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Kent Pond & the Canon 17-40mm L

Kent Pond is one of my old standby locations when I’m in Vermont.  It’s small and somewhat out of the way, just the way I prefer sites to be.  On first look it isn’t impressive – essentially an artificial pond with a dirt parking lot and a small boat launch.  If you’re willing to take a short trek through the woods, on a path that is always somewhere between muddy and submerged, you arrive at Kent Brook, which flows down a remarkable series of carved waterfalls before entering the pond amid a marsh.

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Working along the brook requires patience – long exposures, a good tripod, and a bath in Deep Woods Off to ward off the swarms of mosquitos that rise from the mud.  But it’s worth it – the topography is unlike any other location I know of, and I love working with the creek and surrounding forest.  The fact that there is easy access makes it simpler to get the right angle; a trail runs on both sides of the brook, and if you’re daring – or don’t mind wet feet – it’s easy to rock-hop your way across.

In all of these, I used my new Canon 17-40mm lens.  It’s the first L-series glass I’ve owned myself, and comes somewhat hesitantly.  I’ve been open with my opinion – and been flamed for it – that L-glass is mostly a marketing scam, enticing photographers to spend huge sums of money on a piece of equipment that is little different from cheaper, third-party options.  This opinion comes from having borrowed some L-glass off and on over the years, but mostly from my time working at Binghamton University, where I shot alongside the university photographer.  All other things being equal, if you had put my shots up, taken with Tamron & Sigma lenses, next to his shots taken with Canon L-glass, you’d be hard pressed to identify which images came from which lenses.  My $350 Tamron held its own against his $1000 Canon.

However, I finally succummed to the lure of L-glass for a couple of reasons.  First off, the Tokina 12-24mm lens I recently re-aquired prooved to be too wide.  As much as I love that lens and the results it gives, my style has changed; instead of superwide, I need a lens that has a working range that is distortion free.  So the Tokina went.  My second reason is light; other lenses in the 15-50mm range tend to be variable aperture, usually from f/4 to f/5.6.  I find myself shooting in low light about 75% of the time, so a fast, constant f-stop is necessary.  I find f/4 to be good for my tastes.  And of course, image and build quality are paramount.

Two lenses met these requirements: the Canon 17-50mm f/2.8 IS, and the Canon 17-40mm L.  The price difference between the two was a big factor in my choice, as was my decision to give the whole L-glass thing a try for myself.  My current thoughts on that matter?  The 17-40mm L is a wonderful lens, and it has hardly left my camera since I bought it.  The range is excellent for the kind of shooting I do, the image quality is great, and the lens feels good and solid in use.  So yes, it’s worth the price – if, and only if, you have a genuine need for its particular qualities.

Here at Kent Pond, those qualities came in handy, as I quickly tired of being tied to the tripod (this happens often with me) and went hand-held.  ISO 400, f/4, and I was getting shutter speeds I could hand-hold.

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Finally driven away from the brook by the bugs, I returned to the small shore to capture the sunset.  Given the right sky, Kent Pond is a good place for sunsets; the pond is usually still, and has a small island out a ways that adds interest to the scene.  And of course all of this is set against a backdrop of Vermont’s Green Mountains.  It was a good night and I did my best to work the small area as best I could.  I tend to avoid the shoreline to the left this spot because of the cabins and homes visible among the trees; I prefer the shoreline to the right, which is still free from civilization.

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At this point I had already dropped the rest of my gear off at the car, and had to make a mad dash for it, as a whole flotilla of ducks and ducklings came out of the marsh and began to feed along the shore.  This was one of the times when the 17-40mm left the camera, replaced by the 28-135mm, with its longer reach.  Ideally I’d have gone for the full bird setup: the 70-200mm, 430EX Speedlite, and possible even the 2x teleconverter.  But those were all back at the house; I’d come out to shoot landscapes and hadn’t anticipated needing them (foolish, foolish, foolish…).

At full zoom, the 28-135mm was nearly long enough; certainly long enough that with a bit of croping, I got the shots I wanted.  Lacking the 430EX, I had to use the pop-up flash on the 50D, dialed down to about -1 FEV.  That’s just enough light to fill the shadows and make the feathers reflect a bit.  (The whole flash + bird photography thing is new to me – I just read about it and have yet to really experiment, so more to come on that soon.)

With 9 ducklings paddling about and the parents close by, it wasn’t hard to get a few keepers.  It helped that they were used to people, and thus rather fearless.  Not bad for a single evening.

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(This last photo of the ducklings is one of my favorites from this past week.  Aside from the obvious cuteness factor, I like this image for the mix of colors and textures.  The soft reflection of the sky, in soft pastel colors, makes the perfect contrast for the ducklings and their wake though the water.  The reflection adds an element of interest to what would otherwise be dead space, but it doesn’t compete with the subject for attention.  The wake behind the critters likewise adds to the scene – a sense of motion, some interesting texture, which compliments the subjects again.)

Brent Pennington

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