Friday, July 31, 2015

July Blue Moon or "Why I love the D750"

I just got in from 3 hours of photographing the sunset and the rising moon.  What a beautiful night!  I'm sure by now that everyone has heard today is the "blue moon", or the second full moon of the month.  Technically the full moon occurred at 5:42 this morning, but tonight it still looks full to the naked eye.  

This photo is edited a little more heavily than I typically like to do with my photos, but I wanted to play around with this shot and see just how well I could push the capabilities of the sensor in the Nikon D750.  This camera is simply amazing.  The amount of detail that remains in the shadows is astonishing.  As long as you can shoot at a reasonably low ISO, you can pull incredible amounts of detail from the shadows.  With my old Canon 5D Mark II there's no way I could have processed this photo the same way.  Well, I could have, but the results would have been messy.  Lightening the photo as much as I did would have turned it into a noisy/grainy mess.  

So, just for fun, I've included the edited shot and the unedited shot for comparison.  The photo was processed in Adobe Lightroom CC.  I photographed the moon with my Tamron 150-600mm lens at 600mm.  I cropped the photo to make the moon larger, then made some tweaks to the various sliders in Lightroom.  Here are my edits:

Exposure: +3.00
Highlights: -73
Shadows: +75
Whites: +15
Clarity: +30
Vibrance: +25
Sharpening: 75
Noise Reduction - Luminance: 25

I also adjusted the white balance temp slider to 4,500 which is a little "cooler" than the result that auto white balance gave me.  The photo was made as the moon was not too far above the horizon, so it was still pretty orange from all the atmospheric interference.  There was also a thin layer of clouds which made a hazy effect around the moon.  Overall the edited image has a pretty surreal feel to it, but I do like it.  No fancy blending of multiple images here, just careful processing of a single RAW file from the Nikon D750, which I'm loving more and more each time I shoot with it :-)  

The unedited image is below:

Summer Storm Clouds

We sure have had a lot of clouds that look like this over the past couple of weeks.  You would think for sure that a big storm was coming, but most of these storms have passed us by.  Such was the case with this particular formation, which entertained us for most of our drive back from Duluth just over a week ago.  We watched this fascinating bank of clouds on the horizon directly ahead of us for at least an hour and a half on our drive, and it barely got any closer as we drove.  It must have been tracking up the shore at about the same speed as we were driving.  We thought for sure that we would eventually catch up to it and be driving through some rain, but that never happened.  I stopped just north of Tofte, MN and made this picture from the side of the road with my Tamron 150-600 lens.  

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mysterious Island

We sure have had a lot of fog this year.  I don't know if it has actually been more than normal, but it seems like it has been.  Last week while driving to work Pete's Island in Grand Portage Bay looked really mysterious as it tried to show itself from behind the fog.  I loved the combination of the island, fog, clouds and blue sky.  I simply could not resist stopping and taking a picture of the scene!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

North Woods Solitude

A quiet summer day on a small lake in northeast Minnesota.  It sure is nice when you can have a lake all to yourself :-)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ontario Canola Field

Last week after we picked strawberries at Belluz Farms we stopped along the edge of this beautiful canola field just outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario.  It's funny... we go to Thunder Bay quite frequently throughout the year and I don't remember ever seeing these vibrant yellow fields before.  I'm sure this isn't the first year they've been like this, so it's probably just a case of me never driving by when they've been in bloom before.  In any case, we were shocked by the huge fields of yellow and how beautiful they were.  Definitely not something you see in northeast Minnesota :-)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Golden July Sunset

Here is another photo of last night's sunset, this one taken from the road in front of our house.  The colors and shapes within the clouds were unreal.  One of the best sunsets of the summer, that's for sure!

A slightly surreal sunset over the Isle Royale Boats

It was a bit of a surreal sunset last night!  Rarely do we see sunsets that light up the entire sky with color, but last night was one of those rare times when exactly that happens.  There were clouds all over in every direction of the sky and every one of them was lit up with some amazing color.  We were just getting ready to start watching a movie when I looked out our dining room window and noticed the sky colors getting really intense.  At first I walked around our yard snapping pictures of the clouds but I couldn't get enough of the sky in my shots to catch all the color.  So, I hopped in the car and drove over to Hat Point Marina where there is a more open view.  By the time I got over there the most intense color had faded but the afterglow was beautiful too.  That was when the surreal part kicked in.  The color tone had changed enough in the afterglow that I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  I've seen colors like this before but rarely so prominently throughout the sky.  I decided to frame a shot of the sunset with the ferries of the Grand Portage - Isle Royale Transportation Line in the foreground. 

The Grand Portage - Isle Royale Transportation Line provides passenger service from Grand Portage, MN to Isle Royale National Park in Michigan.  They run two ferries, the Sea Hunter III (pictured on the left) which runs day trips to Windigo, and the Voyageur II (on the right) which circles the entire island and makes stops at various points along the way.  The Voyageur II spends the night at Rock Harbor, making the round-trip of Isle Royale a two-day affair.  If you'd like to find out more information about making a trip to Isle Royale via one of these ferries, you can check out Grand Portage - Isle Royale Transportation Line's website at

Monday, July 20, 2015

Young fox strikes a pose

Here is an adorable young fox to start off your Monday morning!  It almost seemed as though he was posing for the camera in this shot :-)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Peekaboo Moose Calves

Here is one more photo of the moose calves from last week.  This picture of them looking out at me from the brush is too cute.  I couldn't resist sharing it!  I hope everyone had a great weekend!  The weather sure was beautiful.  Perfect for outdoor adventures!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Moose Triplets

Here is another photo of the moose triplets that I saw earlier this week, this time a view of them from the side.  This is one of the first photos I made of them that day and was taken while I was sitting behind the wheel of our truck. They had just crossed the road in front of me and walked down into this clearing with an old road going into the woods.  I was lucky to get this shot where all 3 of them are sort of looking at me.  In most of the shots I made of them from this spot they were looking the other way.  I hope all 3 are able to survive to adulthood.  They seem to be doing well so far... I'm keeping my fingers crossed for them!

Twin Moose Calves, Out for a Walk!

Two young moose calves take a walk in the Minnesota northwoods of Cook County on a warm, sunny morning.  Hopefully you are able to get out on this beautiful weekend and take your own walk in the woods :-)

Friday, July 17, 2015

July Sunset on Loon Lake

Here is a different composition of the same sunset that I posted earlier today.  I couldn't decide which one I liked better, so I decided to share both.  I like each of them for different reasons.  I like the simplicity of this one, but I also like the other one and how it is more of a "window" through the trees, looking out onto the lake.  Also, the clouds are more colorful in this one since it was taken a few minutes after the other photo.  At any rate, here is the second sunset photo for your viewing enjoyment today!

Summer Evening in the Minnesota Northwoods

It sure was a calm and colorful sunset earlier this week when I made this photo!  I hiked into this lake through a mosquito-infested forest to see if I might find a sunset worth photographing, and I sure did!  The clouds cooperated nicely and gave me this beautiful scene to capture with my camera.  As I was setting up my tripod and camera for the shot, a solitary loon called from across the lake.  I cannot imagine a better soundtrack for a scene such as this.  An unforgettable northern Minnesota sunset accompanied by the call of the loon... nothing could spoil that, not even the hike back to the car through an army of mosquitoes :-)  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Cook County Crane

The other day after seeing the moose family I continued my drive around some backroads of Cook County and I saw one of my favorite birds, a Sandhill Crane!  I've suspected for a while that there are nesting cranes in certain areas of Cook County, and this one was definitely in an area where they could be nesting.  The grass was so tall, though, that if they had a colt (baby) there is no way I could have seen it.  Still, glimpses of cranes are rare around here so it's always great to be able to see one!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Mama Moose and her Triplets

I spent the morning driving around yesterday looking for photos and I found moose triplets!  I was driving down a gravel backroad when mama moose popped out of the woods from the side of the road and crossed the road in front of me.  Her 3 calves were following close behind.  I couldn't believe it when the first calf came out of the woods, then a second, then a third!  I've only ever seen them with one calf before, so seeing one with 3 was indeed very special.  

They crossed the road and went into a clearing on the south side of the road, where I made a few photos of them from the truck.  Then, they crossed the road again and went into an area that had been logged a few years ago.  I watched them for a few moments and then realized, based on their movement, that I might be able to intercept them if I relocated.  So, I went just a few hundred feet up the road to where there was an intersection with another road, then went a few hundred feet up that road to where there was a pull-off into the logged area.  

I walked a couple of hundred feet or so out into the logged area and waited for them to show up.  After only a couple of minutes I saw mom working her way towards me through the brush.  Luckily I was downwind and she didn't seem to notice me.  I was standing on a cut stump in the shade, watching her.  A few moments later her calves came out of the brush as they followed her, munching on leaves as they went.  Eventually I had to gently make my presence known otherwise I think she would have walked them right up to me.  I slowly took one step to the right, then a step back to the left.  When I did that she looked up and locked her eyes on me.  The calves did the same.  That was when I made this picture.  They stood like that for a minute or two, then mom turned away and slowly started walking in the other direction, munching on leaves as she went.  The calves followed suit.  

I was able to watch them for several more minutes as they worked their way through the logged area, eating leaves off the new trees the whole time.  It sure was a fun experience seeing this beautiful moose family and I'm always glad when I can pull off an encounter without spooking the animals and making them run away.  True, they did turn away from me but they still stayed in the area for several more minutes.  By being very quiet and not making any sudden moves I had successfully shown them that I was not a threat, I was just there sharing the woods with them on that morning.  

As you can see in the photo, the mama moose has a collar and two ear tags. This is the result of a study being conducted by the Minnesota DNR on the decline of the moose population.  I would have preferred if this mama moose had not had a collar or ear tags, mostly just so this photo would look more "natural", but it is what it is.  You can visit this link on the Minnesota DNR website for information about the moose study:

Curious Calves!

A pair of moose calves that I was lucky enough to come across yesterday.  Aren't they cute!  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Stronghold in the sky

The other night we had some really cool clouds right at sunset and this particular cloud formation was straight up over our driveway.  The sky was an ever-changing palette of abstract forms and I was fascinated by all the shapes and colors.  It was a wonderful sky to point my camera lens at!  

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Lake Superior Fog Factory

This is what is happening right now over the Susie Islands in Grand Portage, MN.  I just drove home from work and saw this insanely cool fog over Lake Superior.  It rained for most of the day and now that the rain has stopped you can really feel the high humidity in the wake of the receding weather front.  We've had a lot of fog in Grand Portage this year, but none quite like this.  I see a lot of foggy views as I drive past these islands on my way to and from work every day but this is one of the most unbelievable foggy views I've seen.  I call it "The Lake Superior Fog Factory".  

Saturday, July 11, 2015

An Entertaining Night

Here is a photo from the peak of last night's geomagnetic storm.  It was a subtle storm that was dominated by a low-hanging cloud of aurora just over the northern horizon.  For about twenty minutes, though, the activity did flare up a bit and there were some fantastic pillars shooting up into the sky and the camera picked up quite a variety of colors that were not visible to the naked eye.  Normally I like this location not only because it provides a perfect lake view of the northern sky but also because most of the time it is a very quiet location.  Last night was a different story.

When I arrived at this remote lake I immediately could hear voices in the distance.  There are a couple of state forest campsites on this lake and one of them was occupied by what sounded like 3 young men in their early 20's.  Thanks to the stillness of the night and the acoustics of the bay shown in the photo, I could hear everything they were saying even though they were a couple of hundred feet down the shore.  At first I was annoyed by how loud they were, but once I started to pay attention to what they were saying, I was entertained by their conversation.  It went something like this:

"Dude, how old do you think that tree is, that one that looks like it's about 15 feet tall".
"I don't know, man… maybe 20-25 years old?"
"That tree is probably the same age as us… I wonder if it's as smart as we are?"
"You know, that tree is probably just as important to the universe as we are, maybe more."

"You know, I've been to this lake before and drank the water right out of the lake, but I got sick… I don't know if it was from the water or what… but I bet you could go out in the middle of the lake and drink from where the water is deeper, and you'd be fine."
"Yeah, man, you know what I think… I bet if you drank just a little bit of the water each day, your stomach would get used to it and you wouldn't get sick".

"Have you guys seen the northern lights before?  I've seen them quite a bit but I've never seen color in them before… most of the pictures I see of them they are really colorful, but you never see colors when you actually see them in person."
"Dude, can you imagine what all that solar energy might be doing to our atmosphere?  I mean, it's gotta be doing something… that's a lot of energy just slamming into us, it's got to have some sort of effect."

There were a lot more things that were said, as they were talking constantly, but those are the main topics that I remember.  At one point they even launched their canoe and paddled out around the point you see on the left.  They were out on the lake for about an hour before paddling back in.  I don't think they ever had any idea that I was there.  Since I had parked right on the boat ramp with my truck facing the lake, I thought for a moment about turning my headlights on high beam when they were paddling back in so they would know they weren't there alone.  It probably would have lit them right up like a spotlight and freaked the daylights out of them. But, in the end, I decided against it.  They were obviously enjoying their time on this beautiful lake, under the lights of the aurora and I didn't want to spoil that for them.  I like the idea more of being there without them even knowing I was there.  Who knows, maybe they'll read this and go "Whoa… that sounds like us in this story!"  :-)

A subtle yet beautiful show

Last night the aurora forecast was calling for a minor geomagnetic storm so I went out for most of the night in search of the lights.  I did find some lights and while it wasn't anything in comparison to the storm we experienced on June 23rd, it was still a very beautiful sight.  Especially on such a calm and bug free night!  I couldn't believe the lack of mosquitoes, especially since I was in an area where they are typically very bad and there was no wind at all to keep them away.  This morning I've been reading reports of people that were out shooting last night in other parts of the state and how they gave up because the bugs were so bad.  I'm sorry those folks were unable to fully enjoy last night, as it was certainly a beautiful night to be outdoors.  

I do have a rather entertaining story to tell about last night, but that will accompany the other photo that I am going to share later today :-)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Curious Deer on the Pigeon River

Here is another fun photograph that I made during my outing on the Pigeon River last week.  We didn't even notice this deer until we were right alongside it.  We had been motoring up the river and busy chatting away when I glanced over to the left just as this deer raised its head from the tall grass. I quickly shut off the motor and the deer stared at us as we drifted past.  After we went by it turned and went off into the woods.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Fading into the fog

Here is another foggy photo from my visit to Grand Marais the other night.  After photographing downtown from across the harbor at the municipal campground I was heading back north for home when the sidewalk lights along the harbor caught my eye.  I loved the way the lights and posts curved and faded into the fog.  I couldn't resist making a photograph of the scene!

Foggy Night in Grand Marais, MN

The last hour of Sunday, July 5th went out with a bang.  All day long I had been watching the forecast as it predicted heavy rain and powerful thunderstorms for the coming night.  Sure enough, at 10 PM the weather radar showed an intense line of storms heading towards Lake Superior all along the Minnesota north shore from Duluth to Grand Portage. I decided to make a quick run to Grand Marais to try and photograph the lightning over the harbor from the safety of the covered picnic shelter at the municipal campground.  

For the entire 45 minute drive from our house to Grand Marais I witnessed countless amazing lightning flashes, torrential rain downpours and thick fog.  By the time I got to Grand Marais 90% of the storm had passed.  The lightning was basically done, and all that was left was an intermittent fog over the harbor.  The air was very still and quiet the rest of the night. I was disappointed to have missed the lightning, but I really enjoyed watching and photographing the changing fog conditions over the harbor.  This photo was made at 12:03 AM the morning of July 6th. It shows the Harbor Inn building on the left and the Gunflint Tavern on the right with the Johnson Heritage Post in between.  I may not have gotten the lightning shots I was hoping for, but I really like this image too!

Monday, July 6, 2015

River Jewelwing

While looking for wildlife along the Pigeon River last week I wasn't expecting to find so much damselfly activity along the banks of the river.  In the past it seems as though the highest damselfly activity was always on really hot and sunny days.  Maybe there is no correlation there, but it seems like I've always seen the highest numbers of them on those kinds of days.  Last Wednesday, however, was not necessarily all that sunny and certainly wasn't hot.  The temp was in the mid 60's and the intensity of the sun was softened by a haze caused by the smoke of Canadian forest fires.  About halfway through our 8 mile journey on the river we noticed our first River Jewelwing darting amongst the grasses at the river's edge.  Soon we were seeing them everywhere we looked.  I've seen these damselflies before, but typically only 2 or 3 at a time.  On this day there were too many to count!  They certainly are beautiful creatures.  In my opinion they are one of the most beautiful damselflies in existence and seeing so many of them certainly makes for a memorable day on the river!

Sunset Smoke Haze

We have had a lot of haze in our sky lately, which I've heard is being caused by smoke coming from forest fires in Canada. It certainly has made for some interesting views of the sky lately.  A few nights ago I captured this photo of the sun a couple of hours before sunset.  The majority of the sky at the time was lacking any detail, but the area immediately surrounding the sun had some really interesting clouds.  Add to that the unique color at the time and I think it makes for an interesting shot.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Cow Moose, Pigeon River

During an afternoon adventure on the Pigeon River earlier this week we saw a plethora of wildlife.  Our list of sightings included deer, otter, beaver, trumpeter swans, many beautiful varieties of damselflies, several families of ducks and always a highlight of an outdoor adventure, a moose!  We came around a bend in the river and this cow moose was chest deep in the water feeding on the vegetation along the river's edge.  Luckily she was upwind of us and facing the other way so she was not immediately aware of our presence.  

We watched her feed for at least 10 minutes, then the wind started to change and she must have caught our scent because she turned and looked directly at us.  She stared at us for quite a while, then slowly walked up onto the bank on the side of the river where she stared at us for another minute or two, then turned and walked off into the woods.  As she retreated, we were just barely able to see the tops of another set of ears following her into the woods. She had a calf that had been waiting in the very tall grass along the edge of the river!  

It's always exciting to see a moose cow and calf, I just wish I would have been able to get a photo of the both of them.  Still, it's always a treat to see them even if I'm not able to get a photo.  Hopefully you are able to have some outdoor adventures on this 4th of July weekend and perhaps catalogue some fun wildlife sightings of your own!

FYI - This moose did have a tracking collar around its neck, as well as a tag in each ear.  I took several pictures that showed the collar and both tags, but in the end I chose to share this picture because you can not see the collar or the tags.  It seemed like a much more "natural" image because you cannot see the human influence on the animal.  I understand the activity of collaring the moose so we can track their movements and then use that data to better manage our lands for the benefit of moose, but I still prefer to make photographs of non-collared moose.  I feel fortunate to have been able to get this angle where you can not see those things on the animal.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Can I have this mushroom for dinner?

A young fox heads back to its den after plucking a mushroom from the ground.  I don't know if they actually eat these or not, but this little fox sure seemed excited about his find.  After picking the mushroom he turned and high-tailed it back to the den, presumably to stash his prize :-)

Fox Family Play Time

A trio of young fox enjoy some evening play time while one of their parents watches over them.  It seems as though the young ones are getting more and more ready to venture out on their own, as this was down the road a ways from their den.  The adults are letting them explore the world around them.  Last night I watched them wander all around a half-mile stretch of road, running into the woods in one spot then popping back out onto the road 1/4 mile from where they went in.  They seemed to be having a lot of fun last night!  I have a feeling this may have been their first foray away from the den, other than the immediate area right around the den.  It seemed like they were exploring the world for the first time.  In all likelihood they've probably been doing this for at least a few nights already, but who knows.  

I first noticed this fox family a few weeks ago when Jessica and I were driving up to the community garden and we saw two little fox kits poking their heads out from the shoulder of the road.  A couple of days later we saw one of the parents carrying a big rabbit back to the den right in the same spot where we had seen the kits.  But, until last night, I had been unsuccessful in getting any photos of them.  Last night I was driving up to the garden again and they were all out in the road.  I pulled over and watched them for at least half an hour.  It sure was fun!

At first I was worried that they were so active right out on the road, but this is an old road with very little traffic.  At one point I did hear a car coming and it sounded like it was going rather fast (which it was).  But, the adult fox heard it coming too and barked a warning to the kits, which then promptly ran off the road into the woods.  The adult kept watch as the car zoomed by, then the kits came back out onto the road.  They are pretty smart animals :-)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The race is on!

Young mergansers apparently having a drag race on the waters of Grand Portage Bay in northeast Minnesota :-)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Flowers of the forest floor

Early summer brings some incredible beauty to the forest floor of the Minnesota north woods.  Bunchberry is one of my favorite flowers.  They are such cute little plants!  I love them :-)  This photo was taken right alongside the trail while hiking along Kadunce River just north of Grand Marais.  

Cannonball Bay Morning

There's nothing quite like the beauty of a supremely calm summer morning on the shores of Lake Superior!