Although I’d overcome some initial shock and made peace with the crowds during my first afternoon at the Apostle Islands Ice Caves, I’d still traveled a very long way to capture some quality nature images. When I sell prints to someone to hang in their home or business, they’re usually not looking for a scene that depicts Joe Schmo arguing with his wife in the corner or somebody’s randomly parked baby stroller smack dab in the middle of the composition- idyllic as that may be. Instead, people seek imagery that serves a reminder of nature’s wonder and unbridled beauty; and I try my best to deliver. I knew that my odds of earning non-human photo ops would increase exponentially the earlier on the ice I could be, and set my sights on arriving the next morning before dawn.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it; for my family 2014 has gotten off to a pretty rough start. Between loved ones in the hospital and plenty of other concerns, I’ve had a lot on my mind. So it came as little surprise, despite turning in early to accommodate my 4:45 am alarm setting, when insomnia came calling again. I tossed and turned most of the night before finally conceding and shutting my alarm off just after three. Any nature photographer will tell you that getting out early to get the right shot will often mean forgoing comfort and sleep. But this nature photographer also had a nine hour drive ahead of him, and those numbers just weren’t adding up.
I dozed a few hours and was still able to get checked out of the motel and over to the lake by shortly after eight. The parking lot was already full with cars lining the access road, but I found a spot without having to park out on the highway which was an improvement from the day before. I hustled out onto the ice, made the mile and a half trek to the beginning of the Mainland Caves, and kept trucking. I thought if I could venture out to some of the more distant features I might get ahead of the crowd a bit, but it was to no avail. There were already people everywhere.
I was much quicker in coming to terms and accepting the challenges of shooting scenery in a crowd this time around. I stooped and bent like a contortionist, vying for angles that might exclude fellow gawkers from the frame. I isolated scenes then sat waiting patiently for a break in the tide of humanity before shooting like mad when the opportunity arose. I did my best to capture the natural setting without including all those who had also come to enjoy it.
And when that didn’t work, I photographed the people.
(I’ll have a final Apostle Islands post up on the blog tomorrow with the best of my photojournalistic efforts to capture the ice cave crowd phenomenon.)
Ultimately, I stayed on the lake until almost noon. At that point, I felt satisfied with the morning’s work, and clear shots were almost impossible to come by. I walked back to my car against a steady parade of people surging toward the caves, and as I drove away was astonished to realize that vehicles now lined the highway in both directions, several miles from the trailhead. Some of these people must have hiked six or seven miles roundtrip in single digit temperatures, all for a glimpse of these ice adorned wonders.
Can you blame them?