BATTLEFIELDS AND PARTLY SUNNY DAYS

A BLOG ON RECENT SHOOTS

GETTYSBURG, SHENANDOAH, NEW YORK

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My two recent shoots other than some portrait and commercial work have included trips to Gettysburg, the Shenandoah Mountains and a day trip to upstate NY for some waterfall hunting. The photo above was taken in a small town near Moravia, NY. My friend Andy and I decided to take a day and hit some places that have been well visited as well as some new locations that have not been overly saturated with photogs or shot a gazillion times. We stopped in Ithaca NY, grabbed a couple quick shots at Taughannock, then it was off in a more northerly direction to visit two new falls. The forecast called for “partly sunny” skies that day however I was hoping for “partly cloudy” to ease in the shooting of the falls. We were quite surprised when we were blistered most of the morning with heavy blowing snow squalls. The snow did make for some nice contrast and scenery. We especially thought so at this old and abandoned rustic mill.

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We learned from a “local” that there were a few other falls close by that he described as massive and large. He shared with us the location and the name and said that the one fall was over 100 ft high. We scoped it out and marked it on our “hit list” of places to visit soon.  This day we shot the mill, Taughannock and and a new location, Ludlowville. I must admit that I didn’t have the best of luck shooting here as the falls were putting off quite a bit of mist on top of the wet snow/drizzle that constantly fell on us as we trekked into the soggy grass laden with sinkholes that led to a few wet toes. It was cool however to find this location and put it as well on the list of places to revisit.

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This was a fun day just to hang out, chat, listen to some cool metal tunes and scout out some new locations. Andy and I had not done much since our short lived trip to Virginia. So it was cool just to hang out and get some fresh snowy air. We reminisced about our trip to Gettysburg and Shenandoah as much as we could. Andy was in a sort of pain filled, medication numbed stupor for much of the trip as he was fighting what turned out to be a very nasty and dangerous abscess so his recall was somewhat limited but we could joke about it at this point and discuss definitely returning to Gettysburg.

I had just finished a 12 hour shift at the hospital when I stopped home and loaded up the remainder of my gear that I would need for the five day camping trip including some food and my camera equipment. I kissed my girls and told my wife ” Love ya” and drove up to Andy’s place. While he loaded his gear, I took a sleeping pill and a shot (or two of whiskey) to ensure I got enough rest and was ready to shoot when we arrived at Gettysburg. Most of the trip down was a blur. Andy roused me from my stupor upon our arrival  at the hotel. I grabbed a large coffee, splashed water on my face and we loaded up our gear to find the battlefield in the dark. Needless to say I was alert and ready to go now. We armed ourselves with the tools for some long exposure night shooting and hit the road. We entered the famous location a little after 9pm and drove around shining our lights onto different monuments and making references of where to return for an early morning return shoot as well. Andy’s “ghost meter app” was buzzing like mad, but I never felt any weirdness or freaked out feelings. It was most definitely cool.

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As we drove around what seemed to be a maze of roads leading in and out and around the battlefields, we were able to scout out some cool spots for our morning shoot including the Pennsylvania Monument and the Little Round Top area. We noticed several signs stating that the park closed at 10 p.m. however only saw maybe two other cars the entire time we drove around but no security. We didn’t want to push our luck so we were out of there a little after 10 and back to our hotel with our alarms set for 5 a.m. We munched on some pretty lousy Chinese take out, I hit the sack while Andy remained awake working on some of his shots. That is until gargantuan spider from hell caught his attention from the corner of his eye and I was roused from my slumber to see the squishy long legged creature he disposed of. Better him than me. After the arachnid incident, sleep was pretty much out the window. The alarms chimed at 5 a.m. but I was awake anyway. It didn’t take long to gear up and head to the lobby for our complimentary coffee and head back to the battlefield. Our first stop was the Pennsylvania Monument. It was still dark.

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We hung around the PA Monument for quiet some time trying different lighting techniques, and I, practicing some light painting with Andy’s instructions. The colors of the early morning skies were a cool mix of awesome changing colors from deep blue, to purples and and orange glow as the city lights illuminated the background and the sun began to rise in the distance. Just as the darkness began to fade we were witness to what a park ranger described as a “not as common as you would think” occurance, a very eerie and thick fog began to roll in. I for one thought it was common, but the ranger, who asked if we were professional videographers, said we were lucky to be shooting on a morning like this. It started out as somewhat thin but became as thick as pea soup quite rapidly. COOL !!

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After spending a good hour or so at the PA Monument, Andy and I decided to explore more of the vast battlefields. We both wanted to find Round Top and Devils Den. I began experiencing technical difficulty with the bracketing on my camera and was getting more and more frustrated. I think Andy was getting frustrated as well, with me, as I attempted to drive and trouble shoot my camera at the same time. This is when I started to learn the true magnitude of his growing tooth pain. My herky jerky driving was causing him some great discomfort which I shrugged off at first and encouraged him to take some meds or finish off the bottle of Crown Royal that I thought I had left. Alas, it was gone. I put my camera down for the time being so I could focus more on driving and getting us safely and comfortably to our next location which turned out to be Little Round Top. I took off in one direction where I surprisingly ran into another photographer looking very pro with is top gear and tripod taking in the amazing fog and sunrise as well. We chatted a bit and I fumbled with my camera until It was back to bracketing correctly and was able to shoot some nifty fog shots over the valley.

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Little to my knowledge, while I was busy trying to capture the cool fog, sunrise and monuments, Andy was on the other side of the ridge capturing some very cool sunbeams coming through the fall foliage. He was however not himself and appeared to be in increasingly worse agony from his tooth pain. We decided we would call it a day as we were both fairly satisfied with our night and morning shoots and we still had a long drive ahead of us to Virginia and Skyline Drive.  Only a short distance from Gettysburg was Harper’s Ferry, a famous little village with old buildings and cobblestone streets and the Shenandoah River flowing through it. Despite our time frame and Andy’s pain, we both thought it might be worthwhile to check out. We found some very neat little gems tucked away in this busy little 1800’s restored village. I lost Andy again so set out on my own to grab a couple shots while attempting to avoid the crowd of tourists that seem to enjoy jumping into my frame as I set up my shots.

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There were some definitely cool places along the beaten path such as the above shot titled “House of 1000 Nettles” . I chose this title due to the fact I was quickly reminded of the pain I had forgotten about since I was a teenager and stumbled into some nettle patches. I literally thought my leg was on fire for at least twenty minutes. As I jumped around and rubbed mud on my leg, Andy was setting up for some killer shots using his crystal ball. As my pain slowly subsided and Andy finished up. We headed back across the old railroad bridge to the little village and grabbed a few more shots. Time was getting late however and we still had quiet a drive ahead of us including the two hour trip up Skyline Drive to our campsite to set up for the next four days.

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After an hour or two at Harper’s Ferry we decided we needed to head out and head toward Virginia. All in all I felt it was a productive day, getting most of my enjoyment and shots at Gettysburg. As I write this blog, I am reminded of the many photos I still need to review and process from both Gettysburg and Harper’s Ferry. Andy took a couple more Tylenol and attempted to endure his growing pain as I attempted to navigate towards Front Royal, the entryway to Skyline Drive and do my best to drive my big old SUV softly and gently.

We arrived at Front Royal around 4 pm and headed straight to Skyline Drive. Andy still had his national park pass so we drove in without any issues or concerns other than finding our campsite and setting up. This task would prove to take longer than anticipated as the speed limit on Skyline Drive is 35 mph at most and we stopped at over half of the overlooks on the way up just to awe at the beauty of the mountains, peaks and valleys. Shenandoah and the Skyline Drive is simply amazing and one of God’s pieces of art. One could spend a month in the mountains there and still not see everything. The temperature slowly dipped as our altitude increased and by the time we arrived at our campsite, “Big Meadows”, the temp had dropped to the low ’50’s. We checked in and headed off to our little site. Andy and I each had our own tent. Mine was one I borrowed from a co-worker who informed me previously to check it out and make sure it was all there and that it would work. Something I regretted not doing at this point. The tent that my generous coworker let borrow was great. The only real problem was that I was not a midget or 12 years old. It was the smallest tent I ever saw besides the toys I had bought in the past for my girls sleepovers in the living room. Some how I managed to get my air mattress folded in half and stuffed into the small opening and blew it up just enough to provide some support. Andy meanwhile was busy setting up his one man “Taj Mahal” I am usually quite envious of Andy’s superb photographic and technical expertise, but now all I could do was compare tents and drool and complain at how stupid I was for not checking out the tent earlier. Andy was having more serious issues at this point. He was surely in a lot of pain and spoke little, he had developed a fever and just looked bad. He felt bad too, I could tell. Andy is a trooper and did not want to abandon this long anticipated trip. After we gathered up some firewood and finished setting up camp we decided to scout out a few locations for a night shot and some sunrise shots as well. We decided not to do any night shooting our first night but rather hit the camp store for some marshmallows and hot dogs. Andy bought a little camp pan and made some soup in hopes it would ease his pain. When we woke around 5 a.m. the temperature outside was near 28 degrees and the wind was whipping around 40 mph. By this point we decided to head back to Front Royal in an attempt to find some better medications for Andy’s pain which at this point was pretty much beyond bearable. I felt so bad for him and knew he was in misery not only because of his condition but also that I knew how much he wanted to shoot. We stopped a couple of times on the way back into town for some sunrise shots. It was almost impossible to shoot due to the temperature and the wind chill. I thought my tripod would sail off one of the craggy rocks I had set up. The trees were literally bending and the bushes were blowing all over. Pretty much impossible to shoot HDR. By the time I was able to grab 3-4 shots my hands felt like they were being sliced by razors as they were so cold and slowly warmed in the car. Andy didn’t even bother more than one or two attempts at getting a shot.

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The above shot is one of the only ones from our first night at camp during our quick scouting mission before the hotdog,  marshmallows and sleeping in a fetal position respite of our first night. The remainder of the shots are from the early morning trip back to Front Royal. On the way were were able to view some amazing colors and transformation of the sky, clouds and mountains as the sun came up. It was tough to get out of the car for any extended period of time due to the high winds and cold temperature. I was able to grab a couple shots from the morning experience.

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We arrived in Front Royal around 8 a.m. however the drugstore didn’t have the medication Andy was looking for. I didn’t mind at all heading to the next town over to find it. After Andy had taken some meds and we had a good hot breakfast in us compliments of  “The Cracker Barrel” we hit the road again heading up Skyline Drive and back to our site.  The sun was up by this point but at one of the dozens of overlooks along the way we happened to see heavenly sunbeams poking through the clouds down onto the valley below. I pulled over and grabbed a quick panorama using my 50mm and 3 exposures per shot. In total I think I only had 15 shots to build from but I was happy with the finished photo.

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By the time we returned to camp, Andy’s fever had returned and he looked just plain sick and not himself. We decided at this point it was best to leave for safety sake so he could get home and get to a doctor asap. We hastily took down camp and checked out and decided to head back down the mountain for good this time. I wanted to stop at a place called “Dark Hallow Falls” which was on the way and appeared to be a quick and easy hike down. I ran it by Andy. He didn’t mind at all. He chose to just stay in the vehicle and rest. My last adventure of our short lived trip proved to be a good one. The hike was about a half mile downhill to a set of cool cascading waterfalls. There were many tourists there and other photographers. I waited them out and also waited for the sun to move a little to the west so I could get a better shot. I waited down at the falls around an hour or so and was able to grab a couple shots of the falls.

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Although our trip was short lived, only two days, and I wasn’t able to capture as many shots as I would have liked in Shenandoah, I would still say the trip was a success. I was able to hang with one of my best friends, enjoy some good conversation and advice, listen to some very good music in the car, talk about photography, editing and goals. Andy and I will most likely return to Shenandoah again, if not, no biggie. We are already discussing plans for another photo adventure next summer and the best thing is, It is not always about “getting the best shot” or “being the best” It is about friendship, caring, support, teaching  and encouragement. I only wish Andy would have felt better so he could have enjoyed getting more shots as well. This “short” blog is dedicated to my friend, Andy.