancient trees, hundreds of feet high, and majestic in a way that  leaves one with a sense of wonder, much like the first European visitors must have experienced as they explored and settled in the forests of 16th century North America .

My own state of Pennsylvania, according to Wikipedia, has 17 old-growth tracts ranging from 26 acres, to almost 4000 acres of ancient forest. I have visited many of these areas throughout the years, as well as several sites in the Adirondack region of New York. It is always a challenge to obtain images from within these magnificent Woodlands, that truly conveys the sense of grandeur one experiences in person.

A stand of Big Trees at Ampersand (Nikon D 600, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G)

In the eastern United States at least, old-growth forests can look very different from one another. I think of the Hearts Content area, within the Allegheny National Forest in Northwestern Pennsylvania, which had fairly large trees, some deciduous, with a fairly open canopy. There were many deadfalls.  I understand that more recently, there now is dense undergrowth, since measures were implemented to control browsing deer. When I last visited, ferns covered the forest floor.

Old Growth at Heart’s Content(Fuji S2, Nikkor 18-35mm f3.5)

Contrast this with Cooks Forest State Park, 45 minutes south. Here the aptly named “Forest Cathedral” features an unbroken canopy, and minimal growth at the forest floor. White Pine, Hemlocks mix with Oak and Cherry. These are among the largest trees in the East with heights up to one hundred and eighty feet, and tree rings that suggest that they are 250-350 years old. Short of the great redwoods of the Pacific coast, these are among the  largest trees in the country. I have visited this place many times, and am always left with a feeling of reverence for this magnificent woodland.

Snow Shoe Tract in Cook’s Forest(Fuji S3 Pro, Nikkor 18-35mm f3.5)

The Adirondacks also has significant areas of Old Growth. One such ancient forest tract exists on the flanks of Ampersand Mountain, southwest of the Town of Saranac Lake, in the high peaks region of the Adirondacks. This is readily accessible from state route 3, via the Ampersand Mountain hiking trail.

I visited there earlier this year, carrying in a Gitzo tripod (old growth forests tend to be dark), a Fuji X100s, and my Nikon D 600 with a selection of prime lenses. I shot mostly with the new 50 mm f18G lens.

Trees Down ( Nikon D 600, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G)

Ampersand’s forests have many attributes of old growth seen elsewhere. Ancient forest by definition, have not been disturbed by humans. So every bit of biomass that grows in the forest stays in the forest. This means that the forest floor is littered with the carcasses of all of the previous giants that have succumbed in the last century or so, to senescence, wind throw, or flame.

In other words, these woods are a mess. It is interesting to imagine how difficult it must have been for the first settlers to traverse these very chaotic conditions, let alone to clear the land and farm.

On The Forest Floor (Nikon D 600, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G

The trees on Ampersand are said to be 300-400 years old, similar in age to those at Cooks Forest. Yet these trees, though stunning in their own right, tend be smaller than on the Pennsylvania sites. I wonder whether the shorter growing season seen in the Adirondacks, soil conditions, and perhaps genetics, might explain this,.

Another characteristic found in old growth is so-called “pit and mound” topology of the forest floor. Wind events can snap the trunk of a diseased tree, but often just push the tree over, exposing the root ball, which in these trees can be 10-15 feet high with a hole where the tree previously stood. Over many decades, the wood decomposes, and the captured soil forms a pile of soil where the root ball lay, hence “pit and mound”. You tend to see this effect on mountainsides and plateau tops, where the trees have little protection from a storm’s wrath.

An Opening in the Canopy (Fujifilm S2 Pro, Nikkor 18-35mm f3.5)

In old growth, the dense canopy protects the soils from erosion. In these old forests, any break in the canopy tends to fill in, as opportunistic saplings embrace the sun and race quickly upward to fill the void. Centuries of October leaf falls deposit a thick coating of soil on rocks and boulders and even tree stumps , where certain smaller trees (particularly birches) tend to get a foothold.

Stilted Birch (Nikon D 600, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G)

I hiked perhaps 2 miles towards Ampersand Mountain. Here the pitch of the trail kicks up abruptly. I know from previous climbs to the summit that I would need my hiking poles, left in the car, to protect my bum knee from the eventual decent. A light rain began to fall as I turned around and worked my way back to the parking lot.

Without wishing to sound overly dramatic, my visits to the ancient forests tend to be almost spiritual events, connecting me to the true natural history of the continent, and the conditions experienced by those who tamed it.

I am grateful that previous generations chose to protect these places for us to enjoy.

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Barbecue for Photographers

 

A Delicious Irony (Samsung Galaxy S4)

Southern barbecue is the closest thing we have in the U.S. to Europe’s wines or cheeses; drive a hundred miles and the barbecue changes”.

John Shelton Reed

I have always loved outdoor cooking. My interest in this started as a boy. I spent most of my youth in the outdoors, hunting, fishing and camping. Cooking over fire was a joyful segment of these activities.

At first I was just thrilled with the novelty of preparing my own food over an open flame. Soon my buddies and I were stocking our backpacks with more than just fishing gear, but with salt, pepper, a little flour, and even perhaps a lemon, to add a little taste to the trout or catfish we would catch.

Later as a middle-aged male, the backyard grill became a focal point for me. Unfortunately I suspect that, like most people, I have been grilling badly for many years.

I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.

In my 40s I became interested in Southern barbecue. Proceeding in exactly the wrong way , I went down to my local Home Depot, and for the princely sum of about $140 purchased my first barbecue pit.

New Braunfels Offset

This was a serious looking contraption known to barbecue aficionados as an “offset smoker.” This inexpensive cooker was meant to mimic much more extensive barbecue pits which are much better engineered. Unfortunately, $140 doesn’t buy very much value. At that price range, the pits are ill-designed. This results in uneven temperature distribution and poor temperature control. I had occasional good results, but I really didn’t know and I was doing. My ribs, chicken, and pulled pork were very inconsistent. Meat is expensive, and I hate to waste anything.

About 2 years ago, I landed upon a website that has changed everything I knew about barbecue, transforming my outdoor cooking, from a random act, at best, to a more disciplined, deliberate, and consistent pursuit. I can’t say for sure whether in the big picture I have become a competent pitmaster, but the food now comes off the barbecue, looking, feeling, and tasting as it is supposed to. People seem to like my output now. Rarely do we have any leftovers.

Ribs (Samsung Galaxy S4)

Armed with some knowledge, I’ve also made the investment in a piece of the equipment that has made a whole process a lot easier. I want in this piece, to introduce you to the resources that I think it is fair to say, transformed my outdoor cooking.

The first resource is a website called Amazing Ribs. Although there are many barbecue resources on the web, I think it is acknowledged that Amazing Ribs is the most encyclopedic of them all. It is run by a team of pitmasters led by Craig aka “Meathead” Goldwyn. This former food and wine writer, some years ago turned his attention to the manly art of barbecue and smoke. As the principal author of the site, Mr. Goldywn has been apparently very busy.

There is a vast amount of information here. There are equipment reviews, barbecue techniques; recipes for both smoked/barbecued meat, and the wonderful side dishes that accompany them. There is a huge amount of information on the various cuts of meats in “Zen”articles he titles for instance: “The Zen of Beef”. There are graduate level dissertations on wood, charcoal, wood pellets, and other barbecue fuels, as well as guides to the various cooking accessories. The site is written with attention to the science of cooking, as well as food safety, reminiscent of “Cooks Illustrated” magazine. “Meathead” debunks a lot of  myths, such as the superiority of so-called” beer can” chicken and misconceptions about “resting” meat. But he does so with actual science and measurements to prove his point of view.

Pork Butt and Kielbasa (Samsung Galaxy S4)

An important theme throughout the site, is the importance of cooking to appropriate temperatures using accurate digital thermometers to assure that: #1 that the food is safely sterilized, and #2 that is cooked to the appropriate degree of “doneness” for optimal flavor and texture. To top it all off, Meathead writes prose that is eminently readable and generally irreverent. There is even a collection of barbecue-themed music available within the pages.

Using what I have learned, I am able. I think, to turn out a more flavorful, consistent product, whether it is pork ribs, poultry, pork shoulder, or the Holy Grail of barbecue: Texas-style beef brisket. I have learned that pretty much if you follow Meathead’s instructions, things tend to come out pretty well. I also discovered through the website that my beloved Weber kettle grill is actually a much better smoker than the cheap offset pit I was using.

Weber Performer (Samsung Galaxy S4)

An interesting story: Grateful as I was to the site for the info I had received, I recently joined Amazing ribs premium “Pitmasters” club, which offers information and online seminars. I had trouble logging in for the first time, and emailed the site several times for assistance. When I received no reply, I emailed a somewhat stronger request.

I was at work at the hospital when I received a call from one of the assistants in my clinic. She told me she had recieved an unusual call from someone called “Meathead” who left the message that” everything would be taken care of”. The assistant thought this sounded sinister and worried for my safety. There was a phone number which I called and had a very pleasant conversation with the guy I had come to know from his writing. Turns out he tracked me down through Google. That’s impressive.

Using information from the Amazing Ribs site, I purchased last summer, an inexpensive” box store” vertical gas smoker. I used it quite successfully for 7 or 8 months, but longed for a more sophisticated barbecue pit. One of the problems with cooking “low and slow”, is that most barbecue pits require almost constant attention to maintain the appropriate cooking temperatures needed. Many of Meathead’s recipes include in their ingredients a case of beer and a lawn chair, preparing you for the need to be nearby for what may be up to a 14 hour cook.

Vertical Smoker (Blackberry Playbook)

Now I’m not really good at being inactive for that period of time (though the beer sounds good). So, I began to research one of the newest developments in the industry, the “pellet smoker”. These barbecue “pits” use hardwood pellets as fuel, but most importantly, come with electronics which allow you to set a temperature, and then walk away, much like your kitchen range.

After considering a number of devices, I settled on a company in Georgia called Rec Tec. They make a unique pellet grill that offers very advanced temperature controller, a huge pellet hopper, very high-grade stainless steel parts, and a very strong warranty, all at a very competitive price.

The Weber and The Rec Tec (Samsung Galaxy S4)

The Rec Tec as it turns out works very well. Load the 40 pound hopper with pellets, set a temperature, fill it with food, and go do something else. For most meats, I use a remote type thermometer that allows me to monitor temperatures from afar, even from my smart phone (with an IP camera set up).

Hopper (Samsung Galaxy S4)

This is incredibly liberating. It allows you to do the big cooks a lot more often. For instance, I can now start a pork shoulder in the early evening, and allow it to cook overnight while I sleep, at the prescribed temperature of 225°. It won’t be until the next day until it reaches an internal temperature of roughly 200° when it essentially turns into pig jelly and is ready to be shredded into” pulled” pork. Though the Rec Tec can allso do grilling (as opposed to barbecue which is actually roasting), I find my Weber is superior for steaks and hamburgers

What is unique about Rec Tec is their commitment to customer service. When you purchase your grill either factory direct or through Amazon, you receive a pack of materials that includes the business cards of a variety company personnel including the owner, Ray Carnes, who may be seen on the company’s, YouTube videos. The business cards include cell phone numbers, which you are free to utilize any time, weekdays, weekends, etc. I have done this on occasion, and they are only too happy to talk to you.

Rec Tec Brisket (Samsung Galaxy S4)

As they are essentially wood fired convection ovens, pellet grills are useful for foods other than meat. I particularly like pizza which requires a smoky flavor much like that obtained from a wood fired pizza oven. There are ample examples of surprising dishes that can be prepared on pellet smokers to be found both on Rec Tec website, and at Amazing Ribs.

This is a fun hobby. At some point I may steel up the nerve to enter a local or regional competition, but for now I’m still honing my techniques. And I do love good barbecue.

Amazing Ribs has a name for it: Porknography

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Smartphone Imaging: a Year with the Samsung S4

 

From the Shore of Herron Pond (Samsung Galaxy G4)

 

My opinions may have changed, but not the fact that I’m right.”

― Ashleigh Brilliant

It has been roughly a year since I published my experiences with my Galaxy S4, both as a smartphone, and as a camera. At the time, I concluded that the phone was an extraordinarily powerful tool, but that the camera was well… OK.

Deep inside I considered smartphone photography to be of limited value, useful for documentation of accident scenes, scanning those bar codes for price checking, and the occasional snapshot, but certainly not for serious landscape photography. I would scoff at all those silly people snapping away with their I Phones when I, the esteemed photographer, carried a camera bag chock full of prime lenses to use on my X Pro 1.

For the last article on this topic, I printed several 11 x 14” prints from images that were carefully shot, only to find the results uninspiring, with mushy details and elevated noise levels. So the S4 camera was relegated to shooting pictures of newly purchased “toys” that I could show to interested co enthusiasts, devices for which I needed replacement parts, and upholstery fabrics that I need to match in the furniture store.

Specials (Samsung Galaxy G4)

But every 6 weeks or so, as the seasons evolved, I needed a new home screen image. As I am an E.P. (see above), it wouldn’t do to have just any old image on the screen; it had to be something as artful as possible. So I would take the opportunity when it arose and carefully shoot a scene evocative of the current season. After all, the phone’s images do look gorgeous on the Samsung’s small but high resolution display.

Cell phones make lousy camera bodies. They’re hard to hold steady, harder still when your trying to hit the little icon on the screen that trips the shutter, or moves the focus. I have had to resort to using structures, trees, and cars, as props to reduce camera shake.

Too Much Snow (Samsung Galaxy S4)

About 6 months ago I dropped the Galaxy on my driveway. Even though it was enclosed in a protective case, it hit on the one vulnerable spot and cracked the screen. I had insurance, so I sent it back after I received a replacement phone.

The new phone was different. The battery life for instance, with the exact same set up, was much improved. And maybe it was my imagination, but the images seemed crisper with better detail. I continued to use the camera as I had before but perhaps with a little more enthusiasm.

Dinner on Mirror Lake (Samsung Galaxy G4)

 

Frost on my Window (Samsung Galaxy G4)

Here I must confess to you that in unboxing and assembling the new phone, I noticed a subtle clear plastic coating on the lens, which I removed. I don’t remember that detail with the old phone. Perhaps I missed it.

 

Given this, I drew some of the better images into Photoshop to assess their quality as well as other factors such as dynamic range, and highlight and shadow recovery.

An April Walk on Rails to Trails (Samsung Galaxy S4)

The Galaxy jpgs are slightly cumbersome to work with. After connecting the phone to the computer with a USB cable, I can navigate to the Micro SD card in Adobe Bridge, and find the files. For some reason, Adobe doesn’t recognize them as image files until I cut and paste them into a file on the C drive. Then they display with previews. Weird.

Current images compared to images from my first Galaxy, seem more detailed. Opened in Adobe Camera Raw, they are modestly malleable in terms of highlight and shadow, perhaps comparable to contact cameras but certainly not up to the level of a competent larger sensor such as the one in my Sony RX 100. Still in all, they are not the worst files that I have ever worked with; perhaps comparable to enthusiast compacts such as the Panasonic LX cameras of the late 2000’s which is to say, not too bad.

Water Lilly at Ice Ponds (Samsung Galaxy S4)

Prints look a bit better now. If carefully shot, they are usable to 11 x 14” with careful post production, sharpening, and noise reduction.

It’s nice to know that in a pinch, as long as you take your time, the Galaxy S4 (and probably the newer S5) can create a useful image file with some potential for serious use.

I’m not planning to give up my cameras just yet. But my enthusiasm for capturing home screen images has increased significantly.

 

Images from this article can be better viewed at my Smug Mug site.

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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 we 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 involved with 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 Mark III (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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