Sunset through the skyline

As the snow and seemingly winter along with it starts to disappear here in St. Paul, today’s photo is a reminder that winter does have some redeeming value.

I stumbled on this photo yesterday while sorting files for my web site and store. The photo was shot in 2010 down the road from St. Antony Main, I was working on capturing the sun set behind the sky line when I noticed the sliver of light that crossed the river. You can trace the light beam to the space between two buildings on the skyline. The sunset itself was pretty spectacular as it bathed the skyline.

This past week on our way back from Sioux Falls we witnessed a similar display of golden light while on 1-35. Unfortunately by the time we got to an off ramp the golden light was pretty much gone.

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Then and Now

While editing some older images (shot in ’04) I couldn’t help but see differences between photos taken during the early period of digital photography and the advanced technology we have available today. My first digital camera was a little plastic bodied Nikon point and shoot, it had barely 2mp of sensor, there was no such thing as shooting in low light because the digital noise would pretty much obscure the final image. I bought the camera around 2001 for $800.00! Memory cards were low capacity and high dollar.

When I later acquired my first DSLR, a Nikon D-100 and a year later a Nikon D2H I thought I’d arrived,  the D-100 was soon replaced by another D2H when we started shooting weddings. The D-100 had a miniscule buffer meaning each shot took what seemed like forever to clear the processor, and no shots could be taken until that happened. The D2H was designed for news and sports photography, meaning its’ buffer could hold a lot of images and still allow more to be taken.

However, except for Cannon and even Cannon had its’ problems, low light shooting was still limited to ISOs below 800-1000. Even at these levels the final image would have lots of noise in the shadows. For those who spent their pre-digital days shooting film you know what would happen if you pushed Kodak Tri-X beyond its’ ISO ceiling of 400, the final image would contain a heavy dose of grain.

While theoretically I could shoot as high as 1200 ISO with the D2h, more often than not I’d have to run the image through noise reduction software to get a semi-decent final image.

All of the images below were shot at ISO400 to keep the noise down in the final image. Looking at the Metadata of the images from this series I couldn’t help but be amazed at the progress made in sensor technology. Had I had the cameras I have today I would have been able to shoot 2000+ ISO and a much higher shutter speed than the 1/40 of a second these were captured at.

Back in ’04 I had just added the Nikon D2h to our kit, so I was looking for any opportunity to shoot with the new camera. This particular day there were a lot of Canadian Geese flying over and to the west the sky was starting to show layers of reds. My goal was to try to capture formations of geese against the red sky.

I headed to Lake Nokomis, which isn’t far from where I live, and was met flocks and flocks of geese. The sun was in the early stages of setting so I focused on the geese, however, almost seconds after I had captured several flights of geese, I checked out the stage of the sunset and the photo below is the result.

 

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Smoke and fire in Glacier National Park

A few years ago we were heading home through Glacier National Park during a period when there were a couple of fires on the edge of Glacier’s northeast area. Most of the roads were closed but we managed to find another route that ended up putting the fire and its’ smoke between us and the sun. The sun was getting low and moving into a more golden phase which together with brown tint of the smoke from the fires produced some of the best light I’ve seen. Needless to say we made many stops to capture some amazing vistas of the mountains framing big sky under a golden brown mask of color.

We first saw the fires while approaching St. Mary’s Lake on the Going to the Sun Road, once we left the park
I spotted the combine parked in the field reflecting that golden brown light providing a good sense of the magnitude of the smoke from the fires outside of the park.

Ever since I lived in Oregon and did a lot of photography of mist covered mountain valleys, I’m always on the look out for the potential variations. The second photo is a variation on that theme only with smoke.

The smoke from the fires was settling into the ranch valleys, back lit by the sun providing an amazing cascade of tinted color. I used my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens zoomed out to 156 mm to foreshorten the scene, making the rolling hills and mountain background seem compressed.

The remainder of the photos show the extent of the smoke from the fires  as well as the hot spots that helped spread the fire.

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Explorations in the Minneapolis Mill District

The Gutherie Theater design has always fascinated me, with its’ metallic blue skin reflects whatever is nearby, and the cantilevered “porch” that seems to defy the laws of gravity. When we were shooting weddings, the Gutherie and the Mill District were always our favorite locations for engagement sessions, because they both offered radically different environments for capturing young couples.

While shooting Friday I was struck by how this new structure would change the human scale that is what makes the Mill District feel good. I couldn’t help but notice how the area will be drastically changed in scale with the completion of the new Vikings’ stadium, a metallic and glass monster that will loom over the Mill District like a mother ship.

Today’s photo was shot while I was capturing some initial views of the erector set like bones that will hold the stadium together. I was looking for shots that included the stadium frame in contrast with the Gutherie, however, the sun wrapping the Theater in its’ beams was to much to resist.

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A visit to the Belles of Colorado

I’ve been uploading new batches of of photos to 500px for licensing and sale, the most recent batch were from our time in Colorado in 2010. We stayed in Vail and traveled to shooting locations each day. This set is from a morning visit to the Maroon Belles Wilderness Area.

We got there very early to try to catch the sunrise, the place was almost over run with touristas and a few of us more serious photographers. Often it was very challenging to frame a shot without people in it. The “Belles” are very photogenic and very ubiquitous as images, most of shots I’ve seen of them are straight on down the lake, so we went out of  our way to be a little more creative in what we shot.

You can see more here in our  Colorado collection.

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A natural end of the day

As I’ve mentioned many times, winter is not without its’ beauty, whether it be the constantly changing landscape of snow and ice or the layered textures and tonal variations of prairie and wetland grasses.

Our last stop this past weekend was along Blackdog road, a location we have often used to try to get some Eagle shots. On the way in we stumbled onto this wetland in the Minnesota River bottoms. The little stream you see immediately caught my eye as its’ glass smooth surface penetrated the rougher textures of the surrounding grasses and plants. Since we were shooting from the edge of the road there weren’t a lot spots where we could get easily frame a shot without including parts of the trees and shrubs that lined the road.

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A welcome day of light

After many disappointing predictions, that bright light that sometimes appears in the sky and is called the sun, finally appeared. Our cameras have been tucked away for the last several weeks because extreme cold and electronics don’t play well together. So with the appearance of the sun and warmer weather we headed out for some fun.

We had a loose agenda, starting at Nicollet Island and wandering to some locations we’ve wanted capture in winter. These  two shots were captured on Nicollet Island across the Mississippi looking towards the lock and dam and the 3rd Ave bridge. I used my newest camera, Sony a7mkII and 28-70mm lens. I was experimenting with a newly available technique of taking my light readings off the highlights instead of the middle tones. The new sensors are now capable of collecting many times the light info that our Nikons ever could. Which translates to better shadow detail and less blown highlights.

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After the morning snow

A frosted wind break in a field somewhere in SW Minnesota. The contrast of the relative flatness of the field to the vertical profile of the wind break makes me see the intersection of two planes. Most of my composition, especially with farm land has to do with the interaction of the horizontal plane with vertical elements. This interaction helps to emphasize the starkness and isolation of the farm landscape during winter.

The appearance of a family farm tucked away in its’ own small fortress of trees protecting it from the elements. The winter horizon of snow occasionally punctuated by farms accentuate the relative isolation of farm life.

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Skagit Valley Tulips

Back in the spring of ’08 we spent a day visiting the tulip fields of the Skagit Valley in Washington just north of Seattle.

The Skagit Valley is the second largest tulip growing area in the world and the growers were celebrating the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. The fields were filled with every shade and color of Tulip and spring bulb you could imagine, the colors were mind blowing acres of reds, yellows,purples, whites and oranges.

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Waiting for Persephone

A few years ago, pre-polar Vortex, I did a series on wet land plants after they froze. One of the plant types I focused on was the Milk Weed, I wanted to capture the contrast of the frozen above ground portion and the release of its’ seeds. The seed release signaled the plant’s coming rebirth in the spring.

This photo is one from that series and shows the frozen seed pods exposing their contents to the wind so the seeds could be scattered and the plant reborn. It reminded me of the return of Persephone from Hades and the pending rebirth that spring represents.

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