Minnesota’s North Shore is gorgeous in the spring, with plenty of spring flowers and rushing water. Unfortunately, I never seem to get up there in spring to enjoy those things!
This year I decided to make it happen, so I signed up for a North Shore photography workshop with Don Tredinnick and Peter Berman of Frozen Hiker Photography. There’s nothing like paying an upfront fee to spur follow-through, so this guaranteed I’d get up there this year. Besides, I’d taken seminar classes with both Don and Peter in the past and was pretty sure I would enjoy the workshop and learn a lot.
The weekend went pretty much as follows . . . .
Photographing the North Shore
A perfect day to head north
Class didn’t begin until Friday evening, giving my husband and me a full day to wander up Lake Superior’s North Shore. We took full advantage of that time and the gorgeous weather, with stops in Duluth (for lunch at Northern Waters Smokehaus and a peek inside Sivertson’s/Siiviis Gallery) and along the road (to photograph lupines and the late-day light at Silver Bay Marina).
Class began that evening in Silver Bay. The group itself was pretty small (a good thing), but included a few really accomplished photographers (also a good thing, since they were all friendly and willing to share their experience). We were given an orientation and overview of techniques that would help us the next morning. And then we were advised to get to bed because the next day would start very early!
A very good, but very long day of shooting
Class resumed at 4:15 the next morning, when we loaded up our gear and headed up the road to photograph sunrise at Sugarloaf Cove. I fretted along the way that we hadn’t gotten an early enough start, as the sky was already brightening as we left. It turned out that we arrived with just enough time before sunrise to hike out to the beach, set up, ask a few questions, and start shooting.
It always surprises me how quickly the light intensifies.
The beach was a beautiful place to shoot and I really would have enjoyed staying longer to take full advantage of the morning light (I love shooting in the morning, I just don’t love getting out of bed before dawn), but that wasn’t the plan. Instead, we headed back to the hotel for breakfast and a quick nap.
We didn’t get too long of a break through. Pretty soon we were headed to Illgen Falls in Tettegouche State Park. More precisely, we were headed to the top of the falls where Don knew the morning light would flatter the river’s riffles.
Once at the river we got a few tips for shooting and then went to work. I immediately saw exactly the shot I wanted and set up as fast as I could to capture the image before someone decided to stand in the middle of it, but, of course, I wasn’t fast enough.
(One of several possible examples.)
This is what I don’t like about most photo walks and classes and such – there are always people (oddly enough, usually men) who immediately position themselves in the middle of the scene, making it impossible for anyone else to shoot that scene. Sometimes that really is the best place to shoot from (as it probably was here), but often they could get the same shot without getting in the middle of it themselves – or they could wait a minute, take an establishing shot of the overall scene and THEN jump into the middle of it. At least that would give us big picture types a chance to see it and get something before being stuck with a great view of a photographer at work. Usually I can out-wait anyone in order to get the shot I want, but even I usually can’t out-wait a guy with a tripod.
(Tourists – even those shooting with iPads – do this all the time too. It’s pretty ubiquitous. It drove me doubly nuts in Canada last summer because this behavior usually required going off the trail into an area where no one was supposed to be in the first place!)
In this case I shouldn’t have even tried waiting. While we had been directed to focus on the river above the falls, the light was really nice for shooting the falls itself.
And no one could block my shot.
Our next stop was Cascade Falls in Cascade River State Park.
While we were quite a ways from the falls, there were lots of lovely wooded trails and some of them led to pink lady slippers!
Despite advice on how to shoot wildflowers and plenty of folks to help control the light, I still wasn’t thrilled with what I got. I love shooting flowers, but I’m not very good at it. 🙂
By now the sun was high in the sky and we were getting hot and hungry, so we headed further up the road to Grand Marais for lunch at My Sister’s Place. We were assured that the burgers here were great and that proved to be true.
It was nice to sit over lunch and chat, but we still had a lot left on the day’s itinerary.
Our next stop was still farther north, at a park established by the Grand Portage band of Chippewa. It’s accessed via an unmarked driveway along the highway, so this was a great discovery that I would not have made on my own.
(Discovering places like this is one reason to take a class in the field – photographers who regularly shoot a particular area will know about locations that would be hard for a visitor to discover on their own.)
The park encircles a little cove and we began by hiking to a very photogenic rock outcrop.
The park also has a long cobblestone beach that offers views of the fish shacks, the lakeshore, and various treasures hidden in the woods.
Our next stop was the Kadunce River Wayside, a spot I had never noticed before. We started by crossing the highway and following a trail along the river . . . and then right down to the river itself. Despite Don’s hurried guidance, I couldn’t figure out why we were here – it was pretty, but rather boring.
The answer was motion. We were supposed to be practicing shooting moving water at slow shutter speeds and from interesting angles.
Ok. But I thought the beach back across the highway was a lot more interesting!
I was also more interested in the roadside scenery on the way back to Grand Marais.
I met up with the group again at Artists Point in Grand Marais, but I think I was getting tired – it is a beautiful place, but I had trouble working up much enthusiasm for shooting sunset from here.
Not that it isn’t a lovely spot!
I think we were all pretty hungry by the time the sun set, but the group was dawdling, so Lane and I took off on our own. Besides, we knew exactly where we wanted to eat.
Unfortunately the Crooked Spoon (our first choice) was already closed for the evening. Further down the street the Gun Flint Tavern was packed. We hurried toward the Angry Trout (meeting most of the rest of the class along the way) only to find that they were also closed/closing for the evening. (Actually, pretty much the whole town appeared to close by 9 p.m.)
After considering our limited (and rapidly diminishing) options, we contacted the rrestaurant at Cascade Lodge and, assured that they would be open until 10 p.m., the whole group of us headed there for a leisurely dinner and more conversation before, finally, making the drive back to Silver Bay for the night.
It was nearly 1 a.m. before I finished uploading photo files and turned out the lights for the night.
Rainy weather makes for a shorter – less productive – day
Classes like these generally go out in the field rain or shine. We were lucky to have amazingly beautiful weather on Saturday, but things changed on Sunday.
The day was supposed to start with another sunrise photo shoot. I did wake up by 4:30 (which would have given me time to get to our meeting point before sunrise), but I took a long look out into the damp darkness (it had rained during the night) and went back to bed. (Two students went out and shot a rather pedestrian sunrise. The rest opted to stay in bed.)
The classroom session scheduled for later that morning got off to a slow start, but once it began I learned all sorts of really helpful tips for editing my photos. . . some of which I immediately incorporated into my workflow.
Despite unpromising skies, many of us agreed to meet at Gooseberry Falls to shoot. It wasn’t raining when we arrived, but there was lightning in the distance and thunder rumbling overhead. Still, I would have gone down to shoot the falls if the park had been deserted (getting wet seems like a fair price to have the park to myself), but the parking lot was almost full and people were still arriving. Crowds and rain didn’t seem worth the trouble.
After a brief consultation, most of the remaining group agreed that lunch might be a better option.
So it was back in the car and on to Blackwoods in Two Harbors. It rained – hard – along the way.
Eventually most of the group again ended up around a large table for a meal and conversation.
The rain seemed to have moved on by the time we finished lunch, so several of us agreed to meet at the Stoney Point fish shacks. This location was another new one for me, so I was eager to visit it even if it was raining.
And it did rain, squelching my interest in hiking out to the point itself.
We split from the rest of the group at this point, heading into Duluth for dinner with a cousin.
The sun was shining when we arrived.
About the class
I haven’t taken a lot of classes out in the field, with the notable exception of a class in Italy with Chris Welsch and Richard Sennott and last fall’s Day of the Dead shoot (again with Richard). I learned a lot in those classes and the same was true of this one. Classes held out in the field put students into new situations, requiring that them to try new things. Beyond that, a good teacher can teach new techniques and new ways of seeing. And, as much as they sometimes seem to be in the way, the other students help you learn more, both through their approach to situations and (when the class includes this) by seeing their final images. Seeing what your classmates captured in the same place at the same time is really enlightening.
Frozen Hiker Photography has offered the spring North Shore class a few times. The class was based in Silver Bay, but we traveled much of the North Shore. Because the class only covers a weekend, Don and Peter try to get students to as many different locations, at the best times as possible. Not only do they hope to give students a wide range of shooting experiences, but they also hope to introduce students to new locations that they can return to on their own later. (I loved most of the locations we visited in class and actually returned to a number of them later in the summer.)
The downside of this approach is really long and exhausting days and very little time to review and discuss the final images.
But there is only so much you can do in a weekend, and the class was well-thought out and a lot of fun. I enjoyed it and I learned some things. And I finally got up to the North Shore when the spring flowers were in bloom!
Both Don and Peter focused all of their attention on their students’ work, not their own. Neither brought their own DSLRs into the field, although Peter had a cell phone which he used to demonstrate techniques (and which I found really helpful). Their attention was completely devoted to the class.
Each location was chosen for the time of day (light) and as a place to practice specific techniques. Students were free to photograph what they wanted how they wanted, but Don and Peter asked questions and generally encouraged everyone to try something new.