2024 Calendar: Stories behind the photographs
First, thank you so much for purchasing a 2024 calendar! I was thrilled with this year’s calendar that the images that made it in. 2023 has yielded some of my all-time favorite images. It has been a year of personal growth as a photographer and I am excited for what is to come. I thought it would be fun to share about the images that made it into this year’s calendar. Every image holds a story - some more engaging than others. But a story nonetheless. So for those who are interested in learning a little more about the stories behind the pictures I selected, read on!
January: Sunrise at The Rock
My wife and I ventured up the North Shore in February this past year to celebrate our “baby moon” - one last get away before the birth of our first child. We stayed at one of our favorite spots along the shore just north of Grand Marais. I knew I wanted to visit the location in this photograph for sunrise as it had been awhile since my last attempt. My previous attempt at photographing a winter sunrise at this location yielded an incredibly cloudy morning. The sun never broke through and I never got the shot I was after. Therefore, I was excited to try again. I rolled out of bed an hour before sunrise and made my way along the shore. I reached my destination and hiked out to The Rock. I am always in awe when I emerge from the trees at this location with this impressive structure before me, and this particular morning was no different. Lake Superior had some attitude, sending waves crashing along the shoreline. There were a few clouds, but enough of a gap in between them that I knew I was in for a better sunrise than my previous attempt. I carefully made my way along the ice covered rocks to my starting location. As I got my tripod set up, the sky began to fill with color. Oranges and yellows with a little purple mixed in. I’ve found that quite often the sky is most colorful just before the sun comes up. I began clicking away, capturing different wave movements, adjusting my camera here and there for a better composition, trying to capture both the rocky foreground, the waves, the Rock, and the colorful sky. One of my favorite moments as a photographer is when you know you have captured a beautiful image and there was no guessing on this particular morning. Soon I could see the glowing red sun inching over the horizon. It is always incredible how fast the sun appears to rise when you have a horizon by which to measure it by. Within seconds, it seemed to burst over the waves lighting up the world and signaling the start of a new day. I snapped a few more images, but it wasn’t long before the color began to fade and the brilliant display was over. The morning ended with only a minor slip on the rocks, leading me to drop and shatter one of my filters, but not before I had captured some of my favorite sunrise images to date.
February: The Phantom of the North
Every year I carve out at least one weekend searching for my favorite bird species - the great gray owl. These owls are the tallest in North America and are symbolic to the boreal forests of northern Minnesota. They are nicknamed “the phantom of the north” for their ability to navigate these forests silently, to blend in to their surroundings effortlessly, and their mysterious presence. This particular trip was a bit of a gamble. Great gray sightings had been down throughout the winter and I was uncertain if I would have any luck. My first morning out I drove slowly along backroads, scanning trees for the familiar shape of an owl. As usual, I was up before the sun. I drove and drove, scanned and scanned. It started to feel like I was about to come up short when I noticed a car ahead of me had pulled over. Curiously I made my way towards it. As I approached, I saw it - a beautiful great gray owl on one of the most ideal perches I could have asked for. I pulled my car over, stepped out as quietly as possible, and set my lens up on my tripod. The sun was not yet up and it was cloudy, muting the colors of the owl and creating a quiet scene. This would prove to be my best, although not my only, owl encounter on this trip. And frankly, some of my favorite great gray owl images I have captured. When I edited this photo, I decided to embrace the serenity of the moment - keeping the colors to a minimum and striving to edit this photo in a way that captures the mystery of this incredible owl and forests it calls home.
March: Unexpected Aurora
On the night of March 23 I had just stepped out of class when I checked my phone. Instagram was going crazy - the aurora borealis was out and people were seeing it as far south as Arizona! Local photographers were even capturing scenes of it over the St. Paul skyline. I raced home and grabbed my gear. My wife was 42 weeks pregnant. In fact, our due date was March 24, technically only hours away. But she had never seen the northern lights and decided to join me for a night of aurora chasing. We jumped in the car and just started driving north. As we drove along I-94 through Maple Grove we could see the green streaks in the sky with our naked eye. We kept driving, meeting up with some friends at a spot with relatively dark skies in Nowthen, MN. Dozens of cars were pulled over as people marveled at the lights dancing above. I set up my camera and started clicking away. Green, yellow, and purple hues danced around, at times even above our heads. It was an incredible night. 11:59 ticked into midnight and I informed my wife that if our daughter was born while we were watching the northern lights we’d have to name her ‘Aurora.’ Fortunately we didn’t have to cross that bridge. We made our way home around 1:30am - exhausted and exhilarated.
April: Yellow Warbler
In the past I haven’t been much of a bird photographer. I’ve often joked about how an interest in birds seems to correlate with an increase in one’s age. Well, I turned 35 this past year, and whether or not there’s a correlation, I suddenly found myself increasingly interested in birds. Go figure. Fortunately, that interest ramped up during the spring migration and I found myself chasing images of warblers and waterfowl that I had never seen or even heard of before. It was actually a lot of fun learning how to capture better photos of these little birds. This yellow warbler in particular had found a patch of brush along the St. Croix River. There were about a half dozen yellow warblers flitting about and I set up my camera and waited for the right moment. Sure enough, this one picked an ideal perch, I set my camera to burst mode, and fired off a dozen shots. Even better, as I did so it let out a little chirp, leading to this capture. I love the contrast of the bright yellow against the green brush and this has become one of my favorite bird photos I have captured to date.
May: Gunflint Sunrise
I couldn’t let this calendar be without a sunrise scene from my favorite place on earth, the Gunflint Trail. I made a weeklong trip up there this past June to teach a photography course at North House Folk School and I made plenty of time to be on the water searching for moose. While the moose photos were the highlight of the trip, I was treated to some incredible sunrise scenes as I paddle along the glassy water. This one in particular brings me back to the moment of serenity I experienced. The sun had not yet risen and the sky was a beautiful mix of blues and purples. Steam rose from the water. There was no wind and the only sound was the call of a white throated sparrow echoing across the water. It was a moment of complete peace and serenity and I often find myself thinking back to these morning paddles, eager to return to moments like this.
June: Bull Moose
On my first morning searching for moose this past June, I was treated to seven different sightings. It was unlike any other day I have had searching for moose. There were moments where I didn’t know where to point my camera as there were multiple moose visible all around me. But when this bull abruptly emerged from the trees and crossed the channel in front of my kayak, I knew this was the one I wanted to focus on. He was the biggest moose I had seen that morning, and he put on quite a show - splashing in the water, intimidating a smaller bull, and swimming all over. This photo in particular was one of those moments were everything lined up - lighting, composition, patient subject - it just all seemed to fall into place. I captured many photos of this moose, but this particular photo was my favorite of the morning. He paused from his feeding and turned towards me, the sunlight hitting his face, and gave me a long stare while I floated 30 yards away from him. Then he returned to his meal, calmly grazing without a care that I was watching. It was an incredible morning and an incredible encounter.
July: Gooseberry Falls
It has been nearly 8 years since I had wandered to the main falls at Gooseberry State Park. This park sees so many visitors that it is nearly impossible to get a photograph of the falls without a couple dozen people getting in the shot. I hadn’t even bothered a photograph here as I was often deterred by the line of cars extending from the park all the way out to Highway 61. But this past summer, as my family and I made our way up to Grand Marais, we needed to make a stop for our two month old daughter. It was a Thursday evening, early in the summer, and I decided to give Gooseberry a try, hoping it would be a little quieter than usual. I was pleasantly surprised to find it nearly empty - at least by Gooseberry standards. I had the falls all to myself for several minutes and was able to take several photos at this iconic location. It was a lovely evening and I was grateful for the time I could spend at this beautiful spot. We made the mistake of returning a couple months later at the height of the busy season. Let’s just say it left me all the more grateful for this moment of serenity.
August: King of the Gunflint
This is perhaps my favorite photograph of 2023 and will be hard to beat. It has been a goal of mine to photograph a large bull moose in velvet with water dripping from its antlers. Summer after summer I have scoured the Gunflint Trail, exploring back roads, paddling on various lakes. These big bulls are elusive, and I had very little expectation this shot would come together. And yet, as I drove down the Gunflint Trail in the middle of the day, I looked out my window and saw this massive bull enjoying a feast of aquatic plants in a small pond just off the road. I pulled my car over, got out and quietly made my way across the road. After a handful of photos from the roadside, and seeing how undisturbed he was by the presence of car after car pulling over to watch him, I made my way down to the water’s edge. I was wearing chest waders, and I carefully stepped into the pond in order to get an eye level shot. I maintained a safe distance, got into position, and snapped photo after photo. I would wait until he dunked he dunked his head in the water to feed, then, as he lifted it up, I snapped photo after photo. I probably took nearly a thousand photos of this moose, and it didn’t help that I ran into him two more times over the next day. But this one image in particular I keep coming back to. I don’t know if it’s the water droplets or the way his positioning highlights his size, but it’s a favorite and I’m thrilled to share it in this calendar.
September: Gunflint Fox
There isn’t much of a story to this photo except for the fact that rarely I’m able to get a decent photo of a fox. They move so quickly and are so agile that they seem to slip out of sight before I can even lift my lens. This one was using the Gunflint as its own personal right of way, so I drove up ahead, hopped out of my car, and snapped photos while it trotted down the road. At one point, it left the roadside and wandered into the tall grass in the ditch. It sat there motionless, listening for the movement of smaller rodents it could turn into a meal. As it waited, I took this image. Apparently there wasn’t a meal to be had, as after a few more seconds it continued on its way down the road and out of sight.
October: Splitrock Lighthouse in fall colors
What can make a beautiful and iconic location even more incredible? Autumn colors. They have away of enhancing almost every scene. Splitrock Lighthouse is no exception. This was my first time visiting this overlook and it did not disappoint. Lake Superior’s shoreline was wrapped in the yellow of autumn, creating a contrast between the deep blue water against the changing season. Ellingson Island, an impressive tombolo in the bay below the lighthouse, was dwarfed by the vastness of the great lake. I spent nearly an hour at this overlook, taking in the view from every direction.
November: Gunflint Crossing
I find this photograph to be one of the most symbolic images I have taken along the Gunflint Trail. After spending a weekend searching high and low for moose, it looked like I had struck out and I was preparing to head home with empty memory cards. As I made a final pass along one of my favorite stretches of the Gunflint, I was treated to not one, but five different moose in the span of about 30 minutes. The highlight, however, was this large bull, who appeared out of seemingly nowhere, crossed the road, and disappeared into the trees on the other side. So often this is one’s experience when searching for wildlife in the north woods of Minnesota - brief glimpses of these elusive creatures. This photo also symbolizes the juxtaposition of human development and wilderness. The Gunflint Trail is a well-maintained, paved road that cuts 57 miles into wilderness that would otherwise be inaccessible. This photo serves as a reminder to me that we share the world with wildlife and it is a privilege to enter into their world and should do so respectfully.
December: King of the Forest
For the third season in a row, I managed to find and photograph my favorite local buck. When I first photographed this buck he had nine tines and while he was fairly large, there were a couple of other bucks in the area that surpassed his size. He knew his place and seemed to fade into the background when they were around. However, the following season, he was the king of the forest. He had grown a rack of 10 long tines, nearly perfectly symmetrical, and he carried himself with confidence, knowing there was not another buck in the area that would challenge his dominance. This past season he retained his role as the largest buck in the area, however I could tell he had taken a step back. He only grew eight tines, but his rack was still impressive and on more than one occasion I watched him make sure the other bucks knew he was still in charge. This is one of my favorite images of this buck (and I have many). As the sun was setting, the light caught the side of his frame as he moved through the trees. He briefly looked my way before continuing on into the woods. I am eager to run into him again this year, although I wonder if his reign as the largest in the herd has come to an end.
Keywords: adventure, animals, antlers, aurora, aurora borealis, birds, buck, calendar, explore, fall, forest, fox, gunflint, Gunflint Trail, landscape photography, landscapes, lights, minnesota, moose, nature, north, northern, northern lights, owls, photography, red fox, scenic, seasons, spring, summer, sunrise, warbler, whitetail, whitetail buck, wild, wilderness, wildlife, wildlife photography, winter
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