One damn sexy dam!
The New Croton Dam, located in (Croton on Hudson) Cortlandt, West Chester County New York may not be the largest dam but in my opinion it is a beautiful piece of architecture nonetheless. It's also damn sexy, for a dam/bridge/reservoir with a spillway that needs to be seen in person to appreciate. I have been there several times and have some nice photos but nothing I think is worthy of this great piece of architecture. If you get the chance you must visit there for yourself. There is a well maintained park area for picnics and relaxing, with plenty of trails to explore. Of course the major draw is the dam itself with its unique spillway. Though there is still some renovation going on most of the major construction appears to be completed enough to allow access to the bridge way by foot. to read more about the dams construction and history please visit the Village of Croton-on-Hudson Historical society website (http://village.croton-on-hudson.ny.us/Public_Documents/F00010253/HistoricalSociety/crotondam).
A friend and myself decided to head out on a Sunday morning to try to catch the sunrise. My early scouting report predicted partly cloudy and a chance for some atmospheric fog. As we left Connecticut around 3:30am my hopes for a view of the upper dam with a very dramatic sunrise reflected in the calm reservoir were slowly diminishing the closer we got to our destination. cloud cover was sparse to none on the drive up and it was getting very bright well before official sunrise time. Such is the life of a landscape photographer, ultimately at the mercy of Mother Nature. The one thing I was pretty sure I would get that has also eluded me was a good amount of water. I know the area had been getting just as much rain as Connecticut, so the waters should be flowing like no other time I had been to the dam.
We finally arrived at our destination, sky still barren but the roar of the falls could be heard in the distance. We parked at the upper access area and made our way on foot across the Bridgeway. Water wise I could not have asked for better conditions. the water was flowing strong, so strong in fact it was creating a mist that turned into a fog around the area. there was also a thin layer of fog on the water as well.
So be it, no dramatic skies but at least I'd finally get the nice silky water rolling down the rippled wall of the mirrored reservoir. I moved about looking for a nice position for my 20mm view. With a few of the typical Croton shots in the bag and the certainty unfolding before me that whatever remaining wispy clouds and fog on the water were burning off I began to explore the bridge for some alternative shots from some alternative angles while Donna was still trying to find her muse.
I was surprised we hadn't run across any other photographers at the dam as on most visits there are usual 3-4 others at this spot in the mornings and just like that I remove my eye from the viewfinder and voila! there was a photographer already busy working the scene. I assumed he must have parked on the other side of the upper access area, inadvertently scaring the bejesus out of Donna. I decided to go out to the platform area and shoot back towards the Bridgeway and then that's when I noticed the mist/fog building up more. Having exhausted the top, I figured it was light enough to explore shooting the dam from below so we left and drove down to the park proper.
That's when we saw it. As we drove across the bridge, the sun illuminated the dam, Bridgeway and fog like nothing I have ever seen before. Recalling it in my mind it seems like it was minutes with us both looking at each other then back at the scene with jaws dropped, a choir in the distance singing aaaaawwwwww. In reality, I was screaming sh#t! park the car! park the car! Holy sh#t! I think we both knew we had just missed the most amazing thing ever but there was still amazing light to be had. As I fumbled around changing lenses from my 20mm prime to the 24-120 all sorts of things were running through my mind. What settings should I go for? Where do I setup? Filter or no filter? I think it was at this point Brian, the fellow photographer from above also had the same idea and like us was a little awe struck. Then I calmed myself and said to myself, just get the dam and the river focused in the frame and concentrate on getting the light before it fades. I went to the spot where I bet most people take their shots of the dam and took two frames. One frame exposed for the light and one insurance shot at normal exposure. I love that I can expose for the highlights alone in a pinch and not worry about the shadows with my Nikon D750. That thing can pull details out of the shadows with very little penalty or noise. Sure enough, after taking those two frames the light reflecting against the mist and fog began to lessen. I was then able to move around, try some other compositions but the awe-inspiring light was now departing us. All I could think now is, did we get it? Even though we didn’t get what I feel had to have been the peak moment did we get the remaining moments that could give anyone even a sense of what we had witnessed? Well I would have to wait a few days before I had my answer. We finally got to formally introduce ourselves to Brian and exchange information and relish in the way the morning had turned out. Be sure to check out Brian's work on Instagram by the way, really great stuff (https://www.instagram.com/bavenius01/). From a hum drum sunrise to possibly something special and meeting a new photographer friend. Donna and I went off to shoot a little more elsewhere and grab a bite to eat before heading home.
It's been several days now since that shoot but I am still in awe of what I got to see that morning and it's still fresh in mind. It just goes to show you to never give up on a location. Sometimes you just need to move and sometimes you just need to stay, staying alert to the scene around you will often give you a clue which you need to do.