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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lake Superior: Edge Of Forever

The incredible expanse of the midwestern Great Lake is captured in the dramatic black-and-white imagery of Peter Scott Eide

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lake superior
“Exposed”—The spring of 2007 along Michigan’s Upper Peninsula brought historically low water levels that revealed hidden rocks and formations previously concealed by water.
Eide uses two primary systems, the Contax 645 medium-format SLR and Mamiya RZ67 Pro II 6x7-format SLR. He doesn’t prefer one to the other, though the Mamiya system is a bit smaller, so he’ll bring that on longer hikes. He has only six fixed-focal-length lenses, which provide him with all the range he needs. His favorites are the Zeiss 35mm, 45mm and 140mm glass, and the Mamiya 50mm.

Because he works so much with water, optical filters are an important part of Eide’s tool set. He uses a polarizer to reduce reflections on the lake’s surface. At times, he also uses a neutral-density filter for enhanced control over exposure, which can provide him with great effects like blurred water and more fluid cloudscapes. These effects do more than provide a more visually pleasing image; they provide Eide with a way to communicate the passage of time in a still photograph, an important aspect in his exploration of the lake and its long history.

Open Waters

On the majority of his expeditions to Lake Superior, Eide will take his time and circle the lake completely. He camps out in a variety of areas, hiking the shores to try to find new spots that he may not have come across before. Thanks to working with a dynamic and ever-changing subject, often he can capture entirely different images of the same section of lake.

“I try to keep an open mind when I approach a scene every time,” he says, “because I don’t want to be locked down into looking for one specific thing. The aspects of the lighting and the weather, overcast or sunny skies, rain—all of these elements will often play together to make some of the compositional choices for you. Lake Superior is constantly transforming itself, so you can, at times, shoot the same section of shore within hours and have a completely different subject to work with. Sometimes, if it has stormed, or even just with the waves, everything can get kind of rearranged.”

Eide enjoys the visual challenges inherent in such an immense body of water, too. He tries to keep moving until he finds something that strikes him at the moment, and he’ll work to get the exact framing that he wants, even if it means waiting until the conditions change.

lake superior
“Spirit Tree”—The photographer wanted gentle light to create a soft mood for this sacred Ojibwe prayer tree that has overlooked the northern shore along Minnesota for more than 300 years. He carefully planned this shot just as the sun crested the horizon.
“For me,” says Eide, “it’s a matter of composing the scene in an interesting way. With these kinds of large dimensions, it’s easy to let it be too open-ended. You might get lost or not have a real grounding in the piece. With that particular landscape, you have the beautiful shoreline, which is constantly giving you an anchor to work with compositionally. Then you’ve got the water and you’ve got the sky, which are both fluid. I’m trying to look for a balance that’s kind of circular for the eye, so that nothing falls out needlessly. It all should have a purpose when you look throughout the composition.

“Along with looking for the necessary visual elements within a scene to help sculpt an intriguing composition, I also search for an emotional connection, an atmosphere that helps to elevate the composition. When I find all of these elements combined within a scene, that is when I’ve found what I’m searching for.”

Endless Skies

The climate of such a diverse, northern environment also presents its own challenges. Summers can be hot and muggy, and they also bring mosquitoes, but it’s the winters that are the most difficult to shoot in. Of course, difficult conditions bring the most interesting images, so Eide often finds himself out in record temperatures. He notes that he’s a northern boy, so the intense lows don’t bother him, and dealing with the cold is worth it to him, as the weather can present an atmosphere so special that you can actually feel the cold in the images.

“In the winter, Lake Superior can create things overnight that are spectacular,” he says. “The water itself rarely freezes over because it’s too large of a body of water, and if there’s a bay area, for example, then it can fill with ice shards that float in, and you’ll have this unbelievable landscape of ice. Also, winter’s snowfall blankets the landscape, and if it hasn’t snowed for a few days, the waves crashing up against the deep, snow-covered shoreline begin to freeze over and form unique ice formations. Winter along Lake Superior is a wonderfully evolving visual canvas. I enjoy winter thoroughly.”

When preparing for shoots in the extreme environments, Eide makes sure that park rangers know when he’s trekking through such remote areas. He has slowly phased out winter camping after finding that his equipment would have difficulty from the cold in a relatively short amount of time. Now he tries to find a room within a doable hiking radius so that he can get back to warm up his equipment at night.


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