Monday, October 12, 2009

Forest 44 at Night

DRIVERS HEADING westbound on Interstate 44 in Saint Louis County are treated to a view of hilly wilderness beyond the commerce of Fenton. Sometimes called the ‘foothills of the Ozarks’, the Crescent Hills rise about 400 feet above the heavily-developed floodplain of the Meramec River. The Forest 44 Conservation Area, managed by the State of Missouri, is in these hills.

Properties owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation, including this property, are open from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., giving adventurous souls the opportunity to visit these places during darkness.

Forest 44 Conservation Area, near Valley Park, Missouri, USA - night view of prairie and trees

However, on an overcast night like this, it really isn't very dark, due to electric lighting illumining the clouds. It was bright enough to take decent photography. These photos had exposure times varying from fifteen seconds to four minutes.

In the photo above, the lighting from the parking lot illuminated the grasses in the foreground.

Dense forest here was rare in the days before Columbus and European colonization. The Indians used burning to maintain open areas of prairie, a practice that terrified the Europeans; but a mix of forest and grassland attracts a greater variety of wildlife than either habitat alone. The Conservation Department actively maintains the prairie area in the foreground of the above photo.

Forest 44 Conservation Area, near Valley Park, Missouri, USA - night view of trees with orange sky, lit with multiple flashes

Here I tried to be clever. With my camera fixed on a tripod, and keeping the camera's shutter open for a long period of time, I walked around the area of the photo, setting off a portable flash multiple times to illuminate the vegetation here. Although I attempted to always point the flash away from the camera, once by mistake I did set it off in the direction of the lens, so you can see a bright light in the center of the photo. More than just a gimmick, ‘Strobist’ or ‘Painting with Light’ techniques can create distinctive photos, but it requires careful execution and attention to proper exposure.

The sky was illuminated by surrounding electric lighting, and with my eyes I could see the various colors of the clouds, but I saw the ground and vegetation in only shades of gray and black. But when I set off the flash, the dark gray vegetation, for a moment, was revealed in color. These brief flashes of light didn't harm my night vision much.

Forest 44 Conservation Area, near Valley Park, Missouri, USA - night view of bridge, lit with multiple flashes

A suspension footbridge over a stream, which is a tributary of Williams Creek. I know of at least five springs within the park, which includes one which is used by an adjacent stable to water the horses, and another with a dense growth of water cress (however, my photos of this spring didn't turn out good).

Forest 44 Conservation Area, near Valley Park, Missouri, USA - night view of fenced walkway with orange sky, lit with multiple flashes

This part of the park is swampy, and the areas on either side of the walkway are perennially muddy or covered with water. In springtime the number of frogs here is tremendous, and the noise they make at dusk is almost deafening.

I was using an antique flash that quickly drained my cheap batteries, so I didn't take any more strobe pictures that evening. But I like the orange sky in this photo.

Forest 44 Conservation Area, near Valley Park, Missouri, USA - night view of swamp

A view of part of a swamp. When I took this photo, an owl was hooting nearby.

Forest 44 Conservation Area, near Valley Park, Missouri, USA - night view of grassy path

A grassy path leads around to the other side of the swamp.

Forest 44 Conservation Area, near Valley Park, Missouri, USA - night view of creek

A view of Williams Creek. An obstruction in the creek bed is causing the water to pool a bit. As we had plenty of rain lately, the stream is flowing briskly, but normally the creek at this point is completely dry. Just upstream from here is a low rock ledge, and under normal conditions the water just flows into a crevice under the rocks, disappearing from view and flowing underground.

Forest 44 Conservation Area, near Valley Park, Missouri, USA - night view of muddy field

A view of a very muddy field.

Forest 44 Conservation Area, near Valley Park, Missouri, USA - panoramic night view of prairie and hill

A view of the hills. At this time, it started getting windy and the grasses in the foreground are blurry as a result.

Forest 44 Conservation Area, near Valley Park, Missouri, USA - night view of prairie and hill

Due to the nice bright sky, these photos were within the normal operating range of my camera. Click here for some of my older photos at this park, which includes two photos where it was really too dark for decent quality.

Click here for a map to the area.

5 comments:

  1. Really neat photos...some a little eerie.

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  2. "Eerie" - Interesting. Well, the area certainly was mysterious that night, with lots of unseen animals making noises, including a coyote. The color of the light was unusual also.

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  3. I was going to say eerie as well. Its fascinating to see the progression your photo skills have taken... playing with techniques, some even have an almost dream like quality to them. You have a great eye

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  4. Tina,

    The color of the sky was one of the reasons why I took photos that night.

    Crescat,

    Thank you very much! Usually, when I take pictures, I have a good idea of how they will turn out. Not so that night - I figured that they would look good, but didn't know specifically how they would look, because it wasn't a situation I've dealt with before.

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