That time I went shooting at midnight in Vermont…

BRENT PENNINGTON Moonlight shots of Chittenden Dam, merged in HDR and Tone Mapped to show stars, yet details in the landscape as well.

I’m feeling nostalgic today, so I’m going to tell you a story.

I made the photo above many years ago, back in 2007, when I was in Vermont during winter break from college.  It was January, a cold and clear night, the moon was bright, and I convinced my best friend Jesse to go out with me for some nighttime photography.  We drove up to Chittenden Reservoir, where I was hoping to make an image – this image – of the mountains against a start-flung sky, all lit by the moon.

We’d been out on the dam for a little while, I was shooting bracketed series for HDR.  I was about done when another car pulled into the parking lot and parked near mine.  Two people got it.  Being midnight in a relatively remote place, my Spidey-senses started tingling.  Especially since I was standing there with over a thousand dollars worth of gear.

Now I’m over six foot, and Jess is a full foot shorter than me, and neither of us is much of a brawler.  We figured that a tactical egress was the best course of action, so I packed up and collapsed the tripod, keeping it at hand with the idea that it was the closest thing we had to a weapon.  (Side note – this is a reoccurring theme for me, the idea that if confronted by a malicious stranger/angry bear/bigfoot, my best option is to bash it with the tripod.  For goodness sake, I do not ever want to test that theory!)

We meet the newcomers on our way back to my Jeep and they turn out to be a couple of guys about our age.  They’re polite and seem a little confused.  At the time, I drove a teal Jeep and I was wearing a blue winter jacket with the letters PS embroidered on the front.  It was actually the initials for the old name of the company I was working for at the time, but I think these guys assumed it meant “park service,” and they assumed Jess and I were park rangers and initially seemed nervous that they’d get in trouble for being there.  We didn’t much try to change that misconception.

After a moment of awkward conversation, it turned out that they were just bored and looking to score some pot.  Not being our scene, we said goodbye, got in the Jeep, and left.

The whole encounter made me pretty damn tense, and it reinforced my dislike for encountering other people when I’m out in the woods doing photography.  We played it cool and the whole thing was a non-issue, but it took a few miles for me to calm down and stop checking the rearview mirror.

BRENT PENNINGTON Moonlight shots of Chittenden Dam, merged in HDR and Tone Mapped to show stars, yet details in the landscape as well.

The funny thing is, Jess didn’t get too worked up over that encounter.  But when I took Wheelerville Road home, which runs deep through the woods on the backside of the mountain, he got pretty nervous.  And when I stopped at a long-abandoned cemetery I knew of and got out among the few remaining grave stones, Jess sat on the Jeep’s bumper and wouldn’t come any further, despite the fact that we were very much alone and the wood were bright with moonlight.

I laugh about this all now, because it speaks very much to our different natures.  Jess is a social person – in high school he was friends with everyone – and encountering and interacting with people didn’t bother him nearly as much as it bothered me.  But he was terrified of the graveyard in the woods, which didn’t creep me out in the least.  Hell, it was downright peaceful out there!

I think about this adventure a lot.  Jess and I had a lot of adventures together growing up; we’ve been best friends since Kindergarten.  I also love the photos I made that night and would love to recreate them again sometime.  Plus this time of year, with the start of winter and the holidays, I always end up thinking about Vermont and winter in the mountains.

BRENT PENNINGTON Moonlight shots of Chittenden Dam, merged in HDR and Tone Mapped to show stars, yet details in the landscape as well.

So there you go.  A little adventure.  A photography story.  I have others – like the time I almost fell down Katterskill Falls, or the time I ran into a bear in the woods, or the time my brother and I missed the trailhead and carried our kayaks miles into the woods…

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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1 Comment

  1. Marie Pennington

    These are beautiful. Don’t think I’ve seen them before. I need to print these!

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