ANOTHER WINTER MORNING


The skies had cleared yesterday morning and the air was crisp and clear. The snow still sticked to the trees on the ridge above our house. The branches of the little red cedar in the foreground were bent under the load of snow and the morning sun made for a nice contrast. Winter can be nice around here…

Nikon D750, Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm, f/4G ED VR,  @70mm, 1/400s, f/8, ISO100

GORGEOUS FEBRUARY DAY


Nikon D750, Carl Zeiss Distagon T*, 35mm / f2 ZF

I’m glad Joan, dog Cooper, and I went out on a drive along the Mississippi River yesterday. It was soooo nice to have the sun out again for a few hours. Today the sky is covered with a uniform gray overcast again, it snows a little bit, and just makes the “cabin fever” raising again…

During part of the trip we went on the Illinois side of the big river and after the kiss of the polar vortex and now temperatures still below freezing the river is covered with ice for the most part. We explored some new wetlands and discussed the possibilities we would have there during the upcoming warmer seasons. I had all my lenses in the car and decided for the one I had recently most neglected. The Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 is the only lens I own with nothing but manual focus. Most of the time I rely on autofocus for my photography. Eye sight isn’t getting better with age and I think there is nothing wrong with employing AF and the high tech we pay for if we buy a new lens or camera. However, the sharpness of the Zeiss 2/35 is fantastic but the main reason I love this lens so much is how it reproduces the colors. The snow is hard and crusty right now and I wanted to bring this out in the shot, taken at some backwaters of the Mississippi. The subtle changes of tones on the old melted and re-frozen snow in combination with the long shadows of grass in the mid afternoon sun tell hopefully the story of a gorgeous February day. Still love this lens…

A PERFECT WINTER DAY


Horseshoe Bluff, Mines of Spain, Dubuque, Iowa

Joan and I went on a little hike yesterday into the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, located just south of downtown Dubuque, Iowa, and enjoyed the sun and fresh powder snow. We hiked through the old lime stone quarry and climbed up to an overlook. From there you can see up and down the Mississippi. Finally the big river had started to freeze over, although we saw still some open water in the main channel. The late afternoon sun on Horseshoe Bluffs made a good color contrast to the sky and blue reflections on the snow. Once I found a good position it was an easy click. Yes, it was cold but I call this a perfect winter day…

REMEMBERED: SHOOT IT NOW!


Mississippi River, Dam #12, Bellevue, Iowa

In his book “It’s Not About The F-Stop” much admired photographer Jay Maisel says, Never go back. Shoot it now, When you come back, it will always be different. This came to mind today on my way back home from a trip along the Mississippi River. While slowly driving through the town of Bellevue, IA, I saw out of the corner of my eye this scene, the dam painted with gorgeous golden light. For a second I thought, maybe another time, I’m tired, I want to go home. I have done that at other occasions and always regretted my decision because it wasn’t the same at another time later. Today I made the U-turn, changed the lens, and zoomed with my feet in order to keep branches, lamp posts, and other annoying objects out of the frame. Any time I go to the Green Island Wetlands or other locations to the south along the river, I always look briefly at the dam #12 in Bellevue, but never had experienced such a warm light on the structure. There is only a short period of time every year when the point of sunset almost lines up with the dam.

In addition, it’s warm here, the snow from last week is mostly gone, and the Mississippi has open water even above the dams. Maybe my photo helps to tell this story too…?

FOLLOWING A TRADITION, BUT YET ANOTHER PICTURE


Reflections in the fog, Spring Lake Park, Cherokee, Iowa

If only sunset pictures or a rain of colors is on your mind, this one is not for you!

It is a tradition for us to make a walk around Spring Lake in Cherokee, IA at Christmas time. We have seen this park and lake with great colors, blue or gray sky, and during very low temperatures in the past. This year was probably the warmest weather we have seen so far at this time of the year in Spring Lake Park. The ice on the lake and the old snow from some time ago make the viewer believe we had a white Christmas, but it was actually warm, slightly above freezing. Different than during other years was the fog on Christmas Day. In a lot of city parks we can find “items” that are a distraction, hurt the esthetic feelings, and last but not least, can ruin any photo. From the inescapable trash can to the ugly concrete park bench (that nobody uses because they are too cold on your rear end), Americans have sometimes a “great” way to ignore their best designers and landscape architects. I still think it is a nice park, but after retouching and cloning away distracting elements these thoughts became dominant.

Because of the fog, much color wasn’t part of the picture, but I made the photo anyway with having black and white in my mind already.

SUNSET FOR A SPECIAL BIRTHDAY


I trust you had a wonderful Christmas and the photographers among the readers of my blog had a chance to make a few clicks. Perhaps for some good memories, or maybe for the best photo you ever made. I hope you did!

We spent the holidays in northwest Iowa with family again. Any time when I’m on the family farm near Remsen, Iowa, I look for light, clouds, or anything that puts some drama in the scene. One of my favorite backdrops is one of the neighboring farms. This time the sunset was right at this location, on a hill across the road. No, we didn’t have a white Christmas, but the remaining old snow and ice on the ground reflected the warm sunlight and gave the scene some depth. It’s often tricky to have the full sun in the frame. Blowing out the highlights is easy and without the snow, the foreground would have been just a dark and muddy mess.

The photo was made after we celebrated the 99th birthday of Joan’s dad Joe Kass, a humble and hard working farmer, who worked the family farm for many years. Joe lives now nearby, in an assisted living complex, but I’m sure he has seen this sunset many times before on his birthday, the day before Christmas Eve.

OUT WEST #29


Little Rock Creek, Wind River Range, Wyoming

Our last destination in the mountains of western Wyoming was the Wind River Range, an approximately 100 miles long part of the Rocky Mountains. We pitched the tent for three nights in Sink Canyon State Park, west of Lander, WY. These mountains are not so well known by the public as for example the Tetons or Yellowstone, but there is no lack of interesting geology and beautiful nature. We went on hikes and traveled off the beaten path by car, but time was too short to explore more than a small area of the range.

Wildfire smoke, Louis Lake Road, Wind River Range, Wyoming

One reason why I didn’t shoot a lot of wide landscape views was the fact that the impact of wildfires created a certain haziness, even if the fires were far away. The photo gives you an idea…

Mule Deer, Red Canyon, Wyoming

Finding wildlife is not very difficult in the Wind River Range, there was always a Pronghorn or Mule Deer somewhere, but when we saw this doe with her two fawns on a rock ledge in the Red Canyon near Lander, WY we had to stop and make the click. Mountains Lions are not uncommon and are a great danger for the young Mule Deer and this spot was obviously a good place to have control over the terrain for the mother.

Least Chipmunk, Popo Agie Falls, Wyoming

The Least Chipmunk is smaller than the Eastern Chipmunk that lives in our woods here in eastern Iowa. In areas that are more frequented by people, like along the hiking trail that leads to the Popo Agie Falls, the chipmunks have not much fear and can be easily photographed within the range of a 200 mm lens.

OUT WEST #28


T.A. Moulton Barn, Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Before the year ends I like to finish my little series about our trip to the mountains and grasslands out west in September. It was the third time Joan and I visited the Grand Tetons together and it was totally different than during our last visit eleven years ago. In 2007 we were lucky to have the first fresh snow of the season while the trees still had their fall colors. This made for some great photo opportunities. This time the leaves just started changing and we were too early for new snow.

I’m almost sure every photo enthusiast pays a visit to Mormon Row for a classic shot with the T.A. Moulton Barn in the foreground and the Teton Range in the back. This did not work very well this time. There was a smoky haze all the time in front of the mountains, due to some wildfires in Bridger-Teton National Forest to the east. At all close-up shots of the barn the mountains were hardly visible. But I thought the smoky clouds were part of the story this time and went for a focal length of 24 mm. I took more of Antelope Flats into the frame, showing how the smoke impact the whole scene. The image is cropped quite a bit on the bottom, leaving the illusion that this was shot as a true panorama. The foreground was shady from a tree behind me and not that interesting. Well, even a midsize print would reveal the truth but I’m not unhappy with the photo, even without snow and fall colors…😉

GREEN ISLAND WETLANDS IN THE WINTER?


First snow in the Green Island Wetlands

I had a nice audience last night for my presentation about storytelling in wildlife photography, with some great questions afterwards and the emails and messages I received today tell me that people received some inspiration for their own photography. This made my day!

I introduced some of my favorite shooting locations, and the avid reader of my blog knows already, the Green Island Wetlands along the Mississippi River play certainly an important role in my endeavors. Actually Joan, our dog Cooper, and I went there for a little hike last Sunday. We had some fresh snow on the ground and most water bodies were covered with a thin layer of ice. I’m sure the duck hunters were not so happy about that because we didn’t see any.

Bald Eagle

So what can we find at this time of the year under winter conditions in Green Island? We saw several hawks, a few Song Sparrows, and for the first time ever a coyote on top of a levee. Unfortunately he had seen us earlier and during the two or three seconds we watched him I was not able to make a sharp image. Ten minutes earlier this Bald Eagle posed nicely against the blue sky and later we saw the bird with its mate sitting in another tree further away.

Beside all that, the lakes and backwaters had some nice blue color and the cracks in the ice and the snow painted some surreal patterns. As mentioned in my presentation, it’s difficult to come back from the wetlands with an empty memory card…

COME AND SEE MY PRESENTATION


Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

A year ago I joined the Dubuque Camera Club. The exchange of thoughts, ideas, and photography knowledge between members is priceless, and beside the educational aspect, it is a great group of people to socialize with and share the fun photography has to offer. We meet twice a month (first and third Monday each month between September and June) and for the 2018 /19 season we offer some member presentations about different aspects of photography. The meetings of the camera club are open to the public anyway, but these special events are advertised in local and social media.

Mobile phones made almost everybody a photographer these days and photography is as popular as never before, so we like to share our presentations with a broader audience. Maybe you guessed it, I volunteered to be the first presenter…

It’s a wrong assumption that good wildlife photos can only be made with expensive equipment. Sharing the story of your wildlife encounter, even through a technically not so perfect image, is more important for the future of our natural heritage than seeing the last detail in a critter’s eye. I will give you my thoughts on this and other aspects of wildlife photography.

If you live in or around the Tri-state area of Dubuque, Iowa, please join us for our first presentation this season next Monday. Here are the facts about this event:

Monday, November 19, 2018, at 6:30 PM

STORYTELLING IN WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center, 

Mines of Spain Recreation Area

8991 Bellevue Heights 

Dubuque, IA

My presentation will touch the questions below, and hey, we can discuss your ideas and thoughts as well after what I try to cramp into 60 minutes.

  • How to start with wildlife photography, even with a small camera and lens?

  • What are good locations for wildlife shooting in and around the Mississippi Valley?

  • How to become better storytellers with our photos?

  • How about safety and ethics?

The program is free and I would be happy to see you next Monday at 6:30 PM in the E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center at the Mines of Spain 😉

OUT WEST #27


At Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

This photo was taken at the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. My subject wasn’t the spring itself, like in my earlier post OUT WEST #17, but the surrounding area with its beautiful patterns and subtle tones. When I made the shot I had actually a black and white version in mind for the final image but now, back home in front of the screen, the color version appeals to me as well. I may post the B&W version at a later time. I still think about the final outcome…

OUT WEST #24


Oxbow Bend, Grand Tetons, 2007, Nikon D200, Sigma 18-50, f/2.8, @35mm (equiv. to 52mm FX)

Ok, I’m cheating a little bit today and show you first a photo that I made already in October 2007. The fall colors were at their peak and the Grand Tetons had the first layer of fresh snow. Not so much the second picture from September 2018. Some leaves just started turning their colors and only the summits of the Tetons had some snow and that was probably from the last winter season. There was also a certain haziness in the air because wildfires were burning east of the mountains. With all that in mind, and again no clouds within reach, I was looking for a foreground that would add some scale and interest to the photo. When we saw these horses along the road I knew I had my picture.

It was interesting to pull out one of my old RAW files from Oxbow Bend, which I never had processed previously, and apply the tools of my current post processing workflow. Comparing results I still believe the NIKON D200 was a great camera but I can also tell that the lens, a Sigma 18-50 / f2.8, was not as sharp as the lenses I own today. However, for me it’s another proof that there is more than just the gear to make a good photo.

Grand Tetons, 2018, Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200, f/4. @110mm

OUT WEST #23


Upper terraces, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

You certainly have not seen a lot of “dead sticks” in my landscape photos but there is always an exception from the rule. I will always include them at Mammoth Hot Springs and some other locations in Yellowstone National Park. How the travertine terraces have taken over the landscape during the years is part of the storytelling. It is a very fragile environment with an unsurpassed beauty, where even a dead tree has its function in the picture.

Lower terraces area, Mammoth Hot Springs

OUT WEST #21


Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

One of the most photographed spots in Yellowstone is the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. Sometimes I ask myself at some of these popular places in the National Parks, do I really want to add another photo to the millions that have been already created by other visitors? But I can’t help, the magnificence of these locations makes me press the shutter button as anybody else. Now back home, I googled for pictures of Lower Falls, where the Yellowstone River enters the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and I see very many different ways how photographers have shot the scene. So, here is my favorite picture from this visit. If it makes you want to go there, the photo has its right to exist…😉

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200mm / f4, Induro GIT 404XL tripod, KIRK BH-3 ball head,  @135 mm, 1/200 s, f/8, ISO400