We traveled to southeastern Missouri the weekend before Halloween and were “treated” to great foliage. Our first stop was Hermann, Missouri.  We ate lunch and checked out the Gasconade Co. Courthouse, which sits high on the banks of the Missouri River, the only courthouse I’ve ever seen perched next to a river. 

Gasconade Co. Courthouse, Hermann, Missouri

We then toured the Stone Hill Winery and, of course, tasted a “few” samples of their award-winning wines. The tour was very interesting and informative. I had no idea that this winery was the second largest in the nation before Prohibition.  After Prohibition — well, they had to start growing mushrooms to make a living.  The cellars are apparently the perfect place to propogate ‘shrooms.  Today, however, the cellars are again filled with barrels of wine aging to perfection.  The smell (and as we discovered later – the taste) was delicious!  We had never visited a winery and really enjoyed the tour.

We then traveled to Bass’ River Resort located near Steelville to check into our cabin. Upon our arrival, we discovered the Courtois Creek had swelled out of its banks and was practically up to our doorstep.  Well, we were pretty high up, but the water was just below us. 

The next morning started off foggy, a great opportunity to get some photos. I have to thank my husband for telling me it was foggy out – I hadn’t even looked outside! I experimented with different exposures and tried not to overexpose because of the sun shining through the bright fog.  Using my histogram was definitely the ticket to help me find the correct exposure in these conditions. I tried to capture a sunburst but even at F22 I just couldn’t get it pinched down enough to work successfully.

The flooded creek was also cause for some excitement when the tour riders for the Berryman Epic started out.  Because the creek was so far out of its banks and so deep, the riders couldn’t safely get across on their bikes, so they brought in flat-bed trailers to haul them across. 

There they go! It took two flatbed trailers to get them across the flooded creek.

It was quite a sight!  My husband said in all his years of mountain biking, he had never seen anything like it.  Fortunately, by the next morning when he raced, the water had gone down considerably and they placed a trailer across the deepest part of the creek to use as a bridge and had no need for the “ferry service.”

Back to Saturday… After the tour riders were ferried across the swollen creek, we took off on a back road to get to the Onondaga Cave near Leasburg. We got about 5 miles down the road and ran smack dab into a flooded creek crossing that had been barricaded. So much for the scenic back route! We re-traced our steps and took the main highway to the cave.

Suffice it to say, the Onondaga Cave was awesome! Our group consisted of probably around 30 people, ranging in age from about 10 up to around 90. The cave was cold – around 57 degrees – so we had to bundle up a little bit. The first thing we saw were tiny, delicate formations called soda straws that looked like – well, soda straws! Eventually soda straws turn into stalactites.  Some other formation types represented in the cave were flowstone, draperies, canopies, stalactites, stalagmites and columns.

The Twins

King's Canopy

 Some of the other named formations we saw were the Twins, King’s Canopy, Queen’s Canopy, and the Devil’s Shower.  There was a river running through the cave which is named “The Lost River” because apparently the experts cannot figure out where all the water sources come from.  The river was a blue-green color and didn’t appear to have much of a current, but once in a while you could see particles drifting along on the surface that contradicted that.

The best formation was saved for last. It was called the Lilly Pad Room, which was divided into two chambers.

Lilly Pad Room

Lilly Pad Room

It’s called the Lilly Pad Room because some of the formations look like lilly pads.  The water in one chamber was especially cool – very vibrantly colored.  The other chamber looked almost alien like with white “drip cups” abounding. I almost wondered if some being was going to pop out at us.  It was really amazing what Nature has created in this cave.

After the cave tour, we ate lunch and took a 3 mile hike on one of the trails at the park. The part that followed the Meramac River bluffs was very scenic; the sun was shining bright and the foliage was brilliant.  It was a great day to be outdoors and enjoying Nature at her finest.  The day wrapped up with a barbecue at the Resort for the bikers, complete with a roaring bonfire.

My husband took off for his race around 8:30 on Sunday, and I met him late in the morning at the Berryman Trail trailhead to give him more water and snacks.  After he left, I had plenty of time to kill. The overcast sky actually was favorable for shooting foliage as it really saturated the colors, so I played with different exposures and compositions. 

Vibrant foliage on the Berryman Trail

Zoom zoom!

 Unfortunately, it then started to sprinkle on and off. I did stay out for quite awhile and took some foliage shots near the trailhead, and even experimented with catching the riders with different shutter speeds as they zoomed by.

I finally went back to the Resort and the finish line, and just a few hundred yards away, found this wonderful little creek scene with foliage in the background and fallen leaves in the foreground. 

Small creek on grounds of Bass' River Resort near Steelville, Missouri

I started to walk up the trail to check it out, but then the skies finally opened up and the rain was too heavy to continue so had to pack away the camera.  My husband finished the 56 mile race in a little over 6 hours. He would have finished sooner but his chain broke a few miles from the finish line and repairing it cost him about 15 minutes.

All in all, we had an “epic” adventure in Missouri!

I’m very excited to announce that my photo of the Lilly Pad Room at Onondaga Cave in Missouri was selected as the Editor’s Pick for the Earth Sea Sky gallery on Nature Photographer’s Network for last week!  This is my first “EP” and I feel very honored to receive this pick.  The ESS gallery is the highest-traffic gallery on NPN and consistently contains hundreds of awe-inspiring images from both amateurs and pros.

Onondaga 2 NPN 

A little background about the cave and the photo:  Onondaga Cave is located near Leasburg, Missouri and is just a few miles south of Interstate 44.  Guided tours are available March through October.  We had around 30 people in our group when we toured.  The cave is very open with only a few spots where the ceiling gets a bit low, so I did not feel claustrophobic at all as I did in a small cave I toured in Arkansas a few years ago.  The walkways and ramps are wide and steep in places, but there are plenty of handrails.  The Onondaga Cave was a private show cave for quite some time.  After a long, difficult history involving property disputes and almost being lost forever due to a planned dam in the area, the cave finally became part of the Missouri state park system in 1981. 

I had to plan ahead for shooting photos at this location since I couldn’t lug all my gear with me.   Because I knew the quarters would be tight, I took my 10-22 mm lens, which is also my fastest lens at F3.5/4.0.  (I also brought my 35-80 mm but never took it out of my jacket pocket.)  I knew I’d have to crank up the ISO and shoot wide open if I hoped to get anything acceptable.  There were lighting fixtures in place around the formations, and the walkways were lit, but after all – it was a cave and very dark!  As soon as the tour started, I turned the ISO to 800 and fired off a couple test shots, and discovered I needed yet more light so cranked it as high as it would go – 1600.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an off-camera flash so had to use the built-in one.  In some of the shots I took, this resulted in a half-circular pattern appearing at the bottom of the frame.  I found it very difficult to focus in the low-light conditions even though I was using auto focus. In some spots, the camera just couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to be doing. 

Compositions in the cave were very limited due to the placement of walkways, handrails and light/electrical fixtures.  Because there was another tour group coming through in about an hour, there was no time to waste.  This also didn’t help with trying to compose a nice shot.  Additionally, tripods were not allowed so I was forced to use the handrails for support.  Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t because people in the group kept bumping into the rails, causing vibrations. 

We saw several awesome formations (the Twins, King’s Canopy, Queen’s Canopy, etc.),  and the Lost River which runs through the cave was a clear, greenish-blue ribbon that contrasted nicely with the orange-hued formations.  One stretch of the river was named “The Grand Canyon” because the reflection of the cave walls on the river resemble that of a view from the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. 

The highlight for me though was the Lilly Pad Room, which was the very last formation we visited.  It is so named because the formations at the water surface look like lilly pads. The tour guide said it was only about 20 feet below the surface and the most active formation in the cave, which I believe after seeing all the dripping going on in there. There were also formations underwater, one of which I thought looked like an intestine!  I was fortunate enough to capture several concentric drip patterns while exposing this shot. It certainly adds to what could have otherwise been a pretty static image.

After converting the shot from RAW format, I used the noise reduction sliders in Lightroom to reduce much of the noise in this image. I exported it to PS and finished up with some curves adjustments and a little work on the color balance due to the artificial lighting. The final result is what I remember seeing while standing in this amazing little room.

Tech specs:  Canon Rebel XTI, Canon 10-22 mm lens, handheld, built-in flash, ISO 1600, F4 @ 1/50

Berryman 2

Original image

Ozark Orton

Ortonized image

Actually, Dr. Seuss’ Horton heard a Who, but I heard about the Orton technique quite some time ago and finally decided to give it a try.

The technique is named after Michael Orton, a professional photographer who published an article about it in Popular Photography years ago. The Orton technique allows the photographer to create an ethereal, dreamy vision which elicits much more of an emotional response than a regular photograph. I shot some fall foliage shots near Steelville, Missouri last weekend that I thought might be good candidates for the technique. I found some instructions which Darwin Wiggett published in his article, “Orton Imagery – A ‘How to’ Guide for Photographers” which can be found under instructional articles on the Nature Photographers Network.

The basic idea is this: take your shot, overexpose it, duplicate it, blur the duplicate then sandwich them together.

More specific instructions (using Photoshop):

1. Open the image and make a duplicate (Image>Duplicate) then close the original. You should NEVER make any changes to your original file. This applies to any photo processing you are doing.
2. Overexpose the image (Image>Apply Image) and change the blending mode to “screen” and opacity to 100%. The opacity of course can be changed and if the photo is especially light or dark to begin with, you may have to tweak the percentage.
3. Duplicate the overexposed image (Image>Duplicate).
4. Now tile the windows so both images are on the screen at the same time. Blur the second image (Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur). In the dialog box, change the pixel setting. The higher the setting, the blurrier it is. I used about 25-30 on the shots I tried, but it can be set anywhere from 15 to 50. You just have to experiment to see what works.
5. Select the “move” tool, hold down the “shift” key and use the mouse to drag the blurred image onto the sharp one. Make sure the image edges are aligned correctly.
6. In the layers palette box, change the blending mode from “normal” to “multiply.”
7. Flatten the layers by pressing “CTRL+E”.
VOILA! You have an Orton image.
It’s really a very easy process and results in an image that is dreamy and very painting-like. You can rest assured I’ll be experimenting with this a lot more from now on.

Berryman 1

Original image

Ozark Orton 2

Ortonized image

I’m dreaming of fabulous fall foliage in dark purples, deep reds, vivid scarlets, vibrant oranges, brilliant yellows and bright rusts. Fall is my absolute favorite time of the year! Color explodes from nearly everywhere. I noticed just yesterday that the dying hostas in my garden are even brilliant yellow. Spring is beautiful and is a sign of Nature renewing herself, but to me – fall just can’t be beat. The sky always seems clearer and the air more crisp.

My husband and I are off for a few days to an area in Missouri we’ve never explored. It’s about 90 miles southwest of St. Louis and is in the Mark Twain National Forest. My husband is torturing himself Sunday by riding in the Berryman Epic Missouri Endurance Mountain Bike Race, a 55 mile journey down fire roads and single track. I’m not as insane as he is, so I’ll be looking for less strenous ways to pass my time – with photography of course! We also plan to visit the Onondaga Cave near Leasburg and hopefully get in some hiking on the Ozark trails. I’ve seen photos of the cave on the ‘net and the Lilly Pad Room looks really awesome. Unfortunately, tripods are not allowed so my Rebel XTI will be getting fully tested in higher ISO mode.

Fall colors are really getting good around here now, so I can only hope the hardwood forests of southeastern Missouri will yield some wonderful photographic opportunities. The rocky bluffs and beautiful spring-fed streams will be wonderful backdrops for the foliage.

Check back in a few days for a trip report!