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Today is the worldwide celebration of photography…

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Monk performing the Black Hat dance at a religious festival in Bhutan

What incredible advances have been made since the film days…Remember bringing in those rolls of film to get developed, paying money, opening the packages and getting bummed when pics came out under or over exposed? Did you ever process your own film in the dark room? I remember shooting slides for magazines when I first started out. Now they sit in little boxes in the closet. Digital changed our world overnight. Now we get immediate feedback. And cameras keep getting better. Who thought ISOs could climb so high?

I love how photography allow us to ~~~

record adventures…

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like skiing to an ice cave in Norway with Dave and my father

the WAVEhiking the WAVE with Dave and friends in Arizona,

blog_penguinhidingplaying tag with penguins in South Africa,

or boating to a remote island in Kuna Yala, Panama

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create magic…

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dragging the shutter– to capture water flowing back to sea while iceberg fragments remain on a volcanic beach in Iceland,

Northern Lights

or capturing northern lights in Abisko, Sweden

preserve memories…

Father and daughter walking along Caribbean beach, Providenciales, Caicos, Turks & Caicos Islands

savoring family time in the Turks & Caicos

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or kayaking in northern Minnesota

document cultures…

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Lama performing a blessing ceremony in Bhutan

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an Embera Indian woman applying a jagua tattoo on her son in the jungle

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a rice farmer scorpion hunting in Issan, Thailand

and capture beauty

Ancient camelthorn trees on pan with dried footprints, Deadvlei, Namibia

Ancient camelthorn trees on pan with dried footprints, Deadvlei, Namibia

Wouldn’t life be dull without the ability to capture snapshots of life–whether on your iphone or expensive lenses–and share them with the rest of the world?

northernlightsbigdipperThis shot of the Big Dipper was taken at 2 am a week ago in Hackensack, when I was visiting my family on Ten Mile Lake in northern Minnesota. Earlier that night there was a storm happening 65 miles away near Brainerd, and we watched it light up the southern skies with a beautiful show of brilliant colored clouds and lightning that lasted about an hour around midnight.

stormyskies(ISO 3200, f/3.5, 6 sec exposure)

Our front row seats on the dock were spectacular!

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After parting ways and walking back to my cabin a little further down the lake, I wandered along the shore for a last look at the starry sky. Skies simply aren’t dark enough to see stars like this back home.  The Milky Way was fantastic. And the skies were alive with shooting stars…

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(ISO 8000, f2/8, 20 sec exposure)

But what caught my eye was a reflection of the Big Dipper in the water. I crept out on the dock, swinging the beam of my flashlight to illuminate the way. Have to admit I was a little freaked out when a large splash suddenly sounded a few feet away. And then the eerie call of loons echoed around me. A haunting cry sounded louder as a pair emerged from the shadowy reeds directly in front of me and swam past the dock, drifting into the blackness.

I quickly set up my tripod. Didn’t have the right lens for astrophotography–my 14mm Rokinon was at home–so I used what I had, which was my Sony Zeiss 24-70mm, f.28. I dialed it to f/3.5 and kept it open 10 seconds at 8000 ISO. The biggest challenge was simply aiming the lens in the correct line to capture the entire Big Dipper formation, as the scene through the viewfinder was completely black. It took me four tries. And then my battery died.

This was my final image of the night (and trip). Imagine my surprise when I downloaded the image on my computer to see northern lights–cuz they weren’t visible to my naked eye!

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I’ve since learned that northern lights often appear after a summer storm around midnight in northern Minnesota skies. Something I shall remember for next time!  😉

 

ice floes appeared overnight along the coast in Grand Marais, MN

Ice floes off the coast of Lake Superior near Cascade River State Park, MN

In late February this winter, I traveled along Highway 61, following the scenic coast of Lake Superior heading north from Duluth 100 miles to Grand Marais, Minnesota. Incredible ice formations lined the shore.  But what surprised me most was the sheer variety of ice that existed. The winter scenery changed from one spot to the next just a few miles away–including the lake itself, changing from frozen conditions to moving water with floating ice chunks. The powerful wind was responsible for completely transforming these locations, and creating truly amazing sights.

My travel companions were my Mom and two sisters who all live in southern Minnesota. All of us had traveled and explored the numerous state parks along this route in the summer and fall (excellent lodge to lodge hiking on the Superior Trail). But none of us had ever ventured Up North in the winter.  It was late when we arrived in Duluth, but one sister braved the cold with me for a midnight walk from our hotel at Canal Park Inn to the Aerial Bridge for our first peek at frozen Lake Superior.Aerial bridge on Lake Superior in winter, Duluth, Minnesota, USA

There under the bridge, the frozen ice had strange snow patterns on the otherwise smooth surface. Once back home I tried to research what these were–best I could find was a description of “snow ice patches” that are created from “blowing snow which collects in wet zones surrounding thaw holes and cracks in the beginning stage in the formation of snow-ice mounds.” Can anyone out there verify?

By the next morning, those beautiful patterns were gone, having disappeared under a thin layer of fresh snow. Glad I saw it when I did, because I never saw another sight like it for the remainder of our trip along Lake Superior. Heading north about 40 miles, we traveled to a lodge north of Two Harbors so we could have close access to Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse for the next couple of days. Here, my Mom is standing on the shore outside our lake home rental at Grand Superior Lodge. Note the growing shore ice forming on the exposed coastline from prevailing wind and wave action.

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And notice that Lake Superior was not frozen at all! (I was highly disappointed to see moving water because that meant that the Lake Superior ice caves on the Wisconsin side–directly across the bay from Two Harbors, would NOT be accessible this year after all. So our plan to visit the ice caves was probably not going to happen at the end of our 10 day trip. Last year was the first year since 2009 that Lake Superior ice had froze thick enough for people to walk to the ice caves.) But even though the lake was not frozen, the shore line was pretty interesting to explore.min9900blog

Gooseberry Falls State Park was just 2 miles from the lodge where we stayed. The short paved path and stairs leading to the main falls from the Visitor Center were covered in ice, and ironically the most difficult part of the park to navigate. (Snow pants make sliding down the stairs the quickest, safest way down.) Regular winter boots made exploring the rest of the park easy in the snow. The Lower Falls, which eventually empties out to Lake Superior, was more rewarding to see than the main falls. The frozen cascading water was tinged in a soft blue green.

Gooseberry Falls in winter, Two Harbors, MN, USA

Close up of the Lower Falls at Gooseberry

Close up of the Lower Falls at Gooseberry

Gooseberry Falls in winter, Two Harbors, MN, USAView from the backside of the frozen waterfall looking out at the park with my sisters walking on ahead. The next shot is simply looking up at a tree at the top of the falls.

Gooseberry Falls in winter, Two Harbors, MN, USAThe next day we took our complimentary snow shoes from the lodge to Split Rock Lighthouse park and hiked along the shore. What a difference! This was just 10 miles north of our lodge where the lake had zero ice.min9552blogAnd here, it appeared that Lake Superior was covered in a thick blanket of snow, as are the rocks on shore. A bit further we reached the little island bird sanctuary and noticed the lake had more variation and ice chunks in the distance. And nice reflective surfaces for that pink sunset!min9650blogAnd just steps left from where my sisters were sitting, the ice was noticeably different yet again. Note the cool patterns!

Split Rock lighthouse

Split Rock lighthouse on Lake Superior

Powerful wind mixed with water turbulence cause ragged tear lines and form cracked patches in the ice sheets.

A bit further north the shoreline ice was growing on Lake Superior, and angular sheets of thin ice were jumbled along the shore. It was a little scary walking out on this surface, but I was careful to follow indents of other boot tracks and stay a safe distance from the edge. No idea what the lake temp was, but I didn’t want to fall in!

Lake Superios in winter, Cascades region on the North Shore, Minnesota, USA

About halfway up the drive between Duluth and Grand Maraias, we stopped along the highway near Tettegouche Park. Here the shore line of Lake Superior really impressed!

min4299blogA frozen fantasy forest materialized before our very eyes…Apparently an icy 15 foot wave crashed up the cliff and instantly froze all the vegetation in its reach. Every surface was covered in white. The ice was so thick– yet the weight didn’t seem to crush the tree branches underneath, or break off when accidentally stepped on.min1079blogWas Frozen filmed here?min1010 blogCouldn’t resist taking a “selfie” via tripod in this magical icy forest.

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Grand Marais, just 40 miles shy of the Canadian border, was our final destination on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Our corner suite at East Bay Hotel had walls of windows overlooking the mighty lake, allowing easy views of the ever changing shoreline (and easy access to shops and restaurants down the street–including the fantastic Trading Post (rent snowshoes for $10 a day), ligonberry crepes at Blue Water Cafe, and pizza at Sven and Ole’s). A short drive away, to the campground by the town entrance, brought us to Artist Point where bluish plate ice was piled high.

This plate ice was created from pressure ridges as the wind pushed the ice toward shore and shifted it back and forth, causing it to break up and collapse under its own weight. It can pile up 8-10 feet tall along shorelines.

Lake Superior in winter, Grand Marais, MN, USA

Lake Superior in winter, Grand Marais, MN, USABut ice that blows in one day– can be gone the next! The day before, my sister had been standing on solid ice where the ice chunks were now swimming in the sea (see pic above). The ice had shifted yet again. Being there in person and witnessing how fast the ice conditions truly do change gave credibility to the stories we heard from locals about how every year they have to rescue ice fishermen by helicopter as they float out to sea…

min0814blogWe woke up one morning and noticed giant ice floes outside our hotel window. So of course we had to go out and investigate! My youngest sister couldn’t resist the urge to jump on one of the floating ice chunks. Yes, it was shallow there, but still…how fast do they float away?

Lake Superior in winter, Grand Marais, MN, USA

Eleven miles further north on Highway 61, at Milemarker 121, there was plate ice galore. Ice was stacked up 20 ft tall in some places. Some kids were ascending the peaks as if mountain climbing.

min0282But even the tiny ice formations were amazing. Who would’ve thought an icicle could support rocks piled with pebbles?min4213

A couple of Canadian guys down from Thunder Bay for the day were playing on the ice. Here they’re curling. Note the height of these piles–no snow truck pushed this ice aside!min4180Here, they’re skeet shooting. Look at the size of these chunks!

min4110blogWent back later that night for the sunset, mesmerized by that ice and captured a giant ice block reflecting the pink of the setting sun.

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Our final day in Grand Marais we learned that ice conditions were now frozen across the bay in Wisconsin and that the ice caves at Apostle Islands were now open to the public.  Perfect timing! So we headed there the next day, finishing our trip by seeing our final ice formations of Lake Superior with a flourish!

Visiting the ice caves at Apostle Islands, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, USA

We were so lucky to visit in the nine days they were open in 2015! (To see my separate blog entry about our ice cave visit go here.)

The variety of ice formations that we saw on Lake Superior was astounding in the short time we were there. I can only imagine the changing seascapes and shorelines over the course of an entire winter and soon as it begins to thaw in spring…

Tombolo Island

Tombolo Island

Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming when you first arrive at a new location with camera in hand. Where do you start? What should you photograph? What lens, and how should you shoot it?

Obviously everyone approaches photography differently. (That’s what makes it exciting to go shooting in a group to see what we each saw!) But I will share my thoughts of what went through my mind when composing and framing my shots of a recent trip to Tombolo Island, north of Grand Marais, Minnesota during a cold winter day.

I tend to think story. Just like an author begins with a description of a place, I too, like to start with an overview of a scene. An establishing shot to show the viewer where I am.  In this location, since the main feature of Tombolo is the island itself, I was careful to frame it with plenty of area around it to show the context of where it exists. A wide angle lens (16-35mm) works great for this as it includes more scene in the frame. In fact, all of these images were taken with that lens that day.

Being an island, overview shots can be captured from all sides in different light–as each will vary depending on whether it is front lit, back lit, side lit. So I walked around the little island to see what caught my eye. The foreground changed from rocks, to jagged ice shards, to snow, and finally to thin ice (where I did not tread!) I liked how the rocks added weight to the foreground to balance the island in the above pic. And how easy it was  to imagine the water between the rocks and island in the summer months.

snow tracks in winter

Moving around the island, I liked how the foot prints in the snow skirted around the jagged ice sticking out and lead toward the island. The leading lines of the foot prints seemed best emphasized in a vertical format. On the backside of the island, I liked the contrasting textures of the smooth and jagged ice in the foreground, and captured yet another overview shot.

texture

Satisfied with the variety of establishing shots, I began to wander around and just let the rest of the story unfold. I simply stopped whenever something fascinated me–whether it was color, shape, texture, leading lines, diagonals, close up detail shots or people engaged in this environment. Then decided which perspective would best illustrate that feature–was it a low angle? Or tilted angle? Should I get closer to my subject? Or zoom out?

shapeHere, I was drawn to the similar shape of this ice-covered rock that resembled the island in the background. So I stood close enough that the foreground rock was prominent as my subject and framed the island to be included as a repeating pattern.

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Here, I saw a little icy niche, climbed inside and shot through the ice for a view from the inside out.

foregroundI loved all the ice shards that looked (and sounded like!) broken glass. To emphasize this unusual foreground, I tilted my wide angle 16-35mm lens down, got as close as I could and still be in focus, and framed the island horizon in the upper third.

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Finding the ice so fascinating, I tried a low angle capture by holding the camera close to the ground and using live view to frame it. But didn’t like the result…looked like a confusing hodgepodge. Wanted to shoot the island through the ice, but the angle was impossible.

lowangle

So I tried another low angle of another ice shard that I found in snow. Got really low by lying down and shooting up, framing the ice in the sky. The subject (ice shard) was immediately visible since it was isolated.

lowangleiceThen I varied my view a bit to include a person in the background for exaggerated scale. No, the ice shard was not 20 ft tall! But your subject will definitely appear larger than life when you use a wide angle lens and get as close as you can to it. 😉

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Another low angle shot–this time a “selfie” of my ice cleat clad boot on the ice–also captured by holding the camera low on the ground.

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Advancing to the island there were giant icicles hanging down the rock face. Rather than a standard straight on shot of the ice, I moved to capture a profile of another photographer shooting up at the formation.

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And naturally had to move in to that spot to vary the view point…diagonalDiagonals…

upAnd straight up…kinda scary knowing those icicles could come crashing down with a sudden thaw…yikes…

Wandering back toward the car, I came across wolf tracks in the sand. They appeared strange. They were raised…no idea why….but that made them even more intriguing.

wolfprint

Isolating them in a photograph, however, didn’t work. But then the wind picked up, blowing snow straight toward us. Backlit, the blowing snow looked eerie and added an air of mystery and movement to the scene. Just what it needed! So I crouched down, and photographed into the wind, framing the wolf tracks in the foreground and showing the context of where this animal had been.

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Lake Superior ice caves

Lake Superior ice caves

Just a week after they opened, and already the ice caves in the Apostle Island National Lakeshore in Bayfield County, Wisconsin are now closed for the 2015 season. Last year, cold temps created safe access to the caves for the first time since 2009, and ice conditions remained stable for a record 8 weeks, drawing national attention and 138,000 visitors. This year 37,800 people visited in the 9 days that the ice caves were deemed safe to access.

Luckily, my timing–pure chance–was perfect!

My sisters, Mom and I had been traveling along the North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth to Grand Marais, Minnesota for a couple of weeks, and had left the last night of our trip open for either Duluth or a jaunt over to Cornucopia, Wisconsin in case the ice caves opened up. Just the day before, on Feb 28, park naturalists determined the ice was thick enough (10 inches) to support public access and the ice caves were OPEN! After a 4 hour drive from Grand Marais, we arrived Sunday night around 5:30pm, grabbed our boots– fitted with ice cleats– and quickly made our way to Meyers Beach parking lot, 4 miles east of Cornucopia.

wind blown tourists at ice caves, Wisconsin

wind blown tourists at ice caves, Wisconsin

Heavy clouds were overhead, and the wind was whipping around. People were returning from the caves. Not exactly the best time to be heading out…  but we proceeded across the ice, in the darkening night. At least for a little while. It soon became abundantly clear that the distance from the parking lot stairs to the 1st cave–merely a mile–would take substantially longer to reach than a simple 15 minute walk on land. People we met on the ice informed us that our destination–the dark bend in the far distance–would take an hour and a half to reach.

walking on frozen Lake Superior at night

walking on frozen Lake Superior at night

So we stopped trying to chase time, and turned around probably a fourth of the way out, and began to appreciate the setting sun and the strange formations in the ice. It felt weird to be walking on Lake Superior. Growing up in Minnesota, I knew it never completely froze. So how is it– that if it’s only 51% frozen now, we could walk waaaay out from shore? And what about those dark inky sections–was it thinner there? Tiptoeing over the ice and seeing strange white jagged shapes floating in the icy depths was downright spooky!

My sister walking across the ice at night

My sister walking across the ice at night–spooky!

Especially in the dark, feeling rather vulnerable on the surface of that vast Great Lake, when only a few other people were out. And what did those cracks or crevices indicate? Was it really safe? Adding to the creepiness was the NOISE we heard!  I’m not talking about the click click click of our ice cleats, but the sudden booming noises that echoed beneath us, and loud grumbling sounds reverberating around us. It sounded like huge ice chunks colliding deep underfoot, and other times, like a hungry monster’s stomach growling! We were relieved to learn from locals the next day that those sounds are actually comforting, as it indicates that the frozen ice is expanding.

pattern and cracks in the ice

close up pattern and cracks in the ice

The next morning we agreed to get up early and get out on the ice by dawn. I wanted to get an early start knowing it would take 3 hours round trip just to walk to the ice caves, and we had to check out of our room at the Village Inn in nearby Cornucopia by 1pm, then head back to my sister’s homes in Minneapolis and Rochester by nightfall. Four hours to explore this place didn’t seem enough…(and wasn’t!)

plate ice on Lake Superior at dawn

plate ice on Lake Superior at dawn

We arrived around 6am (see, sis, we’re not the only car in the lot at this ungodly hour–we’re the tenth car here!) made it down the stairs, and onto to the ice in the blue hour when the light was nice, pastel and soft. Couldn’t resist stopping along the way to photograph the light play on the ice, intriguing lines and patterns.

Visiting the ice caves at Apostle Islands, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, USA

 

bumpy surface of ice enroute to ice caves (dark formation ahead)

bumpy surface of ice enroute to ice caves (dark formation ahead)

The walk to the Apostle Island ice caves is not only long but fatiguing. Your core muscles are constantly engaged as you gingerly walk your cleats across the glassy, bumpy, and cracked ice.  About halfway across, the toe of my cleat caught in a patch of snow, and CRASH, down I fell, smack on the ice, landing on my pinky finger. My camera, which had been perched on my tripod, took a blow to the side, and little doors holding the battery, card reader and LCD screen popped open. Great…hadn’t even reached the ice caves yet and my camera was toast. I put it back together again, turned it off, then on. Dead. Sickening.  My finger was throbbing (broken), but all I cared about was my camera (Sony a99). Thankfully, I did have a back up camera with a telephoto lens in my camera bag.

looking out from an ice cave

looking out from an ice cave

Reaching the first ice cave, I took out my camera and discovered it had recovered from its concussion. All the settings were scrambled, and about 12 images were corrupted, but it worked again!!!:)

 

Wisconsin ice caves 2015

Wisconsin ice caves 2015

Most of the ice caves are actually ice formations decorating the sandstone cliffs along the mainland shore of Apostle Island National Park in Bayfield Country, Wisconsin. Only a few felt like a cave.

ice cave

ice cave

Visiting the ice caves at Apostle Islands, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, USA

Visiting the ice caves at Apostle Islands, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, USA

sandstone formations eroded by water and wind with ice

sandstone formations eroded by water and wind with ice

me under giant icicles

me under giant icicles

Visiting the ice caves at Apostle Islands, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, USA

strange cracks and fissures in the ice of Lake Superior

strange cracks and fissures in the ice of Lake Superior

only place we saw water in the ice caves

only place we saw water in the ice caves

 

looking upward

looking upward

 

Visiting the ice caves at Apostle Islands, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, USA

 

another fissure in the ice Lake Superior

another fissure in the ice Lake Superior

Visiting the ice caves at Apostle Islands, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, USA

My sister exploring an ice cave

My sister exploring an ice cave

 

Visiting the ice caves at Apostle Islands, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, USA

Not so easy to walk around. Sturdy boots with ice cleats definitely advised. And a face mask for strong winds. Water. (A back up camera!) Extra batteries kept close to your body heat. Mine froze up within 30 minutes due to chilly wind chills. And if you don’t want to haul heavy gear–take a tip from several photographers spotted pulling their gear including heavy tripods on sleds. As far as camera lenses, I used a 16-35mm for most of my shots, and occasionally my 70-300mm.

Visiting the ice caves at Apostle Islands, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, USAVisiting the ice caves at Apostle Islands, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, USAVisiting the ice caves at Apostle Islands, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, USAVisiting the ice caves at Apostle Islands, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, USA

All in all a fantastic visit!  Highly recommend this icy adventure. Check the automated ice line to see if conditions allow safe access: 715-779-3397 Ext 3. Consider staying at the Village Inn in Cornucopia, the closest inn to the caves at 4 miles away. Beds were comfy and whitefish meals were excellent in the adjacent restaurant. They also run a shuttle so you don’t have to fool with parking on the highway when the small parking lot at Meyers Beach gets filled up.

 

  • Lori Schug - KIm! I’m so impressed with your photos!!! Each is incredible and inspiring!!! Your perspective is amazing…. WOW!!!

  • admin - And Lori, I love your close up perspective! Was so good to meet you Up North!

  • Al Perry - Kim, Very much enjoyed your photos of the ice caves along with text. Looks like you made the most of your visit.

  • admin - Thanks, Al. Am looking forward to seeing your HDR masterpieces. Was such a surprise to run into you there!