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.
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.
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.