MISSISSIPPI RIVER STORIES 2019 #09 - ARRIVAL OF CELEBRATION BELLE


Ice Harbor, Mississippi River, Dubuque, Iowa

Great clouds, combined with a short rain shower, made for good shooting conditions this evening at the Ice Harbor in Dubuque, Iowa. I took our dog Cooper for a walk on the dyke, a little further north of this place. Well, I call it a “dog walk” but sometimes he just sits patiently next to me while I’m fiddling with the camera on tripod. I tell you what, he probably understands how photography works… 😊

While taking a few shots of the old railroad bridge that crosses the Mississippi over to Wisconsin, I suddenly saw the CELEBRATION BELLE coming up the river from LeClaire, Iowa and taking a turn towards the harbor. We jumped into the car and drove down the short distance. It takes time to maneuver this big boat through the small entry and flood gates of Ice Harbor, giving me enough time to find a good position. The TWILIGHT was also docked in the port and I rushed to find a shooting position where both Mississippi River boats and the clouds would line up perfectly. The spot was found while the first passengers exited the CELEBRATION BELLE. The image was made with the Nikkor 16-35, f/4 at 16 mm focal length and the BREAKTHROUGH 2-stop GND filter attached. The rain shower earlier made the wood of the pier wet and darker. It takes out the glare and makes the pier a good part of the composition that doesn’t compete with the bright subjects in this photo.

BACK IN THE WETLANDS


Family of Pied-billed Grebes, Green Island Wetlands, Iowa

It was about time to go back into the wetlands at Green Island. On a sunny day it doesn’t buy you much to be there before 6:00PM, when the light gets softer and warmer. The water level is still very high but for the first time in months no roads or dykes were flooded and the area was complete accessible again.

I talked to an old farmer in his eighties, who owns land adjacent to the Green Island Wetlands, and he told me that the numbers of ducks and geese are the lowest he has seen in a long time. This might be due to the fact that many nest sites were under water for such a long time and still are.

Well, some life can still be found. There were large families of Wood Ducks and the young Canada Geese have almost adult size. I counted three successful broods of Pied-billed Grebes along the main dyke. The one above is my favorite image of this evening, three little chicks stayed close together while their parents dived for food and delivered promptly when they had success.

Paddling is not the best idea at this time of the year. An abundance of water plants, duck weed, and algae make it difficult to move in the backwaters. We have done that before, it’s not impossible, but the fun of paddling is cut in half to say it mildly. I did not regret to leave the kayak at home. The low sun created some dappled light in the foreground, making the “green mess” not so dominant, and with some puffy clouds in the blue sky the picture got some depth and tells today’s story about a perfect summer day along the Mississippi River.

Trumpeter Swans

About 7:45PM I drove slowly back on the main dyke and this pair of Trumpeter Swans enjoyed the last sun of the day as much as I did. Maybe they just found each other this season. Trumpeter Swans often mate for life and most pair bonds are often formed when they are 5-7 years old. More to come… stay tuned!

MISSISSIPPI RIVER STORIES 2019 #07 - BEFORE TWILIGHT AND A LOOK AT THE MOON


Mississippi River, Potosi, Wisconsin

Same location as in my last blog post from two days ago. Before the time of twilight the sun has to set, of course, as it happens 365 days a year (but not every day lets us enjoy the twilight time 😉) The view goes to the northwest, the direction where the river comes from, and due to the time of the season the sun sets still over a part of Wisconsin. Our state of Iowa is the small stretch of land on the left hand side, and that may give those of you who are not so familiar with this area an idea how mighty the Mississippi River really is. For shots like this I set the white balance in camera pretty close to 7000 Kelvin. The new Breakthrough 2-stop graduated neutral density filter prevents the blow out of the highlights even in the center of the sun. The real landscape photography gurus may ask, why did you use only a 2-stop filter, if the range of light is asking for three stops or maybe even more.? Yes, I have a 3-stop GND filter (Schneider GND 0.9) and I knew it would have been the proper choice, but I’m still testing the limits of the Breakthrough X4 GND 0.6.

Moon over the river, Potosi, Wisconsin

And here is the other reason to be out there as a photographer, even if it wasn’t really my subject this evening. An almost full moon raised 42 minutes before sunset, pretty much exactly 180 degree on the opposite side. A little too early for the best shot of a moonrise but still good for a picture from the same spot and pointing the lens to the southeast. The exposure time was 0.6 s & f/16, giving the water a nice blur and telling the story about a windy spot by looking at the willow leaves.

I know, family and friends over in Germany often ask me to show more photos of our area. I hope this gives those of you who have never been here, or have a look at my blog from different parts of the world (Hi, Jeanine and Johan in Johannesburg / South Africa) a better perspective if I tell one of my “Mississippi River Stories”. I appreciate every visitor in my blog! Keep sending me message/opinions/questions, etc. 

MISSISSIPPI RIVER STORIES 2019 #06 - STAYING FOR THE TWILIGHT


Mississippi River, Potosi, Wisconsin

I went east, over to the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River this evening. There is a popular spot in Potosi, where a dyke with a gravel road reaches out into the river for about half a mile. At the end is a little parking lot and a boat ramp and you are surrounded by water on three sides. Sometimes it is a great place for wildlife photography but this wasn’t on the agenda this evening. The river makes a bend here and has a northwest to southeast course. Today it was kinda special, because the almost full moon came up in the southeast over the river and the sun set exactly 180 degree on the opposite side. Because the course of the river at this point you can see the sun disappearing behind the trees on the bluffs of the Wisconsin side.

There were some other people coming out for the sunset tonight but only one couple stayed after sunset for the civil and nautical twilight. We got rewarded with a great show in the sky, sunbeams in the northwest and a full moon in the southeast. A little wind made this evening very pleasant, summer doesn’t get much better…

Nikon D750, Nikkor 16-35mm / f4, Induro GIT 404XL tripod, RRS BH-55 ballhead, Vello cable release, Breakthrough GND filter 0.6,   @16 mm, 2.5 s, f/20, ISO100

CHASING CLOUDS AGAIN


Thunderstorm cell moving out, near Sherrill, Eastern Iowa

A little storm cell showed up on the radar this evening and brought finally a few rain showers. I jumped in my car and tried to chase the clouds, hoping for some exciting light and drama in the sky. Well, the clouds dissolved pretty quickly and the big drama didn’t happen. I have photographed this old farm house many times before over the years. It’s condition doesn’t get any better, another reason for not making it the subject of my image, but in context with clouds and landscape it makes sense to include it anyway.

ON THE OLD RAILROAD PATH


Heritage Trail, old railroad path near Durango, Iowa

Another picture from yesterday’s walk on the Heritage Trail in the Little Maquoketa River Valley. The photo from my last blog post was made way in the back behind the couple on bicycles, on the bridge that crosses the river. In the old days when the railroads were built they tried to keep the tracks as straight as possible and blasted away some of the rocks and bluffs that were shaped by the river a long time ago. These hollows make some nice and shady spots on the trail that have a micro climate and can be interesting for finding plants, birds, and critters.

As mentioned in my last blog post, I tried out a new GND filter and even in a situation like this it helps to manage the high dynamic range of the scene.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 16-35mm / f4, Breakthrough 2-stop X4 GND filter

DOWN IN THE VALLEY


Little Maquoketa River, Durango, Iowa

A shot fresh out of camera from this evening. I went down into our Little Maquoketa River Valley to Durango, Iowa, a little village with maybe a dozen homes and the old railroad depot, which is now a bar. The picture was taken from the railroad bridge towards the fork where the Middle Fork Maquoketa River and the Little Maquoketa River meet, only a few miles before their water enters the Mississippi River. The railroad tracks have been removed a long time ago and their path is now a very popular recreation trail, called the Heritage Trail.

I was testing a new 2-stop soft edge graduated neutral density filter and I’m sure after I have more experience with it I will write a little review here in the blog. After the flooding during the last months the river banks don’t look necessarily pretty. A lot of dead wood and debris edges the banks and removing some of the sticks in post process is part of my way to make this landscape picture work. You can see how the GND filter keeps the interesting clouds and the moon on the right hand side intact and leaves good detail and tones in the fore- and middle-ground. Sure, I could lift the dark shadows in post process to reveal more detail in the trees, but this would not benefit the storytelling of this image. This is not a picture with a clear subject but the eye follows the lines of the river, goes to the clouds, maybe the moon, and comes back to the subtle reflections on the water in the foreground. No reason to get lost between dead branches and the mud of the river bank, which are nicely covered in the shadows.

FOLLOWING THE CURVE (PART 2)


If this looks familiar you must have visited my blog a few days ago. Today I tried the same image as a black and white version. I had this in mind when I took the shot but later at home, in front of the computer screen, the play with the color contrast appealed to me as well. Now, with both versions on hand, I think the monochrome version supports the graphic impact of this photo better. The Z-shaped curve of the clouds and the edge of the field are better pronounced.

As much as I like the relativ new B&W presets in Adobe Lightroom Classic, for the finishing of this image I used the well trusted NIK Silver Efex Pro 2. In Lightroom I started with the same Camera RAW settings as for the color version, opened the photo as a Smart Object in Photoshop, and finally applied NIK Silver Efex Pro 2 as a filter. I still love the way how global and local adjustments interact with each other in any program of the NIK Suite. The final touch was made with a subtle dodging and burning layer in PS, mainly in the lower half of the photo.

FOLLOWING THE CURVE


Farm on a hill with clouds, near Sherrill, Iowa

A couple days ago I mentioned I would share another photo from the “cloud chasing” tour that evening. Quite some time ago I made a mental note about this old farm on a ridge not very far from our home here in eastern Iowa. I have driven by several times over the years and always thought this would make a nice foreground or middle ground for a photo with a dramatic looking sky. Well, this week I had my chance. The lush vegetation makes for a nice color contrast to the clouds in the sky. The curved edge of the field leads the eye to the farm structures and from there the curve continues in the sky. Now I’m thinking about a black and white version of the image…

MISSISSIPPI RIVER STORIES 2019 #03 - CLOUD CHASING


Mississippi River, Mud Lake, Iowa

The disadvantage of living in the woods is that we are the last ones that know when some interesting clouds are around. Yesterday evening some nearby thunder and a few rain drops made me grab the dog, jump in the car, and drive to a ridge in the countryside. Some quick photos were made of an old farm (I may show them another day) but the way the clouds were moving I expected that down at the Mississippi River some drama would develop in the sky. I just hit it right. The last rays of the setting sun over the banks of the river painted the landscape with some killer light. 

A minute later I was attacked by a bear, whose shadow you see at the bottom of the picture. Alright, I’m just kidding. The big shadow beside mine belongs to our little dog Cooper, who patiently followed me again, although he hates thunderstorms…

The time stamp in the metadata of both photos reveal that the second picture was made just two minutes later. The sun was gone, the thunderstorm moved along the river, and on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi parts of a rainbow developed.

These are the moments when I employ the Schneider Graduated Neutral Density filter 0.9, which darkens the upper part of the photo by 3 stops of light. Both Photos were made with the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35 f/4 at 16 mm focal length. The ring of the Schneider ND filter creates a little bit of corner vignetting with the lens zoomed out to 16 mm, but this is easy to fix in Lightroom or Photoshop.

MISSISSIPPI RIVER STORIES 2019 #02 - WHEN THE MOMENT IS RIGHT


Green Island Wetlands, Mississippi Valley, Iowa

I have been asked before, Andreas, why don’t you take more landscape pictures of the Green Island Wetlands if you go there so often? I admit this is a valid question and I never have formulated a real answer.

As you have figured out by now, I love the Upper Mississippi Valley and one of my favorite places to go is the Green Island area, where the Maquoketa River meets the mighty Mississippi. A system of levees and dykes keeps the water level separate from both rivers and provides great habitat for all kinds of birds, fish, and critters. So far so good, but what is the subject for a good landscape photo? We have plenty of water, mud banks, reeds and aquatic plants, trees (many of them dead), and of course some wildflowers during the summer. If all these things can be combined it still doesn’t make automatically for a good picture, even if the light has some quality.

Today some good size thunderheads piled up during the afternoon and as soon I was done with my work I jumped in the car and drove down to the wetlands. The thunderheads dissolved quickly but still left some good clouds this evening, the additional ingredient for a landscape photo in Green Island.

What’s also special in this image is the fact that the water level has never been so high during the last ten years and since I visit this area. What looks like another lake on the left hand side is usually grassland and fields with maybe some puddles, but right now most of it is flooded. The lake on the right is most of the time very shallow and covered with reeds and water plants. It is my favorite spot to photograph sandpipers and other shorebirds foraging on the mudbanks. Well, mudbanks make not necessarily a good foreground, but without them, and good light, some wildflowers, and of course the clouds,…. Today the time was right for a landscape photo in the Green Island Wetlands.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 16-35mm / f4, Schneider Graduated ND filter 0.9, @16 mm, 1/80s, f/18, ISO200

FLOODING AT THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER


The Mississippi River is flooding and many places I visit frequently around Dubuque, Iowa are not accessible at the moment. I went out twice today in different weather conditions. Here are some photos.

11:20AM, Mud Lake

The park with boat ramp, campsite, and recreation areas was completely under water. The water reached the railroad tracks and I guess the park ranger had to drive through to reach his residence in the park.

11:43AM, John Deere Marsh

It rained and the fog didn’t even allow to see the main channel of the river. I have never seen the access to the trail under water. However, some ducks and geese didn’t mind it at all. The dyke leads into the marsh and finally to the main channel of the Mississippi.

4:54PM, John Deere Marsh

Same place, just five hours later. The rain and clouds went away, the sun came out and this gentleman made the best out of the situation and launched his canoe on the trail. The current was pretty strong, although the main channel is almost 1,000 meters away from this point.

5:42PM, Mines of Spain, at Julien Dubuque Monument

A freight train approaches the bridge that crosses Catfish Creek. At the bridge little Catfish Creek meets the mighty Mississippi. The high water pushed into the side valleys and flooded much of the lower parts of the valley.

LIGHT AND COLORS



Winter sun, Mississippi River, Deere Marsh, iowa

It looks like the moon behind clouds, but it is the sun, less than an hour before she disappeared behind the horizon. Last weekend I walked back to the car, giving our dog Cooper the well deserved freedom to run and rub his back on the hard surface of old snow at Deere Marsh next to the Mississippi River. He was doing his thing, I was doing mine, means looking for a good photo opportunity. Nothing exciting, just light and colors…

I’m not sure there will be much posting here in the blog in the next few days. We are boarding an airplane tomorrow. The camera is packed but time to write blog posts might not be on hand… However, stay warm, stay tuned! 😉

ALONG THE FROZEN RIVER


Mississippi River, view from the Wisconsin side to the Iowa side

I was on another business trip again. This time I went up north to La Crosse, Wisconsin. The drive along the mighty Mississippi River is one of my favorite routes. Yesterday we had an almost clean blue sky. Not really great for a good photo but it always makes an impression on me how wide the river is above the dams. We had a lot of snow and it was not so easy to find a spot where you can pull off the road to make a picture. I crossed over the bridge into Wisconsin in Prairie du Chien. From there the road follows the river below the bluffs on the east side and offers great views across the ice covered stream to the Iowa and Minnesota side. This is all part of the driftless area, the region that escaped glaciation during the last ice age and, consequently, is characterized by steep, forested ridges, and deeply-carved river valleys. Today I drove back home on the west side of the river in Minnesota and northeast Iowa. It is as pretty as the Wisconsin side but the camera stayed in the bag due to a gray overcast this afternoon. I’m glad I made the stop yesterday…

WINTER BLUES


Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Can you tell I have the “Winter Blues”, that this season is too long here in Iowa, and looking at some warmer colors is just a try to overcome it… It is always good to have some images on the hard drive that deserve a closer look during these feelings…😉

There was still a little time before the sun would set in Badlands National Park, last year in September, when this photo was created. I don’t get that much out of sunset pictures, unless there is some anchor point and relationship to the landscape in the frame. The grass covered ledges and bare slopes in the Badlands provide the elements that make a landscape interesting but quite often during the height of the day there is just no good picture. Working with the shadows and the light on the grassy tops during the last hour of sunlight can make a difference.