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Monthly Archives: December 2011

I made what is probably my last expedition to photograph bittersweet this year. As I mentioned in my last post on the Red Cedar State Trail the DNR had closed the trail to hiking. This was done after we had a nice 6 inch snowfall and everyone was excited about getting a base down for the cross country ski season. We all thought that the snow would last but alas it has almost all melted and the trail is clear of snow in many places.

Since I couldn’t ski down to the bittersweet I decided to hike down to it. It was a nice day and I thought I could get some shots with a blue sky in the background. As I mentioned the trail was mostly clear of snow so it was an easy walk. On the way I saw a couple of immature Bald Eagles and a couple of Red Tailed Hawks. In both cases they were making quite a racquet so it was easy to spot them. I also noticed a flock of what I thought were Cedar Waxwings feeding on Sumac berries. I couldn’t tell because I was looking into the sun. I made a note to put my birding lens on for the return trip and try and get some shots.

When I reached the bittersweet I noticed that it was starting to deteriorate but still offered some nice shots. Unfortunately it is located in the middle of a Prickly Ash patch. To make matters worse a number of trees have fallen down further blocking access. I noticed an animal trail working its way through the Prickley Ash so I got down on my hands and knees and crawled through it to reach the bittersweet. Wouldn’t you know when I reached the other side I noticed that If I had walked down the trail another 50 feet I wouldn’t have easily walked in.

On the way back I had my birding lens on and hopped to get some shots where I had seen the flock of birds feeding. AS luck would have it they were gone. The moral of the story is if you see a good shot take it because it might not be available later.

Now that fall is officially over I can post my favorite fall photographs of 2011 and start looking forward to winter photography.

I chose this photograph of a Sumac patch because of the interesting patterns. Sumac are generally the first to show the reds of fall. It was taken on my farm after a rain that darkened the color on the Sumac bark.


This small waterfall was taken early in the fall at Big Falls County Park east of Eau Claire Wisconsin. We had started over to the park earlier in the day when it was cloudy out. By the time we arrived the sun was going in and out of the clouds making it difficult to shoot. I managed this shot shortly after the sun went behind a cloud.

Big Falls

On an early fall trip we drove up to Copper Harbor, Michigan. The quality of the leaves varied but this bog shot taken just south of Houghton, Michigan showed the start of some fantastic color.


I love taking fall reflection shots. This was my favorite reflection shot of the season taken at the mouth of the Black River outside Ironwood, Michigan. It was taken from the docks under the footbridge over the river.

Black River Reflections

This photo was taken from the top of the Copper Peak Ski Flying Hill outside Ironwood, Michigan. You can see for miles from the top of the ski jump. There was still a lot of fall color in spite of the heavy winds earlier in the week. You can see Lake Superior in the background.

Copper Peak View

My wife and I had driven out to Gile Flowage just outside Hurley, Wisconsin to capture the sunrise. It is a great place to photograph because you can shoot the sun rising and turn around and shoot the early light on the trees resplendent in fall color. We had actually finished shooting for the morning and were driving to a place where we could turn the car around when I decided to take a couple of more shots. This turned out to be the last shot and my favorite.

Gile Flowage Sunrise

My wife had a meeting at meeting at Turtleback Golf Course in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. I rode along and planned on spending the day out photographing fall colors. As I drove into the parking lot I noticed the beautiful colors and captured this shot.

Turtleback Golf Course

Later that same day I was driving around in the Blue Hills east of Rice Lake. Late in the afternoon I managed to capture these bright yellows.

Rusk County

I really like this backlit scene taken near Pete’s Lake south of Munising, Michigan. I darkened the tree trunks to create a contrast with the bright reds and pastels in the background.

Pete’s Lake

This photo of a leaf on leaf was taken at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I was photographing late in the day at Miners Beach. I was attracted to the leaf and the water and rock patterns just below Elliot Falls.

Leaf on Leaf

This is a shot taken from the top of Laughing Whitefish Falls east of Munising, Michigan. I tiptoed between the river and the viewing stand to get to the top of the falls and look over the edge and took the shot with a wide angle lens.

Laughing Whitefish Falls

Pewits Nest is one of the Wisconsin State Natural Areas. It is located just outside Baraboo, Wisconsin. It is a popular photo location in the fall when the leaves are turning. Unfortunately most of the leaves were down when we arrived but it still makes for a spectacular photograph.

Pewits Nest

Crex Meadow was the location of three of my favorite photos. All of the photos were taken within a couple of hours of each other. The first photo was taken as sunrise on Phantom Lake. I had originally planned to drive directly out to the Sandhill Crane roosting grounds but the sunrise on this particular day was so spectacular that I couldn’t pass it up.

Sunrise Phantom Lake

After photographing the sunrise I drove on to the rousting grounds for the Sandhill Cranes. The sky was very dramatic and I caught this small flight of Sandhill Cranes heading out for their feeding grounds.

Sandhill Cranes Morning Flight

This last photo was taken a little while later. Most of the Sandhill cranes had already left for their feeding grounds but I found a small group of them standing in some thin ice early in the morning. Shortly after this was taken they headed out for the day.

Sandhill Cranes

When most of the fall colors are gone and there are just a few leaves remaining I concentrate on photographing single backlit leaves. You can get some dramatic photographs using this technique.

Backlit Leaf

This hot was taken late in the fall at Duluth, Minnesota. It shows the South Breakwater Outer Light during a spectacular sunrise. We had stayed at a motel in Canal Park specifically so I could photograph a sunrise. When It came time to get moving I was a little slow until I saw the bright red color in the window. I was outside photographing in less than 10 minutes.

South Breakwater Outer Light Slunrise

I’m still working on processing my fall photos but I can now see light at the end of the tunnel. Last fall we spent a few days in the Munising, Michigan area. One of the places I like to photograph is in Hiawatha National Forest south of Munising. There are a large number of lakes in the area that offer some great photograph opportunities. In an earlier post I listed the lakes, locations and the best time to photograph them. This photo was taken along H13 on the drive north to Munising.

Hiawatha National Forest

This year the leaves were outstanding but unfortunately strong winds through the month of October took them down as fast as they reached their peak. Still there were some nice shots to be had if you looked around. We arrived in Munising late in the day and checked in to our motel then headed back out to Hiawatha National Forest to check on the color conditions at some of the lakes we would be photographing the next morning. We then drove into Red Jack and Council Lakes arriving just as the sun was setting behind the trees. Most of the leaves were down at both lakes except at the east end of the lake where the sun was hitting the trees. This is a shot taken at Red Jack Lake just before the sun set and was the only shot I managed before the sun set.

Red Jack Lake

The following morning we decided to make our first stop at Moccasin Lake. The sunrise was not the best but there were some spectacular clouds in the sky with reflections off of the lake. This was the talk of the morning among the small number of photographers in the area. While photographing the clouds on the lake I noticed this leaf floating toward me and took a few shots of it as it floated by.

Moccasin Lake Sunrise


We then headed over to Pete’s Lake. The color was also good and there were a still clouds in the sky. We walked out on the fishing dock and I took a few photos of the reflections in the water. We also hiked on some of the trails in the area. The trails and the road into the lake were carpeted with leaves. This is usually a great place to find lots of leaves on the ground.

Pete's Lake

Pete's Lake

Pete's Lake

Pete's Lake Road

We headed out and drove around finally ending up at Doe Lake. The lake itself was not that great because quite a few of the leaves were down but we managed some interesting leaf shots right next to the road.

Leaves Doe Lake

Leaves Doe Lake

Additional photos of Hiawatha National Forest can be found on my website.

While in Duluth we spent the evening walking through the Bentleville Tour of lights. The light show claims to be the largest in the Midwest and uses over 3 million lights. The tour of lights is located in the Bayfront Festival Park by the Duluth harbor. It is open through December 26. If you are in the area it is well worth the visit. It’s free and there are places to keep warm should the weather be cold. Check it out at their website. Here are a few photos from our last visit.


Bentleyville Tour of Lights

Bentleyville Tour of Lights

Bentleyville Tour of Lights

Bentleyville Tour of Lights

Bentleyville Tour of Lights

Bentleyville Tour of Lights

We made a second visit this December to Duluth. Once again we stayed at a motel on Canal Park. We arrived shortly before the Packers/Raiders game. I was the only one that went out to view the sunset. Everyone else stayed in the motel to watch the game.

Glaucous Gull

When I arrived at the harbor entrance there was another photographer there with a camera and scope. Turns out he was an avid birdwatcher so I was clued in as to what was happening. There was a Glaucous Gull walking along the breakwater. They are normally found in the arctic but some of them winter in the Duluth area. A rare find for me and the first one I had seen.


There was also a large flock of Goldeneye’s in the harbor canal. Among them was a single Barrow’s Goldeneye. Apparently a rare find. I didn’t have my long lens along so I didn’tGoldeneye’s manage a shot of the Barrow’s Goldeneye. While I was watching the Goldeneye’s they all took off. The only bird remaining was the Barrow’s. There were also several other species of Gulls, Pigeons and ducks around.

Biscayne Bay Outside North Light

There were a number of ships anchored just outside the harbor. While I was waiting for sunset a pilot boat went out to one of them. There was also a tug boat just inside the harbor apparently waiting for the ship to come in. The ice breaker Biscayne Bay had been tied up by the DECC most of the week. A photo on the Duluth Shipping News showed that it was surrounded by ice but it had been warm so most of the ice was gone. While I was waiting the ice breaker left the harbor and headed northeast.

The highlight of the previous trip was the fantastic sunrise. On this trip there was no sunrise but the sunset was nice and provided the opportunity for some silhouette photos as the sun set behind the lift bridge and harbor.

Duluth Lift Bridge

Duluth Lift Bridge

When we travel to the Minnesota North Shore we sometimes stop at Two Harbors for the evening. I like to photograph in the harbor at sunset. On this trip we were having problems deciding where the trip would take us. We finally decided that our destination would be Two Harbors. As a result we managed to get a late start so we didn’t arrive in Two Harbors until late in the afternoon. Our first stop was the harbor to check out conditions. The lake had some nice waves and a little ice. The Duluth Shipping Schedule indicated that an ore carrier would dock about the time we arrived but it had already arrived. I took a few shots of the waves and ice before heading for the hotel.

We changed into some warm clothing and drove back to the harbor to photograph the sunset. We were a little late and missed the early part of the color but I was able to get some interesting shots of the ice and rocks with the sunset reflecting on the rocks.

There were not a lot of clouds out but the alpenglow produced some stunning silhouette shots of the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater. The color was just spectacular.

One of the things I hopped to accomplish was to photograph the sunset and the moon rise. I usually try and plan a trip to a location where I can shoot the sunset then turn around and capture the moonrise. On this particular night I apparently had what the kids call a brain f—. I was so interested in trying to capture this small ice shot that I totally forgot about the moonrise until my wife commented that the moon was up. I was able to get a shot but not the one I wanted.

 I also managed a few shots of the ore loading docks. Although we missed the ore boat that was supposed to dock earlier in the afternoon we were able to see two ore carriers loading at the docks. Late in the evening the ore docks and ships were all lit up.

 In the morning we returned to photograph the sunrise. I’ve never been a big fan of the sunrise at Two Harbors but since we were in town I decided to give it another try. On this particular day the temperature was not that cold but the wind was really howling. It was almost difficult to stand up. The strong winds off the lake made for an unpleasant photography experience. I did manage a shot of a memorial bench located above the beach with the color on the horizon in the  background. It made for an interesting silhouette shot.

 There was also a shot of the moonset that was taking place behind the ore docks. It was still a little high in the sky but I managed to capture it.

Most of the time was spend shooting ice formations along the water. There was an Eagle wind surfing in the harbor most of the time we were there. The plan was to drive over and try and get a shot of it but it disappeared just as we were leaving.

More Two Harbors photos can be found on my website.

Last spring I finally decided to start looking for the perfect photography backpack. Up until this time I had been using a couple of old backpacks that were truly backpacks and not camera packs. I would put my camera in a soft case and dump it into the pack or wrap it up in some clothing or towels. This worked but I decided it wasn’t a good way to treat my camera gear. I also ended up moving gear from one pack to another on a frequent basis. In addition one of the packs did not allow me to carry my tripod on the pack.

In a previous life I was involved in purchasing large amounts of equipment for the state and was familiar with documenting needs. So I decided to write an request for Information (RFI) in which I documented what I needed in a pack. Since I’m involved in a wide range of photography from landscape to birding to macro I carry different equipment depending upon the type of photography I’m doing. I also have a quirk that I don’t like to change lenses in the field if I can help it. In the RFI I documented what type of equipment I would typically carry for each type of photography and what I would normally carry regardless of what type of photography I was involved in. I then sent the RFI to a number of companies that looked like they might have packs that would meet my needs.

One of the companies that responded was F-Stop. This is a relatively new company that has really taken off in the market place. To get started they sent sample packs to a number of adventure photographers to have them evaluate the equipment under field conditions and hopefully write reviews. They advertise themselves as an adventure pack company. I wouldn’t put myself into that category since I typically only do day trips and usually the most I would hike would be ten miles in a day. However, I’m out doing photography probably 250 days per year.

After reviewing a number of responses I decided to go with the F-Stop Tilopa BC pack . However, when I went to order the pack I discovered that business was so good that they had almost no packs in stock. I called them and they were able to find what I needed in-spite of the low stock numbers. Within a week the pack arrived. I’ve been using it now for over 6 months and love it.

Before I start I want to make sure you understand the terms front and back. It’s important because of the design of the pack. The back of the pack is where the shoulder straps are located and the front of the pack faces away from you.

Large ICU Unit

F-Stop uses a different approach for their packs. The pack comes in two parts. The backpack (shown above)  which can be used as a regular backpack and the Internal Camera Unit or ICU which comes in four different sizes ranging from small to extra large. This allows you to adjust your bag configuration to meet your needs as they change between trips or over time without purchasing a new bag. I chose the large size because it allowed me to carry the equipment I typically use when I’m doing photography. The small and medium ICU can be combined to form the equivalent of an extra large ICU.

A second difference is that access to the camera gear is through the back of the of the pack. I really like this feature because I can lay my pack on the wet ground or snow and have easy access to my camera gear. It also means that the pack straps don’t get dirty and wet while I’m trying to get at my camera gear. This is really a great feature.  It’s easy to remove the pack and lay it on the ground and it is also easy to pick it up and put it on with little effort. It has a Thermoplastic Polyurethane coating  (TPU) on the front of the pack to protect it from water and abrasion.  At the same time you can also stand the pack on the ground. The bottom is flat and also has a TPU coating so you can stand it on wet ground or snow and the gear will not get wet. The down side of this configuration occurred one day when I was too lazy to take the pack off and asked my wife to get my camera out. She kept unzipping zippers looking for the camera and only then did I realized she didn’t have access to my camera gear from the front of the pack.

I won’t bore you with the technical details which you can find on the F-Stop web site. I should add that they do an excellent job of describing the their products on their website. Instead I’ll describe some of the major features of the pack along with my comments.

Starting from the top the pack has a small compartment with a seam sealed zipper. There is enough room to carry most of the ten essentials and a few odds and ends. I usually end up putting my wallet, car keys and cell phone in this compartment along with some snacks etc. You could also store extra memory cards and batteries etc.

The next top zipper provides access to the pack itself and makes it a top loading pack. This is where you insert and remove the ICU from the pack. This is also where you access other items you want to carry in your pack. Depending upon the size of the ICU you also have enough space for clothing etc. I usually put my extra clothing in this compartment or use it to store clothing that I remove while hiking.

On the front of the pack there is another large, but shallow, compartment that you can use it to store a wind breaker or other light clothing. It is also large enough to store an Avalanche shovel. There is a drainage hole so snow melt will drain from the bag.

The bottom of the pack has two storage areas with seam sealed zippers. One is accessed from the front of the pack and is a small storage area. I’ve never used this one. F-Stop calls it “Pack it in, Pack it out” trash compartment. The other is access from the back of the pack and is fairly large. I use this one to store the pack rain fly (sold separately) and the rain cover for my camera. Both are things I rarely use so they are out of the way of day to day activities.

The pack also has a pocket for the water bladder with a slot for the tube to exit the bladder compartment. The exit point has a Velcro closure so it can be closed  when not in use. Because most of my trips are in the Midwest and are day trips I’ve not used this feature. However, it is great to have it for my trips to the Southwest where I need all the water I can carry F-stop also sells a hydration sleeve that fits over your water bladder to offer extra protection in case of a leak.

There is also a padded sleeve large enough to hold a 15″ laptop. The sleeve is accessible from the top of the pack.

Mounted on Pack

The tripod can be carried on either side of the pack or attached to the back of the pack. I typically carry on the side. The side pockets and straps are well designed for carrying the tripod. The bottom side catch sleeve for the tripod feet can be attached to the pack with Velcro strips when not in use. The fact that the camera gear is accessed from the back of the pack means that you can attach your tripod to the front or sides and not interfere with access to the camera gear.

Skis can also be carried on either side or the front of the pack. Again the fact that the camera gear is accessed from the back of the pack means that you have access to it without removing the skis.

The pack incorporates the MOLLE attachment system and meets international standards. It can be used with F-stop attachments or third party add-ons.  Again I have not used this feature but it is handy to have for future use. I do use the many straps and bungee cords on the pack to attach water bottles, ice crampons etc.

I typically carry my water on the side pockets. The side pockets are designed for carrying skis and don’t seem to be well configured for carrying standard water bottles. I ended up purchasing a water bottle with a slimmer design which fits a little better. This is one of the features of the pack that could use some redesign work. On the other hand, it is my choice to carry my water bottle here rather than use a water bladder.

The straps have good padding and are easily adjustable. I’m small 5’4″ but find the pack has a comfortable fit and makes it easy to carry heavy camera gear for long distances.

The second part of the f-stop pack configuration is the Internal Camera Unit (ICU). As I mentioned this comes in four different sizes ranging from small to extra large and allows you to easily change configurations depending upon what you want to carry on any given day. If you want to carry less camera gear and more other gear you can use the smaller ICU. If you want to carry more camera gear you can swap out the smaller ICU for a larger one. The ICU’s come with a protective sack with a drawstring top.

The ICU unit is a basically a padded box with lots of straps and dividers that can attached in a variety of configurations to meet your specific needs. I really like the fact that I can easily change the configuration of the ICU depending upon the type of photography I will be doing. I typically carry a couple of cameras with the lenses attached. The ICU has a cover that can be zippered closed. For the most part I don’t zipper it shut because it is a little inconvenient to unzip and zip the cover and then have to unzip and zip the back of the pack as well. I usually just fold the ICU cover in and zipper the pack shut.

One issue is the top of the ICU is soft so when you store additional gear to the top of the pack it tends to compress the top of the ICU up against your camera gear. This can make it a little difficult to get your gear in and out of the ICU.

The ICU unit can be easily removed from the pack and has its own handle at the top so it can be carried separately. This might be useful if you have several ICU’s that you are bringing on a trip. You can also easily use the ICU’s as storage for camera gear around the house.


As I said I really like the pack. It fits well and is a big improvement over the three packs that I was using for photography. I don’t have to constantly move my gear from one pack to another depending upon the type of hiking or skiing I am going to be doing.

If I had to change anything I would probably redesign the side pockets to make it a little easier to carry the larger water bottles. I would consider a hard top to the ICU so that it doesn’t compress when gear is loaded in the top of the pack. I also might change the zippered opening on the ICU so that it can be zippered off and removed. This would make it a little easier to get at equipment and at the same time allow you to reattach it for longer trips where you would not be accessing the camera gear as frequently.

As I was working through my fall photographs I was reflecting ( no pun intended) on the number of shots I had of fall reflections in lakes and streams. I suppose it is because the colors are so vibrant during the fall season. You can also get some good shots even if the trees are not at peak color. Here are some of my favorite reflection shots from the 2011 fall season.

Lac La Bell– A shot of the boat dock at Lac La Bell. Taken during the Peak of the Fall Colors.

Lac La Belle

Pete’s Lake– Taken from the fishing dock at Pete’s Lake. This is a popular photo location in Hiawatha National Forest in the U.P. of Michigan.

Pete's Lake

Reflections– Taken from my motel deck at Duluth Harbor. The reflection is from the harbor lights.

Duluth Harbor

Rusk County– Taken at a small unnamed pond in Rusk County. The pond was filled with Lily Pads but I was still able to get a good reflection shot.

Rusk County

Sandhill Cranes– I found this scene shortly after sunrise at Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wisconsin.

Sandhill Cranes

Moccasin Lake– Taken at sunrise at Moccasin Lake in Hiawatha National forest in the U.P. of Michigan.

Moccasin Lake

Black River– This shot was taken from underneath the footbridge over the Black River at the mouth of the river.

Black River Reflections

Gile Flowage– This is a shot of the Gile Flowage boat dock taken shortly after sunrise.

Gile Flowage

Stream Abstract– Photo taken of a small stream in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the trail to Spray Falls.

Stream Abstract

What makes it possible to get good photographs of a subject is knowing the subject. In this case the American Bittersweet plant. In the middle of October, when the leaves are down. I start looking for bittersweet in wooded areas. It’s easier to see at this time but it is not best time to photograph it because it is just a round, orange berry at this point. Later in the fall, when it is cold the berries burst open creating a bright orange flower like display.

I usually have a good idea where I can find it but things change from year to year. One year I found a great patch of it close to the ground but the next year it was gone because the power company came in and cleared all of the brush out under the power lines. In other cases it died off or climbed high enough in the trees to make it difficult to photograph. Once I find it I know where to go when conditions are right.

I usually like to photograph Bittersweet under a couple of conditions. Bright blue sky which really makes the berries stand out. This is the condition that is a little easier to find even in November which tends to be a little on the cloudy side.

The second condition is when the Bittersweet is covered with snow or ice. It is rare to find just the right conditions. Ice usually doesn’t last very long and it makes it difficult to get to the berries if it is really icy out. Fresh snow is a little easier to find but you need snow that will stick to the berries and branches. This usually means a wet snow or snow with no winds blowing. This past weekend conditions were just right for photographing the Bittersweet in the snow. We had about six inches of wet snow which was clinging to just about everything.

More Bittersweet shots can be found on my webpage.

One of our stops on our trips to the Minnesota North Shore is usually Grand Marais. We usually stop their to end our day and use it to get an early start for the Canadian border and the Minnesota state park to the north.

This fall was no exception. We arrived late in the day, had a bite to eat, then headed out to the Harbor to photograph the sunset. It was really warm, in fact it was one of the warmer evenings I’ve spent in Grand Marais. As a result we stayed to watch and photograph the last rays of the sunset.

On the way out to the lighthouse we found a number of folks had written their names and messages on the rocks. The nice thing about it was they didn’t deface the rock they just used smaller pebbles to create their message. This was the first time I had seen this done in the harbor.

After the official sunset the sky turned a beautiful read so I photographed the lighthouse in silhouette. There were a number of other folks out in the evening enjoying the sunset so I captured their silhouette as well.

Grand Marais Harbor Sunrise

The next morning we got up early to photograph the sunrise. I had hoped to go out to Artists Point the evening before and scout out a location but we didn’t have time. It looked like the sunrise wasn’t going to be all that great anyway so I decided to photograph from the parking lot. I captured these rocks with the sun rising.

Juvenile Herring Gull

I had put all of my camera gear away when my wife asked me if I had ever seen a gull sitting in a tree. I hadn’t but there was one sitting in a Mountain Ash tree feeding on the berries. I unpacked my camera and took a few shots.

More shots of Grand Marais Harbor can be found on my website.