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.

Photographing Trees in Winter

It’s harder than I thought.

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASnow 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.

Fallen Tree
Fallen Giant

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.

Winter Stream (2) (1 of 1)
Peaceful Winter

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.

Winter Pillars (2)
White Pillars

Tremendous contrast on these “white pillars” in a small, composed bunch. They withstand the winter conditions beautifully.

Winter Pillars
White Pillar Grove

A wider look at the grove of white trees, with a fallen comrade beneath them and some color splashing subtly behind.

Fallen (ig)
Fallen

In pine alley, one small oak kneels.

Through the trees

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?

When Iconic & Photogenic Locations Change

I knew the “Sea Stack”, formerly an arch in Tettegouche State Park, was popular among photographers and park visitors. But upon its collapse into Lake Superior during a storm over the weekend, I saw the impact its disappearance across the state.

All the Facebook photography groups I’m in were talking about it. My Instagram story feed was dominated by photographers sharing their shots of the stack in memory. Pioneer Press and KSTP media outlets picked up the story. Everyone fondly said:

Rest in Piece

Tettegouche

Credit to Mary Amerman

It made me remember the 24th Ave Bridge in Minneapolis and how it was destroyed before massive construction on highway 35W began. It supplied the premier, iconic view of the Minneapolis skyline.

Light Trails.jpg
View from 24th Ave Bridge

I still wonder if a location has sprung up as the newest city vantage, the newest iconic view in the Twin Cities. I can’t put a finger on it and it may take time.

In the meantime, if you asked me what iconic locations remained, the very next one would easily be the Split Rock Lighthouse.

Split Rock Lighthouse Lighting Ceremony

Credit to J. Briol Images.

It’s difficult for me to find motivation to photograph these locations due to the high volume of shots I see here and I’d rather explore other areas of the parks or city. But there is no doubt that Minnesotans have their favorites. Time erodes all things and we’ll sure see more iconic changes as well as new ones spring up.

 

Astrophotography Addiction

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.

First Aurora
First Aurora

 

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.

I think I am now addicted to astrophotography.

 

The Secret Location(s)

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.

Why share?

  1. Give others a chance to also experience beauty.
  2. To reveal excitement of a new location.
  3. Photographers should be expanding creativity, discovering new locations, and improving the art. Could become a niche.
  4. Because it’s a nice thing to do.

Why not share?

  1. More exposure, especially to a secluded spot, may lead to unacceptable disturbance of the land and nature if it grows in popularity.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

What do you think?

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

 

Photography competitions

I didn’t devote 2018 to entering photography competitions by any means. However, I did enter five competitions locally in Minnesota, submitting between two and eight each photos each time. While I didn’t earn Grand Prize status, I did receive shared first place in three of the five competitions.

A win is a win!

Three Rivers Park District

I live a block away from Silverwood Park, one of many in the Three Rivers Park District, and started my 2018 photography journey here. I didn’t visit another location so frequently due to it’s proximity to me. The winning photograph actually was the first I had ever taken with my new full frame Sony A7ii. It’s a favorite bending tree during a soft sunset. It was voted as Top Landscape Photo. Check it out.

Silverwood Park
Silverwood Park in Early Autumn

Nine Mile Creek Watershed District

What’s particularly rewarding about winning each of these three contests is that every location has an emotional and memorable place in my life. This second contest is held by the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District. The district ranges from Hopkins to Bloomington and it’s in the south part of the Twin Cities where I often took my dogs on walks, explored the creek nearby 35W and the Minnesota River, sighting owls and snakes, and where I biked the mud and dirt trails.

I was really surprised that out of the eight photos I submitted, the one below was chosen as the winner. And to be honest, I was a little uncertain and borderline embarrassed because I took that photo as I was getting started and certainly had better submissions. Perhaps that was the best January photo submitted! But I’ll take it, and the $10 gift card!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Nine Mile Winter Sunrise

 

Blue Fin Bay

Finally, the third win was the sweetest. Not only because the winning prize was large, and the photo chosen is the second most popular among my family, friends, and fans, but also due to waiting a long time to find out the results. Staying at Blue Fin Bay Resorts has been a family tradition for three years and we’re going back for a multiple night stay next month. The resort is between Tofte and Lutsen along the North Shore. It’s been a treat to stay there because it’s a tradition to look forward to once the holidays are over.


I will also add that I am selling this photo as a metal print starting with the 8×10 size. Please message me or comment for prices and inquiries. I just sold a 16×20 to a friend and it’s been super pleasing to see it hang on the wall.


This photo is also special because it was the best sunset I’d ever seen. And I earned it. It was -20 degrees or so in Grand Marais and I was doing jumping jacks and all sorts of dances trying to stay warm. The sunset reflect all over the ice and was just a glorious moment in 2018.

Enjoy!

Icy Sunset

In case you were wondering about the other two competitions in which I entered, they were TruStone Financial’s annual calendar contest and National Camera Exchange’s travel contest.