A simple walk by the river can turn into a journey to someplace special... all within walking distance of our backyards.
So I went for a walk again recently, on a trail that goes beside the Passaic River near my house.
It’s one of my favorite places to go for a walk, especially in the evening, since the reflections in the river can be amazing.
I always tell people that New Jersey isn’t called “The Garden State” for nothing – everywhere I go, I find nothing but lush green growth. (Newark and the bits near New York are the exception, of course.)
Even more amazing is how the setting sun lights up the green of the trees and undergrowth along the river. It’s almost like something out of a painting.
This time I went a bit further than I normally do, and as usual, I was rewarded with beautiful scenes. You never know what might be around the next corner.
Finally of course I had to turn back – the trail probably goes on, but I figure I can save that for another day.
No matter where you are, there’s always something special waiting, hidden, in the most unlikely or even ordinary of places – if you just take the time to look. Often these special places are right nearby, around corners we routinely ignore.
Wherever you are, or wherever you end up, I hope you take the time – once in a while, at least – to look around you, to turn down that path you always walk by, or that place you’ve always seen but never stopped at. Your curiosity will almost certainly be rewarded.
I make no secret of the fact that I love photos of flowing water. And I also make no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of using slow shutter speeds to create that “silky water” effect.
Just recently I got myself a better tripod (and a nice ballhead to go with it), and ever since then I’ve been playing around with this technique a bit more.
I also just recently picked up an ND filter (“neutral density” – basically sunglasses for your lens) and decided to try it out.
ND filters are typically used to darkens a scene evenly, allowing for a slower shutter speed – which lets you blur out any movement… such as flowing water.
Previously, I’d been using my circular polarizing filter as a sort of poor-man’s ND filter. I could still use slow shutter speeds, but I was still somewhat limited by the available light – if it was too bright, I wouldn’t be able to use as slow of a shutter speed as I would have liked. The above photo, for example, was taken in the shade under a bridge in order to allow me the slow shutter speed I wanted.
So when the weather warmed up a bit this past weekend and I found myself at a local park with some streams and rocky cascades, I just had to give it a try.
For a first try, I’m pretty pleased with how these came out. The thing with using slower shutter speeds is that… well, you are using slower shutter speeds – which means you really need to hold the camera steady. In other words, you almost always need to use a tripod (and, ideally, a remote cable release).
Unfortunately, I didn’t have either of those things with me the day I took these shots – these shots are entirely hand-held.
Luckily the exposures I was using weren’t too terribly long, so I was able to get away with hand-holding – but I did have to get a bit creative with how I steadied the camera! The shot above, for example, was taken with the camera resting on the side of my shoe as I sat cross-legged on a rock!
I’m not sure why I’m so fond of this particular type of photographic effect, but I do know that it’s something I’ve been trying to do pretty much ever since I first picked up a digital camera.
Long exposures in general are just kind of fun – to me they imply motion where none exists in a way that I just find really compelling.
In the end of course this is just my taste – I like these kinds of photos, and more importantly I enjoy taking these kinds of photos.
So recently I took a little photowalk along the river behind my condo complex. As I was setting out, I noticed a path heading in a direction I’d never seen before, and I decided to take it.
Right away I was rewarded with seeing some deer prints in the sand beside the river, which is not very unusual because deer are very common in New Jersey.
Still, it was very nice beside the water’s edge, with the sound of the river flowing and the crickets chirping in the early Summer evening.
The river was rather low though, because it’s been such a dry summer, which meant I could get to some places I normally wouldn’t be able to.
I eventually found a way across a little side stream, which led me further upstream…
…and then I found the path took a sharp turn up a steep slope, which – strangely enough! – had a rope tied off to help you climb up it. Very strange, considering you normally can’t get over here…
Once I was up, the path wound on a bit further, which led me to a bit of a… smelly… surprise.
Although all it had in common was the bad smell, I’m still calling this place the “bog of eternal stench.”
By this point, things were starting to feel a little weird – this was a strange new place, and it’d gone very quiet – you couldn’t hear the sounds of cars on the road where I’d parked, and the air had taken on that strange still feeling that you get in the deep countryside in late summer.
Looking a bit closer, I saw that the log that was lying in the bog (heh) had a lot of growth on it, which looked really neat, so I (very carefully) climbed out there to take a closer look. I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to see faeries or smurfs or something like that crawling around.
Still, despite all of this, the path was clearly marked, although I don’t know who had done this.
As I moved further, you could just see that everything was absolutely covered with green, like an overgrown ruin of some sort…
Eventually I stumbled across this strange structure, although I think you can guess what it is.
The trail briefly exited onto a road at this point, and I turned around and almost couldn’t find the path I’d just come out of!
It really was a very well hidden entrance.
Heading back (somewhat) the way I came, I found myself next to this surprisingly pleasant pool (aside from the inevitable bugs).
At this point I had to retrace my steps somewhat, and returned to the path beside the river.
That’s when I stumbled across this – a lone bench, sitting beside the river, on a section of riverbank that normally would be submerged. Suffice to say, I was rather surprised to see it there.
That said, it was a lovely place to sit and admire the river.
The water was really calm at this point, and the reflections of the trees in the late afternoon sun was really just beautiful.
But then I noticed this weird stone next to the bench, with this odd symbol carved onto it.
I began to wonder if I had wandered into some strange world.
The path continued on, with more rope guides…
Then, things became overgrown again – this time, the overgrown remains of a ladder.
And yet, the path continued on…
At one point, the path went under this giant fallen tree, but as soon as I stepped under it, things didn’t feel quite the same anymore, and I heard the sounds of people again, so I decided this was the end of this path, and turned back and took a different branch.
This time, I followed a ravine, where I saw a washed out bridge – no doubt this was why everything felt so isolated.
Unsurprisingly, I ran into some more deer. Although I was actually quite close to them, I did not have a zoom lens on (it’s too dark for my zoom lenses) so I had to crop a bit to get these pictures.
The ravine eventually narrowed and another, smaller bridge crossed it.
This brought me out briefly to a path where the grass had been recently mowed. If you look closely, you can even see a groundhog I ran into – he waddled off back into the undergrowth after a brief staring contest with me.
The path then branched back into the woods, and once again things became green and overgrown.
At times the path was so overgrown that the occasional stone popping up was my only guide to keep me on the almost-vanished path.
It was a very inspiring journey, but eventually I found myself heading back the way I came.
And then, at last, I was back where I started, at the bridge crossing the river, and the sounds of the ordinary world returned, and everything seemed just a little bit duller.
Still, it was an interesting adventure, and a reminder of the hidden worlds we can all find in our own backyards, if we’re just willing to look.