A Natural Eye...

Brendan Wiltse is a nature photographer, champion of wild places and the spaces between sunrise and moonrise. This is how he began taking photos in the Adirondacks and why he never grows tired of his favorite subject matter. Because there is magic in the wilderness, and his lens is ready to capture those moments in time, and keep chasing that ephemeral slice of transcendence.
This is part of his Adirondack Story.

Brendan Wiltse

I attended Paul Smiths College from 2005 to 2007 and lived in Lake Placid for another year before moving across the Canadian border to pursue my Ph.D. Finally, in the fall of 2011, I moved back to Saranac Lake to pursue what I love – photography of and for the wilderness.

What I love most about the Adirondacks is having an almost limitless amount of recreational activities right at my doorstep. I am one of those guys who loves being out in the wilderness – and there is just so much to do and see in the Adirondack Park. It's also nice that I live in an area where people are so passionate about protecting wild areas, and yet strive to balance conservation and local economic well-being.

My love affair with photography began...
When I started exploring photography my junior year of high school. I took two years of photography classes, as well as an independent study course. After high school, I built a darkroom and shot black and white film. I didn't switch to digital until 2008.

My favorite thing to photograph is...
The evening. I'm always thinking about photography and lighting. This means my adventures often start before sunrise or end after sundown. The light during these times of the days provides better contrast on the landscape and warmer colors. I really enjoy working with long exposure shots. This could mean a shot of the night sky, star trails, softening water, waterfalls, or capturing the movement of clouds. Usually I use a Nikon D7000 with a 10-24mm lens on it, but I also use my iPhone a lot – it's handy in a pinch and I keep it in a LifeProof case so I can take it anywhere.

My top 5 photos of the Adirondacks:

  1. Bushnell Falls – I get the sense that Bushnell Falls is a well-known, yet not frequently visited waterfall. For six years I worked at Johns Brook Lodge in Keene Valley, just 1.5 miles away from the falls. Everyone talks about camping at Bushnell Falls, but people often miss the side trail down to the waterfall. It is a beautiful place, especially if you catch during high water.
    Bushnell Falls As Captured By Brendan Wiltse
    Bushnell Falls As Captured By Brendan Wiltse
  2. Johns Brook Valley – Confession: fall foliage gives me anxiety. I want to be out photographing all of the time because the window is relatively short, especially in the High Peaks. I love Johns Brook Valley and had spent two years trying to get a photo that perfectly captured fall. I wanted the frost covered peaks from this one particular spot with the valley while the forest was still in full color. Finally, the stars aligned and I got the shot. I was euphoric.
    Johns Brook Valley As Captured By Brendan Wiltse
    Johns Brook Valley As Captured By Brendan Wiltse
  3. Mount Jo – I shot this one in late November on the morning of a partial solar eclipse. I wasn't able to capture the eclipse because it was right on the horizon and blocked by the mountains to the east. The previous night a light snow fell, giving amazing contrast and texture to the forest around Heart Lake.
    Mount Jo As Captured By Brendan Wiltse
    Mount Jo As Captured By Brendan Wiltse
  4. Mount Marcy – I originally processed this in color, but I preferred the black and white version. I got this shot on an early February ski tour up Mount Marcy a number of years ago. The sky, lighting and texture of the snow were all stunning. My ski partner and I were grinning the entire day.
    Mount Marcy As Captured By Brendan Wiltse
    Mount Marcy As Captured By Brendan Wiltse
  5. Third Lake on the Essex Chain – Naturally, when the Essex Chain opened to the public in October 2013, I had to go check it out. I love this shot because it captures the human perspective. My dog is always in my boat with me, and even though he is a high energy Labrador retriever, he doesn't seem to mind sitting still for hours. His head is never on the bottom of the boat; it is always up or resting on the gunwale, taking in all of the smells, sights and sounds.
    Third Lake on the Essex Chain As Captured By Brendan Wiltse
    Third Lake on the Essex Chain As Captured By Brendan Wiltse

Tips from a Pro:
Get out there to get good...For those who want to improve their craft – my number one piece of advice is: practice and look at other peoples work.

  • The first thing to tackle is composition; this doesn't take fancy equipment, just an investment in time.
  • Then start reading about the technical aspects of photography, there is a plethora of information available on the web.
  • Finally, once you are taking well-composed and properly exposed shots, learn about post-processing. More than half of the work behind a photograph is done in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. Before the days of digital cameras, photographers spent hours in the darkroom perfecting an image, and the time investment is no different today.

And then – get outside! Even a half hour walk in a nearby park will give you exercise, rejuvenate your spirit, and let you see some wild critters.

My Favorite Places to Go – By Land and By Sea...well, water
I like to hike, paddle, and ski the Adirondacks because it allows me to connect with the natural world and reminds me that humans are a part of the ecosystem. Of course I also enjoy the physical exercise, fresh air and sunshine. My favorite thing about canoeing in the Adirondacks is the freedom to explore so many places and the different perspective it gives me on the park. Paddling a remote pond or lake is a lot different from hiking to the summit of a high peak, but equally rewarding and often less crowded.

My Top 5 Treks:

  1. The Chubb River: I love this trip because it brings you right up against the edge of the High Peaks.
  2. Osgood Pond and Osgood River: A great combination of pond and river paddling.
  3. Big Slide and The Brothers: Not a difficult hike but the views along the way make for a very enjoyable day; this is one that you definitely want to save for a clear day.
  4. McIntyre Range Traverse: I've hiked Algonquin over 50 times, mostly while working as a Summit Steward and this hike still hasn't gotten old.
  5. There are so many benefits to being surrounded by the natural world. You will be happier and healthier if you make an effort to expose yourself to these places.
About the Author …
Brendan Wiltse
A resident of Saranac Lake, the vast majority of his free time is spent hiking, paddling, and skiing the backcountry with his dog and camera. Follow Brendan on Instagram @brendanwiltse
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