It seems that at least once each summer, usually late July or August, I throw common sense to the wind, grab the cameras, and head out for a mid-day adventure. Conventional photographic wisdom says that midday shooting is best avoided, as it gives us the worst light – hard, directional, and unrelenting.
But what the hell, sometimes it’s fun to have a challenge. And there’s no reason you can’t execute a well-done midday photo. So I set off in the kayak down at Gouldsboro State Park for an afternoon on the water.
To be fair, it was about 1530 when I started out, so I was already moving into the later afternoon light. The sun had come down from it’s midday directly-overhead position and had taken on a slight angle. But it was still harsh, still bright, and still hot.
Gouldsboro isn’t one of my go-to kayaking sites. The lake itself is nice enough; like most PA lakes it’s dark water, stained by tannin. It’s an artificial lake and, unlike most park waterways, its shoreline is partially developed with homes. Fortunately that section is contained to the northern end of the lake, and I remain in the southern.
From what I can tell, the southern end isn’t terribly deep and the lake bottom is filled with stumps and deadfall leftover from its creation. Lily pads blanket the surface across large areas, and the whole effect is that of a maze, where you’re left paddling slowly, picking your way through the obstacles as you creep along the shoreline.
I like that kind of paddling, and there are no shortage of interesting things to look at, or to use as photographic subjects. Of course the main features are the lake and the sky. I’ve got a polarizer mounted and am trying to walk the fine line of wide-angle polarization, where the sky goes to dark, rich blue, but isn’t overdone, and isn’t uneven across the top of the frame.
At the same time I’m exposing to retain the brilliant white of the clouds, and am always working to get their reflection in the water, amid the closer focal elements of lily pad fields and exposed stumps.
The sRGB web color space is unfortunately unkind to the sky in these photos; in the full local files, there isn’t the banding or odd purple-esq color shift.
As with all wide-angle shooting, the trick is to find a nearby anchor point, something in the immediate foreground that gives the scene a sense of depth and makes it dimensional, rather than just a series of distant objects on a flat plane.
By full-frame standards, I’m not shooting that wide, using the Lumix 12-35mm, mainly at 12mm, which equates to 24mm in full-frame terms. Not all that wide compared to a true 12-24mm lens, but as wide as my kit goes. And plenty wide for my needs, given that I’ve always struggled with making wide and ultra wide-angle shots work.
As you may have guessed in looking at these photos, I shot almost all of them while facing the same direction: west. That orientation worked well for the subject matter at hand, but it also put the polarizer close to 90 degrees from the sun, where it is most effective.
At the far southern end of the lake, it is possible through some trial and error to pick the right channel through the many stumps and hummocks, passing over the remains of an old beaver dam, and access the small stream that feeds the lake. It grows narrower the farther you follow it, and after a few hundred feet you make a sharp right turn and find yourself bottoming out next to a hikers bridge. It’s been the ultimate destination on each of my visits; from there it’s a matter of returning to the launch, another adventure complete.