Work on those obliques!

So recently I’ve been turning over ideas of how to show more of the lovely Prairie River without taking the same shots over and over again. How many times can I stand on the same rock and shoot the same cascades? Sure it’s fun and a little exhilarating, but a bit of the same old, same old. This time I went on a pretty cold day in May and decided to show the shy side of the river. The way it looks from the trail (such as it is) or as you approach from the woods. More intimate views from more oblique angles. I have different ideas for next time, but this is what I have for now.

I listened to a photography podcast the other day and the guest characterized landscape photography, especially in popular places, in terms of his film school background. Your typical “landscape” or view of an area, you know, the wide one that captures it all and smacks you in the head with its grandeur or drama. The tripod hole or iconic image – that’s the Establishing Shot. The photo that informs the location. Those are important to get in order to give the rest of your images context. That’s the key – the rest of your images. When you explore and find what else makes an area special, or at least special to you. That’s where I’m heading with this project – to get beyond the Establishing Shot. Especially at this location since I’ve visited several times.

The day started out with a little bit of sun then grew to overcast and toward the end even spit some hail down on me just to keep me on my toes. I’m glad I came across this first scene with a little sun left to give it depth. A lot of processing went into working that light – sculpting it so it would seem natural, yet dramatic and lead your eyes through the frame. And I got lucky there is something of interest on the opposite bank. This isn’t the last you’ll see those logs, lol.

Liquid spring

Actually the opposite bank was generally always interesting when I could manage to find an opening or a vantage point that would give a good view of both sides.


Sometimes that meant getting into the water on the edges where it’s mostly shallow and I could walk around easily to reposition the tripod.

So long, Winter!

Outside voice


Check out the tripod position for that shot above –

I’ve been using the Manfrotto lately for landscape work when I don’t have to hike seriously. It’s quite big and sometimes I want the height, but that 90-degree center column sure is handy sometimes. Not that I needed it for this shot especially, but for some others on this outing, I did. Macro and Landscape, both.

I’ve never been to the river this late in the year and I was surprised at the ferns – there were tons of them all along the banks on this side. Just amazing.


Of course I did get into the flow for a more traditional shot as well. My favorite cascade now has an enormous dead spruce across it. It spoils the view somewhat, but life goes on. I’ve seen shots from many years ago when that other big log was positioned exactly the same way. With tall waterproof boots on, it’s easy to walk across to the big boulders to shoot.

Crashing then and now

This second shot gives you more of an idea of how high up the big rocks I was standing on are. Also I had the camera on the 90-degree arm hanging out over the flow. I was a little nervous, but found solid footing for each leg and hung my heavy backpack on the tripod itself for ballast. My rig isn’t very heavy so I didn’t need that much weight, but better too much than too little. I didn’t get a picture of that because I wanted to get it down and in a less precarious position quickly.

As you can see from the other shot of it on the 90-degree column, when it’s swung out to the right, the camera is upright, but on the portrait end of the L-bracket. When it’s swung to the left as it was for both of these cascade shots, it is upside down. Still on the portrait end of the L-bracket, but with the viewfinder on the bottom. Swivel and tilt rear screen to the rescue! I could compose fine because the back image is right side up and I used the touch screen to fire the shutter on my usual 2-second delay. Very handy! The photos are upside down when they come into Lightroom though since the sensor was upside down. A little weird, but easily fixed.

Look out below

Here’s a look in some of the forest that runs along the river – quite hemlock dominant. Not all of it is like this and it certainly changes as it follows the river, but I think I need to spend some time exploring this side where it is more or less remarkably clear along the floor. There are carpets of wildflowers here like Bluebead lily (Clintonia), White trillium and Canada mayflower. It needs the right light and the right mood so I’ll have to be watchful.

Friends and Lovers

And what would a walk in the woods be without a few details? First up is what I’ve tentatively IDed as a Long-jawed orbweaver of some kind. I noticed it while shooting some gorgeous moss (separate post and stupid tripod tricks, too). It’s about the size of a mosquito. Seriously. It’s tiny, but its position on the back of the curling fern was too good to pass up. My patience was sorely tried, but with I stuck with it and technology helped me out a lot, too.

Long-jawed Orbweaver

I have my tripod Custom Mode set to AFS which is Auto-focus Single so I can use Focus Peaking to show me where things are crisp. The wind was damn near impossible and this fern was waving around like crazy. Luckily the spider never moved much and when it was still(ish) I could see to focus. Keeping my ISO relatively high and my aperture wide, I hit the cable release when I saw the spider turn blue. It took a few minutes, but I have a handful of images that don’t suck. This is the best of them. I chose to crop the curling end of the fern even though I have it in the uncropped version. It just doesn’t add much. I’m amazed I got anything. But like I often say; it’s just 1s and 0s, so why not try?

I was delighted to see, recognize and photograph some Oak fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) that was scattered under the trees. You can differentiate these from another common tri-pinnate fern, Bracken, because they’re so much smaller and are a much lighter, lime green. Bracken also can do well in sandy soils, but Oak fern needs cool, wet forests. Plenty of that in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. I took a couple of steps past this little scene and went back. I really liked the way these three Canada Mayflower leaves echoed the triangle shapes in the fern. Plus the contrasting colors are pretty great. I worked extensively with the TK8 panel in Photoshop to create color and zone masks to tease apart the varying shades in the leaf litter and in the fern as well. It’s so precise – I love it.

Oak fern

And an absolute perfect beauty of a Nodding Trillium –

A star is born

This time I used my LED panel on an articulating arm to move it around the flower for some dramatic lighting. I have several different shots, but liked this one because it shows off the texture in that lead petal and those marvelous leaves without hitting the stem too directly. More careful masking with the TK8 plug-in tamed the greens, bumped the salmon color in the stamens and let me put clarity just in the mid-tones. That’s a technique I’m coming to like since it gives me a little punch and definition, but keeps things from getting too crunchy. I used it on the fern shot, too.

So that’s my spring visit to the Prairie. I wish I had time this week to hit it again, but I have a date with a kayak on Friday and I’m leaving for my Badlands workshop in South Dakota on Sunday, so it will have to wait. Hopefully some of the wildflowers hold out for me, but otherwise it will have to be next year.

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