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.
In my last post I mentioned I got turned around in the woods across the street from my house. Without a trail it’s very easy to do because it’s almost impossible to walk in a straight line in uncleared forest. Since the tract is hemmed in by roads on 3 sides I wasn’t worried. I could hear cars on one of them now and again so just headed in that general direction. On the way though, I had to stop and marvel at this section since it was so different and so beautiful from the rest of the acreage.
New England forests don’t look like this, but it seems to be a regular feature of Wisconsin woods up here in the north central part of the state. I don’t know how or why the grasses grow, but I do know a bit about the land here. It was logged probably 20 years ago. Pretty much all the large firs and other pines are gone, leaving only saplings.
So with all that open canopy, is that what lets the grasses take hold? Not sure, but it’s a hypothesis. It’s also very, very wet through the entire section because it’s basically a drain to the Wisconsin which is on the other side of the road behind my house.
Another thing I noticed is that maiden hair fern is absent across the street while there are small pockets over here. Also the round-lobed hepatica drop off almost immediately once you get a little ways into the woods. There are a few flowers, but not the blanket that is on this side of the river. We don’t have the grass here, either, not in big huge swaths like that.
I will try to find a book about riparian forests here in WI and see if someone can shed some light on how and why this grassy woods comes to be.
I REALLY hope those acres are never sold (they haven’t in over 15 years so the chances are slim) because it’s become a surrogate back yard for me and one that I’m sure I’ll be venturing into for years to come.
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.
Since moving to Wisconsin I’ve encountered many new-to-me wildflowers. In NH I traveled about 45 minutes to photograph round-lobed hepatica and these days my yard is full of them. Now I travel not quite as far to find pointed-lobed hepatica which is not found in my yard, but boy was the section of Ice Age Trail blanketed in them!
The first difference I noticed was that pointed-lobed (PL) come in more colors than does round-lobed (RL) and the instances of those colors seem to be common and white less so. Nearly the opposite of RL.
Taking pictures of these beauties was a little difficult because they were so thick on the ground along with other wildflowers. It was really hard to take a step without crushing something. Impossible in spots even though I walked slowly, carefully and kept my eyes open. By taking my time this way, I noticed that the texture of the flower petals seems smoother and waxier with the PL variety.
Another thing I noticed was that many of the flowers have double petals – the percentage is much higher in PL than in RL. I don’t know if it’s a random genetic mutation or a strategic adaptation tied to pollination, but it was noticeable.
Also the plants themselves are larger – on average 50%. The blossoms are more numerous as well as being taller.
All-in-all it was fascinating to find them in such profusion and that they were so distinct from their round-lobed cousins.
I have a feeling I’ll be visiting more of the areas that have these beauties come next spring!
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.