Sunday, December 4, 2016

UNW: Middlesex Fells

The November 2016 Urban Nature Walk was a short hike in the Middlesex Fells; a reservation just north of Boston.   It's a massive forested area and several reservoirs and ponds and plenty of paths.  Todays walk was in the South East area of the Fells.

Given this was a November walk, I knew I wasn't going to find any more trees full of autumn color.   However, the brown leaves on the forest floor provided a nice canvas, as did all the glacial rocks and their texture.   I ended up with many great shots, and several opportunities for black & white images.

Rock outcropping

The above photo is a good representation of the Fells - forest with lots of rocks.  (Well, that kind of describes New England, doesn't it??).   Even with the bare trees, there is plenty of color on the ground and rocks - with a nice blue sky to top it off!

A Pool of Trees
A small body of water provides an interesting view of the forest trees against the sky

Of course, it wouldn't be a nature walk without some interesting mushrooms spotted.    This was an interesting specimen.  It looked huge sticking out on the small trunked tree.  Some nice color and texture on top, with lots of gill action underneath.

Fells-09 Fells-08
Mushroom, top and bottom

Unfortunately, the view of Boston from a high point in the Fells wasn't that good that morning - lots of haze over the city.

Boston, as seen from Boojum Rock in the Fells.

However, it was clear in the park, giving a crisp view and bold colors over one of the reservoirs.

Fells Reservoir (MWRA)

There were several spots of color to be found on the banks of the reservoir

One bush still had delightfully red leaves.   

Sunlit reeds on the shore

While I did fine some brilliant colors on today's walk, you don't need great brilliant colors in order to have a great photograph.   I took advantage of the many textures and lighting conditions and converted several images into Black & White, with great success.  

Below, we see a collection of trees that provided an average color photograph.   But as a Black and White image, your focus is now focused on the trees and the texture, and the warm tone bring an emotional feel to the image.

A small copse of trees

Likewise, Black and white can transform an ordinary forest floor of fallen leaves into artwork.

Leaves on the forest floor

The same can apply to the rock outcroppings.  Glaciers left some nice granite throughout the park, as well as scouring them as the glaciers receded.  While many rocks were grey to begin with, Black & White allowed me to highlight the textures, turning a rock face into a landscape.

Rock face; Conversion to Black and White highlighting the striations.

A blue tint makes this look like the surface of another planet...

Visit the Urban Nature Walk facebook page for more information on the group - the monthly walks are open to all!

All my photos from the walk can be found in this Flickr album.    There you'll find many more color and black and white photos from the Fells walk.   This trip made me realize how close the Fells reservation is to the MBTA orange line - I'll definitely be returning and exploring in the Fells next year!

Evergreen, softened

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Nasturtium: Turning a Flower into a Photograph

Sometimes, an opportunity just presents itself.

I opened the shades after sleeping in a bit this morning to find a sliver of sun shining right onto some Nasturtium that seem to be resisting the Boston cold and were still in bloom.  The phone camera was near by so I dashed out and snapped a few OK photos.  Worthy of facebook perhaps.

Image from the phone. 

After snapping those I went and got the DSLR, and fitted the macro lens on it.  Back in time to still catch the sun (but no time to set up the tripod - which was fine, as the breeze kicked in as soon as I got back out there.   Captured a few shots, and Lightroom allowed me to be creative enough to make good photographs of them.

Seeing the sun shine directly on that open flower, I thought that would be a great shot.   Of course not.   It just looked like I had used the flash - way too harsh.  And unfixable in LR.   But Silver Efx Pro to the rescue, and I've got a great Black & White image.   The macro lens got me the texture I wanted, and there was still enough shadow on the petals to provide some B&W interest.   Fading the background and tweaking the flower center and I've got something I really like.

Nasturtium Redux
B&W image - lots of great textures.

Zooming in however, I got a nice shot of the pistil and the 'hairs' on the lower petals.    But an example of why macro outside is difficult - any kind of breeze will kill any hopes of focus stacking.  A nice image nonetheless- even though the red is not in clear focus, it provides a nice background to the pistil.

Nasturtium pistil
Macro lens catches the tendrils on the lower petals, and the pistil.  

I went around to the other side to catch the sun back lighting one of the other flowers.  A good image, but the out of focus petal coming straight at the camera was a tad distracting.   I tried to de emphasize it, and vignetted the entire image to emphasize the sunlight.

Nasturtium back lit
Back lit flower

On the next image I zoomed in, softened the image, and cropped in to highlight the back lighting.

Nasturtium stripes
Back lit, softened and cropped

By the this time the wind was picking up, and no other image came out well.   This one came out soft and had some potential   I softened it up some more and played with the color, and got something with an impressionist feel.   Did it work?

Nasturtium impressions
The softer side

Be sure to check out all my images on my Flickr page.  And feel free to leave thoughts in the comment section here, or on the images themselves on Flickr.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Railfanning: Boston, Boston Herald site

You don't always have to travel to railfan - sometimes railfanning right in your back yard can provide you with new experiences as well.  

On this occasion I was at the old Boston Herald site in the South End of Boston.   The area, once bay and swampland, was filled with brownstone like homes for around 100 years.   In the 1950's the whole area was bulldozed as part of Urban Renewal and zoned light industrial.   At this location Boston Herald set up shop for both reporters and printing presses.   This was still the era of rail deliveries, so a rail spur for paper delivery was built as part of the complex.

Former Boston Herald site from 2005.  No deliveries by rail any more but spur was still in place.

Loading Docks at the end of the spur (2005)

The area is located at Herald and Albany streets.  The spur came off the North East Corridor (NEC), under Herald street, then onto the Herald property.   (Most folks driving on Herald street have no idea there is a bridge over this spur).

The Herald has moved away, and the location is being redeveloped as housing with ground floor commercial.   The railspur area is currently parking lot and open grass (dirt).

In the below snapshot from Google Earth view (2015) you can still see the siding coming off the NEC, and the rail spur going under Herald street.   Construction of the new housing (Ink Block) is well under way at this point.

Spur coming off the NEC (upper left) and spur portal under Herald st (lower right)

The spur looks quite different now.  At the moment the area seems unused - some parking.  and a small hillock attempting to obscure the portal.   I have no clue what plans are for this corner of the site.

Herald Siding - 1
Portal today (2016)

but now that construction is done, the portal is accessible.

Herald Siding - 2
Looking in from the portal entrance

There's some trash in the underpass.   Not sure if it's construction leftovers or trash form people hanging out there.   It had not rained in days, but the area was still muddy from showers the previous week.   Some serious drainage issues.   I sank instantly if I tried to get closer, so I had to railfan from mid underpass.

Herald Siding - 5
Mid portal looking back. 

Looking back to the parking lot it's evident how much landfill has been added.   The spur came in at NEC level and actually sloped down to the siding.

Even mid tunnel you get a great view of the NEC.  The siding has been removed form the NEC main line.  Looks like the switch body/frog was left on the side of the mainline.  You can see the mud I'm standing on was added, bringing the tunnel floor up around 6 inches to begin with.

A fence is in place to keep all safe and prevent anyone wandering onto the NEC tracks.   While there is no high speed service at this location, there is a lot of train activity - several trains an hour during rush hour.    For those in the know, this is between the main curve out of South Station and Cove interlocking.     From the view below, Back Bay station is to our left and South Station is to our right.

Herald Siding - 4
Looking out of the tunnel onto the NEC tracks.

Both Amtrak and the MBTA use these tracks.  The tracks closest to us are for southbound service, including the NEC to New York.    The tracks furthest from us (on the other side of the stone abutment) go west towards Framingham, Worcester and (Amtrak) to Albany and points west.

Herald Siding - 5
Eastbound MBTA train on the Framingham/Worcester line

Herald Siding - 6
Eastbound MBTA train on the NEC line.

When trains go by on the closest track, you really feel like you're close to the NEC!

At this point there are no 'no trespassing' signs to the portal.   it seems fully accessible to the public.  The few people around didn't seem to care I went exploring.  I visited mid-day, so there were no 'undesirables' hanging out here.   It is a parking lot/delivery ware for a Whole Foods supermarket, so the owners do have an interest in keeping the area safe.

Happy railfanning.

Herald Siding - 7
Train on the way to back Bay station.

See all my railroad images on my Flickr Railroad album.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Boott Mill

As part of my 'summer of exploration' I made my way up to Lowell.   My friend now has a studio there, so a good reason to finally make the trip.   Lowell was a big Mill town back in the day, and has a ton of canals and former mill buildings.   Unfortunately, with any 1-industry city, when the industry left, the town hit hard times.   They came back when computer manufacturing was big in MA< but when that collapsed, Lowell was hit hard again.   The city is coming back with a mix of small businesses, artists, and tourism.    I took the trip not know that much about the trip, but I knew there was a trolley.

I have to say the highlight of my trip was the Boott Cotton Mills Museum.  Boott was a large mill producing fabric.  At the height of production they brought in raw cotton, milled it into thread, which fed the looms for weaving.   The second floor of the mill is now a museum, with exhibits on the history and the process.  There is some history on line here and here.

But the best part of the museum is on the first floor - the floor is lined with automated looms.

Shop floor
Rows of automated looms.  Originally driven by water power. the shaft on the ceiling (which belt drives each loom)  is now driven by  an electrical motor.

Machine driven looms were put on the first floor of mills due to the vibrations they caused.  (They used to be on the upper floors as production moved up.   The vibration caused owners to reverse the process, putting the looms on the first floor.

The machines themselves are fascinating.   Effectively automating all the parts of a standard hand loom.  As looms became more automated, one girl could man more and more looms, reducing labor costs for the manufacturer.

NPS worker, in traditional dress of the time, tends to a loom

But the sound must have been deafening.   The museum had about a dozen looms going, and the noise was enough you need to wear ear plugs while visiting.  But the machines are fascinating to watch.  A cam driving the heddle frame.  Lever arms slamming the shuttle back and forth.  The batten firming the thread in place as the cloth is slowly created.  

The machines are mesmerizing to watch, but also offered opportunity for some unique photographs.   I definitely need to go back with the tripod to get some more photos of both idle and active machines.  SO many parts and gears that are demanding to be photographed.

The museum is definitely worth a visit!!

Waeaving action
Two rows of heddles.   Each lifts or lowers a row of thread so the shuttle can be passed between, 
thus weaving your cloth.  

Loom in action
I turned the sound down.  And this was only a fraction of the machines in operation.

More photos can be found on my Flickr album.

Friday, September 23, 2016

UNW: Stony Brook Reservation

My latest monthly nature walk group went to Stony Brook Reservation.  One of 5 large "Reservation" parks in the Boston area.   Stony Brook itself used to be a larger waterway, flowing all the way to the Charles, providing power (and water) to many breweries throughout the JP area.  (That's where Stony Brook orange line stop got it's name).  Most of the brook now runs in culverts under ground, and most of the breweries are now condos.

As with many parks I explored this summer, it doesn't take long for the city to disappear and the forest to engulf you.   This was the path into the woods.   I'm all of 10 feet from the main road (Washington St, Dedham) and the bus stop.

The road in
Lawrence Path

It's a good thing I decided to take this path.   There's a main road through the park - Enneking parkway.   While it goes right through the reservation, it isn't very park friendly.  No sidewalks, and barely enough room on one side of the road to walk if you had to.   Cars speed by faster than the speed limit, so walking close the road is a bit dangerous.  Taking a path into the park is definitely preferred.   Stangely enough, if you drive it's allowable to park on the side of the road to visit the park.  No clue how accidents don't happen all the time.

Turtle Pond is the main body of water on the north side of the park.   Its still the source of Stony Brook, although the brook goes underground after running through the park.  The pond is supposed to be for fishing only, but the dock makes a convenient swimming hold for the locals (a few were swimming while we were there).    While nice, the dock itself needs some TLC.   Not sure how much upkeep the DCR does in the park.   We did see evidence of tree maintenance, but the dock, well.

Dock of the Pond
Southern Dock at Turtle Pond

Under this dock is some marshy area, where we spotted some wildlife.   Nothing exciting, but I'm a city boy, and we don't see much.   :)


Painted Turtle
Painted Turtle

After investigating the dock, we walked the path around the pond.  A nice walk, but with the drought in Mass, there wasn't a lot going on.  Less wildlife than usual.  Much of the marsh area was little more than wet mud.  Most of the trees and bushes looked a bit distressed.

Much beauty around the pond

Unfortunately, not everyone respects nature 

The monthly walks give me a chance to go exploring with a different group of folks - some I know from previous walks, and always a few new faces.  This trip we had an entomologist and a lepidopterist.  How often do you see people come to a nature walk with a butterfly net?

On this walk, looking for wildlife meant turning over leaves and rocks to see what we could see.  Again, the dry weather meant fewer insects, but we did make a few interesting finds.

Orgyia leucostigma
Orgyia leucostigma

While I did help find bugs and caterpillars, I'll always enjoy the trees and solitude of a forest.  Stony Brook Reservation provides a nice mix.  Lots of trails (well used and well marked).   Some forest was very walkable off-trail, while other area had so much ground cover it can barely see through it.   Plus, I'm terrible at identifying poison ivy.  It never seems to look like the photos.

Always remember to look up...

This month was a last minute walk, concentrating around the Turtle Pond area of the reservation (North End of the reservation).  The park itself was very nice, and only a short bud ride from the end of the subway.  But I feel I only scratched the surface of the Reservation.  I definitely want to head back when I have more time, and its not blazingly hot outside.  There are plenty of trails and forest there left to explore.

See all the photos from this walk on my Flickr album.

Visit (and join?) the Boston Urban nature Walk facebook page.

Turtle Pond

Sunday, August 28, 2016

North Point North Station

There's a lot going on in Cambridge's North Point Park.   For a railfan, it offers some great views of the North Station tracks.    While I was photographing skaters at the skate park, every time a train was coming by I would go down the hill and take photos of passing trains.   The skaters seemed to get a kick out of that.

Lightning inbound

Looking towards Boston.  Always nice when you can work the Zakim into a shot

The first spot is right behind the skate park.  There's an access road the duck tours use with some parking next to it (unofficial park parking?).   There's nothing but a few jersey barriers separating the lot from the North Station approach tracks.  As long as you stay on the public side no one seems to mind.

Multiple inbound

Looking North.  You can see all the way to BET.  
(This is zoomed - I'm still on the public side of the barriers)

Almost home

Nice catch - two inbound at the same time

Another spot at the same location is the pedestrian bridge over the tracks.   It gives you a nice overhead view of the same tracks, and a view into north Station.

North approach

Looking north from the ped bridge. 

In the North view (above) you can see the road and parking area, and barriers that separate the ROW from the 'public' space.   Of course, never trespass on railroad property, no matter how tempting it can seem.

North Draw

The Boston view from the ped bridge

One nice things on Summer weekends - due to fewer weekend trains and lots of boats, the drawbridges are usually left in the up position until a train is ready to arrive or depart.   So you get a nice audio and visual clue that a train is coming.   (And, if you like bridges, you can see the bridges raised and lowered quite often.)


The pedestrian bridge itself is very photo worthy

If you like watching the T, this is a great hotspot to hang out at.   Lots of trains on a weekday night, and a decent number of trains on the weekend (with bridge action).

A great sky also made some photos look great in Black & White.


Inbound to Boston.   Boston Sand & Gravel in the background

Dramatic arrival

Amtrak and MBTA racing into Boston.  

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Skater Boyz

Wandering around North Point with my camera one day I finally stopped at the Lynch Family Skate Park.

The skate park was built in an an area under a series of ramps built as part of the "big dig" in the early 2000's.   It began as a concept in 2000 - Boston's skateboarders really had no park of their own.  They can be seen all over town in parks and plazas, but there was never a park exclusively for them.   15 years later the park has finally open.

In fact, the whole area is worth a visit.  There's a large park-park where warehouses used to be.   The skate park.  A nice pedestrian bridge over the train tracks (Nice train watching area on the bridge and next to the skate park).  That pedestrian bridge leads to a plaza right under the Zakim cable-stay bridge.  Lots of fun exploring.


It's a nice park but has it's challenges for a photographer.  First, you're under the highway - which means you have half bright sun and half hard shade.   Always a challenge.   Second, this is a park for skateboarders - not a lot of places to randomly shoot.  You pretty much have to scout around the edges of the park.  If you go 'in' the park, you have a high risk of getting clocked by a board, bike or scooter.   (Apparently using razor type scooters at a skate park is also a thing.   Whoda thought).  Third, these are folks just having fun and trying things, so you never know who might be where at any given point in time.   (vs. a professional shoot or such, where someone is doing the same trick in the same place and you know what to expect).


I started with a lot of walking around and observing.   Where could I stand without getting killed.   Who was doing what where.   Who was doing 'interesting' stuff, and who was just puttering around. And, of course, what would actually make a good photo.

No one had any issues with me shooting.  Just respect their space and be a good sport about things.    Chatted up some of them with light conversation to see what they were up do.


Once ready to start shooting, I had to give some thought to composition.  Watching someone a few times to see what they usually do, then position myself around the bowl to get a good angle and good lighting.   I went with the mid range lens, as they went from near to far as they went around the bowls.  Switched to high speed shooting mode.  Then take bursts as things were about to happen.


Got some good shots.   Got a lot of OK shots.  A lot of lessons learned after seeing the photos back on the computer.   All in all I had a lot of fun, and look forward to heading back again and seeing if I can do better next time.


Some lessons learned.

  • Get comfortable with people.    It's easy to take photos, but it can be challenging to walk into a group of people and start taking their photos.   Definitely a skill I need to work on.   Once warmed up to the skaters it was easier for me to feel comfortable being a photographer.   And establishing some rapport with the subjects made them a little more comfortable with me.
  • Remember camera settings.   More photos were out of focus than I had thought.   I'll bump up the ISO next time.  Moving the camera to keep up with my subjects needed higher shutter speed.   I did do a decent job at keeping aperture high (wide) to make sure only my subject is in focus.
  • Keep the human element.  It was easy to catch a 'trick' in action on the far side of the bowl.  You could follow their lead up then snap as they went in the air.   Got some nice photos - but they were all of the backs of the subject.   Having their face in the photo is always more powerful - even if you end up getting fewer 'cool' photos.   As a matter of face, some of the photos of just the faces of the guys concentrating on their skating, with no tricks, were as interesting as the action photos.   Will definitely take a different approach next time


See my Flickr Album for the best photos from this shoot.