Thursday, November 3, 2011

Every Now and Then... Lake Topanemus

Every now and then, the planets align, the photography gods look down and wink to see if we notice. October 30, 2011 was one of those times.

Lake Topanemus in Freehold, NJ is our "home field" when it comes to photography. A short walk from my home, it is the perfect hidden gem that never fails to inspire me and continues to serve up fine photographic opportunities. What we saw on October 30, 2011 was twice as good because we knew it was coming.

The tri-state area focused on the day of the storm, and I'm sorry to say, it was justified as thousands still remained without power 5 days later. We were lucky - not impacted by the storm.

As a photographer, you should have been looking at the forecast for the day after the snow storm. Many times the storm will linger with unremarkable overcast skies. This day was predicted to be perfect, and it did not disappoint. Calm, clear skies overnight meant plenty of warm light at sunrise, blue skies to fill in the background and no wind to disturb the snow dusted foliage - all the makings of a classic photograph.

The doesn't mean it wasn't still a challenging shoot. Dave's Halloween party was the night before, and the thought of getting up even at the late sunrise hour of 7.20 or so was not appealing. But as the old saying goes - f8 and be there. Dave earlier than I, but between the two of us, we came away with some fairly unique images for central New Jersey who hadn't seen snowfall near Halloween for quite some time.

So how did we shoot this one? Using pretty standard techniques that you should become well familiar with.

1. Know your location
Pre-visualizing the shots with the information we had helped streamline efforts to set up; however, at this intimate location, you'll do just fine to arrive and shoot without ever having been here before. The sun rises from the opposite side of the lake from the park entry.

2. Plan your timing
I failed almost spectacularly at this one. We had just shot the foliage on the lake a few days earlier.  I was fairly confident that I had captured the images fall images I wanted from this location - which were basically the same images I made 3 years earlier, only this time on the 14 megapixel sensor of my K20d.  (Print big).  Pre-dawn was a distant memory by the time I arrived, and my creativity suffered for it.  There were plenty of close-ups to be had within the trees.  But I managed to make it in time for the warm light to be on the trees without having yet melted the snow on the leaves.  The opening image in this post was actually shot at 8.34am.  Good light, with the sun high enough for the brilliant blue to be coming through from the sky.   An hour earlier would have given me useful time to explore, but an hour later and the light would have been too hard, with the snow possibly melted.

3. Know your equipment
I wanted a wide angle for this shot - the long coast of the lake with as many of the fall colored trees as I could fit into the frame.  I got myself way on the other side of the lake (near where the bridge starts), then used a zoom a bit to frame the shot.
The circular polarizer was another key to this image.  The colors of the foliage are drawn out to be richer; the angle of the sun's light is just right for the rich blue sky.  And the lake is reflecting the colors of the foliage well as the filter cuts down the glare from the light on the water.
And of course, your trusty tripod and remote shutter release.

This was a magical scene, and I'm sure glad I didn't miss it.  But instead of stumbling across it, we were prepared.  Check the weather, know the spot, and with a little bit of luck, you end up with that gallery shot of snow covered fall foliage in NJ.

So where's your home field?

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