Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ely Minnesota Workshop

I used to wonder what the big deal was regarding the lakes in northern Minnesota. People who vacationed there talked about the place with reverence. Photographers claimed the scenery and light was like no other place. The fishing, of course is legendary.

I've been there for the last 4 consecutive years.....always in late September. And, now I know what all the talk is about.

Regardless of the current weather conditions, or how the fall-color is progressing; there really is something magical about this place. In particular the remotely located town of Ely. Right next to the Canadian border, this special place keeps calling me back, along with many others.....year after year.

On this last trip, we were lucky enough to get introduced to a real local, who showed us around to all his favorite places. This type of assistance has it's inherent risks. Too often, you can get dragged around on a wild goose chase.

Not this time. Far from it.

Chuck Wick, an Ely resident, has been there for most of his life, and REALLY knows the outdoors. Like no one I've ever met. Not just the special locales to visit for photographs, but he's intimately familiar with all the local flora and fauna. And, with his gentle, soft-spoken advice, we had a first rate naturalist with us, for several days, as our personal guide.

One of the highlights of the week was to be able to venture off to visit Sig Olson's legendary cabin at Listening Point. From what I could figure....Sig was the John Muir of the region. Do some online research, and you'll be pretty amazed at his writings and introspective lifestyle.

Some of the shots here were taken inside the cabin. I really wanted to capture the feel of the place, even though the lighting conditions were pretty bleak. But, this is a situation when really long exposures to capture the details in the shadows....and letting the highlights blow totally out works well. The histograms on a couple of these are pretty scary.....massive spikes at the far right side....along with the flashing overexposure warnings covering most of the frame. But, there's times when basic rules are broken....and this is one.

I shot the ambient scene from the foot of the bed a couple ways. The first version is using an 18mm lens at f/11 for 3 seconds. Good shadow information, and the windows are completely blown out. The slightly varied second version has the added touch of a NIK software filter....their Classic Soft Focus. It's pretty subtle....in fact, you might not notice too much of a difference when viewing the images at the small size....try clicking on em, for a larger view, with more detail.

Then, just because I had the flash units along, we tried another, more conventional version. Using enough flash power on the interior from two, off-camera boxes, we were able to bring the light levels up high enough to shoot at f/11 at 1/60th second.....which gave the interior a totally different look....but, allowed us to record proper detail in the areas immediately out the windows.

Sig was quite the renaissance man...writer, philosopher, fisherman, avid canoeist, and conservationist. He died in '82, and the cabin is almost exactly the same as when he last was there.

I wanted to capture the true ambiance of the tiny, cozy room.....so, small apertures and long shutter speeds were the solution. The 11-18mm lens was a real blessing for these shots. It's nice that we now have the use of wide glass for the APS sensors. It was a long time coming.

I found his vintage, fishing tackle box, sitting on a shelf. I couldn't resist the temptation to open it and see what kind of lures the guy used. The gear was almost an exact replica of my grandpa's arsenal from forty years ago. There were still the paint chips on the topwater plugs from the repeated attacks by the toothy Walleyes! All I did was walk out to the front steps, which were covered with pine needles, and sat it down. A perfect background for this timeless relic.

On another venture, Chuck invited us to his residence in Ely. I was thinking, maybe grab a cup of coffee and shoot the breeze. Not so. More situations emerged as photo fodder! Apple trees in his back yard were being drizzled by the late afternoon rain. And, attached to his house was a classic log cabin style living room. It looked like a scene out of Country Living magazine.

This interior shot of this killer room proved to be a real challenge. Not having any flash units with me, there appeared to be no way to pull it off. The dynamic range between the extremely bright sunlight in the yard, and the deep shadows in the dimly lit room was extreme! A quick in-camera metering session indicated 6 stops difference. Not gonna happen.

Then, I remembered HDR and my newly acquired Photomatix software......perfect solution. I quickly set up the tripod, and did a series of six varying exposures, all at the same aperture....f/16. The exposures were spaced in one stop increments from 1/30th for the exterior to one full second for the darkest portions of the interior.

It's amazingly simple with this new program....just drag the bracketed files into the window, and let it chug away. The results right out-of-the-chute were almost perfect!

The image above was created using the same technique, and the Photomatix assist. It's hard to believe it, but you're looking at the interior of a Yurt....which, in case you don't know, ( I didn't) is a portable, and sometimes temporary housing structure. This particular one was erected by Chuck and friends. He tells me it comes in kit form....and it sounds fairly simple to construct. It's on an elevated wooden platform, and enclosed in an insulated canvas skin. No electricity in his....but, there's a wood stove and kerosene lamps. With a rooftop vent, and flexible plastic windows. It can handle the Minnesota winters. Enough said.

Back inside the lakeside cabin, I spotted this great wooden chair......sitting literally almost in the dark. The time exposure at ISO 100 was 10 seconds at f/11. Daylight white balance.
Handheld.........yuk-yuk. This baby is gonna look great once I find time to do a B&W conversion in the new NIK Silver EFX Pro software

Spotted this unusual Birch tree on a trail back from one of the many un-pronouncable waterfalls in the area. Overcast and almost raining, the soft light was nearly perfect. A small opening in the wooded area immediately behind the camera provided just enough direct light to cause the small highlights in the wet bark.
Can't wait for next September.

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