Sunday, October 27, 2013

Autumn Wings

When it comes to cranes, it's always hard to pick a "favorite" shot.  That being said, I think this is my favorite image from this year's trip to see the cranes at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in Wisconsin.  This is also one of the last photos I took before we left the wildlife area.  I love the flight pose of the bird in the foreground and I love the shallow depth of field making everything in the background softly out of focus.  The two cranes taking flight (one sharp in the foreground and one soft in the background) tie the the two areas of focus together nicely.  Such magnificent birds!  I have been photographing them for close to 10 years and I never tire of seeing them. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Crane Family

One of the neat things we really noticed this year during our visit to Crex Meadows was the seemingly high number of young cranes (called colts).  Last year we didn't really notice them but the conditions were not good for visibility either thanks to heavy fog cover.  This year we noticed a lot of them.  They are easy to tell apart from the adults because their heads are brown and haven't yet developed the distinctive red patch that is found on the adults.  They are also, of course, quite a bit smaller than the adults.  We saw several family groups of three, with two adults and one colt.  I don't remember seeing any groups of four, with two colts, but it sure was neat watching these family groups stick together and watch out for each other.  In this picture you can see the colt on the left, standing partially behind one of the adults. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Reflecting Cranes

Earlier this week Jessica and I headed south for some bird-watching.  We visited Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in Grantsburg, Wisconsin to see the Sandhill Cranes that migrate through that area in the fall.  We spent two mornings in the wildlife area and saw thousands of cranes.  It was cloudy both days so the light was pretty flat and it was COLD.  There was even a little bit of snow on the ground.  The cranes hung around for most of the morning, though, and eventually the light got good enough to get some decent shots.  This is probably my favorite photo from the trip, as I just love the reflections of the cranes in the water.  In addition to the cranes we saw several other birds including geese, ducks, coots, swans,  bald eagles, hawks, kingfishers and meadowlarks.  It sure was a fun weekend, we just wish the weather had been a little bit nicer.  We were hoping to bring our bikes along and spend some time biking around the wildlife area, but it was too cold for that :-(  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sunset storm cloud

There was a pretty neat sunset the other day, one that I couldn't resist photographing.  As I was driving home from work there was this very cool cloud lingering on the horizon to the west.  It had been cloudy and rainy all day but in the late afternoon the sky had mostly cleared up.  By the time I went home the clouds were starting to come back in and the cloud you see here was on the leading edge.  I went down the beach about 1/4 mile from the house and photographed the cloud and sunset over Grand Portage Bay.  I waited for the sun to peek through this gap in the cloud, then shot an image at f22 to make a nice star-burst on the sun.  It was a fitting end to a day that was filled with changing weather conditions! 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Autumn Brilliance

With snow in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow, today I'm choosing to share a photo of what may very well be the last bit of vibrant fall color in Grand Portage for this year.  This photo was taken yesterday along the Mt. Josephine grade of Highway 61 overlooking the Susie Islands and Isle Royale National Park.  The last 6 miles of Highway 61 approaching Canada still has some nice golden orange color today, but it probably won't last through the weather front that is supposed to be passing through over the next 24 hours.  Luckily, we have cameras to record these scenes so we can look back at them and enjoy them whenever we like!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Autumn Afternoon in the Porcupine Mountains

The Porcupine Mountains in Michigan have some of the most beautiful forest I've ever seen.  This photo was made in a random location along South Boundary Road in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.  I was driving along when I noticed an abundance of ferns underneath the maples on the left side of the road.  The afternoon sunlight was sublime and I couldn't resist pulling over and wandering around in this section of the forest.  I wanted to spend more time in this location but I also wanted to make it to the Presque Isle River in time to photograph the river before it got dark.  Guess I'll just have to return here in the future to do some more exploring :-)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sun Rays at Stairway Falls

Earlier this week Jessica and I did some hiking within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness just off the Gunflint Trail in northeast Minnesota.  We did the Caribou Rock Trail all the way to where it intersects with the Border Route Trail at Rose Lake.  This is NOT an easy hike!  We were prepared for a tough hike, as all the guide books say it is a difficult hike and takes much more time than you would expect.  Even so, the trail was much more rugged than we were expecting!  You are pretty much always hiking either uphill or downhill and the hills are often very steep.  So steep, in fact, that this time of year with the majority of the leaves already blanketing the ground, it can be very difficult to tell where the trail goes.  Several of the slopes along the trail were more like goat trails than people trails.  It's hard to believe that a trail was constructed through such demanding terrain.  

The difficulty is worth it, though, as the sights along the trail are spectacular.  You pass by 4 different lakes, 2 just outside the BWCA (West Bearskin and Moss) on the first half of the hike and 2 within the boundary waters (Duncan and Rose) on the second half.  There are magnificent views of each lake as you hike past them on the surrounding hilltops.  The last overlook of the hike is arguably the most dramatic as you sit on an open rock ledge high above Rose Lake overlooking the vast U.S./Canada border country that surrounds you.  

The final reward of the hike is a visit to Stairway Falls on Stairway Portage, which connects Duncan Lake to Rose Lake.  Stairway Falls is located within a beautiful rocky gorge lined with moss and cedar trees.  We were there at just the right time of day to see some amazing sun rays penetrating down into the gorge from above the waterfall.  According to the guide book, the hike was 4 miles from the parking area to the Rose Lake overlook, making this an 8-mile round-trip hike.  According to our GPS unit, it was just over 5 miles from the parking area to Rose Lake, which would make for just over 10 miles round-trip.  Whichever was right, the guide book or the GPS, one thing is for certain: this was a strenuous hike with rewards that made it well worth the effort to get there!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Waterfall Dreams

Here is my favorite close-up, abstract shot that I made of Bond Falls during my trip to Michigan's upper peninsula last week.  After photographing the first hour of daylight at the falls using my wide-angle lens, I put on my telephoto and spent the next hour zoomed in on specific areas of the falls.  Bond Falls really lends itself to this type of photography as there are countless little drops over various rock ledges that make very compelling abstract images.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Foam Pool at Manido Falls

Here is another shot from Manido Falls on the Presque Isle River that I've been anxious to share.  This is a 6 second exposure that shows the movement of foam below the falls.  I loved this little pool on the side of the river because the foam was moving in slow circles which made for an intriguing long-exposure image.  I sure wish I lived closer to this river, as it is an amazing one to photograph!  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Foam Trails, Manabezho Falls

Another beautiful waterfall on the Presque Isle River!  This one is named "Manabezho Falls" and, according to signage along the trail, is the largest waterfall on the river.  It was getting very late in the evening when I photographed this waterfall.  As such, it was easy to take long exposures of the falls.  This one ended up being 6 seconds and gave me some very nice "foam trails".  I love taking long exposures of rivers and showing the movement of the water.  It's one of the funnest things you can do with a camera!  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Root Beer River

I just love the color of tannin-rich rivers!  Tannins are commonly cited as being the cause of root beer colored water.  The Presque Isle River in Michigan's Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park has some of the most delicious-looking root beer colored water that I've ever seen!  This photo shows one of the first ledges of many that make up Manido Falls.  This was an incredible waterfall to photograph using my 100-400mm lens and I easily could have spent the whole day photographing just in this one area.  Alas, I had to hit the road for home after a few hours of shooting in the early morning light.  

Sunset on the Presque Isle Shoreline

I know I've probably already said this, but the Porcupine Mountains are an amazing place and I absolutely cannot wait to get back there and do some more exploring!  This photo was taken near the mouth of the Presque Isle River along the Lake Superior shoreline.  I was hoping to see the famous "potholes" of the river, but the water was too high due to recent rainfall and the potholes were not visible.  So, I continued on down the path to the Lake Superior shore where I found this huge area full of ferns just before reaching the sandy beach.  Sunset was fast approaching and the light was wonderful.  I found a composition that I liked, set up my tripod with the sun directly behind one of the trees, set my aperture to f22 then waited for the sun to peek around the trunk of the tree.  Once it did, I clicked the shutter and this photo was made.  When you shoot with a small aperture (f16 to f22 works the best) you can get a nice starburst effect like this when the sun first peeks out from behind something.  I thought it made for a wonderful complement to this "fern forest".  My only regret is that Jessica was not there to witness this beautiful scene along with me.  She was stuck at home working during the government shutdown.  It's going to be an awesome time when we are both able to go and explore this most amazing of state parks together!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Autumn Sunset over Bond Falls

Here is another shot from Bond Falls, this time at sunset.  This was the second round of color that occurred in the clouds.  Everyone knows that as the sun sets, the clouds often light up in spectacular fashion with amazing colors.  Fewer people know that there is sometimes a second round of color that happens anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes after that initial round of color fades away.  That is what happened on this night.  I thought "the show" was over after the initial sunset was over, but then another round of clouds moved in.  

All too often I've been photographing in a location and seen other photographers pack up and leave as soon as the first round of color is over.  I like to stick around and see what happens.  Often times my favorite images are made AFTER sunset, when the light and color is more subtle.  As this cloud drifted over the top of the falls, it started to glow with a pinkish hue.  This glow only lasted 2 or 3 minutes, then it was gone.  From scouting out the falls earlier in the evening I knew that in order to get the sunset shot I wanted I would have to be standing in the water.  So, I had changed back at the car before sunset and was wearing my shorts and sandals so I could walk out into the water and get close to the base of the falls. I was standing in about 6 inches of water just 10 feet away from the base of the falls to make this photograph.  Sometimes you've got to get your feet wet to get the best shot :-)

October Morning at Bond Falls

Boy, the U.P. sure has some awesome waterfalls!  Like Manido Falls on the Presque Isle River, Bond Falls is a place where I easily spent several hours photographing the many cascading sections of the falls.  There is about a 1/4 mile long section of river that has lots of little waterfalls culminating in the larger drop that you see in this photo.  The Michigan DNR has constructed a very nice accessible boardwalk area that forms a huge arc along the bottom of the falls so people of all abilities can enjoy the falls from almost any angle.  This photo was taken from that boardwalk.  I was very fortunate to have an interesting sky with some nice clouds on the one morning that I was able to spend at the falls!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A touch of color at Manido Falls

Okay, here is the first image that I am sharing from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  This is a close-up shot of one small section of Manido Falls on the Presque Isle River in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.  I was enthralled by this waterfall!  I spent a total of about 3 hours photographing this waterfall, 1 hour at dusk and 2 hours at dawn.  There is just so much variety to it.  It is a long waterfall with several steps and cascades.  I spent a lot of time with my 100-400mm telephoto lens isolating different areas of the falls.  I can't wait to go back and camp at this park and explore more of the wonderful beauty that it has to offer!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Snake Pit Falls

I just returned from a short trip to the south shore of Lake Superior, where I spent a few days photographing fall colors and waterfalls.  So, I've got a lot of new shots to be sharing over the next several days!  This one is from Amnicon Falls State Park just outside of Superior, Wisconsin.  The main goal of my trip was to visit the upper peninsula of Michigan but I had to stop and check out this park along the way as well, since it's so close to the highway.  It was the middle of the day so most of the waterfalls had harsh light on them, not good for photography.  Snake Pit Falls, however, was in a narrow gorge and photographed nicely in the mid-day light.  I had a good trip overall, in spite of having to make the trip by myself.  Jessica works for the National Park Service and is one of the few park staff that has to remain on duty during the government shutdown.  As such, she was unable to make the trip with me.  I really missed having her with me on this short trip, but I scouted out lots of cool locations for us to visit together in the future!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Marvelous Maples

Here is a shot from last weekend of Jessica enjoying the incredible beauty of the maple trees.  I'm not sure how many of these leaves are still left on the trees.  Probably not very many, since yesterday it rained all day and was pretty windy.  Thankfully we were able to get out and enjoy the colors before they were all knocked down by the wind and rain!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Ancient Spirits

It's so hard to pick a favorite, but I think this may be my favorite image from the aurora storm of October 1st and 2nd.  I chose to shoot the storm from a stand of old-growth pine trees here in Grand Portage.  Since this was my first time shooting at night in this particular stand of trees, I wasn't quite sure how it would work out.  It ended up being a terrific shoot!  I'll definitely be returning to this location for more night shooting in the future.  I loved this particular composition of trees, and it worked out beautifully with the dancing lights of the aurora directly behind the trees. Most of the time the northern lights are, you guessed it, in the northern part of the sky.  This photo, however, was looking southwest!

Maple Zoom

One more abstract image showing a slow shutter speed combined with zooming the camera lens while recording the exposure.  I have experimented with this in the past, but hadn't done any shots like this in quite a while.  Then I noticed my friend Shawn Thompson ( post this type of shot on his facebook page, which inspired me to go out and try it again.  I found a nice patch of red leaves to experiment with and after several attempts I finally got an image that I like.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Enjoying Autumn

On a recent fall color adventure Jessica and I stopped for a moment to enjoy this beautiful scene on the shores of a local lake here in Grand Portage.  It sure was a pretty spot and the colors were amazing!  Looks like we're in for some rain and wind this weekend, so the leaves probably won't be on the trees for very long.  Better get out and enjoy them while they last! 

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Sometimes, things are just laid out perfectly for you.  Believe it or not, last weekend as we were hiking around in the woods, we came across this piece of birch bark with a maple leaf resting on it.  I couldn't resist laying down on the ground and taking a low, wide-angle shot of the scene. 

The Eye of the Storm

I still have a few shots to share from the aurora storm the night of October 1st and 2nd.  It was just such an incredible night of northern lights!  There were so many amazing scenes to capture.  This one was during the first major flare-up of the night, taken just after midnight.  The lights easily filled 75% of the sky and the photo you see here was actually looking west/southwest, not north. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Firefly Sky

Here is another shot from last night's aurora storm.  This one was taken at 1:49 AM and was the 2nd major flare-up of the night.  The first major flare-up was just before midnight.  There was almost an hour of incredible activity following that first flare-up, then the lights got pretty quiet for about 45 minutes.  I took a half-hour nap in the truck in between the two major spikes in activity.  I love this tree line and will definitely be returning here on future night photography sessions!

October Explosion

WOW!  There were some awesome surprise northern lights last night! said:  "Arriving a little earlier than expected, a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) hit Earth's magnetic field on October 2nd at approximately 0200 UT.  The impact sparked a G2-class geomagnetic storm with auroras across Canada and several northern-tier states."

Jessica and I had just finished watching a movie and were about to start getting ready for bed.  Jessica was looking at Facebook when she noticed there were some posts about the northern lights being out.  So, we looked at the Aurora Soft Serve News site and sure enough, they were indicating the aurora was at STORM level!  I had been super-tired just moments before, but I was quickly wide awake again after walking out onto our deck and seeing a large, glowing arc of aurora over Mt. Josephine in our backyard.  Of course what happened next should be obvious.  I gathered my gear and hopped in the truck, heading inland to photograph the lights.  I spent the next 4 hours watching probably the best aurora storm to occur yet this year.  The photo you see here was the very first exposure I made of the lights.  After this I made about another 180 images of the dancing lights before heading back home for the night.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Magic Bus

Here is another photo using a slow (in this case 2 second) shutter speed while zooming the camera lens.    This is an old school bus that is way back in the woods on the Grand Portage Reservation.  Jessica deserves credit for the title for this image, she's the one that came up with the name "The Magic Bus".  Lately I've been struggling to come up with titles for my images. I guess I've taken too many pictures and I'm starting to run out of names for them!

Sun Beams over Isle Royale

This morning's sunrise was pretty sweet, although at first it didn't look too promising due to the cloud cover.  As we drove to our planned location, however, things were looking better.  The actual sunrise itself was okay, but once the sun got up into the clouds we were treated to an incredible display of sun beams protruding down through the clouds.  The piece of land that you see in this photo is Isle Royale National Park, which is in Michigan but lies only 20 miles offshore from Minnesota, where this photo was taken from.  If you look closely in the lower right corner of the photo you can see Rock of Ages Lighthouse, which lies just a few miles off the eastern tip of Isle Royale.