Thursday, February 27, 2014

Icicle Palace

A week ago there was ice extending out into Lake Superior as far as the eye could see.  Thanks to the winds we've had in the past week, most of that ice has been pushed out across the lake and we once again have open water along the north shore.  That doesn't mean that there aren't some worthwhile ice formations to photograph right on the shore, though!  Like this one, which I photographed just after sunrise recently.  The ice that you see on the lake in the background is no longer there, but formations like this "Icicle Palace" still remain for exploration!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Road to the Aurora

Okay, just one more image of the aurora that I'd like to share with you from the early morning hours of February 19th.  This one was captured as I was on my way home.  I was driving slowly down Old Highway 61 in Grand Portage, every now and then switching my headlights off for a few seconds to peek at the sky and see if it was worth stopping for any more shots. At one point I had to stop because the lights looked like they were picking up again.  As I was setting up my tripod I could see this ribbon of color waving its way across the sky above the road.  It looked to my eye like there might be a little red in it, but I didn't realize just how much until the first exposure recorded.  The camera picks up a lot more color at night than what our eyes can see, as this image proves.  It was a great ending to a fantastic night of aurora photography!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Horseshoe Aurora

I was getting pretty tired around 2:00 AM on the morning of February 19, 2014 and the northern lights that I had been photographing for the past two hours were starting to fade.  I figured it was a good time to pack up and head home.  I had already made a lot of really nice images in the past two hours.  I was driving back out along the logging road when I decided to stop and check once again the first place that I had photographed that night.  Something compelled me to stop. I guess I just wanted to see if the lights looked any better than they did earlier.  Or, maybe the sky was telling me that it wasn't yet done with me for the night.  

At any rate, I stopped, got out of the truck and walked back down the road a few yards and looked up at the first group of trees that I had photographed that night.  The lights were barely there, but as I stood and watched they once again began to increase in their intensity.  Moments later I was looking at an incredible display that overshadowed everything I had seen in the two previous hours.  I quickly grabbed my gear and set up for some more shooting.  Once I had everything ready I started taking picture after picture as this fascinating horseshoe-shaped aurora marched across the sky above me.  As soon as the shape crossed my camera's field of view, the lights diminished somewhat and the horseshoe shape was gone.  The lights continued dancing but at a less intense rate.  I don't know what compelled me to stop, but I sure am glad that I did because if I hadn't I wouldn't be able to share this image with you today.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Celebrating the Aurora

Even though I roll my eyes every time I see a shot like this, sometimes I just can't resist doing one myself :-)  From the northern lights display in the early morning hours of February 19, 2014.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Aurora Drive

Seeing the northern lights is always a special treat and the anticipation of seeing them is a feeling I never tire of.  On the evening of Tuesday, February 18th I was looking at my Facebook news feed before going to bed and noticed that a few people were saying they could see the northern lights.  So, I checked the forecast websites and sure enough, they indicated that it might be a good night to see some aurora activity.  This always leads me to walking out on our back deck and checking the north sky.  As soon as I got out on the deck and looked up, I could see the lights.  They were pretty faint, however, and I was pretty tired from an early morning photography outing followed by an afternoon of skiing.  Jessica, my lovely and ever-supportive wife, suggested I go to bed for a little while and set my alarm to wake me just after midnight to check the sky again.  So, that's what I did.  My alarm woke me at midnight, I checked the sky and the lights were really starting to flare up!  Next thing you know, I'm packing my gear and dressing for a night out in the winter woods.  I really need to thank my wife Jessica.  She not only tolerates my penchant for late-night aurora hunting but is also a strong supporter of it and always encourages me to go out and get some good photos.  

So, just after midnight, I found myself driving down Highway 61 trying to figure out where to go to photograph the lights when I realized "Oh yeah… I need to go back to that logging road where I went last time when the lights were faint."  The last time I went out looking for the lights I drove down a road that is normally NOT plowed in the winter, but it is this year because there is a logging operation down this road.  Along the road to the logging area, there are lots of really nice trees for photographing against the night sky.  Even the logging cut is a nice place to shoot from, as it provides a broad view of the sky.  I ended up spending the next four and a half hours photographing a wonderful aurora display. The lights were ever-changing and even at times had some nice red color accenting the greens and purples that I was seeing.  The moon, which was about 3/4 full, waning and low in the sky, provided some nice light to the snow-covered foreground.  It also provided for some nice illumination on the trees, making for some detail in what otherwise would just be silhouettes.  All in all, it was an amazing night of photography.  This is my "first favorite" shot of the night.  I thought it would be fun to include my truck in the scene with the lights on, making it look like someone was driving down this road while the lights danced overhead.  I'll be sharing a few more images from this night in the days ahead, so be prepared to see some more from this amazing night!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

High Falls in early February 2014

With all the hardy winter weather we've had this season, the buildup of ice and snow has been tremendous at High Falls in Grand Portage State Park.  This photo was taken a couple of weeks ago but the falls still looks similar today to what you see in this photo.  If you've never seen the waterfall in winter, now is the time as it is beautiful and after tomorrow will be even more beautiful with the foot or more of snow that we are supposed to be getting tonight! 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Ice Mountains at Red Rock Point

Last night I went for a hike along the shoreline of Lake Superior.  The area I went to had pretty deep snow and hadn't been tracked yet so I brought along my snowshoes in order to have easier access to the shore.  With all the snow we've already had this week it was pretty deep right along the shoreline.  Red Rock Point is fairly high off the water with a dramatic, steep shoreline which sometimes catches the snow and wind, causing a lot of drifting.  I love the untouched snow in the foreground of this scene, it made for a pristine look to the photo.  As I was photographing this scene the air was incredibly still and quiet.  Even so, I could hear a river of ice moving along far out from shore.  There must have been a current pushing the ice because I could hear it crunching and grinding in the distance.  The sound of moving ice is one of my favorite sounds in nature.  I wonder what this scene will look like after today.  We are getting another round of snow with possibly 8 inches of new accumulation by the end of the day, which will push our snowfall total for this week to 20 inches or more!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Frozen Swordfish

I cannot say enough how much I enjoy photographing ice!  Especially abstract formations of ice like the one shown here.  I couldn't help it, when I first laid eyes on this formation I thought it looked like a school of swordfish leaping from the sea.  I used my 100-400mm lens to isolate the "fish" against the sky and photographed the scene after the sun had gone down to add a more dramatic feel to the shot. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sunset over the Frozen Explosion

Here is another view of the "Frozen Explosion" ice formation that I posted about a few days ago.  This was taken at sunset and I loved how the ice reacted to the fading daylight.  We have seen a lot of ice form in the past two weeks and this is evident by the lines in the ice in the background.  Fresh ice tends to move a lot, which creates cracks due to the pressure of the ice moving.  When cracks develop usually a little bit of water will seep up as the ice moves around.  That is why the lines look so thick.  Right now that background ice is frozen solid and you don't see those lines anymore.  I was glad that I photographed the "Frozen Explosion" as much as I did when I first found it, as now it is covered in snow and just doesn't look as fascinating as it does here.  Two days ago we got about 8" of new snow, and today it is snowing hard again all day, with another 3 to 5 inches predicted by tonight.  I sure am loving this winter.  It is a MUCH better winter than last year, which in comparison had very little snow and ice.  This is a REAL Minnesota winter, which means plenty of "cool" photographic opportunities!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cave of Blues

Fascinating ice cave that I found last weekend.  Since discovering this cave, I have been back to photograph it 3 times under various lighting conditions.  This photo was made at sunset on a day when most of the sky was filled with clouds but there was an opening in the clouds right along the western horizon.  I crawled into the cave and waited for the sun to reach that opening.  I was curious what it would do to the color of the ice when the sun came into the open, shone its light up onto the clouds then reflecting that light off the clouds and back down onto the ice.  Before the sun hit the opening in the clouds the ice was just sort of a drab gray color.  When the sun came out, though, the ice started to glow this mesmerizing blue color.  It was unreal to be sitting inside the cave bathed in this incredible light!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Frosted Plate Ice Sunrise

From a sunrise this past weekend.  A gloriously calm morning on Lake Superior.  The ice has been building up steadily lately and making for some nice photographs.  I love photographing ice in all its forms, but plate ice is one of my favorites.  It just adds so much beauty and interest to a photo.  I hope we get a lot more of this stuff before winter is over!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Frozen Explosion

What you are looking at here is one of the coolest (no pun intended) ice formations that I've ever found along the Lake Superior shoreline.  I decided to call this image "Frozen Explosion" because, well, that's what it looks like to me.  It looks like a bomb went off and then froze.  What actually happened here is there was this large chunk of ice on top of a boulder with a bunch of icicles hanging off the bottom.  Apparently the chunk of ice shifted and tipped over, resulting in all the icicles now sticking out horizontally (well, in all directions really but most of them are NOT hanging downwards anymore).  It is incredibly fascinating.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Whitecaps Point Ice Cave

We found a couple of cool north shore ice caves over the weekend.  The one shown here is the largest.  This one was about 15 feet deep and was tall enough that you could actually sit up inside it.  The other two that we found were pretty small and while you could crawl inside them it was difficult to take any decent picture from inside.  With my knowledge of the shoreline in Grand Portage, MN and how the sun lines up this time of year I figured this particular cave would make for a cool sunset shot.  I was right! 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

February Moon and Birch Tree Shadows

I love the night.  I have no problem whatsoever staying up for most of the night and being outside making images.  It's much easier for me to do that than it is to get up early and try to catch a sunrise.  This is another image from the other night when my friend Roger and I went out looking for the northern lights.  If you remember my last post then you remember that we did indeed see some northern lights, but they were pretty faint.  No problem for us, as the moonlight was glorious and provided plenty of photo opportunities.  We noticed that because the moon was fairly low in the western sky it was making for some nice long shadows of all the trees.  I decided to try and make some images of the shadows as well as the sky.  Luckily the moon was a week away from being full so the sky still had plenty of visible stars.  If you look closely at the surface of the snow you can see it sparkling in the moonlight.  I love how the sparkles in the snow sort of mimic the sparkle of the stars in the sky.  I think that this is my favorite image from the night of shooting.  Enjoy!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Soft Glow Aurora - Northern Minnesota Logging Road

Last night was the first time in a while where it looked promising to see some aurora activity for our area.  So, my friend Roger (who is up visiting for the weekend) and I went out in search of the lights.  Indeed the lights were out, but they were only a soft glow on the horizon.  It was a nice accent to the beauty of the moonlit sky.  The moon was fairly low in the western sky which made for nice shadows from the trees and snowbanks.  All in all it was an extraordinary night even though the lights were just a faint glow.  Thankfully there was very little wind last night as the temperature was 11 degrees below zero.  Below zero temps seem to be the norm this year... when we get temps back up in the 20's it really is going to feel like a heat wave!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Skiing the Ridge Runner Trail

On Tuesday this week Jessica and I had to bring our car to Duluth for a service appointment so we decided to take advantage of our time in the area and head over to the Boulder Lake Management Area for an afternoon ski.  What a delight this turned out to be!  The trails were in excellent shape and the facilities were phenomenal.  Even the trail signage at the various trail junctions was very well done, incorporating the use of a satellite photo overlaid with color-coded trails.

Best of all, it was FREE!  The BLMA is cooperatively managed by Minnesota Power, the St. Louis County Land Department and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  There is an excellent warming/changing shack at the trailhead that is superbly maintained.  In fact, it looks almost new!  It was a very comfortable building, and even had hot water available along with a selection of hot cocoa.  Even the outhouse was VERY clean and well-maintained.  

We were very impressed with this ski system.  Once we were ready to ski we headed north to try the Rolling Pin/Ridge Runner Trail as a warm-up.  This was a beautiful section of trail that traversed a narrow ridge and had some fun hills on it.  After that we headed over to the south side of the warming shack.  To get there you ski across Boulder Lake, then you are in the midst of a beautiful pine forest.  The trails here were mostly flat, but still had some nice downhill grades here and there.  We did the Bear Paw and Blue Ox loops and had a blast.  It was a lot of fun and gave a normally mundane "Duluth necessity" trip a needed dose of excitement!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cave of Blue Ice

This was probably my favorite find at the ice caves.  I walked into one of the caves to find this blue wonder inside.  The way the light was hitting it was perfect for bringing out the color in the ice as well as the definition in the ripples of the ice in the lower part of the frame.  I spent at least 15 minutes inside this cave making images of the ice that was found within. I found it to be simply fascinating!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Ice Cave Wonderland

Hmmmm... anyone getting tired of shots from the ice caves yet?  I promise I will only post one or two more shots, then be done with it :-)  Photographing them was just so much fun and so fascinating it's hard not to share each and every photo that I made of them.  The hole or arch that you see in this photo is probably one of the most photographed features of the mainland sea caves this year.  The ice formations on both sides of this arch are incredible.  Many of the shots from the caves that I've seen posted on Facebook this year have been of this arch.  Some have been really intriguing and thoughtful compositions, others have been more like "snapshots".  Any way you look at it, it's interesting to see how so many people are drawn to one specific feature.  This is one shot where I really appreciated having all the other people around.  I wanted to include a person walking past the arch in the background and it was very easy to do this, since every few seconds somebody walked past.  I made several images of people walking past the arch and this one was my favorite. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sea Cave Ceiling

One of the most beautiful aspects of the sea cave ice was the patterns revealed when you looked up at the ceiling from within a cave.  Most of the caves had hundreds if not thousands of hanging icicles and when you looked up at them it reminded me of how it looked when they went to "light speed" in the original Star Wars movies.  The view was, in a word, mesmerizing.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Wall of Ice

There is so much to see around every corner along the shoreline at the mainland sea caves in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  The caves get most of the attention, but the cliffs are just as impressive.  Here is a photo of one of the smaller cliffs but one that had some of the most interesting ice formations.  The ice was very thick on this cliff and consisted of several different colors.  It was beautiful to admire.  It also had this puddle in front of it that made for some cool reflections.  There was maybe 1 to 2 inches of water on top of the ice here.  I set up the composition then asked Jessica to press the shutter for me after I walked into the shot.  

Throughout the day the ice was settling quite a lot and several times we heard a loud "WHUMP" as a section of ice shifted a little and/or settled.  We never felt the ice move, but it was disconcerting to hear these loud noises.  We heard one such noise while standing in this location.  Even though we knew the ice was quite thick, the sound combined with the water on the ice made us extra jumpy so after grabbing this shot we hightailed it out of there.