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Winter Waterfalls…..and Death Defying Acts

January 23, 2017  •  1 Comment

Late last week I set up home base on Island lake in Manitowish Waters while I made a winter waterfall photo circuit in northern Wisconsin and Michigan. My goal was to spend a couple of days shooting some off the area waterfalls. Little did I know that there would be “death defying acts” as part of the itinerary.

My first stop was Superior falls on the shoreline of Lake Superior. It’s located slightly north of Saxon Harbor and during this time of year is extremely less traveled. At 6:45am GPS told me that I had reached my location but the icy backroad that I was on told me different. I back tracked and eventually found the entrance.

Following the path to the falls I came across a ten-foot-wide section that resembled an old dirt road. The 70-foot decline that led to the base of the falls/Lake Superior shoreline was solid ice and in no way was I going to attempt that hike. Looking for a possible alternate solution I found that a heavy metal cable had been embedded in the ground and could be used as a railing.

So, I sat down, grabbed the cable with my left hand and slid all the way to the bottom. Getting back up was another issue but I’d tackle that when I returned.

I had two options at the bottom. Turn left and head to the falls or turn right and head to the icy shoreline of Lake Superior. It was a windless overcast morning so I decided to head to the lake to see if I could get a glimpse of the sunrise. Even on overcast days, sunrises on Lake Superior can be magnificent. Winter SunriseWinter SunriseLake Superior

The silence was overwhelming and once again made me appreciate the peacefulness that nature has to offer. I was fortunate to catch the sunrise and spent an hour sitting on a block of ice, taking in the beauty of a calm Lake Superior.

It was another 10-minute walk to the falls but they were completely frozen over, so I explored the base for a while and then headed back to the icy path. The only way I could figure to get back up was to kneel and use my upper body to pull myself along the cable line. It actually worked pretty well but my arms disapproved the following day.

On to Saxon falls…..

Located on the Montreal River, Saxon falls is only a few minutes from Superior falls. The falls sit in a deep gorge which I found was not easy to get to, at least not in the winter.

The journey started with a 50-foot eighteen-inch-wide footbridge over the river. The floor of the bridge had a 2-inch snow base on top of solid ice. Horrible conditions for crossing and based on lack of footprints it looked like I would be the first in a while. Thankfully the steel cables on each side of the bridge provided something to hold on to. After crossing the river, I found an additional 75 yards of bridge to hike before making it to the top of the gorge. Every step took about five seconds to ensure that I had a secure grip. I typically like an adventure but this was a bit nerve wracking.

When I reached the end, I found an 8-foot metal ladder that I had to crawl down only to find another ladder a few feet away that led back up to the continuation of the foot bridge……..of course the ladders were ice covered.

After scaling the second ladder I came to a small deck with a very long metal staircase. The staircase dropped deep into the gorge and I estimated it to be about 100 feet. I couldn’t tell if the staircase had a thin coat of ice on it so I decided to make my first common sense decision of the day and stay put. Slipping and falling on that staircase would have been disastrous.

I could see the falls from the deck so I got out my 70-200 zoom lens and photographed it for 15-20 minutes before heading back across the footbridge. Saxon FallsSaxon FallsMichigan

I spent another few minutes shooting the water flow at the Saxon dam before heading to Potato falls near Gurney.

Potato falls was easy to find, located off hwy. 169, outside of Gurney, WI.

Once there, you have the option of hiking to the upper falls or lower falls. My first choice was taking the path that stated “trail closed”. I soon realized how serious the sign was when I came to a 75 foot drop straight down where the earth had just eroded and fallen away.

 I then chose the lower falls and once again was faced with long stairways of ice covered steps. Made of wood and slightly less treacherous than the metal stairs, it was still a decent 20-minute hike to the base of the falls.

Hiking to the edge of the river, I found that it was half frozen but running freely. I hiked up stream but could not get to the base of the falls without walking across the ice, not something that I was willing to chance. I realized that I was now standing directly below the closed trail where the ground had eroded and soon began to see and hear rocks and dirt fall all around me. I am sure that the waterfall is spectacular during the fall, but on this day it was not worth hanging around for and possibly being buried in a landslide. I walked back downstream and took a 30-minute rest to enjoy the sound of running water before heading back up to the top.

Rain moved in and ended my day but after several hours of climbing I was ready to head back to home base.

 Bond Falls

Up the next day at 5:30am and off to Bond Falls. Another overcast day so I wasn’t counting on much color. I had decided early on that I wasn’t going to spend much time photographing the waterfall itself. Anyone can do that, so I focused on more of the intimate features of water flow and ice.   Bond Falls 3Bond Falls 3MIchigan UP

Bond falls is located in Michigan’s UP, just east of Paulding, MI. It is an impressive waterfall and considered to be one of the best in the area. It is well worth the trip and I am sure it gets a ton of visitors during the summer. Today I was the only one there. Due to the closed road I had to park about half a mile and hike in, which was fairly easy.

The base of the falls is surrounded by a boardwalk that provides for easy viewing. Getting to the top of the falls was a little more difficult seeing as that the stairway was completely ice covered and non-existent to the naked eye.

With the stairway out of commission, I used some trees for leverage to get me to the top. Looking upstream, the river is made up of numerous cascades and rapids. Although snow covered, the paths upstream were easy to navigate and got you up close to the edge of the running water. Bond Falls 1Bond Falls 1

I spent 5 hours there and never saw another person, in fact I never saw anyone at any of the places I visited…..just how I like it.

On my way back to the entrance I hopped over a dead tree, caught my cargo pants pocket on it and ripped a huge hole in my pants leg. I didn’t think anything of it until I got back to the truck and realized that I had lost my driver’s license, debit card and some cash.

So, it was back into the park, re-tracing my steps to the tree, hoping to find my stuff. Fortunately, it was another windless day and I soon found my cards and money sitting under the tree that had taken out my pants leg.

Back at my truck the rain started and once again ended my day.

During my three-day trip, I took about 125 pictures and wasn’t overly excited with any of them, but the adventure was amazing……and in the end, that’s what it’s all about.

Bond Falls 2Bond Falls 2Michigan UP

Photo Workshops are for Beginners too

January 10, 2017  •  3 Comments

You are beginning your venture into photography and have thought about participating in a photo workshop but feel that your skills aren't where you'd like them to be. You want to love photography but it seems so difficult at times, or you have dabbled in it enough to understand basics but still struggle with camera functionality and technique. If this is you, then photo workshops are your path to knowledge, creativity.....and a little adventure.

You can read a lot of educational material, experimenting with what you learn, and if you have the time you can apply this trial and error method until you figure things out…..but it can be frustrating when you can’t find the answers to your questions when things don’t work out the way you thought they would.

You see these great photographs and wish that you could document something like that, but every time you try, it just doesn’t look the same.

Let’s face it, how many times have you put your camera down in frustration and told yourself that it’s just too difficult to get beyond the “Automatic” process of taking photographs.

A great learning tool to offset this sometimes frustrating and dis-heartening process is to participate in a photo workshop.

There’s a big creative world out there. Why not learn from someone who has already worked through the educational and creative challenges that you are currently experiencing.

No matter where your experience level is, you will always benefit from attending and participating in a photo workshop.

I have had countless conversations with people who would love to take part in a workshop but don’t think that their photo skills are good enough. This is where my confusion sets in…..what you have just told me is the single most important reason for attending a workshop.

I have participated in workshops as a student and have found them to be invaluable. I not only learned how to navigate my camera settings but also built upon the experience of “seeing” things in different ways.

What I have learned over the years, the trials and tribulations of camera navigation and understanding the impact of creative vision has taken my evolution from student to teacher.

So, put aside your fear of “not being good enough” to attend a photo workshop and consider these points:


  • There will be people just like you who desire to become better photographers. They have the same fears and you’ll find that you have many things in common with them in regards to where you think you are in your journey into photography. You will meet great people and most likely develop some long term relationships.
  • One on one instruction. We all have a different learning curve. Yours will be addressed by one of the instructors in a way that makes you feel comfortable and more confident.
  • The workshop makes photography the priority. You may feel that this is the first time that you have been able to seriously focus on it. Think of it as a vacation that lets you concentrate on improving something that you really love to do.
  • Inspiration. You may have lost that passion but I guarantee that you will find it again and walk away more inspired than ever before. Education is an amazing thing, the more you understand, the more you’ll want to learn.
  • Through workshops you will find that you are beginning to develop your own style or build on one that is just waiting to become a creative force.
  • You can’t learn without some constructive critique. You’ll learn how evaluate and process your photographs through sessions that are geared around respectful feedback. 
  •  Workshops are not “boot camp”. Our goal is to teach you and to help you grow as a photographer, but we’ll do it in a way that is enjoyable and satisfying.
  • You’ll get to practice what you learn. You can watch and learn all you want but actually doing is when all of the learned functionality and techniques come together.
  • You have a personal guide to some amazing locations that will not only inspire you but also teach you how to plan a shoot around lighting and conditions.
  • You’ll have access to the instructors long after the workshop is over to answer questions and to aid into your further development.

Workshops can be incredibly beneficial to your growth as a photographer. You’ll learn alongside people just like you, develop some great relationships, experience amazing photo opportunities and walk away with an increased knowledge of camera functionality and technique. You’ll gain insight into the creative process and put yourself into a position to move forward with confidence.

I hope that this has put some of your fears to rest and that it has opened yourself up to the possibility of participating in a photography workshop.   

Our 2017 Door County photo workshop is scheduled for Fall.

Mike Murray and Cameron Gillie will once again lead this Wisconsin photo workshop. You can find more details at:

North Sand Photography and The Pinhole Thing



Door County, Abandoned Farms and Neutral Density Filters

January 01, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Days PastDays PastDoor County, Wisconsin

During a workshop scouting trip to Door County my workshop partner Cameron Gillie and I came across and old farm that absolutely needed to be photographed. We took a location setting and through some great investigative work by Cameron we were able to track down the owner and gain access to the property for one of our workshop morning shoots.

It was a mild day with light winds, perfect for spending the morning shooting several buildings and their contents, old tractors, windmills and detailed metal works such as door knobs, hinges and light fixtures. It was like stepping 70 years into the past.

Two of the students had set up and were taking pictures of the old home and windmill when i approached them and brought up the idea of using a neutral density filter to show movement in the windmill. They had heard of ND filters but neither had used one, so i set up next to them to demonstrate the impact of what the filter can do.

ND filters are extremely dark and are used to show motion during times when lighting forces a quicker shutter speed to produce a correctly exposed photo. They are great for shooting water, waterfalls, clouds, etc......anything that is moving. It adds a nice effect that produces photos with impact. Just make sure you compose and focus before you put it on. Like i said, the filters are very dark.

You can find ND filters where the number of stops are fixed or variables where one filter allows you to access multiple shades of darkness. Variables are typically more expensive.

On that morning, lighting conditions had us shooting with an exposure time of 1/125 of a second and the pictures that the students produced were freezing the motion of the windmill.

I added an 8 stop Hoya ND filter to my lens and shot the above picture. The filter slowed down my exposure to 2 seconds and allowed me to present the illusion of a fast moving windmill.

In post processing i added an analog filter from NIK software to give the picture a "weathered" feel.

Workshops are a great environment for picking up small but effective educational pieces like this. I hope that you'll consider attending one of our Door County workshops and/or some of the others that we are planning for the future.

Questions about workshops?? Please feel free to contact me or Cameron






Sleeklens lightroom workflow review

December 18, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Sleeklens Lightroom Workflow Review                                                                         

Seeing as that I am primarily a landscape photographer I was recently asked by the folks at Sleeklens to provide a review of their “Through the Woods” presets and brushes lightroom plugin.

Sleeklens is a company located in Denmark that offers a wide variety of post processing options for Lightroom and Photoshop.

The “Through the Woods” workflow is designed to enhance, tone and sharpen your landscape photos while retaining a natural look.

There are fifty landscape presets and thirty landscape brushes that become part of the lightroom workflow after an incredibly easy download process.

The presets and brushes are applied in exactly the same way as you would apply them in lightroom. They can be found in the lightroom preset module and in the adjustment brush module.

The fifty presets fall into several categories, All in one, Exposure, Base, Color correction, Tone/tint, Polish and Vignette.

While the All in one preset impacts the entire photo, the others will effect a specific part.

The Adjustment brushes are applied by selecting the desired effect and painting over the area of the photograph that you want to impact.


My Initial thoughts

  I am not a big preset guy, I like to work my photos from top to bottom and make my adjustments at each part of the lightroom workflow, so I was a bit leery with allowing global adjustments from a preset……but I am always open to trying something new so I agreed to give them a shot for providing a review in return.

I selected two images that were blah, had some toning / exposure issues and needed some pop. Oh, one more thing about the presets, they can be stacked on top of one another so you can use multiple presets to get to the end result that you are looking for.

Also, when you apply a preset it is basically moving all of the lightroom sliders in the basic panel workflow module so if you don’t like how it looks or want to make some subtle adjustments you still have the ability to do so. You always have complete control.

The workflow is easy. Hold the cursor over each preset to get an idea of how it will impact the photo. This is a good starting point and can be approached by determining what the photo needs to improve it or give it the artistic vision that you are looking for.

Bring in the brushes to fine tune regional areas of the photo, make some additional adjustments using the lightroom options….and you’re done.

You can make your adjustments with RAW or JPEG images. Stick with RAW as they provide more manipulative options.


So, here goes….

My first photo of Half Dome in California’s eastern sierra’s was taken at dusk and has an unattractive blue tone to it. It certainly was not what my eye was seeing.

I started by applying the “Shine into the Sunset” preset, made some minor adjustments to the sliders and then finished up by applying the “Warmer” brush and the “Add Golden Sun “brush to the sky. It took all of 90 seconds and produced a more appealing and realistic version of what I was seeing.

My second photo of Mono Lake was dull and didn’t provide the pop that I had envisioned. I started by stacking three presets. I used “Warmer Shadows”, “Deep Blue Skies” and “Medium Blk Vignette” in collaboration with one another to create my initial vision. I then used the “Cloudy Sky Definition” brush on the sky, made a minor noise reduction adjustment and was finished…..once again in under 2 minutes.


My take away….

   Even though I prefer total control over the creative process, I found that the Sleeklens presets and brushes were a true asset to my workflow. Depending on my vision, some of the presets were spot on or at worst required minor adjustments. They provided me with a great starting point and saved me the many hours that it would have taken me to create them on my own.

The additional adjustment brushes also are value added from a time and vision perspective.

There are times when I have a specific end result in mind and prefer to start from scratch, but opening up to the sleeklens presets has opened my eyes to places that I may have never gone with my usual workflow process. They provide a creative advantage that even the best photographer will benefit from.

Another idea is to take their presets, make minor adjustments and create your own set of customized presets. The great thing is that they have done all of the hard work for you.

The “Through the Woods” lightroom plugin is something that I will definitely use going forward. I can see it becoming an important part of my normal workflow. It allows you to explore creative vision while saving time…..something that I never seem to have enough of.

For more information on Sleeklens products go to:

All is good in the world

December 04, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

It was the first snow of the season this morning so i decided to head out and see what i could capture. Hadn't been to Parfreys Glen for a while so i decided to start there. With light snow falling i began my hike, soon realizing that the only sounds were my footsteps and the calming sound of water moving through the rocks. Looking to my right i noticed two deer silently watching me as i made my way through the gorge.....and then after a while I realized that all of the stuff that we all seem to stress over on a daily basis was no longer in my head.

I was in the moment, no worries, no stress, no was me and nature and at that time, all was good in the world. It's a pretty amazing feeling, hard to put into words but definitely euphoric.

Some of you will know exactly what i am talking about. For those who don't I highly encourage you to allow yourself to connect with the outside world...alone. Find a quiet place where you can walk, no talking, no cell phones, just the sounds of the natural world. Let yourself take in all that surrounds you and soon you will be one with the environment.

I know it sounds hokey but i am telling you that it is one of the most life balancing feelings that you'll ever have. You will see things that you've never looked at before. You will hear sounds that are soothing and you will know that life is truly amazing.

Being a photographer it is important for me to connect with my photo opportunities on an emotional level. I am not the type to just click away at whatever is out there. The scene or subject needs to draw me in and make a personal impact.

Photography is subjective. You may love a picture or hate it...or have no feeling about it at all, but always remember that the photographer was somehow drawn to shooting it. In some way they connected with it.

I love shooting color but this morning it was a black and white world. I've always felt that color was about emotion and that black and white was about drama and mystery. You see differently in black and white as shapes and shadows take over your viewpoint....but you wouldn't know that if you didn't take the time to actually look around and see things without the cloudiness of everyday life.

You don't need to be a photographer to connect with the natural world. Allow yourself the quiet time to see, feel and listen and soon you will know, even for a short time, that all is good in the world.


Winter WonderlandWinter Wonderland


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