Door County Winter Adventure

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I’m getting really good at honing my winter photography routine. I’ve shot in a lot of harsh conditions like the summit of Mt. Hood, numerous high peaks in the Cascades, and in the cold winds of Iceland. However, none of those experiences compared to the 45 minutes I spent shooting at the Sturgeon Bay Lighthouse in Wisconsin’s Door County. In those brief 45 minutes of pre-sunrise light I was able to come away with an image that may fall in my top 10, but I suffered for it.

The lighthouse itself is a popular location for photographers. There is a common composition towards the end of the pier where the elevated iron walkway zig-zags across over the water to the lighthouse. The lighthouse building is painted bright red, which contrasts against the blue waters of Lake Michigan.

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During my visit the temperatures were hovering around 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and the splashing waves formed thick ice over the pier. Luckily I had my Yak Tracks to keep me from slipping. I got there about an hour before sunrise expecting to stay until the sun hit the clouds high in the sky. That never happened.

As I began walking towards the lighthouse the waves were crashing up against the pier forming new soft ice layers on the surface. Each time a spray of water would cover me and freeze instantly. The layers of ice caught my eye as a unique foreground composition. As a bonus the red flashing light at the top of the lighthouse was reflecting off the waves and the shiny new ice.

Three shot focus stack. 35mm, 25 sec. exposure, f/11, ISO 100.

Three shot focus stack. 35mm, 25 sec. exposure, f/11, ISO 100.

1/20 sec, 20mm, ISO 2000

1/20 sec, 20mm, ISO 2000

I’m glad I captured this image because it was all down hill after this. My hands were freezing and my tripod legs were frozen in one position. I walked further up the pier to a spot where the waves were really crashing high over the side. I wanted to capture the texture of the waves so I cranked up my ISO to 2000, and dialed in a faster shutter speed around 1/20. It was pretty dark still so I had to go with a high ISO. I took 20 or 30 images before capturing the perfect wave. This wave splashed so high it doused me and my camera in cold Lake Michigan water, which almost instantly turned to a shell of ice. That was the end of my photo shoot. I could not even use the buttons on my camera, or unzip my camera bag to get out a lens wipe. I packed it in and got some coffee.

I’ll be back in the summer to catch a fiery sunrise.

Iceland!

Photographing the sea stacks on the beach in Vik.

Photographing the sea stacks on the beach in Vik.

Don’t let anyone tell you Iceland is far to overrun with tourists to still be a good landscape photography destination. Like all amazing and beautiful places on Instagram, most people shoot from the parking lot and go no further. Iceland is a tourist destination no doubt, but I found it no different than any of the other popular natural wonders I have visited. A short hike from the parking lot can put you in a setting of quiet solitude, and allow you to get a unique composition. Want proof? One of my travel companions had one leg and the soul of a Viking, and hiked further of the trail than most other photographers we breezed past.

Early this December I spend eight days in Iceland on a photography workshop through Thor Photography and Nick Page. This was my first international photo shoot, and since I don’t know a thing about Iceland I figured the workshop route was a good way to go. Thor and Nick take care of basically everything, and all I needed to worry about was taking photos.

Breakfast at the Langaholt Guesthouse.

Breakfast at the Langaholt Guesthouse.

We traveled the coast from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula down to Vestrahorn, and stopped at all the usual photo locations. The first day of the trip was some of the most intense weather I have ever experienced, let alone take photos in. Snow, wind, and freezing temperatures drove us inside for the first night. When we pulled into the parking lot at the Langaholt Guesthouse in Snæfellsbær the first night, the snow was blowing so hard we could barely find the door to get inside.

Our first day of shooting was at the Black Church and the wind had not died down like the forecast predicted. It seemed impossible that we could get any photos, but we bundled up like Kenny from South Park and jumped in the van. This basically set the stage for the rest of the trip. Wake up, eat, put on lots of warm clothes and go. We had beautiful light on several occasions, but best of all we had Aurora!

I have seen the Aurora Borealis one time in my life while living in Illinois. It was just a low pale green glow in the sky, and I thought it was amazing. What we saw in Iceland was like an electric light show from horizon to horizon. At its peak the lights were so intense and dancing so wildly the group began hooting and cheering, like we were trying to show appreciation for whoever was putting on the show. I got a few good images of the Aurora at the height of its glow, then I laid on my back and just watched…..and froze.

The Aurora Borealis above the old plane wreck near Vik. A very popular spot.

The Aurora Borealis above the old plane wreck near Vik. A very popular spot.

Erno grabbing some telephoto shots of a glacier.

Erno grabbing some telephoto shots of a glacier.

The landscapes in Iceland are extreme. The mountains and glaciers are up close and in your face. The seas are often rough, producing awesome waves to crash against the rocks. All of these features make it obvious why so many photographers go there. I got some of the best images of my life all while experiencing a new country. I ate no less than 20 gallons of lamb stew, and had lamb sausage and ginger cake at every breakfast.

When I first planned this trip I was slightly discouraged by the elitist travel photographers who say Iceland was not worth photographing anymore. Like I said….most tourists don’t stray far from the bus. So many people treat it like a museum, take their selfie, and say they experienced it. Our group got our feet wet, stood in the rivers and oceans, froze our asses off, and made a go of it.

Thanks to Nick and Thor, Erno, Cindy, Ken, Mike, Quinn, Bob, Randy, Craig, and Ian for making the trip worth it.

Photography and Fishing

I can pin-point the exact moment I realized I needed to man up and get serious about photography. It was early 2015 and I was steelhead fishing in Oregon with my good friend Ryan. We were swinging flies on a very pretty run on one of those popular rivers in the Columbia Gorge, and Ryan was standing in a river canyon casting out into a run. The sun was streaming through the mossy trees behind him, lighting up his fly line and all the water vapor around him each time he shot out a spey loop. So like a good budding photographer I busted out my Canon T3i with kit lens attached, and captured the moment. The results were earth shattering…..or so I thought at the time. The image you see below is horrible. The lighting was awesome, the composition was good, but the camera operator sucked. I blew it and the moment was gone.

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Luckily in 2018 I am a much better photographer, and Ryan is a much better spey caster. As I edited my horrible image I began to get very frustrated. I knew the only remedy was take a step back, research, learn, and practice taking images. Like many photographers these days I turned to the University of YouTube, and earned many distinguished degrees. The Northrups and Nick Page were my professors, and I literally learned the basics of photography from them……and it was free. (I recently went on a photography workshop with Nick Page in Iceland, and he is probably one of the nicest guys I have ever met).

Four camera upgrades later I’m finally at a point where I’m mildly confident enough to show my images to the world. I’m currently shooting with a Canon 5D Mk III and have all the usual L lenses. I know the 5D Mk III is like a dinosaur now, but I always admire photographers who place gear second to getting the shot (says everyone with old gear).

One of the best things about photography is that you can see your own positive growth almost every time you thumb through your portfolio. I’m not crackin out Thomas Heaton images, but I’m happy with my current status as a photographer and am ready to get better. That shit image above of Ryan fishing? Well many steelhead trips later and a couple thousand dollars worth of camera gear allowed me to capture several good images of Ryan shooting sick spey loops. I would have taken more photos of me with giant steelhead, but I suck at steelhead fishing.

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