Friday, July 29, 2011

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

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