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Exploring hidden visual treasures through photography
by Greg Miller, July 2011
©Photo Copyright: Greg Miller
One thing I take pride in, as a photographer, is finding hidden visual treasures that no-one else sees. Stony Brook at the Meadow area of Harriman State Park is a good place for this. Stony Brook can be especially photogenic with its crystal clear water and wonderful boulders. And it is ever-changing with the seasons and various water levels. But, as most local hikers know, the Reeves Meadow area of Harriman State Park is a busy place. On a typical weekend cars are jockeying for scarce parking places, and hikers are preparing for a full day on the trail. Many hikers start their hike on the Pine Meadow Trail along Stony Brook and are looking ahead to distant landmarks such as Pine Meadow Lake or Ramapo Torne. And this early section of trail often requires special attention since it is often wet and rocky. So with all the hustle and bustle, it is easy to overlook the beauty of Stony Brook itself.
Stony Brook is most often photographed in the fall. But it can be rewarding to photograph any time of year. Photo 1 was made on May 4 at 7:00 PM. The brook is flowing strong, and the early leaves of spring are still a bright green. The most important factor in capturing a scene like this is the light. The light this day was a bright overcast. And the late hour of the day means that the sun was blocked by a nearby ridge. This lighting, which most people would consider gray and unappealing, is actually the best light for a scene like this. This same scene, taken on a blue sky day, would have blown out highlights on the water and blocked up shadows in the forest. Digital cameras (and film too) see the world with more contrast than we do with our eyes. So if sun is directly shining on the water, my camera generally stays in the bag. Using a polarizing filter for this scene was also important. The filter allowed me to control how much reflection is seen on the water and wet rocks (I wanted as little reflection as possible). This filter also allowed me to eliminate glare from the green leaves, which otherwise would reflect the gray sky and cause the green leaves to be much less vibrant. I achieved the satiny look of the water with a long exposure. In this case the exposure was 2 seconds – but the shutter speed can be anywhere from 1/30 of a second to several seconds depending on how fast the water is moving and how much white water there is. With such a long exposure, a sturdy tripod was a necessity. Compositionally, the white boulder in the bottom left is where I want the viewer’s eye to go first. The eye tends to go first to light colored and large objects. From here, the viewer’s eye is led back into the scene by the white water and the light colored boulders that recede into the distance. Another key to this composition is the reddish-gray boulder in the bottom right. This boulder is almost a mirror image of the key boulder, except its darker and more subtle tone means the eye does not go there first. But despite its anonymity, it serves a key role in providing visual balance to the image. I also find it interesting that this boulder is rougher and more jagged than the smooth surface of the key boulder. It seems that being just a few feet from the main current of the brook has protected this boulder from other boulders being pushed downstream over the ages.
©Photo Copyright: Greg Miller
Photo 2 was made just a few minutes earlier than photo1. By positioning the camera very low, I was able to capture the rich green reflection on the surface of the water. The color is not fancy or flashy, but it still makes for an interesting image. Many times, there are wonderful reflections that cannot be seen at eye level. So I often crouch low when hiking along streams to see if any camera worthy reflections exist. Again, a polarizing filter was critical to this image. But where I used the filter to eliminate the reflection in photo1, I used the polarizing filter to enhance the reflection for photo2. I again used a long exposure, this time 1.6 seconds, to allow riffles on the water surface to smooth out. A faster shutter speed, say 1/250, would have frozen the riffles, which I felt would conflict with the overall mood of the image.
©Photo Copyright: Greg Miller
Photo 3 is also of Stony Brook, but taken in early fall, well before peak autumn color was present. I saw this riffle one day when hiking, and knew that if I came back at first light the next morning, I could catch a reflection of the trees tops in sunlight off of the still shaded water. This is another use of a long exposure (2.5 seconds) and a polarizing filter. The yellowish-green color was not obvious to my eye, but was created by the long exposure allowing surface riffles reflecting green and yellow foliage to blend with each other. Using both cool (blue) and warm (yellow) colors in an image generally will enhance apparent saturation of both colors.
Note that all 3 photos avoid placing any obvious horizontal or vertical lines so that they split the photo in half. Usually putting a horizon line about 1/3 up from the bottom, or down from the top, will make a composition much more dynamic and interesting. And prominent lines also tend to be diagonal or S shape, as opposed to completely vertical or horizontal. Also note that all 3 photos have no clutter in the corners. Photography is an art of subtraction and is a visual languauge – as photographers we must always stop and ask ourselves what it is we are trying to communicate. One of my first thoughts in composing is eliminating anything from the frame that does not add the purpose of the image.
I hope that you will have learned at least one thing from this article that will help you improve your own photography. And the next time you are passing Stony Brook at the start or end of your hike, perhaps you will take some extra time to stop and admire its beauty.
About Greg Miller:
Greg Miller photographs a wide range of subjects from bold & colorful panoramas of dramatic elements of nature to intimate monochromatic artistic nudes with subtle textures and tones. Commercial assignments include projects ranging from the Catskills to Chilean Patagonia. His first photo book, The Hudson River: A Great American Treasure (Rizzoli, 2008) has been honored by being named to The Bloomsbury Review’s Favorite Books of the Year list for 2008. Greg served as “Artist in Residence” at Acadia National Park in autumn of 2009. Greg’s photographs have been featured internationally in publications such as Popular Photography & Imaging, B&W (Black and White) magazine, Photo District News, Europe’s DIGIfoto magazine, Hudson Valley, Budget Travel, and InsideOut Hudson Valley.
Greg leads private photography workshops, and also workshops and photography tours for organizations such as the Center for Photography at Woodstock, the Adirondack Photography Institute, and the New Britain Museum of American Art.
See more of Greg Miller's work in his website: www.gregmillerphotography.com