Horseshoe Lake, Illinois Sunrise, Bald cypress and Tupelo trees

Olive Branch Illinois, in Alexander County, is the home of Horseshoe Lake, not to be confused with Horseshoe Lake in Madison County.

Horseshoe Lake is an oxbow lake in Alexander County, Illinois. It is the site of Illinois’s Horseshoe Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, a state park 10,645 acres (43 km2) in size. A remnant of a large meander of the Mississippi River, it is today a shallow, isolated patch of water located near Cairo and the southern tip of Illinois.

The Alexander County lake has major problems with siltation. During the Great Flood of 1993 the river tried to shift back to the Horseshoe Lake meander, but returned to its modern channel after the flood subsided. Much of the lake resembles a swamp or bayou. This is one of the northernmost parts of the natural ranges of the Bald cypress and Tupelo trees, which are found on the shoreline of the lake. Another tree found here is the swamp cottonwood. There is a good growth of the flowering American lotus.

Feature Image Details

The feature image shows Bald cypress and Tupelo trees at sunrise.

For the image, I used a Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens at 30mm, for 1/8 of a second at ISO 400, f16.


  • The key to reflection images such as these is for the water to be in the shade.
  • Play around with various exposures and time durations.
  • Get low to the water! Sometimes you cannot see any reflections unless you get low. Find a composition you like, then set up the tripod in that position.

Here are some more images from the same morning.

I like the above image a lot. It distinctly shows the Bald Cypress trees. It was taken with a  Canon 14MM F2.8 L Lens. I did not have my tilt shift lens with me at the time. It was in the car. Had I walked back to get it, I would have missed the shot.

The trees were hugely pointed in, but I corrected the perspective in Photoshop. A Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens would have been about perfect.

Here’s a clip of what it looked like as shot.

Perspective controls in Photoshop are amazing but it is better to use the right lens.

Glorious Sunrise

The above image was taken with a Canon 100-400 MM F 4.5-5.6 L Lens. I seldom carry that lens, simply because of the weight. I had it with me because I knew there were opportunities like this.

Hatfield vs McCoy

Horseshoe Lake is not a “family destination”. There are few services and unless you are interested in photography, fishing, or birding, there is little else to do.

The above images are recent and digital, but here’s my story from twenty years ago that highlights the issue.

In the immediate area, there was then and there still is today precisely one place to eat, and it’s in a bar. I sat down at the bar and asked for a menu.

Then I made a mistake: I asked the person sitting next to me a question about the number of the geese in the fall. This was the resultant conversation.

Me: Is this an average year for geese in the area.

Him: Do I know you?

Me: I’m Mike – cutoff

Him: Are you from the DNR?

Me: I’m Mike – cutoff

Him: I did not ask you who you are. I asked if you were from the DNR.

At that point, he pulled out a gun, pointed it at my head and said If you are from the DNR I’m going to blow you away.

I assured him that I was not from the DNR and he put the gun away.

I should have immediately left at that point, but I had already ordered dinner and waited for it. The man who pulled the gun on me started talking to the person next to him. The other fellow mentioned that his daughter was dating someone who he did not know.

As you might imagine from this, our “hero” said that if his daughter was dating someone he would know when he got up, where he went, and would stake him out until he knew everything about him.

The next day, I filled up at a gas station and a young kid came out to pump. This was not self-service yet. I told the kid what happened and he laughed.

He then said: “I am not surprised. In fact, if anyone sees me talking to you, I can get in serious trouble.”

The moral of this story is please do not try to talk to anyone in deep Southern Illinois unless you know them.

Equipment List

Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

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Coming up next: Another new destination.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Death Valley: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Sunset

Death Valley National Park is a phenomenal study of erosion, weather, geology, sand dunes, salt formations, and huge spring wildflower blooms on rare occasions.

This post covers Death Valley Sand Dunes, specifically the Mesquite Flat dunes.

The dunes are easily accessible, just minutes from Stovepipe Wells. They are a very popular spot. It is nearly impossible to find undisturbed ripples anywhere near the parking lot where the tallest dunes are.

The dunes area is vast. I parked a mile away to get this image. The only time the tallest dunes will be without footprints are at sunrise following a very windy evening. Even then you better be the first one up and far away from the lot, or people will be walking in from of you, messing up the shot.

Feature Image Details

Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

If you missed them, please check out my previous articles.

  1. Death Valley: Zabriskie Point Sunrise, Manly Beacon
  2. Death Valley: Dante’s View Sunrise
  3. Death Valley: Artist’s Palette


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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Monument Valley: Yei Bi Chei Milky Way and Sand dunes

Monument Valley is a Navajo Indian tribal park on the border of northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah.

It’s a beautiful place but access is difficult without a guide and guides are costly. The restaurants do not serve or sell alcohol but you can bring it and have it in your room.

There is only one trail that does not require a guide. Even then, the main trail is sunrise to sunset. This makes life difficult for anyone seeking night-time images.

If this sounds problematic, remember, this is their land, private land.

Feature Image Details

The Rokinon is actually a pretty crappy lens in numerous ways. It is manual focus only. The corners are not sharp, wide open. It is not usable, in my opinion, at F1.4 or F1.8. F2.0 is questionable. Others disagree.

Importantly, I have seen many stories where the focus is off entirely but only on one side of the lens. Mechanically, the lens is sloppy. One photographer exchanged his lens three times before he found a good one.

Why would anyone put up with this?

Interestingly, if one can find a good model, it is arguably the best lens ever made for night photography. The reason: coma.

Coma is an image aberration that makes points of light look like bat wings. A Canon 24mm lens that costs four times as much has terrible coma. The Rokinon way outperforms Nikon as well.

Lenses that make stars that look light bat wings instead of points of light are not suited for night photography. The Rokinon is the best coma-corrected lens around.

Exposure Rule

The maximum length of time one can expose night images without stars streaking can be calculated by using this rule: e = 400 / Fl.

E is the exposure time in seconds, 400 is a constant derived from experience, and Fl is the focal length of the lens in millimeters. In this case, we get e= 400/24 = 16.67 seconds. I round to the nearest 5 seconds, thus 15 seconds.

For this shot, I took a series of six images at 15 seconds and stacked them in Photoshop. Stacking reduces noise.

For more on stacking, please see Joshua Tree National Park – Arch Rock – Geminid Meteor Shower.


The Milky Way image is a blend of an image taken at night with a second one taken right at sunrise the next morning.

The sunrise shot is an eight-frame vertical panorama merged together in Lightroom. One of the frames was used in the Milky Way image above.

I hired a guide for the night image. The next day, I hired a guide for the sunrise image.

More on Rokinon

Focusing the Rokinon 24mm lens is a real pain. Night images are best at infinity, but finding infinity on the Rokinon is a process. If you turn the lens to the infinity mark you are 100% guaranteed to get lenses that are not in focus. They will not be usable at all.

Rokinon Focusing Procedure

Focus on the moon, wide open, F1.4. A crescent moon is best. Adjust the exposure so the moon highlights are not blown out.

Minute focusing variations make a difference. When you are sure you have it correct, tape the focusing ring so it can never turn. This is trickier than it sounds. It is very easy to move the focusing ring while taping it. It took me three times.

Also, make use you do not tape over the aperture ring. That’s manual too, and I did tape over it once. After you have lightly taped it over, go back out and take another image of the moon. It should look as good as the best you have. Then tape the whole thing so it can never move, again making sure you do not tape over the aperture ring.

As modified, the lens is only usable for night photography. But that’s all it was ever good for in the first place.

Rokinon 14mm F2.8

If the above is too much of a hassle, and it probably should be, forget the whole thing.

Buy a Rokinon 14MM f2.8 Lens.

The 14mm Rokinon lens is still manual focus, but it is not entirely manual. The aperture is electronic. It is coma corrected, again way better than Canon or Nikon. And it is way cheaper than the Canon and even the Rokinon 24mm lens described above.

The lens also has a hard stop, right at infinity (focus ring turned until it cannot turn anymore), and that hard stop is accurate. It has other issues, primarily with straight lines that affect day photography, but it is another go-to lens that pros use at night.

Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Freckles the Cat

Meet Freckles the Cat

“Freckles” is sitting in a barn window at the Northwind Perennial Farm near Burlington, Wisconsin. As I was taking the image,  a gust of wind came opening up the catalog Freckles was sleeping on, randomly to the perfect page.

One cannot plan for moments like these. Ultimately, that’s what life is all about, being there, taking part, and capturing a story to cherish and share with others.

The inside of the barn was used for flower arranging.

The editor of Wisconsin Trails Magazine used the above image on a cover.


Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

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Next up, another series: Zion National Park in Autumn.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Iceland in 16 Days: Day 6, North Iceland, Selfoss Waterfall

Selfoss and Dettifoss are a pair of waterfalls on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river. You arrive at Dettifoss first. A short 10-minute hike or so leads to Selfoss.

I was driving like mad to get to this location, fearing we would be too late for sunset. We were, in fact, too late for Dettifoss. The waterfall was in deep shadow. The light was gone.

I figured we would have to come back the next day, but we took the path to Selfoss. Although Selfoss is lower in elevation, light from the setting sun had a clear path. The result was a magnificent rainbow, the best I have ever seen.

The light was quite bright, and a polarizer barely provided enough light reduction to smooth out the water.

I did not help matters one bit by shooting at ISO 160 instead of 100. It was an accident that I did not catch. Not wanting to overexpose the the highlights, I made a second mistake by underexposing the shadows. That would have helped smooth out the water as well.

Feature Shot Details: Canon 16-35MM F4 L lens at 24MM, ISO 160, F/16, 1/5 second.


Water on the rocks above is not from the river, it’s an accumulation of spray.
Details: Canon 16-35MM L lens at 16MM, ISO 160, F/16, 0.4 seconds.


The above shot is looking across the scene.
Details: Canon 24-105MM F4 L lens at 65MM, ISO 160, F/22, 0.4 seconds.

Shooting at F/22, as I did, is a mistake. That focal length is not as sharp as mid-range F-stops. From this distance F/11, focused on the waterfall would have been about right (there was no foreground to keep sharp). However, F/11 it would not have blurred the water like I wanted.

The solution, as I have mentioned before , is a set of neutral density filters. Polarizers can help, but you have to be careful in how they are rotated or they will obliterate the rainbow. A better choice would have been a neutral density filter. I now carry B&W ND filters of strength 3.0 (10 stops), 1.8 (6 stops), and 0.6 (2 stops). Six stops would have changed the exposure to 2 seconds or so at F/11.

Spray from Selfoss is intense, with emphasis on intense. You don’t exactly get soaked, but if the wind is blowing towards you, which it was for us, your lens will be covered with spray between every shot.

Have a box of lens cleaning tissues handy. Even though I wiped the filter between every shot, I spent a very long time in Lightroom removing spots caused by spray on the filter. Many shots were so covered with spray as to be unusable.

I also took some images with a Canon 14MM F2.8 L lens, capturing the complete rainbow plus more of the side waterfall. The images were beautiful except for one thing: The water looked awful (frozen, not silky), so I tossed the images in the digital bit bucket.

The problem was of my own making.

The 14MM lens does not take outside filters but it does take gel filters in the back, and I had them with me.  However, I was not about to be fiddling around with gel filters with all that spray and with the light changing fast.

If you have a 14MM lens and are going to be photographing waterfalls, put the gel filter in ahead of time. For further discussion please see the section on the 14MM L lens in My Equipment List.

Rainbow Tips, Rainbow Math

The apex of a rainbow is 180 degrees from the sun. You will not see a rainbow looking towards the sun. If you see rainbows images that face the sun, they are fake. Here, you can see the light on the waterfall and the foreground rock. The rainbow is from sunlight refractions through the spray, just like a prism. There is no rainbow in the third image because camera positioning was at a right angle to the sun.

When looking for rainbows, make sure the sun is at your back. The lower in the sky the sun is, the higher the rainbow apex.  At noon, depending on latitude, rainbows may be below the horizon, invisible. Thus, it is appropriate to consider terms like “rainbow rise” and “rainbow set”.

The huge, more than 180 degree arch in the second shot is because the sun is on the horizon and the foreground was below the horizon.

From an airplane, it is possible to see a 360 degree full circle rainbow.

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Up Next: North Iceland, Dettifoss Waterfall

Mike “Mish” Shedlock