Amber Waves

Birch Hill Flood Control Dam basin, Millers River, Royalston, Mass.

No purple mountains here, and the “grain” is just wild grass, but amber waves of it, that we have. Poor weather, my dislike of cold, and general laziness kept me home last week, so I’m dipping back into the archives for another photo from my September trip to the Birch Hill flood control dam. This field is directly behind the dam, so after a storm it would be deep under water. Amber waves of a different sort.

I won’t go into the details of the flood control dam itself, as I covered that last time. As with any such dam, the idea is to have open space to flood after a rainstorm, allowing water to be gradually released into over-full rivers to limit downstream flooding. Part of what is needed is a way to keep floating debris in the flooded zone away from the dam, so it won’t choke the spillway that’s slowly releasing the water. Fields are good for that, as they have no branches or leaves to float away during a flood. Debris from back in the trees will end up down here, but the rate of flow is relatively low, so probably very little of it will move far enough to be a problem. And once the water is gone, anything deposited in the field will be obvious, and can be removed if it’s likely to cause a future problem.

The result is a nice large field of grass, home to butterflies and other things that can handle relocating (and probably some doomed field mice and rabbits who moved in without checking to see if they were living on a flood plain). The mown path I’m on leads to the hiking trails, and is probably an access road for fire-fighting purposes. The rest of the field looks to be left in a natural state, and much of it is low and boggy land that goes “squish” when you walk across it even on a dry day like this. It was a nice field to walk across, and the sky looked every bit as good in person.

Fields like this were valuable land back in colonial times, providing a cheap source of feed for livestock since the grass would grow long in wet summer months, and then could be easily harvested in the fall when the land dried out. Mill dams often flooded such land, which was a source of conflict among the colonials. But by the time this dam was built, that was no longer a concern.

I like this photo for the amazing sky, although it’s also a nice early fall image of a more rural part of New England, with leaves already beginning to yellow even though the days were still quite warm. The low rolling hills covered with trees are pretty much standard-issue scenery for the southern parts of the region. Fields like this aren’t as common, as in more suburban regions they would have been covered with dirt and a strip mall or housing development sometime in the past century. Thanks to the dam, we have hundreds of acres of relatively pristine scenery instead.

The image is an HDR, composed from a bracket of five photos at 1 EV offsets. The bracket was centered at 1/100th-second, with ISO 400, f/11 and the lens wide at 24 mm.  A circular polarizing filter was used, as you can tell from the very dark blue of the sky.  Before exporting to the HDR software I corrected chromatic aberration that was causing a teal highlight along the treetops. Actually it was before the second export; what the HDR software does to strong colors like teal is not desirable and was very obvious the first time I tried it. In the HDR software I took the Dark preset as giving the best color balance between sky and field, even if it did make the sky a very brilliant blue, and then I adjusted color towards the yellow to correct for the camera’s auto-white-balance having picked too blue of a balance for the late afternoon sun. I also boosted the exposure to lighten up the image, and dropped saturation (as usual, boosted too much by the software). Back in Aperture I did the usual Edge Sharpening before exporting.


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