|Challenges of the Vermont
by Mitch Moraski
Living in Vermont…who could ask for more!
It's quiet and safe, filled with lush green rolling hills, serene ponds, lakes and freshwater streams. But please, someone get rid of the power lines!
Unlike the West, the grand landscape in Vermont is nearly nonexistent. Much of the land here is privately owned. NO TRESSPASSING, and now, TAKE BACK VERMONT signs are as abundant as cows.
Only a handful of places offer us the opportunity to "elevate" and shoot with no obstructions. Most of those are accessible only by foot up steep, rigid hillsides that someone who's approaching fifty, carrying a backpack and tripod, in OK (but not great) shape, is not about to attempt!
Unless you enjoy power lines in your photos grand landscapes in Vermont are challenging. But as I live here it forces me to become a different type of photographer. Intimate landscapes and long lens photography become a way of life when shooting here.
You just need to adjust to what's offered. It forces you to see differently, to dissect and visually cut your way through obstructions, much like a Sunday afternoon running back finding an opening through a defensive line. To find the shoots you're looking for you have to hike into the woodlands, and to invest…that's right…invest in a good, long telephoto lens that allows us to "optically extract" our subjects.
Wide-angle lenses are a must for woodland photography. I often work in the 20mm to 35mm range, and bring along an 81a and 81B warming filter. Overcast or early morning light will render a bluish or cool tint on film. I choose to shoot in soft overcast light, on calm days.
Diffused light offers uniform, low contrast scenes and allows for detail in both shadow and highlight areas. Wind and a breeze are often a challenge. My choice of film is Fuji Velvia 50. I will often incorporate strong foreground elements in my compositions.
This requires a small aperture, which in turn requires a longer exposure. One to three seconds is not unusual. I normally shoot before or just after sunrise, when the wind is at it's calmest.
My approach is to see wide. I'll find a woodland area and break it down into one area of interest. I begin to get tunnel vision, and now a five-acre lot becomes the size of a house. It's not unusual for me to spend two to three hours in one area, but I must see "something" of interest within the first 5-10 minutes. That's when I go to work! It's called "working your subject". It's when photography becomes a challenge. It's when patience is a must! Patience leads to success!
Intimate landscapes also offer a greater opportunity for me sell my prints to people living in other states that have similar landscapes.
Woodland images are tough to differentiate as to exactly where they were taken. For instance, Maine and Vermont have the same species of trees; this broadens my likelihood of selling my images out of state.
Long Lens Landscapes
It's what's referred to as "optical extractions". By zooming, you're optically extracting only a small portion of perhaps a hillside, or a farm. Using long lenses allows us to fine tune our images, and often times pick up on objects that may not be seen had you been using a wide angle lens…again, back to the power lines. Because we have so many dirt roads in Vermont that follow the contour of the hillsides, often times power lines are hidden and my just appear sporadically between limbs. With a wide-angle lens, these lines may not even be seen in the final print. Then again there's always Photoshop!
When it comes to wind, and we get a lot of it here, long lens landscapes can be a challenge in much the same way woodland photography can be a challenge. Long lenses and long exposures are not a good mix on windy days. The slightest movement will result in a blurred image. If working in these conditions I often keep one eye on my auto focus box, wait for it to be still, and use it as a guide for when to trip the shutter. I also stay away from using my lens hood. It only adds to lens extension.
That's fine! But what about the hillside that you're photographing that's 200 yards away? Those leaves also blow in the wind, and just when it's calm where your standing, the wind may be swirling on your subject. In this case it's a matter of timing on both ends. The advantage you will have over the intimate landscape is this: if there's only a slight movement of the leaves on a hillside, and you're using a long lens, leaf magnification is at a minimum. Detection of movement will be minimal. Again with landscape photography, I tend to tackle it in the early morning hours when the light is at a premium, and winds are calmest.
Using long lenses for landscapes has the effect of compressing perspective. Rolling hills that are miles away from one another look very close together on film.
Remember, photographic challenges are good enjoy them!
It makes you work harder to make something from what's presented to you; and makes you feel good when you've conquered those challenges. I consider my images from Vermont to be unique, "one of a kind" images that you won't find in every gift shop or on every corner. When I'm standing in wooded area with not a single soul around, I know that that I've captured something personal to me. It's mine! It's unique. For me that's what makes Vermont such a special place to photograph.