September’s Arrival Means Autumn Planning

Today, I’m excited even as I’m still dealing with the “year-in-limbo” as it’s been harder to make concrete plans in 2020. I’m currently mapping out that sweet one month window where autumn colors blossom in the Midwest. It’s a very ambitious plan. I think this year I’m feeling bit more pressure to get out because in December, my wife and I will welcome our first child and life will change in many ways. Below are the ideas and trips I am hoping to make happen. I’ll write future blog posts on the big ones and as many as I can to share this lovely season, even though I admit I am holding onto summer by swimming at the cabin every weekend.

Badlands National Park & Spearfish Canyon

I’ve been coordinating going next weekend with a buddy for three nights which means little sleep, that probably is happening midday. We are night sky focused hoping for some Milky Way. Sleep is overrated when you’re headed out for photography in a place you haven’t visited since childhood and had no camera in your hands. Tentatively, the plan is the Badlands one day and two nights and Spearfish Canyon one night and two days. This trip may be the most exciting due to its fresh landscapes since I usually shoot in Minnesota. Don’t even get me started on the waterfalls in the area. Wow. Let’s go!

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Instead of heading to the North Shore with three friends on our third annual autumn trip, we are heading to a new location. The south shore of Lake Superior in Michigan. My wife and I did a babymoon trip there in July and while I didn’t really photograph on that occasion, I did scout for this autumn trip. We will be hightailing it east to Tahquamenon Falls and slowly make our way back west exploring Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Keenaw Peninsula and maybe the Porcupines before heading home. Our itinerary is 75% set with a boat tour and ten-mile hike included. It’s a fantastic tradition I hope continues for many more years to come.

Ely/Itasca

There is the North Shore frenzy in fall but what about other northern parts of Minnesota? I’ve photographed in both places before but it was secondary to a group event. This time, I want to do something different and have scouted some places to visit. Being 3-4 hours away, this could be as quick as an up and back or one night stay. I really want to go just to be a bit different than my photography circles.

Southeastern Minnesota

Along the Mississippi River on both Wisconsin and Minnesota are wonderful bluff views. There is a fantastic loop from Red Wing to Wabasha to Stockholm to Hager City and everything in between. It’d be great to have two nights to do this but I expect possibly two day trips, one on each side. It’d be wonderful to capture that transitional summer to fall fog that often appears.

Grand Portage & the Gunflint Trail

It’s possible I am heading north to commission a piece for a client. Since I’m up there, I will focus more on Grand Portage and going east on the Gunflint. I haven’t focused on the latter much at all and am intrigued by blue lakes surrounded by lots of color. I am not sure when this trip is happening but it might be a last minute “Oh, the leaves just changed! Let’s go!” thing.

Other Day Trips & Hopes

Jay Cooke State Park, Kinnickinnic State Park, Alexander Ramsay, Pipestone, and a seasonal series from William O’Brien State Park round out the dreams right now. Typing all of this out is very idealistic but also very promising and exciting! Stay tuned.

Spring, You’re Looking Better Every Year

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.

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Blossoming Depth

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.

How are you enjoying spring this 2020?

Photography: “The Shot” or the Story

Do a majority of photographers place more value on finding that one shot than focusing a story?

Does “the perfect shot” tell enough of the story?

Is there room for more story telling in photography from photos that aren’t as popular?

One of the podcasts I listen to is LensWork and I find that Brooks Jensen complements a lot of thoughts I have on photography which in turn, creates posts for my blog. This is one such post.

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that I post mini-collections of locations that I photograph. I’ll post “non-sexy” photos with “sexy” photos to reveal an immersive experience to my viewers. All the shots are interesting to me so I don’t just post arbitrarily. For me, it’s about exposing beauty both apparent and subtle, loud and silent, detailed and grand. I personally have a greater connection to the environment when I slow down and take it all in. And my observations then are expressed to the public.

Here is a mini-collection of photos from bluff country in southern Minnesota.

Whether you’re a viewer or a photographer, do you tend to be attracted to or focus on finding that sexy or perfect shot? My example today could be the featured image of the silhouetted barn. Or do you take in more? The collection above really shares the beauty of the area in a way one image cannot. This collection isn’t tight enough, or focuses enough on one specific location like Whitewater State Park, to allow me to say, if I remove one photograph, the story would be incomplete. However, this is a future goal in mind when I do “series photography” again. A goal, is to intimately connect four-to-six images in a way where if I removed one, the viewer would miss out on the story.

Think of the most famous or most liked photographer you know or follow. Do you only know their popular images or can you recall any of the other images that may surround the popular images?

I’ve barely scratched the surface with this topic and will likely post again but let me leave with you with a comparison that is in my mind.

If you listened to the linked podcast called The Rest of the Story, you’ll hear Brooks mention that “we live in the age of the orgasm. That we are only interested in the dessert. Only the headline matters but not the rest of the story.”

What if photography can be like listening to a concept album? There will likely be “orgasmic” tracks or your favorite tracks that you repeat over and over. But there are also layers, interludes, outros, soft and heavy tracks, different emotional pieces as the album progresses through the playlist. If listening carefully, we began to see more than a single hit but a piece of an entire performance. What if the same can be true with photography? Yes, the brilliant sunrise may be the most powerful image. But I’d like to think that the other images make that sunrise more powerful and then put together, are greater still.

I’d appreciate your input as I process this idea and think about it more in my work.

Planning or Reacting to the Scene?

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.

the rock

 

My Backyard: Silverwood Park

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.

Silverwood Park

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!

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November’s Leaf Tussle

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.

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The Bridge & the Fog

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.

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Ice Rocks

Then soon after, the ice melted some and the moon shimmered on its thin surface. Simply walking around at night afforded this creative shot.

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Golden Leaf

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.

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Leafy Grave


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.

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Late Night Movement


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.

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Golden Moment

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.

Caught in Red

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!

It’s only been a year.