Looking “Through the Teeth” of the Eben Ice Caves

This month I spent a few days in the Upper Peninsula with the goal of capturing the winter landscape in this rugged part of our state. One stop that I absolutely had to make was a visit to the Eben Ice Caves.

These caves are beautiful frozen formations located in the Rock River Canyon Wilderness within the Hiawatha National Forest. According to geologists, water drained from sandy loam seeps through the sandstone bedrock. As the temperatures drop, these intermittent “leaks” through the sandstone create ice stalactites over the entrance of undercuts in the exposed bedrock cliffs.

I walked around the area and shot for a couple of hours, trying to capture the cave’s size without having a person in the photo to show its scale. This was one of the last images I took that day and I hope it accomplishes that :)

Winter’s Window

Winter's WindowGrand Haven is far and away my most photographed lighthouse. Besides its somewhat close proximity to my home, the setting – the red inner and outer lighthouses on the south pier and the large sprawling beach adjacent to it – just feels right to me!  I typically go here for the sunsets, but on this day I set out early for some good morning light.  I have shot this lighthouse from just about every angle so today I  was wanting something different.  Framing up shots all along the pier, I attempted to incorporate the ice formations into the photo while still keeping the lighthouse as a prominent part of the image.  Nothing was looking right to me.  Finally, as I made it out toward the end of the pier I tried using the icy legs of the catwalk to frame the lighthouse in the center, which also has the lines of the catwalk and the largest icicle leading right to it.  One more thing that I liked was the morning light giving me a front-lit subject, it really made the red lighthouse stand out against that dark blue sky.

Get Sharper Photos

Some tips and equipment that will make your photos tack sharpFB DSC_0759-2

  1. Use a sturdy tripod – A good tripod is important for consistently sharp images.  I almost always use mine because I can get sharp photos in any situation and it allows me  to shoot with slow shutter speeds and f/stops.  Even on a sunny day you’ll be surprised how slow you may need to set your shutter speed when shooting a landscape at small apertures such as f/16 or  f/22.
  2. Use a cable release or self timer – Pressing the shutter button may shake the camera enough to loose sharpness.  Even mounted on a tripod pressing on the shutter button can shake the camera.  I often use the camera’s self timer set at 2 seconds.  Either one of these methods will work since you’re not touching the camera when the shutter opens.
  3. Mirror lock-up – Using this in-camera feature is very useful and perfect for long exposures.  When you take a picture the mirror will flip up a second before the shutter opens so there is no vibration.
  4. Use the best f-stop available – Using the best aperture for the situation you’re shooting in.  Most lenses are their sharpest at around f/8, but that won’t always be the ideal f-stop to use.  For landscape photos I usually shoot at f/16 or f/22 to achieve focus from foreground to background.  I normally favor f/16 because there can be significant diffraction at f/22.  This happens because light begins to disperse or “diffract” when passing through a small opening, such as your camera’s aperture, and can result in a soft image.
  5. Keep your ISO down – Shooting at high ISOs will make your photos noisy/grainy and less crisp.  I generally shoot at my camera’s lowest setting which is 100 to minimize this as much as possible.
  6. Correct focusing – You’ve probably already discovered that your camera’s Auto Focus is not perfect.  You go out take some shots thinking everything went well until you pull your photos up on the computer and things aren’t in perfect focus.  In certain situations manual focusing may be the answer to get things right.  I also like to double check my viewfinder at 100% after I take the shot just to be sure that got it right.

Circular Polarizers – Not just for Blue Skies

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Without a polarizer the front of this lighthouse would have displayed a near pure white reflection from the sun.

I’ve always thought of Circular Polarizers as an essential tool in my camera bag.  They take away the glare from objects that is caused by sunlight and are great for capturing a rich blue sky in your photos.  I also find them useful for other situations:

Trees – Polarizers take the glare away that can rob your photo of their true colors.  Using one will give leaves a more rich and saturated color which is especially important with the red and oranges of the autumn leaves.

Waterfalls – I never shoot waterfalls without my polarizer!  First of all, it takes the glare off the water and creates more contrast in the photo.  Second, it cuts down on the light entering the camera so it allows you to shoot at a slower shutter speed, which is exactly what you’ll want in order to achieve the look of silky water in your photos.

Lighthouses – Metal Lighthouses get a lot of glare, so a polarizer will give you richer colors there too.  The light reflecting off the Holland Lighthouse was blinding when I was there back in December.  Using my filter fixed that problem and I came away with some good photos.

Experimenting with Your Camera

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20 sec @ f/2.8 ISO 250

I started out at the wide end and slowly zoomed my lens in for this effect. 30 sec @ f/2.8 ISO 250

30 sec @ f/2.8 ISO 250

Last night I looked outside and saw a bright moonlit sky, so I got the idea of going out and playing with my camera for a little while.  Night photography isn’t really my thing, partly because I prefer photographing sunlit subjects and partly because I have little patience for sitting out in the dark waiting for the end of each long exposure that I take.  But tonight I was itching to take a few shots, so I headed outdoors.

This trick is extremely simple but it can make an interesting photo.  Nighttime is perfect for it because an exposure of at least a few seconds is necessary.  For the shot that you see on the left, I set the shutter speed to 30 seconds at f/2.8 to properly expose it.  I set my lens to its widest point at 17mm.  Once the shutter was open I slowly zoomed the lens in, and since I had 30 seconds to do this I made sure I was turning the ring really slow.  The photo on the right is the result.  You can do a lot of interesting photos with this, although like me you will most likely end up with more bad photos than good ones.  More than anything, its just fun to try different things with your camera and lens to see what you can create.  If you do try this, send me a comment or message to let me know how you did!

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4 sec @ f/2.8 ISO 320