A delightful drive out to the Dover Stone Church in Dover Plains, NY. A warm but not obnoxiously so day, a touch of humidity in the air and Merrell water shoes on my feet. A camera bag by my side and a tripod that would not remain dry for much longer.
One cannot park at the trailhead to this geological edifice, one must first park at the elementary school on the main drag and then walk about a block to the entrance, which doubles as a driveway to a private residence. Ropes and signs abound admonishing against parking at the end of the drive. People come and people go and I set up my tripod for the first shot.
A stone staircase with a single iron banister leading into a grove of trees, all lined on either side of a central promenade. I set my camera on the tripod with an infrared filter screwed into the 16-55mm lens attached to my Fuji X-T2 mirrorless crop-sensor camera. Why did I chose such a camera? I had a full-frame Canon 5D Mark III. The Fuji so much better suits the way I like to shoot and the images it produces work well with the way I like to edit. A perfect match. I plugged in the remote cable release and teed up the shot.
Proceeding carefully down the stairs so as not to upset my compromised hips, I made my way to the promenade, which itself was ripe for the shooting.
At the end of this lane is a shorter staircase up. As I approached it, a line of young parents bearing younger children in their arms or sequestered in papooses. My policy is that such people get right-of-way, so I waited patiently at the bottom of the stairs, standing aside for the families to pass. They barely paid me any notice, one appreciative mother thanked me. I made my way to the main path and through the woods to a recently rebuilt wooden bridge over the Stone Church Creek. As I was wearing water shoes, such an edifice was entirely unnecessary. A family with two small children were on the other side of the creek. The boy and girl were playing at the creek's edge. The boy wore blue rubber boots, the girl wore pink. I walked gingerly to the center of the creek and set up my camera. The composition was marginal but I needed to get my feet wet. so to speak. The image I took was not worth processing, though I did import it into Lightroom later.
I crossed the creek and found the place where paths converged. A signpost held two painted wooden signs for trails that led hither and yon pointing to worn paths off to the left and a bare white scribbled one above it that read simply "Stone Church" straight ahead. People were walking out from that path and, after they passed, I entered.
The trail led beside the creek on its left side. A slight incline to negotiate with occasional rocks to the side and the odd access to the stream. I made my way to a set of small falls and waked out into the creek and set the camera up mere inches from the surface of the water. Still in infrared. As the summer provides monochromatic green, I choose to keep it monochromatic but with more contrast.
I climbed out of the water and further upstream. A lot of folks took advantage of this nice day to come out and visit this location, so long exposure has the added benefit of blurring out people until they disappear, if the exposure is long enough. And I was averaging about 30 seconds each exposure with the IR filter in place. I made my way out into the creek at another spot.
Back out and continuing upwards, now dancing on flat rocks that now make up the path. Most of the rocks are firm but the odd foot placement reveals a wibbly-wobbly one. Careful steps, up and up and up. The sound of happy voices, awed voices, elated voices. The entrance to the cave/slot canyon that is the Dover Stone Church comes into view, the creek rolling out of the entrance which is teeming with human life. People are also gathered outside the entrance, changing shoes, socks and trading stories.
I take a step around a woman who is standing in the creek's edge and get into the creek myself, the bite of chilled water on my semi-bare feet giving way to cool comfort around my ankles and calves. I engaged in conversation with another photographer who specializes in drone videography. I made my way to the center of the creek and set up for another long exposure.
It was quite crowded in the cave. Tricky rock-hopping to remain out of the water, parents swinging their little ones from rock to rock on their way out of the cathedral. I waded into the water and started setting up shots. Then...suddenly...
Everyone was gone.
I had the entire place to myself.
For ten solid minutes.
Can you imagine?
So I waded further in to get some photos. HDR? Sure, why not? I brought illumination with me in the form of
Which is a wonderful tool for even illumination. I used it to brighten the interior walls of the place. A small twin waterfall spilled down the back wall. I positioned myself for a four-exposure panorama, the camera positioned on the tripod in portrait orientation. One shot. Slightly rotate the ball head to the left. Another shot. Rinse, repeat. Four exposures. Using manual mode so that each exposure would be identical and stitch together flawlessly in post-production.
As soon as I got the shots, people started flooding into the chamber again. That was all right, it was amazing to get what I had come for! I made my way cautiously back out and put my camera back in my bag and headed down to the car. I brought a towel with me that I used to dry off my feet, put fresh socks on and my shoes.
I sat in the seat of my car, exhaled a single breath of satisfaction. An evening at the computer would reveal a day well-spent in the woods. As an extra bonus, I stopped by Palace Dumplings in Wappingers Falls for a delightful dinner of steamed pork and scallion dumplings. A fitting reward for a day well-spent.