Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Midnight in the Sugar Bush

After photographing the fall colors all day on Saturday we took a breather at home for a few hours.  Just before midnight Roger and I headed back out to try photographing the night sky over some cool maple trees that we had found earlier in the day.  I was also anxious to attempt some night photos with the new Sony RX100 Mark III camera.  When we got to the location of the maples we couldn't believe how warm it was.  It was almost midnight and it was 68 degrees!  Quite warm for the middle of the night this time of year.  

Above: Self-portrait with the Sony RX100 Mark III

I started off making a few images with my Canon 5D Mark II, then pulled out the Sony to give it a whirl.  I wasn't sure how to make any shots work, as I had never done a night sky shot with a small point and shoot camera before.  Even though the Sony RX100 series is a camera that will fit in your pocket, it does have a full complement of manual controls.  Some of the controls are not that intuitive, though.  It took me a little while to figure out how to get the aperture set the way I wanted it, but eventually I got it figured out.  I also wasn't sure if autofocus would even work, so I just set the camera to manual focus and turned the control ring until the focus was set at infinity.  Then, I turned the long-exposure noise reduction on and proceeded to make some images. 

Above: Using the Sony with a Joby Gorillapod at a local waterfall - Photo by my wife Jessica Barr!

I was blown away by the results!  I took a few 30 second exposures at f/1.8 and ISO 3200, and a few 20 second exposures at f/1.8 and ISO 6400.  I really couldn't tell much of a difference between the two.  Noise levels seemed to be almost equal between the two settings.  Even harder to believe, the shots looked almost as good as those that come off my 5D Mark II, a large SLR camera with a full-frame sensor!  I tried not to let my excitement get the best of me, though.  I know sometimes the camera's LCD can fool you into thinking a shot is better than it actually is.  Getting them on the computer and viewing them at 100% would be the real test.  Well, after getting them on the Mac and viewing them at 100% I can tell you that the image quality is UNBELIEVABLE!  I thought I would end up with a shot that would be okay with viewing on screen, but not good enough to make a print.  Quite the contrary, I am fully comfortable with sending this file in to have a large print made from it!  The image quality from this little camera is nothing short of amazing.  I never thought I would be able to produce images of the night sky of such quality with such a small camera.  Message to Sony:  You Rock!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ancient Maple

The weather today is cold and dreary, but we sure had a beautiful weekend!  Our friend Roger came up to visit us and photograph the fall colors so we spent the entire day Saturday exploring the woods and taking in the unbelievable beauty of the autumn forest.  We found a lot of cool things to photograph, not the least of which was this cool old-growth maple surrounded by younger trees.  I laid down on the ground and stared up at this magnificent old tree; that was when I saw this composition and decided to photograph it. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A walk through the maples

I hate to say it, but the best of the maple color has already come and gone (in Grand Portage, at least). The peak maple color this year was extremely short-lived.  Seven days ago the trees shown in this photo were still 90% green.  This photo was made 4 days ago.  Today, only about 25% of the leaves remain on these trees, the rest have fallen.  It was the shortest-lived peak maple season that I can remember.  There is still a lot of glorious color to be found out there, but the maples are almost done. Now the best color will be in the birch, aspen and tamarack.  The best locations for color will be shifting down towards the Lake Superior shoreline.  Even though the maple color is almost done, don't let that discourage you as there is still plenty of good color out there in the other trees.  So, get out there and take a walk in the woods and enjoy this most colorful of seasons :-)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Autumn Bike Ride

The fall colors are at their peak right now inland from Lake Superior and one of the best ways to experience them is from the seat of a mountain bike.  There are a lot of dirt roads in Cook County that are really nice mountain bike routes that also go through really colorful stands of trees.  Get out there now and enjoy the colors while they last! 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fall Color Fire Road

Boy, the fall colors sure have exploded over the past few days!  Here is an image from yesterday morning about an hour after sunrise.  We were driving back home after shooting the sunrise from the top of a ridge when we came across this scene.  The lighting was amazing.  The tree on the right seemed to be glowing from within.  We simply had to stop and make some photographs! 

Autumn morning over the Smoky Mountains of Grand Portage

Here is another image from yesterday morning's unforgettable sunrise over the north woods of Minnesota.  Just moments after the sun came up the valley below us was filled with this incredible light and fog.  It was a surreal experience watching and photographing these scenes through my telephoto lens!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Autumn Glory

This morning's sunrise was INCREDIBLE!  We knew it was going to be good as we drove to our planned location, but we had no idea it would be SO good!  The clouds, colors and fog all came together to give us an unforgettable morning immersing ourselves in the glorious autumn of the Minnesota north woods.  Sure do LOVE this time of year!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Maple Sky

I went looking for fall colors today and found some good stuff!  The leaves have really changed a lot in the last few days. I found maples that were in all stages of color.  Some were just starting, others were at their prime and a few were already past peak.  Even the aspen are already reaching their prime color.  The birch, however, are still mostly green.  The colors should be really good for the next week or so!

Autumn Day's End

Last night's sunset over the fall colors of northern Minnesota.  What more can be said?  I love my little corner of the world :-)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mountain Maple Sunburst

Looks like we're in for a stretch of pretty nice weather this week, so in honor of the sunny forecast here's a "sunburst" photo from yesterday!  I made this image while hiking the Middle Falls Trail at Grand Portage State Park.  Autumn is my favorite season for hiking this trail.  It really has a nice mix of terrain and things to see along its roughly 5-mile round-trip distance.  Right now the fall colors along the second half of the trail are excellent!  Looks like most of this week is going to be weather like that portrayed in this photo.  I hope you all have a chance to get out and explore the glory of this autumn season! 

September Sarsaparilla

Had a great afternoon yesterday shooting the autumn colors with my new Sony RX100 III camera.  This little camera is amazing!  The image quality is superb and I find myself looking for shots that I never think of shooting with my SLR camera.  I was basically laying on the ground and resting the camera on the ground to make this photograph.  I set the aperture to f/11 and played around with the composition until I got this nice sunburst coming through the trees.  Taken along the Middle Falls Trail in Grand Portage State Park.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Waterfall Heaven

The water level on my favorite river is perfect right now for waterfall photography.  The intricate details of Minnesota's tallest waterfall really shine through in these conditions.  This is easily one of the Minnesota North Shore's most photographed waterfalls and certainly my most favorite one to photograph.  It has many moods depending on the water level and always looks different every time it is visited. I don't think I will ever get tired of seeing it :-)  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mushroom Season

It's that time of year again!  With the cooler weather and more frequent rainfall, mushrooms are popping up all over the forest floor.  I found this one while walking through the woods yesterday.  It was in a perfect location for a photo, on a hillside growing out of a soft blanket of moss without any other forest clutter around it.  Often times when I find a mushroom like this it is surrounded by sticks and leaves making it hard to get a good photograph.  This one had none of that, it was just standing there all by itself.  I really enjoy making photographs like this, they provide a sense of perspective that most people never see.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Early Autumn Blaze

The fall colors are really starting to pop up now in the woods inland from Lake Superior.  It'll be a awhile yet before the Birch and Aspen start to show their autumn glory, but the Maples are really starting to take off!  This photo was made about 7 or 8 miles inland from Lake Superior at the base of one of the Maple ridges in Grand Portage.  It was a cold, wet and cloudy day which really makes the colors seem extra vibrant.  I really liked the arrangement of leaves on this young tree and couldn't resist making a photograph of it.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Autumn Tapestry

The colors of autumn are intensifying!  Yesterday we went for a short drive in the woods to see how the colors of the maple trees are progressing.  We found lots of nice color, but still mostly in the smaller trees.  The big maples, for the most part, are still green.  A few were already more than 50% turned, more than a few were just starting to turn but the majority were still quite green.  It was a cold and rainy day, the temperature was right around 40 degrees and there was a steady drizzle when I made this shot.  Not the best conditions for spending the day outside but the colors sure are beautiful on an overcast, rainy day! 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

False Aurora Alarm

Last night's aurora forecast was VERY promising.  Unfortunately, it was also unrealized for us in northeast Minnesota due to heavy cloud cover.  I stayed up until about 4 AM watching the sky and the forecast but the clouds never cleared.  I was really wanting some nice shots to add to my aurora collection and I even had a new location in mind where I had never photographed the aurora before.  I think the location would have been phenomenal, especially with the combination of waning moonlight and the forecast for strong auroras.  I guess I'll just have to wait until the next storm!  Patience is definitely a virtue when it comes to photographing the northern lights.  Since I didn't get any new shots last night, I went through my archives and found an image that I hadn't shared yet from the early morning hours of July 15, 2012, one of the best nights for aurora activity that I've ever experienced.  This photo was made at 2:38 in the morning on the shoreline of McFarland Lake at the end of the Arrowhead Trail.  It may not be current, but it's still very cool and I think very much worth sharing!  

Friday, September 12, 2014

September Sunset, Grand Portage Island

Last night while I was mowing the lawn the sky was beautiful.  The sunset had subtle yet sublime color.  I couldn't resist taking a break from mowing and walking down to the beach to make this photo.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Early autumn colors

I went for a drive in the woods yesterday and was surprised to find a lot of small maple trees were already at their peak fall color.  The large trees are all still quite green, just these little ones were vibrant red.  The warm colors were very welcome on a cold, windy day (the temperature was 39 degrees when I made this photo).  I'm looking forward to lots more autumn glory in the coming weeks!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Late Summer along the Echo Trail

On this cold and blustery September day my mind goes back to a beautiful late summer day spent along the Echo Trail in northeast Minnesota.  I spent part of the day driving the Echo Trail (which is actually a gravel road for those that don't know) to scout it out for photo locations.  It was my first time driving the trail, which some may find interesting considering that it's not that far from where I live.  However, we have plenty of roads similar to this one (Arrowhead Trail, Caribou Trail, Sawbill Trail, etc.) closer to where I live and those roads provide plenty of photographic opportunities as well.  Still, I was always curious about the Echo Trail and the scenery along the road certainly didn't disappoint!  Especially this location, the "Little Indian Sioux River" canoe access point.  I'm not a big fan of the name, but the view sure beckoned.  I was wishing I had more time and a canoe with me so I could paddle down this beautiful river.  Someday in the future Jessica and I will have to return so we can further explore this beautiful part of northern Minnesota.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Harvest Moon and Ancient Pine

Last night I went out in search of a photo-worthy sunset, which I did not find.  Thanks to thick cloud cover along the Lake Superior shoreline I chose to head to an inland lake hoping to find a clearing sky as the sun set.  Well, I found a clearing sky alright.  The trouble is, it cleared too quickly!  By the time the sun went down the sky was completely devoid of any clouds.  What I did find, however, was a very beautiful moonrise!  Luckily I was in an area that had several large pine trees that stood apart against the sky from the rest of the forest.  I found a pair of trees that I liked and photographed the rising moon in between the two trees.  I loved the subtle color in the sky and I decided to break one of the "rules" of photography and composed this photo with the trees and the moon in the center of the frame, because that composition just called out to me and I really liked it.  I hope you like it as well :-)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

High Falls, the Big Dipper AND a moonbow!

Last night space weather forecasters were calling for a chance of northern lights so some friends and I headed out just before midnight in search of them.  We went to High Falls of the Pigeon River in Grand Portage State Park.  We figured that with the moonlight it would be ideal conditions for photographing the lights over the waterfall IF the lights came out and were strong enough to be seen over the moonlight.  We were hoping for the moonlight to illuminate the falls and the river gorge and for the aurora to illuminate the sky.  Unfortunately, we never saw any northern lights.  We did, however, see a beautiful moonbow and the Big Dipper was bright and beautiful over the top of the falls.  All in all, it was a fun and enjoyable night even though we didn't see the aurora.   

Friday, September 5, 2014

Biking the Minnesota Northwoods

Last night we went for a bike ride under one of the prime maple canopies of northeast Minnesota.  This is arguably my favorite Cook County backroad to ride.  It has a very nice mix of rolling terrain which really makes for a fun ride.  In a few more weeks this route will be bursting with the glorious colors of autumn, making it even more fun to fly down on a mountain bike!  

I've been experimenting this week with a Sony RX100 "pocket" camera, and I have to say I am very impressed with the features and image quality of this small camera.  This photo was taken in very poor light (about an hour before sunset on a VERY cloudy evening under a dark canopy of trees).  This particular shot was at ISO 200 with an aperture of f/1.8 and a shutter speed of 1/25 since I was going for the motion blur effect.  However, I also shot several images at ISO 1600 and even 3200 and I was blown away by the results.  I never could have made this shot with my old Canon G11 camera, which is what I used to carry on such outings.  Sadly, the G11 is dead and I am looking for a replacement.  Could it be the RX100?  So far, I have been impressed by this performance-rich little camera!  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

September Squalls

Yesterday we had a few rain squalls move through our area and the clouds were beautiful during that time!  This picture was made from the Grand Portage Community Garden not long after one of the squalls passed through.  When it wasn't raining there were quite a few native bees active on the goldenrod in the nearby field and the dragonflies were out in force as well.  You can even see one dragonfly just above the tree line on the left side of this photo.  It sure was a wonderful day to be outside!