Photo Trekking 2: Catoctin

March 27, 2010  •  Leave a Comment
[This is my 2nd installment in a 6-part series for a photo trekking class I took with Barbara Southworth through the Smithsonian Associates Residence Program.]

On Sunday, I went to Catoctin Mountain Park with my Photo Trekking class. It seems we used up all of our good weather last weekend at St. Mary’s Watershed. Sunday was cold and dreary with a forecast for rain. The following picture of Chimney Rock isn’t very nice, but I think it conveys the dreariness:

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A dreary day at Chimney Rock: 40 degrees with a forecast for rain.

Even though it was early morning, when the light is normally really good, the clouds made the light flat and boring. Spring hadn’t hit Catoctin yet either, so we missed the greenery. No greenery and bad lighting made for quite a challenge. But the challenge wasn’t unsurmountable. If you look carefully, there’s lots of color to be had, just not the colors you might expect.

In the following photo, also taken at Chimney Rock, you can see lots of reds and browns. I cut out the sky because it would be bright, boring, and overwhelming. Instead, I focused on texture and depth of field. The rocks share some color with the trees.

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Spring clearly hasn't come to Chimney Rock yet, but despite the lack of green, there's lots of color to be found.

I tried to take the opportunity to play with composition. I really like the following photo, but it could have been better. I was too lazy to use my tripod on this one, which I now really regret. To get the image sharp without a tripod, I needed a fast shutter speed. Unfortunately, I needed to use a small aperture in order to obtain good depth of field--getting both ends of the tree in focus. This meant I had to use a high ISO setting, which reduced the dynamic range I was able to capture with my camera.

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Rocks inside a hollowed out tree.

I also took the following photo hand-held. I don’t think this one was hurt quite as much by the higher ISO setting. I like the three dimensional look created by different layers of trees in the foreground and background. I also like the squiggly lines. Including just a bit of sky seemed to add interest and make the image look less flat.

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Squiggly trees reaching for the sky.

After hiking around for a bit, we went to Cunningham Falls. I really like waterfalls, like just about everyone, so I was excited to go to the tallest waterfall in the Washington, DC, area.

Cunningham Falls has a viewing area on which people can stand and watch the falls. Unfortunately, there are trees and such that obstruct the view a bit. To get a good shot of the falls, I had to climb the railing and get closer. I’m glad that I did. I like this image:

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Cunningham Falls.

Here’s another one taken from even closer. I tried to frame the image so that the water would flow from the top-right corner to the bottom-left corner, thereby creating movement and interest. To get the silkiness of the water, I stopped down the aperture and used a polarizer to get a slow shutter speed.

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Cunningham Falls.

At the end of the hike, I walked with the instructor, Barbara Southworth. As we walked, I thought mostly of going home. All the trees looked the same to me. However, it was clear that things looked different to Ms. Southworth. She pointed out a small beech tree and said she’d like to take a picture of it. I hadn’t even noticed the tree, but as soon as she pointed it out, I knew immediately why she wanted to take a photo of it.

The small beech tree stood all alone, surrounded by much taller trees. The beech tree had bright golden white leaves that stood out in stark contrast from its surroundings. Behind the beech tree was a moss covered log with mushrooms growing on it and further back was a huge vine growing up a tall tree.

We stopped to take the photo and here is what I got:

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A lone bright beech tree in a dark forest.

positioned the tree in the frame 1/3 from the right. I like the end of the fallen tree behind it, so I positioned it 1/3 from the left. A diagonal log in the foreground gives an impression of movement. For the background, I was careful not to get any sky in the photo.

I think my photo turned out nicely, but you can barely see the vine snaking up the tree behind the beech tree. In a sense, my photo really is lacking because the vine is wasted and almost distracting. This was most obvious when I saw how Barbara framed her photo.

In the following photo, the vine is barely visible behind and to the left of the beech tree. (In this photo, I’m standing a bit to the left from where I stood in the previous photo.) Imagine how the photo would look if I had stood even further to the left. Barbara was able to frame the photo so that the vine snaking up the tree was exactly 1/3 from the left of the frame, while the beech tree was exactly 1/3 from the right of the frame. This made the image of the vine and the beech tree very distinct from each other and gave her photo a wonderful sense of balance.

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A lone bright beech tree in a dark forest.

As I progress as a photographer, I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the workings of my camera and the technicalities of photographer. I’m also becoming more and more aware of the importance of composition.

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