Monday, October 6, 2014

Bad Light Can Be Good Light

Superior waves, Artist Point, Grand Marais, Minnesota
 Our workshop group had just finished dinner. A warm delicious meal, a glass of wine (or two) mixed with a comfy indoor atmosphere after a successful day treasure hunting for photographs in iffy weather, the day's canvas painted a nice conclusion to a rewarding day.

Just outside blowing in off Lake Superior in Grand Marais, Minnesota, the weather was getting windy, cold and misty. Many had decided they had enough challenging light for the day and entertaining a "few more" night photos might push them over the top. I had mentioned that when the waves really start kickin up a fuss, shooting just after dusk can offer some wonderful visual opportunities. I averaged about .500 in talking several folks into one more hour of working the bad light and off we went with jackets and tripods in hand.

(Click On Images To Enlarge)

There is a magic time for photographing in the evening hours. It happens just after the sun sets and runs until it's dark. Once it's dark, it's done. 

Well, that is if you want any ambient light to continue to be part of your photograph. In order for your image to have that all important third dimensional look to it, you need to still posses some ambient light to define your foreground and background. Without it, the light in your image just rests in a sea of blackness with a two-dimensional look.

With subject matter like moving water, especially bigger wave action, long exposures can soften those waves into a fog like appearance.  Using your tripod, you can even keep your ISO at lower numbers retaining clarity. However, you will notice an increase in exposure is necessary every few minutes as light rapidly diminishes. So, keep checking your image.

During the exposure in the above photograph, 30 seconds, f/10 at 400 ISO, I did a few exposures without the add'tl kicker light of my headlamp. Then, for a few frames to mix it up, I used a low setting of red light on my headlamp to paint light over the foreground rocks during the 30 seconds to splash in some color. I love the red/blue combo in night images. To obtain the blue, I set my white balance to incandescent to give me that sexy, moody blue light.

Headlamps from approaching vehicle cast a eery glow in the fog along the Gunflint Trail in N.E. Minnesota.
Driving down out of the Superior National Forest in N.E. Minnesota, the Gunflint Trail, a paved road that runs inland about sixty miles from Lake Superior, is gateway to numerous entry points to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Fog blanketed the Trail near the famed "Pines" area and the eery headlamp glow from an approaching vehicle peaked our interest and knew it would make a strong image. 

I explained from a content perspective including the white pines adds valuable  information to the image as it is an iconic location along the 60 miles. This stand of old growth trees is an historic part of the Gunflint Trail and shooting the fog as a vertical provided an image with more than just a pretty photograph. It is a photo with history to it. Don't shoot just the glow, but the sense of place too.

Shot at 1.3/sec. at f/22 at ISO 100. I didn't need f/22 for depth of field. Fog really prohibits any reason for depth. But, my intentions were to offer a variety of options with moving vehicles. What had initially captured my attention was that glow rising up behind the hill. I knew it was a car, but it was the glow I liked so I didn't need to see car itself to identify what was creating it. I kept my fingers crossed that more than one vehicle would drive by so I got my "glow" photo first. Then, with any other passing car I could get streaks of light, as opposed to just a stop-action pair of headlights, thus my reason for shooting at f/22. It allowed me a longer exposure and more length to the streaking lights in the photograph. But, in the end, I stuck with my initial reaction to the glowing light.

Fall colors along Hwy 61, N.E. Minnesota
We've all been out shooting in the Fall wanting to capture the explosion of color. It's amazing how the color changes with the quality of sunlight. And, how it changes with the diffused light of cloudy days. Heck, a bright overcast day usually provides me with more success shooting the fall season than bright sunny days.

But, what do you do on a really f/dark day? One solution is to paint with light. Use a slow shutter speed, hand hold your long lens and move the camera while exposing. Go up and down, side to side, make circles both small and large. You'll be amazed what you can come up and how striking and unique this sort of approach to lousy light can create visual magic. This image was made at 1/5th sec. at f/22 on ISO 200.

And finally, ready for bed, you pull into your lodging location and notice some pretty cool light on the garage and ground in front of you. There's no reason to pull out the gear again and shoot this, right? It's just a parking lot next to your cabin. But, the misty, cloudy light is doing something it doesn't do any other night. So, why not take a few extra minutes and satisfy your curiosity. After all, there's plenty of time to sleep when your dead.

Ok, now go to bed!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Cameron Davidson's FUSE VISUAL 
interviews photographer
LAYNE KENNEDY this month.

Click on the above link to read:

Monday, July 7, 2014

iPhone Photography-It's The Real Deal

iPhone capture outside Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis

It's a good bet that you've shot, created and printed a photograph you captured with your smartphone. And, why not? The quality is good, it's instant, the device is small and non-intrusive, and with thousands of app's available to tweak your creative vision, smartphone photography has found its way into assignments, workshops and galleries.

Changing of the Guard, Athens, Greece

Sunset, windmills-Rhodes Island, Greece

I some ways I'm amazed how many people still criticize these devices as flukes, cheap photography, snapshots,  something less than real. This stereotype is diminishing as more and more fantastic images are being published using the variety of smartphones out there.

David City Airport, Nebraska

Certainly, I've been swayed. I adore the simplicity of using my iPhone. I pull it out of my pocket, raise it, fire it quietly and raise no attention to myself whatsoever. Everyone else is doing it so it fits right in. In my mind, I see the end result as if I were shooting to make prints in B/W. With all the app's that I enjoy using, I previsualize many of my iPhone photographs. What is in front of me is only the first step.

I think this is what I like most about iPhone photography, It allows me to experiment with ease, conjure up moods utilizing vintage style app's, layering textures and adding multiple images for making a visual statement or merely to have fun.

Fish & Chips cafe, Fulton, Texas

Rest assured, my iPhone has its limitations. And, I feel those limits deeply at times when I want the compression my 600mm gives me or the wide perspective of the 14mm while aiming my iPhone at a likely image.  

Fear not. I am not going to sell or shelf my Nikon's, Hasselblad, 4x5 or pinhole cameras. I am simply going to choose the instrument needed at the time to make the type photographs I wish to create. It's just another camera in your visual tool bag.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Photographing The Eclipse

With images containing so much blank space,
adding a comment can add balance.

Events like the full lunar eclipse on April 15th, 2014 really draw out a large number of people, all for their own reasons. I had no real reason to step into my backyard in the middle of the night to shoot it. I'm not an astro-photography buff and see no financial gain to spend time doing it. There's a lot of gifted experts supplying that visual stream to the world and I cannot compete with that and
don't want to.

But, taking in a eclipse is an opportunity for several things. One, the photo-op. But, I like the idea of simply taking in the experience. Geez, I had neighbors calling me, "Are you gonna be out, should I bring down some beer?" to folks who set an alarm for 3:00 a.m. so they could get up and take a peek at the total eclipse of the Blood Moon, as it is referred to. Fantastic Everyone! Ya gotta love that enthusiasm for experiencing the living universe.

 Another advantage of being out there is once you've captured the images, there are new photos to use in any experimental photographs you wish to create. These can be used for shows and photo-illustrations. In the below image, I combined three photos to create something other worldly and fun.

Combining images from your files offers visual options

Well, if you missed this one due to weather or warm covers, there are four more this year!
The next one is in October, 2014. 

So, set your alarms, check the weather, grab your tripod and take it in.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Special Portrait

Monday, March 17, 2014

More Bad Light

A quick trip North for a winter magazine assignment went wonderfully. New snow, bright yet diffused sunlight. Everything went off like clockwork.

Since I was already North, I decided to stay on a few extra days to explore the ice piling up along the shores of Lake Superior. This year the lake was more than 90% covered in ice. Normal twenty years ago, this is a rare winter event these days. Photographers follow such unusual natural events. The winds pile layers and layers of ice up to the shore. It can be a splendid visual experience for shooters.

Well, not this time.

Weather was stormy, cloudy and dark. The recent snow had covered the ice with a milky coating eliminating the desired gin clear ice. What does one do?

Driving for miles, I finally located a patch of ice that retained some of that gorgeous glacial blue coloration that attracts artists. But, the skies were dank and the ice almost featureless in this light. There was however a silver lining. I could photograph the blue ice without concern for the sky blowing it out. For all its bland appearance, this flat light was actually decent to work with.

Never give up. With a little luck, things might work out. Having a dramatic scene in such two-dimensional light was indeed a gift.

Lake Superior ice & clouds near Croftville, Minnesota


 The moon was edging slightly past half-moon phase. Not enough light I felt to warrant a night on the ice looking for new views of the ice shards piling up. But, some whispy clouds made things compelling enough to give it shot. Maybe with long exposures, the moving clouds will add some interest to a stark and simple scene. 

Inside an hour of darkness, a fabulous moon dog formed. It was huge, one of the biggest I've seen. The diffused light created an atmosphere that felt over worldly. Really strange light out over the ice fields. To add to the bizarre light and add drama to the scene, it was necessary to get the camera angle low giving the ice a larger appearance and see the moon dog. Yes, I did shoot a full moon dog. But, those have been done a million times. I was looking for something different. A look that mimicked the bizarre light cast over the frozen lake that night.

I spied a collection of ice shards, spread to tripod down to its lowest angle, framed the moon dog so it gave the impression or rising. I liked the results. I walked away with a new image, one that was different than any other winter moon dog photograph I've made prior. The effort to venture out that evening was totally worth it.
Moon Dog over Lake Superior ice shards.

Sometimes you just have to take off that editorial cap and put on the creative cap. It allows you a sense of adventure and risk. Try something within the realm of photographic possibilities and see what the imagination can kick out.

Silver Bay, Minnesota

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Iceland Photography Workshop

Once again, ICELAND is making the news. 
This recently posted news tidbit by ICELAND NATURALLY, 
from Iceland's Tourist Industry. There is no question this is the time to visit Iceland. 

Join Us late this summer for an incredible Photo Tour with Focus On Nature.

We will be photographing some of the most spectacular locations
in Iceland. Be prepared to be amazed.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Digital Magic In Photography

One never knows when a photographic idea will hit you. One that hit me while returning from an assignment up North has finally come to fruit. CROIX AND THE MAGIC BURL.

Eight years ago I took a class at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota. It was called; Wood Bowl Turning-Norwegian Ale Bowls. Basically, I learned to turn wooden bowls using a centuries old technique using just a wooden pole and a rope.

I had a blast and still enjoy turning bowls as a hobby. But, I did switch over to a power lathe!

Such diversions for artists are a natural release. It's not uncommon for artists to find another creative adventure outside of their own creative passion. I took to wood turning like a squirrel to a bird feeder.
It served as a good source of creative therapy.

Driving home from an assignment up North a few years ago, I stopped for a short hike along the Cascade River along Minnesota's North Shore Drive. When I reached the first set of waterfalls, there was an impressive spruce burl just off the trail. It was huge. And, for woodturners, most burls are prized for their exceptional grain patterns. Not spruce.  But, the burl had a funny pattern on it that looked like a face. I fired off a few frames of the burl and moved on.

Back on the highway, that burl face kept gnawing on my brain. Then, it came to me. I should do a book on the forest using the face of old burl as the voice to teaching kids about the forest and trees. So, finally here it is;

Croix And The Magic Burl
A Young Girl Meets A Magic Burl In The Forest 
And Learns The Value Of The Woods.

Here's the links;

(Shows the entire book)

less expensive version;

(only shows 11 pages)
One of the decisions in this book that once made, seemed to be a perfect fit, was the digital conversion of my photos to watercolors using Photoshop. I tried it with photographs right out of the gate. But, photographs seemed too definitive, too exacting. Converting to watercolors allowed some room for the imagination to wander. This felt like the appropriate technique for a young kids book.
Some images worked and others didn't. But, that's true with every story you shoot. Tough editing, even eliminating those you really want to share, is imperative for the collective good. Otherwise your project can travel down paths less focused on the theme. Stick to your guns and be a tough editor.

Using the available tools in today's digital climate can be a tremendous advantage for your creative outlet. I was amazed at the transformation of my images into another medium. I was very suspect and concerned it would fail horribly.  Instead, it served up just the right look. I got what I wanted and hope to tackle another one some day when the inspiration strikes.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Winter Dogsledding Photo Adventure

Dogsledding across frozen Baffin Bay with Greenland's Polar Inuit
for Smithsonian Magazine.

 Growing up in Alaska and making the move to tropical Minnesota was no big deal. We still had winter, still had mosquitoes. I thought for sure I'd miss the immense natural scale that is Alaska. But, here at 47ยบ North, we have the Great Lake Superior and the big pond suited me just fine for exploring natural landscapes bigger than life. No matter how much I try, I'll never complete my journey exploring that lake.

When it comes to winter up here, it's best to laugh at the cold rather than be laughed at. In fact, by participating in the cold, you find it can be quite intoxicating. I like it because less people are out, and if you venture into wilderness, you see a virgin winter others will never experience. 

I love this quote by Sinclair Lewis;
"Winter is not a season, it's an occupation."

New Canadian Inuit pups watch the action, waiting for their turn in the future.
So, every year I get my winter fix by going dogsledding. I've been lucky over the years to have dogsledded in many places around the world. Years ago, shooting an assignment for Smithsonian Magazine I traveled with Arctic Explorer Paul Schurke in Greenland with the Polar Inuit. It was a magnificent story to work on documenting these remote people. And, traveling with such experienced polar personalities cemented my desire to partake in a dogsledding trek each and every year since.
Polar Explorer Paul Schurke at his Ely, Minnesota Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge
I've been running photo adventure dogsledding workshops with Paul at his Ely, Minnesota WINTERGREEN DOGSLED LODGE ( for over twenty years now. It never gets old. As soon as the first snowflakes fly and lake ice firms up, it reminds me its getting close. And, there's good reason to be excited. Look at some of the accolades Wintergreen has gotten;

What the Experts Say About Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge!

-Flash News! We're featured in National Geographic Traveler Nov '1
-National says: 'Mush with the best' at Wintergreen
-DigitalCity: Selected us among "coolest alternatives to skiing!
-Outside magazine: Ranked us in "Top 10" small outdoor businesses Ranked us in "10 Best Adventure Travel Bargains
-PBS-TV: Selected us among Top 6 "Adventure Lodges"
-Good Morning America: Rated us "perfect destination" for dogsledding
-Travel Channel: Featured us on the "Samantha Brown Show
-National Geographic Traveler: Featured us as a 2009 top destination
-Minnesota Monthly: Selected us among state's "Top Ten" lodge
-NBC Today Show: Featured us in it's January 2013 Inaugural Event coverage

I believe there's a common misconception about winter for most folks. That it's freezing cold, your fingers and toes will fall off, snot will freeze on my nose, ect. It's not that bad!

The staff at Wintergreen educates everyone on how to stay warm. Your gear is examined and if you don't have what you need, it's provided. The guides, well I call them thoroughbreds, are amazing. You'll be lucky in your lifetime to witness people who can cross country ski like these folks. Quite frankly, it's simply inspirational.
Mushing across a frozen wilderness lake in N.E. Minnesota
All dogsledding outfits run things in their own unique way. The history of dogsledding is not lost in the culture of mushing at Wintergreen. Using mostly Canadian Inuit Dogs, they are big, strong and fun to work with. Animals this size normally freak out the normal Joe walking down the street. But, these creatures are gentle with people and wonderful to work with. One of the reasons why is something that happens right at birth. The newborn pups are handled by staff immediately after birth to etch in the pup's mind that people are good to be around. Kinda like a extra Mom so to speak. Its all part of the Wintergreen vibe and it works!
Kristen, a Wintergreen Guide, stands near the WALL OF FAME
honoring dogs that have passed away but made their mark.
There's such a exceptional variety of visual material on a dogsledding trip. Naturally, its mostly about the dogs, but there's also everything surrounding the mushing experience. Capturing imagery of the guides, the night skies, the pups, and infamous dogyard, make for a rewarding an image packed winter experience.

Tossing a ladle of hot water instantly vaporizes in the frigid air making
winter a laboratory for both nature and science.

Gliding along the frozen expanse of White Iron Lake, Minnesota
near Wintergreen Lodge

Shooting in winter can be challenging, there's no gettin' around that. The secret is stopping when you need too and getting the photos. It's that simple! If you keep waiting, it never happens. By varying your angles, how you capture the action, the portraits, and the locations you visit, slowly you will realize you've captured an extraordinary winter experience. There's more to winter than you thought.

Warming tent in the woods at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge

Overcast days and late afternoon light can be perfect opportunities to capture motion
while zipping through the forest.
Portraits are always important on any assignment. Whether its people or pooches!
If you feel like winter is a slow time for your photography outings, consider taking a winter trek. I promise you will not be disappointed. A dogsledding trip at places like Wintergreen will definately check that box off your bucket list and offer you a whole new perspective on the joys of winter.