After a pleasant ~100 mile drive from my hometown of Bainbridge, I arrived at the cabin in mid-afternoon. Initially I was a taken aback as the area around the cabin resembled a crowded parking lot rather than a secluded retreat! The cabin sits in an area that boasts many trails – and hikers were certainly taking advantage of the beautiful, sunny, 65 degree day. Running along the cabin is a creek with a smallish (15 feet) waterfall known as Old Mill falls. Less than 100 yards downstream, water plunges 70 feet forming the Plattekill waterfall. It’s a short 5 minute walk to the base from the cabin. Unfortunately, the water was not so much plunging over the precipice as it was trickling. A beautiful area to be sure, but in much need of water to make it worthwhile spending time photographing it!
After quickly unpacking, I began scouting potential locations for shooting. As a landscape photographer, I shoot primarily during the “edges of the day” – sunrise and sunset. That means that more often than not I will be heading to, or returning from, a location in the dark. One of the challenges of shooting in an unfamiliar location is sufficiently scouting an area. Not simply having a general idea of where it is, but walking to it, checking trail conditions, timing how long it takes, pre-visualizing compositions, becoming aware of where the light will be, etc… It’s a vitally important job, but can also be frustrating since these scouting trips rarely yield usable photographs, leaving me feeling unproductive.
So after a trip down to Plattekill falls and then down the road to find the trailhead to Huckleberry Point (a possible location for sunrise) I headed to North South Lake campground to meet a local photographer and Flickr contact, Del Higgins. After a quick tour of the area, we decided to head to a field he knew about with some nice isolated trees, for the chance to do some night photography. The conditions were shaping up to be ideal; a new moon, a rural location where light pollution is minimized, a composition that looks toward the west so that I could get some nice color in the sky and most important, clear skies! Once I started the first of 80 45-second exposures, Del suggested we head to his house (just a few miles away) to warm up a bit before returning. I appreciated the hot cup of coffee and the time to “talk shop”. When we returned, my heart sunk. My lens was completely covered in condensation. Not just a little misting, but ginormous droplets! After quickly previewing the images, I concluded that 10 of the 80 images were usable. Complete and utter failure. Or so I thought. It was only a few weeks later when I started stacking the 80 images, that I realized that as the condensation accumulated, it attenuated the light from the stars leading to a comet-like effect of the star trails. The very effect I wanted to generate, but I expected to do it in post-processing. (Details of how the actual image was generated are given here). I’ve never spent so much time dedicated to a single composition – and although I went to bed that night thinking the entire evening had been an epic fail – it turns out the result was worth the effort.