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Walter C Photo Musings

Upper Midwest Adventure Summary

After my 48-hour adventure to Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota, I have a few general observations:

  1. People of the Upper Midwest are genuinely nice and their driving manners are exemplary!
  2. Frontier Airlines was a great discovery!  Low fares, new  planes, nice people, and flies from regional airport in Central NJ—I’ll definitely be flying with them again!
  3. Camera wise, I didn’t see any significant difference between the Canon 5DMKII versus the 5DS…just bigger files.
  4. Completing my 50 states in North Dakota was wonderful—saving the best for last!
  5. Despite the rainy weather for half of my trip, and post-peak autumn conditions, the landscape was beautiful and worth a return visit another time.

Upper Midwest Adventure – Day 3

The rains ended during the night as I glanced out the window to see Venus and Jupiter shining brightly in the southeastern sky.   I got out around 5:30 hoping to find the classic Fargo Theater sign neon still aglow but was disappointed to find the were lights turned off—still a good shot.

I then tried to find a vantage point along the Red River for some water & sky images, but again was disappointed to find all the parks gated for the night.  I returned to the hotel for a late breakfast (7 AM on the weekends) before departing for a day touring Northern Minnesota.

I drove eastward on MN Rt-10 through expansive farmland, occasionally pausing to shoot some grain elevators silhouetted in the predawn glow.  I made it to Detroit Lakes as the sun broke the horizon just before 8 AM.

Passing through the village of Audubon, I noticed signs for Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge and decided to follow them northward through the fields.  This is glacial black soil country and the wet dirt roads were difficult to maneuver in my rental Camry.

I didn’t know what to expect from a wildlife refuge in farm country.  Signs indicated I had entered the refuge but it just looked like more of the same.  Finally I saw a small pond in low area with a few ducks near the rushes.  The sun was bit higher and the field grasses were aglow with red light.  I found an information booth which offered a history of the refuge and defined the environment as Prairie Pothole Wetlands.

Around the next left turn of the field grid system I was treated to an amazing spectacle —a larger pond filled with Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) illuminated in the low-angled sunlight.  The windows went down and I grabbed the 5Ds with 100-300 tele and fired away—I appreciated having the extra 100 mm reach in this new zoom design.

I then risked getting out of the car for closer shots.  The swans went silent while they assessed the risk of my presence.  I stood still and they accepted I wasn’t a threat, returning to their happy social honking and I continued to shoot some of the best shots of the adventure.

I continued  northward on MN Rt-59 then eastward on MN Rt-113 through White Earth Indian Reservation grabbing window shots along the way.  I was heading to my primary target of the day—Itasca State Park in search of the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Northern Minnesota was well past peak and 90% of the trees were winter bare.  However golden needles of Tamarack (Larix laricina) a deciduous conifer provided wonderful splashes of color.   The headwaters experience didn’t disappoint.  You can cross the Mississippi River in a variety of ways.  Although tradition calls for getting your feet wet, I chose to stay dry and use the walk bridge and log to cross.  The light was fantastic making some good images.

Feeling great about the morning I hurried back to the car with plans oo go on to Bemidji and possibly Voyageurs N.P.  When I started the car a “Maintenance Required” light appeared and changed everything.  I made the decision to not risk things by going farther north, but rather return to the airport along the main roads.

Arriving in Minneapolis a few hours earlier than planned, I enjoyed a late afternoon walk through Minnehaha Falls Park, part of the Mississippi River National River and Recreation Area.   Although I had to abandon my north country plans, I was rewarded with great peak foliage and shooting a 53-foot waterfall made famous in the Song of Hiawatha .(Interestingly Longfellow never saw the falls!)

Back to MSP and the end of the adventure.  Summary and slideshow to follow soon!

Upper Midwest Adventure – Day 2

A rainy start to my day didn’t dampen my spirit of adventure or resolve. 

After a restless night and early rise I was out the door around 6:30 driving eastward to Wisconsin.  Sunrise was due at 7:56 but there was no expectation of that as my wipers cleared a light rain falling in the morning darkness.  The news reported that had it had not rained for weeks and they were happy to have it—I didn’t feel the same.

I found my way to Willow River State Park but sat in the parking lot staring at the rain on my windshield for about an hour.  Without rain gear, there was no way I could hike to the falls without damaging the cameras.

I reluctantly departed and decided to drive north to find another waterfall about 30 miles away with closer access.   As I left the parking lot, the Tire Pressure Warning Light came on and I became very concerned considering I was in the middle of nowhere.  I’ve had experience with this light before—one time it meant a very quick flat and other times it was just the result of the air temperature or a slow leak.

I cautiously drove north to Somerset, WI and was fortunate to find a small tire center open that discovered a roofing nail leaking air badly from my rear tire.  A half hour later on my way with new confidence.  Northview Service had WiFi and I was able to check the weather radar. There seemed to be a short lull between two bands of heavy rain so  I decided to return to Willow to attempt to shoot the falls.

I made the one mile hike into the gorge on a wet leaf-covered path that was steeper than any I’ve ever walked before.  The light was very low perfect for long exposures of the impressive Willow River Falls.   I stayed long enough to get some good images but departed quickly for the heart-pounding climb back to the parking lot before the expected next band of rain.

As I began to drive back towards Minnesota the rain returned with a vengeance. I abandoned my other shooting plans and began a 4-hour rainy drive towards North Dakota, hoping to arrive before dark.

The rain never lightened during that treacherous drive.  Around 3 PM as I crossed the Red River,  “I Can Hear Music”  featuring Carl Wilson’s exquisite vocals played on the radio and welcomed me into North Dakota.  (Listen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qqyx4TW4Ptw )

In Fargo I stopped at the visitor’s center for maps and brochures and volunteered that it was a special day for me, completing my 50 state list in ND.  They asked if I was aware of the their club.  I said I wasn’t.  Apparently many other people also visit ND as their final state, so they started the  YOU SAVED THE BEST FOR LAST” Club. 

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I  was then ceremoniously presented with gifts (T-Shirt / Magnet / Lapel Pin / Membership Card and Certificate) and posed for photos.  It was the high point of the day!

I then went to visit the Roger Maris Museum at the local mall and then checked into the Homewood Suites Fargo for a rainy evening of blogging.  Hoping for clear skies tomorrow!

Upper Midwest Adventure – Day 1

A few weeks ago, while sitting in my car between presentations checking e-mail, I saw a promotional flash sale that seemed too good to be true.   I quickly phoned Susan to double check my calendar.  Am I doing anything 10/22 – 10/24?”   With her confirmation that the dates were indeed open for me, I quickly jumped on the offer and purchased a roundtrip ticket on Frontier Airlines for $1 each way—with taxes I paid $30 for a roundtrip ticket from TRENTON to MINNEAPOLIS.

Why Minneapolis?  Well, it happens to be nestled between two states still missing from my “States LIST”—WI and ND.  A 48-hour adventure to the Upper Midwest will complete the list and hopefully yield some interesting photos for my AMERICA calendar.

For this trip, I borrowed some equipment from CANON and I’m eager to see what 50 megapixels looks on a 5Ds body on a few new zooms an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS and an EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS.

I’m also flying out a small regional airport for the first time.  TTN is about 45 minutes from my home with an easy drive through bucolic Somerset and Mercer counties with no hassle reasonable parking ($8/day) and a short walk to the terminal.

The airport WiFi was very weak in the main terminal and even worse after security.  The page loads were so slow it wasn’t worth the wait…reminiscent of the early days of AOL dial-up.

Frontier is a budget airline where everything has a price, including carry-on bags and even the ability to select your own seat.  I love a bargain and made it a mission to see how cheaply I could fly.  I checked-in online and fearlessly passed all the offers accepting the no cost option of whatever seat was available

Prior to the trip I also decided to buy a new smaller hard case for my cameras.  Frontier does allow one personal item such as a briefcase.  I found a small case that was within the(14x18x8) limit not considered a carry-on.  The cost of the case was $29 on eBay cheaper than $30 carry-on fee would have been at the gate.

Within this case I successfully packed 2 cameras with 3 lenses, 13” MacBook Pro, i Pad mini, GPS, assorted power chargers and accessories.  The hardware was buffered with some underwear, socks and a toothbrush.  On my body I layered a  polo-shirt, denim shirt, pullover sweatshirt and a coat; even though it was a balmy 76 in NJ, I expect it would be chilly in MN.

The Frontier airport staff seemed young, hip and friendly.  There were no lines for security and TSA procedures were the same as larger airports including arms-up x-ray, and pat down of my bulky sweatshirt. 

The transition between the incoming plane’s arrival and passenger deplaning to our boarding seemed very quick.  No jetway at TTN so we lined-up and walked outside and up portable ramps near the plane.  It only took a few minutes until we were soon ready for takeoff.  The flight crew was equally cool and quirky as orange-haired “Crystal Dawn” gave the safety announcements.  The A319 was about 60% full and as soon as the cabin door closed, we were allowed to spread out and find better seats.  Of course, food and drink was for sale, but I brought a bag of nuts and Craisins to graze on while I wrote this blog.

My flight landed at 7:38 CDST, I rented a Camry from Hertz,  and drove a few miles to stay for at the Hampton Inn St. Paul-Woodbury using  Hilton Honors points.   Tomorrow AM I’ll cross the St. Croix river into Hudson, WISCONSIN (#49) and shoot some waterfalls at Willow State Park.   Photos coming soon!

Macro Walk

After days of gloomy weather, clearing skies prompted a late afternoon walk at a local park with one of my favorite lenses, the Canon EF100 mm f/2.8 USM Macro.  This popular lens introduced in 2006 is still available today and retails around $550 new, or $300 – $400 for used or refurbished.  A newer “L ” version with image stabilization is also available for around $900.

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This 100 mm macro is an optimal focal length and very versatile.  It offers 2X magnification as a short telephoto, as well as 1:1 close focusing for capturing detail at a reasonable distance. Although autumn color was the subject of the day, it’s also an excellent lens for portraiture.

In my opinion, the 100 mm USM Macro is one of the best value lenses available from Canon; very sharp, distortion free, a great walk-around lens.
WC

Judging a Photo Contest

For several years, I have judged the Hunterdon County Library Photo Contest and this week I enjoyed my return visit for their annual show.  I also judge several other photo shows, which seems somewhat ironic considering that I personally have never entered a photo contest.

Some photography contests have strict judging guidelines, following the 12 criterion of the Photographic Exhibitions Committee of the Professional Photographers of America; other contests are more relaxed and judging is based on the whims of the jurors.  In general, all contests are judged on technical quality, composition and artistic appeal.

The Hunterdon show is an amateur contest which includes a student category.  I always enjoy seeing the images of young artists who haven’t yet been stifled by life, rules or expectations.

When I walk into the gallery, I do a very quick scan of all the entries and 99% of the time the winners emerge from that first impression.  I’m often surprised to find so many entries that are technically not up to par, either too dark, too light or simply out of focus.  

Other personal peeves include overly-manipulated images with unnatural coloration or hyper-sharpening .  Although I am judging the image I also consider the presentation and I reject sloppy matting or framing, and conversely I’m wary of images with over-the-top custom framing or photos that exceed the contest’s size limit.  Yes, bigger is better, but playing by the rules wins the ribbon as well as my respect.

After rejecting the technically deficient, it comes down to originality and artistic appeal which is very apparent to me at first glance.

WC

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