Waterfalls, covered bridges, old red barns, rustic towns, and a dazzling array of colorful foliage at every turn – Vermont in the fall is a feast for the senses and is the epicenter for a peculiar type of tourist: the Leaf Peeper.
Leaf Peeping is not for the faint of heart. The art of appreciating fall foliage is an exercise in solitude. It requires quieting the mind and filtering out the noise to properly enjoy Nature’s endless palette. The search for this pastoral way of life brought my wife and I to Stowe.
The town of Stowe is the quintessential autumn getaway destination. It was brought into prominence by the famous von Trapp family who moved to Vermont after fleeing the Nazis in 1938. Their property, the Trapp Family Lodge, is nestled in a valley at the foot of the Green Mountains on 2,500 acres of pristine land.
We live in Houston, Texas, where the four seasons can best be categorized as Hot, Hotter, Broiling, and December. Escaping the 95 degree heat to the crisp Vermont air was a treat. Visions of reds, golds, oranges, magentas, and pinks danced in my head. Armed with a jacket and a camera, I was ready for a perfect day of leaf peeping.
My story begins as all great travel photography stories should begin: at sunrise.
THE HILLS OF VERMONT
In my experience, it isn’t the rooster’s crow that anticipates the coming of the sun, but rather the clouds that herald the new day. On our first morning in Stowe, we noticed pinks and reds starting to tinge the clouds before dawn, building momentum until finally culminating in a golden avalanche of light as the first rays of the sun crested above the mountains.
In the image above, I used a small aperture of f/16 to showcase a starburst effect as the sun first came into view above the mountain range. The sun rays dripping over the foreground highlighted some of the trees and provided added depth to the scene.
The landscape dramatically changed before our eyes as soft light poured into the valley, enhancing the already vibrant colors and providing a vivid counterpoint to the cool, dark atmosphere that had been present just moments ago.
A young bull meandered over to me and posed stoically for my camera, the trees glimmering behind him.
For this spontaneous moment, I snapped a few shots, freezing him in place with a fast shutter speed and slowly walked away, leaving him in peace to his morning grazing. You don’t need coffee when you can start your day like this!
We wandered aimlessly and let the colors guide us as we drove. Our first pit stop – one of Vermont’s famous covered bridges.
The sky had turned a bit overcast so I focused on a simple composition with the road acting as a leading line going right down the middle of the image towards the bridge and beyond. The surrounding trees and leaves filled out the scene well.
We continued on, meandering down dirt roads and stopping to gawk at alpine lookout points. One stop led to a fortuitous discovery: a sign proclaiming “Mill Trail to Waterfall.” A waterfall in the middle of nowhere? Naturally we had to see for ourselves.
Bingham Falls is, in fact, a popular local attraction. However we had taken the decidedly off-the-beaten-path route. Instead of pulling off the highway and walking down to the falls from the parking lot, we hiked through uneven slippery trails, clambering our way through steep descents and jagged rocks.
The steady sound of running water gradually turned from a whisper to a roar as we hiked deeper. Our hearts thumping and my knees scraped, we finally emerged through a clearing and found our reward, framed in a cacophony of color.
The key to this shot is a steady tripod. I dialed in a shutter speed of 4 seconds to achieve the smooth flowing look to the water. I combined this with a focus stacking method to ensure that the rest of the image was tack sharp, providing a pleasing contrast and a beautiful memento of a hard-earned prize.
After an afternoon respite alongside the prettiest lake I’ve ever seen and a visit to a local Artisan Goods festival, we set out to find a good view of the sunset. The sky exploded with color over the valley, the white steeple of the Stowe Community Church proudly jutting out over a vast tableau as far as the eye could see. It seemed like Nature was showing off just for us.
We stood silently, marveling at the scene in front of us, the frenetic activity of our daily lives a distant memory. It was a picture-perfect moment of stillness. Stowe stole our hearts in a single day as we wholeheartedly embraced our temporary return to nature. I thought that quaint mountain villages could only be found in remote, far-flung places. But here in northern Vermont, we had stumbled upon a fairy tale set in the Swiss Alps. From sunrise to sunset we had feasted on a potpourri of pigments and hues. A final look over the town would have to last us for at least another year.
It was a fittingly colorful end to a wonderful day of leaf peeping.