Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Three Trees

The snowy days in the north woods are leaving their mark. The snow is a lot heavier and more of it is sticking around than in past years. Even I the occasional business traveler notice that, but it is also something the locals have pointed out too.

The area here has taken three good wallops in my few weeks here. I really like getting out in it too. As I am quick to suggest to my friends, the best images and best light are around the worst weather conditions.

In the woods on a hike I liked the way the snow was clinging to the branches in the rather monochromatic landscape. The occasional green or yellowish leaf stand out from the winter. These three trees drew my eye. The bright tan leaves (comparatively), the evergreens and the snow that covered them looked pleasing.

I was about 20 feet away and thought I would try going wide open at f5.6 and seeing how much if any the trees would "pop" from the wintery background. That runs pretty contrary to my usual f/45 and get every last blade of grass in focus style. It must be the cold :-)

I put the long lens on (my trusty 210mm) and left it all wide open. Put on a one stop grad to hold back a bit of sky. Metered. Make the image.

Looking at it on the light table I did not get much of a pop and it is surprisingly deep focus. I guess that means more practice. And practice means I get to take more images. Lucky me.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Sound of Ice

Winter is a quiet season. The leaves have fallen. The geese have flown south. The blanket of snow silents the landscape.

Along the river though I heard the sound of ice. In the spring you can hear it creak and groan but I heard an entirely different sound. as small sheets of ices would float down the river they would slide by, spin, and collide with the thin ice layer that hemmed the water in. The sound that sliding by made was almost eerie.

It was a small noise. It was not a crunch or crash or grinding. It was almost a "slushing"as the ice edges slid past each other. It was an interesting and totally different sound. One that one can only hear a few times a year. It was one I first observed the prior year. I arrived in Wisconsin right after Thanksgiving and got to watch the rivers freeze. I first observed that slushy grinding then and saw it again this day.

The image here is of the semi frozen Trempealeau River. Mount Trempealeau rises in the distance and is where this river flows into the mighty Mississippi. It was yet another day of having the entire park to myself.

Me and the quiet sounds of ice on the river.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Keep Going Back

One of the best traits a photographer can have is to keep going back to a location. It would be easy to think that would be boring and repetitive but it actually is the opposite. The weather changes, seasons change, or the light is different every time. I am amazed at the very different images I have made at the exact same location.

When business takes me to Wisconsin, I visit the same wildlife refuge several times on each trip. I often revisit the same location two or three times over a trip and have been to my favorite locations several times, on several trips over different seasons. Each trip yields me good yet different images. Some may have spotted that a few of my prior posts were taken at the same area in the marsh, yet I think those images were also very different.

Take this image here-it is a slough along the Trempealeau River. It is nothing special. There is no overlook. There is no sign. I don't know if anyone else has ever even considered photographing it. But as you can see by the guardrail, it is right on a bridge embankment. The first time I drove into this refuge, I took a snapshot out the window of the car and then looked for a place I could park and walk back to it. That was five trips ago and I go back every time. I have photographed this scene from late summer, through fall, to the cold snowless early winter, to the frozen depths of a snowy winter.

I enjoy each and every time here and look forward to my next visit. I wonder what the light will hold, how the cattails will have grown, or the trees will shine. From green, to red, to brown, to snowy white-every time is different.

I could do a portfolio of the seasons at this spot. And at many others.

Get out. Get out often. Keep going back. Who knows you might just finally find the perfect scene.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


After several cloudy, overcast, or snowy days we finally had a day of cloudless blue sky. Those are not the kind of days you like as a photographer, but I still wanted to get out and see what I could find.

As I was walking through a park late in the day, I saw the sun with a starburst effect behind some trees. I thought there was the potential for an image and started to set up right in the road.

Now that is normally not a safe thing to do but with the temps hovering around 4 degrees I had the whole park to myself. As you can see they do occasionally plow this road but the little amount of snow here was actually all ice and not too many cars had been venturing down this way. So I sat up the tripod and made the image.

I liked the play of light in the tree branches. I liked the cooler light on the road. I liked the sunburst effect. I framed up all three elements in the image and made one just to see what I could get on film.

The part I most wanted was the sunburst. By placing the sun partially behind a tree trunk and stopping down the lens I should get a nice starburst effect on the film. In this case I was stopped down at f/32 but you can get them from f/11 down. You do not see it so much here on the digital snap since I was shooting fairly wide open. I did get it on the film though.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tracks in the Snow

As I wander through the winter woods I found some trails were also being used be cross country skiers. The park I was in had dedicated trails that were groomed for cross country but the skiers often stuck out onto the hiking trails and you would see ski tracks, showshoe tracks, and boot prints all going through the woods. It was on one of these multi-use trails I made this photograph

I liked the idea of the ski tracks as an image and found a location where the tree branches were thick overhead and the trail curved over a small rise. Since I had the whole park to myself I sat up the tripod right in the middle of the trail and proceded to work the location

I do enjoy this area and having a place, in essence, to myself is fantastic. It is quite different than some of the famous overlooks in Yosemite or Grand Canyon where you are part of a cast of thousands whenever you try to stop to make an image

Here it is just me and the quiet forest. There is just the crunch of the snow under your boots and seeing your breath in the cold air. I took my time and fiddled with trying two lenses to get the image right. Focused the camera and had the picture. Just one. I had all the time I needed to get it so I trust I am doing it right (and hoping I did not forget a step or read the meter wrong, or set the lens wrong-all common errors with a view camera) and I will only find out several days after I get home

But that is all ok, and I pick up the pack and start to walk again, I am out following tracks in the winter woods and it is a good day.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Melt Water

There was a warm spell one day when I was in Wisconsin. Yes the temps actually got to the mid 30's for a high. That little bit of "warmth" caused this section of a little stream to start to melt and water was begining to show.

Now my guess would be that the stream had enough flow to only have marginal ice with snow on top. The warm sunny morning had caused the snow to melt over the stream.

I know from a prior trip here that in March this stream will flow before the ice on the river breaks up. Although it's current condition will refreeze in the coming weeks as snow falls and the temp drops again. It is, after all, still deep winter here in the north woods. I will not be here to see that this season as my short time here draws to a close and I will soon be heading south.

However, on this day it made a fine photograph as I stood in slushy snow to make the image.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Old Man River

The mighty Mississippi is a big river and I am at it's best part.

The bluff country south of St. Paul is spectacular. The river is big, but also full of islands, backwaters, sloughs, marshes, etc. The bluffs rise some 500' out of the river. Most of this part of the river is protected as the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge.

There are state parks, more wildlife refuges and even a National Monument in Iowa (Effigy Mounds). Add in historic towns and the wildlife that frequents the area and you have a very special place.

Here is a view of that big river from the top of Brady's Bluff in Perrot State Park, Wisconsin. I really like this view and visit it every time I am in the area. The hike starts down by the river and slowly winds up through forest and then meadows and back to forest before a final large and steep sided meadow to reach the summit.

From there you take in the views up and down the river. You can see into the hills and streams of Minnesota. You can look across the farmland in Wisconsin. It is a very nice view.

They may call this old man river, but here in bluff country it seems youthful and vigorous.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


One morning after a fresh snowfall I went out to the woods for a walk. The fresh newfallen powder made it very quiet in the winter woods.

I moved along breaking trail in the several inches of powdery snow. Snowshoes would have been nice this morning, but I do not have any, so I walk and break trail.

I found this wooden bridge covered in new snow and thought it was worth an image. A wooden bridge in the wintry woods reminds me of something Currier and Ives would have done.

As I set up the camera the woods seem even quieter. All this new snow is dampening all the sound. There is not even a breeze. It is a perfect morning to be in the woods. Every little sound I make with the camera seems loud, even the click of the shutter. I make the image and I take a moment in quiet to listen to the silence. It is a very serene morning.

I smile knowing I have the whole park to myself. Just me and the big quiet woods.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Winter Woods

The Wisconsin winter woods are a great experience. The barren trees, the crunch of snow underfoot, brisk temps, and the gray overcast days (they get alot of these) all help make the winter-winter.

I have been here in the fall and seen wonderful color. I have been here as the seasons changed from fall to winter and seen the last of the leaves fall and the ice start to form, but winter is an all new season. One that I find to be quite exciting and full of photographic possibilities.

The bluffs along the Mississippi are wooded in places quite thick. In the summer you would never see the river but in the winter the leaves are gone and new vistas open up. I find those views interesting and they draw my camera.

This image is from the edge of a clearning in the winter woods. The bare trees and snow become part of the hilly landscape of the river country. The Mississippi is visible in the valley bottom. The hills of the Minnesota side of the river recede into the gray sky. Snow is visible everywhere.

What a great scene and what a fine image it makes. A scene only possible in the winter woods.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Wisconsin Mountains

One normally does not associate Wisconsin and mountains. One certainly would not imagine a mountain rising right out of the Mississippi River. Yet one does.

The upper Mississippi is bluff country. South of St. Paul, Minnesota the river has a few hundred miles of 500+ ft tall bluffs. The "gorge" is usually a few miles across. There is one rather unique location where the river cut through the bluff and has made "mountains". Just south of Winona, Minnesota geologists tell us that the bluff stuck out toward what is now Wisconsin. The river once ran east of that bluff but at some point at the end of the last ice age the channel became clogged with debris from the melting glaciers and the river cut through the bluff where side streams had weakened and already started the erosion process. That process cut off the old point and made mountains that are now in Wisconsin.

Today those mountains are a Wisconsin State Park.

Here is the view from the top toward Mt. Trempealeau. The mountain that rises out of the Mississippi River. Signs in the park tell that name Trempealeau comes from the French explorers meaning something like "mountain with water bathing it's feet".

The far bluffs are in Minnesota and they are less than a mile apart from where I am in Wisconsin as I look upstream on the river.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Slush Ponds

Slush pond sounds like something a corrupt polititican would have, but it was the first term that came to mind when I found them in the marsh. They were not solid ice, but not unfrozen water either. They were almost slushie like in their quality. They were surrounded solid ice and several inches of snow. I am sure that there is a proper term for them, but my geology lingo escapes me and I more interested in making an image anyway

Regardless, that slush added a certain quality to the landscape of the marsh. The frosted branches, the soft snow, distant bluffs, and the light all draw my interest and frame up nicely on the ground glass.

I think for a second about getting low and right up on top of them, but I am neither sure how thick the ice is there nor wanting to disturb them too much. So, I just stay back with a moderate angle lens (125mm) and take the whole scene in.

I make the image, still cannot think of a proper name for the slush, decide that slush pond sounds official enough. Then it is time to start moving and looking again.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Marsh Point

The frozen marsh was covered in several inches of fresh snow. I had seen an image of a tip of land that jutted out into the marsh. I knew the marsh ice was several inches thick and would easily support me, however being here alone I decided prudence would be to walk out and test it first before I brought all the extra weight of the camera gear.

Everything seemed fine ice wise, and the image had potential, so I brought out the camera and set up on the ice.

With the point of land, the snow covered ice and distant islands and bluffs I thought it was a good composition. The strong directional light also made the scene even more interesting.

For being such a cloud free morning I have now gotten what I hope to be several different images in just a short while. It is quite fun and I make the most of it.

When you are on the road for work and you look outside and see it is -8 and clear it might take motivation to get out, but I know this is an opportunity not to be missed. I am very glad to be here despite the temps. Yes I do think this is fun!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Morning Light

After being out in the snow for over an hour the sun is finally up. The light is bright and all the snow, ice, and frost seems to make it brighter.

I spot a point of trees that stick out into the frozen marsh and think there might be an image, so I walk out and take a few digital snaps to confirm it will work before I move the Arca. As I am walking back across the ice I see the view to the northwest with the moon still there in the sky and a hint of clouds.

The view is across the frozen marshes along the Mississippi looking toward Minnesota. I liked the image and made a couple more, just to be sure.

The sky the white snow and (yes even the) camera all looked right. The location, conditions, and the light made it. Out on the snow in the bright light of morning the images happen, even when the lack of good cloud cover early made it seem like a less than ideal day. The light still had some magical qualities to it and with a little luck I have an image that I keep going back to looking at.

The setting is similar to my moonset taken at twilight (just 30 minutes later) but the direct bright light of the morning make this image even better to me.

Light matters, and morning light makes all the difference.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Layers. As the sun was begining to crest the bluff I liked the way the layers of ridge, trees, and brush. The backlight from the rising sun was making for interesting color and shadow and giving that layered look.

I tried to exclude more of the clear sky and have the ice, snow and the layers make the image.

On this cold morning layers were also a key factor in keeping warm. With a temp down to -8 and a heavy frost it is cold, especially when you just stand around working a camera. Layers of several garments really healped here. My gear is all rather lightweight and made for when I moving on a hike or climb. It is good gear and I bought it so it could work in layers. I have on 5 layers, from a poly T-shirt, a lightweight T-neck, leight fleece pullover, vest, and a thin imsulated jacket. It sounds like alot but I have full movement and I do not look like the Staypuff Marshmellow Man. If I move I am plenty warm (I'll unzip the jacket), but after standing for an hour the cold can seep in. So I wear several light layers and I am very warm. The only time I notice the cold is when I take my glove off to set the camera controls. Then the fingers get cold quick. The rest of me is warm.

So on a cold morning in the snow I can layer for warmth and enjoy the light on the layers in the image.