Kettle Pond is a one of the many ponds within Groton State Park in Caledonia County, Vermont. With a population of 1,022 (according to the 2010 census) you don’t have to worry too much about civilization popping into your photos when shooting at Groton. Of all the bodies of water there, Kettle Pond is the ideal photography spot because it is flanked by mountains. What also makes Kettle Pond special is the easily accessible vantage point one can attain from Owls Head Overlook.
A few weeks ago I wrote the article “the secret to good landscape photography” that is about as close to a silver bullet as one can get. Utilizing my “silver bullet” planning I set out to capture a winter sunset on Kettle Pond.
Finding the shot
My introduction to Kettle Pond was through a Professional Landscape photographer named Kurt Budliger. Kurt took a group of us there during one of his spring workshops, after the sunrise didn’t cooperate for a planned shot with Mt. Marshfield in the background. That spring Kettle was super green and the wind was fairly strong so the pond wasn’t easy to shoot. However, it was easy to see its potential! And I have to throw a shout out to Kurt – super cool dude with tons of patience for his students, a great knowledge of where/when to shoot in Vermont, and is a shooter who teaches the reality of photography; not the lecturing of photography.
Knowing I wanted another shot at Kettle Pond I turned to Google Image searches to see what others had done. What came up over and over again were incredible Fall foliage shots of the pond at sunset from way above the pond.
How did they get up there???!!!
Off to Alltrails.com I went and found two trails associated to Kettle Pond. One was a few mile hike around the pond and another was something called Owls Head Trail. A-ha!
I pay for the Pro version of Alltrails so I can get the GPS downloads. This proves useful for loading trails into my handheld GPS (nice in the snow when you can’t see the beaten path) and plugging the end of the trail into the Photographer’s Ephemeris….
When to shoot
An ephemeris is a tool for tracking celestial elements, like the sun. I use it to figure out the direction the sun will set and rise on any given day or to determine the best evening for some night photography. On this shoot I used the Photographer’s Ephemeris (link to exacts for this article) to determine the sun would set between the two peaks lining Kettle Pond around the week of March 8th.
With a round-about date in mind I tried my best to get a cloud forecast from Wunderground.com. But we all know weather forecasts are unreliable, so March 5th being a Saturday was the plan. As the date approached I kept an eye on the cloud forecasts and got lucky that March 5th was the only day that week where there was little wind and it wasn’t supposed to be fully overcast.
Scouting the location
So far I’ve written about digital location scouting, but the traditional physical scouting could be even more important. Sometimes the location is too far away to check things out, but Groton is about a hour and a half from my house. I had a free afternoon leading up to the shoot, so I drove down to see what winter was like at Groton this year.
When I got to Lanesboro Road (the parking lot for Owls Head is the dead end) I discovered quickly that the entry-way was closed. The plow trucks had been pushing snow piles against it so there was no way to drive up to the parking lot. This meant the hike now started at Route 232 and would include walking up Lanesboro too. More time would have to be added to the schedule.
When I parked my truck off the side of Route 232, at Lanesboro Road’s entrance, it began to slide due to the thick layer of ice. Not wanting to be stranded I didn’t hang around long, but knew it would be a good idea to bring stuff that made walking on ice safer.
The results of the scouting shaped my packing list and time table. In order to catch sunset plus see what twilight did the hike had to begin around 4:00 PM. Because sunset was at 5:45 PM and you can figure out what twilight is going to do within 20 minutes the descent was going to be in darkness. That means flashlights. With the icy road conditions it was a good assumption the trail would be in worse shape, so wearing crampons was needed too.
The camera gear virtually packed itself for a long distance landscape. That meant a wide lens and a telephoto. I also threw a tilt-shift lens in and an infrared body for fun. And of course a tripod plus filters!
When hiking I carry enough to survive a night being stranded. That means extra water, warmth, first aid, and snacks. Due to the ice and figuring we’d be hiking out in darkness I also packed crampons and headlamps (an extra one just in case).
The day of
A buddy tagged along and we made a full afternoon of shooting around Marshfield and Groton. Debarking at noon we hit Martins Covered Bridge, Ricker Pond, Kettle Pond at lake level and Peachum Pond. It was a killer landscape photography day!
At 4:15 PM we were hiking up the trail neither of us had ever walked before and were at the top just shy of 4:50 PM. We weren’t in a hurry. That gave us a good 30 minutes to figure out how to setup and frame the shot. I mostly spent that time shooting in infrared.
Unfortunately the clouds rolled in so we didn’t get the sunset shot we envisioned, but all in all it wasn’t bad.
Hiking out did require headlamps (flashlights) and both of us were very happy to have worn our crampons. In fact, my final image would have been impossible to get without having spikes on my feet because I had to traverse an icy boulder to get low enough to put the tree tops high into the frame to block Route 232 below.