The Story Behind the Image
featuring Jon Secord
Excellent photographers have a tendency to make things look easy, don't they? But every photographer knows that it is a process, and sometimes a great shot requires much thought and preparation. At the least, there's usually a story to tell. So we asked one of our newest Vanguard Professionals to share with us some of his favorite recent images and tell us a bit about them.
The Tide’s Due
Rye, New Hampshire
I tried for months to get a photo here I liked, constantly making the 90 minute drive down for sunrise, only to have the clouds or light not line up the way I wanted. This small section of coastline, called the Wallis Sands Cliffs (which is a generous term- they’re probably 15 feet tall), has some of the more interesting foreground options in the area, but I needed the tides and cloud cover to cooperate for the composition I had in mind. After checking the weather forecast the night before, seeing clouds overhead and a break to the east at sunrise, I made the trip down.
The rocks here have small channels carved by years of tides, so setting my camera up was no easy task. I had to splay my tripod legs out at varying lengths and weird positions to wedge it between two rocks, and resigned to getting my feet and legs wet by standing in a tide pool, knowing it was putting my gear at risk- but I loved the composition. As the tide came in, waves were getting filtered through this small cove, and the textures in the water looked amazing. Because I was shooting at 16mm, and my camera was fairly close to the immediate foreground, I needed to blend a few exposures for depth of field, and ½” was perfect for the wave motion. I also shot a frame for the sky at a shorter exposure of 1/25th in order to keep the highlights in check.
I decided to call this image “The Tide’s Due” because a few minutes later, I had to pay for the composition. Although the waves may look powerful in the image because of the dragged shutter speed, they really weren’t all that dramatic- except for one. As I was starting to take down my tripod and camera, a rogue wave came in, completely soaking me from head to toe, and my camera. I immediately removed my SD card and did my best to dry the camera off, but it needed to be sent back to Nikon for salt water damage. I still go for these more risky compositions, as sometimes they’re the most engaging and dramatic, but I learned my lesson to always keep one hand on my tripod, lest I need to pull it away from the waves!
Zion is just an incredible place to photograph the night sky. With dramatic landscapes in every direction, and very little light pollution, it’s like a playground for the astrophotographer. I was very lucky to have a few nights with clear skies during our trip to Utah last Spring, and came back with some of my favorite images to date.
While I shoot 99% of my night images with an ultra wide lens, I always bring my 50mm with me because of the unique perspectives possible at longer (for this type of photography) focal lengths. While waiting for another composition to line up, I walked the trails around the Virgin River near the entrance to the park, looking for other interesting scenes. The mountain in this photo, The Watchman, is one of the most iconic locations in Zion, and the Milky Way was rising almost directly over it, so I set up in this field. I tried shooting at 16mm at first, but with a lens that wide, it just didn’t do any justice to this scene, so I pulled out my 50mm. This image is a 4 frame horizontal stitch, each at ISO6400, f2, 10”.
I recently went back and reprocessed this photo, which is from two years ago. As I learn new processing techniques, it’s nice to go back and rework older images to see what I can improve on. During early summer, these Rosa Rugosa (Dune Roses, Beach Roses) bloom everywhere along the Maine coast. A friend and I decided to drive up to Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, seeing clear skies in the forecast, but once we got there we found clouds obscuring the Milky Way. It looked like they were moving out, so we spent the next hour or two looking around for good foreground options. Once I found this scene with the roses blooming and the lighthouse in the background, I set up my tripod and waited for the remaining clouds to clear out. Because of the uneven rocks I was setting up on, I used the center column on my tripod to extend the camera out closer to the flowers.
This is another scene where I was shooting at 16mm with foreground elements only a few inches from my lens, so I needed to focus stack exposures. At f2.8, my depth of field was extremely shallow, so I needed to take 5 exposures to get the entire scene sharp, plus an exposure for the sky. I shot my sky frame first at 25 seconds and ISO3200 because the Milky Way was lining up perfectly, then started working on my foreground exposures. Each of those frames was 4 minutes long at a lower ISO of 2000 to minimize noise. During the first of those exposures, the crescent moon started to rise to my left, which provided some beautiful warm side lighting to this photo, accenting the roses.
This is one of my favorite photos of 2015, just because of the story. Last winter, spent around six weeks photographing this owl every day. It was a tough winter for wildlife here in New England, with lots of snow which made it difficult for some animals to find food. In particular, owls were being admitted to rehabilitators in record numbers because of malnourishment. I found this Barred Owl perched on the edge of a large field one afternoon, and I spent the next few weeks returning daily to watch it and shoot photos. Because there was so much snow, I would throw on all my winter gear and just sit in these waist deep snow drifts near where it had been hunting. After a few weeks, the owl all but ignored my presence and would fly in to perch and hunt nearby, which was an incredible experience.
I was very happy to see it regularly catching mice and the like, knowing it was staying fed. Because I was spending so much time in this field, with my car parked on the side of the road, the people who lived nearby grew curious, and I ended up handing out a few business cards to people. One day, there was a large sled dog race which was headquartered in the field, that I believe scared off the owl. I went the rest of the winter and most of spring without seeing it again, driving by and wondering if it had survived. Then, one day in early summer, I got an email from a woman who lived less than a mile from that field that I had given a card to. This owl, it’s mate, and three fledglings were visiting her yard every night, hunting on the voles that had taken up residence in her garden. I was out of state at the time, but I just prayed that they would stick around long enough to see them once I got home.
This woman graciously allowed me to spend the next few afternoons hanging out on her property, in hopes that I would get another chance to see this owl and it’s family. She pointed out the trees they tended to perch on, and I set up my small blind that had a good view of each tree, and waited. The first night, I could hear the baby owls screeching in hunger in the woods bordering her property, but never saw the adults. The next day, I came back and set up in my blind. She had mentioned the owls always flew in and perched on one particular tree around sunset, so I focused my efforts there, hoping it would pay off. Finally, with the last light of the day fading, the owl flew in, perching right where I had hoped. I was barely able to adjust my tripod because I was so excited! After it got too dark to shoot anymore, I watched as the two adults caught voles and brought them back to the babies, knowing I may get a chance to photograph them in the future.
Jon Secord is a landscape and wildlife photographer living in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.