Stannard Church - an image made

Upstate New England still retains a network of interlacing dirt roads, many of them connecting original settlements and early communities. When planning a trip, and time permits, I often try to route myself along some of those old roads. I find them more interesting, and certainly less hurried, than the well traveled paved highways. Returning from Stowe,VT a few weeks ago I consulted my Vermont Road Atlas and decided to check out the old Stannard Mountain Road. The effects of "Irene", that did so much damage to this part of the country, was still prevalent and I knew that traveling these back roads could easily turn into a major time looser if, without forewarning, a "Road Closed" or "Bridge Out" sign suddenly confronted you. But, hey, I figured that a branching spur road would always get you somewhere!

The Stannard Mountain Road wends its way west to east from one valley to another, up and over a long, high, north-south running ridge. Logging and subsistence agriculture are the regions past.

There is a village of Stannard. It isn't really a village by common definition, but more a place that once was. A few houses, a meeting hall/town office, and a church are about it today. In front of the meeting hall a polished marble stone welcomes you to Stannard.

I had traveled this road a number of years earlier and sort of remembered the church as being a bit out of the ordinary, so I was curious to see it again. Contrary to my recollections, the church was now freshly and brightly painted, and its setting against the remote landscape inspired me to pull over and shoulder my camera bag. I like moody autumn weather, but that day was dark and the light flat. Here, I thought, was a worthy subject where a photographic image would need to be "made" rather than merely "taken".

The angle that I chose to photograph from was looking westerly, pretty close to the afternoon sun that was flitting in and out through holes in the dark clouds. I adjusted the exposure on my Canon 5DMk2 so the histogram indicated that the highlights were in bounds and not blown out. Doing that left the rest of the subject underexposed, but there was ample detail there and I knew that I could deal with that portion of the file later. So I clicked off a few RAW exposures at 24mm focal length. Shooting in landscape mode, even at that focal length, I had to tilt the camera out of vertical in order to accommodate the tall steeple.

Original RAW file - aperture priority

RAW file adjustment #1

RAW file adjustment #2

Sitting at my computer the next morning I selected one of the RAW files of the church and opened it twice in Photoshop CS5, adjusting the Exposure slider in the first one to retain the highlight values in the sky area where the sun broke through the clouds, and in the other I adjusted the Exposure slider to optimize exposure for everything else and let the sky area fall where it may. Then, opening Photomatix Pro, I selected the two adjusted church files and fused them into one. Now that I had the exposure range of the file under manageable control I was better able to add contrast and selective color enhancement to the new image, thus bringing it closer to where my visual interpretation wanted it.

Applying vertical corrections to the file so that the church and steeple wouldn't appear to be falling backward resulted in the top of the steeple becoming cropped. So before I made that correction I added about an inch of sky across the top of the file. Then, when the vertical correction was applied, enough sky was retained so as not to crowd the top of the steeple.

Traversing the back roads certainly has its rewards.