Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Photo Techniques’ Category

The Spirit of Place

I had the pleasure several years back of spending a week with the great travel photographer, Bob Krist.  Bob had spent considerable time and energy over the course of a career trying to understand what made for a great travel photograph, one that conveyed the “Spirit of Place.”  This is also the title of one of Bob’s best books which you can order through his web site above.  When I’m traveling now I think of his advice.  I look for images that I hope will convey that spirit of place.  It is actually quite a tall order, and you don’t get there by just taking snap shots.   Three of the elements he said were key to a good travel photograph were, not surprisingly, composition light and color.  The magic is in the fourth element, a sense of moment, something that captures what the place feels like.  Here’s one view from the Cape Hatteras area, actually the beach at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge visitor center.


It’s really not that hard to get away here, even though just a few miles north in Nags Head, the joint is teaming with visitors.  Perhaps this is what most people think of when they think of this Cape this feeling.  It takes you some place else, thankfully.  If you are interested in Bob’s approach to travel photography, I am very happy to report that a video of his, Spirit of Place:  The Art of the Traveling Photographer, has been legally posted here.  This seems to be the only place it’s available.  It’s worth the hour.

Tech note, though it may seem inappropriate given the state of mind I hope the image invokes:  This is a long exposure, about four seconds.  To make this happen in the incredibly bright sunlight I had to pull out every trick I could think of.  I had eight stops of neutral density over the lens, which was all I had.  I was shooting at F36.  So it comes out soft, who cares.  I was at ISO equivalent of 50.  My next move was to tar paper the lens.  The fun part of course is that I couldn’t see the back of the camera at all.  It was just too bright.  I could just barely make out the histogram so I thought I might have a decent exposure, but could’t know until I got back to the car.  Fittingly, it was just like shooting with film.

Happy Spring from a Calla Lily

Finally, it’s spring.  For those of you for whom this relates, also let me wish you a Happy Easter.  It’s still cold outside though and the flowers are only beginning to take a stand.  As such, I retreated to the studio for some spring time inspiration.  Nothing over the top, went over to Stop and Shop and picked up a Calla Lily.  This plant though was a real trooper.

041419 - Cally Lily Stack 3-Edit-Edit

However, without realizing it, I have left myself open to a major charge of copycatitis.  I am a regular follower of the blog of Stephen Gingold who is a superb nature and fine art photographer located in western Massachusetts, not far from the Quabbin.  He just posted a stunning black and white flower image, something he has done before.  I didn’t really copy him, but have sure been inspired by his by his use of black and white photography to capture the wonderful lines and textures of flowers.  If you want to see Stephen’s incredible black and white flower work (among other subjects), click here.

140419 - Gally Lily Stack 2-Edit

Why black and white flower photography?  Good question.  This particular subject has lovely magenta petals.


I think every photographer would have to address that question on a personal level.  I am in love with the design of flowers, much as I am in love with the design of the dam and dike at the Quabbin Reservoir.  Flowers though are natural.  Close to being perfect, but that wouldn’t be natural.


The flowers are alike, and they relate to one another, yet they each have their own identity.  Nature really blesses us with incredibly appealing designs, flowers are among her greatest hits in my view.  But we tend to think about the beauty if flowers (I should say I tend to think) as been largely related to their wonderful colors.  But there is much more.


In this sense, I think, black and white (or in this case monochrome since these images are actually sepia) represent another window on one of nature’s most intriguing mysteries:  the beauty of flowers.  Enjoy the nice weather.

Chasing the Light, Yet Again

It took me years to understand an old dictum, “you photograph the light, not the object.”  I see it more clearly with every passing day in the field.


These images are from Goodnough Dike inside Quabbin Park in Ware, Massachusetts.  For those new to the blog, I spend a good deal of time at the Quabbin Reservoir area, looking for connections between the accidental wilderness which has grown up around the Reservoir and art, climate and whatever else is on my mind at the time.  Recently I’ve been studying the engineering structures that actually hold back the water, most specifically Winsor Dam and Goodnough Dike.  These are big structures as you can guess.  But they are not like the great dams we’re familiar with from the western United States.  These were created 75 years ago, in a very different landscape. There lines are typically not drawn by concrete, but rather by dirt and rocks.  As such, they have developed, at least in my mind, some kind of symbiosis with the area.  They don’t scream difference, they seem more to be striving for some kind of harmony with nature.  Perhaps it is an act of contrition on their part for the havoc they once wreaked.

But they are big, and big things are hard to get a good picture of, unless you can get over them, or far away from them.  Neither is particularly possible at the Quabbin.  You also have the “big sky” problem.  No, it’s not Montana, but it is still a big sky.   Most days it seems like it is just a dull white sky.  But not every day.  You have to keep trying.

We went out this past week in the middle of the day.  In my mind, the most we were going to get out of it was a good walk.  The middle of the day doesn’t usually bring you good light.  Except some times in the winter.  The low position of the sun even in the middle of the day can create this wonderful contrast which can add depth to the image.  But, you still need to do something with that sky. Sometimes you get lucky.


This is the Goodnough Dike from below.  This was the view that smacked us right in the face when we rounded a corner from the old road that winds through the forest there.  These wonderful clouds hung with us for another hour or so.


Like I said, I guess you just have to keep trying.

Thanks for the Water

Happy Thanksgiving to those in the U.S.  It has been a tumultuous and difficult year in some ways, but we seem to be making it through.  It has been dry here, in response, in part, to our changing climate.  However, we had a beneficial day long recently which suggested that the water would be flowing, and indeed, it was.  We made our way to the Swift River Reservation, a wonderful and important property owned by the Trustees of Reservations, in Petersham, Massachusetts.   How important?  A good deal of the water that flows into the Quabbin Reservoir runs by this point.  The Quabbin Reservoir supplies the drinking water for about two million citizens of eastern Massachusetts.  It is essential to their, our, well being. The Eastern Branch of the Swift River dumps into Connors Pond, and then moves south into the Reservoir.  It is just off Route 122.  When we got there, we found an amazing cornucopia of running water, reflections, forests and ice cycle structures.  Like so many great but intimate locations, it was too much of a good thing.  It is eye candy if you’re just looking. Not so much if you’re trying to make a good photograph.


You can see the water flowing over a “dam” of sorts, as it is leaving the Pond.  The reflections were wonderful, but difficult to position.  You might try standing on your head to view this one.  The basic problem is that the forest surrounding the flowing water creates a massive set of distractions.  The only approach that, sometimes, thankfully works, is to isolate interesting components of the scene with a longer lens.  That was more satisfying.


I am always amazed at how little chunks of ice debris can withstand the onslaught of a river.  These two are gallantly fighting on.  I am using a longer exposure here to capture the movement of the water.


The longer exposures reveal patterns of water flow as the water moves through the rocks and mud. These are patterns that like so much of nature are often invisible to us, unless we care to look a little harder.  You may learn something if you do, however.  For starters, it’s a lot of little things that matter.  This place, though and our water, add up to something big, for which we should be quite thankful.  In many parts of the world people would die for this stuff.  We are exceedingly lucky.

Down Under the Highway

Contemplating the passing of another fall, I’m always reminded that fall is why I got into photography in the first place.  When you stop to think about it, why should nature put on such a light show for us?  Seriously???  But she does thank goodness and so we appreciate.  Nature meets humanity.  It is one of the great conundrums of our lives and impacts everything we worry about and enjoy at the same time, from a wonderful day at the beach to global warming.  It’s all about what we experience, or rather notice, and how we interpret what we notice.  So I’ve been looking for points of intersection that seem particularly interesting and I found one, under the highway.  In this case, I’m referring to Route 146, AKA the “little dig” which was transformed a few years ago into the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor that runs from Worcester, Massachusetts to Rhode Island.

The Blackstone River has followed that basic route since the last ice age, but it was also the location of the Blackstone River Canal which was designed to run from Worcester to Providence before their war railroads, in the early 1800’s.  Alas, the railroads were not far behind and the Canal never saw much service.   Route 146 was the connector between the two cities and when it was being redesigned at the Worcester end, the State wisely, thankfully, decided to include a path/bikeway and connect the people once again to the river.


As you can see, however, the connection is, to a degree, quite funky.  The river and path share the road with, well the road, the road supports and graffiti artists.  Late at night, we could probably add some other elements to the menu, but you get the idea.  Urban meets nature.  Nevertheless, it creates a compelling, though tough to photograph view.


We were of course lucky to be there just at the peak of the foliage.  The contrast between nature and the artifacts of the urban was intense, but somehow enjoyable.  The river, depleted a bit because of the lack of rain and because of well, the fact that it has a tough life at this point in its career, keeps on flowing nevertheless.


Till next time….

Tech Note:  Photographers will recognize that these shots are “HDR” or high dynamic range shots, pulled together in Photomatix.  Under the highway the difference between dark and light is too great for the sensor to comprehend.  Multiple shots, taken on a tripod, hopefully with no wind and no touching, allow you to capture the highlights and the shadows.  However, the results sometimes don’t look that natural (though I tried to stay true to what I saw), which is the case here.  This to me represents another piece of evidence that nature (our eye balls in this case) can still trump technology, at least for now.