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Saturday, 06 October 2012 20:31

When the Gales of November Come Early

To the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) people it is Kitchi Gami, the Big Water; to the early French explorers it was le lac superier, the Upper Lake; and for the English it became Lake Superior. It is the largest fresh water lake by surface area on earth and the third largest by volume. It is the second deepest body of water in the United States. By any estimation it is amazing. Storms can happen any time of the year, but when fall begins to turn toward winter, the gales that brew over the Big Water have a ferocity that inspires awe.Twenty-foot waves are not uncommon and thirty-footers are regularly recorded. Rough water predictions have become uncannily accurate, so when I learned that the waves on the day of October 6 were predicted to reach 13'-19', I was prepared with a location that I thought would present the breakers in all of their might. Between Miner's Beach and Mosquito Falls there is a rocky bench that juts into the big lake for a short distance, and is high and wide enough to offer a haven from the pounding water. However, the sky had been spitting rain and sleet for most of the day, and so the 30-mph winds were driving the spray and the precipitation into my face and onto the glass of my lens whenever I moved my hand from in front of it to make an exposure. Determining a proper exposure and executing it were real challenges, and I was constantly covering the lens with one hand and wiping the glass off after each release of the shutter, while operating the cable release with the other. While doing this I was gaugeing and timing the on-coming waves to determine when to release. It was like a big game of hydro-meterological chess; and I was glad to come away with exposures that work for me. What fun! A focal length of 48mm was wide enough to show a portion of the turbulent lake and the waves as they crashed into the rocks before me, as well as the distant cliffs of Mosquito Falls. I chose, also, to include a small portion of the shelf on which I stood as a foreground. F/16 gave me enough depth-of-field and at ISO 100 a shutter speed of 1/20th second produced a slightly darker than medium exposure.

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13 comments

  • Comment Link Don McGowan Monday, 29 October 2012 11:51 posted by Don McGowan

    Thanks Gretchen. Perhaps you know how much I love the Upper Peninsula, and this was a great trip by any measure. We were leaving for Maine the following morning, so I was conscious of the special gift that came with this opportunity. I hope my words will serve you well in future efforts to create this sort of imagery.

  • Comment Link Gretchen Cole Monday, 29 October 2012 11:04 posted by Gretchen Cole

    A group of friends and I were in the area experiencing the forces of the winds you mention. I appreciate your tips for keeping the lens clean. I found myself unable to stand still much less create such a beautiful image. Waves crashing create such power and you definitely captured this power.

  • Comment Link Don McGowan Saturday, 13 October 2012 22:16 posted by Don McGowan

    Hi Lisa, thanks for joining us. I'm not sure what you are seeing on your monitor. On mine there is a definite contrast in the light on the far cliff as opposed to the light on the other areas of the image; but I do not experience it as "jarring." I was conscious of the light as it sporadically broke through the clouds, and I waited for it to light up the far cliff. In looking at several images from the series, there are some with no light on the cliff and some with the light. The ones with the light on the cliff seem more dramatic to me because of the contrast, but on my screen the contrast does not appear to be overblown. Take a look at next week's image and let me know how the contrast appears to you in it. Thanks, again, for sharing that observation.

  • Comment Link Lisa Knezha Saturday, 13 October 2012 14:10 posted by Lisa Knezha

    Don, I appreciate your tenacity in acquiring this image. I wonder though if the harshness in tonality of the backlit shore/mountain is intentional or if it just came across that way on my screen? I love the image composition, but something about the harsh transition of tonalities on my screen is jarring.

  • Comment Link Don McGowan Wednesday, 10 October 2012 09:20 posted by Don McGowan

    Good morning Everyone. Thanks for joining the conversation. We have arrived on Mount Desert Island after being on the road for three days. I notice that it is snowing today in the Upper Peninsula. I'm really glad you enjoyed this image; it was, truly, a lot of fun. I have to say, Roger, that I feel the presence of Longfellow's Hiawatha whenever I am in the UP. The world of the Lake Superior Anishinaabe was/is a magical place. Pat, the presence of water is always special to me and in the UP that presence seems to always be at your fingertips. I think I read that there are 4,000 lakes in the peninsula; and, of course it is bounded by three of the Big Lakes. So water is everpresent there. Jim, the image was, indeed, taken last Saturday afternoon. There was tremendous variation in the surges as they came ashore and as they formed off-shore. There were moments when the entire lake looked like an agitated old top-loading washing machine; and, too, at 48mm the background is seen as a human eye would see it. So the sizes of those distant wave elements are not magnified. Bruce, if you will Google "Lake Superior Wave Forecast" there are several sites you can examine. The one I used is the NOAA site, and selecting until I had the forecast for the area that includes Pictured Rocks NL. I could not use a grad during these exposures because of the constant spray; and the light on the far cliff near Mosquito Falls was bright and I did not want to blow it out. So I chose to use darker-than-medium values in order to accomplish this, thinking that in post-processing I could open certain areas back up as I needed to.

  • Comment Link Karen Lemoine Monday, 08 October 2012 22:10 posted by Karen Lemoine

    Wow!!!

  • Comment Link bruce hogle Sunday, 07 October 2012 14:00 posted by bruce hogle

    I assume the "slightly darker than medium" exposure was intentional, so I ask "why did you feel it was 'right' for this situation"? Thanks for your comments about shooting in the rain & wind; that's some good techniques to try. I liked this spot the one time I was there. Unfortunately the conditions weren't nearly as photogenic. :) What website gives you the wave forecast? That's great info to have. Love how you combined all the elements in your photo. Very strong image! Conditions were most challenging yesterday. I've never seen so many changes so quickly over such an extended time period (all day). Great job just getting a wonderful image Don.

  • Comment Link Helen Phillips Sunday, 07 October 2012 12:49 posted by Helen Phillips

    Stunning capture of the colors. I very much enjoy this one.

  • Comment Link Jim Jenkins Sunday, 07 October 2012 10:09 posted by Jim Jenkins

    The description of how you captured the shot is very compelling and shows your tenacity at composing the very image you want to convey regardless of the circumstances. It is well done, as all your images are.
    The clouds immediately overhead and the force of the water convey a sense of any angry sea, but the background gives the appearance of a tranquil sea, am I missing something here, or was that in fact what was happening at this location when you took the shot? I assume it was not this October 6th that the shot was made.

  • Comment Link Pat Crutchfield Sunday, 07 October 2012 09:30 posted by Pat Crutchfield

    Water is a powerful force. This week and last, you captured its power wonderfully. I especially enjoyed the three parallel surges of wave last week; this week, the curve of the land and spray of wave capture my attention. Thanks for sharing your awesome eye. See you in Maine! Hooray!

  • Comment Link Roger Bargainnier Sunday, 07 October 2012 09:04 posted by Roger Bargainnier

    Don, I'm always impressed with the context and technical detail that accompany your images. And, here, I learned something about the site cited by Longfellow.

  • Comment Link Jessyca Sunday, 07 October 2012 08:36 posted by Jessyca

    This image is breath takingly beautiful. Don, I envy you. I only wish that I had taken this photo. This is the kind of image that I could stare at all day. Wonderfully done. congratulations.

  • Comment Link Nancy Tripp Sunday, 07 October 2012 08:07 posted by Nancy Tripp

    WOW!! That must have been a real rush to have been able to be there with all that magic! You are so good at knowing where to be and when. Thanks for sharing the photo and your settings. I wish I could have been there! It looks like the water is doing a 'Happy Dance'!

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