Seriously, though. Spring is more and more endearing to me every year. Yes, the Minnesotan winter takes a toll even on this self-proclaimed lover of ice. Obviously, there is the warm relief spring brings. But I’ve really seen my appreciation grow with greater attention to detail, slowing down and scouting for spring scenes.
Photography has really endeared spring to my heart. It’s taken that focus I apply to other photographic subjects or seasons applied to spring that’s enabled me to slow and see the beauty.
It was only last year that I started to see spring’s colors as a reflection of autumn’s colors. The diversity in glowing greens and yellows and other budding colors is very similar to the chorus of autumn color. This, too, has really captivated me this year in particular, especially since this time frame is limited before the solid summer greens take over.
I think another reason I am growing more fond of springtime is its emergence reminds me of a rising sun. I shoot in the morning hours much more than evening hours because I love that day and light are beginning, rather than ending. I think spring has a similar jolt of refreshment when I capture it. I’m seeing growth, new, freshness, color, light and more rather than a period of time’s closing door as darkness settles in the evening, for example.
This somewhat surprises me. They are just trees, silent and aloof, moving only when wind passes through. We see them every time we go outside. When I approach they don’t flee but pose tall and proud.
The challenge, I found, is photographing them in a way that transfers the mood I felt in their presence to the viewed photograph on screen or in print. How to transfer mood? This isn’t unique to trees as this is the essence of photography, inviting the viewer into the experience. However, the trees don’t usually have the same wow factor as a sunset, mountain, or waterfall, for example. For me, there is more of a challenge to evoke emotional reaction with an object we view as more mundane.
How to transfer the mood of trees?
Let’s briefly take a look at the following photos and see if they speak for themselves.
Snow has recently fallen in the woods with dozens upon dozens of red pines. It blankets the ground, clothes the branches of all trees. But the quiet is striking. I pause my boot crunching steps and observe. Dark trunks contrast mightily against the white glare. The woods seem to contain a slight fog, but it’s the snowfall muting the landscape.
Nearby, a massive tree has taken over the ground, its limbs sprawling among the still standing community. In a grove with so many standing trees, a fallen giant is notable.
A stream curves through the woods, leading to a beautifully white-coated tree with dark, thin and young trunks. The power of the stream with the quiet woods is a powerfully peaceful spot.
Tremendous contrast on these “white pillars” in a small, composed bunch. They withstand the winter conditions beautifully.
A wider look at the grove of white trees, with a fallen comrade beneath them and some color splashing subtly behind.
In pine alley, one small oak kneels.
A bit more abstract, the white path weaves through the young growth.
These pictures are a result of four outings specifically photographing trees. So tell me, after viewing the pictures above, how did I do? Did you feel the mood of any place, or were they easy to scroll past?
On September 1, I was a young child, filled with wonder and awe. I chased the night sky charms with a fellow photographer and friend on a thrilling adventure. From blue hour on what I call Minnesota’s small Cliffs of Mohr to the Milky Way’s core on a hidden bridge to finally northern lights dancing over a waterfall, it was truly a magical night.
This was a night of many firsts.
First time really photographing the Milky Way.
First time witnessing the northern lights with my eyes.
First time capturing a waterfall with both phenomenons overhead.
It was instantly a top three photography trip. I don’t recall giggling with joy so many times while capturing photos. The night skies are truly magical and outshine other so many so-called magical moments in nature.
Should I always share photographed locations with others?
I ask myself this question a lot. I think the answer is a ready no to always, though I often consider the reasons why.
Give others a chance to also experience beauty.
To reveal excitement of a new location.
Photographers should be expanding creativity, discovering new locations, and improving the art. Could become a niche.
Because it’s a nice thing to do.
Why not share?
More exposure, especially to a secluded spot, may lead to unacceptable disturbance of the land and nature if it grows in popularity.
Simply because having a few secret places is nice to enjoy alone. I think there is a special quality about it, like a treasure I’ve personally uncovered and I don’t want intruded upon.
To avoid competition in sales, fame, and fortune.
When I begin my podcast in 2019, this may be one of the initial topics I explore with fellow photographers in the area and pick their brain on what practices they hold and if they think it’s a good thing or not.
I think there is definitely a sense of pride and protectiveness that comes with secret spots and maybe some selfishness as well. But I can see others overwhelmingly willing to share to others because they want others to enjoy the same beauty they did.
I listen to a podcast fairly regularly called Lenswork by Brooks Jensen and earlier this week, an episode really made me think more deeply about reacting to a scene versus over planning or overthinking the scene.
As a landscape photographer and bit of a perfectionist, I have more than several times, gotten to a scene and scurried around trying to find the “perfect” composition. Or the composition that would make the trip worth it. My problem isn’t over planning as much as rushing, urged on by high idealism.
A benefit to this has been grabbing several interesting compositions and exploring many areas of the landscape. However, I believe this approaches reduces and minimizes the experience and can even be stressful.
In 2019, I want to practice more reacting to landscapes that I visit. This means slowing down and not worrying about taking the camera out. It means walking the edge of a coastline for an hour. It means sitting on a rock or bench listening to sounds and watching wildlife. It means slowing my pace and my breathing and letting creative wonder come to me, instead of forcing my own twist into the composition.
There is nothing wrong with scouting, planning, and thinking through a scene to produce a quality and professional photo. I will continue to do this. But personally, I want to slow down more and allow creativity to come to me through a slower and deliberate approach.
I really appreciate what they’re doing over at Slow Photography Movement and recommend their site. It’s much of the same vein as this post.
I’ll leave an example to close today’s thought. Last autumn along the North Shore, I was scurrying around trying to capture this island off the coat. I wasn’t very satisfied with my initial images so I stopped and just looked. I didn’t try to see a composition. I scanned the entire coast, taking in my location. It was at that point where I discovered an obvious beauty: lush red fall leaves in bunches just as the rocks met the trees. And when I went over to them, I discovered my composition.
In a world of social media platforms, most concentrating on popularity and achieving likes, comments, and followers, receiving and offering healthy or constructive criticism is not common. Specifically, critiquing photography. But it is very useful and when given in the right way, it helps both the critiquer and the artist.
I am going to share critiques of four of my images below, separated into my own critique and then what my professional photographer friend Daniel shared about the same image afterwards.
My take: There aren’t many elements in this picture so it simplifies focus quickly. I could have used dehaze and revealed a bridge in the upper right corner as an echo to the dock. Perhaps I could have gone wider with the shot to see the dock even more lost or swallowed by the fog. I love the simple power of this image and it does invoke a silent atmosphere when I look at it.
Daniel’s take: The image works because it tells a story, has a compelling composition, good contrast, clear subject and interesting lighting with the fog. The edges are good. One thing I would be curious about is how to go with even a wider angle, to make the effect of the dock disappearing into the fog even more dramatic, and do the shot from the dock. I see a couple of minor black dots on the dock that are somewhat distracting, but can’t tell what they are. Overall, I love this image, and it is very compelling.
My take: This was a color shot that I converted after seeing the contrast between the yellow leaves and dark tree trunks. I like how the path leads you into eerie trees and is framed by the white leaves. Perhaps I could darken the leaves and brighten the path to help the eye flow from foreground to background without being distracted too much by the right side of the photograph. I could crop in from the right side as well to aid that goal. There is also a light trap in middle left that I could darken. A friend of mine said it reminded him of Ansel Adams. True or not, I”ll take that compliment!
Daniel’s take: The image works again well because it has a clear subject and a very compelling story. The lighting is great as my eyes are drawn from the initial high contrast leaves back to the path and back and also onto the path. The edges are good although I might have cropped that little light area on the left so that the left edge is purely dark and the eyes really wonder to that mysterious end of the path. I think an issue might be one of balance. The leaves to the right, while initially drawing us into the picture, might be too much/high contrast. Another detail that does bother me a little bit is that some of the brighter leaves go into the path and left side of the image, although in a way, they are also leading us towards the path.
My take: I love the giant flows in the three main sections of the waterflow as well as the small flow in the lower right, as that is more intimate with great contrast with the large boulder. I wish that very lower right rock wasn’t there and I could have stood higher to shoot downwards. The left side of the waterfall is cut off a bit. Perhaps I could have added more contrast in the upper left and popped the small trickle of water. I do enjoy the middle where you can see details of the rocks quite well.
Daniel’s take: The image works because it has a clear subject. The story is also clear. The lighting seems also fine, although it seems we are losing some of the shadow detail in the bottom right dominant rock (perhaps this bigger rock in the waterfall could be dodged some more while retaining some of the contrast within the rock). I think the issues are the edges of this image: with falls cut off at top, and also I don’t feel drawn into the image. I would also like to see more of the image to the left, and maybe we don’t need to see the big rock to the right (bottom right edge of image). I think that rock with the little water is really interesting, maybe going really close to that with a wide angle lens could draw the viewer more into the image?
My take: I love a good isolated tree. I waited for a cloud to pass over it (albeit small) and clicked. The tree itself is not terribly interesting. I could have added more contrast in the grasses to pop the yellow and increase shadows. I like the scale from dark to bright though maybe I would dark the foreground more to get the eye to go to the cloud even quicker.
Daniel’s take: This image works again due to a clear subject and a story. The lighting also seems good. The composition is very clean and this is a successful image. Two things distract me: the shape of the tree which is very rectangular and also the clouds around the tree (although one could argue that this little cloud broke away from the other clouds as part of the story). One minor detail is the right edge with the top right little cloud being cut off which causes a minor imbalance.
Look for critiquing opportunities.
I absoluely believe when done gently and honestly, especially with practiced experience, critiquing is a benefit to both parties involved in the process. Find a trusted peer or ask a professional photographer to critique your photos. You have my welcome permission to critique any photo you see of mine on any social media platform where you may encounter my work.
My goal is to grow with you.
Finally, a large thank you to Daniel Siggs for his kind and thorough critique of my images. Please check out his website!
I had never heard of this park before moving within walking distance just over a year ago. Nestled between St. Anthony and New Brighton, Silverwood Park has become my special treasure. I have no visited another location so frequently to photograph and explore. In fact, the park has served as training ground for all sorts of seasonal and subject shots.
Allow me to share some of my most memorable and significant photographic moments with you since I started shooting there October of 2017.
I started late in the month and many of the colors had faded. I tried looking everywhere which meant staring at the ground intently to see what might juxtapose or prove interesting. This really helped me with the creative process, relying on imagination. No leaves were placed outside of where they had fallen!
I woke up one morning and saw the weather report indicate fog in the area. I rushed out the door and to the lake and was rewarded with snaking smoke trails over the lake and fog cover so massive it swallowed up everything in minutes.
It froze soon afterwards. I discovered a unique time to shoot, one that I am eager to capture again this winter freeze: the cold that builds up ice formations but isn’t hidden by the first snow. Maybe this lasts two weeks, maybe only a few days. Below was one such example, combined with one of the best sunsets of early winter.
Then soon after, the ice melted some and the moon shimmered on its thin surface. Simply walking around at night afforded this creative shot.
Since I’m mentioning leaves, November and early December can be tough months to photograph since autumn colors are gone and if snow hasn’t fallen. This forced me to try and be really creative. The below shot is one of my favorites. It’s almost as if the branches, completely bare, had thrown the leaves into their watery grave. You can see the drowned leaves and the two in the corner overlapping, as if in final embrace before their own descent.
I discovered the method and practiced my first long-exposure shots last winter. It was a really rewarding experience coming up with this shot. Afterwards, I remarked to myself, “I can do this!” And so I had another technique in my belt.
Then spring came.
In the picture below, I had been facing west away from the sunrise shooting bright, young green leaves when the sun exploded into the woods. It absolutely light up everything, turning much of the youthful green into yellow flare. As soon as I saw what was happening, I rotated 180 degrees and zoomed in with my 100-300mm lens and captured the golden light. It was one of my favorite photography moments in 2018 and completely spontaneous.
My final shot was taken just a couple of weeks ago. The red was so rich and the flipped around leaf proved an interesting subject with its detail and moisture. It was a metaphor of how rich my photos had grown in a year. There is much to learn and improve upon, but I’ll always remember to be thankful for growth in this wonderful photography journey.
Most of these photographs were simply the result of being outside with a camera, rather than planning the composition or shot or around weather. I just went outside a lot. I suppose that expresses the free spirit, random, and abstract part of my personality in some ways. Eager to see what the next season reveals!
Whitewater State Park might be in my top three favorite parks in Minnesota. A huge reason is that the conditions aren’t ideal for pesky mosquitoes due to cold-spring fed water that is constantly moving.
But it’s the bluffs that capture my heart.
Once more, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and drove two hours to catch a state park sunrise. This morning treated me more colorfully than the visit to St. Croix State Park.
I had hoped that the color would expand into the clouds but it mostly stayed behind the ridge. And yet, it was a gorgeous scene.
After sunrise, I quickly transferred to the eastern Chimney Rock where I watched the sun burn the shadows away.
The five bluffs at Whitewater State Park are close enough to one another to climb all of them in one day. At Chimney Rock, you can view the widest part of the river offering a swimming hole for campers. I love the reflections here.
From here, I went south along the Chimney Rock Trail which bordered farmland and you can see where dried, small gullys zigzag down into the banks of Whitewater River. The sun burst through the trees and illuminated the yellow leaves all over.
Then I discovered Inspiration Point and wonder if it’s my favorite part of the park. It reminded me of the North Shore without Lake Superior.
But of course, it is not the North Shore. It has its own beauty and another reason to love Minnesota and our state parks.
While I made plans to capture autumn colors this year, I made note of fire towers in state parks and St Croix State Park made the list. It’s about two hours from the Twin Cities, including a slow drive on a dirt road. At the time, the roads were bursting with every fall color.
I arrived at the fire tower at 6:45 a.m. after leaving the house two hours earlier.
I climbed slowly.
After climbing a more rickety tower in Grand Portage, Minnesota, this one’s stability helped with my fear of heights. I ended up staying on the top platform for an hour watching and waiting for color. I’ll tell you three tips that really helped me become absolutely (well, mostly) comfortable with fire towers:
Go slowly, and make several stops. Take in the all scenes, bend your knees, and pause, allowing your mind to grow comfortable with the heights.
Stay awhile. This, too, seems counter intuitive, but the more time passes, the more I relaxed. I found my mind went overboard with every creak in the boards, every wind gust, and several movie scenes. I quickly realized how much of my physical responses were from my irrational mind. The more I relaxed and took in deep breaths, the more I felt fine. After an hour at top, I nearly felt as secure as being on the solid ground.
Climb several towers within a short time of each other. Climbing one in Grand Portage two weeks prior really helped me with the one in St. Croix.
While the clouds didn’t allow much of a sunrise, the trees beneath me were nicely represented in the low, even light.
After climbing down, I started driving back and in the immediate 200 feet or so, stopped my car, got out, and took pictures five times of the wrapping color around the road. Just stunning. I recommend St. Croix State Park for the scenic drives on these dirt roads if nothing else. I even got to see my first wild porcupine cross the road.
When I entered the park at 6:00am, I couldn’t see any colors but upon exiting, it was red everywhere and colors layered and filled in everywhere. Below is an example of the color burst.
I was so enamored with color, I returned with my wife less than twenty-fours later. Shockingly, in that brief time, much color was lost and now lay on the roads and paths. I couldn’t believe how it changed so dramatically after one night. There remained enough color to enjoy the park, but it was a different experience for me and a bit of a letdown since I brought Sarah to enjoy it.