Fall Reflections

Autumn is a season when fleeting colors produce exceptionally vivid scenes. By combining water elements, you can add extra dimensions and motion.
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Harriman State Park, New York. Banerjee used an 80-200mm lens at ƒ/16 with a 1/8 sec. shutter speed on a tripod to maximize depth of field.

Autumn is a special and an enchanting season for me, not just because the plant habitats here in the Northeast are ideal to showcase a wide gamut of color, but also because of the variety of landscapes—rugged mountains and rolling hills, rushing streams and rivers, deep ravines and flatlands all combine to set up quite a show to behold. There are few places on earth where all nature’s colors mingle with such quintessential romantic and wild sceneries. It happens every year, but still feels fresh and remarkable every time.

Lye Brook Falls, Vermont. “One has to climb the somewhat steep and fragile slope carefully along the side of the falls and move diagonally on a wet rock slab to get this perspective of the falls,” says Banerjee. “On a rainy morning and after an hour-long hike, I had this place all to myself on this autumn day.” He used a polarizer and a tripod to extend the exposure, adding a noticeable froth to the movement of the rapids.

In And Around Water
I always try to bring the dynamic nature of water flow into the image to create a sense of symphony with the color scheme. Waterfalls look their best during autumn, be it in the peak season or even past peak when they’re covered with colorful fallen leaves. Try to shoot during overcast days or early and late in the day to avoid direct lighting on the scene. A polarizer is a must. It cuts the glare and the reflection from water while saturating color, and the resulting effects can’t be replicated easily with Photoshop or other digital means. It also can be used to cut light for motion-blur effects. Compositionally, avoid the typical straight head-on shots and the tendency to capture the entire waterfall in the frame. Instead, look for elements that combine well to create a flow and present a sense of place and season. Visiting waterfalls after a rain will get a more robust water flow, as well as wetness on the otherwise dry rocks of the area.

When visiting waterfalls, look beyond just the falls. Often, you’ll be able to walk the streams, up or down, and be able to find many other unique images. Try combining rushing water flow with submerged boulders and colorful trees on the bank. These scenes often are done best without direct light, and you can play with various shutter speeds using an ND filter to create artistic water action. Look for the angles to capture the reflection of the colorful foliage on the moving water. When the trees are lit, but the water is still in the shade, rocks submerged in water will reflect the blue of the sky above, while the water will have the reflected golden glow of the ambient environment, thereby creating interesting warm-cold combinations.

Beyond moving waters, still water in lakes, ponds and marshes provides iconic Northeast autumn reflection shots. It’s best to shoot in the early morning, when the water is motionless and light is diffused. Early-morning fog also goes well with autumn foliage. You have to be careful when using a polarizer on these scenes as you try to capture reflection. Also, design of the image can be tricky as you attempt to balance capturing the symmetry while avoiding static compositions (i.e., giving the trees and reflection the same amount of space in the frame). A trick that I often use is throwing a small pebble into the water and letting the water have some ripples to create a more dynamic scene.

Abstracts, Close-Ups And Surrealism
Some of my dearest fall photographs aren’t the wide vistas, but more abstract, intimate portraits of nature that capture the true flavor of the season. Abstracts can be found everywhere in the autumn—in forests, around the streams and rocks. Look for lines, shapes, textures and patterns and combine them with the seasonal color palette to express your inner vision. For example, you can choose to shoot the still or rushing water reflecting autumn glow while isolating a part of the scene with a long lens. Alternatively, you can get so close to a colorful leaf with a macro lens that it’s almost unrecognizable.

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Jamaica State Park, Vermont. “Timing was everything,” notes Banerjee about this shot. “One needs to wait to get the trees on the other side of the river illuminated by sun, but the river still in shade.”

The possibilities are endless—the more you look around, the more images you’ll find. The difference between an abstract and a close-up shot is subjective, but designing the image is the most critical part in either case. Here, you’re not shooting just what nature gave you, but making an image combining your vision with the natural elements. Playing with the depth of field, focus and exposure will give you control over what you want the viewer to see. Some examples: over- or underexpose the background, use flash on the main subject or use extremely shallow ƒ-stops.

Having a versatile, long zoom (e.g., the 70-200mm range) is critical to play with compositions. I also carry my 105mm ƒ/2.8 macro for close-up work. I use a tripod/cable-release setup for tripod work, and when handholding, I use a camera bracket, flash and small softbox.

Nature’s artistry is infectious in this season, and I find myself trying to push the boundary to create surrealistic or impressionistic images. These images need a lot of previsualization and planning to succeed. You’ll often end up making a whole lot of nonusable images to produce a successful one, but that’s part of the fun! Some of these techniques to experiment with include long exposures to capture water or wind motion, multiple exposures in-camera, camera shakes and zooming during the exposure. Be patient, use consistent techniques, and refine your composition and camera settings by reviewing images on the LCD screen. (This is where digital cameras are very useful, as you can see the effects instantly.)

Break The Rules
Creative and rule-breaking composition techniques are another way to create distinctive images. Ditch your tripod and start moving around with your camera and a versatile lens (e.g., an 18-200mm) while trying various compositions to generate ideas. When you find something interesting, set up the tripod and recompose with your preferred equipment. There are no hard rules here—in fact, you’re actually trying to break all the rules you’ve learned over the years. Shoot into the sun, use backlight and uncommon angles, and you’ll begin to discover new compositions that you’ve never seen before. The key is to slow down as you shoot and experiment. There’s no need to rush from one spot to another in search of iconic postcard images. Creating something of your own is more satisfying.

My Fall Reflections Locations

Finding a great location to shoot in matters greatly to the types of fall shots that you’d like to get. My favorite waterfalls to shoot during autumn are Lye Brook Falls in Vermont (with a required 2.3-mile hike one way, making it a secluded location), Moss Glen Falls in Vermont (there are two of them—one in Stowe and one in Granville—and both are beautiful) and Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills region of New York. My favorite locations for stream shots are West River in Jamaica State Park and Roaring Brook, which runs along Kelly Stand Road between Stratton and Arlington, Vt. Other great areas include the Housatonic River Walk on the Appalachian Trail near Kent, Conn., the Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania and the Bash Bish Falls area along the New York and Massachusetts borders. A few locations in which to capture the more serene still water shots are Harriman State Park in the lower Hudson Valley and the Adirondack Lake region in Upstate New York. Both areas have beautiful bodies of water with gorgeous woods along the banks. Often, the most unique images are made when you venture out to the wildest part of the lakeshores via trail or canoe.

Arnab Banerjee is a fine-art photographer based in the lower Hudson Valley in New York, who focuses on nature and travel images. To see more of his work, visit www.arnabbanerjee.com.

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Water Safety

Using a simple rope system will keep you and your gear safe while working around riverbanks and ledges.

Text And Photography By Keith Szlater And Jon Neufeld

Landscape photographers are a different bunch. Willing to be up hours before the sun to hike in to a remote location, we often push the boundaries of safety to get the amazing shots we really want. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that they were knee-deep in running water, or standing three inches from the edge of a sheer drop to get that perfect shot. The sad fact is the number-one cause of death in Montana’s Glacier National Park is drowning, and number two is falling. According to staff at the information center, more often than not, the two are combined when people fall into icy water and can’t get back out. We owe it to ourselves and to our loved ones to be careful!

There are four components to a basic rope system: climbing rope, anchor, harness, and attaching the harness to the rope.

The Rope
There are as many climbing ropes on the market and as many opinions about each one of them as there are people. The best thing you can do is some independent research about each rope and its specific capabilities. Our recommendation is a dynamic 8mm (diameter) x 30m (length) rope. It has the advantage of being lightweight, flexible and long enough that you can move along it easily.

The Anchor
The anchor is the starting point for everything, and our recommendation is to use a tensionless anchor. A tensionless anchor has the advantages of being easy to construct and double-check, while also taking the knot out of the system. The first item you need for your anchor is something to anchor onto. My preference is a large living tree that’s at least 12 feet in diameter. Never use a dead tree, as it won’t support your weight.

Once you’ve found your anchor you then tie a figure eight on a bight (a common knot) by crossing the end of folded rope over the front, then behind, finally in front again and dropping it down through the loop that has been created. Wrap the rope around the tree four to five times. Clip the bight (the loop part) of the figure eight on a bight onto the mainline with a locking carabineer (metal clip) and lock the gate. The knot end of the rope should hang off of the mainline with no tension in it whatsoever. If you can tug on the mainline and it slides around the tree, you’ll need to add a few more wraps around your anchor or find a larger anchor. If it doesn’t slide at all, you’re set.

The Harness
This is probably the easiest of all the parts in this system: Head to your local climbing shop, and pick up a rock-climbing harness. We don’t recommend using anything else, as it just isn’t safe. Remember, we aren’t recommending this system for a free-hanging situation, and if you think that you’ll end up free-hanging, you’ll need to a lot more research!

Putting It All Together
Now that you’ve got the anchor set, the knots tied and the harness on, you need to attach yourself to the safety line. The easiest way to do this is to pay the rope out roughly to where you want to stand for your shot and then tie another figure eight on a bight in the middle of the rope. Use a locking carabineer to clip the bight to your climbing harness and lock the carabineer. A more flexible option is to tie a prussic knot onto the mainline with a piece of 6mm cord and then attach the prussic to your harness with a locking carabineer.

The prussic allows you the flexibility to move along the safety line while keeping it tensioned. Keith often uses this method to work up and down a dangerous shoreline and get many great shots. Remember: Always tie the line upstream from where you plan to be working. If you tie it downstream and you do slip, you’ll still end up going for a potentially fatal ride in the river. Furthermore by keeping the line pre-tensioned, you’re ensuring that if you do slip or fall, it will only be down to the ground, and this system should keep you from moving forward into a fast-moving river or over a large drop.

All of this sounds pretty complicated but when you break it down into the four basic components, it’s fairly simple. The best advice we can say is to practice this in your backyard a few times and become confident with the knots and how the system works before you employ it in the wilderness. It’s up to you to know and practice your knots and rope systems. The above is presented as a guideline only, and the authors bear no responsibility for the use or misuse of this system. Do your own research, practice first, and be safe!



    Did you mean tree with a 12 foot circumference? A 12 foot diameter is huge and 30M of rope wouldn’t give you much to work with after wrapping it around the tree. If it’s diameter where are these trees I really want to photograph them.

    As a full time photographer and a volunteer with a search and rescue group here in Colorado with nearly a decade of swiftwater rescue and climbing experience, I take serious issue with the idea presented in this article that a climbing harness be used to protect yourself along river banks. This is a very dangerous idea for three reasons:

    1) A climbing harness is not intended for use like this. When the force of moving water is applied, ones body will be turned so that their feet are facing upstream and water will be forced against the face.

    2) A climbing harness is difficult if not impossible to detach from the rope quickly, and as a result can cause more problems if one cannot free themselves. Imagine falling into a river, and being pushed under a bank or tree. The rope would actually keep you held there instead of allowing you to pass downstream.

    3) A personal flotation device (PFD) would be more useful than a harness if you fell in to a river.

    A much better alternative is to use something called a rescue PFD which is designed for the purpose of attaching to an anchor. Take a look at the X Tract from Stohlquist here: http://www.stohlquist.com/dyn_prod.php?k=&p=STO5217. A rescue PFD has the anchor point on the middle of the back so when you fall into water, it will keep you head up, facing downstream creating a pocket of air in front of your face. More importantly there is a quick release tap on the front of the PFD which will instantly detach the person from the anchor while still allowing them to float in the PFD.

    Timothy, I believe you have misinterpreted what
    Keith and Jon are suggesting you use this set up for. I too am a volunteer SAR member as well as a full time Technical Rescue Instructor who works at heights when not teaching. From what I gathered, the point of the article is to help you prevent yourself from ever going into the water. In this configuration it is commonly called a fall restraint system because it restrains you from reaching the point that is considered a hazard. Which if it works you would never end up falling/going into the river in the first place. The climbing harness is a suitable device for this use. That being said I do agree that if you are going to be in the river in the first place a more suitable option would be to wear a PFD and not be connected to a rope for the reason you stated.

    Great article boys! Lets get out and tie some knots and take some shots!!! I’m no pro but I can steal the wife’s camera and run to the rivers with you some day!

    There is some significant technical information about knots here that goes beyond my understanding. Can you suggest a place that will give good graphic descriptions about how to tie the knots and execute the other instructions given in the article?

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