Thursday, January 31, 2019
I left in the dark to drive two hours away to the mountains. Highways at 4am are almost abandoned on weekends and that makes travel quiet and stress free. One of the many reasons I shoot at sunrise instead of sunset. After taking the exit I needed I was greeted with fresh snow that fell overnight and some ice that hadn't melted from the snowstorm the weekend before. The road to where I was headed gets progressively more steep and has some hairpin turns along the way. I was the only one driving on it besides a plow so chances of sliding around had less risk. Once I arrived at the spot my car said it was 7 degrees not including wind chill, and there's plenty of that on a mountain. The sky was already starting to light up so I got excited and went to the top of a frozen snow pile, sinking up to my hips a few times and set up my tripod and waited. After 20 long minutes the sun started to do its thing making the mountains in the distance glow with warm light.
I went with a 5 image panorama to get the whole view in the image since a wider shot made the mountains too small. When taking a panorama its important to get your tripod and camera as level as you can. If you don't you are left with a lot of white space when stitching them together in Lightroom and had less wiggle room when cropping your image. To make sure the image stitches together smoothly I overlap each photo between 1/3 and 1/2 of the last image I took.
To make sure everything stayed as sharp as possible and not get frostbite, I used the self timer at 5 seconds to make sure there was no camera movement in between me pressing the shutter and the camera taking the image. I normally would use my cable release to do this but my bulky gloves and the cold temperatures would have been frustrating and painful to plug in the cable in the dark. Thankfully the winds were fairly calm so they didn't effect my camera or tripod or the cable would have been needed.
I'm glad I ignored all my sunrise and weather apps saying it wouldn't be eventful, because they were wrong.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
This year has been very eventful, lots of traveling and so many new places. The best part about traveling is the personal growth it creates. I remember eleven years ago I was watching a National Park documentary on TV in my parents house after just moving to New Hampshire. The moment the narrator said "This is Yosemite, home to El Capitan, Half Dome and miles and miles of forest" I looked in wonder at the sight of El Capitan. I thought to myself "I wish I could visit that place some day", but being sixteen in a new home with all your friends left behind makes you feel sort of like things like traveling are not possible. It wasn't until I got into photography that I realized I can literally go anywhere I want if I work hard enough. So that's what this year was the focus on. Seeing new things.
In January I still didn't have much experience in photography and was still unsure if a trip to photography the west was a good idea. So I went out and practiced as much as I could. The winter makes it pretty soul crushing sometimes. Plan on going out today on your day off? Too bad here comes 7 inches of snow followed by temperatures in the teens. You have to power through that and get out there anyways which is how I got the scene below.
In February when I was searching online for someplace new I stumbled across this old abandoned train in the mountains. After finally finding it on Google Earth my wife and I drove all the way to Bartlett, NH the day after a snow storm to find it. We didn't realize its about a quarter mile or so from the road and since its near Crawford Notch there was about three feet of snow all the way to it. Thankfully it was so cold that the surface was frozen so we could walk on it.....with the occasional sudden sections that we fell into. Its very eerie standing in an abandoned train, the rust and decay feels like maybe you aren't the only ones in there. This train has sat here for so long its like time accelerated inside it while the world outside forgot about it.
|All Aboard the Ghost Train|
March rolls around and I get the urge to visit the coast. I still haven't found a great way of predicting a colorful sunrise at this point to driving an hour away is a big gamble. I remember getting to New Castle in hopes of shooting Fort Stark at sunrise. Well the gates closed so I waited in the car in the dark for a while until a cop came by and basically told me I couldn't do that. Thankfully he was nice enough to tell me about the common right down the street that's open so I took his advice. Here you can see Whaleback Light in the distance Of course this thick wall of clouds was blocking all possible color from coming at sunrise. After getting mad I started to pack my stuff away when I noticed small pockets of light coming through so I quickly set up my tripod and managed to get this uplifting image.
|Shine the Light|
After getting a taste of the coastal sunrises I was hooked. So this years tax return was spent getting a new camera that I didn't actually need but oh well. Soon after I discovered Rye and the rocky beaches it has. This area became a frequent return place for me and this image was the first one taken with the new camera. My wife was nice enough to come with me this visit, maybe shes a good luck charm.
|Motion and Color|
The very next morning I thought trying for a new place. Old Orchard Beach was the winner so I went alone since my wife didn't want to get up at 3:30am and I don't blame her. I had never been there before so winging it was my best strategy. Mother nature was kind enough to light the sky up for myself and another photographer that had the same idea that morning.
|Scars of Beauty|
Guess what I went back to Rye again a week later in hopes of getting lucky with the color again. No such luck though so I decided on making the best of it anyways, a lesson that has stayed with me every shoot. Things never go according to plan and the fantasy of getting great lighting every time is just not possible. This shot was about the 20th attempt at getting the ripples just right. The need to play around with the shutter speed was a lesson in itself though.
April came and the snow was almost gone...or so I thought after traveling to Pack Monadnock. Two life lessons were made that evening. #1 Don't assume anything in photo planning. #2 Don't forget your filters at home. After hiking up the snow covered auto road and taking a "I cant breathe cause I'm out of shape" break several times the summit was in sight. Just after setting up the tripod the sky light up a bit with color so at least the hard work of getting here was worth it. So I guess that's a 3rd lesson. Nothing will come easy in photography.
|Set in Stone|
At the end of April came the coastal call again so the cliffs in York, ME happened to be the ones calling. This is such a unique place to see, so much so the directly behind this scene is a hotel. the height of these cliffs cant be accurately shown here. I found these straight lines carved into the stone by years of erosion. This was one of those I didn't leave early enough and say all the color in the sky from the highway days. Not a great mood was around that morning,
|Bald Head Smoke|
My wife and I got word about a fox that had given birth behind her dads house so we waited and waited....and waited but nothing happened. Just as we were walking to the car we saw sitting on a rock the mom and all her babies nursing from her. In a split second they exploded in different directions after the mom ran after seeing us. The babies didn't run off though and I managed to get this shot of one of them checking us out from afar. We left soon after so the mom could come back to them and they wouldn't be in harm.
|Peek a Boo|
May comes and my wife and I made our third trip in a row up to Acadia National Park. The first time we went was beautiful and colorful skies. Of course I wasn't into photography at the time because the next two May visits were gloomy and rainy most of the time. So black and white photos were explored this time around and I was happy with this photo at least.
One the way home from Acadia we found out about Pemaquid Lighthouse so we drove an hour out of the way to see this place. The is the most interesting lighthouse. Not so much the light house itself but the rocks that surround it. Layers or carved stone stretch out for hundreds of feet to the ocean. Again the sky was not happening but you have to make it work.
In June we took my mom to the Franklin Park Zoo for her birthday since she hadn't been since she was a little kid. Thankfully for the little kid being stared at by one of the brother pair of lions I got this photo that remains my favorite animal photo of mine.
|In the Eyes of a King|
Sometimes I take my camera to work with me but that's always a very slim amount of times. All the dust in the van from sanding hardwood floors is the last place to take a camera. So I put my camera bag in a trash bag for protection and shot this behind the house I was putting the last coat on. It helps that this house was empty or the owners would probably think I was weird for wanting to photograph their back yard.
|Dawn of a New Day|
My wife sometimes dog sits for a friend of ours and stays at her house. I visit her during the day when I can because our cats get lonely if we aren't home often. Luckily I had my camera with me for this ranch in Hollis. The golden light from the sunset really made this a sight to behold.
|Glow of the Ranch|
Every June the lupines in Sugar Hill are in bloom and this year was my first visit up. My luck with colorful sunrises on my days off work is almost non existent. So a gloomy scene was my option again. Wading through this tall grass was a nightmare because I just imagined how many ticks were probably in here. So a few quick shots were taken and I was out of there. Shockingly there wasn't a single tick on me so I guess my luck is in not getting ticks.
A visit to Sabbaday falls with my wife was made soon after Sugar Hill. We had visited here in the winter but it was frozen over so a return trip was needed. I love the emerald color the water gives off here and the small pool at the top of the bigger waterfall here. It has so much character and a calming effect.
Once July came I had become interest in night photography. We pass by this little gas station in the center of Amherst every time we visit her dad and every time I say I'm going to stop one day and get a shot of it. Procrastinating was set aside and I finally stopped and got this.
|Fill It Up|
Portsmouth is one of my favorite places to go to when I'm feeling down. The historic feel is has is invigorating to me for some reason. The warm summer night was just what I needed, the play being performed in the common was Mary Poppins so I was serenaded with songs from it while shooting the Memorial Bridge.
|Display of Light|
Every year Coppal House Farm in Lee NH has a giant field of sunflowers. Millions of them bring many visitors. The owner told me I was just in time for last admission and was really nice to tell me I could stay as long as I wanted. Trying to find a compelling sunset composition was a lot harder than I expected. Another photographer was having the same problem and we ending up chatting for a while. Hes a professor at UNH and does photography as a hobby and I must have convinced him that the color was definitely going to be here at sunset so he stuck around. I found out later by searching online that his name is Julien so if you know him let him know about his photo since he was interested in seeing what I ended up with.
The annual hot air balloon festival in Pittsfield NH in August is a must if you are into that sort of thing. Last year we went for sunset and the night scene when that light up the balloons. That was quite the day since that afternoon we were trapped under a tent with many others escaping a violent thunderstorm. Many people were holding the large tent down from blowing away as lightning was striking nearby. This year was a much calmer experience at sunrise. Myself and about 30 other photographers lined the bridge there and waited for the balloons to float over the river. Only the never did due to the winds. This one balloon did however lift off while tethered to the ground a few times. So with a little magic I edited out the lines and ended up with this image.
September was what we were looking forward to all year....more closer to since the summer of 2015. The road trip to California was the best time in my life so far. Something like that really heals your soul. I left for the trip anxious and stressed and came back feeling the calmest I can remember. 7663 miles really lets you just sit back and accept things are not going to come right away. A more detailed version of out trip is up on this blog in chunks if you want to read. A brief summary to start after driving for 3 days we stopped at Arches National Park and I got this the morning we left.
|Turret in a Window|
San Francisco is as unique and interesting as it looks in the movies. Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in person and driving over it. I wish we had more time to explore more of the city but I was happy just to be there.
Yosemite is by far the most beautiful place I have seen in my life. Even with all the smoke from the forest fires couldn't take away from this majestic area. I could spend the rest of my life exploring the wilderness there and wouldn't regret missing anything else. Below is a small section of this wonder.
|Valley of Life|
The second most interesting place I have seen was followed up the very next day in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. Seeing trees the size of some small skyscrapers is amazing and to make it even more mysterious is that they are thousands of years old. Even driving down the road was magnificent to take in. Oh and the air there is so clean its like every breath revitalizes you.
Disneyland while much smaller than its counter part in Florida is still a great place to visit. This was to celebrate our 5 year anniversary of being married and we had a great time riding all the rides I normally would pass by. The image below was the Alice in Wonderland Teacups using a slow shutter to capture the motion of the spinning cups. This is one of those pass rides by the way, I have dizzy issues as it is.
|We're All Mad Here|
The vast difference between the west coast and east coast is immediately apparent. Our rough rocky coasts in New Hampshire with ice cold ocean water have a polar opposite in San Diego. The smooth swirling stone and warm Pacific waters are so soothing that I understand why Californians are so happy all the time. The sunset that night wasn't all that great but the company I had made up for it. Below is a small rock that was connected at the bottom to the rest of the shore.
If you ever want to know what total darkness feels like in the United States, go to Joshua Tree. We could see the milky way with just the naked eye. This park feels more like another planet than Earth. While we were taking photos here I kept hearing something moving closer and closer to us in the bushes near us. That was the deciding point to get back in the car. I recently found out there's a strong chance it could have been one of the many mountain lions that live in the area.
The last exciting thing in September was visiting the Grand Canyon. The first day ended up being pretty boring. Aside from staying in a "haunted" hotel the sunrise the next morning was great. The rocks lit up like they were on fire and I captured my favorite photo to date.
Back to reality in New Hampshire and begins October and the art show I was looking forward to. The ArtWalk in Nashua is usually where I sell the most prints all year. This year thankfully was a great year. I started the weekend with 14 calendars and by the end of Sunday I had 2 left. I was unsure how they would do so I didn't order many, next year will be different. The morning of the second day I went on a quick trip up to Woodstock Vt to get a photo I have been planning on for over eight months. While the foliage was past prime I was greeted to some real atmospheric mist and light.
|Sleepy Hollow Mystery|
To fill out the rest of the month I went searching for fall foliage but didn't get any photos that really made me happy. The one below I managed to get just a short distance from our place. I really love the deep red leaves during the season.
November hit and I got stuck in a black and white mood. With all the color gone and stick season in full swing I really had no choice. Its nice to strip away all the flashy sunrises and eye catching colors of the year. The focus on subject becomes more of the focus and trying to create a stark image is a challenge sometimes. The upside is shooting in black and white makes you hone in on the light rather than the obvious things your eye usually sees first. I drove for over an hour to get to where this tree stands and its drawn other photographers to it before me. A giant tree standing alone in a big open field just calls you to shoot it.
When I was killing time to meet my wife's grandmother in Ashland, I decided to check out the Crawford Notch area. December started out warm but that didn't keep the snow away from the White Mountains. The best part about going to this area is you have the whole area almost to yourself. Summer brings all the crowds and cars making shooting sometimes tricky. Just as the sun was setting I saw this section of rock that was catching the last glimpse of light of the day.
The middle of the month I decided on going to Portsmouth since I hadn't been there since July. One day after work I decided to head up at the last minute. Fort Stark is a pretty grim place to visit nearby, the whole structure is rotting as time and wind slowly strip it of its former glory. My goal was a long shutter with these wooden poles that sit right off the shore there. Ive had this image in my head for months and I'm glad I finally managed to get it.
Shortly after that I headed over to Four Tree Island in Portsmouth to watch the sunset by myself since the little park was empty. My sunset predictor was a little off today so I waited for it to get dark in hopes to get the lights reflecting off the water. Portsmouth worked its magic again and really made me feel peaceful just listening to the water lap on the rocks about four feet from where I sat. My camera managed to see more color than I could in the clouds so I was happy about that and got this image.
A snow storm soon dumped everyones favorite thing on the roads the next day so I decided to take a photo of a small portion of our new Christmas tree (that we totally haven't had up since before Thanksgiving). This year we decided to ditch the colored lights and bought a new tree and all new decorations to reflect our love for nature and natural looks. This little lantern caught my eye when I was sitting at my computer editing the photos from Portsmouth.
|Lantern of Hope|
The next morning I had to drive to Hollis in hopes to get another photo I has in mind since before out trip. We were sanding the floors across the street during the summer and I knew this would look great with some fresh snowfall on it. The owners were kind enough to make the scene even more beautiful with a wreath.
So ends the year that I will take with me going forward. New things abound next year with some exciting travel plans that you will just have to wait and see what I get from them. Some from the United States some in another country (which I'm nervous for since it will be the first plane trip Ive taken since I was about 4). Here's to another great year of photos and adventures, hope to see you enjoying some of my photos. Thank you for reading and following me.
Any photos shown here can be purchased over at stephentopiaphotography.com
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Up again in the early hours to drive for about five hours today. With a full tank of gas and my wife asleep in the car, this ride was a boring one. Hours of wide open areas with the occasional trailer home in the middle of it. I think the people here enjoy their solitude and I can agree to that sometimes. The busy cities and drama of people can get exhausting after a while.
We crossed into Arizona and after a while we made it to the Grand Canyon. After circling the parking lot about 5 times next to our hotel trying to find a space, I finally snagged one. We got out and stretched and made our way to the rim of the canyon. The only word that came to mind was "wow". The human eye can't really take in the vastness of this place. You look down and see the floor of the canyon and it looks like a cheesy old west background. But you are seeing for miles and miles to the other side. It's really quite a sight and being first timers it takes your breath away.....or maybe it was just the high winds doing that.
Since it was mid day the light was beyond harsh for photos so we walked to the grocery store in the park and got a snack. The map made it look close but it's well over a mile so Beth wasn't too happy and neither was I really. So by the time we got back to the hotel the light was nice enough for me to get this image
We stayed at the El Tovar hotel which is very old and really gives a vibe that we were in The Shining. Our tiny bed and tiny room didn't really justify the price but the canyon is about 200 feet from the front door so we can't complain. That night we tried for milky way photos as dozens of bats flew uncomfortably close to our heads over and over.
I was right about the creepiness of the hotel because while we were sleeping I woke up to the sound of one if our plastic bags being shifted and the occasional light tapping noise near our door. In the morning I looked online to find there's reports of this hotel being haunted that I didn't see until after we slept there. So that was weird, most likely explainable to be an old building with old plumbing. Except we don't know what rustled our bag when the A.C. was off and the windows were shut.
That morning we frantically drove to a spot for sunrise to find the color appearing before we reached it. I did manage to get a couple images of color before it quickly vanished.
We were getting ready to leave when I couldn't find my wife and found her shooting away from the crowd. I'm glad she did because I got my favorite photo of the trip here
After a long uneventful drive from there to Oklahoma City we were dead tired and checked into our hotel around midnight. Same went for the next day driving from there to Ohio. We did however take a detour to enter Kansas just to say we went there......would have preferred to not have that detour end at a "gentleman's club" but oh well.
Our final zoo trip turned out to be the best zoo we've visited. If you have the time, go to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. All the animals here are happy and friendly. Our favorite part was standing in the underwater viewing area watching the polar bear swim and play. She tried to catch the live fish in the exhibit but wasn't quick enough, though most of the fish show signs that she's gotten a little taste. It's really something being inches away and feeling her power as she launched off the glass to gain momentum. The other thing I liked was putting my hand against the glass and having a baby gorilla try to copy me. Then his older brother saw me trying to wipe the condensation off so I could see him and wiped his side of the glass so he could see me and we "touched knuckles" with each other.
That night we ended up in New York and in the morning we went to Niagara Falls but didn't end up taking photos because it was far too misty and parking was an issue at 5:30am with most of the lots closed. So we headed home early to our long missed cats.
It's bittersweet coming home after vacation, the reality of having to go back to work, do housework, deal with the traffic and just everyday life is depressing. What was worse for me was having to figure out how I can shoot anything here in New England after seeing the beauty the west has. 28 years of seeing the same things really makes you numb to any potential beauty we have here. I haven't really gone out much because I keep thinking that nothing can match what we saw on our trip. Winter is almost here too which means no colorful scenes and bitter temperatures that I'd rather not stand in at 6am. But then this past weekend I headed to Rollinsford NH and shot this image that makes me wonder if there's a little more than obvious places to shoot. Here's to exploring the unknown and making something beautiful that's otherwise ignored.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
With the natural wilderness behind us we ventured into another wilderness, but these are made of buildings and people. We stayed in Los Angeles for a night and in the morning headed over to the LA Zoo.
All the animals here seem happy and we got some decent photos.
All the animals here seem happy and we got some decent photos.
|Watching for intruders|
|Surveying the group|
The only complaint about this place is the lack of signs and many maze-like paths. We got to feed a giraffe some leaves which was pretty cool.
Over all it was a nice day even though I lost the magnet we got from there....
We left the zoo and drove 30 miles away (which took 2 hours because of LA traffic) and arrived in Anaheim. This was a main destination because it was to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary. We went to Disney World on our honeymoon so it seemed fitting to go to Disneyland this time around. So that night we explored Downtown Disney and bought some artwork for our apartment. We had to go to the Italian place there for spaghetti and meatballs (which was delicious though expensive).
The next morning we were excited and got up early to be first in line at the first Disney park. First stop, Indiana Jones. I suggest you not ride this on a full stomach since it literally throws you around but it's still really fun. We rode our favorites like Pirates of the Caribbean and all the slow rides like Jungle Cruise. All the time I was building up the courage to conquer one ride I've avoided my whole life....Big Thunder Mountain. Aside from my wife laughing at me maniacally as I held on for life, it was really fun. Then we immediately got in line for The Matterhorn which turned out to be my favorite overall.
We went around taking photos of the park after some really good steak kabobs. I was anticipating some night shots of the park like these ones.
|Matterhorn at dusk|
|Mad Hatter Tea Cups|
Again the next morning we got to California Adventure early to ride Soarin. That ride messed with me since I'm not a fan of heights. Not too many rides for us so we just relaxed here and saw a really well performed Frozen play. The highlight was the nighttime scenes and light show they put on.
|Welcome to Radiator Springs|
|The two parks were decorated for Halloween|
The next two days were spent in San Diego. First stop was Seaworld....nothing to say except you can skip this one and go to Orlando instead. The park seems bare bones in stuff to offer in comparison and the employees very kinda rude. We love the animals though.
That night we went to the beach to see the Pacific Ocean and capture the sunset. The overall vibe is amazing. People are friendly and easy going compared to New England's beaches. I managed to take a couple decent photos considering the lack luster sunset.
|Peaceful night on the beach|
For dinner I have to mention this little place that was beyond amazing. Divine Pastabilities is a must if you're in the area. They hollow out Italian bread and stuff it with your favorite pasta and it makes a sandwich type thing. I got lasagna and my wife got cheeseburger mac and cheese. We want to fly there just to visit again.
Our last day in San Diego brought us to the San Diego zoo. To say this zoo is big is a huge understatement. We spent 6 hours here and most of the time we had to just glance at the animals to make sure we saw it all. I manage a couple nice photos here as well.
|Playtime for the brothers|
That afternoon we drove to Joshua Tree National Park just at the sun was starting to set so we quickly drove through this almost unpopulated park to visit Skull Rock
We made it just in time before the sun was completely gone then hung out in our hotel till it got dark. I really wanted a milky way photo so I dragged my wife out into the desert in the darkest area I've ever seen. It's so dark you can see the milky way with the naked eye. But my camera can see better than I can as you can tell
|Joshua Tree and Milky Way|
OK long entry over. Now we move onto our journey home unfortunately. But it's a nice journey regardless.