Rickett’s Glen

A closeup of one of the many beautiful falls in Rickett’s Glen, Pennsylvania…




Kilgore Falls, Part II

A couple of new shots I got last night at Kilgore falls.  The water level was down, which makes for better shooting conditions as you are able to see the colorful pebbles on the stream bed, and you are able to wade around closer to the falls without getting your camera gear wet.  Dry camera gear is always a good thing.






Kilgore Falls

This weekend I’m looking forward to going to Kilgore Falls for a photo shoot.  The Falls are in Rocks State Park in north central Maryland, just west of Pylesville, MD.  The second highest free-falling waterfall in the state, Kilgore is a short hike (about a quarter mile) from the parking lot off of Falling Branch Road.  The hike to get to the falls is as easy as it gets.  Once there, you are treated to what, in my opinion, is one of the more underrated places to visit in the state.  Just below the falls is an area that’s deep enough (10-12 feet) to allow the more brave among us to leap off the cliff of the falls, which peaks at 19 feet…at the bottom they are treated to water which is always relatively chilly.


The falls gets its name from one of the early owners of the property encompassing the falls, Joseph D. Kilgore.  The stream was privately owned until 1993, when the Department of Natural Resources acquired the property and added it to the already existing Rocks State Park, which resides to the south of the falls.  Unlike most of the higher falls in the state of Maryland, Kilgore is not a cascading falls; its water does not fall from one level down to another.  Instead, the falls are one long drop down to the bottom.  Examples of higher cascading falls in the state are Cascade Falls (quite the original name) in Patapsco Valley State Park, and Cunningham Falls in Cunningham Falls State Park.  Another high non-cascading falls in the state is Muddy Creek Falls in Swallow Falls State Park, a beautiful area located in the very western portion of the state.**


For me personally, Kilgore offers a seemingly endless number of ways to capture the scene…you can shoot it from downstream both far and near, facing directly in front of it, from the north (it’s a tight squeeze on slippery rocks), or from on top.  The stream just to the south of the falls has stones and small boulders scattered around, which adds to a nice foreground if you’re shooting from downstream.


There’s a full moon on Sunday (but not a New Moon on Monday), so I’m looking forward to capturing the falls below the moonlight for the first time.  I’m not certain as to whether the Department of Natural Resources allows visitors to stay past sunset…we shall see.  Here’s to hoping for clear skies!


A few long exposure shots of the falls I’ve taken during previous visits:


From downstream facing north.

From downstream facing north.


Facing the falls head-on.

Facing the falls head-on.


From the north (slippery rocks!!!).

From the north (slippery rocks!!!).


** Thanks to “” for these facts, written in an article titled “Kilgore Falls-A Must See in Maryland


If You’re Just Starting Out: Invest in (Or Rent) a 50mm Prime Lens

If you’re new to photography and are interested in developing your skills more, this is one recommendation I would strongly suggest:  Rent or buy a 50mm prime (fixed focal length) lens if you’re using a full-frame camera, or a 35mm lens if you’re using an APS-C sensor camera (the crop factor for an APS-C camera is 1.5)**…set your camera to ISO 800, put the camera in Aperture Priority (Av), set the f/stop to its fastest setting (typically 1.8 or 1.4 in most 50mm lenses), and just walk around your home, shooting anything and everything you want.  ISO 800 combined with f/1.8 or 1.4 is fast enough to capture most indoor scenes with moderate amount of artificial or natural light, without using a flash.  Use the LCD panel behind the camera to see if the shots are exposed to your liking.  If they are underexposed, you can simply raise ISO (be careful…this may introduce too much noise, depending on your camera), or bring more light into the room (turn on more lights, or open more shades).


The 50mm lenses are typically very close to “normal length”, in that if you have a 50mm lens on the camera, looking through the viewfinder will give you a focal range pretty close to what you see normally, with just your eyes.  For that and other reasons which are far beyond my pay grade, the optics in a 50mm (or close thereabouts) lens are often the least complex, and therefore the lightest and cheapest in the fixed length array of camera lenses.  Wide-angle (i.e. 15mm) and telephoto (i.e. 400mm) lenses are usually several times as expensive as a 50mm lens, and a whole lot heavier with their sophisticated layout of glass optics inside the lens frame.  Even putting weight and cost aside, the 50mm offers a good balance between a wide angle lens and a tele lens for walking around and working on composition.


Also, compared to a zoom lens, a fixed length lens provides great opportunities for photographers looking to develop their skill.  With a zoom, the photographer can get lazy and miss intricacies of a scene because all he or she has to do is zoom in or out to compose the shot.  With a fixed-length lens, you have to physically move your feet to recompose a shot…which will, in most circumstances, require the photographer to examine the scene more closely than had they simply been able to adjust composition without moving.  Zooms begat laziness.






I chose to post this picture because it was among the first few shots I took while trying out the above technique:  I locked the camera at ISO 800, f/1.4, and shot away at our family cat, Sebstian (a 14 year old silver persian).  On this particular shot, while holding the camera with my right hand, I raised my left hand above Sebastian’s head, and moved my fingers in a light snapping motion to try and get him to glare at them.  He did, and his beautiful features took care of the rest.  Since no flash fired, we didn’t get any of the harsh, hard light producing those ugly shadows…it’s just natural light from the windows behind me and to my left that lit up his cute little face.


**Special thanks to a friend of mine, Tim Johnson, for pointing out the APS-C crop factor.  With the smaller sensor, the lens length expands by a factor of 1.5.  So, if you have a 35mm lens on an APS-C camera, looking through the viewfinder will give you the equivalent view of a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera.


Warren Road Bridge

Just for the heck of it, I thought I’d share the first outdoor image I ever took with a full-frame camera.  It’s a shot of the Warren Road Bridge, which spans Loch Raven reservoir, and connects Warren Road with Merryman’s Mill Road in central Baltimore County, Maryland.  Taken with the Nikon D700…a great camera.  I sold it a couple of years ago when I got the D800E…another awesome camera.





I got this shot along Pebble Beach in California (not the Pebble Beach golf course…a different pebble beach).  What I remember most about this early morning shot is that it was very cold and uncomfortably windy.  It was difficult keeping the camera still on the tripod.  Given that the surf was very rough, I kept my distance.  To give the impression that I was close to encountering this imposing wave, I used the Nikon 70-200 zoomed to the max at 200.  I was a good 50 feet from the reach of the water.  To give the water some sense of movement (as opposed to a faster shutter speed which would totally freeze the action), I slowed the shutter to 1/3 a second…long enough to catch some movement of the wave, but not so long a shutter speed that it softened and dampened the raw power of the wave hitting the rocks.




The Subway

Back in September of 2012, I embarked on what was one of the most physically demanding one-day adventures of my life.  But it was eminently worth it, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  A (literally) breath-taking descent down the face of a cliff, followed by 4 hours of boulder-hopping…and suddenly you arrive at a massive crescent carved out of the base of a cliff wall just along the Left Fork of North Creek inside Zion National Park…otherwise known as “The Subway”.




The experience was one I’d never trade…the strenuous hike to get in there and back out was more than worth it.  If you ever travel to Zion, I strongly recommend taking the hike to see the Subway.



Moulton Barn’s Neighbor

The shot below was taken during our family trip up to the Grand Tetons…during which the highlight of the week for me was to photography the famous Moulton Barn (I posted an image of it in a previous blog entry).  While sitting in the car waiting for the light to get right over the Barn, my wife suggested I get out and take some shots of what had turned into a very nice, colorful sunset to our northwest.  So, I got out of the car, walked around and took some hand-held shots of the area.  The shot below was my favorite of the bunch…to me, it’s a peaceful scene of some quiet farmland under a very nice sunset.  Directly to your left in the photo is the Moulton Barn…I am not aware of the name of the barn you can see in the distance here.  You’re looking due north in this shot, with the setting sun off to your right in the photo.  There were a couple of other photographers there taking in the same scene…I had to crop them out of this shot.  They were lined up along the right side of the driveway capturing the nicely saturated horizon.





Update: Here’s a similar shot which brings more of the eastern portion of the farm into the frame.  It also highlights the sunset we were treated to that evening…





Long Exposures

A brief summation of the difference a long exposure image can make.  This is a picture at sunset of a farm in Harford County, Maryland, off of Mountain Road.  The first shot is a standard exposure (1/13 second), with no filter attached to the lens, and a -0.7 exposure bias (my D800E always overexposes just a bit).




This second shot was taken with a Singh Ray Mor-Slo 10 stop neutral density filter, which allows 10 stops less light into the camera than that first shot (probably even a little more than 10 stops, since it was sunset and getting darker literally by the minute).  I also had a 4 stop reverse graduated ND filter on to keep the horizon from blowing out.  This exposure was 373 seconds at the same f stop as the previous shot (f/8):



Same composition, just a couple minutes after the first shot.  The longer exposure catches the movement of the clouds to give the scene a more dramatic look.  Long exposures are also commonly used to show the flow of water in all kinds of interesting ways (longer exposure waterscapes are probably my favorite scenes to shoot).  If you find yourself interested in shooting longer exposures, be prepared to invest in a couple of neutral density filters…they are required in order to block out the light into the camera so the shutter can stay open longer.  The only times you can typically get away without using ND filters for long exposures is at night, and sometimes just after sunset and just before sunrise, especially if you’re in a heavily forested area with trees shading the already minimal light coming from the already setting (or yet to rise) sun.  Here’s an example of a long exposure waterscape shot:




An Example of Post Processing

To me, post-processing can be just as important as the work that goes into taking the shot itself.  Sometimes post processing an image can be as simple as just making a few minor tweaks in Lightroom.  And, occasionally an image requires major reconstructive surgery in Photoshop to look its best.  Either way, the goal for me is usually to create a final image that doesn’t have an “over processed” look to it.  That’s not to say some images don’t look good with a certain processed look to them…it all depends on the shot, and what the photographer has in mind for the final image. Here’s a relatively straight-forward processing example.

I started out with a 10 shot pan merged together to create the following RAW, unprocessed image:




I was OK with the composition, so no cropping was needed.  From my perspective, I felt that the imaged needed some work along the sky and horizon…and I wanted to get rid of those ugly lights sticking up…they definitely distract my eyes from the view of Baltimore on top of Federal Hill.


The only adjustment I made in Lightroom was to bring down the “highlights” slide, pulling back the brightly lit areas of the horizon.  Then I made my way into Photoshop for some cloning work to take out the top of those lights.  Lastly in Photoshop I used the “multiply” feature to add a deeper, more saturated look to the sky.  After going back into Lightroom, I added some contrast, and a bit of luminance (luminance creates a “softening” feel to the image that I sort of like).


This was the result:




The whole post-processing debate can be a touchy subject among photographers.  Some believe that the image should remain as it looked right out of the camera…on the other end of the spectrum you have people like me, who believe the final product is what matters, and how you get there isn’t what matters.  Photography is ultimately about creating an image from a scene experienced by the photographer…it’s not about sitting at a desk moving sliders and creating layers in PS.  At the same time, it’s a safe bet to assume Ansel Adams did his fare share of dodging and burring in an old fashioned dark room.


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