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experimenting under the stars

“i have not failed. i've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

― thomas a. edison

it was dark. it was really dark! it was the second time i was at my location in just over a month’s time. the last time was a bit of experimentation with lighting up my surroundings, both above and under the water, as i created images. tonight was more of the same. i so enjoyed the last time that i made the almost four hour one way trip again (that’s with no stops by the way)!

i was heading inland after driving up the lake superior north shore; i was going toward a lake that i’ve mentioned before - echo lake. it is one of my favorite lakes out of the few inland lakes i have made images from. the remoteness and beauty of the lake and heavily forested area really recharges my soul. even though it is right on the county road, i can usually count on one hand, and sometimes half of the other hand, the number of vehicles that pass by each hour. at night, it's even less.

i continued driving further inland from finland, mn on a small and dark county road. really, finland is one of those blink and miss it towns. it’s a pretty dark town itself when the sun has gone below the horizon. i made a turn after passing through finland and headed for the lake which was about thirty to forty minutes away.

roughly halfway to my destination, it turns from a paved road to a gravel road. for the most part, it is pretty well maintained. but, as is common with gravel roads, especially after rain or snow melts, ruts and dips are par for the course. with my eyes peeled intently for ruts and dips as well as any deer/critter scurrying into/out of the headlights, i kept driving on. a ford focus is no match for a rut, dip or deer so it was no exaggeration to say my eyes were peeled intently. all i could see in front of me was what was revealed in the headlights. on either side of me was a black void.

i finally arrived at the lake. i drove pass it a little, made a u-turn to go back and then pulled over to the side of the road. i got out of the car, grabbed my gear from the trunk and, using a small headlamp, made my way to the water’s edge about eight to ten steps away. i then turned off my headlamp.

it never fails to amaze every time how dark it is when you first turn off all light sources! other than the fact that I could feel my feet on the ground, it feels a bit like i could be floating in space for all i knew. all i could see were stars in the sky. even at the water’s edge, if the waves are lapping, i don’t hear it. i don’t hear anything. my guess is that frogs were croaking, crickets were chirping, the wings of bats and birds may have been flapping but i hear none of that. there was nothing around me that came into view. even my hands were not visible. shortly though, my eyes began to adjust to the dark and things started to appear.

as i did the previous month, i had brought along my chest waders. i turned on my headlamp with the red color setting and put them on since i would be going into the water. red keeps the light dim enough that the irises in my eyes are not blown out by a bright light suddenly appearing out of the dark. when the red light is turned off, there is little to no time passing before i can see again in the dark.

throughout the night there, i set my lume cubes in different places to try different lighting perspectives. these cubes are waterproof and can also be placed under water to a depth of up to 30 feet. i love using them in my light painting images. they are a great accessory to provide low-level lighting as well as brighter lighting since they can be adjusted for light intensity. they add such a cool underwater effect when it “all comes together”. i also used a flashlight to light up the trees and shoreline from time to time.

i’ve mentioned in previous blogs that dark settings play mind games with me because of my hearing loss. as i can’t hear anything in the dark in this remote area, i’m regularly looking over my shoulder. of course, i don’t know what good that would have done if something or someone was already upon me 😂. if there was a something or someone when i turned around, i most likely would have peed my pants and then i most likely would have fallen backwards into the water from being startled. i say most likely as it hasn’t happened…yet…and i don’t know what would happen if it actually occurred. suffice it to say i hope it never does. i’m not ashamed to say i even say a prayer periodically for continued protection 😂

the previous month, i was at the lake making images for a little over an hour. this night, a month and two days later, i was there for about three and a half hours. both nights, despite the silence, darkness and remote region that played with my mind, were a lot of fun! the drive back was a bit brutal when i finally packed up and left about 2:30 in the morning with an over 4 hour drive back, stops included. but to me, it was well worth it for the fun and experimentation i had both times. here are some of my more favorite images that i created on the two separate nights! be sure to click on the images to isolate them for better viewing.

this was one of my first tries creating an image with the lume cubes (low level light sources) under the water that i made the first night. while the white hot spots are too distracting, i love how underneath the water is lit up. the lume cubes are not actually in the middle of the hot spot but are place behind objects underwater to stay hidden out of view. had i thought about it, i should have put a darker filter on the lume cubes to keep the hot spots minimal. something to try the next time i go back there at night! the scene above water is lit up by panning across with another lume cube.

this image was probably my favorite of that first night. no lighting sources were used. this is a long exposure set with a high iso and wide aperture to let in as much light as possible. i know seems counterintuitive to say letting in as much light as possible when it is so dark. maybe this will help…try to think of it in terms of how your eyes gradually adjust to the darkness when outside. it’s kind of the same thing except with a camera, it doesn’t stop getting lighter at a certain point like it would with our eyes. as long as the lens aperture blades stay open, light will continue to hit it and the image will continue to get lighter. i also love the mist above the lake in the distance. it was a neat surprise to see that when i uploaded the image from my camera to my computer!

this image (as well as the rest to come) was created the second time i went back a little over a month later. this was created using a pretty quick pan of the lume cube. it took quite a few tries to get this. i only wanted a small portion of the scene lit up to keep it all in the foreground while the lake and background stays darker. the stars are a little blurry as this is a long exposure as well. the longer exposure allowed for a silhouette of the trees and lake without them taking away from the foreground which is the focal point. the previous image was a high iso and very wide aperture which is why that one has more light to it than this one. this image had a much lower iso and a middle range for aperture which does not let in as much light.

this next image was made with the lume cubes underwater. i also angled them upwards so that they ended up lighting the pilings as well above the water. the white hot spots are much better controlled but still a bit too distracting for me. again, i have to remember to try using a filter to dampen the white hot spot even more. i like the rather lonely feel to this image as well as the shadows created on the pilings from the light.

this image is also the only one with brown tones on the pilings which i very much like. in actuality, the wood is more weathered and gray looking like the other images show though the brightness and white balance of the lume cube makes them more white/gray than they actually are. my guess is that the brown tones are a result of the density of the water dimming the light coming out of the water so that the beam is not so bright and white. or perhaps refraction might have something to do with it as the beam underwater shifted when it broke the surface of the water. if you’ve ever looked at something half in and half out of water, you might remember that it appears to have bent at the point where water and air meet. i’m no scientist so if you know, i would certainly love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

this was just a fascinating image to me. the long exposure captured a bug in motion. but it looks like it could be something mysterious and even paranormal 😂!

the following image is probably my favorite reflection image of both nights. the water was still enough that the reflections are almost as clear and sharp as the actual pilings. the dark background contributes a nice touch to keeping this image minimalistic in feel. the stars above add a sense of quiet whimsy to me; i feel like they could be tiny fairies just flitting about as they check out what this human is doing way out in the middle of nowhere!

after packing up my gear, i took a little time to just look up at the stars. in dark sky country, the stars are just amazing in their clarity and infinitesimal number. wintertime is the best time to see the stars in that location as the stars appear to be alive, twinkling and sparkling. i decided to do a back selfie and turned on my headlamp to shoot a little beam. i did my best impersonation of not knowing that i was creating an image of me. as an added bonus, if you look carefully, you can see some more "paranormal" happenings in the sky above me 😉.

after a bit, i walked back to my car and began the long drive back home with eyes once again peering intently into the path lit up from the headlights. i did have to pull into a rest stop once to catch a quick nap as my eyelids were getting way to heavy. i finally made it home and crawled into bed for a few hours sleep before i was up and at it for the day ahead.

i hope you enjoyed this blog! i also hope it was interesting to gain insight into what went into creating these images. i created many images over those two night that won’t be shared. i wouldn’t call them failures; just multiple setups that i discovered didn’t work to paraphrase thomas edison’s quote at the beginning of this blog. let me know in the comments below what image or images are your favorites and why. i’d love to hear from you!

if you enjoyed reading this blog, would you consider sharing this blog with others you know or think you know would enjoy reading it as well? it’s my long term ambition to keep growing my audience. one of the best ways to do it is by word of mouth (just saying something as simple as “you should check out stephen hadeen’s blogs at”) and/or sharing my posts/blogs by link via email and social media such as facebook and instagram. it’s easy for you to share my blogs. just copy and paste the url address into the digital media of your choice or share by clicking on one of the social media options at the bottom.

here is a sample wall art hanging for you to get an idea of a print might look hanging in your home and/or business. this is the only one that will be in my online store as most were shared just for this blog and not meant to be for sale. having said that, if there is one that you really liked and want for your home and/or business, definitely contact me and i will work with you to make that happen.

16"x24" matted and framed print of pilings on echo lake

as always, thanks so much for your continued support! if you are wanting another idea of how you can support my photography business, i will be showcasing once again at the union depot in st. paul, mn for the 2023 fall art crawl at the union depot. that event will be happening over october 6-8. that is only a few weekends away! i’ll include a link here for you to click on and read up about the event. i hope you can make it!

take care and i will see you next time with more “images from my quiet world”!

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