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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Solitude Is Bliss

Kurt Budliger creates peaceful landscapes in the uncharted territory around his New England home

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Based in New England, Kurt Budliger has a special affinity for the landscapes of Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and the Adirondacks of New York. He gets to know these areas well by returning to favorite locales over and over, waiting for the perfect light. Above: Sunrise sky over the rocky Atlantic coast, Acadia National Park, Maine. Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF 16-35mm, polarizer, 3-stop grad ND

Kurt Budliger appreciates the great American tradition of Western landscape photography. He makes photographs that fit nicely into that canon, but it just so happens that his preferred subjects are found far from the American West. Budliger lives and works in northern New England, photographing mostly in Maine, New Hampshire, the Adirondacks of New York and especially his adopted home of Vermont. It's the perfect locale to create quiet, intimate landscapes.

Swift river in spring, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire. The water, granite boulders and green foliage lent themselves to black-and-white. Canon EOS 5D Mark II, TS-E 24mm ƒ/3.5L, polarizer, 2-stop grad ND inverted to darken the foreground;
"There are a couple times a year when I think, 'What am I doing?'" Budliger says, "because the weather here is horrible. We don't have leaves for six months at a time, and for a nature photographer that can be tough. But there's so much to Vermont. I feel lucky to be here. The landscape is very beautiful. It's subtle, it's nuanced. You have to put in some time to get the most out of it, but I think it kind of suits my approach to life."

Budliger's approach involves making photography a very real part of normal, everyday life. This allows him to continually revisit favorite places, refining his vision and perfecting his work.

"The images in my ebook," he says, referring to Vermont: Behind the Lens, "I bet most of those are taken within 30 minutes of my house. Maybe a handful push out to the 45- to 60-minute range. Ellie's Run, for instance, that's a stream I shoot all the time. It's literally 10 minutes from my house. If it's a rainy day in spring and the rain is stopping and the light is really nice—boom—I know where I'm going. I can pop in the car, get down there and see what's going on. And it's always different.

"I'm lucky," he continues. "I've got the Mad River Valley to the south of me, Stowe and Mount Mansfield to the north of me. I've got a beautiful mountain range and a trailhead within a mile-and-a-half of my house, so if it looks promising I can get up on something in the evening. You get to know a place well. There's a certain luxury. Some shots are years in the making before you get the light you want or the sky you want or the conditions you want. It's nice to have those places nearby."

A series of cascades creates an abstract quality, Acadia National Park, Maine. Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L, polarizer
Such was the case with the stunning image of a beautiful pond not far from Budliger's home. He visited for years before everything came together. "From the first time I saw it," he says, "I knew I wanted this shot, but the conditions have to be just right. It's a morning shot, with low-angle warm light from the rising sun sidelighting the fall foliage on the distant mountainside. Since the reflection is a critical component, the air must be absolutely still, which is unfortunately rare. I can't tell you how many times I awoke well before dawn and made the drive only to find a slight breeze rippling the surface of the pond when I arrived. Plus, because it's an autumn shot, you really only have a window of about a week when the foliage is at its best to get the color you see here. I think it was four years' worth of attempts before it came together, and it almost didn't. I arrived on that morning to find the clouds low and the mountain socked in, with little hope of good light. The reflection, however, was amazing. I set up and waited to see what might happen. As luck would have it, a brief window in the clouds opened and the mountain lit up only to be obscured minutes later. It was brief, but there was enough time to get my shot."

Though his portfolio belies the fact, Budliger says New England is a challenging subject. While the West is filled with iconic landscapes that attract photographers by the busload, the Northeast doesn't have the same draw. There are fewer icons of the American landscape in Vermont, except for fall foliage, which Budliger says is only the tip of the iceberg. The best thing about working in the region is not having to worry about treading on the footsteps of others.

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