Thursday, January 31, 2013

Winter on the Upper Mississippi

Winter on the Upper Mississippi River is a fantastic time to capture images in another little photographed location.  Wisconsin, with the possible exception of Door County, is not much of a vacation destination, let alone a photography destination.  However, do not let that fool you.  Here on the Upper Mississippi River south of the Twin Cities is a true gem of a photography destination.

Most people presume the Midwest is all flat, they are wrong.  The glaciers of the last ice age missed this area and the bluffs along the river here are around 500 feet tall.  It is like being in the hill country.

I was lucky enough to have to do a several week job assignment in the area and jumped at the chance to photograph this place in January and February.  Yes, it was cold.  Several mornings were minus 25 or so.  However that did not deter me from getting out early with the camera to chase the winter light.

Here is a set up and shot I made in the marshes along the Mississippi River near LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  It was below zero this morning as I hiked into the area in the dark.  I found a view of the bluffs and slowly began to set the camera up.  Slow and methodical being the key here.  Large Format is naturally slow, but the cold adds another layer to it.  You have to think about things and you have to be mindful of how you breath.  In other words do not exhale under the dark cloth as that will freeze on your ground glass and your day will be over very quickly.  

I took my time and then waited for the shot.  In the clear morning sky the moon hanging over the bluffs was the best composition I could see.

You may also notice the bag hanging from the tripod.  I stored my lightmeter and digital camera there and wanted to keep them out of the snow.  My large pack was sitting upright in the snow behind me in an area I had stamped down to keep the bag from sinking in the powder.  That helped keep things dry and the snow out.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Autumn on the Great Plains

Autumn on the Great Plains is a little different than most places.  Primarily that means you have to look harder to find fall colors since you have to work more to find trees.  The grasses of the prairies can put on their own colorful display but let's be honest, most people still want trees to photograph.

That usually means looking for cottonwoods along streams and rivers.  However, if one knows where to look there can be other places of color.  

One such place is the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma. Smack dab in the middle of the south plains between Wichita Falls, Texas and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma a small range of granite mountains pop out of the flat prairies.  

Some of the rocky hills here rise around 800' above the surrounding flatlands.  Streams and small lakes fill the flat valleys between the hills.  Bison, elk, and longhorn roam the refuge.  At some 50,000 acres it is one of the largest areas of public lands on the Great Plains.  It is a fantastic location that is off the beaten path of all but a few local photographers.

It also can put on a great little fall color display.  The rocky slopes of the hills and some of the narrow zig-zag valleys contain some oaks that will put on a little color display in early November.

Here are a couple of images of one early November a couple of years ago.  This is Mt. Sheridan (I presume named for General Phil Sheridan of Civil War fame) in predawn light.

The colors were in great shape that year and this display was one of my favorite scenes.  I am glad I captured it then as the drought of 2011 was severe here and hundreds of acres of the refuge burned that year.  This mountain was one that the fires raged on and today many of those trees are just charred remains.  So while nature has renewed itself, it may be a few years to capture this scene again in full autumn glory.