Adventures in Photography: The Kancamagus Highway

by Greg Lessard

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On a Saturday this past fall, I woke up at 2AM to drive from my home in Middleboro, MA to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I wanted to arrive in the mountains by sunrise to take advantage of the early morning light on the fall foliage. It was worth the effort.

The sunrise was incredible! There were dark storm clouds blowing through. Their purple color reflected the golden rays of the sun, combining for an intense fluorescent pink. I was fortunate to notice this east facing vista in the dark. Many other photographers noticed it too and soon there were a number of us waiting for the sun to put on its show.

In general, when photographing the sunrise, it is best to arrive on location early. Very early. Its best to arrive at least 45 minutes before sunrise. Arriving in the dark allows you to watch the different colors of pre-dawn illuminate the sky. The colors often become most intense from 15-30 minutes before sunrise.

Scouting locations in advance is always a good idea. Stumbling around in the dark while looking for a great composition is a good way to miss the shot! Even when you have scouted your location in advance, it is important to bring a flash light.

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Tripods are also essential for photographing before dawn. While the light is often showing a variety of beautiful colors, it is not particularly bright. In order to correctly expose for this light, you must significantly open the aperture (low f stop number) and or slow down the shutter speed. The shutter speed is often so slow that it is nearly impossible to make a sharp image hand held. This is where the tripod becomes indespensible.

Other than noise reduction and sharpening, this image was not digitally enhanced. I used a graduated neutral density filter, which helped to even out the light of the sky with the darker foreground. Grad ND's are one of my favorite tools. Many people have replaced Grad ND’s with HDR ( high dynamic range), but I still enjoy using them. I also prefer to get everything right in camera. This means less time spent post processing my images on the computer and more time out in the field.

This month’s tip: Occasionally, I will try to add a starburst to my image. This is easily done by including the sun in your shot and using a small aperture (high f stop number). The starburst is created by the sunlight being diffracted by the shutter blades of the lens. Two points of a star will be created for each shutter blade in your lens. One of my favorite lenses has nine shutter blades. When I use that lens to create a starburst, the sun will have eighteen points of light emanating from it. This is a great way to add a little more visual punch to your image.