Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trigger Finger

Chasing my way towards Central Iowa in brilliant sunshine in route to an assignment, my mindset was bent on arriving before sunset. Even though the assignment didn't start until morning, it's always nice to try to catch that warm light just in case you are not blessed with the clarity of today's light tomorrow. The weather forecast called for warmer conditions in the morning but a pesky low pressure system was pushing North and rain and even thunderstorms were in the forecast. In December! For those of us living here in the upper Midwest, that's just freaky. Its just wrong to rain in the end of December.

My alarm goes off an hour before sunrise. I peak out of the hotel window overlooking this small Iowa town of West Union, and a eery glow blankets the town. Snow depth here is well above average. The warm air mixing with the ample snow cover created a thick fog hovering over town like whipped cream on a latte. Perhaps it will burn off, perhaps it won't. If I had to guess, it won't.

Now, I'm thrilled I arrived at sunset and was able to fire off a few frames of Main Street. This foggy light was poor for what I needed to photograph. Sometimes fog can be mesmerizing. Other times, it can be f/dark. I needed shots of town, the surroundings, the town square as part of this coverage. Repeated storms had delayed this shoot several times. Now, with a deadline looming, it was do or die.

Long story short, coverage of town and the necessary portraits were accomplished as best could be done in this light. As the daytime hours faded new concerns arose. The drive home to Minneapolis.

The fog was so thick you could not see half a city block and the wet streets were accumulating freezing drizzle. A stressful drive lay ahead. The assignment under my belt, I decided to carefully inch my way home. With any luck maybe the fog would expose something magical for my lens on the drive back. Capturing a good photograph would no doubt ease the tension filled drive.

The Iowa landscape is beautifully simple. The fog was fascinating as it shielded rolling cropland, the occasional clump of tree's, barns and livestock. Struggling to find definition in these scenes, the subject's contrast fall off was immediate into the bright glow. Fences, barns, and cows, seen up close-up revealed sharpness, but anything more than a baseball toss away was glowing in the fog. And, the brightness of it was hard on the eyes.

Yet, I could felt if something just popped out at me, I could make a memorable image. This kind of light can do that. And, it doesn't come often, especially in winter with everything coated in white. This simplicity to the landscape, the foggy conditions, were all ingredients for something cool to record.

While I should have been calmed by the exciting conditions, I actually felt anxiety creeping in. How can I be offered this amazing light and I find nothing to photograph? Mile after mile I spotted potential photographs. But, something continuously kept me from firing off a frame. A errant fence or tree, a bad background that blended into the softness and disrupted the mood, the simplicity was becoming chaotic and ever opportunity seemed to infected by a visual intruder.

In today's photography world, its so easy for many to simply say, "I can take that out in Photoshop." I must be old school. I still cherish finding the moment LIVE. Even if it does give me an ulcer!

Time after time I slowed, stopped, got out the camera and pointed my camera at various landscapes. None captured my imagination as I had hoped. I kept hoping that next hill might produce the moment like the next bend bend in the river will yield a big fish. Daylight was waning and my hopes were fading. It felt like I had a basket of fresh Georgia peaches within reach but couldn't grab a single one. It was killing me.

My trigger finger was exercised. But, I missed my target. Some days its "just like that." Here's a few images I gave a whirl.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Listen To The Messages

The joy of discussing photography has never been lost on me. I don't mean the technical jargon, like what shutter speed did you use, jpeg or tiff, Do you use Photoshop, ect. Its those explorations about living creatively. The hunt for an image and the emotional wrap we experience when the shutter opens and moment is captured.

In college during a photography lesson, a wonderful quote stuck to me like caramel on an apple. It came from the great photographer Minor White. He spoke of how we need to learn to "listen to the messages" while out seeking photographs. It really resonated with me and it's a disciplined practice I utilize daily and offer up the concept in workshops.

You know what I'm talking about. There's a chance however, you have not recognized or acknowledged it. It happens to us all. Listening to the messages? What does it mean? Here's an example; How many times have you been driving down a road, seen something and thought to yourself, Hmmm, that might be a shot? Yet, you continue driving, the image still dancing inside your head. I should stop, turn around and check that out....., but you keep driving. Finally, you are far enough away that you justify it's a lost cause, "it was nothing" and you drive on.

Well, my friend, that was a MESSAGE! Something spoke to you on a visual level. It called out your name and you kept driving.

As creative intuitions emerge, we need to do our part and listen to them and explore the message. I don't want to say that more often than not it turns out to be nothing, but give it chance. Miles Davis once said, "Everything matters, everything." If indeed you find the draw didn't produce a photograph, you made the move to look and see. You gained something regardless. At the very least, you practiced "seeing."

Recently, I was driving home from photographing BURNING MAN in the desert outside of Reno, Nevada. I had driven almost 1,600 miles on Interstates and hadn't pulled the camera out once. I specifically drove hoping to find random images along the way. I was going nuts. I felt like I was wasting time and felt depleted creatively. Usually, I don't travel Interstate's for such long distances. I prefer those local roads off the beaten track. But, I had to chase back for an assignment that came up and time became more critical. I couldn't stand it anymore.

Finally, I got to Bismarck, North Dakota and left the Interstate. Within minutes, I started seeing images. The first to catch my eye, this life-sized horse up a pole advertising a local Thrift Shop. I chuckled at it. Easy to pass up. But, I turned around and came back for a look. The quirkiness of the scene made me giggle. Seeing the horse, used for advertising, perfectly fitting in between those puffy summer clouds, made a fine image depicting Americana. I listened to the messages and found a fine photograph in the heart of the Midwest.

Last week photographing around Minneapolis/St. Paul, some images popped out. I listened here as well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Capturing Wind

Yesterday, the low barometric pressure in Minnesota, and throughout the Midwest, broke all sorts of weather records. This massive storm reflected low pressure readings similar in large destructive hurricanes over the oceans.

These type of weather events stimulate the motivated photographer. Storm chasing has become a business in of itself. Here in Minnesota, two gals, called the "Twister Sisters," guide people close to severe weather with hopes of getting a close-up glimpse of nature's fury. Its both risky and exciting.

Yesterday, I found myself calling & emailing all my pals and Govt. sources like the NOAA, seeking information on where the waves on Lake Superior might be kicking up a fuss. For me, Lake Superior is the place I go to shoot big storms like this. The combination of Superior's size, familiarity with it's shoreline, give me a chance to position myself in locations that offer a greater percentage for successfully capturing the wrath.

Unfortunately, my schedule didn't allow me to scoot North to hunt for wind images. I feel blessed that last year about this same time, I was gifted a Superior storm (see below images) that I was able to photograph. To date, those photographs are still my favorite images from this great lake.

With all the furious communications yesterday, a few discussions about capturing wind came up. I love shooting wind and the challenges to capturing it are easier than you think. And, you don't need low light and long exposures to define it. If your camera has multiple exposure capability, you can shoot wind in the middle of a bright sunny day and still seize the movement. Simply shoot several frames over the same frame, perhaps of blowing grasses in a field, to show the windy conditions. Like magic, you have a wind photograph in the middle of the day!

In the images seen below, you will see a variety of situations that capture wind. The pain of not being able to head North yesterday failed to keep me inside. The winds were still howling here in Minneapolis and at the end of the day I stole about an hour to head down to our local park to see what I could find at night.

I grabbed my heaviest tripod and went wind hunting. Most of the trees were stripped of their leaves from the stinging rain and wind throughout the day. Fortunately, I found a Maple that still, believe it or not, had it's leaves clinging to Fall unwilling to give up just yet. There was a streetlight behind the tree illuminating it with a freaky glow that attracted me. I stopped down to f/22 and got a 30 second exposure. This long exposure allowed the windy movement to blur. The solid trunk of the tree remaining sharp, gave me my foundation. I do like to have something sharp in the midst of all that blur.

While shooting an assignment in Iceland, I experienced wind like I've never seen before. It was so windy, it was spooky. It never let up. It relentlessly pounded and pounded. It was the kind of wind that if you stopped your car to grab a shot, you had better be pointed into the wind. If you parked with the wind behind you, it would rip the car doors right off it's hinges. Don't believe me? Check out the photo I snapped of the waterfall being blown right back up into the sky! Another image created that same day of the trees blowing, I used my rental vehicle as a wind break to take a long exposure to bring out the strength of these winds.

Shooting an assignment for Smithsonian Magazine on Wind Power, I was criss-crossing the Midwest where wind farms were finally getting a foothold capturing the blowing prairie winds. I noticed that most of my coverage happened during the day, when the winds typically blew the strongest. I quickly observed that while I was getting good images of the giant turbines, I had stopped the action of the blades. I wasn't showing the wind being harnessed. I looked for other ways to show the breeze. One option was using a dollar bill with a wind turbine in the distance. I knew the dollar bill would flap in the stiff wind, and I liked the visual metaphor of generating dollars from nature. I held the dollar against a 20mm lens and fired away. The second option was waiting until nightfall and using a powerful spotlight, I illuminated the blades as they slowly moved in the darkness.

Finally, a clearing storm in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) exposed a rainbow while the upper level clouds were still croaking. A long exposure allowed the clouds to show movement. The image was more complete for me. It exhibited a change in weather systems, not just a rainbow created by one.

Its still blowing today. So, I gotta run!

More Capturing Wind images

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

PADDLE NORTH.......... is here!

The privilege of having a pristine wilderness in my backyard is never lost on me. The pleasures of canoe travel go beyond it’s ease. I delight in the sensations of floating. Paddling close to shore is my favorite. Gliding over ancient rock atop gin clear water is like watching a movie created right before my eyes.

Enjoy this new book detailing a wonderful wilderness. Paddle on!
This is the Title page. The Cover can be seen in earlier posts on this blog.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fabulous New York City

Last week I was teaching a Mentor Series Worldwide Photography Trek along with New York based photographer Steve Simon and Atlanta shooter Mark Alberhasky in New York City. Its been several years since I've photographed in the Big Apple. And while teaching workshops, my efforts of shooting are usually centered around shooting examples for participants to peek at while out in the field. The beauty of digital photography allows us to show examples immediately. A valuable teaching tool for sure.

Nonetheless, creating photographs in NYC is always a thrilling and rewarding experience. We photographed in numerous locations around the city. Some of which included Central Park, Grand Central Station, Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, skyline images, ect. Each location offered a unique set of situations to explore and test our visual concepts.

Here's a few examples I photographed during the Workshop session to share with the group. The skyline image, shot from Fulton Landing in Brooklyn, is a 8-image panoramic stitched together using Photoshop's Photo Merge feature. And, the image taken in Central Park of the mosaic called IMAGINE, after John Lennon's song, I converted most of the image to a watercolor in Photoshop after returning to the office here in Minneapolis. Only the center of the mosaic remains normal.

Sometimes its just fun to experiment with other techniques.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Just Laugh Out Loud

Last week, while up teaching my annual Fall Equinox Photography Workshop out of the famed NORTH HOUSE FOLK SCHOOL in Grand Marais, Minnesota something unexpectedly happened that caught me totally by surprise.

I learned how to create artificial geomagnetic storms! My goodness, could this be a new form of global travel opportunities and fill buckets of money?

Of course not. But, it was sure a hoot discovering how it happened.

It all started when we doing light-painting up on nearby Maple Hill. At the top of the hill is a small wooden church and more importantly, no lights anywhere close by. We need the blackness of night to selectively shine our flashlights and spotlights where we choose to "paint" with light the areas we want to show up. Long exposures are necessary so we can also include the stars in the photograph. It was working quite well and everyone was creating wonderful images.

After we completed our tasks of night shooting and learning to paint with light, it was time to call it an evening. Or was it?

I offered the idea of driving a little further down the Gunflint Trail to the Elbow Lake road where within 15 minutes we could shoot more stars over a calm lake. The idea of capturing reflections of the Big Dipper on the lake surface, since it was so calm, was appealing. Three hardy folks, Steve, Gredo and Carly took me up on the proposition.

We drove down the dirt road to the lake, headlights illuminating a dark narrow road, and after several twists and rises, the lake broke into view. The high beams shined over the dark water. And, at the same time we all commented, "Oooooh, look at the fog on the lake!"

The headlights illuminated a wispy, three foot thick blanket of fog steaming over the lake. Evening temps were cooler than normal, and a frost was imminent. We entertained the fog might thicken as temps dropped. We grabbed our tripods and cameras, lined the shoreline, attached the cable releases and begin opening shutters for 30-second exposures. We shoot 30 seconds because its the amount of time needed to expose stars. Any more time and the stars start streaking. Thirty seconds at 3200 ISO/ASA also allows the Milky Way to come alive. The reflections were nice, even through the fog. It was fun to be out.

With head lamps and flashlights cutting through the night, the fog illuminated like shining a pen light through campfire smoke. Wonderful beams of light danced around the foggy lake. We were way too excited about this fog coming to life. I grabbed my spotlight and during the next series of exposures, held the spotlight next to water level to lite up the fog. The results were awesome! We shot more and more, changing the direction of the light, coloring the light, hitting only portions of the lake, the distant shore, the dock, ect. We milked it as best we could.

Just about the time the chilly air was starting to bite and we calmed down a bit, the last set of exposures I pointed the spotlight up into the sky over my camera to see if it might show up. OMG! There it was. Beams of light were exposed in the misty air creating near aurora like images.

We all laughed out loud! How cool was this?

So, our science experiment begins. The chill was broken with excitement. We did several more exposures shining the bright beam towards the heavens, Each time a new and magical light painting appeared on our L.E.D. screens. Holy smokes, we were creating artificial aurora borealis. This night, the northern lights belonged to us.

It didn't take long for the discovery to turn to reality. We can't use these images. They are not real and we would never pass them off as real. But, for those 15-20 minutes, seeing what light can do was magical. It sets in motion a whole new way of seeing. Its one more item in our visual tool bag to utilize when the right time comes along. A new light discovery for sure.

So, we concluded our evening with some fine wolf howling over the stillness and listened to ten echo's bounce through the darkness. I wondered if the Space Station caught our light show? If they did, I'm sure they laughed out loud too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Magic of Stillness

I am often times introduced when giving presentations or lectures as a
"Wildlife Photographer." I am never offended, or feel the need to correct. Actually, I consider the title quite prestigious. I feel it is one of the specialties within the medium of photography that requires the greatest sacrifice of time. And, it is with their great intuitions that talented photographers like Jim Brandenburg and Daniel Cox are able to share with us visual moments in nature we easily take for granted.

If I had to define my work, I guess in many ways I'm kind of a Heinz 57 variety. In other words, I'm an editorial photographer. I shoot as many types of assignments as an actor plays roles. I love this aspect of being a magazine photographer. Its keeps me educated, fresh and motivated.

That said, I do lean towards outdoors conservation/ecology related stories. I feel at ease outside. To experience the gifts nature provides, one learns about themselves and in many ways improve on basic lessons in common sense. Those rewarding experiences can be found in natural disasters or something as simple as a pond reflection. There is tragedy and beauty in both.

One morning on Grey Lake in Quetico, while seeking images for PADDLE NORTH, we spent the previous two days portaging tough trails. We found a beautiful campsite and had the entire lake to ourselves. This gorgeous lake spoke to each of us in unified terms. Let's take a day off and just stay here!

With that decision, a sense of relief sparkled on everyone's faces. Sleep in a little, swim, fish, and just let our bodies heal from the unaccustomed muscle strain of carrying heavy packs and canoes over difficult terrain. We were in for a wilderness treat. And, isn't this what we came here for anyway? To soak up the wildness. I was certainly feeling the pressure of stopping and getting in some work. Day in and day out of nothing but traveling lake to lake, curtailed the coverage I was seeking. I needed to stop and smell the rose hips.

The payoff was worth it. I was taking in the morning fog as sunrise quickly replaced it with crisp, sharp light over the exposed Canadian Shield across from camp. Out of nowhere, like they commonly do, a loon appears from the depths to watch me. The water was glass and my lens quickly trained itself on the loon. The reflections were so perfect that at times I could not find the loon breaking the mirrored image. But, I knew if the bird stayed on the surface, with luck, I might be gifted a memorable photograph.

For those precious few moments, I was a wildlife photographer. Concentrating intensely on the loon's glide as it broke the surface tension creating its own wake, the sunlight hitting it's eyes intermittently, I make tense decisions to snap the shutter just as the red eyes are revealed, when this bird of the most perfect of black and white colors, scooted into part of the reflection that lifted it from the visual chaos, I made my frames. All in all, it lasted only a minute or two and the loon disappeared just as it entered my world. Quietly, and with purpose.

For those few moments, I was a wildlife photographer. An observer of movement, wilderness life, ecology, and a foreign world. Like I said earlier in this post, it felt quite prestigious.

I so totally get what those wildlife photographers feel.

PADDLE NORTH is due out in November 2010.

Gunflint Trail

A nice video clip produced by writer/producer Lisa Wagner on the Gunflint Trail. This clip is an excerpt from her more complete video for the Gunflint Trail Association.

Click on the title above: GUNFLINT TRAIL

Many of the areas discussed in this video will be part of our new book, PADDLE NORTH due out November 2010.


Friday, July 23, 2010


The new book, PADDLE NORTH, featuring the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park is now available for pre-orders. The book will be released November 1st, 2010.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

In The End

Every once in a while I hear actors telling interviewers that they never or rarely watch their performances on TV or film.
I always thought this was just hogwash and an attempt to humble themselves in public view. But, I have also learned
over the years that they make a good point too.

I once read about a photographer, an accomplished one, who prints his work, then hides it for a year before looking at it again.
This, I understand. Its no different than the actor really. One needs to step away from work sometimes to allow it to settle. Its not a question of whether the work is good, strong, or significant. Those moments surrounding the capturing of time can affect how we view an image. Putting it away, allowing new experiences to build layers on top allows us to see it in fresh terms.

Today I met with the MHS Press Production Manager, Daniel Leary. He called to inform me the page proofs were in. This is always the exciting part for me. I've stepped away from the project long enough now that I was looking forward to reviewing the pages fresh and hopefully, with less than a overly critical eye.

My job today was to see the pages, examine color, errant marks, ect. and make notes of those for correction. 95% was in good form. The scant few color transparencies seemed to give the separator the most difficulty. I'm concerned, but confident these will all be fixed. Dan Leary was on the same page and had already made notations on those. I feel my back is covered. Amazing how transparencies, now throw the wrench into the machinery. These times, they are a'changin.

My favorite part of the book is no question the Chapter openers. Such a wonderful mixture of image, layout and fonts. I got pumped up to dive into each chapter. I did experience concern over several images that were used too small to be effective. This is true with a lot of photography and one of the worst practices I see in visual communication.

Demands for layout space, other images, type, ect, all play a role in how a page can be designed. Still, the power of a photograph can be killed by using too small or too large. Thankfully, it was minimal in this book.

You'll find when you see the book (due out in October 2010) the images are laid out playing a role in telling the story of each chapter page by page. Greg Breinings' text tickles the imagination and hopefully you'll find the images build on that. I enjoyed the flow and build up of imagery with double spread spreads knocking your socks off with images that begged you to load the canoe on the car and go. See, I stepped away long enough to get excited!

A few weeks ago I was a guest speaker at the North House Folk School ( annual Wooden Boat Festival. A great event and perfect for me to shamelessly plug the new canoeing book. I focused my talk on the making of a book on canoe country. The biggest point was the discussion on the cover choice. It brought out lots of comments and I think the choice of these canoe enthusiasts confirmed my gut reaction (see earlier posts here). I found it enlightening and educational to listen to those people whose lives are centered around paddling. I showed them the entire book on the big screen and the flyers given to me by MHS Press marketing guru Alison Aten at the were all but snatched up. A smile ran across my face. What I considered to be the toughest crowd, gave it their thumbs up!

Aside from the glow of their acknowledgement, and fear they might not like it, the moment I will remember most came from a 93 year old man in the crowd. This gentleman came up to me and gave me a hug before we spoke. He pulls back and tells me he also was caught in the Ham Lake Fire. He said he was putting the sprinklers on the roof of his home on Seagull Lake when the DNR came by issuing mandatory evacuations. He had to leave in ten minutes.

I stopped him from going on. "Are you the man who was in tears on NBC being interviewed about not having enough time to put the sprinklers on your neighbors cabin?"

He told me that was him. I remember the TV News that night. I had just returned to the Twin Cities from the Gunflint Trail where Gus Axelson, Lee Frelich and I were also trapped by the BWCA fire. I watched this sweet old man cry as he told the story of how he was able to save his cabin but didn't have time to set the sprinklers on his neighbors. His neighbors cabin burned and it was torturing him. He cried. And I cried watching him tell this story.

It had been three years, almost to the day that fire started when I gave my presentation. It meant so much to me to meet him. We chatted about the BWCA, the fire, and life. The moment had nothing to do with the book. It had everything to do with what we shared, unknown to each other at the time it occurred. Do I dare expect I'll be lucky enough to hear from others as they share their BWCA/Quetico experiences through PADDLE NORTH?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Finally, a COVER!

When, after all the battles, creative conversations back and forth, a Cover emerges, its a true sign of relief.
a book now. Its coming to a close. It is a wonderful overview of the BWCA/Quetico wilderness with chapters on
topics like canoe history, forest fires, winter, rock and portages.

For anyone who has visited this wilderness, this book will find its way into your heart. Greg Breinings' words are descriptive and alive. He makes you want to toss the canoe on the car and head North. From my side, it is my hope the photographs will offer you new insights and familiar moments while cruising the visual poetry of this amazing wilderness.

So, here it is! I'm happy with it. The back cover will be a photograph of a star studded night scape with
the Milky Way glowing over La La Croix.

I understand the book is already available on, but I'm not sure if the cover is even uploaded there yet.
The PADDLE NORTH project gets sent to the printer in the second week of June and will be available sometime in late
October or early November. Hey, just in time for the Holidays!

It will be widely available here in the Midwest and you can always contact the Minnesota Historical Society Press
( or me directly for signed copies.

More later..........

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Its been awhile since making a post. My apologies. If I have nothing to say I see no reason to bore anyone with dribble.

But, now I have some exciting news. A cover has been chosen and finalized. The title is now etched in stone as well. What a relief to have these important hurdles behind us.

PADDLE NORTH-Canoeing The Boundary Waters-Quetico Wilderness

I'll have a copy of the cover soon and will post it. I'm pleased with the Title and the cover. It was quite a battle. Lots of thoughts & concerns thrown out on to the table and too many cooks in the kitchen at times. It never got ugly, but such an important detail needs the banter. All the bugs need to get worked out and everyone involved needs to be able to live with it. Its a huge and lasting mark.

Mind you, choosing a cover is no simple task. The artist needs to be happy, the editors, the marketing dept, book sellers, ect. To get all the planets to align, it takes time and open discussions.

The photograph I wanted for the cover didn't make the cut. After months of lobbying hard for this image, it came up short. However, from the early stages of designing and presenting cover ideas, I was never opposed to a cover that was better than the one I had pushed for. It just had to be better.

I still feel my instincts for the cover choice I pushed for are solid. But, there were reasons why it wouldn't work and as disappointing as that was, I can appreciate the logic behind kicking it off the table.

In-depth discussions about a photograph, it's content, message and appeal, are some of the discoveries made only by climbing the mountains of various perceptions. A photograph after all, is worth a thousand words...and each of those words can be seen differenty.

Through this effort, a cover was designed by Susan Binkley, Breeze Publishing Arts, that fit the bill. Its beautiful, informative and offers a sense of place. Susan is designing the entire book.

There is more to say about the topic of photography and publishers, but not today.
Seeing the cover for PADDLE NORTH and a few sample pages have calmed my nerves. I feel more at ease now. Its going to be an elegant and beautifully informative book on a special wilderness. It is filled with details, textures and spirit. Author Greg Breining has tied it all together with his thoughtful essays.

Nothing would please me more than finding there might be readers who have paddled this wilderness for 30 years or more, who will retrieve something from this book that ignites a spirit within them.

I'll be sure to get that cover posted soon. In the meantime, here's a photograph from the book on still, clear night on Agnes Lake in the BWCA. From across the lake I had spotted paddlers making their evening campfire. It was a beautiful scene. Can you hear the stillness?

Monday, February 1, 2010

One Man's Treasure......

It never seems to fail as soon as a book project gets put to bed, new visuals that would've worked perfectly for that project are dropped in your lap just a week too late. Its like trying to keep up with technology, you just struggle to stay on top. Well, I came to terms with that a long time ago. It just happens and I'm delighted I'm still able to be in a position to experience the thrills of new visual discoveries.

Last week, I went North to Ely, Minnesota where I conducted my 16th Annual Wintergreen Dogsledding Photography Workshop. We have a blast dogsledding in and out of the BWCA and Superior National Forest telling stories with our cameras. The maze of trails through black spruce bogs, dense forest and across frozen lakes offer numerous peeks at life in the North. Wolf tracks imprinted in the snow were everywhere and the treat of a full moon Saturday provided the icing on the cake. I'm told through some unusual moon orbit, the moon was 30,000 miles closer to earth this full moon phase than other months. It certainly looked larger! We had a very cold week with morning temps each day at minus -25 F and only warming to minus -10 F. Only on our last day the temps rose to 7 above zero and it felt like Spring! Funny how that works.

The day before arriving in Ely, the area was truly void of snow pack and new snow was desirable....and necessary for most winter activities. Well, they got smacked with a substantial snowfall. The problem was freezing rain came first before turning over to snow. It looked like a winter wonderland and post card picture perfect everywhere you turned. Tree's were coated in snowfall, globs of at least eight inches of snow clinging to everything. And, with the rain beforehand, like an ice storm, everything was leaning or bending over with all that weight.

What became so beautiful to witness blocked access to our dogsledding trails. Trees were splitting and breaking, and new buds were torn off with the weight of the icy snow. Indeed there was a price for this beauty. The area's woods were crippled. The rain had literally glued the snow to the trees. Even the winds that normally blow off fresh snowfall too quick for photographers to capture it remained frozen to everything.

Ever the creative genius, arctic explorer Paul Schurke, owner of Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, Paul designed a snowmobile equipped with sled runners shaped like a dune buggy frame. It was designed to protect his face and arms from the icy branches hanging over the trails as he inched his way down normally open dogsled trails. I can't think of anything more stinging that getting whipped in the face with a thin branch when its minus -25 F outside. New cuss words find their origin in times like this. When I arrived at Wintergreen, Paul already had a bloodied face, evidence of a tree whipping. I immediately understood his reason for building this unusual snowmo spaceship. He also installed cut birch trees attached to the sled behind to knock off snow from the trees with hopes they might respond by reaching for the sky once relieved from the weight of the ice and snow. Most trees do not so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Such is life in the northland. We continued to take photographs and capture the results of snow and ice, below zero temps, and the dogs loving the cold weather. We were forced to travel over open lakes on the ice with only a few short cuts through the forest cleared by Schurke and his expert staffers.

I had thought several times, Ohhhh, that image would be great for the winter chapter in the PADDLE NORTH book coming out next Fall. That one would be too, and that one!!

Enjoy the included pix from last week in Ely. One, guide Kate Ford's beautiful new stain glass window installed in the new Wintergreen sauna.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Chapter on Cold

Last night I was able to read author Greg Breinings' chapter on cold for our upcoming book,
"Paddle North."

Great timing!

Today we will be experiencing another arctic outbreak here in the upper midwest. Failing to address the issue of extreme cold in our neck of the woods would be a mistake when covering the BWCA. Breining has brought home the concept of cold in his words and descriptions. You'll enjoy his musings. Since I spend a great deal of my winter out in the wilderness cold, selecting images for this chapter will be a treat.

Some of my fondest winter moments seem to happen after a fresh snowfall. The reasons are obvious I think. There's a softness and calmness that comes with a fresh, cleansing snowfall.
Making fresh tracks in the snow make you feel like you are the first to leave your mark on winter. Observing tracks of wildlife, like fresh wolf tracks is exhilarating. A story seems to unfold right in front you. When were they here? What did they see? Were they chasing something? Or, just traveling by?

Getting a glance of a wolf is akin to a celebrity sighting. Its pretty rare and almost always memorable. In an earlier blog here, I had spotted a cluster of five wolf pups when my daughter, Austin and I were looking for Erik Simula completing the last leg of his epic journey last summer along the Grand Portage. Austin and I still talk about that thrilling moment in the woods.

Winter can warm your soul.

Monday, January 4, 2010

-38 F Below Zero

Winter has returned and with it those cold temps that seemed to elude us in past years. Those of you who reside in geographic locations outside of the upper Midwest will no doubt cringe at the thought of below zero temps. Of course, as a photographer, these weather situations offer visual opportunities unseen in warmer weather.

Ah, that feeling of fingers hurting so badly when the gloves had to come off to change the media card in the camera, or that sliver of wind cutting into your skin through that tiny little opening the wind found (and it finds it every time) in your jacket. Yeah, good times!

Amy Voytilla, a guide at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge in Ely, Minnesota wrote of guiding her winter camping trips last week with temp.s hovering the minus -30's F. It reminded me of a magazine assignment I had a few years back where we were covering winter camping in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area. That year too, was very cold and every day was in the Minus -30's. I snapped the photo below of polar explorer Paul Schurke, owner of Wintergreen, on a crisp morning. While making breakfast, tossing up a ladle of hot water from our oatmeal water, into the air hot water vaporizes instantly into powder. Now, you can't get that image on those warmer days like -5 minus F!! This is part of winter magic.

Such is life in the northern wilderness in winter. A chapter in our book will be dedicated to cold and those activities that transpire when canoes are put to bed for the winter. Motorized vehicles are not permitted in the BWCA in winter. So, the landscape of snow covered lakes are
etched with tracks of wildlife. Wolf tracks dot the lake, criss-crossing back and forth, perhaps in pursuit of a moose or deer, imprints of raptors softly detail wing patterns in soft snow, and deep shadows of black spruce covered in snow appear as bubbles in the snow cover. Dogsled teams break through deep snow and snowshoe tracks leave frozen fossils of their journey.

Winter can be a marvelous time to enjoy the Boundary Waters. Today is minus -26 F up North.
All I want to do is get out in it! And, of course, take a sauna when I come back in.....

Sunday, January 3, 2010