March 18, 2022 Photo Walk

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It has been a long winter. Stuck inside besides a few small adventures here and there. I am ready for spring. Lucky enough, spring came, and is here. Although the temperature drastically shifts from the 30’s to 50’s periodically throughout the week, those few warm and sunny days bring hope, joy for melting snow, soon to be budding trees, and warm air to go along with  the warm colored sunsets. Recently, I have found myself enjoying going out on photo walks in the warm(er) air at sunset. Do not get me wrong, winter is beautiful, whether it is snowy or a nice glowing sunset on the sparkly snow filled horizon, it is a wonderful time of year—and some might say it is the most wonderful time of year—however, I do not, I am a “spring kind of guy.” On today's photographic journey, I will be taking you around to explore Collegeville during an early spring sunset.

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Shooting the Sunset: Going out early, about an hour before the sunset time, is the perfect time to get started. It allows me to walk around and get the creative juices flowing. It is time to become “one with the camera” and scout some places for when the sunset is at its peak. I often warm up by taking photos of anything that looks cool—often this does not yield any final photos. After about 20 minutes, it is time to get serious, there's only so much golden light during the day. My first stop on my photographic journey is Saint Gregory House. Light was bouncing off the Quad and with the trees behind me creating pockets of light on the house and on the windows, I quickly found a composition and captured this image. I also am using a Tiffen Black Pro-Mist filter ¼ as it softens up the images and helps the light to glow like it does in person. Here in Collegeville, the St. John’s Abbey is a staple of campus. From the concrete to the honeycombs, it is architecture that is easily recognizable. Here, I saw the sun lighting up the bell tower perfectly, while leaving the front of the Abbey out of the light. It was the perfect photo waiting to be taken. Utilizing the rule of thirds, I found this composition to work the best. It also places an emphasis on the bell tower and cross, which is the highest point on the Abbey.

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As I was coming back from the Abbey, there is an archway between the Quand and Benet Hall. The light in the sky was getting lower and creating a deep orange color on the bricks of the building. The arch helped to block the light and make a gradual contrast from dark to light. Often people forget to look up, but I find looking up and taking in the vast open sky and amazing architecture to be refreshing. My last stop on this journey was the old wood buildings on campus. Many people will never know they are there as they are just for maintenance use, but the warm tones of the wood is just accentuated by the deep orange and golden sunset light. The sun set, and night fell. These early spring sunsets are often the most memorable. They are the life brought from the dead of winter. Going on a photo walk is more than taking pictures, it is creating images, creating memories and experiences. No sunset is the same, and no day is the same. During winter it is easy to fall victim to the cold and dark days but, that feeling is easily forgotten once spring arrives. And here it is, here is spring.

Collegebound 2021 "The Winded"

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Pre-Trip: What was supposed to be a 5-day pre-orientation program for the College of St. Benedict and the University of St. John’s turned out to be much more adventurous than what was originally thought. The week started with moving into our dorms and preparing for the journey ahead of us: Learning how to set up the tents, packing food and gear, and getting to know one another and the people who we’d be experiencing the BWCA with. Early the next morning, we headed out. We stopped for lunch in Two Harbors, Minnesota, and then headed the rest of the way up towards the Gunflint Trail. This is where each group's experience begins to differ. Us Johnnie’s headed to Trails End Campground while the Bennie’s stayed at the canoe outfitters. 

The Journey Begins: The next morning, we got our canoes from the Voyager Canoe Outfitters, and headed north, entering the BWCA. The longest leg of that day's journey was the easiest part: calm waters and easy paddling. We hiked a tall island and even paddled by a Bennie group who had already found a campsite, just having fun as we began our journey. As we got out into the open water, it became very windy with choppy water. It was a struggle to paddle straight into the waves, so we decided to head to the closest island and map out a campsite. Two of the group leaders, Tom and Fr. Nick, portaged this small island. They then canoed around and found a campsite on the other side, and then hiked back to tell us. After we had all made it to the campsite, we set up tents and began to explore. There was a U.S. and Canada border marker, and even an old latrine with a great view. After exploring this side of the island, we took a dip in the water, jumping off a small rock. We then left to explore a nearby waterfall, which was maybe a 30-minute paddle away. After coming back to the island, we settled in: We swam some more, ate dinner, watched the sunset, stargazed, and went to bed.

Planning ahead to the next day, we had our hopes set on a campsite on the other side of the island: A big, beautiful campsite with a cliff that was maybe 40- 50 feet tall, and a big view of the waters around us. Fortunately, we got the campsite, and we spent the day mostly relaxing, cliff jumping, and enjoying the BWCA’s natural beauty. Because we only moved around the island, we planned to make a longer leg of our journey the next day. We started at Voyager Canoe Outfitters and planned to make a loop from the entry point, then head north past Campers Island, then west across Saganaga Lake, Southwest down to Alpine Lake, and finally Northeast across Sea Gull Lake to exit at Trails End Campground. Our goal for this day was to make it from our current campsite all the way to Alpine or Sea Gull Lake. Because we planned on going farther that day, we decided to get up at 4am and be on the water by 5am to watch the sunrise as we paddled across the waters. It was beautiful. The warm sun lit up one half of the sky, while the other half was a perfect gradient from dark purple to light pink and blue. About two hours in the wind picked up and the water became choppy. It was hard at times, and we were discouraged at times, but we kept going. Down through Red Rock Bay, we came to a portage. There was a sign that said the BWCA was closed effective immediately.

The Journey Back: In a scramble to figure out what was going on, we checked the satellite phone. We found messages from the day before telling us we need to self-evacuate and recent messages asking where we were. The previous night, we checked the sat phone, only for it to not work. The other collegebound groups were already back at Voyager’s, but we still had a long day ahead of us. We ate lunch and reconvened as a group. We decided we’d try to make it as far as we could, as we had already been paddling for 5 hours. We kept going and finally got to our last portage. Because of the drought, we had to carry everything through shallow rocky waters before we could get to the portage path. Upon arrival to the other side of the portage, we knew it was serious. We could see a billow of smoke in the distance. That is when we knew we had to truly get out of the BWCA rather than simply make it as far as we could.

After what we thought was going to be a 5-hour day of paddling, it quickly turned into 10. The smoke grew bigger and bigger as we paddled across Sea Gull Lake. At our closest point, we were only about 10 miles from the fire itself. While the smoke across the sky posed an interesting and seemingly beautiful view of nature, a mix of emotions including fear, sadness, awe, nervousness, curiosity and more went through us. What was supposed to be a fun adventure in the BWCA quickly escalated to much more than originally thought out to be. But after paddling for those 5 extra hours through windy and choppy water, we finally made it to Trails End Campground, as smoke was filling the air and hovering the water around us.

The Return: We were the last group of “Collegebounders” off the water, and among the last in the area of the BWCA that was closed. Rumors went around that we were lost or that we ran out of food, but in reality, we just had no idea there was a wildfire burning in the BWCA until earlier that day. After 10 hours on the water with a small breakfast and lunch, we were all quite hungry. A few of us ate plain tortillas while the food was cooking. That was a bad choice, and one that still gets joked about today. But putting all this aside, the journey was amazing, and one that was truly unforgettable. The experience and bonds that came out of it were remarkable. This experience holds our group together, and we will always remember each other: Fr. Nick, Tom and Henry the group leaders, and Christian, Emanuel, Matt, Adrian, and Alexis my fellow first year collegebounders. After making a groupchat once we got cell service back, we were trying to come up with names and Christian said, “The Winded,” which was perfect. Paddling dead into the wind and for so many hours, we were truly winded. We continued to bond as a group in Grand Marais, where we spent the next two nights before we headed back to college. Although that journey has ended, we have the photos and the memories to tell the tail of our survival. Where one journey ends, another begins.

On December 1st, 2021, my photo taken in the BWCA was chosen as one of the winners in the 2021 Boundary Waters Photo Contest. Click here to see the other winning photographs.

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April 26th, Behind the 1st Place Shot

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Every photo tells its own story, and this 1st place photo has a rather unique one. My friend Drew asked me if I wanted to come over and snowboard, as well as take a few photos. It is worth noting that this was not at a ski hill, it was his backyard. Drew spent hours creating jumps and tubes to glide on. I was blown away by the setup when I arrived. Although the hill was not the biggest, it was enough to have a great time and test out a few new tricks.

  • Without a towrope, Drew treks up the hill.

    Without a towrope, Drew treks up the hill.

  • Drew flies across the corrugated pipe grabbing the nose.

    Drew flies across the corrugated pipe grabbing the nose.

After we both took a few runs down the hill, I decided that it was time for me to break out my camera and start taking photos. Drew was ready to bring on the heat as we split time between a few of the features on the hill. He started by flying over a corrugated pipe performing boardslides and grabbing the nose of his board. My favorite part of the corrugated pipe is the buzzing sound that it makes as the board goes over the top of it. The sound creates a unique energy to the feature, making you want to do it repeatedly.

  • Drew uses his snowboard to flatten the new feature.

    Drew uses his snowboard to flatten the new feature.

  • Drew gathers snow for his jump.

    Drew gathers snow for his jump.

After this, we decided to build a new feature. In Drew’s backyard there is a row of rocks with a drop of about 4 feet. Drew gathered snow to rest on top of a rock and began to build a steep jump. After he had finished building it, Drew had to test it. The first few times he went off it, he fell, but it was all in good fun. He soon got to work and was performing spins and grabs, which was very impressive as the airtime was only about 2 seconds.

  • Drew walks up the hill to test the new feature he built.

    Drew walks up the hill to test the new feature he built.

  • Drew falls after testing a jump.

    Drew falls after testing a jump.

  • Drew flies off a freshly built jump.

    Drew flies off a freshly built jump.

Finally, we headed to the last spot on his hill to take a few more action shots. This feature was a pvc pipe about 3 to 4 feet long. I had Drew perform various tricks on the pipe. It took 4 times to get the specific shot I wanted, and even then, I had no idea what was going to come from this shot. We went along to take a few more photos, and I had him pose with his snowboard in a few locations. My goal was to tell a story though the photos I had taken that day, and I felt very confident that I did. The last photo I took that day was of his chicken named after Donald Trump, because it looked him. It’s always nice to end a shoot on a positive note, especially if it has to do with taking photos of chickens.

  • Drew glides across a pvc pipe.

    Drew glides across a pvc pipe.

  • Drew poses for a photo after an evening of riding.

    Drew poses for a photo after an evening of riding.

  • Drew's chicken, Donald.

    Drew's chicken, Donald.

A couple months later I was informed about a photo contest through Jostens, the company who made my school’s yearbooks. I entered a handful of photographs in a few different categories but had no intention of winning or being recognized for them. About a month after I entered them, I received an email informing me that my photo of Drew had won first place in the Sports: Athletes in Action category. Nonetheless, I was very happy with the outcome. It was very rewarding to be able to share a photograph I took with other people, and to be able to check out photos from other students and see what the next generation of photographer are creating. Having my photo take 1st place wasn’t the most rewarding part in what this photo had to offer. After I delivered the photos to Drew and posted them on Instagram, he responded with a note that said, “Thanks for the great afternoon with hard work and fun involved!” To me, photography is something that I love. It is a way to express my creative side, and there is nothing more powerful than creating an experience that someone loved as much as I did.

January 4th, 2021: Snowboarding

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Hyland Hills is a staple for the snowboarding community in Minnesota's Southwest Metro area. Although the runs are short and the lift lines are long, one can find face paced action on the terrain park. “The Park” as many call it does not have a chairlift, but rather a towrope. This rope doesn’t stop moving and brings skiers and snowboarders up the hill creating a fluid motion of going up and down countless times a day, becoming known as the “Land of 10,000 Laps”.

  • Joe grabs the front of his board mid-air.

    Joe grabs the front of his board mid-air.

  • Neal (right) & Joe (left) check out photos from earlier in the day.

    Neal (right) & Joe (left) check out photos from earlier in the day.

On January 4th, 2021, I had an opportunity to photograph some snowboarders at Hyland. Throughout the day I captured many great images, but the magic came when the sun started to set, and the temperature began to drop. The snowboarders I had originally been there to photograph headed out, but there were still a few people on The Park. I was starting to see the photos I wanted to make even before I took them.

  • A snowboarder board-slides.

    A snowboarder board-slides.

Over the next 30ish minutes I took every chance I got to shoot snowboarders performing various tricks. I captured a variety of images both wide shots and close-ups. On this day I really loved the warm glow on the photos. Although only 20 degrees outside, the sun helped create warm tones and sense of home to the images. Riders often spend hours at the hill, riding from open to close, making Hyland a second home to many.

  • Matt Chase, a G-Team snowboard instructor, board-slides over the big rainbow.

    Matt Chase, a G-Team snowboard instructor, board-slides over the big rainbow.

  • A snowboarder flies off a jump.

    A snowboarder flies off a jump.

  • Matt Chase, a G-Team Snowboard instructor does a flip off a jump.

    Matt Chase, a G-Team Snowboard instructor does a flip off a jump.

  • A snowboarder goes off a jump performing a spin and melon grab.

    A snowboarder goes off a jump performing a spin and melon grab.

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