Saturday, August 30, 2014

Front row seat for the aurora show

Here is another image from the northern lights display that I saw over Lake Vermilion in the early morning hours of August 27th.  This was before the clouds had moved out and before the lights were really good.  The aurora color here was actually incredibly faint but shooting a 30 second exposure at ISO 6400 really brought the colors out.  This is a self-portrait of me standing on the fishing pier at Lake Vermilion State Park looking in the direction of the town of Ely.  The orange-colored light is actually the city glow from Ely reflecting off the bottom of the clouds.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Vermilion Aurora

I just returned from two nights spent in Ely, MN and was lucky enough to have a nice aurora display while I was there!  Jessica was working there for the week and had a day off so I went up to spend the day with her.  We played tourist for the day, spending the morning at the International Wolf Center and the afternoon driving around exploring the area.  I knew that there was a good chance of aurora activity for Wednesday night so in the afternoon we drove around checking out various water accesses to find a good spot for photographing the aurora.  The location I liked most was within the newly established Lake Vermilion State Park.  This is Minnesota's newest state park and isn't even "officially" open yet, with no signs at all advertising the park or its location.  They are working on a new entrance road, however, so there is some access available.  We drove to the end of the new road and found a nice picnic area with some trails that are being developed along the lake.  There is a nice new fishing pier that faces to the north which we knew would make a great spot for aurora watching.  So, I decided that this was going to be the place where I would return that night to watch for the lights.  

I returned to the site at about 11 PM and when I arrived the lights were already in full swing, dancing throughout the sky.  Some light cloud cover did obstruct the view of the lights somewhat but after only a few minutes the clouds started to dissipate and made a nice complement to the view of the lights.  Before long the sky was completely clear but the lights had faded to a dull glow.  I decided to wait it out for at least a few hours and see if they would pick back up.  As I waited I was treated to the always glorious sounds of several pairs of loons calling from various areas around the lake.  I know there were at least two pairs, possibly 3 that I was hearing.  The air was unbelievably calm so the calls from the loons echoed for miles around.  Around 1:45 AM it seemed the lights were starting to get brighter so I started making exposures again.  Before long the sky was bright with the slow moving glow that is characteristic of a mild geomagnetic storm.  I watched as a small arc grew in size over the opposite shore of the lake.  The arc got bigger and bigger until it eventually no longer fit within the field of view of my 17mm lens.  Every now and then vertical pillars of light appeared within the arc and shot upwards into the sky, carrying amazing hues of red and purple light. Somewhere between 2:30 and 3:00 AM the lights faded back to a dull glow and I was starting to get pretty tired so I called it a night and headed back to the hotel in Ely.  This new state park sure makes a great location for watching the night sky.  There is hardly any light pollution at all and with the park being on the south shore of the lake, it's a prime location for watching the Aurora Borealis!  

Monday, August 25, 2014

Late Summer Storm over Wauswaugoning Bay

Here is another image from last night's incredible lightning storm.  After shooting the storm from our yard for a while the lightning was still going off frequently but had moved further out over the lake beyond Hat Point.  The rain had let up and was really not much more than a sprinkle.  So, I decided to head down to the spirit tree and try photographing the storm from there.  I got there just in time to capture this image, making just 4 or 5 exposures before capturing this one.  It was the only good shot I came away with.  The best of the lighting was done.  Flashes of light still illuminated the clouds every few seconds or so but the bolts were not coming anymore.  Thankfully I headed down there when I did otherwise I wouldn't have this image!  This was shot with the camera in Bulb mode. Exposure length was 21 seconds at f/8 and ISO 400.

Late Summer Storm

Last night we had one heck of a line of thunderstorms come through Grand Portage.  I was watching the radar as the storms approached and it sure looked like we were in for something special.  The weather hit Grand Portage Bay about 12:30 AM.  It started with a soft breeze and light rain which quickly turned to gusty winds and a downpour.  At first I tried photographing the lightning over the lake from underneath the overhang in front of our house.  That didn't work as the rain was coming sideways and I got pretty wet after just a minute or two.  So, I went back in the house and watched the light show from the living room window.  

After about 10 minutes the rain had pretty much stopped but the lightning was still going off like crazy.  So, I went back outside and quickly noticed that the lightning was actually better behind the house.  I walked down to the road and photographed the flashes of light over the house.  Every now and then an extra bright flash accompanied by a strong bolt would light up the sky.  The photo you see here was the best out of the series of roughly 30 images that I shot.  I was shooting in Bulb mode and this ended up being a 6 second exposure at f/8 and ISO 800.  After a few minutes of shooting from the road, the rain started up again and continued for about the next hour.  When it let up again I checked our rain gauge and it showed almost an inch of new rainfall!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

From the Earth to the Milky Way

The gray sky is persistent this week, that's about all I can say.  I've really been wanting to photograph some sunsets these past few days but it just hasn't been worth going out.  So, I sit at my computer and continue to work on images that I shot earlier this summer.  Here is one such image from the night of July 30th.  I did quite a few shots this night trying different things on different levels of the fire tower.  For this particular shot I was right at the top of the tower and shining both my headlamp and my flashlight up at the Milky Way.  It ended up being one of my favorite shots of the night.  I call this "From the Earth to the Milky Way".  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Supreme calm off Hat Point

I need to get back out on the lake.  I've been looking at some of my shots taken several years ago from my boat and really wishing I could get out on the lake again.  Right now my boat (which is my favorite Lake Superior photography platform) is in need of some work and I'm really not comfortable taking it out until the work is done.  Also, my sea kayak has a big hole in the hull right where the rudder is attached, so using that is out of the question at the moment as well.  Anyway, enough about my equipment troubles!  As I mentioned, I was looking through some images last night that I made in the summer of 2004 and came across this one made with my old Canon Digital Rebel.  I love being out on the lake in the evenings when the water is super calm like this.  On this particular evening I was coming back from the Susie Islands and I decided to just stop the boat, shut off the motor and drift for a while.  I made this image while standing in the bow of the boat.  I just love the look of the water in this photo!  

Friday, August 22, 2014

August Moonlight

Last night was another dreary weather evening with no good photo opportunities, so here's another image from the last full moon.  This was taken at 10 PM on the evening of August 9, 2014.  The moon was directly behind the lower part of the trunk of the tree which made for some dramatic light.  I also really loved the patterns of the clouds in the sky.  30 second exposure at ISO 400 with a Canon EF 17-40mm lens.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pink Sunset and Orange Lichen

The weather the past couple of days has been pretty rainy and extremely gray.  As such, I really haven't been out doing any shooting and thanks to the weather we've been more focused on rainy day projects around the house.  So, here's a recent sunset picture from a few days ago.  The sky looked very promising for a knockout sunset early in the evening but by the time the sun went down the cloud cover had thickened enough that there wasn't much color.  The color that was there was pretty nice though!  I really liked this rock covered with orange lichen and how it stuck out from all the other rocks so I decided to include that in my composition.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Superior Shines in the August Moonlight

An image from this past weekend during the half-moon over Lake Superior. The moonlight, stars and clouds were all incredible on this night.  Everything came together for some amazing imagery!  This is a 30 second exposure taken at 12:20 AM on August 17th.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Heron in reflected moonlight on Lake Superior

Remember my post from earlier today of the heron in the moonlight on Grand Portage Bay?  Well, here is another shot of the same heron, this time taken with my Tamron 150-600mm lens at 600mm.  I couldn't believe it the other night when I visited the shoreline at Grand Portage National Monument and saw this beautiful bird standing on the rock surrounded by some of the most sublime moonlight reflections I've ever seen.  

As I mentioned before, I photographed the heron for about an hour and in that time he barely moved.  He did turn around on the rock once (as you can tell from my earlier picture, as he was facing the other direction in that shot) but other than that he didn't seem to be moving at all.  Of the series of images that I made, the exposure times ranged from 10 seconds on the picture you see here to 30 seconds on other pictures.  In almost every one of them the heron is nice and sharp.  There is only a hint of movement in a couple of the shots.  Maybe he was sleeping, I don't know.  All I know is that after watching him for about an hour he did finally fly away.  Seeing this beautiful bird in an equally beautiful setting made for one of the coolest night-time experiences I've ever had.  

Heron and moonlight on Grand Portage Bay

The light of a half-moon illuminates a Great Blue Heron that was standing on a rock in Grand Portage Bay this past Saturday night.  This photo was made at 2:00 in the morning after I had already watched and photographed the heron for about an hour.  Shortly after making this image the heron took flight and flew off to the west.  It sure was a cool experience to see this beautiful bird lit up by the moonlight!  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

August Moonrise and the Spirit Tree

Last night before going to bed I checked my moon phase app to see what time the moonrise was supposed to occur.  After seeing that it was going to be in about 10 minutes I made a spur of the moment decision to head down to the Spirit Tree to photograph the event.  It's a waning half-moon right now so I figured there was a good chance I could capture the moonrise along with a sky filled with stars.  When the moon is full it is so bright that it washes out the view of the majority of stars in the sky.  My impromptu plan worked out perfectly.  Not only was the moonlight nice and soft but there was also a thin cloud bank on the horizon which helped to diffuse the light.  The sky above was flooded with stars.  I got the shot I was hoping for!  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Queen of the Prairie

A beautiful patch of a rare flower (especially for northern Minnesota!) that grows on the Grand Portage Reservation.  I've heard that this is an extremely uncommon flower, which is something that I tend to believe since I've never seen it anywhere else in Cook County.  An internet search turned up the result of "Filipendula Rubra", or "Queen of the Prairie".  If you know otherwise, feel free to correct me as I am certainly not an expert when it comes to rare plants.  In any case, it certainly is a beautifully eye-catching flower.  When you go past this field you can't help but notice it.  The bumblebees love it as well
.  As I was photographing them I was surrounded by the bees and estimate there were at least 50 of them scattered throughout the patch of flowers.  It's amazing the amount of activity that is occurring within a patch of flowers such as this.  A quick drive-by certainly doesn't reveal much.  You need to immerse yourself in it and you'll be shocked at how much activity is going just within a small patch of flowers such as this!  

Friday, August 15, 2014

August Evening over the Minnesota Northwoods

A recent shot from one of my favorite places on this planet upon which we live.  The view never fails to impress!  In about another month this will be an even more glorious view as the leaves make the transformation to their autumn colors.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

August Perigee Moon

The moonlight this past weekend was extraordinary thanks to the moon being at perigee, which is its closest position to Earth in its 27.3 day cycle between perigee and apogee (the point at which it is furthest from Earth).  The full moon occurred at roughly the same time as perigee, making for what has become known as a "supermoon".  I don't know about all that, but I do know that it sure made for some incredibly bright moonlight over the weekend!  And, combined with this really cool cloud cover just after sunset, made for a pretty spectacular photo as well.  I made this image with my Tamron 150-600 telephoto lens from our front yard.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pow-Wow Moon over the Spirit Tree

Here is an image that I made last night of what I am calling the "Pow-Wow Moon", because this weekend is our annual Rendezvous Days Pow-Wow in Grand Portage.  It sure was a beautiful night.  After spending the evening watching the dancing and listening to the drum at the pow-wow I went down to the tree with a couple of friends to watch and photograph the moonlight.  The sky was filled with some really interesting clouds and the night was absolutely still.  Just a perfect night to be sitting along the shoreline and enjoying all the beauty that mother nature has to offer!  

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Here's a shot that I really had a lot of fun making.  It's another example of my technique where I use a long exposure combined with a slow zoom of the lens.  The exposure length was 30 seconds; for the first 15 seconds I let the image record at 17mm, during the last 15 seconds I very slowly zoomed the lens from 17 to 40mm.  The resulting image is pretty cool.  While I was working on this photo in Lightroom I had music shuffling in iTunes and the song "Starseed" by Our Lady Peace started playing.  Once the song started I knew I had my title for this image :-)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Solitary Pine and the Milky Way

Well, I hope you're not getting tired of Milky Way images as it seems that is all I've been shooting lately!  Last weekend I found a new place that I really enjoy for photographing the night sky.  It's in the middle of an area that was logged over the past couple of winters and there are these big, beautiful pine trees that were left out in the open as seed trees.  It sure makes for a cool place to photograph these old growth trees silhouetted against the night sky.  For this image I decided to compose just one of the trees in my shot with the Milky Way rising directly behind the tree.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Silent Sentinels

It's been a Milky Way week!  Last night I went out in search of the northern lights (NOAA forecasters were predicting the possibility of a minor geomagnetic storm) but instead ended up photographing the Milky Way for a few hours.  While the northern lights never really made an appearance other than a very faint glow on the horizon, it was still a magnificent night to be out sky watching.  The Milky Way was as bold as ever and while I photographed the stars I was treated to the haunting calls of a Barred Owl in the distance.  The owl was particularly talkative as I heard him call countless times while I was surrounded by these beautiful pine trees.  The air was incredibly calm so his calls really echoed across the valley.  I don't think I will ever tire of standing underneath such an amazing sky as this.  I sure do love the dark sky that we have here in northern Minnesota!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Within the Milky Way

The other night after shooting the Milky Way from the pines I headed to another favorite night sky location of mine where there is an old fire tower.  It's fun photographing the fire tower with the Milky Way rising alongside it.  This time, though, I wanted to see what it would look like with the Milky Way behind the tower.  Once I did a test shot and saw what it was like, I decided to lock the shutter button down on the camera so it would take one exposure after another. Then, I climbed the tower and stood at various levels to get myself in the shot as well.  This is the image that I thought was the best. I am standing on a platform a little over halfway up the height of the tower.  This is where my silhouette seemed to show up the best.  I really like the way this shot turned out.  Viewing the Milky Way from the tower was incredible.  It felt like I could reach out and pluck the stars right out of the sky, almost like I was within the Milky Way itself (which we are, actually).  Thus, my title for this image "Within the Milky Way" was born :-)