There are precious few mountains in Pennsylvania – a statement that depends entirely on perspective and will probably be declared untrue by (at least) the locals. But from where I’m standing, it’s true. PA just isn’t mountain country, even the very lovely Endless Mountains which are really more like rolling hills. But we do have Big Pocono State Park, situated rather interestingly at the very peak of Camelback Mountain (right above a commercial ski operation, actually), and there is no doubt that it does qualify as a mountain.
Since first visiting Big Pocono State Park last year, I’ve wanted to be on the summit for sunrise. I’ve tracked the motion of the sun across the summer months to try and plan by visit for when it would be in the proper position and at the beginning of July I finally decided to make the trek. It’s one more thing I can check off my summer bucket list.
For the non-photographers reading this – or the non-nature-photographers – let me just point out that when you’re a landscape shooter, you get used to early mornings and late evenings. That’s when the light is best, so that’s when we show up. In the summer, however, the term “early” takes on a whole new meaning, and on 06 July the sun rose at 0530. Which means that in order to be there for it, I got up at about 0330 – commonly referred to simple as “oh-dark-thirty” by those of us suffering through it.
But coffee in hand and Jeep on the road, I got to the top of the mountain just a few minutes later than I might have liked, but in plenty of time to see the show. And it was a good show!
The access at Big Pocono is pretty good; the view from the upper lot isn’t always ideal, as the angles just don’t align without trees getting in the way. But from the loop road, which circles the summit just 10-20 meters below the upper lot, there’s perfect access from several spots. My primary target this morning was the Delaware Water Gap – it’s the notch you can see in the ride line in the photo above, and marks the location of the pass across the Delaware River and through the mountains into New Jersey. It’s an interesting geographic feature and a well-known one locally, so it made sense to focus on it in the photos. Plus the sun is rising almost 90 degrees to the left of the Water Gap, painting it and the hills and valleys before it in excellent light.
In fact, I ended up working more with the landscape leading up to the Water Gap than with the Gap itself. All those rolling hills, the valleys filled with fog that began to glow in the morning light – that’s exactly the stuff we get up in the dark and drive an hour to see!
This is all long lens work: a combination of the Lumix 35-100mm and the Olympus 75-300mm. Most of the photos were made from a tripod, which is a bit of a departure from my normal style, but really the only option for mixing long lenses with low light and getting anything usable (especially in the case of the Oly bird lens). In fact, the widest lens I had with me was the Leica 25mm prime, which clocks in at a 50mm equivalent, which doesn’t really qualify as “wide-angle” by any stretch.
The only problem with this came later in the morning, as you can see in the top two images above; I started getting some interesting cloud formations that I wanted to include, but they were pretty high above the horizon. It meant zooming the Lumix out to the 35-50mm range, just to fit both the landscape and clouds into the same frame. I think that with the trees acting as a foreground anchor, it works – but with a true wide-angle lens, I feel like I might have been able to pull something different from the scene. (But then again, wide-angle might have been too wide; I’ll play devil’s advocate here just because in my experience, I find wide-angle lenses to be a little unpredictable.)
I stayed out until the morning light waned and started to become simple daylight, then packed it in and headed home. I was there by 0900 and dumped the gear in my office with every intention of crawling back in bed for a few hours. But the lure of the pixels got the better of me, and I ended up at my desk, downloading images and sorting through them. It was too good an adventure to put off for later – I wanted to relive it immediately, and see what I’d come home with. Turns out it was some pretty good stuff, which is always nice to see!
(On a side note, my trip back down the mountain was fun: I saw a young buck Whitetail and a pair of adult turkeys with a flock of their young crossing the road! Sadly, no photos of either – with the steep grade and hairpin turns, it’s not the best road to be stopping in the middle of.)
Shooting Info: OM-D E-M5 with Lumix 35-100mm & Olympus 75-300mm lenses. Mainly tripod-mounted, ISO 200 (and maybe 400 in a few hand-held shots toward the end), apertures around f/8 to f/11 for solid depth of field, and whatever shutter speeds matched up. I set the camera to the 2-second delay, as is my practice when working from a tripod, and used the rear display and it’s touch-to-shoot feature for many of these shots.)