The Waning Days of Autumn

It is only the beginning of November, but autumn is progressing quickly.  Not the autumn you find on the calendar (from September to December) but the autumn that is marked by crisp mornings and colorful leaves.

Fall foliage is a funny thing.  You can stand in one spot and see fully green trees, turn and see beautifully colorful trees, and then turn again and see completely bare trees.  There is rarely one day that you say “This is the peak of the fall foliage”.  It is a process that progresses over the course of several weeks starting in October in southeastern Pennsylvania and lasts into November.  Even with the incredible winds that we experienced over the past weekend there are still quite a few trees with colorful leaves on them.

I have written before that I struggle with fall foliage.  I have often made the cliche photos of leaves on the ground, leaves with frost, colorful reflections in the water, etc.  These are fine photos, but these types of photos do not have longevity.  As I walk or drive through the foliage I am “wowed” by the sheer amount of color but I get easily frustrated that I can’t find a composition that moves me.  I find the most attractive photos are ones that include something else, be it a structure or people.  An addition of such elements balances the pure beauty of the trees.

The images below include other elements that add some character.  The color is important, but not the only element of the images.

DSC_0064_5_6_tonemapped-1 DSC_0037-1Full site:  Photography by Matt Schrier

New York and Back

My wife and I took advantage of a nice fall weekend last month, where we had no conflicting personal commitments, to take a drive up to Seneca Lake in central New York State – aka the Fingers Lakes region.  We had been through this area a few years ago when our family visited Niagara Falls during wintertime, and we were taken by the beautiful landscape as well as the leading industry in this region, that being the wine industry.  On that first trip we had kids in tow and since we were just passing through we didn’t partake in the wine tasting in any meaningful way.  So we filed that experience away in our minds, and when we were looking for a fall trip to take this year Seneca Lake rose to the top as our first choice.

Seneca Lake is an amazing lake. It is the largest of the Finger Lakes, which are glacially formed.  The lake is 38 miles long, about 3 miles wide at its widest point, and unlike many natural lakes in the US (except maybe the Great Lakes) it is quite deep at 168 feet.  The lake is spring fed, and the continuously-moving waters make it difficult to freeze during winter.

Lake Seneca Sunset

Lake Seneca Sunset

What I like most about Seneca Lake is the land on either side.  For the most part the land gently slopes down to the water over the course of a few miles to the east and west of the lake.  It is on these gentle slopes that you will find many of the vineyards of the region.  Just looking across the lake from a vineyard or the road yields a beautiful view that extends many miles.  Standing and looking across the lake you can just imagine the scale of the glaciers that formed these lakes.

The wine industry is one of the big attractions here, and we were informed that autumn is the biggest time of year for the wine-tasting tours.  We had a great time visiting the wineries, tasting their products, and bringing home a few bottles.  Free tip:  Don’t pay more than $3 per person for 5 tastes.  Some charge more, and some even charge less.  There are so many wineries that you can easily pass up a few and still have a completely full day.

Old Church - Ovid, NY

Old Church – Ovid, NY

Pennsylvania Barn

Pennsylvania Barn

The second half of our trip was to be outdoors-oriented.  We had originally planned to hike through the Watkins Glen gorge, at the southern end of Seneca Lake, but we ended up taking a nice drive through northern Pennsylvania to Ricketts Glen state park.  This is the second time I’ve been to this park, and I am glad I returned.  Even though the hike is a bit challenging the reward is anywhere from 15 to 20 beautiful waterfalls, depending on your route.

DSC_0123-3The weather was perfect for hiking as well as photography – a little cool, lightly overcast, and not too breezy.  There were many other photographers at some of the tallest falls, but I didn’t mind the crowds and I enjoyed all of the falls despite the people.  By the time we had completed our loop hike I was quite winded and ready for our drive to Jim Thorpe for dinner, and then home.

I highly recommend a trip to the Finger Lakes region and of course Ricketts Glen park in Pennsylvania, especially in the fall.  I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as we did.


Acadia National Park – Why We Love It


Ocean Drive at Sunrise

It is surprising to us that many of the people we know have never heard of Acadia National Park.  The park attracts thousands of people each year eager to explore the many scenic areas of the mountainous island on which the park resides. Although the park is a fair distance away (about 10 hours by car from Pennsylvania) we feel that it is well worth the drive.

In our area many people flock to the New Jersey shore to simply sit on the sand for hours on end, sometimes venturing into the murky waters of the Atlantic.  We’ll have none of that – we want a more active vacation: hiking the rocky trails that lead to amazing views; biking the carriage roads designed by John Rockefeller Jr himself; waking early to see the sunrise, staying up late to see the sunset, and staying up even later to see millions of stars in the night sky.  This is the essence of a truly rewarding vacation for us.

DSC_0483-10The Island

Before I dig into the park attractions and activities, let’s have a geography lesson.  The island that Acadia NP mostly sits on is Mount Desert Island, first discovered by explorers in 1604. This island has many mountains, lakes (the smaller ones called ponds), and rocky granite cliffs and coastlines. Glaciers played a big part in the formation of these features. On this island sits the majority of Acadia National Park.  The park actually extends to some other areas outside the main island, most notably Schoodic Peninsula to the north.

The main town on Mount Desert Island is Bar Harbor, which is where most of the shops, restaurants, and boat tours in the area are located.  It is not necessary to stay in or near Bar Harbor to enjoy your trip.  We rented a house about 6-7 miles from town, and although we did have to do a little more driving we had a beautiful view of Somes Sound as well as very peaceful surroundings.  There are a handful of other towns scattered around the island, some with nice shops and restaurants (like Southwest Harbor), but also some that are mostly residential.

DSC_0386-5The Park

Now for the park … let’s start at the beginning.  This is the stretch of the Park Loop Road right after the ranger station.  This area approximately 2 miles in length encompasses a number of destinations that can keep you busy for a couple of days.  Consequently this is the area that attracts the most visitors, which can lead to crowds during the summer.

  • Sand Beach
  • The rocky coastline
  • Thunder Hole
  • Otter Cliffs
  • The Beehive trail (challenging)
  • Gorham Mountain trail (moderate)
  • Great Head trail (moderate)

Tip: Avoid the busy summer period from the end of June through August.

Tip: Parking is typically allowed in the right-lane of the park loop road.  Watch out for parked cars.


Stone pile at Hunter’s Beach

Sand Beach is a nice scenic little beach.  It is not really a destination like the New Jersey shore – it is more of a respite from an otherwise busy and active visit to the park.  You can stop by for a quick lunch, or stay for the day and sit in the sun or play in the water.

DSC_0467-9Tip: If you eat lunch on the beach watch out for the seagulls that like to swipe food right from your hand if you’re not careful.

The rocky granite coastline between Sand Beach and Otter Cliffs is a lot of fun to walk along.  You’ll see boats in the water, people fishing, and seagulls catching and eating crabs right from the ocean.

DSC_0279-3Photo Tip: This is a great area for catching sunrise photos.  The beautiful morning light on the coastline and Otter Cliffs make for beautiful photos. Remember – sunrise is very early in the summer – before 5 AM.


Sunrise at Otter Cliffs

DSC_0184-1Thunder Hole is a geologic formation that shoots water up when waves crash in.  It is fun to watch (around high tide only), and it draws lots of visitors to a very small area, so it probably has the highest density of visitors compared to its area.

We hiked all three trails listed above, and they are all worthwhile.  The Beehive Trail is the most difficult, as it requires you to climb vertically on steel ladders at a number of places during the hike.  It also has the biggest “payoff” – a beautiful view of Sand Beach from over 500 ft high.  The hike down is much easier!

Sand Beach from the Beehive Trail

Sand Beach from the Beehive summit

The Gorham Mountain trail is more moderate and a little longer, but it also has some great “payoff” views during the hike.  The Great Head Trail is a fun trail that does not take you too high but gives you various scenic views along the coast, including a great view of Sand Beach and the Beehive.

Sand Beach from the Great Head Trail

Sand Beach from the Great Head Trail

Beyond the Sand Beach/Otter Cliffs area, the other main areas and attractions of Acadia NP, in no particular order, are:

  • Jordan Pond, and the Jordan Pond House
  • The Carriage Roads which weave throughout the park
  • Cadillac Mountain
  • Bar Harbor town
  • The western side, including Echo Lake, Acadia Mountain, and the Bass Harbor Lighthouse

Jordan Pond is the central hub of activity in the interior of the park.  The pond itself is very attractive, with trails around it and distinctive “bubbles” in the background (small mountain formations).  You’ll find the Jordan Pond House which has a very good restaurant, the feature item of which is the Popover.  This is a tasty baked treat that is a staple of this restaurant.  And finally there are many carriage roads that pass through this area and weave throughout the park (see below).  This is a must-stop for any visitor.

Photo Tip: Late day or early morning light can make for fantastic photos here.  Try to find different compositions with rocks and other features.

Jordan Pond at sunrise

Jordan Pond at sunrise

The carriage roads were designed to carry horse-drawn carriages around the park, but today the most common usage is bike riding.  Walking and jogging are also common.  There are many miles of carriage roads, so you have a lot to choose from.  They also extend all the way to the visitor center at the northeastern tip of the park.

Tip: Be wary that the carriage roads can be quite hilly.  Buy a $5 trail map at one of the park shops and pay attention to the topographical lines to determine the slopes.

Cadillac Mountain is the spot where you can be the very first to see the sunrise in the US.  You get great views of the whole island and surrounding smaller islands, especially near Bar Harbor.  In summer sunrise is around 4:50 AM, so be prepared to get up very early for this.  Sunrise is also very popular, and the preferred area is the Blue Hill parking lot since that’s on the west side of the mountain.

Sunset on Cadillac Mountain

Sunset on Cadillac Mountain

Self-portrait on Cadillac Mountain

Self-portrait on Cadillac Mountain

Tip: You may want to drop into Jordan Pond House after seeing the sunset, to have dinner or to simply have a tasty dessert, including the popovers.

When you want to get back to civilization, or just to have a sit-down meal, Bar Harbor is the place to go.  Dozens of shops and restaurants fill the streets, and if you want you can even find the docks that serve fresh lobster dinners – and by fresh I mean straight off the lobster boat.

Tip: Spend an hour or so around low tide and walk across the sand bar at Bridge Street to Bar island.  The walk to the peak of Bar Island yields a nice view of Bar Harbor and Cadillac Mountain.

Walkable Sand Bar to Bar Island

Walkable Sand Bar to Bar Island

There are also some attractions on the western side of the island, but not as much as the east side.  We loved the Acadia Mountain hike, and many people swim in Echo Lake (on of the few lakes/ponds you are allowed to swim in).  The Bass Harbor lighthouse is small but photogenic.

Final Tip: You are not limited to the lengthy one-way Park Loop Road when planning your driving routes.  Study the map of the island and find alternative roads.  The one we used most often is Otter Cliffs drive, which you can use to exit the Park Loop Road right at Otter Cliffs and make your way back to Bar Harbor or other areas.

I hope you can now see why we love Arcadia National Park.  Please include this park in your future vacation plans.


Hunter’s Beach


Milky Way from Sand Beach

Philly’s Reading Terminal

Philadelphia’s now defunct Reading Terminal, and the associated Market that continues to thrive just north of Market Street near city hall, are historical landmarks that continue to draw many visitors to this day.  Reading Terminal was the destination for approximately half of the suburban train lines that brought commuters and visitors into the city – the other line terminated at Suburban Station a few blocks to the west.

Back in the 1970’s and 80’s the city embarked on a redevelopment project which connected the suburban train lines across the city, completely bypassing Reading Terminal which could not be utilized (the old lines were elevated above the city streets instead of below, and the lines came in at the wrong angle to be useful).  The terminal itself would transform into a part of the new Philadelphia Convention Center.

The market had fallen onto bad times in the 70’s and 80’s, and many people thought it should be shut down and redeveloped.  But investment was eventually put into the market and it has survived and thrived to be a bustling center of city life to this day.  You can visit the market on just about any day during the week and it will be crowded just about every time, especially around lunchtime.  It’s hard for me to imagine what the declining market was like a few decades ago, but I am glad to visit it every chance I get.

Find more history of the market at this site.

Here are a few recent shots of the market area:

Reading Terminal Clock

Reading Terminal Clock

Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal Market

Impressions of Singapore

I spent 5 days in Singapore in early February.  Although I did not have much spare time to travel around this beautiful city-state I did get a chance to experience a little that this place has to offer.  Following are the words and the photos that represent my experience  over those short 5 days.


Giant Lobsters




Shopping at the Malls

The Marina


And finally … Tropical

Main Site:  Photography by Matt Schrier

Overview of Adobe Lightroom

I use primarily two software packages for my image editing: Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Lightroom. Each package has its strengths and weaknesses.  Photoshop is the well-known heavyweight in the image editing space.  It’s capabilities are extensive, and it’s name has even become a verb, often used in a negative connotation.

So why do I use Lightroom as my everyday tool for image processing rather than the heavyweight? Mainly because it meets most of my needs with a very user-friendly interface.  I’ll get to some details in a bit, but let me first say that this is not a review of Lightroom.  To be honest I cannot do a real review for a couple of reasons.  One is that I am not a power-user of the software.  I use what I know to get my images to where I think they should be. That means that I have learned and use a relatively small percentage of the full capabilities of the software.

The other more practical reason that I’m not doing a full review is that I’m a full release behind.  Lightroom 5 has been out for a year or so, and I’m still on version 4!  Again that’s partially because I’m satisfied with version 4, and partially because I’m … um … thrifty.


But let me be clear right up front that I absolutely recommend Lightroom.  It is an affordable and easy-to-use package that can manage almost all of your photo management and editing needs.  Let me list the high-level features that this software provides:

  • Non-destructive editing.  Your original files are not modified.  All edits are performed “on top” of the original files.
  • Vast array of editing tools at your fingertips.  This includes the standards such as cropping, contrast, and saturation as well as red eye reduction, noise reduction, and sharpening.
  • Image enhancement tools, which gives the artist in you the chance to experiment with hues and colors, black and white, and vignetting.
  • Image file management and tagging.  It doesn’t take long to amass thousands of image files, and after a few years it can be difficult to locate the files you’re looking for.  Tagging techniques can make file location extremely easy.

And now I’ll follow with a little more detail for each of the above features.

Non-destructive Editing

In many traditional photo editing packages once you make some changes to the image and save those changes the original file is permanently changed.  (Note: This is how Photoshop Elements works, as well as Photoshop unless you use layers).  There are many disadvantages to this:

  • If you make a mistake – too bad, you’ve lost your original
  • If you want to try something different you may not be able to since what you’ve done may prevent you from making those changes (e.g. putting a colored tint on the image may prevent you from getting the original color back)
  • Complicates file management.  You will need to make multiple copies of the original if you want to apply different kinds of modifications to your files.

Lightroom uses an internal database to record all processing applied to every image in your library.  It does not touch the original files, unless you ask it to delete a file.

Editing Tools

lr_editThe list of editing tools is very sufficient for most needs.  It includes:

  • Cropping
  • Spot cloning
  • Graduated Filter
  • Adjustment brush
  • Tone adjustment (exposure, brightness, contrast)
  • Fill Light (very handy)
  • White balance
  • Tone Curve
  • Color/Hue adjustments
  • Noise Reduction
  • Sharpening

I have found that these tools cover most of my needs.  Sometimes I do need the layering capability of Photoshop, if I need to get even more creative with a single image or if I need to combine multiple images.

All of the tools are on the right hand side.  They usually don’t require multiple clicks or force you to remember keyboard combinations (like Photoshop does).  The processing of a single file is often done within minutes, and you can even copy-and-paste the same changes to other images.

Image Enhancement

There are a few additional tools that are mainly for enhancement rather than normal processing.  These are:

  • Split toning (adding a tone to highlights and/or shadows)
  • Vignetting
  • Grain

I use these enhancements occasionally, especially the Vignette tool, and its good to know that they’re there.

File Management

One of the strengths of Lightroom is the ability to organize and tag files, which  makes file location later much easier.  Traditionally you had tons of folders with thousands of file, with no way to locate individual ones except for folder names.  That is unless you’ve renamed every file, which is unlikely.

Also when you initially review your files you can rank each one, and then view only the ranked ones so you can narrow your review down to just your best files (unless ALL of your photos are your best – you never know).

Other Tools and Features

You may see from the screenshot above there are multiple “Modes” of operating the software:

  • Library: Image review, rating, tagging, etc
  • Develop: Image editing
  • Slideshow: Creating the HTML files for presenting images as a slideshow on a website
  • Print: Review images for proofing and printing
  • Web: Publish photos to your website

Also, every edit you apply is stored in a History list.  You can always revert back to a previous version, even after you’ve saved it many times.

To use a file on the Internet you can Export files in many different formats, and apply a copyright overlay message if you want.

There are many other features that I could get into but I wanted to keep to the basics of Lightroom.  I invite you to contact me if you have any more questions.


Although this overview of Lightroom pales in comparison to formal reviews you can find at other sites, I hope you now understand the benefits you can get for not much investment.  If you photograph much you will eventually need to manage thousands of files and to apply edits in a painless and quick manner, and Lightroom provides all of this.

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Is it the Photographer, or the Camera?

Here is one comment I have heard many times over from people at art shows:

“You take beautiful photos.  You must have an expensive camera.”

And I think to myself:


I think that because it’s just not true that great photos require expensive cameras.  Taking great photos boils down to just two things (in my opinion):

  1. The imagination and anticipation of the photographer
  2. Competency with the camera

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the capabilities of the camera at all.  I did not say that you need a $2000 24 megapixel camera with a $1500 zoom lens.  I didn’t even say that you need an SLR. Artistic photos can be taken with the cheapest, simplest of cameras. Many artists produce unique and compelling photos with cheap film cameras, and many artists only shoot with their smartphones.

Now it is true that to take certain kinds of photos, such as any kind of wildlife photos, especially birds, you need a decent SLR and a good zoom lens.  And to take “grand” landscapes that retain their sharpness even when enlarged you would probably need a high resolution camera with a very good wide angle lens.

But if you are not intending on selling your photos to a particular market then an average SLR with and average lens is probably going to be OK most of the time. With good planning and execution, along with the understanding of the limitations of your cameras, you can easily produce very good photos that can be enlarged.

So what does this mean?  What can you do to improve your own photography?  Here is a list of things that I think are most important:

Avoid direct vertical light

Direct light coming from above, whether it is the sun or artificial light, is usually too strong, and creates too many shadows.  This usually produces the worst kind of photos.  If the light is “direct” then it should be mostly horizontal, either facing the front of the subject, facing the back (silhouette), or from the side.

If the light is diffused then you should be OK and may not have to take special precautions.

Compose level and off-center

Two aspects of a photo that can kill its impact are being out-of-level, and having the main subject directly in the center.  Out-of-level can usually be corrected when you get the photo printed, but you want to avoid this for a number of reasons.  A subject directly in the center often makes a photo look dull, without any tension.

I purposely set this owl off-center in the shot below, which make the photo much more interesting than if he was in the direct middle:
And the biggie …

Don’t overexpose

Most cameras are programmed to produce an “average” exposure, meaning that the shadows and the highlights are balanced.  Therefore in a “contrasty” image the darks can be fairly dark and the highlights can be blown out, which means they become completely white.  If the highlights are part of the main subject (like a person or animal) then the photo just looks bad.

The simplest way to avoid this is to set your cameras to underexpose by 1/3 or 2/3 stop when you’re in direct sunlight (assuming you are shooting in “P” mode).  In the owl photo above I think I was underexposing by about 1 full stop.

For my full portfolio visit Photography by Matt Schrier

Snowy Owls Visit New Jersey

Many people in and around New Jersey know about the unusual visitors from the North.  A handful of snowy owls have taken up temporary residence in the area around Brigantine, Long Beach Island, and the Edwin B Forsythe NWR.  They first appeared in late November, and are still there as of this writing.

When I took my trek down to the NJ shore right before New Year’s eve I headed for the Forsythe NWR which is where I knew a few of the owls were located.  I expected to take a drive around the 6-mile loop and hopefully catch a reasonable glimpse of the owls. I had seen some photos of the owls that were positioned quite a distance from the drive, so I did not have high expectations, especially since I don’t have a long-reach lens like a 600mm.

When I pulled near the entrance of the reserve I saw a crowd of people near the visitor center, and I quickly realized that one of the owls was atop the visitor center.  That’s where I spent the next hour or two, much of it waiting for the owl to do something “interesting”, and playing with angles and the available light to get some different shots.

I feel very fortunate to have gotten these photos, since I have never seen an owl in the wild before, although I’ve heard them many times.

Ruffling His Feathers

You’re Boring Me

Main Site:  Photography by Matt Schrier

Morning on Avalon Beach

Sunrise comes way too early for me in the summer. So early, that it usually keeps me away from the NJ shore and in my nice comfortable bed.  The best light appears for only about an hour in the summer – the sun rises so quickly that by 7:00 the best light is finished and by 8:00 it’s fairly high in the sky and very bright and contrasty.

I made it a point to get down to one of the shore towns at least once this summer.  Timing is tricky, since I obviously would like a perfect sky to reward my efforts.  Too many clouds prevents the sunrise from showing, and too few makes the sky too bland.  Although it’s impossible to guarantee such perfection I do keep one eye on my schedule and the other eye on the weather report in order to maximize my chances.

This past Saturday the forecast for cloud cover was just about ideal – 30% or so cloud-cover was predicted.  As I was zipping down the Garden State Parkway at about 6:00 AM I could already see that the clouds were looking very nice – the pre-sunrise sunlight was illuminating them nicely.  But I was running about 20 minutes late. After I pulled into Avalon and parked on 33rd Street I hurried to my planned position along the trail to the beach passing through the dunes.

The sun was rising just as I set up my tripod and I then started taking a series of shots.  The clouds were beautiful, the color was wonderful, and to top it off the were no airplane contrails cluttering the sky. Some mornings the sky is filled with contrails, which can detract from a photo, but there were none this morning.

After capturing the sunrise I was able to make good use of the low, warm light to photograph the life-boats and lifeguard stands on the beach.  I feel like it was a very productive and rewarding photo shoot, which does not always happen.

Avalon Sunrise

Avalon Sunrise

Website: Photography by Matt Schrier