Anatomy of a Snowflake

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I've been wanting to capture snowflakes for a while, and finally managed to rig up a system to allow me to bring snowflakes inside to photograph under hot lights. I can keep them frozen for about 5 minutes - usually enough time to photograph them.

They are truly amazing to view up close - and I've yet to see two of the same!

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Snowflake 3

These photos are not digitally zoomed in or cropped, so that is the actual image from the camera's sensor.

On Fire

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Golden Backdrop
Sunset from Michigan City

On a clear day, you can see the Chicago Skyline from Michigan City, Indiana, and last weekend was no exception. If you look at the image above, between the lighthouse and the harbor beacon, you'll see some familiar buildings over 30 miles across frozen Lake Michigan.

The sky appeared to be on fire, but only near the horizon, as the sun set behind the lighthouse catwalk on this cold winter day.

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Winter Sunset

Vivid Winter Sky

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Ice Locked Lighthouse
Michigan City, Indiana Lighthouse

Winter often provides lots of contrasts - colors, as well as objects. It still surprises me to see a lighthouse in a spot where water cannot be seen. Of course, the water is frozen here on Lake Michigan, but even standing on the top of the catwalk (don't tell anyone), I couldn't see water. I guess that's at least 4 miles off shore - solid flow ice.

The white ice provided a great contrast to the deep blue sky that surrounded the lighthouse, making it look a lot more like the arctic than the dunes.

You've got to be careful while walking out to this lighthouse; before the lake froze over, it splashed up onto the pier, creating a solid ice surface. I'm not sure if falling onto the flow ice would hold my weight or not, but I'm not going to test it!
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French Canyon in Winter
French Canyon Panoramic View

One of the more difficult canyons to navigate in the winter at Starved Rock State Park is French Canyon. It's also one of the closest to the lodge. A narrow approach leads you into the canyon, with steep drop offs on one side - not a place to walk when there's ice. Once you get to the bottom, the short hike to the canyon head is also slick - ice covered rock - basically the path is the shallow stream.

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From inside French Canyon
Looking Up

While at the botton of the narrow canyon, you can't help but look toward the sky, and at the trees that hang over, preventing most of the sunlight from entering.

Certainly a canyon to explore in all seasons, but in winter, I think, it's the most dramatic.

It Only Looks Warm....

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Winter Outcropping
An Outcropping of Rock
Starved Rock State Park

Even if you don't visit the Illinois River, the butte named Starved Rock, or any of the 16 canyons, there are still wonderful things to see while hiking through Starved Rock State Park.

The exposed rock and sunlight give a warm contrast to the cold, snowy winter landscape.

Two Weeks Later....

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Lake Falls in Winter
Lake Falls Frozen

What a difference two weeks of cold weather makes! Lake Falls at Matthiessen State Park is totally frozen. If you look closely, you'll see lots of intricate detail in the ice, and if you're there in person, you can see the waterfall through the "ice tube" at the top of the falls.

Here's what the falls looked like two weeks ago:

Ice Falls

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Beneath Tonty Falls
Beneath Tonty Falls
Starved Rock

Each winter the many waterfalls located in the canyons of Starved Rock freeze solid, creating intricate ice sculptures. Some tower 80 feet in height and 30 feet in width, all are spectacular.

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Tonty Canyon Falls in Winter
Next to Tonty Falls

Visiting some of these canyons in winter will require a strenuous hike of 3 or more miles one way, in ice and snow along paths with long drops next to them - still it's worth the trip.

Waterfall Climbing

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Preparing to Climb
Ice Climbers in Wildcat Canyon

The canyons at Starved Rock State Park are beautiful in any season, but winter transforms them into playgrounds for the adventurer. At the head of Wildcat Canyon is an 80 foot waterfall that freezes each winter. This is one of the many frozen waterfalls at Starved Rock that can be climbed.

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Climbing Wildcat Canyon
Ice Climbing Group

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Waterfall Climber
Climber Nearing the Top

These climbers spent hours in the canyon preparing for and executing their climbs. The climber is secured to a harness that runs to the top of the falls and back down to two men handling the ropes in the event the climber falls. Once he made it to the top, he signaled and let go of the ice, he was then slowly lowered to the ground.

Instant Snow

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Instant Snow

With temperatures at 14 below zero, hot water instantly turns into steam, ice and snow when thrown into the air. It took about 12 tries to capture this last night, but the kids enjoyed watching it!

Instant Snow

Lighthouse Map

Here's a handy map of some of the lighthouses I've visited and photographed over the past year or so.

It's interactive, so click on the map to view or choose "view larger map" to view full size. Each push pin has information and photos of the lighthouses.

Click here to go to the main map page

View Larger Map

See, I'm not the only one!

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A Walk to the Lighthouse
South Haven, Michigan Lighthouse

Cold weather, wind, ice and snow keep most people away from beaches and Lake Michigan. But there are a few of us who want to visit these places when they're covered in ice and snow. This couple wandered out onto the icy pier at South Haven, Michigan to get a closer view of the ice around the lighthouse.

Not much this year, but last year was incredible. I'm hoping for some additional ice this year.
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south haven light

Ice Locked Harbor

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Ice Locked Harbor
Michigan City Lighthouse

Winter has locked-in the Michigan City Harbor with ice as far as the eye can see. The piers and lighthouse can still be seen over the 15 foot tall piles of ice stacked by the waves of Lake Michigan.

What a Difference a Day Makes

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Lake Michigan Overlook
Lake Michigan, Saturday

Visited Mt. Baldy on Saturday, to see the dunes and Lake Michigan in the winter. The snow was a bit more intense in Michigan City along the lakeshore, so instead of about 6 inches, there was at least of foot of snow on the ground and it was still falling steady. As we arrived, two park rangers informed us that they were going to close the park shortly, so we were only able to walk to the lake and back before we had to leave.

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What a Difference a Day Makes
Lake Michigan, Sunday
We decided to drive out on Sunday as well. The snow stopped and the skies were a bit more pleasant, allowing us to get to the lake and continue on for about a mile or so along the frozen beach. It was well worth the effort of walking through the high drifts - the lake was full of shelf ice, and flow ice. Chris and I were the only two people for miles around, when we stopped we'd listen for noise and only hear the ice bumping into the shore - a very odd sound for the dunes.

Getting Up Close

Macro photography is a world apart from landscape or portrait photography. So many things are different when getting close up. Getting an entire subject in focus is sometimes impossible due to the shallow depth of field and magnification.

Using some techniques I've tried in the past, I decided to get up close to some familiar objects to see how the camera would capture them. These photos were not cropped or magnified artificially.

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Tiny Shell and Penny
A tiny seashell on top of a penny.
The blob on the tip of the seashell is a minute grain of sand that I could not even see until I looked at the photo. To give you an idea of how close this is, the shell is about as long as a penny.

This piece of coral was taken with a normal 18-55 mm lens. The penny is for size reference.
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Coral and Penny

By attaching a reverse ring to the camera, I was able to install the same lens backwards. It's a bit cumbersome since all of the controls for aperture and focus are in the camera and do not function when set up this way, but with a copy stand, lots of light and a little finesse it works.

Here I used the widest mode of the lens (installed backwards) to pull out some detail in the coral. Note the penny for size.

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Coral Macro (lowest)

Getting a bit closer still, much more detail can be seen.

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Coral Macro (medium)

Finally, as close as I could get with the set up I had. The coral polyp, or round feature in the coral, is 2mm in diameter, so being able to fill up the frame with something that small isn't too bad!
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Getting Up Close --

High Surf

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Waves in Channel
Waves in Channel
South Haven, Michigan

The winds created 6 to 10 foot waves along the shore of South Haven, Michigan last week, driving the waves into the Black River, seen in the photo above between the lighthouse pier and the north beacon pier. Ice on the river was broken up and pushed inland until the waves subsided.

Many waves washed over the top of the pier- which is quite high off of the water's surface in calm weather. Now we can see why they have catwalks leading to the lighthouses on the Great Lakes.

Cold Steel

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Iced Catwalk
Lighthouse Catwalk
St. Joseph, Michigan

And so it begins..........

In Between Shots

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Giant's Bath, Small Boys
Chris and Mike at Giant's Bath Falls

After shooting for about an hour, Chris and Mike rested along the canyon wall, next to the falls into Giant's Bath at Matthiessen State Park. Chris was learning the manual features of his camera and very quickly got great results of Lake Falls. He also brought a tripod with him so his long exposure shots were clear.

In the photo above, they stayed still for the entire 10 second exposure! That's a miracle in itself...

Lake Falls - Matthiessen State Park

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Lake Falls
Lake Falls

Lake Falls is a 45 foot tall waterfall at the beginning of the upper dells area of Matthiessen State Park. The canyon is approximately a mile long and in this area is about 50 - 75 feet across, so it's very difficult to capture the entire scene with one 18mm lens, so this image is a combination of three separate, portrait oriented images stitched together.

Lake Falls is great in every season, but I'll be back soon when it's covered in ice.

Wind Point Lighthouse - Winter

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Wind Point Lighthouse in December
Wind Point Lighthouse

Wind Point Lighthouse is a very well preserved light that is still used as a beacon today. The historic keepers quarters is now the town hall and police department offices, and the grounds are well maintained and open year-round.

The 108 foot tall tower has a third order Fresnel lens, and was built in 1880.

Wind Point

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Icy Point
Wind Point, Wisconsin

A beautiful day for a trip to Wind Point, Wisconsin to see Lake Michigan and the Wind Point Lighthouse. The temperatures were in the 30's, and the sun was shining, so it was a pleasant walk along the frozen beach. Ever mindful of shelf ice, we didn't venture off of the sand and rocks.

High Winds

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St. Joseph Lights
High Winds at St. Joseph, Michigan

High winds send waves crashing into the lighthouse at St. Joseph, Michigan.