On this trip to the pools I played with my polarizer a bit to get different looks at the same scene.
I’ve always found the polarizer an important bit of gear for most of my photography. It has an effect that can’t be duplicated with post processing software and with a little practice and experience, you can produce big changes.
Overhead and under water
And with a little twist we get this –
Isn’t that great? Not only can we see down into the giant cup of tea that is a vernal pool, but those rocks just pop out. I really like both images and I hope this pool stays wet. It hasn’t rained in a while (unusual here in northern Wisconsin) so who knows, but I think the area in the back of the image does stay full to some extent. There is a lot of peat moss back there in addition to the grass, so I think it does.
Here’s a view I quite like of the other pool I’m keeping an eye on.
The downed trees are so great. I imagine turtles basking in the sun, but I doubt it. Vernal pools don’t host those guys year round. Painted turtles need permanent bodies of water, like the Wisconsin and other lakes, ponds and flowages.
When I was there the ferns had just come up and by now must be unfurling. I’ll have to get back over!
Wisconsin winters certainly seem longer and bleaker than NH winters. When things turn it seems so slowly that I think I know for the first time what spring fever is. Being cooped up with hardly any color or seeming life around can get on me a little even though I do enjoy winter quite a bit. Spring though. There’s nothing like it. And of course the flowers.
Round-lobed hepatica starts us off!
These are both shots from the yard. I used to have to drive 45 minutes to find these little lovelies, but not I just walk outside. They’re everywhere, but I love them still and marvel at their proliferation and toughness.
Sometimes the choice to go to black and white isn’t obvious. With this next picture I was playing with a moonlight simulation in Lightroom for a while, but it kept getting paler and paler until I finally knocked all the color back. I like the mix of detail and blur, the solidity of the stems and the muted exuberance of the flowers themselves.
Bloodroot is another flower I used to travel all over to find and now just have to step outside to see. My yard and the surrounding area is covered with them. They’re hard to shoot, but I keep trying. Those leaves are just so wonderful that when the light catches them just right, they become the focus, not the about to bloom flower.
Of course, finding wonder and joy in my own backyard isn’t new. I used to do it in New Hampshire all the time even though my yard was much smaller. Curiosity is the key to staying engaged in photography even though your horizons may be limited, either by the weather, time, physical ability or whatever. As long as you can keep your sense of wonder intact, subjects for your sensor will keep appearing and, more importantly, keep appealing.
We get a lot of rain up this way and so when I found some collected between the leaves of as of yet still unknown flower, I got right down on it and just look at what I found –
A reflection of the trees above and yes, my camera. It was fascinating to me and I’m glad I slowed down to explore my yard in more detail. I ducked out of the frame and so now it looks like some alien probe from Star Wars checking out what’s down there.
So that’s my first wildflower post of 2017. There will be more. As of this writing I’ve found a spot that was literally carpeted in spring ephemerals and I shot some flowers I’ve never photographed before. I’m also planning a trip to Door County in June to visit a wildflower preserve so that should be really fun. Stay tuned!
After discovering that the woods across the street hosts many vernal pools, I decided to explore further to see if I could find a couple that I could work with over the course of the weeks or months they stay full. So far I found two, possibly three that will work. And boy are they popular. Lots of deer scat and frog song.
I need to wear some tall boots to get into these properly and explore what looks like a tiny sedge meadow in the back of that first picture.
Things are moving slowly this spring, but at least the snow has melted. I have a feeling the view in the shot above will be something I return to as the pond develops. Even though I have no exact plan for how I want to shoot these, I want to try to show them in all their messy glory. This includes some unusual views –
And smaller slices. I love the way the sun lights up these tufts of grass. I forgot my medium telephoto zoom so shot this with the legacy Olympus macro lens. It works just as well out of macro mode.
No ferns were up yet when I shot these (April 19), but I’ve been back over since and they are up now. Cinnamon fern for sure and possibly Royal fern, but it’s too early to tell. Also I didn’t notice any egg masses, but I’m sure there will be some soon when the critters start getting serious.
I have long had a love of vernal pools. Almost every time I see or hear one near a trail I go to take a look. They come in many shapes and sizes, and not all will last through the season, but all are important to wildlife during breeding season. Especially invertebrates and amphibians. How wonderful is the sound of a poolful of spring peepers? It’s one of the best parts of spring.
What is a vernal pool? It is a temporary body of water often created by melt and rain water in spring. Sometimes they are called ephemeral ponds. Naturally occurring depressions collect this water but, the important part is that they don’t last. Eventually they dry up.
Some pools are large and run together eventually forming small streams at times. Some are tiny and fleeting –
But they are notoriously hard to photograph. I mean, basically they’re just big puddles with leaves at the bottom and plants hemming them in on all sides. They form in dense woods which can be rather flat which doesn’t get you much perspective. For that first shot I stood on a little hillock to get a tiny bit of elevation which works ok I think. The second was shot from my driveway which is a foot or so above the tiny pool, beside which grow ferns including my beloved maidenhair.
Ferns will be a big part of the landscape so I’ve given some thought to them in terms of the kinds of images I want to make. Reflections. Moss. Logs. Grass. All can be part of what makes a vernal pool vital. Discovering more about them is sure to bring me some surprises.
All of these photos were taken across the street from my house in a bunch of vacant land so it will be easy for me to visit often and document changes. That is the main reason I want to try my hand at this; ease of access. I dread bug season, but I will brave it for the sake of giving it a go. As a matter of fact, as I write this I already have a second visit done and I think I’ve found a couple of pools that will last long enough to show their cycles. I hope I can show how special and interesting these little habitats are. It certainly feels challenging and hopefully my creative spark ignites and I can break out of my rut a little bit.
Living in central Wisconsin means there is a lot of space and farms, but because of the way farming has been destroyed for individuals and families, there are a lot of abandoned farms and homesteads. It’s sad, but they make for some excellent photos.
Many photographers automatically go for a black and white image and I do, too, but sometimes it does’t fit the mood. Some of that comes from the light and weather conditions when I go out. As many other subjects, overcast or cloudy skies work pretty well and I often head out when it’s like this. I find the flat light lets my photos show the structure and surroundings of a ruined building a bit stronger than direct light. When I want to emphasize those two things I’ll often choose monochrome to help. The shot below is a good example. A one-story cabin with the roof caved in, but with still discernible windows and doors – black and white lets a viewer focus on those and not the riot of saplings that have taken over what must have been the yard.
Not all days are overcast though and when it’s bright and sunny out we have a bit more texture to show and also the contrast between the mood in the scene and the past lives that must have once centered on the abandoned house. It almost makes it cheery to look at until you realize that possibly someone’s hopes and dreams have died hard. This next cabin’s missing doors is a focal point and there is enough color to showcase it. Also the colors are so complementary that it makes for a really harmonious image. Overexposing a stop keeps the snow white, too, and so even though I experimented with black and white I decided color was the way to go.
To trespass or not to trespass?
I’m always tempted, but most of the time I don’t approach or enter any of the abandoned buildings I find. Mostly out of craven fear – I don’t want to get caught. Also out of respect. If there is a sign saying keep out (like the one at the end of my driveway) I take it seriously. Not only are there the property owner’s wishes to be respected, but there’s liability, too. I can imagine how damaged and dangerous these places are and I have no wish to wreck myself or cause the owner to have a big bill because of my stupidity.
It is tempting though and I will get closer when it makes sense. In the case of this barn, if it had been in the company of a ruined house and outbuildings, I’d have gone closer. But it was the only thing like this on an otherwise totally normal, and inhabited farm. Poo.
Because there are so many abandoned homes up this way I sometimes pass them all the time without taking any pictures. With this next one I’ve been promising myself that I would stop when the light was right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I just felt a little silly stopping right on the side of a road I travel once or twice a week. But then one day I was coming home with the whole rig in the car and the afternoon light was pretty perfect.
In terms of processing, I did tweak these a bit more than I normally do so I could set the right mood. I wanted something a touch brooding…mostly because of that awesomely scary tree. The clouds helped, but they weren’t quite dark enough so I brushed them a little in Lightroom to bring up the drama. I also tweaked the magenta slider down a bit toward green, keeping it even between the two shots which are different views of the same farm. To me it’s important to keep the processing the same with a series of images that you want to present together. Lightroom has some shortcuts that are handy for this, too, like letting you apply the exact same set of adjustments from one image to another. Just finish up or click on a previously processed image in the develop module, click directly to another image and then hit the Previous button in the lower left. It will apply the changes you made to the first image to the second one. From there you can keep it or do more to it, even undo something like a crop that doesn’t work. It makes things really easy to keep the same look and feel with multiple images.
Then there’s luck. I went back to photograph this barn on an overcast day. Even when I got there and climbed the snowbank the light was pretty flat. Then for a brief few moments the sun broke through the clouds a little bit. Just enough to bring up some texture and shadows. It was all I could do to keep from jumping up and down.
Sometimes when the mood strikes me and the brook is cooperative, I’ll spend some time shooting water over rocks and the patterns it makes. Ice is a bonus.
This little vignette was the one I started on first – that chunk of ice split the water in such a great way, it’s the ice just below it on the rock that makes it stand out I think – and it’s a good thing I did because in a few minutes it was gone, leaving the rock bare. The afternoon light was gorgeous and fleeting, too, so I worked fast from the bank of the creek, breaking off dead branches that were in my way and holding live ones out of the way of the lens. That little scrim of direct sunlight just makes this shot for me. It’s my favorite of the series. I always feel lucky to be able to work with it even though it doesn’t last. Maybe that’s why.
I also like doing this because I have to work with what I get to a large degree. I can’t move everything or sometimes anything in the scene (like I can with microscapes or macro) and need to create compositions and arrangements within those constraints. This first scene for example, there is another big rock just up and to the left of this, but it was pretty distracting so I had to try to position myself so I could isolate this one formation. All before the ice melts! No pressure.
This next boulder had a much bigger sheath of ice that reminds me of a monster, rising to the surface to scope its prey. Could be that I just watched Predator again though. I love imagining how the ice forms in that peculiar, rounded way, and that some of it so clear that you can see the moss and lichen underneath.
Both of these images are processed similarly; close to how they appear to the eye. In post I bumped the magenta tint a bit to bring up the blue and purple slightly, but preserving the brown color of the water which is very tannic.
Rather than just go with a straight up realism approach, these kinds of subjects let me play with mood and style. I’m not one to go very extreme with processing, but sometimes it helps bring out what I had in mind when I shot the picture. That is some whirling space object; like a galaxy or a gaseous planet, alone in the void.
The shot above is done with the split toning feature in Lightroom, the one below with a preset (I think it was polar or cold tone) and a few tweaks by me.
Compare with this realistic version of the same ice formation –
And of course monochrome works really well for this.
So while I wait for the color and energy of spring, I will keep playing and finding beauty even in the stark Wisconsin winter.
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.
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.
The other day I decided to do a little car exploring. You know what I mean, right? When you jump in the car and go down roads you’ve never been on before. Moving to a new state means there’s a lot of opportunity for this, but even so, I found myself on roads I’ve gone by a bunch of times, but never went down. We have some great back roads. Oh and it helped that it was fall.
It also helps that there are so few people here that I can stop on the road and not worry too much about blocking traffic or getting hit. The road in the first shot snakes through some county forest, some private acreage and a bunch of little lakes and ponds. I noticed one had been blocked by the DNR because of invasive species contamination. Bummer.
This second shot is a loop road that winds through parts of the Underdown Recreation area, a place open to many non-motorized sports like horse riding, mountain biking, hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. The track is barely wider than one car width and so I was a lucky I could stop for this shot because I knew I was going to take a little time with it.
The latest version of Lightroom has an exposure blending function that I’ve never used much. I’ve never done much with HDR at all, but just because some made ugly photos with it didn’t mean I had to so I gave it a go. The shot is a blend of 3 exposures, all one stop separated from each other. It’s old school bracketing like I used to do when I shot slide film. I can, and probably will, use more exposures more closely spaced in terms of stops, but for now I think this works. It’s not too overly garish, but does mimic how our eyes actually see a scene like this with its wide range of light values. Our irises are so sensitive that they move constantly as our focus changes and the light changes. So many times I’ve looked at a shot through the viewfinder or on the live view screen and decided not to try it because it was so contrasty. I have to remember my new capability and do more bracketing. Especially since it’s a dial setting on my camera and wicked easy to do. What do you think? Do I need more practice? Is that the wrong scene? Is it garish?
Probably all of the above, right? Well I like it and will keep working with it. Am off to New Mexico for a long weekend shortly and so will try it out at White Sands!
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.