Saturday, September 3, 2011

Manasquan Reservoir

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To be fair, this was our 2nd attempt. Our first was a misguided effort at chasing a storm. "Chance of thunderstorms" is an open invitation to photographers looking for dramatic sunsets. "You're going to get walloped by a monsoon" would have been a more useful weather report. But even in adverse conditions, our time was well spent. "That's where we want to be next time."
5.00 AM, we realize the gates to the parking area were closed. Not unexpected, but surprised to find that there was nowhere on the side of the road (or side streets) to stash the car and hike in early. Driving the perimeter of the reservoir, we found a 5.05 AM traffic jam?!? A terrible accident? Nope. 15 or more cars, trucks, and trailers waiting for the opening to the boat launch. 15 vehicles lined up on the road on a random Saturday morning. Fishing must be great here, but even if they did open the boat launch gates early, I didn't want to sit in that line waiting to get in.
We continued around for a second pass, hoping we missed a side street near the entrance and were pleased to see the main gate open by about 5.10am. Don't know if this is an exception or the norm. So we assumed the ranger was a photographer like us, and gladly accepted the invitation. Still dark in the lot, we felt our way around some thick brush until we found a fairly manageable trail down to the beach that turned out to be just to the right of the main lot .
Dave's better eyes than mine confirmed in the dark that what seemed to be brush in the water was actually solid land. We were on the beach. At about 20 minutes before sunrise, the sky began to light with our storm clouds playing their part. The sky lit, the water reflected, and the tree-stumps played the role of silhouettes perfectly. The magic hour - just before, during, and after sunrise. The first few frames are some of our favorites from this effort.
A polarizing filter helped bring out the colors in the sky and the reflection in the water. A 3-stop graduated ND helped balance exposure between the sky and the water. A longer exposure was required for 2 reasons:
1) The water is darker than the bright sky. Properly exposed water was essential to the shot.
2) I wanted the silky, surreal look that a long exposure brings to even fairly calm waters. I knew there were subtle ripples in the water, and they would serve the image well over a long exposure.
34 minutes of shooting and getting set up before the sun actually entered the scene yielded some of the best images of the day, as is usually the case. Getting anything other than silhouettes from the tree stumps or even the beach would have required a dynamic range well beyond the capability of a digital sensor and filters, putting us into the realm of HDR, which I don't typically explore.
Before sunrise with a circular polarizer and a 3 stop graduated ND filter, I was looking at exposures of 10 - 20 seconds for apertures of f11 and f13 at ISO100 . About 25 minutes later, we were down to shutter speeds of 7/10 second at f16 because of the increased light.
As the sun emerged from the trees on the opposite end of the reservoir at 6.04, we scrambled to fire off the shot we had set up, and try to re-position along the beach for some additional perspectives. At about 6.20am, 16 minutes later, we were pretty well done with the "sunrise" portion of the shoot. On this morning, we were happy to have the clouds extend our shooting window as the sun danced through the cloud breaks.

Once the sun had risen, it was time to turn around, literally. While the sun was done serving as the focal point of our images, it still had plenty left to illuminate the landscape in it's warm, magic hour glow. In this instance, I wasn't thrilled with the effect on the landscape. A few intriguing shots emerged, but it quickly became clear that the green moss in contrast to the harsh tree stumps would be best served by a wet day to really draw out the greens. And so with several shots in bag, we did some recon for our next trip to this beautiful place. Somewhere between the warm light of sunrise and the zero visibility of a monsoon, we'll find our way back to capture the vivid green of the landscape.

Depart Main St. in Freehold.
4.10 awoke
4.30 out the door
4.38 on the road
5.05 traffic?!?
5.10 entered the main gate
5.18 on our way to the beach
5.29 first frame from the beach is a keeper
6.03 sun breaks the horizon

Circular polarizing filter
Graduated neutral density filter

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