Burnham Graphic Arts | If You Freeze It, They Will Come

If You Freeze It, They Will Come

March 01, 2014  •  1 Comment

A photo pilgrimage to the Ice Caves of Northern Wisconsin.  Part 1   (Part 2 >)

“A million miles from nowhere, is better than going nowhere, a million times.” 
― Anthony Liccione


 And then what happens when a million other people show up? 

TouristsTouristsRecord number of people out to see the ice caves  


 And when it gets airplay on the radio and posted on every news website on earth, they will come. 

I made the decision to drive 540 miles north to the Apostle Island National Lakeshore after seeing some of the photos being posted online.  I was wrapping up one last week at my regular job and built in some time off before starting another.  I saw it as an opportunity to start finding interesting places to photograph and although it looked like 100,000 other people might have had the same exact idea, I scheduled it on a Monday and Tuesday so to minimize the weekend crowds I was reading about.

[See the full photo portfolio here:  http://www.artistasylum.com/icecaves]

So I floated the idea to my wife, saying that I'd like to do something cool before I started my new job and the ice caves would be a great place to go photograph.  And the response was, "I would love to go see that".  "But," I said, and continued with a long list of why the family would want to avoid doing this:

  • We would have to go on a weekend and I want to avoid the sheer number of people that are going to inundate the area on Saturday and Sunday.
  • It's kind of hard to get good shots when there are 100+ people constantly in the frame.  
  • We would have the kids with us and you know they would hate it, because a kids job is to hate things that you like (except for sugary cereal, in which case they are always on board). 
  • We have been through enough Winter in central Illinois, why would they want to go 500 miles NORTH? 
  • The drive is 9 hours long, and I'm NOT stopping.
  • If you do go on a Monday and Tuesday, the kids have to miss school.

So the list of reasons why I wanted to go alone was growing and although my wife did want to go, she eventually gave her blessing.  Under tourist circumstances, I would have been all for the family going.  Maybe next time, in the Summer, when it's not 15 degrees and snowing.

Roots #3Roots #3Tree roots take hold in the cracks of the sandstone cliffs at the Ice Caves at Apostle Island National Lakeshore. Just to be clear, when I am out photographing I am not sightseeing.  That may sound contradictory, but I'm not visiting an art gallery.  I don't have a set agenda.  I have a starting point, but there is no middle point to eat lunch (I only brought a thermos of hot chocolate for the whole day) or any stopping point where I have to pack it up.  I may stop and wait in one place for hours at a time.  I crawl and sit and watch and wait and move one way then another.  Then I walk fast.  Then I move painfully slow.  The point I'm trying to make here is that I am not fun to be around when I'm taking pictures, unless you are trying to learn how I take pictures, then you can at least pretend to like it.  The same thing happens when I'm driving with my camera.  I'll pass a scene, turn around, pass it again, decide if it's worthy, then turn around again and look for a place to park.  If I don't, then I turn around again and look on the other side.  One can get dizzy.

Tree on SandstoneTree on SandstoneTree roots take hold in the cracks of the sandstone cliffs at the Ice Caves at Apostle Island National Lakeshore. I left home (Tremont, IL) on Sunday afternoon.  The drive up was uneventful, even peaceful, until I got to the dreaded roundabouts of Northern Wisconsin, of course.  I'm not sure what crazed British soul got the freeway planning job in Wisconsin, but if they were terribly popular, there wouldn't be websites dedicated to hating them.  I don't see any "I hate intersections" websites.  Just sayin'.  Don't get me started on the "jug handles" in New Jersey.

 I arrived in Ashland, about 25 minutes South of the caves, around midnight.  I got there right before a Winter Weather Alert.  5-10" of snow was expected on Monday.  Great.  That means cloudy with a chance of snowballs in that area.  I was hoping to get there way before sunrise to take some moonlight shots.  Now that idea was scuttled, so I slept in and got out there right after sunrise.  The parking lot already had 20 cars in it and the DNR guy was there handing out parking envelopes, not a good sign.  Also, all the songs on the radio on the way up were about some aspect of dying, which was unnerving, seeing as I was walking out on the same lake that Gordon Lightfoot lamented about, except in frozen form.

From a quote on a random blog on the internet for example: "We get there early in the morning just before the 2,000 other people arrived".  Turns out that estimate was low.  I didn't realize how many people took President's Day off.  After reviewing my shots, I must have made an unconscious effort to take photos that did NOT have many people in them. 

The snow started almost immediately, but I managed to get some interesting large icicle shots like the one above.  With heavy overcast skies and flurries, it was hard to get any decent landscape shots.  So I stuck close and looked for interesting patterns and people.  On the way, someone close by spotted a bald eagle's nest, with the occupant perched right above it.  This was the only time I saw him the whole trip and although my long lens (A Sigma 150-500 telezoom) couldn't handle the shot under the lighting, I felt lucky to have seen him at all.  I flubbed on the shutter speed though.  I set my camera at ISO100 and had I set my ISO higher, I could have gotten a sharper image.  As is, I was at 500mm, f6.3 @1/50 sec.  Tsk-Tsk, I should have been at least at 1/250 on this with a tripod.  ISO400 or 800 would have been a good start.  The lens is great in good light, though.  See my Performance portfolio , most of the shots of the Thunderbirds were with the Sigma.

The EagleThis is at 500mm and is cropped to about 1/9 of the original frame. That tells you how far I was away.


There were a lot of photographers, but even more "cellographers". 

The cellphone woman The cellphone guy

Now, I don't have a top of the line tele-zoom (Sigma 18-250 Macro/Zoom), but with the combination of that and the D7100's 24MP, I was able to crop the hand of the guy on the right and was able to make out not only his glove brand, but the brand of cellphone.   And this was taken at ISO100 f/11 @1/8sec.  I think I'll keep this lens.







There were a lot of people who commented to me that it must have been hard to get a shot without people in it.  I always told them that sometimes people are the most important part of a photo.  For Example...

How big is this ice column?  Not easy to estimate, is it? 

I don't know, probably big, but you still are left wondering.

Wait for someone interesting to wander into the photo and it's all very clear, isn't it?

Ice ColumnIce ColumnA hiker admires the massive column of ice on the sandstone cliffs at Apostle Island National Lakeshore

Honestly, I wouldn't stand there.


Because of the heavy snow outside, I couldn't shoot what I wanted since the wind was blowing snow onto my lens and covering my cameral with snow.  I spent a lot of time with my knit hat over my entire camera body.  I actually heard someone say "Hey cute, he has a hat for his camera".  I wish I had taken a picture of it, but that would have involved having a second camera or some creative time space juxtaposition.  I bet Dr. Who could do it.  So I stuck close to the walls and in the caves when they were free of people.

NeedlesCondensation on the cave walls drips over a large surface creating "needles" on the ceiling

Ice does funny things when free to do what ice does

Weird Ice thingsThis looked like buck teeth

It's Bacon!

Cave BaconIt's (Cave) Bacon!Ice formation on the sandstone cliffs at the Ice Caves at Apostle Island National Lakeshore.

In the caves, I played with some in-camera HDR shots. (Below) 
But since the sky and lake were both white, only the lone hiker shows up.  That was enough for me.

Ice CaveIce CaveFrozen ice cave along the Apostle Island National Lakeshore


The last shot I took that day was of the crowds heading back to the parking lot (and some late comers arriving)  One shot I don't remember taking gave me the creeps.  I don't remember these two on the right...


Or I was taking the shot and waiting for them to walk out of it, but they stopped for some reason.  But I think I actually caught them walking, but at a point where it looked like they were posing.  But they look so serious.  Photo-bombed by ghosts?  With lift tickets?

That was supposed to be my only day out.  I was sore from a five mile hike.  I was going to head back home on Tuesday morning.  But when I woke up at 5am, I saw stars.  That means clear weather, and blue skies, at least for the moment.  Weather report looked good.  I headed back out, but I stayed in one spot for the whole day.  Partly because I was sore from walking around the day before, but I also had a pre-visualization of one cliff face that I wanted to happen, I just didn't know when it would happen.  That's an adventure for part two.

What did we learn today?

  • If you have a chance to do something memorable, make sure it's ok with the family, then go anyway.
  • If you have a chance to photograph an eagle perched above his nest on Lake Superior for 10 minutes, it's ok to use 5 of those minutes to make a deal with Satan so you can have a 1000mm f4 prime lens on hand.  Or just use what you have, but for god's sake, make sure you have the right shutter speed.  kick kick kick
  • People take President's day off.  WT..?
  • The ice along the sea caves moves.  You don't notice it, but it moves.  You can hear the muffled booms underneath you.
  • Even though people knew they were going to be walking over miles of ICE, they still wore regular boots and shoes.  I'm sure there were many sore bottoms the next day.
  • Teenagers can be extremely loud creatures.  Screaming isn't exactly what you want with 2 ton icicles hanging over you.

Go to Part 2 >

See the full photo portfolio here:  http://www.artistasylum.com/icecaves


LINDA GITS(non-registered)
Jim, Thank you for doing this and sharing your talent. Really great job.
No comments posted.
January February March April May June July August September October (2) November (1) December (1)
January (2) February March (2) April May June (1) July August September (1) October (1) November December
January February March (1) April May (2) June July August September (1) October (2) November December
January February March April May (1) June July August September October November December (1)
January February March April May June July (2) August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December