A Classic Location

The Taftsville covered bridge is a Vermont classic. Located on Route 4 just outside of Woodstock, it's definitely one of the most driven-past (maybe one of the most visited?) covered bridges in Vermont. With a classic red paint job, the dam just before it and the rocky river underneath, it's a winner no matter where you're looking at it from. I've driven past it countless times on my way up to that part of the state to visit my girlfriend, but this time, it was prime foliage, I had my new lens, filters, and tripod, and it was a beautiful day to take photographs. I knew I had to stop.

Getting set up and ready to go

A quick and careful descent down the bank of the river and a few confident hops between rocks and I was set up where I wanted to be. I knew I wouldn't be able to capture the entire bridge since the rocks only go about 1/3 of the way out, so I decided to focus on the right half and frame based on that. When it's a little bit warmer, I'll wade out there and get the whole thing, but it wasn't worth hypothermia this time around. 

So I got everything set up. The new rig was looking really solid (as mentioned in my last blog post, I just upgraded my lens, filters, and tripod) and I found myself getting as comfortable as one can on a small jagged rock in the middle of a river. Overall, not half bad!

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So as I mentioned before, I couldn't get to the middle of the river. What's lucky about this location is that it's a long bridge with big support right in the middle that is built the same as the two ends. The nice thing about that is that I could still frame just one half of the bridge and it won't look cut off. I also picked this side because there's actually a power station on the left-hand shore  that would show up in the background of the photo. 

There are a number of components that went into this shot, so let's break them down a little bit. 

Aperture is a key part of a shot like this, and when you want everything from the very foreground to the far background to be sharp, you need to be shooting at a minimum aperture of f/10 in my opinion. This comes at the sacrifice of light, but this is why having a tripod is so key so that you can lengthen your exposure time in order to compensate. 

This bring me to my next point - shutter speed. Given the time of day and the aperture you choose, your shutter speed will vary greatly. When I first started with long exposure photography, I thought it was all about getting as long of an exposure as humanly possible and edit to compensate. However, over the years, I've found that it's better to try a couple longer, shorter, and middle length exposures to really find the sweet spot. Keeping the shutter open for too short of a time minimizes the movement, while too long can blow out the brighter aspects of the shot and increase the risk of something shaking your tripod or something changing in the frame mid-exposure. 

Once the aperture and shutter speed are figured out, you can then tweak the white balance. There are a number of great preset white balances you can fine tune, but my favorite is probably the temperature, which you adjust on a Kelvin scale in the camera. This can help give you warm autumn vibes or cool winter tones right out of the camera. Or, if you want to handle all of that in the editing process, choose one of the environmental presets (ex: shade or clouds) or just use Auto. 

ISO is a setting that controls the sensitivity of the camera's sensor to light. This is usually the last thing I adjust, if needed. As a rule of thumb, keep this as low as possible to get the shot you want. While the technology has come a long long way, you still run the risk of overexposing bright spots or creating noise (graininess) in the dark parts of the photo at high ISOs. 

So now we have a raw shot here. Not quite what we want as the final product, but I know I have all the necessary components to take this shot into Lightroom and get things back to what they really looked like while giving the audience that extra long-exposure kicker with the water.

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The editing process can be hugely preferential. Whether that's in the settings you focus on, the order you do them, how much you want to push the bounds of reality, or the tools you use, this is something almost every photographer has a unique process for. 

In the case of long exposure photos like this one, you oftentimes have to sacrifice certain aspects of the photo to achieve the effect you want. Looking back on it, I probably could have spent some more time fiddling with the exposure to get an original shot that wasn't quite so dark, but I was driving home from Vermont when I pulled over for this, and wanted to get back on the road sooner rather than later. 

My usual process is the following:

1. Crop/straighten

2. Work the sliders. I usually start with the highlights/shadows, then saturation, clarity, and temperature.

3. From there, I'll work certain color channels, then small adjustments to contrast, exposure, and any other smaller points. 

4. Use the Adjustment brush to work on particular parts of the photo. For example, in this one, the sky was still kind of blown out after I was done with everything else, so I focused on that in this step. 

5. Make any final tweaks, remove dust spots with the clone brush, etc. 

Here are some of the more basic adjustments as well as a before and after:

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The Final Product

As you can see above, the final product looks pretty different from the original! That being said, I think i still preserved the reality of the shot while being able to incorporate the long exposure effect with the water. 

If you have any particular thoughts, please get in touch with me via email or Instagram, and thank you for reading! 

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