Being a Green Bay, Wisconsin-based commercial and editorial photographer with easy access to the Great Lakes, I find myself out on the water photographing not just on assignments, but also for times I need to get out there and be creative. Most people think of being out on the water shooting as a warm weather thing, but to me, one of my favorite times of year is the winter months. There’s nothing better than shooting a large ship busting through the frozen waters or a freighter coming in off the lake on a chilly day.
These past few months I’ve found some great photo opportunities to shoot anything from Coast Guard ice breakers to 1,000-plus foot freighters navigating the frozen waters. The other day I was comparing how I accomplished these types of shoots with the current technology versus the technology I first started out with on my freelance career in the mid-90s. The first photo in this gallery is a photo I took back in 2001 of the United States Coast Guard’s Mobile Bay busting through the frozen waters of the bay of Green Bay to create a path for a ship to get access to the port of Green Bay. I shot this one from a small single-engine plane as I hung out the open window with my first digital camera, a Nikon D1 with a 70-200 mm lens. I’d seen a story in the local paper that the Coast Guard would be out that day breaking up the ice so I rented a plane and pilot with the hope that I could spot the icebreaker. To this day that shot still hangs in my living room.
Fast forward to this winter and I no longer need to rent a plane. I’ve been using a DJI Mavic 3 drone. It’s also not as much of a guessing game that I will be able to find a ship out in the frozen waters. With the help of an app called Marine Traffic and a couple of very active Facebook pages, I’m able to gather plenty of intel on the whereabouts of ships in the area. The app isn’t always 100% accurate or it may be a few hours behind on a ship’s position, but it is a ton better than using a few day-old newspaper articles to figure out a ship’s position.
Photographing with a drone is a lot more comfortable, with easy access to my warm car, than the days of trying to keep my hands and face from freezing as I opened up the window of a single-engine plane going 100mph a few hundred feet above ice-covered waters. I still find myself heading out onto breakwaters or along frozen beaches to get a shot, but I’m able to send the drone out to get an angle I couldn’t on foot and it’s much safer. These are the type of shoots that keep me energized during the long and cold winter months. I’m so appreciative of how modern technology has helped me be more creative and productive on these shoots.
Below are some of my favorite photos of ships on the Green Bay and Door County, Wisconsin waters during the winter months, starting with the shot from a small, single engine plane twenty plus years ago.
Thanks for looking!