Moving from NH to Wisconsin means there’s lots of new territory to explore. Being a nature nut, one of the first areas to get my attention was Door County, but I didn’t get there until this year. Ok so it wasn’t that long a wait, but I knew I’d need an overnight trip at least and I was right. Next year it will probably be a couple of nights. There’s a lot of conservation land even on this relatively small peninsula on Lake Michigan.
First I started with The Ridges Sanctuary in Bailey’s Harbor. It is very easy to get to and although parking is tight, I got lucky both times I visited. The organization was founded to protect 30 fragile ridges that formed on the lake over 1000s of years and created subtle, yet distinct, micro-environments. That effort expanded and now the group protects 1600 acres in and around Bailey’s Harbor. Mainly I went for the wildflowers!
Wisconsin is host to many native orchids including coral root which is a saprophytic flower and you know how much I love that! Alas they weren’t blooming quite yet when I visited because the spring was so cold and rainy everything was late.
Even though the bigger and showier flowers are what get most of the attention here (like lady slippers), I found plenty of shy retiring types that were just as lovely, including twin flower which I’ve wanted to photograph for years, but never found any.
It was raining very slightly when I shot the twin flower. I’d hidden out in my car while a small thunderstorm cell came though then went right back out. It was fresh and lovely and there were even fewer people around than before the rain.
Being a photographer of very small things, I often have to wait quietly while the wind dies down or the light shifts and while often not exciting, things can surprise you. While I was hunkered down waiting out the breeze I heard a persistent scuffling just in front of me. I didn’t move, but kept trying to see what was making the sound. Lo and behold, a porcupette climbed down one tree, moved to another and made its way up. I didn’t see mom, but she was around as a later conversation with a fellow visitor would bear out. She was on the same path and saw them both. Very cool. I also spotted this lovely water snake when many people just rushed past or gave me a strange look wondering why I was taking a picture of ‘nothing’.
My second day in Door County brought me to another of the Ridges properties, Logan Creek. I didn’t shoot much, but enjoyed my time there and on my way back to the car ran into another photographer who suggested I visit Toft Point for my final stop as it has tons of wildflower, is right on Lake Michigan and was easy to get to. Good suggestion and I got a few more shots I like despite the harsh light in some of them.
Toft Point is a State Natural Area and covers a bit over 700 acres which is amazing in this part of the lake where you just know if it hadn’t been set aside, would be covered in houses. It was given to Kersten Toft in lieu of money for work done at a local limestone quarry. The family loved it so much they didn’t clear it of trees or exploit its natural resources or beauty. Yes they did live there, but lightly. While many outbuildings survive and have been restored, the original Toft house is only a bit of foundation. The meadows are beautiful and there’s even an old kiln made of stone. Many of the cabins look habitable and I don’t know if they’re rented out, but I think they were previously used by students conducting various studies and projects.
It is a haven for flowers. You do have to go off trail to find them, but they are there.
So there you have it – my first, but not last, trip to Door County.
If I’m organized and I get my brain in gear, an overcast day is a terrific time to find a woodland stream and take some of my favorite pictures. Again I headed to Ripley Creek because it’s accessible, close and pretty, but this time I decided that I’d get into the water. What with it not being winter it’s doable and so sandals it was. It wasn’t even that buggy.
This first shot though is up a steep-ish bank at the base of an enormous tree that is down over the water. There wasn’t much choice as to where to put the tripod, but I got it set and it’s probably 12-15 feet off the ground for a sweeping view upstream. If you click the link to the winter post up there, the first image there was shot just where the log is in view here –
Not only did I get the view I’ve wanted for a while, but I used a few subtle processing touches in Lightroom and I think it sings. It’s a 10-second exposure and because the clouds were thick and the light low, I only had to use a polarizer.
This one got my feet wet! And I discovered I need a carabiner to be better able to hang my camera bag from the bottom of the tripod legs to keep it steadier in moving water like this. It’s a tight fit right now and a bit of a pain to get it hung, but it helps to keep the vibrations down.
The flow this time of year is amazing because of how much rain we’ve had – 17 inches in 90 days! So it was deep and swift and made for some lovely compositions.
If you compare that shot with the black and white below you’ll notice some of the same rocks, but the feel of the image is completely different in monochrome. The light in the leaves is almost like an infrared photo, but not quite. I think it’s a surprisingly dreamy image for B&W and I’m glad I gave this type of processing a try instead of leaving them all in color. It never hurts to experiment.
I nearly had to break out the neutral density filter for that one, but instead I stopped down a little more and could keep a 6 or 8 second exposure. The contrast between textures is pretty great.
Just to the left a seasonal stream runs in and when I noticed this stump, I had to get a shot of it. The way it grew over the boulder and the different shapes and textures were too much to pass up. You can also see it on the left in the last color water image.
I was only out two hours, but I think I got several terrific images. One of them just might end up being one of the best of the year.
For many years now, we head to mid-coast California on vacation. Monterey, Big Sur, Carmel Village, Salinas valley, Paso Robles – we love this area, but now that Big Sur is basically an island it’s a little harder to get around.
If you haven’t heard, the recent landslides on the coast have taken out big sections of US 1 which is the only main road in and out of Big Sur. There’s a resort there we’ve been to that we love and when I got an email saying they were flying people to and from Monterey airport in a helicopter, we decided to go. When are we ever going to do this again? Fly over Carmel Valley or Big Sur just a few hundred feet off the ground? Never.
And it was worth it. I didn’t get many good shots because the movement of the helicopter was sometimes erratic and the reflections off the curved glass were a challenge. This first shot is taken looking toward the Pacific from Carmel Valley, basically the backside of Big Sur. The low clouds come in almost daily from the action of the warming air and the cool ocean. They played a little havoc with the helicopter, but our pilot was a pro and completely unshaken by the need to dance around a little.
When we landed on the lower lawn of the property we were greeted as warmly and attentively as usual and we had some snacks and champagne while we waited for our room to be ready. Here is the view from the room’s patio the next morning while I was enjoying my coffee.
Yeah, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. lol.
The resort was functioning, but in a little more relaxed style than usual. A rough road through the valley and hills was opened through the back of Big Sur on a military base near the 101. It’s VERY slow and dangerous going, but it is literally the only way to get supplies and people into the property and Big Sur as a whole. There is staff housing on property, but the people still had to hike 2 miles to a parking lot where they could get a ride out this road and to their homes and families. One night we noticed the sommelier was a bit roughly shod. He explained that he hiked in that day, but forgot his dress shoes so was wearing hiking boots in the restaurant. No one minded, everyone understood and we proceeded to help drink down the cellar. How can you get wine in with conditions like this? Crazy. But it seems to be working and we spent a couple of lovely days on the island of Big Sur.
For a bit we hung out by one of the pools and this was our only company –
Before we knew it, we were whisking off to Monterey airport again. Different helicopter and different pilot and wow, a different view!
That is the Point Sur lighthouse sticking out there and on the right is US 1 where it is still open and functioning. We’ve driven by this little point a bunch of times, but never dreamed we’d see it like this! Sometimes there are cows grazing in the fields between the rocky outcrop and the highway. It’s so beautiful. If they ever get US 1 open again, drive it while you can. You won’t be disappointed.
One of the big challenges is going to be to replace a bridge that got wiped out near the southern reach of Big Sur. There are many small creeks and rivers that wind through the hills and down to the ocean. Even though they are tiny, the hills and valleys are enormous and require substantial constructions to span them, like the Bixby Creek bridge here –
We’d never even thought of the chance to see it like this and so it was amazing. Those little specks are cars and trucks. The beach is nearly inaccessible, but I think there is a steep path leading to it. So amazing.
Even though we’ve had a lot of rain this “spring”, the water levels in the vernal pools is way down. I didn’t get exactly the same positions as before, but close. Check out how green it is though!
The light was a little different this time out. It was sunny with some drifting clouds and so it was really bright, but I did my best to shoot when the hot spots were dialed down and I think it really pops. I love the ferns and overhanging branch in this next shot. I think they add an intimacy and closed in feeling that the early shots didn’t.
Because I was suited up with lots of good bug repellent, I decided to explore a little bit and found some pools I hadn’t noticed on prior trips. This one is near the one above, but behind it. You can tell by the fact that there isn’t much growing right in it that it comes back again and again and is probably pretty wet all the time. The ferns are mostly ostrich and royal.
I got a little turned around in the woods, but little wonderful ‘scapes just kept presenting themselves and I’ve discovered that maybe I was wrong that vernal pools are hard to showcase well. This one seemed set up to be photographed – the flanking trees, the intense greenery surrounding it – just perfect.
It was a good outing and I’m glad I braved the bugs. BTW – soaking your clothes in permethrin works! I got a can of it last year, but didn’t use it. This year though because I got so grossed out by a tick invasion I decided to try it. Socks and pants got sprayed and so did my boots and I didn’t get bitten through my pants like I have in the past. I doused myself with deet as well as wore a mosquito net on my head. That made it a little hard to shoot (I missed focus completely on some shots), but it was worth it not to get bitten and driven crazy, which meant I wouldn’t have made another discovery. But that will have to be another post.
Let’s talk about light for a minute. This is a photography blog after all, right? So here’s where I wax on and on about the blue hour or the golden hour, ok? Or maybe the drizzly overcast day that’s perfect for waterfalls.
Nope. Not this little gray duck. Sure, I love that light and it is a dream to work with, but what if you don’t have it? Pack it in? Give up and go home?
Work with it. Make it work for you.
A lot of photography blogs talk about vision, too. Bleah. Vision. Yeah, you have to have it and an understanding of how to work with light, but not just one kind of light. All kinds. The better you are at dealing with different situations, the better photographer you will be. You will have more “keepers” and more fun. I mean, who wants to go out in the dark all the time? Or on rainy overcast days that are just pretty blah? There is a time and place for that, but a gorgeous, sunny day can be equally rewarding for you and your camera. Especially after a long, gray winter. Spring days are just made for sun and I’m here to tell you it can work. Really.
So, where to begin. I went out in April on one of the only sunny warm days we had because it was too beautiful to be inside. The spring ephemerals were blooming and because the canopy hadn’t filled in much, there was mostly direct sunlight on the forest floor. No leaves to filter and soften it. Nope. Some was direct and harsh.
Did you shudder just then? Direct and harsh are two words most photographers have nightmares about. Oh yeah, very nightmarish right?
So lets go back to vision for a minute. My vision for this shot was the backlighting. Bloodroot is perfect for this because of those leaves and that the flowers, while fragile, have great presence and structure. Because I didn’t have even lighting, I needed to find scenes that worked with the direct sunlight I had. How could I showcase these beautiful wildflowers under these conditions? Backlighting immediately sprang to mind and so I worked pretty hard at cleaning up this next little scene in order to really play up the individual and highly specific beauty of bloodroot. I also waited on the light quite a bit. When I was finally ready to shoot the flower was in the shade of a tree and so I had a light snack while I waited for the earth to turn and give me what I wanted –
Another tip for working with this light comes in the processing. I use Lightroom, but most other software in this category will allow you to control the highlights in the shot. I dimmed them just a bit so that the detail in the petals came back, but not so much that they don’t appear white and crisp.
Going back to the idea that you need a flower with substance in this kind of light, take trout lily as an example. They cry out for backlighting!
Backlight isn’t the only direct sun that can work for wildflowers. How about sidelighting? Early meadow rue grows like crazy around here and each flower looks like some kind of crazy lampshade from a 70s pizza parlor and I love them. You literally have to stop breathing to photograph them; they’re that sensitive to the least movement of air. But wow, they’re so unusual that I always have to give it a go and when I saw these in some early morning sun, I braved the mosquitoes.
Just look at the texture of those little stamens! And the petals, which mostly go unnoticed, those even get a bit of attention. Of course the background has to be right for this kind of thing, too. Often it has to be in shade in order to get the subject to stand out. A little patience and observation can pay big dividends.
Last let’s take a look at frontlighting. It’s probably the least popular because it tends to blow out the highs and lows in any image and can make things look flat and harsh. A challenge! I accept.
I love the hardiness of spring ephemerals. They often sprout and bloom when we still get temperatures below freezing and it doesn’t seem to bother them at all. They’re delicate yet tough and when I spied this little cluster of spring beauty, that idea came into my head. To me the light illustrates the duality of the flower. It is quite tiny and delicate in appearance, but can withstand the harsh Wisconsin springs.
Yup, that light sure is direct, but the shadows are really great at showing texture and structure. Again, it needed a darker background to work and I did a bit of pulling back in the highlights so that you can see those petals in all their stripey pink glory. Oh and that ant totally photobombed me.
So there’s how I work with direct sunlight in wildflowers. I hope that the next time you have a sunny day on your hands you don’t hide indoors with your camera or go out in nature without it. There is beauty and distinction to be found out there if you look for it and know how to make it work for you.