Last month, we spent a week cycling and exploring in northern Minnesota. The 200+ mile bike route we followed from the Lutsen area down to Pine City started on the Gitchi-Gami State Bike Trail, which parallels the north shore of Lake Superior and passes through part of the Superior National Forest. South of Duluth, we picked up the Willard Munger State Trail, another wonderful paved bike trail which took us all the way down to Hinkley, just north of Pine City.
This part of Minnesota contains a rich diversity of pine forests, rivers, lakes, rocky shoreline, beach and waterfalls, and we hit it right during the peak colors of autumn. Although I shot a variety of landscapes on this trip, the waterfalls were definitely the highlight of our mini northern adventure.
Right before we got there, a series of torrential thunderstorms had passed through the area, so the rivers were all swollen well above normal levels, which made for awesome and unique photography opportunities. Between the rivers and the Superior shore, I spent the much of the trip entrenched in the blissful experiences of shooting slow shutter water landscapes.
I called it my Slow Shutter Minnesota Water Photography Extravaganza.
Since this was a continuation of our two-week September Scotland bike trip, I had an extremely minimal selection of gear with me. This comprised of my Fujifilm X-T2 body and a trio of small primes, the XF18mm f/2, XF35mm f/2, the XF50mm f/2, and mini tripod and one filter.
In place of a regular tripod (I left the Gizto behind), the only camera support I had was my tiny Gorillapod Flexible SLR Zoom. Yes, it’s tiny, and most serious landscape photographers would probably laugh at me when they saw me running around with this little “toy tripod,” but what it lacks in stability it makes up for in size and weight.
Translation: it’s tiny, but in a pinch, it’s better than nothing.
However, I made it work for me, despite the fact that nearly every photo I shot was taken from near ground level. Sometimes limiting your creative options can actually force you to be more creative and come up with compositions and imagery you might not have thought of.
In this case, since I was pretty much limited to a singular vantage point, I was forced to look for the ideal rock to set up my little mini tripod, which made me focus solely on light and framing. As much as I might have wanted to at a few of my locations, there was no way for me taller, and although this frustrated me at times, I got what I got and am extremely happy with what I got. That said, I did wrap the Gorillapod legs around a tree one time, which worked ok.
To help me get the silky, slow shutter effects, I used my Hoya 10-Stop SOLAS IRND filter. What I like about the Hoya SOLAS filters is that they cut all infrared light, which can leak in during long exposures. This makes them truly neutral, where some ND filters can actually leave a slight reddish cast on your images. This is especially troublesome when shooting water, since the red cast shows up more prominently on white subjects.
Also, nearly all of the scenes in this post were shot with the XF 18mm lens.
Some of the areas we hiked in during the week were Gooseberry Falls, Temperance River State Park and Cascade River State Park. Further down, away from the shore, we also went to Jay Cooke State Park. Although the general topography in all of these locations was fairly similar, they all had such a unique set of features to explore.
I played around with different shutter speeds, ranging from around half second to 30 seconds. I often find that the sweet spot lives around 2-8 seconds when shooting rivers and waterfalls, because there’s still some definition in the water without it getting too silky and soft.
However, you can get really cool results with just about any shutter speed, so I would encourage you to experiment whenever you’re shooting this kind of scene. It’s interesting to see the effects that each type of exposure impart on each type of subject.
This was a really fun photography adventure for me, and it was wonderful to explore a part of the country where I haven’t spent much time before. I’d been to Minnesota before, but I’d never seen the north shore in all it’s big water autumn glory.
Also, it was my last chance to shoot waterfalls for awhile, since I’m heading into wintertime here in Alaska. I won’t get to see actual running water for the next few months, and any new waterfall photography that happens before next spring for me will need to involve a plane ticket.
I hope you enjoy this photo collection, and I hope you get a chance to shoot some long exposure water images for yourself in the next few months. It’s a very fun style and highly creative style of landscape photography.