Jan 212021
 

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s hoping your 2021 is off to a bright start.

I certainly don’t need to remind anyone that 2020 wasn’t the year we had all planned. Yet, as I kept in touch with people across our virtual communications lines, I’ve heard so many stories about how we each still found moments of peace, of hope and joy, of awe and wonder. Those are the memories worth packing along with us as we move into a new year of opportunities–so I offer these images of mine, none of which were expected, but all welcomed, all where I found peace, hope, joy, awe, and wonder rolled together, as a celebration of the 2020, the Year O’Change:

Just Another Speck of Dust
Death Valley National Park, CA
January 2020

 

Those Ghost Trees
Yosemite National Park, CA
February 2020

 

Losing My Marbles
Acadia National Park, ME
February 2020

Graceful Transitions
Acadia National Park, ME
February 2020


Together Again

Tonto National Forest, AZ
April 2020

 

Christine’s Cactus
Tonto National Forest, AZ
April 2020


Happy Today

Sierra Ancha Wilderness Area, AZ
April 2020 (on my 45th birthday!)

 

Make Your Point
Sierra Ancha Wilderness Area, AZ
April 2020


Past, Present, and Future

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
July 2020

 

Ode to Desert Winds and Water
Bears Ears National Monument, UT
July 2020

 

Tartan of the Wheatgrass
Devils Canyon Campground, UT
August 2020

 

Commanding Attention
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
August 2020


The Looking Glass

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
August 2020


Green and Red Coming Together

Canyonlands National Park, UT
October 2020


Spinning in Infinity

Canyonlands National Park, UT
October 2020


Where Affections Lie

Canyonlands National Park, UT
October 2020

 

Jumping into Adventure
Kanab Creek Wilderness Area, AZ
October 2020

 

Take Center Stage
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
October 2020

 

The Edge of No Limits
Kanab Creek Wilderness Area, AZ
October 2020

 

More Than Sand
Jewel of the Creek Preserve, AZ
October 2020

 

The Desert’s Devotion
Cienaga Creek Natural Preserve, AZ (it’s Davidson Creek, though)
October 2020

 

The Trees for the Forest
Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog, AL
November 2020


Sea Shell Serenade

Gulf Shores, AL
November 2020

 

There you have it! If you wish to hear and see an in-depth review on eight of these images, swing over to Vimeo for a special presentation of “Making the Photographs: The 2020 Edition.” (Use discount code GROW2021 to get 20% off!) I cover what caught my attention, technical and creative challenges in the field, compositional decisions, and processing techniques. Hear the “what” and, more importantly, the “why” in hopes you get new ideas for your own work in 2021.

For more photographs, stories, and perhaps laughs–hey, if you cringe at your old work, you’re growing as a photographer and human, and that’s something to celebrate!–here are the links:
(I apparently took a few years off after 2017…)

I hope you too take a second or longer to reflect on your year’s journey. I hope you recognize how your kindness, generosity, perseverance and inspiration has made a difference for me–and for all of us–during this tough time. As we start 2021, let’s hang on to all of that. Let’s keep making the world a brighter and better place together through our photography and unique stories. Now, more than ever, I hope our paths cross “out there” safely later this year.

Until then, be well, be wild–and be safe! Hugs, high fives, and fist bumps to all,
~Colleen

Nov 142019
 
Choose Wisely

“Choose Wisely,” Acadia National Park, ME || Prints available! Click on photo to order yours!

If you’ve spent any amount of time in photography, you’ve inevitably heard about the “rules” of composition. Specifically, we hear messages like “Make the most of leading lines,” “Look for balance,” and my favorite, “If you place your primary subject in the center of your frame–outside one of the four intersection points of the Rule of Thirds–you’ll spontaneously combust.” Then, once we understand what those rules are, we’re advised to “Break the Rules.”

The so-called rules of composition were designed to help photographers organize the chaos of nature into a rectangular frame. Although well-intentioned, such simplistic advice has unfortunately misguided many-a-photographer into believing that following the rules will result in an effective photograph. See, the trouble with rules is they only get you so far—at best, a beautiful, technically-perfect image…which may also look formulaic and uninspiring to you and your viewers.

The key to better composition in photography is not adhering to the Rule of Thirds “better.” It’s not “Making the most of leading lines” more often either (To be honest, I have no idea what that even means). The rules tell us what to do, but fail to explain why we should employ such techniques.

The path to better composition starts with developing your own meaning of a subject or scene then deliberately designing your frame such that you convey that meaning through your use of positioning, visual weight, balance, lines, layers, light, and color. If you understand human perception, you can arrange your visual elements to get your viewers to see and feel exactly what you wish. That is, if you pay attention to how humans think and interpret the world, you already know the “rules” of composition.

I call the above photograph, “Choose Wisely.” When I came upon the scene at Little Long Pond in Acadia National Park in Maine this past fall, I was first drawn to the stark contrast between the colorful and vibrant maple tree on the left of the frame and the bare one on the right. I started wondering what could have caused such a disparity between two trees so close together.

I also started visualizing how I could compose my frame to showcase this difference. I had already decided I didn’t need the full set of branches included in my frame, which dictated the use of a telephoto lens to zoom in on my subject. I had already decided I didn’t need the foggy sky in my frame either to convey my message. It was only after I asked myself whether I needed to show the trunks of the trees when I noticed the small conifer beneath these two maples and a new, more powerful message started to surface.

I started making up a story about this evergreen tree, thinking it appeared to have two choices ahead of it as it grew into adulthood: a vibrant and full life (left tree) or a bare one. But it actually had a third: to be its own self in the only way a conifer knows how. This story set the foundation for all my compositional decisions—I wanted to convey this story, or at least one close to it, with my viewers.

To do so, I intentionally positioned the evergreen an equal distance from either maple tree to show a “stuck-in-the-middle” pull between the two “choices,” the two trees, which I gave equal space to in the frame to create a balance of power between the two—a classic “good vs. evil” conflict. By including a substantial amount of the height in the deciduous trees relative to the smaller conifer in my frame, I established an authoritative relationship (e.g., an adult-child relationship). I experimented in raising and lowering my tripod to give the evergreen just enough space to imply upward growth. (I definitely didn’t want any of its branches touching either of the other trees.) I chose a vertical composition over a more peaceful horizontal orientation to increase tension and drama. In processing, I darkened the background to allow the little evergreen, which was catching a touch of light from the sky on the side facing me, to stand out more.

Did I make the most of leading lines? No.

Did I place my subject in the intersection points of the Rule of Thirds? Again no. (And guess what? I haven’t spontaneously combusted…yet…).

Did I pay attention to balance? You bet I did, but not in the way I’ve been told to do.

Did I do so to follow rules of composition? Honestly, I couldn’t care less.

Did I deliver the story in the way I wanted to? Absolutely. This is what I wanted to say about my experience with these trees in Acadia that afternoon.

As Robert Henri said, “Making lines run into each other is not composition. There must be motive for the connection. Get the art of controlling the observer – that is composition.”

So when it comes to composition for your own photographs, rules or human perception? Choose wisely.

Mar 282018
 
Fogged in Obscurities

“Fogged in Obscurities” || Prints available from my website at www.cms-photo.com

Someone recently asked me if I used the app that forecasts when Mother Nature will produce “epic light” to make sure I get the “perfect shot.” Apparently, it helps you decide whether you should photograph at sunrise or sunset. I laughed, “I don’t need an app to help me decide if I should sit on the couch or go outside. I don’t care what the weather is doing–or what time it is–I’m going outside! And I’m taking my camera!”

Don’t get me wrong, I like me some pretty color at sunrise and sunset. But if the only time you photograph the landscape is during fiery light at dawn and dusk, you are selling yourself short in your photography. Way short. Does your creativity work only during those times? Do you only have something to “say” during those hours? No, of course not!

A meaningful visual expression comes from within. It originates from our knowledge, perceptions, and emotions and extends from our ability to interpret the landscapes we see in any and all conditions we experience. It incorporates, but does not depend, on external factors such as light, weather, topography, etc.

Light and weather just “is.” It’s not inherently good or bad. Those are judgments we assign based on our expectations, which are often unreasonable and detrimental to our photography pursuits. Each variation of light we might encounter carries different perceptions and meaning. For example, direct light carries more energy, creates contrast, and grabs attention. Diffused light creates the appearance of more saturated colors and can evoke subdued, stormy, and ethereal moods. It’s up to us as photographers to understand these nuances of light and make the most of the hand Mother Nature deals us every time we go outside with a camera—regardless of what’s happening in the sky.

As Alfred Steiglitz said, “Wherever there is light, one can photograph.” I made the above photograph, which I titled “Fogged in Obscurities“  at 10:23 a. m. EST.

While wandering along Ocean Path in Acadia National Park, Maine, this past February, a heavy blanket of fog hugged the shoreline. (For those who know the joke, this was definitely a “wet fog,” not a “dry fog”… :D ). Waves roared into the granite cliffs. I sat down to wonder.

As I watched the scene unfold, I contemplated the story of that rock sitting on top of the ledge some 30-feet above the ocean. How did it get there? Erosion, wind, waves, or otherwise? What has that pair of intertwined evergreen trees “seen” over the course of their lives? How does it feel to be that boulder in the water getting pounded by the storm waves every few seconds? Each of these objects had a piece of the story to tell about this scene–but none were giving away their secrets.

I knew while visualizing my composition that I wanted to show the relationship between these three key elements, the unknowable story, but importance of each to complete the narrative (at least, the one in my head). The fog only enhanced the mystery…something a bright, cheery sunrise or sunset with pinks, reds, oranges, and purples in the sky could not deliver.

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If you’re interested in learning more about the value and uses of natural light, pick up a copy of my 76-page “Seeing the Light in Outdoor Photography” instructional eBook at www.thepocketinstructor.com.

Mar 072018
 

A Frozen Universe
Are you feeling stuck with your photography? Are you frustrated with always trying to “get THE shot?” Are you looking for ways to be more creative with your work?

If you said yes to any of those three questions (or maybe all of them), then my newest article for On Landscape: “Finding Your Creative Voice” is just for you: https://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2018/03/finding-your-creative-voice/

It shares the story of how I transformed from a photographer who took pretty photographs of classic scenes into a visual artist with a distinctive creative voice (thanks in large part to the Acadia Artist-in-Residence program). It also provides the backstory of why, in my workshops and presentations, I emphasize playing like a 4th grader and running around declaring things like “LOOK AT THAT MUSHROOM!” (Or in my case, LOOK AT THOSE BUBBLES!!)

Along the way, it offers advice on how you too can “find” your own voice, specifically how to get new ideas, release expectations, and handle self-doubt. Hey, if this type-A, overanalytical ex-software engineer can do it, anyone can!

You’ll need a subscription to read the full article, but the inspirational content of this eMagazine is well worth the price. If you aren’t ready to commit to the annual fee, perhaps consider the bi-weekly or quarterly subscription as a taste. Fabulous, super creative photographers like Guy Tal, Rafael Rojas, Tim Parkin, Alister Benn, and others write for this online magazine. It has been–and is–a great source of ongoing inspiration for me and my photography. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed…learn more on their Subscription page: https://www.onlandscape.co.uk/subscribe

Enjoy!

(And a big thank you to the good folks at On Landscape for featuring my article!)

Dec 012016
 
Catch You When You Fall

“Catch You When You Fall” || Serene fall colors in the meadow at Sieur de Monts in Acadia National Park, Maine, USA (Fine art prints available – click on photo to order)

How many of you have photographed a gorgeous location only to arrive at home to say, “I didn’t really capture what I wanted” while reviewing your images? Ever had that sinking feeling while you are sipping coffee at your desk when you realize if you would have just moved to the left two feet or switch to a different lens, that would have made the image you wanted—and now there’s nothing you can do about it?  It’s a total bummer, isn’t it?

While reviewing your images on your computer, asking yourself what you could have done differently on your photo shoot will certainly lead to a refined understanding of your current photographic abilities and provide new ideas to try on your next shoot. However, your ability to resolve what you do not like about your photograph is limited to some cropping, exposure levels, and other processing software features. Otherwise, it is difficult to “fix” an image you spent all that time working on in the field, brought home, and then generally disliked.

The ideal time to conduct an initial critique on your work is when you are standing behind your camera in the field. When you analyze your photograph while you are in the process of making it, you give yourself the opportunity to resolve any issues at the time of capture.

After you set up a composition, review your photograph on the back of your LCD.  Check for obvious technical issues like exposure, white balance, depth of field, etc. Then (assuming the light is not fleeting or the jaguar is not disappearing into the woods), take a minute to conduct a quick critique on your image, specifically asking, “What do you like about this photograph?” and “What don’t you like about it?”

Pay attention to your answers! Increase the focus in your photograph on the elements you like. Then, fix or eliminate what you do not like. Repeat this process over and over until you have a frame you can say, “YES! I like everything in this photo!” Only then should you pick your tripod up and move on to another composition.

To give you an idea of how this works, here is the sequence of photographs I made which resulted in the marquee photo above titled, “Catch You When I Fall:”

Sequences of my RAW images that eventually resulted in “Catch Me When I Fall” (the photograph at the top of this post). Click on the photo to view larger.

Now, I typically have a difficult time seeing the trees through the forest (preferring instead to slap on a wide-angle lens and photograph the entire forest…). However, when I saw the colorful trees and leaves being cradled by the luscious grasses at Sieur de Monts in Acadia National Park in Maine this past autumn, I knew I wanted to make a more intimate image I titled, “Catch Me When I Fall” (which expressed the emotion I immediately felt when I saw the scene).

The landscape initially felt very busy to my eye, so I started with a classic horizontal composition with a birch tree in the bottom left corner of the Rule of Thirds grid and the leading lines of the grasses leading across the frame (image “_1110461.dng, or just #461 for short). After I snapped it, I asked myself, “What do you like about this photograph?” and “What don’t you like about it?” I loved the grasses and leaves, but the composition looked too forced and predictable. I also did not like how the subtle line of grasses led the eye essentially out of the frame without going anywhere interesting.

I moved my camera around slightly for image #462 and #463 to resolve those issues but in doing so, realized I had too much grass and not enough of the fall colors I enjoyed so much when I saw the scene. The balance of visual elements felt off.

I tilted my camera up slightly for image #464.

I checked my histogram, and the exposure was too dark so I added about 1/3 stop of light to lighten in #465.

Then I thought I might have too much of the grass in the foreground, which led to me walking into the scene about 10-12 feet to record image #466.

When I did so, however, I lost the leaves in the foreground which was a strong visual element critical to my composition. I decided if the horizontal orientation offered to much of the grass, a vertical orientation would reduce the amount. Hence, image #467.

I noted the image was underexposed, so added another third stop of light for image #468.

For #469, I tilted the camera up a little to position the leaves differently within the frame and emphasize the very subtle path of separated grasses takes from the foreground to the background through the trees. And to straighten my implied horizon. :) I liked this, though!

I could have stopped here (note that #469 and my final frame of #476 are quite similar), but being anal-retentive, I kept asking “what if…,” specifically, what if I moved the placement of the leaves within the frame starting with #470? I liked the leaves better, but I went too wide and started getting “UFO’s” (like distracting plant branches and berries on the left-hand side of my image, too many leaves in the bottom left corner). And my horizon was crooked. Again. So #471, 472, and 473.

As I adjusted my composition, the clouds had thickened and the natural light had decreased so I needed more light via my exposure so I clicked #474.

During the middle of my 13-second exposure, the breeze kicked up and moved the grasses. I knew instantly that would be a throw-away frame but checked my histogram anyhow.  That’s when I noticed the sky in the top right corner blinking at me. Rather than darken the whole exposure, I chose to angle my camera down towards the ground to eliminate it from my composition resulting in #475.

I still did not like the few leaves in the bottom left corner, so I made a small camera tilt to eliminate them in #476. Then a YES! I like everything about it! “Catch You When You Fall” came to life!

(This process should bring great comfort to those of you who think you’re too analytical, as I am–I tell you what, it pays to be picky in your photography!)

This might take one try or six hundred.  Regardless, don’t give up! Something grabbed your attention strongly enough to stop you in your tracks and wrestle with that dreaded tripod (be one with the tripod…)—and since you are the only person in the world who can see it like you do, it is worth putting the effort into polishing your personal visual expression.

Keep in mind that fixing what you do not like about a photograph relies heavily on the tools you have collected in your photographic “toolbox” (e.g. technical knowledge, familiarity with your camera, human perception). So, if you find yourself with a problem you do not know how to fix, do not get frustrated. This is simply a sign of where you might need to develop a new skill.

This approach is especially helpful when you stand in front of an overwhelming scene and simply do not know where to start. Like putting a pen to a blank sheet of paper and then editing the words later, snap “anything.” Then review your photograph and ask, “What do you like about this photograph?” and “What don’t I like about it?” Keep what you like; fix what you don’t. Rinse, lather, repeat.

In addition to helping you bring home images you like with greater consistency, over time, you will train your brain and eye to quickly notice key visual elements (like shape, color, light, form, pattern, balance, spatial relationship, etc.) you like and to disregard what you do not like more naturally, which will ultimately help you develop your own individual style.

Have you tried this approach before? If so, tell us what you like about it (and what you don’t like about it)!

Jun 222016
 

Amy Minton was one of three students on the “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” held on the scenic Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine, from February 7-13, 2016.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  If you have enjoyed seeing Acadia through her eyes, please leave her a comment on her post!  More of Amy’s work can be viewed on her website at www.amymintonphotography.com.

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Winter is a beautiful time of the year and offers many opportunities for outdoor photo shoots.  My camera, however, hibernates in winter.  Well, at least that was the case before I participated in Colleen’s workshop, “Winter in Acadia:  A Creative Photography Retreat,” this past February.   By the end of the workshop, I was very happy that I took my camera out of hibernation and returned to Acadia National Park.  Now, not only do I possess confidence to shoot outdoors in winter (and in fact have done so – post-workshop), but also I learned about the creative process and its influence on my photography as well as history, geology, and wildlife within and around Acadia National Park.

Blueberry Hill

This image was made on a very chilly morning (-17 wind chill), which may be the reason why I wanted to create an image with this lone tree located near the Blueberry Hill Parking Area.  To me, loneliness feels “cold,” and at the time, despite being appropriately dressed for the winter conditions, I was cold.  So, while standing there, I imagined that this tree was also feeling alone during the cold sunrise as it looked out toward the other trees on Schoodic Island.  I wondered if the tree longed to join the other trees on the island, or maybe it wanted to invite the trees to join him on Schoodic Peninsula, a.k.a. “the quiet side of Acadia.”

 

Otter Cliff

Face of Otter Cliff.   I usually don’t think of a title for an image when at a location, but while at Boulder Beach (Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island) the snow and ice coating the rocks at Otter Cliff appeared to reveal a face.  At time, I wondered if it was only during the winter season that the face is exposed.  If so, then add it to one more experience of the unique beauty of Acadia National Park in winter.

 

Wildlife

The harbor seals in this image were spotted resting, presumably on a rocky outcropping exposed at low tide, in Wonsquak Harbor.  I am sharing this image because it represents one of the many forms of wildlife that was seen during my photo adventure.   In addition to the harbor seals, I watched a seagull drop, while in flight, drop a mussel onto the road in order to crack the protective shell, and then, gain access to the mussel inside (I had never seen that before).  There were also a variety of mammal and bird tracks in the snow, but the “coolest” tracks, in my opinion, were the river otter tracks.  Despite not actually seeing the river otter(s) (unlike the workshop participants the week before my group), I thought it was amazing to see the paw prints in the snow and then see where the otter slid on it’s belly on top of the snow.  It still makes me smile when I think about that river otter running along the snow and then sliding on its belly before he reached the waters edge and began to forage for food.  I suspect the river otter made a game of it along his way.

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Would you like to experience and photograph Acadia in the winter while learning how to express yourself more creatively?  Join Colleen on her next “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” from February 12-18, 2017!  Learn more and register for this unforgettable, small group (max 6) workshop at cms-photo.com/Workshops/2017WinterinAcadia.html.

Jun 222016
 

Dixie Pearson was one of three students on the “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” held on the scenic Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine, from February 7-13, 2016.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  If you have enjoyed seeing Acadia through her eyes, please leave her a comment on her post!  More of Dixie’s work can be viewed on her website at dixiegirl.smugmug.com.

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Winter in Acadia gave me the opportunity to be truly alone with the landscape.   Through Colleen’s excellent guidance, I was able to “turn off” my thoughts, and listen to my surroundings.

I learned to make mindful observations of the landscape. Here are just a few of my observations:

  • The crashing of the waves and the whistling of the wind during our first day of shooting at Schoodic Point.
  • The snow and ice forming “ice pillows” over rocks at Duck Brook.
  • The myriad ice formations, rising and breaking around us at West Pond Cove.
  • The sound of the pebbles, like tiny bamboo xylophones, tumbling in the surf as each wave recedes at Boulder Beach.

Here are 3 of my images, with accompanying haikus, from our trip:

the icy brook flows
forever echoing change
possibilities

Duck Brook

 

tree on craggy shore
arms raised in supplication
granite sky warning

Boulder Beach

 

veiled light revealing
the sun’s fickle winter gaze
how I see has changed

Sunrise, Blueberry Hill

What an incredible opportunity it was to capture such an amazing place in winter. I can truly say that it was well worth braving the elements~just dress warmly and enjoy!

Thank you!

Dixie Pearson

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Would you like to experience and photograph Acadia in the winter while learning how to express yourself more creatively?  Join Colleen on her next “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” from February 12-18, 2017!  Learn more and register for this unforgettable, small group (max 6) workshop at cms-photo.com/Workshops/2017WinterinAcadia.html.

Jun 202016
 

Rebecca Wilks was one of three students on the “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” held on the scenic Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine, from February 7-13, 2016.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  If you have enjoyed seeing Acadia through her eyes, please leave her a comment on her post!  More of Rebecca’s work can be viewed on her website www.skylineimages.net and her blog at theviewfromtheskyline.blogspot.com.

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Another fabulous workshop with Colleen Miniuk-Sperry has come to an end too soon.  I’d been to (and Around) Acadia National Park with her twice before, but never in the winter.  Of course our little group knew we couldn’t predict what the weather would bring in February for safe travels or for photography.  We were fortunate.  Temps were well above freezing the week before and after our time there, but we saw wind chill temps below minus 20.  Yes, we were slow-moving, sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally whiny.  We were fortunate though, since the colder temps are much more conducive to photographing snow and ice, which we did with joy.

Colleen has asked each of us to contribute a few favorite images with our thoughts.

One morning along East Schoodic Drive I was following the trail of a fox in the deep snow.  I looked up and was struck by the graphic quality of evergreen trees with ice plastered to their trunks on one side.  As Colleen often encourages students to do, I pondered what attracted me to the scene.  There’s a literal narrative here about the strength of the storm the night before, but also universal truths about perseverance and the fresh start that comes with the dawn.  Oh, and I think it’s pretty.

We drove twice to Mount Desert Island, where the larger and more visited (though not so much in the winter) part of the park lies.  My favorite shots there were at Duck Brook, where fanciful ice formations resembling pillows, chandeliers, and sea creatures had formed above a retreating flood.  The texture of the ice fascinates me still.

Somehow on this trip, I often found myself shooting in the opposite direction from my friends.  Here’s an example along Park Loop Road.  They were making lovely images of a snow-covered Boulder Beach, but I was captivated by the coast in the other direction with their curves echoed by the high tide line and mountains as well as the sense of power in the waves.

I can’t wait for a chance to do it again.

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Would you like to experience and photograph Acadia in the winter while learning how to express yourself more creatively?  Join Colleen on her next “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” from February 12-18, 2017!  Learn more and register for this unforgettable, small group (max 6) workshop at cms-photo.com/Workshops/2017WinterinAcadia.html.

Feb 242016
 
The Night Conceals and Reveals

“The Night Conceals and Reveals” || A faint winter Milky Way appears above the illuminated shoreline (painted with a flashlight affectionately referred to as “Big Bertha”) along the western side of the Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

The setting sun unfurls a silky sheet of sparkling black satin across the evening sky. Within the opaque darkness, my rental car’s headlights illuminate slivers of Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Peninsula’s pristine landscape. Though momentarily blind to its beauty due to my late arrival from Arizona, I distinctly know what I am missing. Over countless visits—thanks to serving three stints as an Acadia Artist-in-Residence, leading numerous photography workshops, and enjoying personal time—since November 2009, I have come to know these surroundings as well as a doting mother knows her own child.

I pull off at the paved pullout immediately to the south of the historic bridge over Mosquito Harbor and step anxiously into the moonless night. I peacefully close my eyes (though it makes no difference) and quietly eavesdrop on nature’s concealed conversations. The air instantly fills with familiarity. Andante splashes against the granite shoreline sing of a flooding incoming high tide. The crackling crunch beneath my feet suggest seagulls eagerly dropped mussels like bombs against the asphalt to break open their tasty treat earlier in the day. The gentle breeze reveals a salty scent of fresh life precariously balanced with musty death on the delicate knifelike edge of land and sea.

I return to my vehicle to continue reuniting with old friends. Along the way, I wave to the granite outcroppings shaped like cupcakes and now isolated by the high waters. I wink at the Winter Harbor Lighthouse and think to myself, “We have so many stories to catch up on.” I slow my speed while passing by my favorite winter photography spot, West Pond Cove. I hear the waves slurping against the rocky coast. I grin deviously and declare, “Just wait until you ice over. I have big plans for you, me, and my camera then.”

After I park in the vacant lot at Schoodic Point and turn my headlamp on, I excitedly bolt to the boulders frosted with winter’s thin icing. Despite being bundled in all the warm clothes I own, I still shiver, sending the warm desert blood pulsing through my veins to my chilled fingers and toes. With a fervent tingle in my gut, I knock at the wind and announce gregariously, “It’s me! I’m back!”

Wasting no time, Poseidon answers, emerging from the sea as majestically as the rising moon breaks free from the low-lying clouds hugging the horizon. Ignoring the unyielding granite cliffs separating me from his ocean home, his soft fingers curl around the rocks and tickle my soul, spinning me in a joyous pirouette. We waltz together for a few minutes, and though the hushed music never stops playing, I pause to offer an overly dramatic balletic bow in reverence.

Then the silence speaks the words a long-lost lover longs to hear: “Welcome home. I’ve missed you.”

Oct 232015
 
Whispers in the Water

“A Whisper in the Water” || Jordan Stream, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available – click on photo to purchase yours!)

“Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.”  ~Elizabeth Lawrence

While Acadia National Park no doubt possesses grand beauty, I oftentimes find myself marveling (sometimes for hours and hours…) at the little details and moments that make the landscapes so special.  While sauntering along Jordan Stream on my final day in the park last week (on my most recent two-week stay), magical reflections dancing in a small pool absolutely entranced me.  Thanks to a variety of trees donning their fall colors beneath a blue sky opposite of where I stood, the palette of colors – reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, and blues – changed constantly on top of the water.  I could have watched this interplay of light and hues all evening, but I knew I had to make a photo of this!

As I put my 100-400mm lens on my tripod, I decided I needed a little faster shutter speed to keep the undulating water from rending too much motion in the final photo.  However, I was photographing underneath a canopy of trees (in shade) in late afternoon light.  In other words, I did not have a lot of natural light available.  That’s an easy enough challenge, but I also had a polarizing filter stuck on the front of my lens (for almost two years now; I have tried it all, it is not budging) which meant I would lose one to two stops of light as a result.

Considering my circumstances, I settled on my widest aperture of f/5.6 and an ISO speed of 1600, which yielded a 1/40th of a second shutter speed.  Not as fast as I would have liked, but I was not willing to bump my ISO speed to 3200 to get to 1/80th of a second.  With how slow the water was moving, in the difference between those two settings would have been inconsequential – and would have increased the noise/grain in the final image.

After snapping numerous frames of just the water reflections, I evaluated my results.  I liked the general concept of the wave movement, colors, and light, but in the end, felt the images lacked some structure.

As I observed the colors and patterns change, nearby eddy would occasionally push leaves into my composition.  Sometimes a clump of five or six would enter my frame; on a few occasions, only one would pass through.  As they would float by, I felt like they were subtle whispers or messages crossing momentarily through reflections.  I originally kept them out of my frame because I was not sure if I could render them sharp enough with my shutter speed.  I figured I would give it a shot (or two or two hundred) though…it’s only pixels after all.  And they put the Delete button on the back of the camera for a reason, right? Right!

At first, I tracked a few leaves using autofocus, thinking that would be the fastest way to ensure the leaves rendered sharp.  I missed a bunch of great opportunities as my lens kept zooming in and out, trying unsuccessfully to pick up the requisite contrast to focus on in the ripples.  So I returned to manual focus and tried to track the leaves with my camera as they’d cross my view.  But trying to focus while tracking on a tripod became a comical exercise.  I could not hand-hold the camera steady enough at 1/40th of a second to get a sharp image.  Generally, you want your shutter speed to be faster than 1/focal length of your lens to ensure sharp images while hand-holding the camera.  In my case, this meant 1/400th of a second or faster…theoretically, I could have increased my ISO significantly, but again at the expense of much grain.

Instead of taking my camera off the tripod, I decided on a different approach – one I use while photographing people in the environment ironically.  I composed my frame with my desire background of the reflections, and then simply waited (and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And waited….) for a leaf to come into my frame.  As Elizabeth Lawrence’s quote above suggests, I sat still and watched the leaves turn along the stream.  This experience alone was worth my time; if a photo resulted, it would be simply be more proverbial gravy on a heaping pile of delectable mashed potatoes.

Within the 70 attempts I made as various collections and individuals of leaves roaming through my composition, I managed to create the photograph of a single leaf (see above), one I titled “A Whisper in the Water” because of my emotional connection with it.  I really liked the lone leaf, as it conveyed more serenity and calmness than the groupings of leaves did – and helped express the concept of “whispers” I wanted to share.

Tech info:  Canon 5DMII, 100-400mm at 400mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6 at 1/40th sec., polarizer (by necessity, not choice, which did nothing for my photo other than slow it down).

Want to learn more about photographing Jordan Stream and other beautiful locations in Acadia National Park? Pick up an autographed copy of my guidebook Photographing Acadia National Park: The Essential Guide to When, Where, and How at www.photoacadia.com.