Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge

I got to spend a week in my home state of Michigan recently (both peninsulas). Though I’ve been living in Minneapolis for the last thirty plus years, I’ve been a Yooper and I’ve been a Troll. For those who don’t speak Michiganian, that means I’ve lived in the Upper Peninsula (Yooper) as well as the Lower (Troll, who lives below “the bridge”). “The Bridge” is the one and only Mackinac Bridge, and it’s a beauty!

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge as seen from St. Ignace

Mackinac Bridge Trivia

The “Mighty Mac” was built more than 50 years ago and was considered an engineering marvel for it’s time. Many thought it couldn’t be done. The bridge connects the Upper and Lower Peninsula’s of Michigan over the Straits of Mackinac where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet. It is the largest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere and fifth largest in the world to this day!

The photo simply doesn’t do it justice. Just a few facts and figures from the Mackinac Bridge Authority:

The height of the road deck at the center span is 200 feet above the surface of the water. The deepest part of the channel that runs under the bridge is almost 300 feet. That’s deep water! No wonder many folks thought that building a five mile long bridge couldn’t be done in this particular spot back in the 1950’s!

As amazing a feat as it was, building this bridge was not without consequence. Five men died during construction and a few others have lost their lives working on the bridge since it opened.

Mackinac Bridge Experiences

Being a Michigan native who’s lived in both peninsulas, I’ve made more Mackinac Bridge crossings than I can count. It’s never boring 😉 Two in particular stick in my mind:

There are two things that will shut the bridge down: high wind and poor visibility. Sometimes you get both, especially in winter when a snow squall blows through. After sitting for an hour in a parked traffic jam during one such squall more than 30 years ago, they finally opened the bridge to passenger cars with a bridge escort. High profile vehicles (trucks, campers) and cars pulling trailers still had to wait for better conditions. Those of us in cars would be allowed to cross only with the Mackinac Bridge Authority “pace car” leading the way. We were instructed by the woman at the toll booth to turn our headlights on, don’t lose sight of the car in front of us, don’t try to pass, don’t change lanes, and don’t stop. We were the last car in line and followed the single file caravan behind the pace car doing a blistering 20 mph. It. Took. Forever. When we finally reached the other side, the Mackinac Bridge Authority car did a U turn to lead the next group going the opposite direction and another woman at that end radioed that we had all made it across. They were literally doing a head count. Wowza!

The second white knuckle ride I had was getting behind someone pulling a trailer who apparently was afraid of heights. As I mentioned before, the road on this bridge rises 200 feet above the water and it’s five miles long. All you can see going up is sky and water. Lots and lots of sky and water. Technically, the roadway is part of I-75 with two lanes running each direction. The inside lanes are on metal grates and the outside lanes are asphalt with no shoulder. There is just a 3 foot wide catwalk for workers to walk on, so you are very close to the edge of the bridge on the outer lanes. The metal grates kind of grab your tires a bit and make a humming noise vs being next to the edge on the asphalt. Some people freak. The guy pulling the trailer in front of us did – he had that thing fish-tailing all over the road. Classic “Big Mac Panic Attack”. It happens often enough that the bridge authority has a Timid Driver Program where they will drive your vehicle across for you (for free).  And in case you’re wondering, yes… some people have plunged off the bridge.

Want to see what’s happening on the bridge right now? Check out the bridge cameras to catch a glimpse of the local weather and road conditions. Better yet, hop in your car and see it for yourself. It’s truly a sight to behold! Nothing says “Pure Michigan” like the Mackinac Bridge 🙂

 

New June Photos From Minnesota

I finally got around to doing some editing of photos that were taken last month – mostly at Blue Mounds State Park, but also some older ones from the North Shore of Lake Superior as well. That means a whole batch of new June photos from Minnesota have been uploaded to the gallery where they are available for viewing and purchase!

Tallgrass Prairie Sunrise

Tallgrass Prairie Sunrise

June Photos

Here are just a few of the shots I took last month.

The sunrises and sunsets were epic! And with open prairie, you can see for miles! At a high point in Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne, MN, you can see as far as Iowa and South Dakota.

Prairie Sunset

Prairie Sunset

As a slow trail runner I seem to attract a lot of buzzards, but this one actually looked me right in the eye…. lol.  No shortage of turkey vultures circling overhead, especially near the cliff walls. Waiting for the rock climbers, I guess 😉

 

Turkey Vulture in Flight

Turkey Vulture in Flight

Beautiful flowers that change by the month here in the northland summer.

 

Prairie Wildflowers

Hoary Vervain

I’ve still got lots more to go through from Pipestone National Monument, Blue Mounds State Park, and Jeffers Petroglyphs. I highly recommend visiting these spots yourself some time soon!

Blue Mounds Minnesota

Most of the time when I shoot in my home state, it’s within an hour of the Twin Cities or up along the North Shore of Lake Superior. But Minnesota is a large and diverse state, with everything from farmland to deciduous forests to conifer forests, loaded with lakes in most places (but not all), and rolling prairies filled with wildflowers and grasses that get taller than most people. This past weekend, I finally made a trip to the extreme southwestern corner near Luverne, MN to Blue Mounds State Park and the prairies of Minnesota!

Prairie Wall area of Blue Mounds State Park

Prairie Wall area of Blue Mounds State Park

Blue Mounds

Blue Mounds is one of Minnesota’s hot rock climbing spots, so it’s surprising that I’d never made it out here during my climbing days. The Sioux quartzite cliffs stretch about a mile and a half and reach a height of 90 feet. The rock is a beautiful mix of pink, purple, red, orange, and yellow hues that seem to change color with the time of day and direction of the sun. The abundant rock outcrops and shallow soil prevented this small patch of land from being plowed as agriculture moved into the area, but heavy grazing has diminished many of the native grasses and wildflowers that make up the prairie.

Pre-dawn Prairie Sky

The area is rich with Native American history and I highly recommend visiting the Jeffers Petroglyphs and Pipestone National Monument if you ever venture to this area. I may do separate posts about those two locations at some point 🙂

Antique Tepee

I started my day by getting up and out on the trail at 4 am to catch the sunrise. It was a doozy! Hot, humid, hazy, and windy.

Prairie Sunrise

Prairie Sunrise

Blue Mounds Wildlife

While watching the sun rise, there was a herd of wild bison off to my left grazing peacefully and a chorus of morning bird-songs filled the air. Pure bliss. Several of the birds are not regulars in the Twin Cities, so it was fun to see and hear things like Bobolinks, Common Nighthawks, Dickcissels, and Rock Pigeons just to name a few.

Rock Pigeon Shadow
Rock Pigeon pair casting a shadow

Another major Blue Mounds attraction is the aforementioned small herd of genetically pure wild bison that roam the prairie in this park. By genetically pure, I mean that they don’t have beef DNA that most of today’s bison have since many were crossbred (naturally as well as intentionally) with cattle over the years. They can be tricky to spot in the rolling landscape and tall grass, but I did manage to find them. They were too busy grazing with their heads down in the tall grass to get good photos, but still magnificent to watch.

Blue Mounds Prairie Plants

The prairies are beautiful and change by the week with different wildflowers and grasses blowing in the breeze.

Prairie Wildflowers

And yes, there are native cactus in Minnesota! Patches of prickly pear grow in the shallow soil atop the Sioux quartzite outcrops. A few of them were in bloom, sporting beautiful yellow flowers.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus

Equally spectacular as the sunrises are the sunsets. The mostly Big Bluestem grasses seen in this photo can grow up to seven feet tall!

Prairie Sunset

Prairie Sunset

To See More or Purchase

If you’d like to see more photos from southwestern Minnesota’s prairies, check out the galleries 🙂

 

 

Major Update – Topaz Impression 2

If you like creating photographic images with painterly effects, then you’ve probably used (or at least heard about) the Topaz Labs Impression plug-in.  Impression is a software product that allows you to easily create a variety of realistic painting effects quickly and effortlessly. Are you ready for some great news? Topaz has just released a major update to the software and we now have Topaz Impression 2!

Topaz Labs Impression 2

Before & After using Topaz Impression 2

Are you ready for some even better news? If you already own the original version of Impression, you can get a FREE upgrade. If you want to snatch it up, you can save 40% off the full price until July 7, 2016!

Topaz Impression 2

So, what’s new with Topaz Impression 2?

A lot!

This is a major update gives you more powerful processing with a completely redesigned framework and the following additional features:

• 30+ New effects – Impression 2 now comes with over 140 effects!
• Larger Brush Panel – no more squinting to find the brush you need.
• Masking – Impression 2 now includes masking within the application! Using a brush, color range, luminosity range, or spot masking, the masking panel even includes a color aware tool.
• Topaz Community – now you can share your created effects with the other users of Impression 2 with a click of a button, similar to Texture Effects. Not seeing an effect you like? Browse the Topaz Community to surf an ocean of custom user made effects. You’ll also be able to upload your own custom made effects for other users to download, if you wish.
• New brush customization options:
– “Number of strokes” options to change the number of strokes applied to the image.
– “Large Brush Volume” that adjust paint volume in large areas of color to help focus on the details.
– “Stroke “Rotation Variation” to add randomness to your effect strokes.
• Highlight and Shadow control in the lighting menu.
• Support for High DPI (4k) monitors in Windows 7/8/10
…and much more.

Deer_ba

New System Requirements

With all of these improvements, your computer will need to be able to do some heavy lifting! There have been some compatibility changes to the program as well. Impression 2 requires Windows 7+, Mac OSX 10.9+, and a GPU with OpenGL 3.3 or higher.

Changes from Impression v1: the Mac OS requirement is now 10.9+, And OpenGL is now 3.3+

Topaz Impression 2 works as stand alone software or can be used as a plug-in to Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop products.

Topaz Labs Impression 2

Before & After using Topaz Impression 2

Save 40% While It’s On Sale

If you’d like to take advantage of the discounted price of only $59.99 (regularly $99.99), use coupon code 2IMPRESS  – valid until July 7, 2016. As always, you can download the software and take it for a FREE 30 day test spin to see if you like it before you plunk down your hard earned cash 😉

Topaz Labs Spring Into Summer Sale

If you follow my blog, you know I’m a big fan of Topaz Labs photo processing software. If you’d like to pick up their awesome collection yourself, here’s some really great news: you can get all 17 software plug-ins for 40% off during their Spring Into Summer Sale!

That’s a savings of $200 off the regular price thru May 22 – and Topaz upgrades are always free for as long as you own the program. Want to try before you buy? They offer a FREE 30 day trial on all of their products 🙂

Here’s what’s included:

Adjust – add vivid color and dramatic contrast to your images.

Black & White Effects – several variations to convert your images to monotones.

Clarity – amazing control of adding clarity without the artifacts you get in other programs.

Clean – create smoothness while keeping texture and detail – great for skin!

Dejpeg – eliminate compression artifacts from jpg images.

Denoise – state of the art noise reduction software – great for high ISO images.

Detail – independently control small, medium, and large details.

Glow – add electrifying light to your images.

Impression – turn photos into paintings.

InFocus – you may be able to rescue blurred photos caused by motion blur.

Lens Effects – like using filters on your camera after the fact to create fog, haze, graduated color, blur, etc.

PhotoFX Lab – stand alone software that allows you to create a variety of effects quickly and easily.

Remask – my favorite tool for masking and compositing!

Restyle – apply different color palettes to transform your images.

Simplify – selectively remove image details to create painterly or art effects.

Star Effects – create natural looking lighting effects.

Texture Effects – possibly my absolute favorite, add grunge or subtle textures, double exposures, and more!

St. Paul Art Crawl 2016

It’s almost time for the Spring version of the St. Paul Art Crawl 2016!

St. Paul Art Crawl 2016

St. Paul Art Crawl 2016

The Spring version of the St. Paul Art Crawl 2016 takes place at several different artist studios and galleries throughout the city, with several locations close together in Lowertown, Downtown and Midtown. I hope you’ll hop on the Green Line for a free ride to the Dow Building at Raymond Station and stop by to say “Hello” some time during the event!

Dow Art Gallery

North Woods Photos will once again be showing at Dow Art Gallery along with 35-40 other artists, which is located on the first floor of the Dow Building at 2242 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55114. It’s easy to get to with free parking if you drive, or even better – right on the green line at Raymond Station. You can even get FREE RIDES to the art crawl via Metro Transit all weekend!

Special Exhibits!

There will be a special Student Exhibition featuring the work of a few St. Paul middle school and high school students. These students were chosen to participate because of their hard work and dedication towards the arts. Hopefully this exposure will give them real life experience in the world of art shows and galleries and encourage them to pursue their dreams.

There will also be a special “Spring Outside the Box” exhibit showing during the Art Crawl.

In addition to amazing art, we will be providing free food, beverages and entertainment to our Dow Art Gallery guests!

Musicians:

Vanessa Bray – keyboard and guitar

The Olson Brothers – acoustics from rural Minnesota.

Scott Simmons – guitar & vocals, pastor and writer.

Literature Readings:

Stephanie Schultz

Ashley Ott – aspiring writer, poet, artist, and intern at Dow Art Gallery

Support Local Artists

Grizzly Forest Double Exposure

Grizzly Forest
Currently on display as metal print at Dow Art Gallery

Support local artists by stopping by and investing in a unique piece of art for yourself, or pick up the perfect gift for family or friends! I will have professional conservation grade archival quality photographic prints for sale as well as metals and canvases. Other artists will have textiles, sculptures, paintings and drawings. St. Paul Art Crawl is the biggest public art event of the entire year – DON’T MISS IT!

 

Waterfowl Migration 2016

There have been LOTS of ducks, geese, swans, grebes, mergansers, teals, and other birds passing through the Twin Cities the last few weeks. This year’s waterfowl migration has come earlier than usual with the mild winter and early ice out. It’s always fun to see birds return in the spring as it’s a sign that winter is about over, but it’s especially fun to see the species that are just passing through on their way further north. We have the luxury of seeing Mallard Ducks, Canada Geese and Trumpeter Swans all summer, but some of the others are just around for a week or two.

Here are a few sightings so far for spring waterfowl migration 2016:

Or if you prefer to look at stills:

Spring Waterfowl Migration

As seen on Lake Harriet, right in the city of Minneapolis:

American Coots

American Coots – their feet remind me of aquatic plants!

 

Gadwall Ducks

Gadwall Ducks

 

Red Breasted Mergansers

Red Breasted Mergansers

 

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

Also on Lake Harriet so far this spring, Buffleheads, Northern Shovelers, and a Common Loon that has been eluding my camera lens.

As seen at Hyland Lake in the southern suburb of Bloomington:

Hooded Merganser Pair

Hooded Merganser Pair

 

Ring-Necked Ducks

Ring Necked Ducks

 

Trumpeter Swan Fairytale

Trumpeter Swan

Purgatory Creek in the southwest suburb of Eden Prairie still has LOTS of migrating waterfowl including Ring Necked Ducks and Ring Billed Gulls, but most are so far out in the lake I can’t identify them. Here are a few others:

Northern Shoveler Drake

Northern Shoveler Drake

 

Redhead Ducks

Redhead Ducks

 

Canada Goose in Flight

Canada Goose

Everything is on the move right now, so what you see on the lake one day can be completely different the next. In a couple of months, we’ll be seeing lots of summer babies, so stay tuned!

If you’d like to see more waterfowl or other wildlife photography, please visit my online wildlife gallery 🙂

 

Spring Migration

Winter this year was a bust here in the North Woods, but now it’s mid-March and we’ve gotten off to an early start with spring migration!

Trumpeter Swan Fairytale

Many Trumpeter Swans are back, along with Mallard Ducks and Canada Geese. But one of the best parts of spring for an Outdoor Photographer is getting to see birds that migrate through this area on the way to their summer nesting grounds. They don’t stick around these parts, so catching a glimpse of the various species that are just “passing through” is a thrill! Flocks of hundreds of Tundra Swans have been flying overhead, along with Ring Billed Gulls, Sandhill Cranes, and several species of waterfowl.

I’ve seen a few Hooded Mergansers on the local ponds

Hooded Merganser Pair

as well as some Ring-Necked Ducks.

Ring-Necked Ducks

I’ve only spotted one American Coot so far and am still waiting to see (and hear) Common Loons, Northern Shovelers, Teals, Osprey, and a bunch more that I’m forgetting at the moment. The local lakes have already iced-out here in the Twin Cities, so the spring migration is happening faster and earlier than usual this year.

Some of my favorite spots for watching are near the rivers: Mississippi, Minnesota, and St. Croix. The Three Rivers Parks are also great for seeing wildlife in the metro area. We’ve got some amazing wildlife refuge areas, including the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge right in the Twin Cities. The Bass Ponds area is a local hot-spot for spring migration and we even get lots of visitors on the Chain of Lakes right in Minneapolis.

eBird is a great site for finding hot-spots in your area 🙂

What migrating birds have you seen in your neck of the woods so far this year?

 

Sunrise at Artists Point

It’s amazing how different the same place can look just minutes apart during a sunrise or sunset. Here’s an example from Artists Point in Grand Marais, MN on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Sunrise at Artists Point

I had pulled an all-nighter shooting the Milky Way at nearby Two Island Lake in the Superior National Forest before heading down the hill to the Big Lake at 0:dark thirty. Getting out to the east end of Artists Point meant scrambling over unstable rocks along the Lake Superior shoreline in the pitch dark. Luckily, neither I nor any of my camera gear fell in the water. The things we photographers do to get the shots!

Blue Hour

The blue hour is the period of twilight during dawn each morning and dusk each evening when the sun is a significant distance below the horizon and the residual, indirect sunlight takes on a predominantly blue hue. In general, it starts about an hour before sunrise and lasts 30 minutes or so. Same at the other end, it starts about half an hour after sunset and lasts approximately 30 minutes.

Artists Point Blue Hour

Blue Hour

Dawn Breaking

About 15 minutes before sunrise, the sky begins to change from blue to pink or orange.

Artists Point Dawn Breaking

Dawn Breaking

Golden Hour

In photography, the golden hour is a period shortly after sunrise or before sunset during which daylight is redder and softer than when the Sun is higher in the sky. This is a magical time of day for dramatic landscape photographs. This is from the same location, just a slightly different composition.

Artist Point Sunrise

Artist Point Sunrise

Here’s another from the same spot (different composition) just a few minutes later:

Artist Point Sunrise

Artist Point Sunrise

I had the place all to myself, just listening to the waves rolling up against the rocky shoreline. All of these photos are up in the online Landscape Gallery if you’d like to take a closer look.

Which do you like best?