As I mentioned yesterday, all the trees you see on the “tops” of the drift prairie of North Dakota are plantings…installed by human hands as wind-brakes around dwellings and homesteads. What native trees there are are mostly cottonwoods and ash, deep in the river valleys, where the periodic prairie wildfires could not get to them, and where water was reliable all year. The exception is the Burr Oak and Ash forests that grow along the ridge of the Missouri Coteau, the glacial moraine that marks the edge of the ice advance. This is Hawk’s Nest Ridge, southwest of Carrington. It is on private land, but it draws people from hundreds of miles around, to hike and camp in the one of the only real forests in the state. These days most people call the landowners to get permission. Generations of some North Dakota families have camped and hunted on Hawk’s Nest.
And I can understand why. Even for an easterner like me, well acquainted with forest, the Burr Oak forest of Hawk’s Nest is a place of wonder.
Under the bright prairie sun, it is not an easy forest to photograph. Even my in-camera HDR left the highlights overexposed, so this is a traditional 3 exposure HDR assembled and tone mapped in Dynamic Photo HDR and processed in Lightroom.
Canon SX50HS. 24mm equivalent.
The falls on the Baston in Emmon’s Preserve in Kennebunkport are, like the Redwood Forest, another subject that has always proved difficult to capture. The falls lack the scale of the Redwoods, but they are well shaded by trees, and present the added difficulty of bright white highlights from sun on the foaming water. Once more, a subject that demands deeper HDR than my in-camera HDR can provide.
Which is why my last Sunday photo-prowl found me down by the Baston with my Fat Gecko, carbon fiber, shock-corded tripod. As I had suspected, 3 exposure HDR also gives a nice understated silky look to the rapids, without the need to resort to long shutter speeds.
This is not the falls at their most difficult. The leafless state of the mostly maples that combine with the pines to shade this stretch of stream let more light in than there will be later in the season. I will go back in 6 weeks and try that challenge.
Canon SX50HS at 24mm equivalent field of view. -2 1/3, -2/3, and +1/3 EV exposures. Blended and tone mapped in Dynamic Photo HDR. Final processing in Lightroom. This is one of those HDRs that challenges the eye, or at least my eye. The range of light is so natural that the image looks a bit painted. We just do not expect this effect in a photograph.
I still have a lot of images from my trip to Arcata California and the Godwit Days Spring Migration Festival that I could share. This is one of my deep HDR experiments at Founder’s Grove in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. I like the way the Richardson’s Geraniums and a variety of ferns are growing on this fallen Redwood trunk. My guess, given the legendary durability of Redwood, is that this trunk has been down for well over 1000 years, to reach the stage of decomposition where it now supports it’s own micro-habitat. And I suspect it will be another 1000 years (or more) before all trace of the tree is gone. That is a long time!
It takes at least a 3 exposure HDR, with the highlight (dark) shot at least at -3EV, and the exposures well separated, to capture the range of light on the floor of Founder’s Grove. Canon SX50HS. 24mm equivalent field of view. From a tripod. Exposures blended and the HDR file tone mapped in Dynamic Photo HDR. Final processing for my usual intensity, clarity, and sharpness in Lightroom. Auto Color Balance to correct a yellow bias introduce in the HDR process.
Last spring I was amazed at the big patches of Trout Lily leaves (aka Dogtooth Violet or Adder’s Tongue) that I found at Emmon’s Preserve in Kennebunkport and along the trails at the Wonderbrook Preserve in Kennebunk in early April. Though I went back several times I missed the bloom at both locations. Last year was a particularly early spring, a full 4 weeks ahead of this year’s late spring, and I now have to wonder if I had already missed the bloom the very first time I saw adder’s tongue on April 9th. Yesterday, my Sunday Photo-prowl took me back to Emmon’s Preserve (to try some deep HDR’s of the falls) and I was delighted to find large patches of Trout Lily in bloom! It is such a beautiful plant.
Canon SX50HS. Program with iContrast and Auto Shadow Control. -1/3 and -2/3 EV exposure compensation. Various macros from 1200mm tel, to 34mm wide. Processed in Lightroom for intensity, clarity, and sharpness.
As I have mentioned, it is difficult to capture the Redwood forest in any kind of image. Part of the difficulty is simply the unbelievable scale, but most of it has to do with the range of light. It is relatively dark under the canopy, and yet the sun breaks through in brilliant shafts and patches. That is part of the magic. It is a world of light and shadow, populated by giants. On my up up through the Avenue of the Giants I tired the in-camera HDR on the SX50HS, hoping it would do a better job with the range of light. It did, but the lights, those sun shafts and patches, were still beyond the camera’s ability to render. On my last morning in Acadia, as I was waking up, I began to think about what is, to me, deep HDR. HDR works, if you are wondering, by taking three or more exposures at a range of values and combining them in software after the fact to produce an extended range image. Generally you have one normal exposure, one underexposed (dark) and one overexposed (too light). The software takes the highlights from the dark exposure and the shadows from the light exposure and combines them with the mid-ranges of the normal exposure. It can be over done, and too often is, producing scenes with skies that the eye has never beheld, or landscapes that look almost etched. The Redwood forest is, however, a classic case for HDR. I wondered if I could get better results than the in-Camera HDR provided by bracketing three exposures myself.
It turns out that such bracketing is really easy on the Canon SX50HS. I had planed to use the Exposure Compensation settings to dial down the exposure until I could see detail on the LCD in the highlights. That would give me my underexposure and then I could work from there. I determined that I needed at lest -3 EV (three stops) of underexposure for the highlights. However when doing that, I noticed that there was little symbol in LCD display that I had never paid any attention to. DISP. That generally means there are settings accessible by pressing the Display button. When I pressed it, up came an autobracketing setting that allowed me to set how far apart three autobracketed exposures are. You spin the control dial and two little pointers spread out across the Exposure Compensation scale. Alright! And, they spread from the point where you have Exposure Compensation set on the main scale. I was able to set Exposure Compensation to -1 and the autobracketing control to its widest spread and get three exposures at -3, -1 and +1. I did a few test shots and it seemed like it might give me the raw materials for some interesting HDRs of the Redwoods.
Of course for three exposures to be in perfect registration, so you can combine them in software, you have to use a tripod. My trusty Fat Gecko, shock corded, carbon fiber tripod was just the ticket. It weights under a pound but supports the Canon SX50HS like tripod weighing 10 times as much.
So I spent a couple of hours in Founder’s Grove taking HDR exposures. When I got back to San Francisco and my hotel for the night, I tried a couple of different HDR software solutions. PhotoMerge in PhotoShop Elements has an Exposure module that works okay, to produce the raw HDR image, but then you have to do the Tone Mapping using standard PSE tools. Tone Mapping? Just as the scene contained a wider range of tones than the sensor could capture, your HDR image contains a wider range of tones than a computer screen can display, or a printer print.Tone Mapping is the process of taking your extended range image, which generally looks pretty flat and uninteresting on the computer screen, and mapping the tones so that they look natural when displayed or printed. It is overcooked Tone Mapping that gives HDR a bad name, and produces those surreal effects. The goal, or at least my goal, when Tone Mapping is to produce as natural a look as possible. My preferred HDR software, Dynamic Photo HDR, gives you lots of very intuitive control over how the tones are mapped.
And even then, I take the images into Lightroom for final processing. Did it work. You can be the judge, based on the image above, and others that I will post over the next days, but I am pretty satisfied. The images I got from Founder’s Grove go further toward capturing the reality of the place than any I have managed before. They are not perfect by any means, but they are satisfying!
Every time I come to the Redwood forests of Northern California I am struck anew by how impossible it is to catch even a hint of the impact of these giant trees, this amazing forest, in any kind of image. And yet I am compelled, year after year, to try. Standing among the redwoods, hiking the groves, just breathing the air of the redwood forest, is an experience I want to share. And yet I am never satisfied with the images I bring back.
Some come close. I found this view of The Big Tree from which The Big Tree Wayside in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park gets its name, out away from the tree on one of the trails. It is rare to see a mature redwood so exposed. Most of the trees this size are in dense groves where any sun that penetrates just makes photography harder! Big Tree is over 300 feet tall and 22 feet through the base. Figuring a generous 20 feet per story, that makes this tree as tall as a 15 story building. And 22 feet in diameter means I could fit two of the hotel rooms I am writing in inside it (or close to it). That is huge!
And Big Tree would undoubtedly be taller if it had not, perhaps before any human every laid eyes on it, lost its top. The main trunk ends at maybe 250 feet, and the rest of the height is from a secondary trunk growing out from the side of the stump, well over 200 feet up the side.
Canon SX50HS. Program with iContrast and Auto Shadow Fill. -2/3 EV exposure compensation. 24mm equivalent field of view. f4 @ 1/250th @ ISO 80. Processed in Lightroom for intensity, clarity, and sharpness.
And for the Sunday Thought: well surely you can already tell from the title and the text where I am going with this…where I am driven to go with this. Redwoods give you a sense of the kind of awe that a person of faith experiences in every encounter with God…the kind of awe that runs under all experience for the people of faith. I am not talking about religious people, or people who put their trust in any organization or creed…I am talking about people who have direct experience of God, and whose faith is the inevitable result of such an encounter. I believe in Redwoods because I have stood among them and experienced the simultaneous uplifting and humbling of my spirit that is called awe. I know what I am trying to capture in my images. Just so, I have stood in the presence of God, known the love of God in Jesus Christ…just as real and vital as a grove of redwoods and astoundingly, astonishingly more. But I can no more convey the experience of my faith than I can capture the awesomeness of the redwoods. That does not mean I will ever stop trying!
I wait impatiently every spring for the Trillium to flower in Maine. We have the Painted Trillium variety. Growing up in Upstate New York we among the first signs of serious spring was the red Trillium. Here, where I am visiting, among the redwoods of California, they have the larger White Trillium. I was delighted to find this specimen right next to the trail at the Big Tree site in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park just north of Orick CA. Though the Painted is shower, and the Red brighter against the forest green, the big White has its own beauty. I love the water drop there too…though I will admit I did not see it until processing the image.
Canon SX50HS. Program with iContrast and Auto Shadow Fill. Macro Mode. About 60mm equivalent field of view using 1.5x digital tel-converter. f3.5 @ 1/30th @ ISO 640. Processed in Lightroom for intensity, clarity, and sharpness.
Last Wednesday, after we got the instructions for finding the Long-eared Owl at the Ohio River Islands Refuge, and before we found it, we stumbled on a small herd of White-tailed Deer working their way through a thicket parallel to us. This shot is actually from the car window. Like most White-tails in protected environments (and what is more protected than an island refuge about as far from hunting season as you can get?), they knew we were there but they were not tremendously concerned (especially if we stayed in the car). This was a young deer, probably not yet a year old. It was maybe 15 feet back in the thicket, 20-25 feet from me.
Canon SX50HS, Program with iContrast and Auto Shadow Control. –1/3 EV exposure compensation. 1200mm equivalent field of view. f6.5 @ 1/400th @ ISO 800. Processed in Lightroom for intensity, clarity, and sharpness.
There is a small viewing platform around the backside of the loop trail at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters that, if you only visit in summer, you will certainly ask yourself, “Why there?” There is, in summer, when the leaves are on the trees, nothing to see. There is, in spring, a nice stand of Lady Slipper below the platform, on the slope leading down to the marsh, but that came after the platform, as a result of the added light and space clearing a few of trees provided.
It is only in winter that you see what the trail designers were thinking (or seeing) when they put the platform there. In winter you have a view through the bare trees out across the river and the marsh that is quite attractive…even more attractive for the thin screen of trees between you and the marsh. And in winter, the light on the trees in the foreground is wonderful.
This is another In-camera HDR from the Canon SX50HS, and the Mode, plus some post-processing in Lightroom, produces an image very close to what the eye sees here.
45mm equivalent field of view. Recorded exif: f6.3 @ 1/500th @ ISO 80.
It is strange how strongly identified Christmas has become with the Currier and Ives vision of a New England winter scene. Especially when you consider what a small percentage of those in the US, and certainly in the world, have ever experienced Christmas in those circumstances. As I write this there is a flurry of snow falling outside my Southern Maine, not quite New England, window with just a dusting showing on bare ground, and I admit that, hope against hope, I am hoping for ground cover by mid-day. These days you can not count on a white Christmas in New England. I think we have had only 2 out of the past 5 years. I had to go back to January of this year to find this image.
And certainly the source of Christmas, the reason for the season, the greatest story ever told, does not include, or justify, a snowy countryside nostalgia. Joseph and Mary had enough trouble with the inn and all without seeing them, and the donkey, trudging through fresh snow.
So, I am going to have to just go with it. When I think of Christmas it is a white Christmas…and I am always slightly disappointed when it is not. We have a chance…just a slim, 30% at any given hour, maybe totaling 1 inch…chance today.
But wherever you are celebrating (or not celebrating) Christmas today, I wish you the blessings of unconditional love, complete forgiveness, absolute mercy, and a grace…a gift of hope…that goes well beyond whatever you might deserve. I give my thanks for that gift, which I for one desperately need, to God in Jesus Christ, remembering the birth of the Son of God, the Son of Man, and the Prince of Peace…and celebrating in the spirit of creative love that, miraculously, still lives in me. Merry Christmas to you all.