The Adirondack Park, located in northern New York State, encompasses over 6 million acres of land, and contains the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River. Within the ‘blue line’ of the park’s boundaries are a spectacular mix of glacially carved mountains and valleys, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, bogs, ponds, and wetlands. The woodlands are a mix of deciduous trees and conifers, with an abundance of northern hardwoods throughout the region that are filled with color each fall. There is a great variety in the weather as well, since the region is situated between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean; and arctic winds that sweep south from Canada and balmy breezes drifting north from the Gulf of Mexico. Summer highs can reach the century mark, while winter’s cold can drop to far below zero.
The park contains roughly a 50/50 mix of public and private land. When traveling through the area, please remember to respect the rights of private landowners. There is easy access to most of the state owned public lands with an abundance of trails across the mountains, and boat launches on accessible lakes and waterways.
I’ve been fortunate to call the region home for many years, and have enjoyed exploring, and photographing the beauty and wonder of this region since the mid 1970’s. Even after so many years photographing here, there are still many new locations to check out, and I’m often surprised by details and conditions I have never seen before
Thirty-two mile long Lake George is one of the more popular destinations in the park. It has easy access from the Adirondack Northway in the southeastern corner of the Adirondacks. This view is from a ledge near the top of a small mountain at the quieter north end of the lake.
Northwest Bay is a beautiful location to paddle on a quiet morning. I especially like an ultralight boat like this Hornbeck Black Jack canoe that is so easy to carry into backcountry waters. Northwest Bay lies just west of the Tongue Mountain Range, which rises steeply from the central Lake George area. This bay and tributary can be a great place to view and photograph wildlife, especially in early summer.
A cool night after an afternoon or evening rain sometimes creates valleys full of fog. An early climb to an open ridge can put you where you’ll have beautiful sunrise light with mountains ridges rising above the drifting mist. In my book, ‘Photographing the Adirondacks’, I describe close to 200 shooting locations such as this throughout the park, plus offer shooting tips and techniques for getting the best results while photographing throughout the Adirondacks. For more detailed shooting information, reference information and concise tips for all kinds of outdoor shooting situations, pick up a copy of ‘The Landscape Photography Field Guide’.
The High Peaks region near Lake Placid, has many options for hiking, camping, and mountain-top photography. Be sure to carry a headlamp if you’d like to be on a summit for sunrise or sunset. This long exposure in evening twilight was taken from the summit of Giant Mountain in the eastern High Peaks region.
There are also many views and drama along the rural byways. This photo of sunset light over flowering fields was photographed along the Adirondak Loj road, just a couple of miles from the eclectic village of Lake Placid, which is located just a few miles from Whiteface Mountain.
Elevations in the park range from the summit of Mount Marcy, the highest mountain in the state at 5344 feet above sea level, to the shores of Lake Champlain on the eastern border of the park, at about 95 feet above sea level. With the Green Mountain of Vermont to the east, and the Adirondack Mountains to the west, 125 mile long Lake Champlain offers many wonderful options for photos, especially at sunrise and sunset.
Summer is the most popular time to visit the Adirondacks. August is nice because most of the biting insects are long gone. The water is still warm, and nights are cool, which often causes mist to form that can creates beautiful layers of fog among the mountains, as in this view to the western High Peaks from Saint Regis Mountain in the northern Adirondacks.
There is an abundance of wildlife in the park, although it’s not seen as readily in the heavily wooded Adirondack forests as it is in western US national parks. There are moose, and deer, as well as a wide variety of smaller mammals. Eagles and loons can be found in many locations throughout the park. Osprey, heron, mergansers, and amphibians live in and around the many wetlands. Ausable Marsh, and Wickham Marsh Wildlife Refuges, along Lake Champlain just south of Plattsburgh, have viewing platforms along the wetlands. The Interpretive centers in Newcomb and Paul Smiths are also good locations to view wildlife, and the Wild Center in Tupper Lake is a great location to view wildlife outdoors, as well as see it up close live, and learn more about it in this state of the art natural history museum.
The quality of morning light when a weather system is approaching can be quite unique. Fog often forms in the valleys ahead of a weather system bringing precipitation. The system may also have high clouds well ahead of the precipitation that glow in shades of pink and red in the light of dawn
While I enjoy all the seasons in the Adirondacks and the diversity each has to offer, fall has the most dramatic colors for photography. Autumn colors aren’t as obvious in this sunrise image taken from open fields that have a view of Whiteface Mountain. However , it was a wonderful dawn shooting session during the 5 day fall High Peaks region photo workshop I lead each year in the Lake Placid area.
On another morning during a 5 day fall workshop, we hiked the short trail up Mount Jo to photograph morning light over the peak of fall colors in the High Peaks. Color change is elevation related. Colors reach peak first in the Lake Placid / High Peaks area in late September. Most of the park is blazing with color by the first week of October, with colors peaking latest along Lake Champlain and Lake George in mid to late October.
I also enjoy doing multi-day workshops at the Elk Lake Lodge, situated along the shores of spectacular Elk Lake in the southeastern High Peaks region. It’s a unique location for photographing details among the fog draped islands and mountains in misty morning light.
Occasionally as the mist rises and drifts apart in the morning sun, Elk Lake becomes a huge reflecting pool.
Clear nights are a great opportunity to experiment with all kinds of astrophotography. When there is some moisture in the air a long exposure will pick up some light glow along the horizon from the cities of Montreal and Plattsburgh to the north, but overall the sky is pretty much free of light pollution. This is a 50 minute exposure of stars over Elk Lake with a few High Peaks surrounding the northern end of the lake.
Occasionally northern lights are visible through the Adirondack region. An especially clear night allows them to be visible on the horizon, with a star filled sky overhead. It’s a memory that will stay with you for a long time! This was a 30 second exposure taken at Brant Lake. Shooting specs are f/2.8, ISO 800, with my Nikon D300S and a Tokina 11-16 zoom set at 11 mm focal length.
The beauty of winter is in the details, as well as in the landscape. This image of the upper falls at Split Rock Falls on the Bouquet River, just a few miles from the Northway, was taken during a High Peaks region photo tour I lead each year in February.
My hiking passion is winter climbing in the High Peaks. Nothing else compares to the drama of the winter landscape above timberline. Conditions are everchanging and there is a quality to the light that tends to be different from what is found throughout the rest of the year. On a clear day, almost the whole Adirondack Park is visible from the highest summits. The Green Mountains are etched along the horizon to the east, and in exceptionally clear conditions, it may be possible to pick out New Hampshire’s highest summit, Mount Washington, from certain Adirondack High Peaks.
About Carl Heilman II
Carl Heilman II is an internationally published landscape photographer, author, and workshop instructor. He has been photographing North American wilds since the mid 1970’s, working to capture the grandeur of these special places, as well as his emotional and spiritual connection to these unique locations in each of his photographs. He’s been working digitally since setting up a ‘digital darkroom’ with a film scanner and Photoshop 4.0 in 1997, and went fully digital with a Nikon D200 in 2006. His work has been published in numerous publications including National Geographic Explorer, Outdoor Photographer, Shutterbug, the New York Times, Nature Conservancy publications, Adirondack Life, and the Conservationist.
Carl has been leading a diverse series of landscape photography and Photoshop workshops since the 1990’s, sharing his nature photography expertise with folks in his favorite shooting locations near his home in the Adirondack Park, as well as in unique landscapes around the country. His AV programs have aired on regional PBS stations, and are shown regularly in regional nature centers. He was the featured photographer in the May 2008 national PBS special, ‘The Adirondacks’.
His most recent books are ‘Photographing the Adirondacks’ (Countryman Press, June 2013), ‘101 Top Tips for Landscape Photography’ (Ilex Press, June 2013), ‘The Landscape Photography Field Guide’ (Focal Press / Ilex Press, fall 2011), and ‘Contemporary Landscape Photography’ (Amphoto / Ilex Press 2010). The field guide is available for Kindle, or as a 4″ x 6″ handbook that easily fits in a camera pack. The text is cross referenced, with an index and glossary as well as reference pages for full digital workflow and shooting guidelines and tips. While the Adirondacks book is more specific to that region, all the books offer creative photo tips and techniques from Carl’s 4 decades of experience with a camera. His coffee table books include, ‘The Maine Coast’, ‘The Adirondacks’, and ‘Adirondacks: Views of An American Wilderness’ by Rizzoli; ‘Lake George’ by North Country Books; and 3 NY State books by Voyageur Press.
Contact information for Carl’s publications, fine art prints, and workshops can be found online at
Follow his work on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/NaturePhotographyTips and http://www.facebook.com/NaturePhotographyWorkshops
Carl maintains a blog at http://www.adirondack.net/viewfinder/
Plus there are a couple of video segments on his work, as well as his segment in the 2 hour PBS special, ‘The Adirondacks’.
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