The Horicon Marsh is a large (32,000 acre) wetlands area about 60 miles northwest of the Milwaukee metropolitan area. It is notable as a wildlife refuge, particularly for migratory birds. The northern two-thirds, the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, while the southern one-third, the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area, is owned and managed by the state of Wisconsin.
Tuesday, November 19, promised to be one of the last really nice days before the onset of winter, and I decided to pay a visit to the marsh with my camera, my first. My objective was not the wildlife but the landscape. I had a great time but realized that I have a lot to learn about shooting landscapes in such settings.
Here is an early shot of a recently constructed boardwalk extending across the marsh.
This image has its problems. First, there is flaring visible in the image extending toward the center from the upper left. In addition, it's not much of a shot artistically. However, it does provide a feel for what the marsh offers--vast flat cattail marsh areas leading to low "islands" that are populated with trees. The boardwalk, I should add, is unusual in terms of visitor walkways in the marsh. Most of the trails are formed of earthen dikes that have been built across the wetlands.
In addition to the dense cattail areas, there was a fair amount of open water in areas, and I was hoping those would present the photo opportunities I was hoping for but which I struggled to take advantage of. Here is an early shot.
I liked that shot includes a "bend" in the waterway, but otherwise it just doesn't have much going for it, including that there really is no focal point.
Here is another shot that has a number of things going for it that the first shot did not.
First, while the earlier photo was taken around 1-1/2 hours before sunset, the second was taken perhaps only a half hour before sunset and the difference in light is notable. Second, although I tried to include a foreground element in each shot, the cattails in the lower left of the second shot are more interesting, perhaps because the image includes their reflection in the open water. The foreground weeds in the first shot are just that, weeds. Third, I was lucky that there were a couple of ducks heading off for an evening "paddle" in the second shot. They're small, but they do provide a point of focus. Finally, I liked the relatively large expanse of water in the latter shot, creating some welcome negative space. I considered "removing" the isolated clump of weeds in the lower center of the image, but decided it added something.
Even though the day was sunny, the temperature never rose above the upper 30s, and there was a bit of ice on many of the open water areas. Here is a casual shot of some cattails sticking out above the thin layer of ice.
Too simple, but it has a bit of a zen feel that I liked.
The flat expanses of the marsh were punctuated by occasional trees, either singly or in clumps, as in the following shots.
The dead tree in this shot was quite distant and I was using my telephoto lens to bring it in. I felt that the shot didn't quite work, though it might have been better if I had shot it from closer to ground level.
I was a lot closer to the tree in the following shot.
Not a great shot, but it does a pretty good job of reflecting the stark quality of marsh's landscape. My regret is that I should have left a little space between the right margin of the image and the tree's one nearly horizontal limb. Also, I should have taken the shot from a slightly lower angle so that the point where that limb connected to the trunk would have been above the line of the horizon. These are the little things that I just don't notice at the time but that become obvious in post processing.
There was a nice clump of trees that I spied from the end of a "dike" road that extended to the center of the marsh. I was able to get a bit closer on foot to take the following shot (one of several; this was the best of the lot).
I very much liked the nice arch that the trees made collectively. My regret was that the cattails in the foreground were a bit of a distraction. If only I had been a foot taller.
Finally, I noticed the following tree just to the side of the same dike road.
This is a shot I took an hour or so before sunset. I really liked the tree's asymmetrical character, including how it arched toward the road. In terms of problems, I would have preferred to take the shot from closer to ground level so that nearly the entire tree could be silhouetted against the sky. However, the cattails were so dense and high that I would have had to clear out a very large swath of them to get a clean shot of the tree. Not an option. My other complaint concerns the jet contrails in the sky. Not much I could do about that, however.
Here is another shot of the same tree that I took perhaps 40 minutes later, only 20 minutes or so before sunset.
A better shot, I thought, for a couple of reasons. First, the color of the sky was much richer (and the contrails weren't as prominent). Also, I positioned the shot so that the arch of the tree extended over the little clump of trees in the distance in the lower right. Just a bit more interesting, I thought, although I lost some of the emotional effect of looking directly down the road.
I was extremely impressed with how well maintained the marsh is in terms of visitor amenities, at least the state owned portion that I visited. These included a large and beautiful visitor center, friendly personnel to answer questions and provide suggestions, maps, and well maintained trails. And, unlike the state parks, there was no admission fee. I will look forward to my next visit, and hopefully I will be able to learn from my initial experience.