Monday, April 27, 2015

Earth and Sky - The Meeting of the Ancients

 The Milky Way rises over the Spirit Tree in Grand Portage, MN.  The Spirit Tree, for those who are unaware, is an old-growth cedar tree on the Lake Superior shoreline of the Grand Portage Reservation in northeast Minnesota.  The tree is a significant place for the Ojibwe people and tribe members will frequently visit the tree to leave offerings of tobacco.  I grew up just a mile or so from the tree and my first memories of it were visiting it with my grade school class and making sketches of the tree for art class.  I never expected that I would still be visiting the tree to this day (let alone living in the same house that I grew up in!), only now with a camera in hand and capturing images such as this.  It is definitely a comfort knowing that this magnificent tree continues to watch over the lake just over the hill from where I live. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Floating in a Blue Dream

Can you tell I've been on a Milky Way kick lately?  Hopefully no one is getting sick of these images of the night sky.  It is one of my favorite things to photograph and lately the view of the Milky Way has been spectacular, so I've been photographing it a lot!  Whenever I gaze up at the stars it sparks my imagination.  How can one not daydream when staring up at a sky such as this?  For this image it seemed to me as though the island itself was floating within the Milky Way.  This, along with the color of the sky and the tendency to daydream, led me to the title "Floating in a Blue Dream".  I hope you like it :-)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Signal to the Stars

The Milky Way Galaxy with the lighthouse in Grand Marais, Minnesota. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Spring Ice and Rainbow at High Falls

It's that glorious time of year for waterfall watching along the north shore of Lake Superior!  Especially at High Falls in Grand Portage State Park, arguably one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the state of Minnesota (not to mention the tallest!).  This photo was taken yesterday morning after a stretch of several cold days where the high temperature was in the mid to upper 30's.  The colder temps meant that at night the spray from the waterfall was freezing to everything that it landed on, coating everything along the gorge walls in a thick layer of ice.  It makes for a beautiful scene on a sunny morning thanks to the added effect of a rainbow!  I used a 6-stop neutral-density filter to slow down the exposure to 2 seconds and blur the movement of the water.  The forecast is looking pretty nice for the weekend so better head up the shore and check out the waterfalls!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Milky Way over Hat Point and Pete's Island

I sure do love our night sky this time of year in northern Minnesota!  Mostly because we can see the core of the Milky Way so vividly.  In the winter it is below the horizon so we cannot see it.  In spring, though, it slowly starts to rise and by mid-April it is pretty high in the sky later in the night.  I also like the angle of the Milky Way this time of year.  Later in the summer it is protruding pretty much straight up from the horizon, but right now it comes up at an angle which is really nice for photography.  I should remind you that when you are are out stargazing you will not see the Milky Way as easily as you see it in this photo.  The camera's sensitivity to light through the use of a long exposure and high ISO allows the photo to show a lot more light than what our eyes can see.  Still, once your eyes adjust, you will be able to easily see the core of the Milky Way (as long as you are away from any major sources of light pollution).  This view was captured just 1/4 mile down the road from our house.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day from Otter and Muskrat!

On a recent photo outing I came across a couple of animals that are rather difficult to see and even more difficult to photograph.  The first marsh that I stopped at, I was standing on the end of a culvert and this little muskrat came swimming right towards me.  He swam right underneath me, through the culvert and upstream further into the marsh on the other side of the road.  The second marsh I stopped at had otters playing in it.  They were actually running around on top of a thin layer of ice that was still on the marsh but by the time I got my camera ready they were back in the water and stayed in the water.  I thought it would be fun to share the images of these north woods animals for Earth Day :-)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Quiet Night at Hollow Rock Resort

If you want a beautiful and easy location to view the Milky Way Galaxy over Lake Superior, look no further than Hollow Rock Resort in Grand Portage, MN.  This sublime location on the shoreline of Lake Superior has comfortable cabins with superb views of Lake Superior and the Milky Way right outside your door.  Not to mention the famous Hollow Rock itself!  Last week I spent part of the night photographing the night sky at the resort.  I captured an incredible view of the galaxy over Hollow Rock (see my post from yesterday) as well as this view which shows a couple of the cabins and the trees that surround them.  Lake Superior is right on the other side of the car that you see in this photo.  Amazing views are always present at Hollow Rock Resort, but if you want to see the core of the Milky Way, now through summer is the time.  The core is not visible in our winter sky. And, as you can see from this photo, all you need to do is walk a few steps out in front of your cabin to see this unforgettable sky!

For more information about Hollow Rock Resort click this link:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hollow Rock Heaven

The Milky Way over Hollow Rock in Grand Portage, Minnesota.  I finally have a lens and a camera that is allowing me to capture the views of the night sky that I've always dreamed about.  Ever since I've been practicing photography (a little over 20 years now), I've been into low-light photography and photographs of the night sky in particular.  While I have always loved making images after dark, I've never been able to fully realize my vision due to limitations in my camera gear.  Don't get me wrong, I still love all those night images I've made over the years.  There will always be a place in my heart and my memory of all those experiences of making those images.  

But, they were far from the quality of the images that I am now creating.  This photograph is a perfect case in point.  It looks like something from a dream.  The Milky Way is so vivid and clear, and seems to jump off the screen at you.  And, the noise performance is outstanding.  The photo has noise, to be sure (any photo at ISO 6400 is going to have noise) but the quality of the noise is unbelievable.  It actually reminds me of a really fine film grain.  I can't wait to make a big print out of this photograph.  I think it's going to be quite stunning!  I have never been more excited than I am now about making more images of the night sky :-)  

FYI - The light on the rock is from an interior table lamp that was left on in one of the nearby cabins of Hollow Rock Resort.  It cast just enough light on the rock to give a nice soft level of illumination.  The white areas that you see on the left side of the rock are the last remnants of ice from the winter season.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering about the equipment used to make this photograph, the camera used was a full-frame Nikon D750 with a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Convergence of Lights

Here's the last image I'm going to share from the aurora storm on the night of April 15th of this year.  This was later in the night (around 3:00 AM); the core of the Milky Way had risen high enough above the horizon to be seen and the lights of the aurora had faded just enough to see the Milky Way through the lights.  It is the first photo where I have captured both the core of the Milky Way and the Aurora Borealis together in the same photo.  Kind of a cool convergence if you ask me!  I can't wait for the opportunity to photograph the two together again in the future.

Cool Sky over America's Coolest Small Town

I'm sure many of you have heard by now that Grand Marais, Minnesota was voted "America's Coolest Small Town" by the readers of Budget Travel Magazine.  Grand Marais is certainly a cool little town, and it has some of the coolest night skies around!  Only in a small town would you still be able to see the Milky Way overhead.  This photo was made last night at 2:00 AM.  I wasn't going to go out shooting last night but I took a look at the forecast and it sounds like we're going to be cloudy for most of the coming week.  So, I figured I better get out and take advantage of the crystal clear night sky while it lasts.  If the forecast is correct we may not see a night sky like this again for the better part of a week.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Full Rainbow at High Falls

For one of my days off this week I started the morning off with a hike to High Falls on the Canadian side of the river, in Pigeon River Provincial Park.  Regular followers of my photography know that I often photograph the falls from the U.S. side, but it's been quite a long time since I've photographed it from the Canadian side.  Since the river opened up just about a week ago I figured it was a good time to make the venture to the other side.  

It was a very difficult prospect getting this shot.  The temperature had dipped down below freezing overnight and with the water level at the falls being quite high, all the spray was blowing right up into the overlook area and freezing into a layer of ice on everything.  The ground, rocks, trees and railings were all coated in ice.  On the U.S. side this wouldn't be much of a problem as there is a nice level boardwalk to walk on.  On the Canadian side, however, it's just bare ground and that ground is anything but flat.  

It was quite an adventure staying upright while trying to get to the railing and the view of the falls.  And, once I got there, it took several attempts before I got a shot where the lens wasn't completely covered in freezing water droplets.  In between shots I would have to turn around, putting my back to the spray and wipe the lens clean.  Then I would cover the lens with my hand, turn back around and try to get just one shot before the water hit the lens again.  The water coated the lens pretty much instantly once I pulled my hand away.  I think it took at least 20 attempts before I got a reasonably clean image.  This one still had a few water droplets on it, but I was able to use the healing brush in Lightroom to remove the spots.  As usual, all of that effort was worth it and I came away with a great shot of the falls and the full rainbow in front of it.  Time well spent, I'd say!

Lover of the Lights

I went out again last night after midnight in search of the northern lights, which were supposed to be fairly active like the night before.  The lights certainly were active, but not nearly as much as the previous night.  The Milky Way and an extremely calm Lake Superior made up for the lack of aurora though!  I couldn't believe how calm the lake was.  It really made the view of the star light even more impressive.  Even though there was no moonlight last night, I had no trouble at all seeing my way around the shore once my eyes adjusted. The light being cast by the stars and the faint aurora was unbelievable.  It felt like my own personal dark sky paradise :-)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Magical Meadow

I just worked up another image from last night that I want to share, which makes it a 3-photo kind of day :-)  This one was taken at 2:30 AM and is a 30 second exposure at f/2.8 with an ISO of 3200.  I really love how this one turned out.  I have photographed the aurora several times from this location, but the only "keeper" images I've gotten here have been in the winter.  In the summer there is hardly any water in the foreground due to the lower water level and how tall the grasses grow.  I'm really glad we're getting all these spring auroras this year because it allowed me to photograph this location when the water is high and the grasses haven't started growing yet.  I think this might be my favorite photo from last night!  And, it looks to be another promising night tonight for more northern lights!  If you're in an area with minimal light pollution, head outside and check the sky later tonight... it might just be the best thing you've ever done, especially if you've never seen the aurora before :-)

The Eye of the Storm

This spring sure is turning into quite the aurora season!  I keep thinking how space weather forecasters were saying that we are entering a solar minimum and as such outbreaks of the aurora borealis should be relatively rare.  So far, this year has proved them wrong!  This photo was taken last night at about 1:00 AM.  It was the moment during the storm when the corona was directly above us. Oh, what a night it was!  I was out shooting from about 11 PM to 5 AM.  I never get tired of it!

Another awesome aurora show!

The lights hit again last night!  The aurora was visible not long after it got dark and stayed visible until the sky started turning to daylight again.  Some of the best activity was between 12:30 and 2:30. Spring nights are the best for photographing the northern lights.  It's not too cold, it's usually pretty calm and best of all: NO BUGS!  Last night was perfect for staying out all night and enjoying the beautiful sky filled with dancing lights!  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Somewhere Over the Border

I spent some time today exploring the backroads on the Canadian side of the border and came across this beauty of a drive.  I can't wait to get my bike on this road!  It's gonna be a sweet ride.  

Spring Storm over Hollow Rock

The other night I went down to Hollow Rock to photograph what I hoped would be a colorful sunset. Instead what I got was this incredible cloud bank moving from west to east out over the lake.  The textures in the clouds were something else.  Clouds fascinate me and I love capturing them with my camera!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Pigeon River Rainbow

If you like waterfalls and you like rainbows, get yourself up to High Falls in Grand Portage State Park!  The waterfall is raging right now and if it's a sunny day you'll be guaranteed to see a beautiful rainbow in front of the falls!  

Sunset Squall over Grand Portage Bay

Well, last night sure gave us an awesome sunset!  One of the most incredible I've ever seen over Grand Portage Bay, that's for sure!  It had been really windy all day and mostly sunny, except for some small puffs of clouds throughout the day.  As evening approached, however, the clouds started thickening and began to look more like storm clouds.  It seemed like we were going to get some rain even though none was in the forecast.  Just before sunset the clouds got really dark and started to cover most of the sky.  I actually thought photographing the sunset was going to be a bust.  But, just before the sun dipped below the horizon, the edge of the dark cloud appeared and was quickly advancing from west to east.  The sun popped out into the gap between the horizon and the cloud's edge and lit up all the clouds in spectacular fashion for the next 15 minutes or so.  What a dramatic ending to the day!

Monday, April 13, 2015

What a difference a day makes!

Wow, some warm temperatures and some rain and 24 hours later High Falls in Grand Portage State Park is gushing!  It was starting to run pretty well yesterday, but after last night's rain and the temp pushing 60 today the waterfall is raging!  I visited the falls in the afternoon and was treated to an awesome end-to-end rainbow over the gorge from the west viewing deck.  It was quite a challenge keeping my lens dry to make these photos, as spray from the waterfall was constantly falling on the viewing decks.  I would say that waterfall season has officially begun :-)

Quiet Night on Grand Portage Bay

Early this past weekend I spent the entire night outside collecting new images of the northern lights, but I also found a scene or two worth photographing that didn't include the aurora.  This photo was made just a little ways down the road from our house, looking south across Lake Superior.  I sure do love the night sky!  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Glory of Night

The northern lights dance in the sky while the moon rises over Lake Superior.  You can see the faint ribbon of the Milky Way bridging the gap between the rising moon and the lights of the aurora.

Ancient Cedar Aurora

I have a couple more aurora photographs from the other night that I'd like to share today.  Here is the first one which I've titled "Ancient Cedar Aurora".  It was one of the first photographs I made that night.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Northern Lights over Hollow Rock Bay

Here is a photograph from the second location that I visited last night.  At the time I was wishing the aurora lights extended more to the right but I ended up really liking this composition even though they are only on the left side of the frame.  If you look closely you can just barely make out the ribbon of the Milky Way just above the horizon in the center of the photo.  There is a nice line that winds its way through the photo, if you follow the icy shoreline from the lower right up through the Milky Way along the horizon and towards the upper left through the glow of the aurora.  Not my absolute favorite photograph from last night, but definitely one that I like a lot.  

Lights over High Falls

Well, there was quite the little aurora show last night!  I was out shooting from about 11 PM until 5 AM and really enjoyed the calm spring night.  I visited 6 different locations and came away with a nice variety of images, but the first one I'm sharing with you is one that I've been wanting to get for quite a while.  This was taken at High Falls of the Pigeon River in Grand Portage State Park and is a shot that will only work when you have a little bit of moonlight to illuminate the falls and the river gorge below.  Without the moonlight the foreground would be way too dark.  Also, only a little bit of moonlight will work because if the moon was too bright it would wash out the lights in the sky.  Last night's moonrise was just before 2 AM but I still had to wait a while for the moon to get high enough to shine down into the gorge.  So, I photographed a few locations along the Lake Superior shoreline before heading up to High Falls.  This photo was made at 3:35 AM and was during the brightest flare-up of the lights that I saw all night.  Look for more photos to be posted as soon as I have time to work on them.  For now, I need to head to work for the day :-)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Early Spring on Teal Lake

Any day now the ice should be starting to disappear over northern Minnesota lakes.  This photo of Teal Lake in Grand Portage, MN was taken on April 2nd, when the temperature got into the upper 50's.  Since then we have had a cool-down with our highs only getting into the mid to upper 30's.  On the 2nd, though, it was a very warm day and things were changing rapidly.  By the end of the day Teal Lake still had thick ice on it, but the surface of the ice was covered with giant melt puddles.  If you look closely at the lake in this photo you can see the blue sky and clouds reflected in the melt puddles. With temperatures expected to rise into the low 50's again this weekend, we should see some more melting going on!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Clearing Storm

On April 1st in Grand Portage we heard our first thunder of the year that I am aware of (and no, this is not an April Fool's).  I say "that I am aware of" because Jessica and I just returned from a 10-day trip to California and Oregon, so there may have been a thunderstorm while we were gone, but none that we have heard of.  Anyway, on the afternoon of April 1st I was sitting in my office at my computer, working on images from our recent trip when I heard a soft rumbling outside.  At first I thought it was the sound of a piece of heavy equipment going by on the road, but after a minute or two I heard another rumble, then another.  I went outside and there were big, beautiful thunderheads rolling across the bay.  

I thought about going out to photograph the clouds but decided I should stay inside and continue working on trip images.  A couple of hours later, however, I went out for a drive and the clouds were still really beautiful.  The thunderheads had moved out over the lake without dropping any moisture on us.  Soon the sun started to break out from behind the clouds and when it did, it was a glorious sight.  I drove to a clearing along Highway 61 which gave me a nice wide view of the sky and made this image.  

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sunset on Highway 95

Another unforgettable trip draws to a close.  This is the last image I made before our flight back home the following day from Las Vegas.  It was a fitting end to another journey that was filled with adventure and beautiful sights.  As we were driving south on Highway 95 towards Tonopah, Nevada we experienced a very nice sunset, one that I simply could not pass up.  We were driving through this broad valley staring at the colorful sky that surrounded us when I looked over at Jessica and said "I have to stop and make a picture".  She just looked at me, smiled and said "I know you do".  What can I say... WOW I love this woman!  She is so supportive of my photography, I don't know how I ever got so lucky to find her.  Even though the major reason for this trip was to visit her friends and family, she still made plenty of time for photography and planned an amazing trip for us.  I am eternally grateful to the universe for bringing us together :-)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Thor's Well

One of the features I really wanted to see along the Oregon coast was Thor's Well, part of the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area.  Thor's Well is a salt water fountain driven by the power of the ocean tide.  The height of the tide and the direction of the ocean swells both contribute to the fascinating behavior of the well.  The phenomena is best experienced from about an hour before high tide to an hour after.  This is when you will see the most water rising up from the well then running back down into it.  High tide is also the most dangerous time to be there, as you could easily get swept into the well if you're not careful or not paying attention to the waves.  

It certainly is one of the most fascinating natural features to see along the Oregon coast.  I was hoping for some beautiful sunset clouds and colors to photograph with the well in the foreground.  However, the first afternoon we went there it was completely cloudy and raining constantly.  The next day looked more promising, as the sky was party sunny for most of the day.  By the time sunset rolled around, however, the clouds had moved back in and it actually started pouring again while I was photographing the well.  Those two days were the only chance I had to photograph the well as we had to head back to Las Vegas the next day to catch our flight home.  Oh well, something to look forward to on our next trip to the coast.  Maybe conditions will be more favorable and I'll catch an awesome sunset over the well :-)

Seal haul-out near Heceta Head

One of the definite highlights for any trip to the Oregon coast is the opportunity to view the seals along some of the beaches.  I have found that two of the best places to view them are Simpson Reef/Shell Island in Cape Arago State Park and the beach shown in these photos, which is just south of Heceta Head Lighthouse.  These photos were taken from the highway pullout that gives you the famous view of the Heceta Head Lighthouse.  

While looking at the lighthouse I could hear seals barking, but at first could not see them.  I scanned the beach that runs down the shore in the direction of the lighthouse but could not see any seals along the sandy part of the beach where I have seen them before.  After walking down the road just a short distance I found a break in the trees and looked almost straight down to a very rocky part of the shoreline, and it was PACKED with seals!  They were literally all jammed into this little rocky cove at the end of the sandy beach. Some of the seals were still rolling around in the surf.  In fact, the longer I watched them it seemed as though they were enjoying playing around in the waves.  I sure had a lot of fun photographing these playful animals!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Roosevelt Elk

When it comes to photography, I love surprises.  Things that you didn't expect are sometimes the things that you enjoy the most.  For instance, when we first visited Jessica's dad in Reedsport, Oregon back in 2012, I had no idea that you could photograph elk in a beautiful valley setting just a few miles from the Pacific coast!  But, lo and behold, there is a valley along the Umpqua River where the elk are almost always present.  The Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area is the year-round residence for a herd of about 100 Roosevelt Elk. A mild winter climate and abundant food allow the animals to remain in the area all year.  The viewing area has a wonderfully maintained side road off the main highway with lots of room to stop and view the elk.  We enjoyed a beautiful afternoon here while the elk basked in the warmth of the spring sun.

Warrior Pose on the Oregon Dunes

Not the usual type of image that I like to share, but I still thought this was a fun photo from our recent trip to California and Oregon.  A couple of times while visiting Jessica's friends they were practicing some of their yoga poses.  Unfortunately while they were doing this the light was never very good so later on when were in a better location with more dramatic light I asked Jessica to recreate one of the poses.  I think it made for an interesting and fun shot :-)  This photo was made on one of the Oregon dune beaches near the city of Florence.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Evening Storm Clouds, Winchester Bay

I'm not usually a fan of wide, flat and sandy beaches.  I prefer rocky beaches as they generally make for more interesting photographs.  Sometimes, though, you can find something interesting on a sandy beach that makes for a compelling foreground.  Such was the case at Winchester Bay, where Jessica and I went for a short walk one evening.  I found this rather unique clump of driftwood which made for a nice composition with the awesome storm cloud structure that was out over the ocean. 

The Magnificent Redwoods

Of course, a visit to northern California wouldn't be complete without hiking through a grove of magnificent Redwood trees!  I have seen the Redwoods a few times now but that doesn't diminish the excitement and anticipation that I feel when faced with the prospect of seeing them again.  They are just so awesome and beautiful... I wish I could experience them more often.  Standing under trees that have been living for 2,000 years certainly fills you with a sense of wonder and amazement.  These photos were taken in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove of Redwood National Park.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Fern Canyon

After our visit to Burney Falls we spent the night in Redding then continued on to the Arcata/Eureka area where we were going to be spending a couple days with some of Jessica's friends.  While we were there we went on a group hike to Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.  If you've never been to Fern Canyon, it is a fascinating place and I would highly recommend it.  It's an easy, flat hike but does require that you get your feet wet as you have to walk in the water to make it up the canyon.  The water is really shallow, though, so it's not difficult.  The effort is worth it as the views from within the canyon make you feel like you're in a fantasy world.  Ferns are everywhere on the canyon walls (hence the name).  We spent almost a couple of hours in the canyon but the time flew by.  It sure is an interesting place to make some photographs!

Burney Falls

One of the coolest things we saw on our trip was Burney Falls in northern California.  What an amazing waterfall!  There are actually only a few channels of water that come all the way down from the top of the falls.  The rest of the water  runs through the rock and seeps out of the cliff face below the top of the falls.  The result is a very wide waterfall with countless streams of water that looks more like something you might see in Hawaii.  We timed our visit so we would be there in the evening without any direct light, that way I could use longer shutter speeds to blur the movement of the water.