Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chasing the Light

I realize that it is a cliché to say that photographers chase the light but that is exactly what I spent doing on Saturday. My initial plan was to travel north to Wisconsin to photograph along the Lake Michigan shoreline. However, the weather forecast called for wind and a cloudy sky. Clouds can add significant drama to images but an overly cloudy sky can produce flat looking images. The forecast for the Starved Rock area looked much more promising with partially sunny sky. Since I had to run some errands in the morning, I decided to wait and see how the day started.

Morning came and the forecast for Wisconsin did not improve so I decided to try my luck with the shorter trip along the I&M Canal and the Starved Rock area. I started in Channahon along Lock 6&7. The initial impression was very disappointing. Upstream from Lock 6 the canal was frozen over and did not look very interesting. The solid gray sky did not help. The scene around Lock 7 was much more interesting but without some warm light it really didn’t work. I still photograph it (as well as the DuPage River) for future reference.
I&M Canal in Winter
Once again I checked the forecast and it still called for the sun to break through so I decided to move downstream along the canal. Not too far from Lock 7 is McKinley Woods, a State Park which I hadn't explored. I was pleasantly surprised by the view of the canal right along the entrance of the park so I parked and walked toward the towpath. I was photographing from one of the bridges when suddenly the sun came out and lit the scene. Looking at the sky I knew that the light could go at any moment. Rather than proceeding into McKinley Woods, I went back to Lock 7 and photograph the prior scenes.

Lock 7
Once the sun disappeared, I drove to McKinley Woods. The road that led down to the I&M Canal and the DesPlaines River was unplowed and closed to car traffic. The sun never came out while at this location so all I got was some good exercise hiking on the snowy trails while carrying 40 pounds of equipment. No complains...
Mule Barn
Next stop was the location of the old town of Dresden. Sitting along the canal is one (if not the one) of the remaining mule barns. I’ve tried photographing this barn in the past but there is usually something in the way (e.g., cars, scaffolding, construction equipment, etc.). Not today, only pristine snow around it. The light was not the best but I didn’t want to let this opportunity go by. Lock 8 is a few minutes down the road from the mule barn but the white locktender house surrounded by white snow against a gray sky was not particularly appealing.

I went through several other locations crossing back and forth the I&M Canal but without the light the camera never left the car. By the time I got to Morris, it was past lunchtime so I grabbed a bite and, given that the sky wasn’t changing, decided to drive back home. Of course, once I drove away the clouds started breaking and I could see blue patches in the sky. I turned the car around on the first available I80 exit and drove to Starved Rock.
Kaskaskia Falls
With the clouds thinning out, the light on the canyons was great. St. Louis and Kaskaskia canyons still had ice formations but the snow on the ground had been pretty completely trampled. Starved Rock was busy with people constantly walking in and out of the canyons (and my pictures!). To avoid the intrussions in Kaskaskia Canyon, I setup as close to the waterfall as possible. This meant standing on the frozen pool. This pool of water is deep and the last winter I photographed here, the ice gave way. This time around, I came out dry. The light remained diffused for over two hours allowing me to walk through three of the canyons but once the sun came out, it was time to move to another location.
Red Covered Bridge
The sky cleared very quickly and the Red Covered Bridge works well with this type of sky. During the winter months, the late afternoon sun shines straight over the creek. The trick is finding a clear spot along the riverbank where your shadow is not seen. Easier said than done. The creek is deep in many spots and with the ice and snow it was hard to figure out where to step or stand. Needless to say I’m very thankful for my waterproof winter boots.
Lock 14
The light was still pretty good during the last few hours of the day so I headed to Lasalle to take a look at Lock 14 of the I&M Canal. I had a preconceived image in my mind which unfortunately did not work (sun needs to be further north). Still the golden light on the doors of Lock 14 was too nice to pass.
Lasalle County Farm
Sunset was coming and since I had no particular plan, I just drove down RT 6 hoping to find one last scene. I made it almost all the way to Ottawa when I recalled a farm (near Starved Rock) that I had driven by earlier in the day. Once again, I turned the car around and made it to the farm with 15 minutes of light to spare. I spent the last minutes of daytime snaking around the rural roads of Lasalle County. After a few left and right turns, I reached an old weathered barn and quickly brought out my camera to capture it while the sun disappeared on the horizon.
Lasalle County Barn
With the sun gone, it was time to go home. I collapsed just enough the legs of the tripod so that it fitted on the back seat of the van. The camera was still attached to the ballhead. I wound my way back to RT 71 and it wasn’t long before something else caught my eye. As I drove around a bend in the road I saw a few oak trees in the middle of a field. A few years ago a barn stood in between these oaks but like so many other barns, it had deteriorated beyond repairs and was torn down. Once again I turned the car around and from a side street managed to isolate one of the trees against the pastel sky. And this was the last image. I packed the camera inside the bag, stored the tripod on the trunk and drove straight back home. All in all, it was a great day for photography and spending time outdoor.

Oak at Dusk

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Winter at the Beach

I’ve lived in Illinois for over 20 years. Cold and snow during the winter months were a novelty that over time I learned to tolerate. As I picked up nature photography, I embraced the season more and found myself spending lots of time in weather that was outside my comfort zone. So it goes without saying that whenever I can I migrate south to the warmer climate for a week or two and trade the multiple layers of clothing, scarf, snow boots and gloves for shorts (or a swimsuit), a T-shirt and sandals. And on a warm evening, I take my camera for a stroll along the beach, take off my sandals and let the warm waves touch my feet as I capture the last light of the day shining on the shoreline.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

This Old Barn

One of my favorite short trips is the drive to the Starved Rock State Park area. From my house this is almost a straight line drive, mostly on a two lane road. The trip takes a little over an hour and if the traffic is light, I’m on the “country” within fifteen minutes after I leave. Most of the trip is along Route 71 bordering multiple farms and small communities. Along the way one can see several barns dotting the landscape. Over the years I have photograph many of these old buildings in the different seasons but one of them stands out and has become a favorite photographic subject. Every time I passed through the outskirts of Newark I looked for it and if the conditions were right, I stopped for a few minutes with my camera in hand.

I’ve seen this barn in morning, midday and evening light as well as surrounded by snow, weeds, corn and fog. Last time I photographed it was during the autumn of 2012. I was returning home after spending the day in Starved Rock. Fog had lingered most of the day but by late afternoon it lifted leaving behind spectacular cloud formations. Under this sky, the barn looked small, almost insignificant.

I didn't have a chance to travel down Route 71 again until late January. As usual, as I passed through Newark, I searched for the barn. As I drove by the field I saw the ground dusted with snow. But something else caught my eye. To be precise, something didn't catch my eye: the barn, it was missing. Where it once stood all that remained was the outline of the foundation.

Most people that drive along Route 71 will never notice that this barn disappeared and if they do, they may not even care. In a few years the foundation may be gone removing all physical indications of where it once stood. And when that time comes all that will be left are the pictures that have been taken and the impressions the barn left on the minds of those that slowed down to admire it standing tall on the field.