Don McGowan

Don McGowan

Saturday, 12 October 2019 15:27

Kitchi-Gami on the Cusp of Change

How Red Jack Lake received its name is a mystery I have not solved in the 14 years I have been visiting Hiawatha National Forest, but I have enjoyed my time here very much nonetheless. Sadly, over the years, I have watched as the water level in all of Hiawatha's waters, including Red Jack's, has risen, cutting off access to many of the wonderful locations that have historically offered so much creative opportunity. However, I do not despair, the beauty of Hiawatha will always be available to anyone who is willing to look. Red Jack lies upstream from Council, which lies upstream from Snipe, and thus so to Fish Lake and the waters of Little Indian River, Indian River, and in the end to the wide waters of Lake Michigan itself, all the way down where the Manistique River joins the lake by the town of Manistique. It is a convoluted drainage, whose geologic history is equally tortured.

A focal length of 70mm, on the short side of telephotoland, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted, isolating a small corner of the shoreline crowded with firs and the ever-present maples, but excluding the sky in favor of an old white birch log waiting patiently to come closer to the shore.. An aperture of f/14 provided depth-of-field from the camera-to-subject distance, and a shutter speed of 0.5 second at ISO 100 gave me an overall somewhat lighter-than-medium exposure.

The children of Kitchi-Gami are many, and their varieties make for an astounding diversity in the Great North Woods, but the winds of change are blowing and what they may herald remains unknown.

Saturday, 05 October 2019 20:55

Two Swans Named Spot

Far across the lower, marshy end of Pike Lake on Friday morning two swan parents shepherded their small family of four cygnets, too distant to be seen with the unaided eye. It was only when I looked through a moderately long telephoto that I spied them paddling along the grassy edge of the prairie. Even then they were hardly part of the story of the golden light illuminating the tones of autumn in the Great North Woods of the Upper Peninsula.

A focal length of 105mm, somewhere in the middle of short telephotoland, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted showing a fairly large arc of the entire marsh and wetland pond. An aperture of f/18 provided depth-of-field and a shutter speed of 1/15th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure.

The swans named "Spot" are wholly coincidental to the light of a new day in the UP. They don't even provide scale, But they are certainly part of the larger tale that is the epic of these great forests and the creatures that dwell in and fly over them on their ways around the beauty we call Earth. They are reminders of what we are given to protect and what we stand to lose in the carelessness of our failed stewardship.

Saturday, 28 September 2019 06:19

Talking Leaves

It is the Land of Gichi-Gami, the Great Sea. It is sacred to the Anishinaabe People. In autumn the maples (Acer) put on a display of color. They are joined by others - from the cinnamon ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea) to the hickories (Carya) and every imaginable botanical size and type in between. It is a rainbow of visual delight dotted with 10,000 bodies of water, from the smallest of springs to the Great Sea itself. When a father read to his six-year-old the words of Longfellow's epic, he generated in the boy a love of people and place that has only grown deeper and wider with the passage of time.

A focal length of 117mm, the middle range of short telephotoland, gave me an intimate field-of-view that highlighted the foliage color and the trunks of the densely growing forest. An aperture of f/18 provided depth of field and allowed for a shutter speed of 1/13th second at ISO 100, in the very slightly wafting breeze, to create a medium exposure.

I have been blessed to visit this amazing land many times, and my favorite visit will always be now.



Saturday, 21 September 2019 11:49

Ballot Box Gone Missing

The Noah Waldroup farm is nestled a scant half-mile below where the Appalachian Trail passes through Taylor Hollow Gap on its way to Hot Springs (Madison County), North Carolina. The 4686' majesty of Bluff Mountain rises to the west. Noah's descendant, Floyd Waldroup farmed this land early in the Twentieth Century, and he was quite active in the politics of Spring Creek Township. Perhaps the old ballot box came to be in Floyd's barnloft via a completely innocent route, or perhaps it was conveniently squirreled away so that its contents could forever remain a mystery. The stories Floyd might tell...but the barn is silent.

From the top rung of the ladder leading into the barnloft door I set my camera at floor level just inside the entrance on the hand-riven chestnut boards. A focal length of 18mm gave me the angle of view I wanted with the ballot box revealing its lofty surroundings. An aperture of f/20 provided depth-of-field, and at ISO 200 a shutter speed of 10.0 seconds gave me a very slightly darker than medium exposure.

Perhaps my own childhood experiences with barns never allows me to tire of visiting them. They all have amazing stories to share of times that have, sadly, disappeared.

Saturday, 14 September 2019 17:26

A Reflection for the Sake of Time

The remains of the Ramsey-Chandler Barn in the Madison County township of Revere, known far and wide as Sodom Laurel, once belonged a Roman Catholic Mission that served the isolated mountain community for many years. Today it belongs to Terry Vanderman, who retired to the seclusion of Revere from the bustle of Cincinnati and hopes to restore and preserve this beautiful example of a log stock barn adapted to the curing of burley tobacco. The lattice-work ventilation of this structure is an excellent sampling of one of several types of construction that provided for the aerification of burley as an intermediate step on the way to market.

A focal length of 28mm, in the upper middle of wide-angleland, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted, leading along the edge of a small pond to the structure just beyond. An aperture of f/20 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 0.4 second at ISO 100 gave me an overall very slightly-darker-than-medium exposure.

There is so much wonderful history wrapped up within the walls of the barns of Revere. The Appalachian Barn Alliance is working, almost desperately, to preserve this heritage. This work deserves all the support that we can give; nothing less than the memories of our collective past are at stake.


Saturday, 07 September 2019 21:30

I Went to the Mountains to a Place With No Name

For most visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park the first overlook consciously encountered on the Tennessee side of Newfound Gap is Morton Overlook, the Smokies quintessential sunset location. However there is actually another viewpoint between Morton and Newfound that does offer a limited, but quite beautiful view into the valley of Walker Camp Prong far below. There is no signage to indicate a name, and I have never seen a map that was labelled with a title for this small stopover on the way up and down Mount Ambler. This spring, before the greenbrier could become too overpowering, I decided to stop and play with the light that was dancing through the clouds to bathe the ridges in highlight and shadow.

Eschewing the idea of composing through the opening in the trees with a long telephoto lens, I opted to use a focal length of 28mm, definitely in wide-angleland, to include the old firs and foreground briers as a frame. An aperture of f/22 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/5th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure.

This non-descript and unnamed bit of Smokies geography is just a small example of the world of non-iconic locations that offer endless opportunities for the creation of everyday beauty in a place that is anything but non-iconic.

Friday, 30 August 2019 13:05

Still Life with Barnloft

Over the past seven years Bonnie and I have had the great privilege of visiting well over a hundred of the beautiful Appalachian barns of Madison County, North Carolina. Most of them, we have come to know intimately for their charm, beauty, and history, on the outside, as well as the inside. Of all of them, the loft of the Henry Peek barn is perhaps the most intriguing. It is a tobacco tradition history center and a still life photographer's dream. It would be easy, literally, to spend hours here going through the flotsam and debris of a hundred years of a particular type of farming that was the heart of the Madison County economy for a very long time.

A focal length of 32mm, technically wide-angleland, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted to reveal just part of the tools and implements on hand. An aperture of f/16 provided depth-of-field, and an ISO of 400 allowed for a shutter speed of 25.0 seconds and an overall medium exposure. The absolute stillness allowed for the shutter to remain open for that long without motion blur; and, standing by my tripod, I was without movement or breath.

The barns of Madison County are sources of beauty and repositories of a vanished tradition that has much to share with us about who we are as people and as a community.

Saturday, 24 August 2019 09:51

Up the Creek

Middle Prong of Little River in the Tremont section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most beautiful streams on the planet. It is a boulder-strewn paradise of water, rock, and life that in late-August begins its preparations for the coming of autumn. It is some of the best evidence around for the resilience of Nature in the face of human devastation, for between 1925-1930 Tremont was extensively logged by Col. W.B. Townsend's Little River Lumber Company , which had a logging community located at the confluence of Thunderhead Prong and Lynn Camp Prong, the very headwaters of Middle Prong. The resilience of Middle Prong is by no means an argument for unbridled development, rather to the contrary, it is a call for restraint and preservation in the face the onslaught that threatens so many of our beautiful public lands.

A focal length of 19mm, very wide-angle to be sure, gave me the angle of view I wanted. My primary concern here was the height of the camera above the beautiful mat of the somewhat rare dwarf bristle fern (Trichomanes petersii). I saw that being lower would impede the view of the water from upstream, so I chose to make the ferm a bit less dramatic as a foreground element by being about 3.5' above the plants. An aperture of of f/20 provided depth-of-field and at ISO 100 a shutter speed of 13.0 seconds was required for an overall medium exposure.  An ISO of 400 would have reduced the shutter speed to 3.25 seconds, which did not seem to offer much of an advantage under the circumstances.

The wonderful world of Tremont has always offered me a respite beyond imagining. If you have a favorite Tremont story, I'd love to hear it.


Saturday, 17 August 2019 09:29

From Many, One

Some years ago I shared an Image from Price Lake, one of my favorite locations in the Upper Peninsula. It was a single frame. Today I'd like to share a five-image panorama I also took on that occasion. The individual images were composed vertically using my typical approach to panorama composition and then stitched together using the "Automate" and "Photomerge" tools in Adobe CS6. The Land of Kitchi Gami lends itself very readily to panorama construction, as it does to every other compositional construction you can imagine.

Each of the five frames was composed as a vertical with a focal length of 108mm, still within short-telephotoland. Each frame was exposed with an aperture of f/22 to maximize depth-of-field and a shutter speed of 0.3 second at ISO 100 for an overall medium result.

Single frames or a multitude, the amazing fall color of the Upper Peninsula is, in my humble estimation, matchless.

Saturday, 10 August 2019 11:17

Rising, Like Color and Light

Before I dive into this week's Image I want to announce that our roster of this year's Upper Peninsula adventure is sadly short by one. We have had a recent cancellation that has created a single opening for our august October group of Yoopers. If you have an interest in filling this spot, please let me know, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Somewhere, almost in the middle of nowhere, to the northwest of Michigamme, there is a beautiful and remote Upper Peninsula state park named Craig Lake. To be there you really have to want to go, but for your effort the rewards are amazing: the lake and its frequent early-morning mists, the surrounding kodachrome hardwoods dotted with evergreen firs, and the early light streaming through the forest. Of course to encounter all three during the change of seasons is not uncommon at all.

A focal length of 202mm gave me the intimate angle-of-view I wanted to isolate the rising mist, to give a sense of the amazing color, and to revel in the early light. An aperture of f/22 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/6 second at ISO 100 gave me a somewhat darker-than-medium overall exposure.

Bonnie and I are delighted to be returning to the Upper Peninsula for the first time in three years - much too long to be away from the amazement and wonder.

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