By September in northern New York, evenings quickly shed their daytime heat and the sun casts long, deep shadows by the middle of the afternoon. Green, yellow, and gold in the landscape take on a rich saturation, the sky and the clouds look more intense and variable in color, and the first hints of fall reds and oranges start to appear. The photos below were taken between Plattsburgh and Lake Placid early in September a few years ago, the first five nearer to Plattsburgh and the last three nearer to Lake Placid. You can see in the photos what a difference the elevation makes: the Lake Placid region is about 1500 feet higher above sea level and the cooler temperatures encourage more leaves to change color sooner.
This is the first of a series of fall color photographs I’m working on for my Flickr Reboot project; I’m not sure yet how many I will end out recreating, but will certainly post more as my work progresses.
Select the first image to begin a slideshow if you would like to see larger versions. Thanks for reading and taking a look!
The Saranac River, in northern New York, runs about 80 miles from its source in the Adirondack Mountains to its termination at Lake Champlain near the city of Plattsburgh. On its route, it passes through the centers of many rural small towns established along the river as nineteenth century industries — lumber mills, blacksmiths, iron works, farming, and apple orchards among them — sprung up in the heavily wooded, rich soils of the entire region. The remnants of early plank roads built along the river to service these communities can still be found in the woodlands near the water, and the river later became a source for electricity generation along much of its length. Several of the original, now abandoned electrical substations are just a short walk from where I grew up, along with modernized substations that still contribute electric power to the area. The river features prominently in the region’s military history, and the Lake Champlain monster — Champy — is believed to occasionally winter in the river. : )
The river and the villages it flows through are frequent subjects in the landscape images I’m working on for my Flickr Reboot project. I took the photos below near the high school I graduated from, where the river has carved an inlet around a small island a few steps from the road. You can see a wider view of the location in a Google Maps street view here.
Despite its proximity to the highway, this spot is a tiny oasis at the bottom of a hill. Select the first image to begin a slideshow, and if I’ve done my job well, you might just feel a calm summer breeze drifting over you.
At the base of Whiteface Mountain in northern New York, on the road to Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort, just before you cross a bridge over the Ausable River and where your eyes widen to take in the size of the mountain close up … there is a large dirt and gravel parking lot. If you park your car and walk up the mountain road, you just might miss the forest opposite the lot: it’s hidden behind rows of birch trees and ferns that have gathered in the sunlight and grown right up to the left edge of the road.
After you step beyond the birch tree gateway and through the knee-high valley of ferns, your feet land in a blanket of soft needles discarded by pine trees that have been growing and shedding for decades. Your sense of hearing is instantly altered: the pine needles absorb and mute sound from the road and river nearby just as if you’d walked through a doorway and closed the door behind you. Your footsteps make no sound. Bird-call that you didn’t hear just a few minutes earlier is suddenly everywhere, accompanied by the rhythm of a breeze fluttering back and forth over the landscape.
Inside this forest, many of the birch trees that likely grew in before the pines took over have become degenerating deadfall, scattered across the forest floor or leaning against the rocks, and the rocks … well, they’re just enormous. You’d need a ladder to climb onto most of them; their surface textures range from smooth but finely pitted to rough like sandpaper to something that feels like it was spit from a volcano — but was more likely created by snow and ice and the slow roll of glaciers that molded the Adirondack Mountains. The rocks with flattened tops have given life to their own miniature forests, where ferns, small shrubs, and even tiny trees have taken root.
Some of the pine trees have grown so close to the rocks that the rock surface and the tree trunk are barely separated: you couldn’t fit your hand in the space between the two. That’s the case with this blue-green monster that blocks your view of the river, poised as it is just a few feet from the cliffs that dive about thirty feet almost straight down. It’s striking that rocks this large are so far above the river, that they remained on higher ground while the river carved and deepened its path.
You wonder about the tension between the rock and the tree if the rock shifts and as the tree continues to grow, then you walk around them both to the clifftop and views of the boulders in the river below. The first few steps feel pretty comfortable; the second ones get your legs a little rubbery as the speed of the water flow seems to increase; then you’re just glad you brought a zoom lens.
After a few shots, you reel the zoom back in, step back into the quiet of the forest, make your way back to the parking lot, and regret that you have to leave, because:
If you got this far, thanks for reading and taking a look! These photos are among the landscape images I’m reworking; more about that project here: Flickr Reboot. If you would like to see before and after versions of the images that I processed for this post (including two bonus boulders not shown above), select the first photo below to begin a slideshow.
There are two galleries below: the first includes a set of images from a woodland swamp in northern New York, and the second contains the before and after versions of the same images, showing the differences between the original and final versions processed with Lightroom and the Nik Collection.
For the first two images, I tried to emphasize the detail of the beaver cuts on the tree trunks, while still conveying the aged, worn smoothness of those cuts. My approach to the third image was to highlight the pair of trunks topped with moss by adding green saturation and increasing focus and lighting on the trunks to separate them from the background.
With the wider angle images of the swamp, I started by treating them as low-key photographs by significantly darkening the backgrounds. As you can probably imagine from looking at the before images in the second gallery, the gray in the backgrounds — once darkened — would give the scene a heavily shaded, foreboding appearance. Not a bad look overall, and I may still do a set like that. But then I thought it might be interesting to try something else: convert the images from scary-swamp to happy-swamp by intensifying the colors and creating high contrast between the water (and the thick, green algae on the water’s surface) and the twisted deadfall throughout the scenes. The result, I think, suggests a greater sense of standing at the edge of the swamp, with the eye tracking from the greens in each foreground to the depths of the swamp and the trees in the backgrounds. The intensified saturation and contrast also brings out many more colors present in the images that weren’t evident in the original photographs.
I included the last four images from the same area just because I liked them. What photographer can resist a colorful clump of fungus (with a big bug in the middle!), some bright red leaves, and an old Ford truck partly buried in the woods?
Select the first image below to begin a slideshow, then skip to the second gallery if you would like to compare the before and after images.
The town [of Ausable] boasts some of the finest natural scenery to be found in the world – one of the most sublime natural curiosities, the Ausable Chasm, the favorite resort of numerous tourists, being situated in its southeastern section. The Great Ausable River, in its impetuous course to [Lake Champlain], here breaks a passage through the solid Potsdam sandstone, towering many feet above its bed, and follows a rugged and irregular channel for a distance of nearly two miles. At several places the river is compressed to a width of less than 30 feet. The river plunges into the chasm in a succession of beautiful falls of from 60 to 80 feet in height, and struggles through the tortuous channel, foaming and tearing and whirling over its rocky bed as though bent on freeing itself from the thraldom of the gigantic cliffs which overhang it. By means of artificial stairways, galleries, and bridges, erected and owned by a party of Philadelphia gentlemen, and by boats, this stupendous work of nature may be traversed its entire length.
This freak of nature is but one of a system of rents in the earth’s surface that extend over the northern portion of the State…. The walls, that are now from 10 to 15 feet apart, were undoubtedly some time united and solid; projections on the one hand are often faced by corresponding depressions on the other; layers of rock on one side are duplicated on the other. Professor Emmons, State geologist, found here petrified specimens of the lowest or first orders of animal life, and ripple-marks made when the rock was in its plastic state; above these, in successive layers, towers 70 feet of solid rock.