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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

What Happens On My Day Off

Recently, I have had a few "use 'em or lose 'em" days off at work, so who isn't going to use them? Who could argue with a day off here and there to go out shooting. When I come back after the day off people often ask me what I did with my free day, the last of which was a week ago Friday. The answer? I went to Moraine State Park and did this (now that's a fun day off):

Lake Arthur And Clouds    © Howard Grill

The Flume Waterslide At Ohiopyle State Park

I took a few days off last week to photograph some of the local fall color here in Western Pennsylvania with some friends. We were perhaps a bit early for the color, but what could be better than being out in nature making photographs with friends?

The so called 'Flume' natural waterslide at Ohiopyle State Park is actually considered one of the top ten natural waterslides in the country.....check it out! I have been here to photograph the waterslide several times, but never really came home with a photo I liked, until now. Two interesting bits about the photo. One of the first things I do with a new image is to make sure it is perfectly level and that the straight lines are straight. I found looking at this image a bit dizzying because there really are no straight line references. In fact, the slope on the right does slope downward and the slope on the left does shift heights. The only thing to really 'straighten' as a reference are the irregular stone stairs on the left in the distance.  Another thing that I particularly enjoy in this photograph is the contrast between the portions of the rock that are dark because they are wet from the splashing water and the dryer lighter toned rock.

The one thing the image doesn't convey is the sound of nature. Water moving at that speed through the rock passage it has carved out over time makes a constant, relaxing, and very pleasant 'white noise' background to get lost in while making your photograph.....

The Flume At Ohiopyle    © Howard Grill

Not The Smokies

I have always loved going away to new locations to photograph, either with friends or on a workshop (where I meet new friends.....met quite a few on this last Death Valley one!). Nonetheless, when photographing 'away', there are always only a limited number of days, seasons, light conditions, and times of day in which one can photograph that location.  You can never assemble a true portfolio in the same way that someone who lives nearby can.  No wonder some photographers have chosen to live near iconic photo locales.

I have always felt that the place to truly assemble a portfolio in which a location can be portrayed in full is near your home.  Only then can you photograph in all the conditions I mentioned above.  Don't get me wrong, I love travelling to photograph, but when away the simple fact is that you can only capture what is offered in a limited time span.

The title of the image below is "Not The Smokies" because, well, it's not the Smokies even though that might have been the first thing I would have guessed, having been to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park several times.  It is actually a glorious morning sunrise through layers of fog in Moraine State Park; a place I frequently go in order to make photographs. Does it look like this often?  Not a chance.  But on that morning it did.  Because I am able to photograph there frequently, I was lucky enough to catch it like this. And I didn't even have to fight the crowds at Morton's Overlook!  In fact, as far as I could tell there was nobody around for miles. Mornings like this always remind me not to overlook places near home......

"Not The Smokies" Early Morning Fog In Moraine State Park    © Howard Grill

McConnell's Mill State Park: Pittsburgh Nature Photography II

Time for the second installment in my compendium of suggestions for nature photography in the Pittsburgh region.  As I had mentioned in my first Pittsburgh nature photography post, the ground rules for this series are:

  • I have to have personally photographed at the location and have images to show
  • The area must be within 1-1.5 hours from Pittsburgh so that it is a comfortable 'day trip'
  • The area has to be publicly accessible so that anyone reading this may go

McConnell's Mill State Park is a wonderful place to explore and photograph.  In my mind I have always divided my park excursions up into four different areas:  

  • The old mill (hence McConnell's Mill)
  • The hiking trails right around the old mill
  • Hell's Hollow
  • Other area in the park 

The mill building itself is usually closed to the public, though there are several times a year when one can go inside, but, for me, the attractiveness of the mill is what lies outside.  

The mill overlook and waterfall in McConnell's Mill State Park.

© Howard Grill

View of Slippery Rock Creek taken from the mill overlook in McConnell's Mill State Park.

© Howard Grill

In addition to the building itself, there is a man made waterfall which was, at one time, used to power the mill.  There is also a very nice walkway/balcony that affords views of the waterfall as well as views up and down Slippery Rock Creek, which is actually more the size of a small river. 

Portion of the waterfall by the mill in McConnell's Mill State Park

© Howard Grill

The covered bridge adjecent to the mill parking area, McConnell's Mill State Park, Portersville, PA

In addition to the mill, there is a lovely old covered bridge just to one side of the mill parking area.

The trails that are on either side of the mill are pretty easy in terms of hiking and terrain and if you want to be minimally more adventurous you can very easily climb down the small hillside to the numerous boulders that line the sides of the creek. You can also climb up the hillside to areas with small waterfalls that might not be present depending on the water runoff and time of year (the highest water levels tend to be in spring with the winter snow melt along with the spring showers and thunderstorms).

 

A transient waterfall caused by heavy rains.  I have never seen this falls form again.

© Howard Gril

 

The Hell's Hollow region of the park is hands down my favorite area to photograph. It is also not directly connected to the main park and a bit out of the way to locate....but don't worry, I will tell you how to get there at the end of the post.

In the spring there is an incredible array of wildflowers....trillium, phlox, trout lilies, columbine, and wild geranium to name a few. And with the water levels being high at that time of year, Hell's Hollow Falls puts on a nice show (I am not posting any images of the falls as, though I have taken many, I still don't feel that I have processed any that truly capture their essence). In the autumn the forest puts on a nice show. Summer is green time.  And in winter, well, lets not talk about that as I hate going out in the cold. Yes, I am a temperature wimp!

 

Trillium grandiflorum, Hell's Hollow, McConnell's Mill State Park

© Howard Grill

 

Trillium erectum forma luteum, Hell's Hollow, McConnell's Mill State Park

© Howard Grill

 

Trout Lily, Hell's Hollow, McConnell's Mill State Park

© Howard Grill

 

And then there are the other areas of the park.  There are lots of them, as the park encompasses 2,546 acres of forest, creek, and bridges.

Getting There:

From Pittsburgh, take 279 North to 79 North and get off at Exit 96.  Turn left at the end of the exit ramp and continue driving through Portersville, PA.  A few miles down the road there will be a small sign indicating that you need to turn left to get into the park.  The sign is not, shall we say, big. The sign for the pizza place (which you can only see the back of from this direction) is larger than the park sign.  If you pass the blue water tower on the right you have gone too far.  Once you make that left turn there are no side roads until you get into the park. 

Once you enter the park you are at a "T" and must turn left or right.  Turn left and there will be two parking areas with restrooms  a short distance from each other on the right.  The second parking area is larger.  Or follow the signs down to the mill where there is another parking area, but it is small and only accommodates six or seven cars.

What was that?  You want to go to Hell's Hollow?  Here is a link to the park map.  From the mill parking area cross Slippery Rock Creek using the covered bridge (you can't miss the bridge) and continue along McConnell's Mill Road (which is what you are on) to Fairview School Road and turn left.  Continue on Fairview School Road which, at one point, will make a sharp 90 degree turn to the right.  A mile or two down the road turn left onto Shaffer Road (there is a really, really small and low to the ground sign on the side of the road saying Hell's Hollow as you make the turn).  A short distance down the road, after you cross the very short one lane bridge, you will see the Hell's Hollow parking area on the left.  Trust me, it is worth the drive!

Where To Eat :

One place, three words: Brown's Country Kitchen. It is in the town of Portersville, PA, which you drove through after getting off at Exit 96.

 Brown's Country Kitchen, the place to eat in Portersville, PA

Brown's Country Kitchen, the place to eat in Portersville, PA

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528 In Moraine State Park.......Yet Another Mood

I have previously written posts about the Rt. 528 boat ramp on Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park. More specifically, I had explained how on most mornings the scene is quite bland, but on some special mornings it just comes alive.

Well, several weeks back it went and did it again....strutting its stuff and showing what it can do when the sun and clouds cooperate.

For this image I used a neutral density filter to obtain an 80 second exposure, allowing the clouds and the water to blur.

Sunrise at Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park, Pennsylvania

528 Sunrise V

Copyright Howard Grill

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Accept The Gift You Are Given

My late teacher and friend Nancy Rotenberg was a very wise woman as well as an extraordinary photographer. She recognized that by having too rigid or narrow an expectation of what you were going to be photographing you were simply setting yourself up for disappointment.  After all, how many times does one go out to photograph sunrise only to find the sky locked in with heavy clouds?  How many times has it rained during the workshop you were waiting so long to attend?  If you are not open to receiving other gifts when those types of things happen you are very apt to go home disappointed or feeling like you 'wasted your time'.

Nancy always felt that one has to have an open mind and an open heart and be willing to take the gift that you are given when it is offered to you.  Often that gift isn't what you planned for or thought it would be.

A couple of Sundays back, my friends and I went to photograph sunrise at Independence Marsh about 40 minutes from my home, only to be confronted by a 'double whammy'.  First, there was little water.  The marsh tends to dry out if there isn't enough rain and, while the marsh is frequently beautiful, when it is dry........well, you get about a twenty foot shoreline of mud. Second, the sky was extremely cloudy and there really wasn't much sunrise to speak of.

At first I was quite disappointed.  But then I finally remembered her words and let myself look around and openly accepted the gift I was given:

 Autumn Colors At Independence Marsh In Western Pennsylvania

Autumn Colors At Independence Marsh In Western Pennsylvania

Copyright Howard Grill

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Pittsburgh Region Nature Photography I: Ohiopyle State Park

If I am planning to visit an area in the hopes of doing some landscape and nature photography I typically do some background research first, which always includes an internet search.  It recently dawned on me....I have been photographing nature and landscapes in the Pittsburgh region for years....why don't I do a series of posts about what my favorite locations in the region are.  Hopefully this helps out some folks  that are either visiting and/or those just starting out and wondering where to 'shoot'.

The ground rules for this series:

  • I have to have personally photographed at the location and have images to show
  • The area must be within 1-1.5 hours from Pittsburgh so that it is a comfortable 'day trip'
  • The area has to be publicly accessible so that anyone reading this may go

The first spot I would like to talk about is Ohiopyle State Park, which is on the outer edge of the 1-1.5 hour driving time frame. There are several other state parks in the area but, in my opinion, they all pale in comparison to Ohiopyle.

Getting There:

Take 376 to the PA Turnpile. Take Exit 91, Donegal, off the Turnpike. Turn left onto PA 31 East. In about two miles turn right onto PA 711 and PA 381 south. Travel ten miles to Normalville (yes, the name is for real) to a "T".  At the "T"  turn left onto PA 381 south. Drive for 11 miles into the park.

All the other information you could ask for is on the PA Dept of Conservation and Natural Resources site.

My favorite spots to photograph:

Ohiopyle Falls

You can't miss it.  The falls are located right on the main drag as you enter the park and right by the new visitor center.  There is a public parking lot available. You can hear the falls before you see them.

Get there early so the sun is still low in the sky (or go on a cloudy day) to avoid the bright sun on the water as there isn't much cover to block the sun. There are several nice viewing platforms from which to photograph.  The photo below was just taken earlier this month from the viewing area outside the newly built park office. It was a bit early for fall color, as the leaves were just starting to change.  But it was a very still morning with almost no wind, allowing the leaves to remain sharp during this 11 second exposure at f8.

Ohiopyle Falls, the widest falls in Ohiopyle State Park, PA

Cucumber Falls

My favorite falls to photograph in the park. They are far, far narrower than Ohiopyle Falls, but higher and more delicate looking. To get there, turn right out of that parking lot for Ohiopyle Falls and drive for 1-2 minutes, taking your first right (onto Kentuck Roud, SR 2019).  About 30 seconds further and you will see a small parking area for the falls on the right side of the road. There are wooden stairs that lead you down to the falls with plenty of vantage points for photographing along the way.

Cucumber Falls, Ohiopyle State Park, PA

The Flumes:

OK, get in that car and turn left out of the Cucumber Falls parking lot, retracing your steps.  But instead of turning left at the "T" to go back to Ohiopyle Falls just go straight across the road into the parking lot for the flumes.  This area has some terrific flat rocks for abstracts, rapidly flowing water cut into solid rock (hebce, the flumes) and, at the entrance to the narrow flume some nice views upriver.

Autumn scene at the entrance to The Flumes, Ohiopyle State Park, PA

What Else:

There is more.  Lets see.....

  • Acre upon acre of forest
  • Lots of water, slow and fast, lazy and rapid cascades
  • An interesting old railroad bridge that you can walk on )by the old visitors center
  • There is one weekend in the summer when kayakers are allowed to go over Ohiopyle Falls making for interesting photos....but it is crowded

Where I Eat:

In my opinion the best place is The Firefly Grill!

If the weather is warm don't forget to stop at for Moose Tracks ice cream.  My favorite!

Falls Market in Ohiopyle State Park, Pennsylvania.  Get the 'Moose Track' ice cream!

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Moraine State Park: The Many Moods Of Lake Arthur

I have previously written about the 'secret' 528 boat ramp that my friends and I often visit to photograph sunrise.  Of course it is not 'secret', every fisherman in Portersville, PA knows about it as a way to get their boat into Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park.  But the boat launch is quite small and poorly marked.  It is one of those places that you just have to 'know about'. 

I would estimate that about 90% of the time the landscape there is dull and uninspiring. However, it is that other 10% that calls us back.  Last Sunday was one of those times that waking up at an ungodly hour was richly rewarded.

If you would like to see more of the 528 boat ramp during those 10% of the times when it is magical you can have a look here and here.

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