Saturday, April 26, 2008

In a car, down by the river!

The plan was to drive up to Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area to get some pictures of the fall color, and to just explore the area. Not everything went as planned, but I came away with some cool pictures and interesting memories in the end.

Depart Baltimore at 7am on Friday, October 19th, 2007, and drive through Harrisburg and Allentown, Pennsylvania, to avoid the usual tolls and traffic on I-95.

Sleep in the back of my Mazda3 somewhere inside the park.

Drive to Trenton on the 20th for a shoot on the 21st.

Canon 5D
Canon 400/5.6
Canon 70-200/2.8
Canon 17-40/4
Canon TC-80N3 remote
Bogen/Manfrotto 3021PRO tripod with 488RC0 ball head
Cokin 2 stop neutral gradient filter
Kelty Basalt backpack

What Worked
Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of rain that Friday. However, because I'd decided to stay in my car instead of a tent, I didn't have to deal with sleeping on the wet ground or packing up a wet tent.

At one point while walking along the boardwalk to Dingmans Falls, it started to pour down rain. Now, since I hadn't really paid attention to the weather before I left home, I had also neglected to bring a raincoat. Luckily I found a tree with thick, sturdy leaves to stand under. I was amazed how dry I was under there. After about 10 minutes of standing there, the rain let up just enough that I was able to walk back to the car.

Since I was spending a significant amount of time in my car due to the rain, I decided to stop by the grocery store in Milford and get some snacks. Grocery stores are often good places to find cheap food while traveling. Most people skip over them and just eat out, which is comparatively costly. As Ken Rockwell's brother says, "Most people are too stupid to be poor."

After much exploring of the park in Friday afternoon's rain, I found a good spot to park my car for the night and get some sleep at the Dingmans Ferry Access boat ramp, which was closed for the season. It was out of the way enough that I probably wouldn't be bothered, and it was close to the toll bridge, so I would be able to get to another person if there was some kind of problem.

I was particularly happy with my pictures of Dingmans Falls on Saturday. I discovered that an exposure of about 1/2 second is long enough to produce very nice looking water. I thought the exposure would have to be much longer. However, it was also important to keep the front of the lens covered when I wasn't taking a picture since there was a significant amount of spray coming off the waterfall.

On my way out of the park, I was originally going to stop by Kittatinny Point (just off I-80, no toll eastbound) before heading south. However, I decided to see if I could get good afternoon shots across the river from the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. I drove north along River/Old Mine Rd., part of which was alternating one-way. About four miles later turned onto Campground Rd. where I found a good spot to park and get access to a good part of the bank with an unobstructed view of both sides of the river. There was even a guy fly-fishing to add to the ambiance.

What Didn't Work
The weather did not work in my favor that Friday. I had planned to take the time for this trip well in advance, so I decided to go no matter what the weather report said. This resulted in clouds and light rain on the drive up, and a couple downpours that afternoon and evening. Basically it meant that I had to spend most of that Friday in the car even though I arrived at about noon.

Since I was coming from the south, I had decided to enter the park from the southern end through Stroudsburg, PA. Unfortunately, a combination of construction, rain, and a Wal-Mart led to some major traffic. Because I drive stick-shift, a traffic jam was the last thing I'd wanted to see at the end of a long drive.

In spite of the snacks I found at the grocery store in Milford, I still wanted some cheap, cooked food. The lady working the grocery store checkout directed me towards Westfall, PA, where there was (another) Wal-Mart with a Subway and a McDonald's. What I didn't expect was a Friday night football game at the high school right next to the Wal-Mart, and a parking lot full of loitering teenagers. Apparently the McDonald's was the place to be, because the line was out the door and around the corner. Luckily the Subway inside the Wal-Mart was much more tame. Still, I decided to eat in my car with my gear with so many bored, rural teenagers around.

The TC-80N3 was a new toy for me, so I decided to give it a try with some extremely long exposures of cars crossing the Dingmans Falls toll bridge. We're talking 10 minutes at ISO 400. This place was dark. After a few tries and a lot of standing around, it didn't seem to produce any usable results. The cars were few and far between and only lit up the top parts of the bridge. There was some light fog hanging over the water, but that never got much light. In the end, the dark areas came out noisy, and the cars just blended into one big streak of light.

Sleeping in the car with nothing covering the windows was a little creepy. I had this vision of someone standing next to my car looking down through the window at me laying there in the middle of the night. Luckily it didn't happen (that I know of), but I think I'll have to find a way to cover the windows next time. Psychologically, it's interesting to consider that a tent would have felt safer, even though a car is clearly more secure.

On the whole, this was a successful trip, especially given Friday's abysmal weather. Even the bad weather added to the memories though.

Camping in the car works, but will require some practice, and window coverings, to perfect.

Sometimes even the longest exposure can't make up for the lack of light, and will probably result in very noisy images, even at ISO 400.

The tripod contributed greatly to the sharpness of the pictures, and was well worth bringing since most pictures were taken within 1/4 mile of the car.

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