Bayfield, WI- Apostle Islands Ice Caves; Shooting in Cornucopia
Every year here near Lake Superior a natural phenomenon occurs, and people travel from near and far to see it. Down old highway 13 through Wisconsin on the South Shore of Lake Superior lies Meyers Beach and the Apostle Islands Sea Caves. Every Winter locals wait and wonder to see exactly what Lake Superior has in store for us, and this year- the first since 2009- we are fortunate. We have accessible sea caves.
It’s not every year that you can actually access the caves during the Winter. Summertime abounds with kayaking opportunities, assuming the weather cooperates- but Winter is another story. Few dare venture out on the lake during the Winter months, and that’s what makes freezing ice so special: freezing shore lines means walking access.
This past Sunday we woke before dawn and set out in order to reach the caves before sunrise and the results were well worthwhile. I wanted to share a short tutorial on photographing this gorgeous natural wonder- I share full well knowing my specialty is not outdoor photography, but rather in the hope that it might help you achieve a better experience when you sit down to download the images you take should you venture out to see for yourselves.
Photographing the Apostles
Things to consider if you go:
Time of day: Not only is timing crucial for lighting in your images, but the later you go the more other people will be there with you AND the less time you have to stay and explore. It can be scary on the ice with booming cracking noises and unreliable footing in the dark, but if you do stay late you can’t go wrong with good headlamps. I highly recommend arriving to the beach as early as possible- we arrived at 6:45 am to find three other vehicles had already beaten us there! It was worth the getting up extra early to get the type of shots I knew I wanted to achieve. If you’re not into mornings, it’s cool. You can just enjoy these images. A tip: we arrived at 6:45 and departed at 10:00 am. On our walk back we were greeted by roughly 80 people heading out towards the beach, the parking lot was packed and rangers were assisting traffic for parking. Just a tip for avoiding crowds if you wish to.
Pack light: It’s approximately a mile walk from the beach entry point to where the caves actually start, you’ll also probably want to keep going further once you get there. 🙂 It’s a GOOD walk too. Whew.
Suggested items: Camera body, 2-3 good lenses, a big memory card, and if you have access- a light meter & lightweight tripod. Bottled water, granola bar/apple, snowshoes, trekking poles, and/or some gator type grips for your boots would also be helpful to have- but would likely end up being carried about 1/2 way rather than used/worn. When we started out we were bundled up in case of wind, only to end up stripping layers before we reached the caves. Wear layers- you never know what kind of weather LS has up her sleeves.
Notes: There is a well packed path for much of the walk out to the caves. However, the path becomes covered with blowing and drifting snow- thanks LS!- and therefore can be difficult in spots. We found ourselves walking through knee- and a couple times thigh if we weren’t careful- deep snow for a portion of the walk out to the caves.
A few notes on photographs: Have fun. Great outdoor photographs are difficult because of so many variables: weather, lighting, location, angles, lens selection, etc. The lighting is constantly changing, and learning to balance highlight and shadows is not for the faint of heart or iphone. Practice. This morning we were hoping for sunrise, but as you can see it was fairly cloudy- very little wind- with just a few small breaks in the clouds. So, while we didn’t get the sun and light shimmering in the icicles at sunrise- we did get some pretty amazing shots of beautiful pastels and cave interiors.
Disclaimer: This post is meant for very beginning photography tips. If you’re past this point, then congratulations! Enjoy!
Moon ‘set’ in the morning. The Sun was obstructed by clouds, so we had a beautiful grey-blue soft light covering everything.
Have ever photographed snow and thought- what the heck am I doing wrong??? Those super blown out highlights – and dark shadows – ugh! – the photograph either looks washed out or WAAY too dark. If you’re new to photography it’s likely due to the fact that you’re operating in your camera’s auto settings. Hear me out: Cameras are smart-very, very smart. Scary smart even. But run into a field of bright white snow and they become very simple beasts. When set to auto mode they will set the exposure based on the brightest highlight visible in their viewfinder, and you’re surrounded by fluffy beautiful whiteness.
Enter Snow: Snow is bright, bright white (well, usually) and reflects the natural ambient light as well- making it twice as bright as any other object in your visible viewfinder for the camera to meter from for exposure. So the camera shoots for that- which is typically why you see blown out whites OR really dark shadows in amateur Winter photographs. Fear not. This is where knowing your camera comes into play. It sounds counter-intuitive but try ‘over exposing’ your image- at least according to your camera’s inner meter reading. Just try it. Do some bracketing and see what you get. If you’re not familiar with bracketing then this is probably a great post for you. 🙂 Bracketing is where you shoot the same image three times- once at correct metered exposure, once at one stop over exposed, and once at one stop under exposed. Then you can choose the best of three later when you see the images developed or downloaded to your computer. In film days this was common practice, with digital advances this has become a lesser used tool today.
Jake is 6′ tall- big and strong- to give you an idea of the size of these caves. Amazing to experience.
Shooting to balance light is tricky and takes practice. An old teacher of mine taught me some special tricks after a very frustrating day in the dark room spent dodging and burning an image to perfection. If we meet up out there sometime, just ask and I’ll share the magic light balancing trick with you. Until then, happy shooting photo friends!