Focus Trek #3 - If You Freeze It, They Will Come
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.”
And then what happens when a million other people show up?
TouristsRecord 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:
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 #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 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 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 (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)
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