Images from the Film Archives — 1997
As the name indicates, High Point State Park contains New Jersey’s highest elevation at a whopping 1803 feet above sea level. The scenery has some great views there, but I found that the angle of light was less than optimal at some of the overlooks, and the actual area is a bit barren for sunset photography. So on an afternoon visit there in autumn, I was more interested in some good side-lighting and fall color on the few lakes inside the park, rather than the actual sunset at the highest point.
After scouting a few of the lakes, I settled on Sawmill Lake because of the perfect lighting and great color on that particular day. I found a small rock outcropping with a few withering grasses, and some brilliant red huckleberry bushes that would provide some foreground interest as the lakeshore led further into the scene to a yellow leafed tree on the far side of the lake. The winds were completely calm providing good reflections in the water, and the polarizer fully saturated the colors throughout, while the 35mm (20mm on full frame) lens easily kept everything in focus.
But it was just the natural “lay of the land” that made the photograph so easy to compose. Every element within the frame worked in harmony with all the others. The tufts of yellow grasses in the water led deeper into the frame, as did the water’s edge. The red leaves of the huckleberries did the same, while the single bare branch on the right bends toward the distant trees as well. Even the shadows in the lower right and upper left corners seems to frame the light on the bushes in the foreground, and the far trees on the opposite side of the lake.
It just seemed that all the elements fell naturally into place just waiting to be discovered and photographed. I was happy that I was able to benefit from the natural arrangement there, but it doesn’t always happen in that way. Most times we have to struggle to find a reasonable composition and tweak tripod positioning and height just to make it work. And even then, maybe the light is lost, or was never there to begin with. That is why one of the icons of landscape photography, said:
“Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.“Ansel Adams…
That was one of those days when the photography was easy, yet knowing full well that it is not always so. Many times we struggle just to make a decent photo, or even worse, work really hard and come away with nothing. But we have to remember that it is not the effort we put forth for our images; in the end, it is only the image itself that speaks to the viewer.