Sunday, July 31, 2011

Behind the viewfinder

"Seeing" the Lake Superior Shore
The photography workshop that had us scampering all over northern Wisconsin and the U.P. focused primarily on nature-waterfalls, rivers, bogs and lakes and associated critters found therein.  For myself when someone asks- "what kind of photography do you do?" I have a hard time answering.  For this week, it was nature, at another time it could be the underbelly of a city, or maybe the behind the scenes images of a hunt, a concert or a wedding.  So I guess I'm not nailed down to one "kind" of photography, which leaves me a lot of room to shoot what interests me at the moment.  For good or bad.

So during the workshop, there were a few times I turned the camera away from strictly nature to the photographers, and we had some very good ones here.  I do believe there is some truth in having a human in a landscape, if for nothing else to just wonder-"what are they doing in there?!"  Having a group of photographers shooting mostly the same exact thing, but sometimes very differently can be a great learning experience and then having the chance to critique so many images, can't but help improve our art.
Setting up on The bog Lake near Eagle River
Livin and Shootin on the Edge
Morning Silhouette-Doug
Black Spruce Close-up- Andrea
Making the Picture-Doug on bog lake
This last photograph here was perhaps my favorite, probably because I saw how long it took Doug (our instructor) to finally lean over and push the shutter.  Maybe the most valuable lesson I learned was to slow down.  The tripod forced that in many ways and maybe more so was the fact that we really wanted to make great images and we wanted to make the most out of every location we visited.  It almost felt like being a real photographer.......whatever that is. ;)

The Whirlpools of The Presque Isle River

Presque Isle River
If there is one image I could select to capture this stretch of river on the Presque Isle, this would be it.  I've seen these "whirlpools" or potholes before, on the St. Croix River in Western Wisconsin near Taylor's Falls MN and just am amazed at this natural phenomenon.  Swift water carries sand and rock downstream until a narrowing of the river forces water to swirl and gradually, over eons of time, potholes are drilled deep into the rock.  Sometimes the polished round stones, often larger than a bowling ball, are still found inside these holes.  I just know they are a very unique and impressive feature and I had to show them as I made pictures here.

In the picture above, again I wanted to show the smooth flowing of the river and in this case, there was a enough color to warrant leaving it in.  The blue of the ski, green and yellow of the trees and warm color of the stone convinced me to not convert it to black and white, although, that may have been alright as well.
Pothole on The Presque Isle
Specular Highlights among the Whirlpools
Hidden Pool

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Quiet Places

There has always been an appeal to me for those quiet places in nature-places tucked away behind the grand landscape scene.  Small intimate subjects that can still tell a story.  By "small" I don't necessarily mean in size, but maybe in just not being in-your-face sort of subjects.  I've found I'm drawn to making those photographs and feel lucky when I get it just right, or they say something to me or about me.

I had a chance to shoot the grandiose waterfalls and roaring rivers of Northern Wisconsin and the U.P. but also had great satisfaction in discovering the quiet places as well.  I hope these images tell a little of what I see and appreciate when the camera is along for the ride.

The water lilies were discovered just tucked in a small spot near a waterfall.  I'd been scrambling through rocks and brush to get to a better spot near the falls, when I stumbled onto this.  I knew I had to make a picture here....several.  It also lead to my only crash as I slid off a mucky rock, slammed to the ground, but saved my camera.
Quiet Water Lilies
Eagle River Bog lake Reflection
This small bog lake was right outside of Eagle River and the light was perfect-the temps had cooled down overnight and the lake was giving up some of her warmth to start this day.  A landscape on a small scale.
Sticks and Stones
I could walk the shores of any great lake for hours, and along Lake Superior, near Presque Isle Michigan I found and was intrigued by the randomness of objects tossed up on the shore by the cold waves. I did more looking than shooting, which is fine-it's all apart of seeing.  I liked the simple composition here-something quiet, a story? I don't know, but my gut liked it on this day.
Ontonagon River below Bond Falls
 All the "action" of Bond Falls was upstream from here, but this spot spoke more to me.  I managed to not burn out the highlights, capture a bit of the sunrise and maybe convey the early morning coolness of the river running through here.
Spruce Skeleton on the Ontonagon
As simple a scene as they come and honestly, this was a passer-by click of the shutter and I forgot about it.  I haven't been able to put my finger on it now, but this image has grown on me and I had to include it here.
Tamarack Starting Life

Friday, July 29, 2011

Nature in Black and White

Summer color in Wisconsin is boring.  There, I said it.  Yes, yes, yes, we have colorful sky, and water, flowers and sunsets and sunrises (more on that in another post), but really-Wisconsin in summer is green.  Wayyyy too much green for a photographer at times.  While travelling out west, we can marvel at  all the variety of color our cameras are faced with and choices we have in what to shoot.  Sadly, here we are stuck with landscapes of mostly green and blue.  Of course, I'm being half way sarcastic here-I love Wisconsin, but summers here would not be my first choice as a time to photograph landscapes.  Fall-of course, spring is.... okay; winter? Great.  Winter....really?  Well that probably falls into my lap because I do love black and white photography.  When the "crutch" of color is taken away, what we're left with is composition, texture, lines and other elements of art.  Yes, color is an element of art as well, but I've come to realize that if color doesn't help a photograph-doesn't help tell its' story, then why have it included?
Sayner Bog Snapper near Frank Lake Road
I may be reaching out there a little too far into photographic philosophy here, but for me there is some truth in those feelings.  Color can be a distraction in some cases just at a time we may want to simplify an image instead-strip it down to it's most important elements.  That said, maybe color in some photos is it's most important element.  I do love color, so as a photographer-I really can be messed up!
The Black River (MI) near Conglomerate Falls
On my recent venture to Northern Wisconsin and the U.P. visiting waterfalls, bogs and extreme ends of the day lighting, color became a huge factor, as in whether to leave it in or remove it.  In the workshop, we took hundreds of photographs and our daily routine would involve editing them down to the best ones, then making whatever adjustments we needed to to improve the image.  I usually would knock down the highlights on the water, lighten the shadows a hair, bring up the mid tone contrast and sharpen it slightly.  Almost always, if there wasn't an interesting color scheme going on, I'd replace it with a black and white preset in Aperture.  Which preset to use was a quick decision I'd make on the fly and live with it.  In some landscapes, the textures or patterns just begged to be black and white, so I acknowledged that and did the conversion.

I realized when picking select photographs out for this post, I ended up with mostly images from the Black River in the U.P.  Most likely because besides the green of the trees and foliage, the river rock was all iron red of course.  The lack of contrast in the stone and river bed lead me to a lack of interest in the color here, so black and white fit the landscape much better in my mind.
The Black River has Stones.
On the technical side, I found the best way is to shoot in RAW (and full RGB color), make any adjustments to the exposure and light balance, then convert it to black and white.  After that, I could tweak contrast and any additional adjustments for impact.
Black River Chute
Little John Lake (WI) Dragonfly
Deep woods U.P. falls near Wakefield MI.
Black River Cut

The Falls of the UP

I've had what I consider a good habit over the past six or seven years during the summer, and that being: "taking a class."  I feel a little hesitant when I say that- "taking a class," when in all reality, it is more an opportunity to force myself into a situation where I have to make photographs for a specific period of time.  It is a learning experience to be sure and just being around other photographers and different instructors does bring out plenty of new ideas, thoughts and approaches.

Some years I have attended the "School of the Arts" in Rhinelander, other times the "Northwoods Academy," while this year, I decided to enroll in the Trees for Tomorrow workshop "Nature Photography." It sounded right up my alley-early morning sunrises, late night sunsets and crawling around in swamps, bogs and waterfalls.  All of these I've done before, but the schedule was intense and a chance to do this everyday of the workshop was something I looked forward to.

On the technical end of things-I brought along my entire arsenal of photo gear-extra camera body (Canon xsi), all my lenses and a Canon 50D.  I wasn't sure what I'd end up using but figured it would be interesting to discover what stayed on my camera the most.  I've never had a set theme or main subject I photograph, which in some ways is good and bad-I have a lot of interests and photograph them, but at other times, maybe I don't develop them deeply enough.  During this week-I'd tackle waterfalls as one subject, so on day one, I dove right in (ha).

We started at Bond Falls, just over the U.P. border east of Paulding MI.  With camera bag over the shoulder, I slapped on a Canon 11-22mm wide angle lens and headed downstream.  I'd been here before and felt my best chance, in the early morning light, would be the lower part of the cascade.  One thing I really wanted to try was the "cotton candy" effect, as one photographer called it-the smooth soft look of the moving water.  It requires a very slow shutter (1/4sec or slower) to capture that look but doing so will blow out any highlights because of the wide open aperture required.  I did have a #6 neutral density filter along, which would cut down the light, and that worked well enough.  Still, I fought, everyday with burned out highlights-mostly because of the higher sun later in the morning.  Luckily, I also discovered shooting in RAW can save the day!  Many of the blown out areas (and too dark shadows) can be brought back in post-processing.  A tripod was standard equipment everyday here and I'd never used one so often.  Soon I discovered I probably need to upgrade, my economy model, not up to the task of steadying rock solid the heft of a big camera body and lens.
Gabbro Falls near Black Jack Ski area

This shoot was about discovery-discovery of what worked and what didn't; about what angles to try-what perspective could show off the falls the best.  As usual for me, I end up drifting off the main subject at hand, and wondered here and there checking out other interesting (for me) spots.   That's all fine with me-the Ontonagon River here had plenty of hidden, less dramatic locations and with everyone else huddled near the base of the falls, I appreciated the quietness of being by myself.  The tripod does slow one down-taking time to look closer, ponder (good word?) the best spot to set up and just taking time to be sure the camera is set up correctly.  It's probably the most deliberate I've ever been in making pictures and it wasn't all that bad!  The class started calling me "mountain goat" because usually I was off climbing rock to get into the falls....always just wanting to know what was around the next corner or the next angle.  Only took one spill and the camera was okay!

What follows are a few examples of falls along the way in the U.P.-frankly, we visited so many, and in so many out of the way spots, I'm sorry I can't include them all, but I have a feeling this will be a series of posts about the week shooting.
Bond Falls-lower cascade
Bond Falls-lower cascade
Gabbro Falls and daisys
Bond Falls-east lower cascade

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Special Special Olympian

"I may have a disability,
but I can still feel,
I can still hurt.
 I am not invisible."
-Christie Clark, one of our World Games track athletes.

I shouldn't be surprised at this point of my (SO) coaching career that an athlete would come along and just blow my mind with their character, kindness, thoughtfulness, skill and work ethic.  I shouldn't be surprised because I have met them before, I have coached athletes like that, but yet, when someone comes along as special as Christie, it just takes me aback a little and makes me appreciate the opportunities I've had to coach Special Olympics.  Christie is from Portland Oregon and I first met her at the Team USA training camp in San Diego this past March.  She is a distance runner, 36 years old.  She works at home caring for family.  She is sharp, witty, kind and has a great sense of humor.

After meeting her, I went back and read her World Games application:
"Christie is very open to change."
"She will give the coaches respect no matter where he or she comes from-she will give 110%."
"She is a very positive person always willing to help or be part of the team...very supportive of her fellow athletes."

Little did I know at the time how understated those words would be.  During the difficult and challenging parts of the World Games, she never blinked an eye-always there for everyone else, including the coaches, when they needed a hug.  Sometimes, even the head coach needs a hug.  She would joke that I needed a "Christie Hug" to start my day, and even when I returned home, I had a card waiting saying so and a day later a phone call from Portland and Ms. Clark.  She became almost an assistant coach to our staff-anything we needed help with, she would willingly do.  Any athlete who maybe needed help-she would be on it without asking.  I do think she could have packed all 49 athletes roller duffles and had them done and ready for the bus before most of us could find our socks.

Kindness doesn't begin to describe her, and always a smile, but under it all is a person with great feeling and depth as well.  Re-read the opening sentence by her.  When that line was shared with me, it made me tear up-yes, she does feel, and she does hurt and she IS NOT invisible.  Wow.......I am amazed at our athletes, especially Christie, in so many ways.

I'm re-reading this and I never really mentioned Christie's track accomplishments, and for that I feel a little bad.    The mission statement of Special Olympics is:  to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

Christie is an outstanding track athlete.  She trains hard and knows competition well and it was a thrill to she her on the track at Olympic stadium.  But to also see her excel at everything else Special Olympics is about was truly an amazing thing.  I am so lucky to have met and befriended another very special athlete.  Thank You Christie.
-Coach Steve 
Christie during the Unity Sports 4X100 Relay

Proud Coach and Athlete
The Bronze-headed back to Oregon.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Levis / Trow 100

Wolf Run corner-Levis Mound Trail.

A mountain bike racer's nightmare? Rain on race day.  An endurance mountain bike racers nightmare? Record setting rain on race day.  I guess once it starts raining during a race, the amount that falls from the sky really doesn't matter-your bike will never sound the same, the trail will be forever changed and instead of racing, it become survival and all about finishing. 
The "Levis / Trow (mound) 100" was slated to begin bright and early at 8:00am.  The format is 100 miles, or up to 12 hours, 6 hours and 3 hour races.  Mother nature had other ideas.  It had started raining lightly at 5:00am, and ebbed and flowed (ha) until close to race time, when it turned into a deluge.  The parking lot at the Levis Mound Trail head was a river of water, the sky lit up by lightning and racers huddled together in the chalet, under tarps and hunkered down inside tents, hoping for any kind of delay.  No racer willingly wants to race in the rain, but registration fees have been paid, gas burned to travel here and race series points on the line just to finish.  The decision to delay the shotgun start was sound, maybe the downpour would ease and conditions improve.  An hour later, racers were let loose to begin their hundred miles of off road.....what could be called "racing" but today, just finishing would be a win.  The rain moved back in and thunder clapped so riders were pulled from the course as they completed their first lap.  At that point-the water didn't matter, the racers and their bikes were all of the same color and disposition-neither worked well.  The sky dried out somewhat, so the race was on once again.  The shorter races started later in the day and finally everyone was on the soggy course.

One respbit, was a just completed new trail- "Wolf Run," a mile plus singletrack bringing the riders back Trow Mound  toward the main trail system at Levis.  It may have not been "burned" in yet, but it was dry and rider after rider commented on how nice it was to pedal that section for relief.  As a trail builder here, having rain and hundreds of bikers on a new trail, is a perfect way to break in a new singletrack, so inside, I was happy about the conditions.  But, also as a trail builder, I knew we would have a lot of trail work to do on our wetter sections of trail-I am sure to see pools of water when I survey the race aftermath.  Luckily, The Levis Mound system of trails dry very quickly and so much of it is located on highground, so the rain will leave little impact.

As a retired racer, I can honestly say, I really didn't mind sitting on the other side of the race flagging cheering the racers on.  Most were silent (except for their gritty grinding drivetrain) as they passed by.  Some said "thanks" as they hit the dirt corner, others grunted "which way?" as they sqinted thru mud spattered eye lids, while another was heard whistling as he rode out of sight, my daughter and I wondering if we really just heard that.  I guess some still enjoy getting dirty.

The day was growing later, so as a former race director of many years, I just needed to check into the race headquarters and see who was surviving and how the day went for the organizers.  Mixed reviews to be sure, and with a call of a injured woman racer on course,  someone was sent out to collect her, and our conversation was cut short.  It wasn't even close to an ideal day, but this is mountain bike racing and it is all about testing oneself, not only over any terrain, but also in any kind of element.  Today was be a good test for both.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Willie Wisely Trio Photo shoot

I love shooting bands...there is so much energy and creativity in the room and when you have a chance to be close to a reunion band-well, it doesn't get any better.  I'm sorry but I really don't know the history of the Willie Wisely band-I just know they have been apart for about 18 years and for whatever reason, they are back and making great sounds.  James, an owner of Tufts Mansion B&B in Neillsville, and a (great) substitute teacher (has anyone ever seen School of Rock?) thumps out the base and deals in the Neillsville Music scene at every chance.  Always a treat.

I wasn't sure what they wanted in pictures, but dove into their practice session on day one.  The setting was in the main room (parlor?) of Tufts, and not the easiest to shoot in. Everything was red and it was hard to get the band members close together.  I maybe got some good ones there, I dunno-I guess it depends on what they were looking for.  The following day, they wanted a "pro-mo" band picture and after rejecting the parlor, we checked out the attic in the old carrage house. Perfect.  Enough window light and "clutter" to maybe capture the mood of the band coming back together.  The last thing was to catch a few images during their reunion performance that night....from a photography standpoint, the light was hard, but maybe, if I'm lucky, I did get a few images that spoke of their music.....which was great.  I hope they keep on playin. :)

The Olympic Stadium

As a track coach, I don't think there is another track in the world I most wanted to step foot on than Olympic Stadium in Athens Greece.  Look at the history of this place-the Olympians who have competed here-the world records set here and........ this is the birthplace of the Olympics.  And finally, our athletes are brought back compete here. Amazing.

The Olympic Athletic Center of Athens, also known as OAKA (oh-ahh-kaah), was built in 1982 and has hosted many athletic events, the most prized being the generic Olympic games in 2004 and now the 2011 Special Olympics World Games.  I knew it would be very special walking up to, and entering that marble floored stadium-yes, marble on all the floors!  For the World Games, she was decorated up just beautifully and I had goosebumps walking thru the tunnel and out onto the track.  It's 9 lanes, like many tracks in the world, Mondo covered running surface, and fitted with perfect long jump pits.  My dream track.

The '04 Olympic rings were painted over sadly and the seating, for the most part, empty.  But damn, this was Olympic Stadium!  For us coaches, reaching down to just touch the track, was something 99% of the planet would never understand, but we did.  I so wished that first day I could have taken a lap around it, but we were scurried around to quickly check out the manicured sand in the pits, the high jump, staging and awards areas.  Then off to the head coaches meeting.  Enough of all that, this was to become my home for the next 9 days and it was perfect.  I couldn't wait to get back to the team and tell them about this place and how proud they would be to compete here.

It was an good 45 minute bus ride from our housing to OAKA, and I did enjoy that quiet time every morning- it was time to ready myself for the day ahead.  Leaving so early usually put us, Team USA Athletics, inside the stadium first.  I loved watching the sun slowly rise up across the far side of the track and cast those long shadows of the workers putting the final touches on the facility.  I couldn't help put make photographs of this place....pretty much every single day.  I couldn't help it-whether the images were good or not, I just had a need to shoot here.

The design of the stadium has been described as: The curve line “identical to a bow and a lyre” as per Heracletus – which combines competition with music and culture, the body with the soul and the spirit – takes form and becomes the main architectural element in a modern facility of sport and culture, where the past and the present aim toward the future, where the visible and imaginary curve unites Greek antiquity with contemporary Olympic reality.
I describe it as beautiful.
Dawn at Olympic Stadium-Athens