Garden of the Gods: Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

Our Illinois tour continues with a look a the Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee National Forest in extreme Southern Illinois.

More than 320 million years ago, the wind and rain patiently started to chisel away at large deposits of sedimentary rock located in what is now, Shawnee National Forest. Over the years, the elements have sculpted stunning, extraordinary rock formations.

There are 5.5 miles of hiking trails at this spot with many more trails nearby. I would rate the trails to the images shown in this article as easy for almost everyone but those in a wheelchair. The feature shot and the images below are a half-mile or less from the parking lot.

Feature Image Details

For the image, I used a Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens at 28mm, for 1/13 of a second at ISO 250, f16.

Tips

  • This is an easy shot. 28mm is not extreme. Anyone can take this image with almost any camera.
  • You just have to be there at sunset on a sunny day. The location does not photograph well at other times. The hardest part is not having people in your images. This is a very popular spot, especially on weekends.
  • Best time: Very late October or early November.

Here are some more images from the same day.

I assure you these shots are as easy as they get. Nearly anyone can walk to this location and nearly any camera will do.

I recommend a tripod as always, but these shots could be taken without a tripod with proper technique.

Equipment List

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

Related Articles

  1. Horseshoe Lake, Illinois Sunrise, Bald cypress and Tupelo trees
  2. Apple River Canyon State Park, Illinois

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Coming up next: Another destination in Southern Illinois.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Apple River Canyon State Park, Illinois

Those looking for a scenic day trip from Chicago or Northern Illinois should check out Apple River Canyon State Park.

The park is located in the hilly northwest corner of Illinois in Jo Daviess County near the Wisconsin border. Limestone bluffs, deep ravines, springs, streams and wildlife characterize this area. In the winter, eagles frequent the area.

Five trails – Pine Ridge, Tower Rock, River Route, Sunset and Primrose Trail (accessible) – wind through the woods for several miles within the park.

You can easily explore the park in a single day.

All of these images are from late-October. They represent the peak of the Autumn season.

Feature Image Details

For the feature image, I used a Canon 24-105MM F4 L Lens at 58mm, for 1/30 of a second at ISO 500.

Tips

  • 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 all taken within a couple hundred yards of the feature image in late afternoon.

When possible, shoot both vertical and horizontal images. Here is a vertical image from the same location.

The previous two images were taken with a Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens: If I had to pick one lens and one lens only, this lens would be at the top of the list. I see things from a wide angle perspective.

 

Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall

Note the Great Blue Heron fishing at the top of the waterfall.

The above image is not in the main park area. Rather, a dam on the river forms Apple Canyon Lake. For directions, do a search for Apple Canyon Lake Waterfall as opposed to Apple River Canyon State Park.

There are no trails in the area. The surrounding land is private and posted. Other than to stop and take an image, there is little to do at this spot. It’s worth a side trip from the state park, but it’s not an activity destination.

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Coming up next: Another new destination.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Porcupine Mountains State Park: Greenstone Falls, Overlooked Falls, Little Carp River

One of my favorite Midwest spots is Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the Michigan upper peninsula.

The park offers 90 miles of trails, beautiful lakes, and numerous waterfalls. It also offers an immense amount of biting insects (black flies, mosquitoes, gnats, and other major nuisances).

The best way to avoid these annoying pests (they are worst in June and July), is to go offseason. Fall and Winter are my favorite times. In the Winter the park offers both downhill and cross-country ski trails.

The park has three main sections: Lake of the Clouds (plus the shoreline), the interior, and the river (waterfall) section. This post covers an interior trail that follows the Little Carp River.

All of these images are from mid-October. They represent the peak of the Autumn season.

People flock to the river section and Lake of the Clouds. There is much more to see if you get off the beaten path. The trail to Mirror Lake is well traveled, but we had this trail to ourselves.

Feature Image Details

The feature image is a set of two images taken from the same location.

The first was for 30 seconds. I took a second exposure for the land that was about a half-second. Wind is the problem to overcome. It was pretty calm, but 30 seconds is simply asking too much. The trees will blur.

I used a Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens at a focal length of 28 MM. To include more of the trees on the land, I tilted the camera up for the second shot. The result looks more like a 5-4 crop than the normal 3-2 ration of a typical 35mm camera.

To increase the exposure length, I used a B+W polarizer plus a Neutral Density Filter.  My B+W ND filters are of strength 3.0 (10 stops), 1.8 (6 stops), and 0.6 (2 stops).

The Canon 16-35 mm lens can stack two filters without vignetting, but the 24-105 mm lens can’t.

Vision

The image is more about vision than anything else. I had to get wet to get the image, by crossing the river. It’s not that deep but it is cold in mid-October.

First, one had to see the potential. This is what it looked like on the near side.

The above is a nice image but I thought I could do better. I spotted those bubbles on the opposite side and wondered, “What if?” The only way to find out is to get wet.

This is what the shot looks like from the opposite bank at 1/2 second.

That shot would go in the ash can, I use it only to show what the naked eye roughly sees.

The light in that image is not as good as the feature image, but I could detect the leaves were spinning very slowly in a circular pattern. The 30-second exposure explains most of the rest.

As for the color difference, the sunlight was hitting the tops of the trees in the feature image and they reflected on the water. Here is a 30-second exposure without the sun.

Tips

  • The key to reflection images such as these is for the water to be in the shade. The reflected trees are in the sun. The exposures were long enough to purposely blur the water.
  • You will need a tripod for shots like these. Play around with various exposures and time durations. The faster the moving water, the less time you need to get smooth water.
  • Get low to the water!
  • Sometimes you cannot see any reflections unless you get low. Find a composition you like, then setup the tripod in that position.
  • Understand that it most often takes 30 seconds or more to get a shot like this. Most cameras only go up to 30 seconds. If you need more time, then you need a cable release set on bulb, counting or using a stopwatch to count the seconds.
  • The hardest part of this image is recognizing the possibility and being willing to get wet to try out the idea.

Along the way to Greenstone Falls, you pass Overlooked Falls. Here are a couple of images.

Overlooked Falls 

Equipment List

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Porcupine Mountains Images

  1. Porcupine Mountains State Park: Lake of the Clouds
  2. Porcupine Mountains State Park: Presque Isle River, Manabezho Falls
  3. Porcupine Mountains State Park: Presque Isle River, Manido Falls
  4. Porcupine Mountains State Park: Presque Isle River, Nawadaha Falls
  5. Porcupine Mountains State Park: Presque Isle River Reflections

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Coming up next: A new destination.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Porcupine Mountains State Park: Presque Isle River Reflections

One of my favorite Midwest spots is Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the Michigan upper peninsula.

The park offers 90 miles of trails, beautiful lakes, and numerous waterfalls. It also offers an immense amount of biting insects (black flies, mosquitoes, gnats, and other major nuisances).

The best way to avoid these annoying pests (they are worst in June and July), is to go offseason. Fall and Winter are my favorite times. In the Winter the park offers both downhill and cross-country ski trails.

The park has three main sections: Lake of the Clouds (plus the shoreline), the interior, and the river (waterfall) section. This post is on the river section.

All of these images are from mid-October. They represent the peak of the Autumn season.

Autumn Reflections

The feature image was taken at ISO 100 for 0.4 seconds at F11. I used a Canon 24-105MM F4 L Lens at a focal length of 82 MM.

Here are a couple more images. Slight changes in composition or tripod placement can produce hugely different reflections.

Tips

The key to reflection images such as these is for the water to be in the shade. The reflected trees are in the sun. The exposures were long enough to purposely blur the water.

You will need a tripod for shots like these. Play around with various exposures and time durations. The faster the moving water, the less time you need to get smooth water.

Get low to the water!

Sometimes you cannot see any reflections unless you do. Find a composition you like, then setup the tripod in that position.

There is a 2-mile waterfall loop trail that circles the waterfall section. Take it.

Equipment List

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

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Porcupine Mountains Images

  1. Porcupine Mountains State Park: Lake of the Clouds
  2. Porcupine Mountains State Park: Presque Isle River, Manabezho Falls
  3. Porcupine Mountains State Park: Presque Isle River, Manido Falls
  4. Porcupine Mountains State Park: Presque Isle River, Nawadaha Falls

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Coming up next: a long-exposure surprise then on to a new location.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Porcupine Mountains State Park: Presque Isle River, Manabezho Falls

One of my favorite Midwest spots is Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the Michigan upper peninsula.

The park offers 90 miles of trails, beautiful lakes, and numerous waterfalls. It also offers an immense amount of biting insects (black flies, mosquitoes, gnats, and other major nuisances).

The best way to avoid these annoying pests (they are worst in June and July), is to go offseason. Fall and Winter are my favorite times. In the Winter the park offers both downhill and cross-country ski trails.

The park has three main sections: Lake of the Clouds (plus the shoreline), the interior, and the river (waterfall) section. This post and the next few will cover the Presque Isle River section.

Manabezho Falls

Manabezho Falls has a drop of approximately 25 feet and a crest of 150 feet, it is the largest of the waterfalls on the river. It is below Manido Falls and Nawadaha Falls. The name Manabezho refers to an Ojibway spirit god. A view of the falls is easily accessible by trail.

All of these images are from mid-October. They represent what you can look forward to.

Feature Image Details

ISO 100 for 0.6 seconds at F16. I used a Canon 100-400 MM F 4.5-5.6 L Lens at a focal length of 200 MM. I seldom use this lens but it does come in handy at times. This was one of the times.

For this waterfall, one needs to zoom in to isolate the best portion of it. Otherwise, you will end up with too much sky or too many unattractive sections of the span.

The composition lends itself to both horizontal and vertical framing.

The focal length on the vertical image is 300 mm.

Tips

Waterfalls photograph best in bright overcast conditions or in shade. Judging from the autumn reflections in the water, this was an image taken late mid-to-late afternoon with some sun hitting the trees and reflecting in the water, but no direct light on the waterfall itself.

There is a 2-mile waterfall loop trail that circles the waterfall section. Take it. This waterfall photographs best from the main parking area side, but Manido Falls, up next, offers opportunities from both sides.

Presque Isle River Bridge Crossing

A scenic wooden bridge crosses the Presque Isle River and there is a nice shot from the middle of it.

Be forewarned, traffic is heavy and it can be difficult to get a shot with no one crossing. That shot was 1.3 seconds at 100 mm which necessitate a tripod. For this length of time, if anyone is moving on the bridge it will ruin the image.

The water is high in this shot, way too high actually. There are beautiful stone carve-outs and potholes that photograph better when the water is low. But when the water is low, it’s also low on the main waterfalls. All in all, more water is better even if less water was better for this one shot.

It’s hard to get calm conditions at this spot. The rushing water makes its own wind. The best approach is to take a couple of frames, one to stop motion of the leaves, and another to enhance the motion on the water and blend 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: Manido Falls and Rainbows

In case you missed it, please see Porcupine Mountains State Park: Lake of the Clouds for a glorious sunset.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Porcupine Mountains State Park: Lake of the Clouds

One does not have to travel West, East, South, or overseas to make excellent images. The Midwest is tremendously overlooked as a photography location.

One of my favorite Midwest spots is Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the Michigan upper peninsula.

The park offers 90 miles of trails, beautiful lakes, and numerous waterfalls. It also offers an immense amount of biting insects (black flies, mosquitoes, gnats, and other major nuisances).

The best way to avoid these annoying pests (they are worst in June and July), is to go offseason. Fall and Winter are my favorite times. In the Winter the park offers both downhill and cross-country ski trails.

This post covers Autumn opportunities.

The park has three main sections: Lake of the Clouds (plus the shoreline), the interior, and the river (waterfall) section. This post covers the Lake of the Clouds section.

One can drive to the top, hike a short distance, and take the same shots as millions of others, or one can go off the beaten path. The feature image is decidedly off the beaten path.

All of these images are from mid-October. They represent what you can look forward to.

Off the Beaten Path

My wife Liz and I, along with one other person, shared that glorious sunset.

To get to that spot, one can hike along the Escarpment Trail from the main Lake of the Clouds parking lot or one can take a 30-45 minute uphill trail that I would rate as moderate. It can be a scramble in some places and it is hard to locate. The trail is near a mine on the left as one is heading up towards the main Lake in the Clouds parking area.

The spot is excellent at both sunrise and sunset. For the former, you need to allow plenty of time.

I advise taking the trail during the day so you know exactly what to expect. Here are more images from this fantastic location.

The above two images were early morning. Liz and I hiked up at sunrise. Unfortunately, the clouds were just a little late. They would have turned pink at sunrise but they blew in after sunrise.

Main Lake of the Clouds Area

I took that image from the main viewing area at sunrise. It may look secluded, but it isn’t and it won’t be.

Here is a view from the opposite direction.

That image was well before dawn. I count 13 people in that scene but there were at least another dozen downhill that you cannot see. More came before sunrise and shortly after sunrise, there were at least 60 people.

The spot is large enough to accommodate everyone. I am merely pointing out you better expect lots of other people no matter how nasty the weather. I have been to this spot when it was rainy and windy with at least a dozen others all hoping for a break in the clouds.

Equipment List

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Top 100 Nature Photography Websites

Feedspot just featured me in their list of Top 100 Nature Photography Blogs & Websites To Follow in 2018.

There is a nominal charge of $2 per month to track whatever sites you wish to follow and see new sites as they come on board. I consider it worth it.

Coming up next: More Michigan Autumn images.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Joshua Tree National Park – Barker Dam – Autumn Reflections in December

The Barker Dam, also known as the Big Horn Dam, is a water-storage facility located in Joshua Tree National Park in California. The dam was constructed by early cattlemen, including CO Barker, in 1900. It was raised in 1949 by rancher William F. Keys.

I took this set of images on December 12, 2017. No one was more surprised than me to learn mid-December was the peak of Autumn. The willow trees were all glowing orange and yellow about a half-hour before sunset.

We got there late in the afternoon and it was a scramble to take as many different angles as I could in about 1/2 hour of time.

Feature Image Details

Additional Images

All of the images were taken with the same 24-105mm lens. The focal lengths of the images ranged from 24 to 98mm.

Nowhere else in the park has such beautiful deciduous trees.

Equipment

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock