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Despite a warm winter, MN photographers take amazing, icy shots

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Winter in Minnesota this year has been a bit helter-skelter. For much of the state, a few warm Pacific fronts have kept the snow on stand-by for melting and put the ice sculptures on hold. Still, it takes some creativity to get through the state’s longest season.

That’s why photographers have been on the lookout, waiting for the most opportune temperatures to snap their icy shots.

“Wintertime is special, as it offers a way to really get out by yourself and fully focus on your surroundings,” says Gregory Israelson, of Saginaw, Minnesota. “The sights, sounds, and cold make you feel alive.”

Not far from the shore of Lake Superior, Israelson spends a lot of time taking photos along the lake.

“This year is different from last,” he says. “There is ice, but not to the extent of last year. The conditions are still good for interesting shots.”

Jacob Keller, of Duluth, is among the photographers who’ve captured the ice this year. It’s his first winter shooting with his new camera, but he ventured out to the Lester River, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Gooseberry Falls in the same day, all in search of a cool shot.

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Keller says capturing great ice calls for the right location, a little bit of luck and a lot of perseverance. He had nearly called it quits before he discovered a peculiar set of icicles that formed menacing teeth on the thick chains in Gooseberry Falls State Park.

“The landscape in the winter is completely different than what it is in the summer,” says Keller. “It's almost like we have the opportunity to explore two entirely different places without getting on a plane and flying somewhere else.”

For Ryan LaPlante, a professional photographer in Champlin, Minnesota, it’s all about the challenge.

“Ice is so unique,” he says. “The ice formations are always changing. I like to get out to catch the ice when it’s just forming.”

A portrait photographer by day, LaPlante sets out at sunrise and sunset on a mission. His goal is to compose only three to five nature shots a week. For the ideal composition, he plans his photos ahead of time, and chooses his locations carefully.

“The elements don’t stop me,” says LaPlante. He lets out a candid laugh, admitting he was utterly unprepared for the cold he encountered while shooting last winter.

In a year’s time, he loaded up on all the winter gear he could want and obtained the warmest coat he could find. Just in time for El Niño’s warmish wrath. That’s what makes his subzero selfie, taken last month in -21 degree weather, such a victorious shot. 

“There’s still beauty to be seen; it’s just different in the winter,” says LaPlante. “With the sunrise and the sunset, there are huge pops of color reflecting off the ice and the snow. The light is always changing.”

A father of two young toddlers, LaPlante has also made a goal of capturing winter scenes close to home. After relentlessly searching for stunning bodies of water in the suburbs, he discovered frozen gems on the banks of the Anoka Dam, the Coon Rapids Dam and the Mississippi River.

“With the Mississippi, the challenge is understanding the way the ice forms,” says LaPlante. “Those little ice stacks that happen will be out a ways on the water, and I’ll have to walk across the ice. So, there’s the safety factor.”

As every good winter photographer knows, it helps to be prepared. LaPlante always wears ice cleats when he ventures out onto the rocks, carrying more gear on his back.

All three photographers agree. Braving the ice is worth the slick conditions.

“Bundle up and get out there,” says Keller. “You never know what you see and you might find yourself enjoying the winter months a little more!”