Another subject I love in winter are brooks, streams and rivers. Or more properly for Wisconsin, a creek. Ripley Creek in particular. It’s a lovely, but overgrown waterway that feeds into the Wisconsin river just south of my house. The trailhead is 8 minutes away so it’s becoming a go-to spot in much the same way as Tucker and Purgatory brooks used to be for me in NH.
My usual approach to this kind of shot is to use a slow shutter speed and smooth the water, but this time I decided that the smooth element was already there – the snow – and so I left off the filter(s) and used a faster shutter speed. This gave me a rougher, more jagged texture in the water and that contrasts nicely with the snowy blanket on the shore.
The camera was on the tripod for both those shots, but sometimes I just couldn’t get it into the right position and I had to hand hold. Luckily I could brace myself pretty well and there was enough light that I didn’t have to go to a very high ISO.
I had to go for it though because of the shapes the ice forms behind the boulders. Isn’t it great? You can see that the water slows down behind the rocks and so that’s where the ice forms first. I was jammed into the branches of a hemlock sapling for this one, trying to back up enough to get the near ice formation and the right bank into the shot without getting the branches in the way. Not a bad effort and one of my favorites for the series.
Another big choice for winter water scenes is monochrome or color. Going black and white works especially well because there is true white and true black in just about every shot (even if you do have to tweak in post). It’s dramatic and shows off the textures and contours of the landscape, which you can see here supports a lot of plant growth and is sometimes steep and rocky. The color of the water though, is part of what fascinates me about doing stream work. The tannins.
Just look at that richness down there. It is most definitely not pollution. Tannins are chemical substances that come from phenolic acids (also called tannic acid) that are produced by plants. These acids are found in all parts of plants including leaves, bark and stems. As water moves through the soil the acids leach out and collect in surface waterways. They bind with starches, minerals, cellulose and proteins and are NOT water soluble and don’t decompose easily. This means those molecules are carried along in water, staining it like tea (tannins are exactly what makes tea that color). So when I like the composition and the contrast, I keep my shots in color.
But when I want to focus attention on structure and line, I leach out those tannins.
This last one was a little challenging in terms of getting those big logs in the foreground. My tripod was on its tiptoes (should have had the center column with me, but I didn’t) and I was on a bridge (luckily a high one), but it was close.
On the same trip that I visited Carlsbad Caverns, I also went to White Sands which in the grand scheme of things is nearby. If you’re going to one it makes sense to go to the other and since they’re such wild opposites, it’s a really interesting contrast. From deep underground where you pupils are dilated to their max and then to blinding sand where your darkest sunglasses are barely adequate. It’s great.
Over the years I’ve seen some amazing photography coming out of this area. Stark and otherworldly and so I had it in my head to replicate or try to replicate those images. I wasn’t prepared for how popular the park is despite being in the middle of nowhere (and next to a missile testing area). The place was CRAWLING with people. Mostly what they do is walk up the dunes and sled down them. Footprints everywhere. Very much NOT what I needed as a photographer.
So I got sneaky. Basically there is an out and back loop road that brings you to different sections of the dunes, some with or without picnic areas and/or comfort stations. Big parking lots. One of which was chained off so you couldn’t drive down it. But you could walk. It didn’t have a sign saying that was forbidden, so that’s what I did. It was the perfect solution and I couldn’t believe there wasn’t any monkey-see-monkey-do business that followed. Nope. My solitude (relatively speaking) sustained.
It was easy to get overawed by the immensity of the vistas. It’s a little overwhelming and sometimes challenging to put together a compelling and balanced landscape, but I slowed down and really tried to look and experiment.
One thing to remember if you visit is that you would shoot this desert like you would a snow scene – overexpose by a stop or so, that way you preserve the whiteness of the sand. And it really is white. Not really like snow since it doesn’t sparkle or reflect light the same way or take on the color of the sky so it can be a little more stark than a snow landscape.
Going to black and white seems like it would be perfect, but I didn’t do a lot of it. Mostly because there isn’t a lot of absolute black or white in the scenes. This one is close, but I wish the mountains had been darker; the angle of the sun lit them up. I actually darkened the blue value in Lightroom to get the shade down to something reasonable, but I’m still not sure it works well.
The sand is white because it’s gypsum and when formed it was not powered yet, which has happened by weather and wind. There are a few spots where the stone itself still exists in strange little outcrops that reminded me of Tatooine.
Even though it was early November, some plants were still flowering and you could hear them before you got close. Well, it wasn’t the plants specifically but the hundreds of bees feeding on the nectar. Everyone was so overwhelmed by their gorging that it was easy to isolate a few beauties. It was a little surprising they were so pristine this late in the season. At home the surviving butterflies are ragged at the end of summer.
It being so bright I hand held everything and left the tripod in the car. I went into this more casually than I do many photo sessions, but I still made an effort to create interesting views. Hope you enjoyed and can visit someday yourself. It’s amazing and a tremendous place to see.
Up here on the Wisconsin river are a bunch of things called flowages. A flowage is a section of river blocked by two dams; one up and one down river. With the flow restricted the water acts more like a lake. There is a slight current all the time on the one I live on, but it’s nothing like how fast the water rushes below the dam where there isn’t another close by to slow it down. But dams need maintenance sometimes and what’s the power company to do?
They let out enough water to get the job done. It’s called a draw down. The dam up river from us is called the Grandmother dam and the flowage it creates is called the Grandmother flowage. To repair the dam (which makes power for the electric company) they lowered the water by some 14 feet, which made for some interesting landscapes –
I had no idea this was going on since the water level below the dam (and behind the house) wasn’t affected. By chance my husband and I happened to stop just to check out the dam since we hadn’t been there in a while. Well, he hadn’t, I padded there twice in spring. Lo and behold there was barely a trickle running through. The tree stumps with their exposed roots knocked me out and I made a mental note to go up there on a foggy or cloudy day.
I hoped for more fog, but since there wasn’t much water, there wasn’t much fog. They were letting water back in though and so there is more than there was when I first saw it. In any event, normally both of these stumps are under 3-4 feet of water at any given time. The current keeps the roots clear of mud and debris and I just loved how they looked.
I didn’t love the washed out, blah look of the shots out of the camera though, so I played with some presets to give things a bit more drama. Usually I process for realism, but this time I did so with an eye to an apocalyptic scene. Some ravaged landscape, irretrievably lost and ruined. I don’t know if it succeeded, but I like it.
Fall is a big deal in New England and as a photographer I always felt some amorphous pressure to go out and capture fall scenes. I still feel it here and have tried through the spring and summer to find locations that would be especially picturesque. One such spot is Timm’s Hill which is just to the west of my house in the next county. It’s the highest point in Wisconsin, but don’t be impressed. It’s 1951.5 feet. Then there’s a viewing tower which is pretty cool, but the scenery is uniform and blah, so I didn’t take any pictures. Below and surrounding the hill are lakes and ponds (the hill, btw, is only a couple hundred feet higher than the parking lot, so you won’t break a sweat climbing it or anything) and I thought I might have some luck with landscapes and water. Not really although I did manage this one by getting an old, submerged boat seat out of the way of the tripod. At first I thought it was an empty turtle shell, but then realized what it really was.
After not finding what I wanted on that outing, I returned to a location I walked through last year called Harrison Hills. It is hilly and has lots of small ponds and lakes that aren’t built on which is something that foiled me going to other areas. Even with 15,000 lakes it’s hard to find some with no houses. This little pond was gorgeous though and so I walked through the undergrowth to the edge and had to bend and hold branches out of the way, which all part of the experience. While shooting I heard a big commotion in the leaf litter and heard the sounds of chasing. The next minute, something ran over my feet. Squirrels or chipmunks I suspect. Was funny though that they just ran right over me as if I was just part of the terrain.
Little lakes abound in the Lincoln county forest as well and happily many of them have one lane tracks leading out to them and there are even boat launches should you want to try some solitary fishing. Overall they are too small to paddle, but you could do it if you just wanted to sit and read or something. You can pretty much get away from the sound of human activity in some parts of the northern forest.
Back to Harrison hills for this last shot. I hadn’t walked as far as this my first time out, but looking at the map for little ponds, I figured I had to go at least this far and lo and behold there was a little bench so you could relax and take in the view.
So these will work for 2016 foliage shots. I still would like to do some river work and stuff with farms and/or barns, but the exploration is part of the joy. I’m still getting to know my adopted state and it is always interesting.