Frozen beauty: Capturing the land of ice and snow

A Q&A and with Grand Marais, Minn. photographer Bryan Hansel about some of the beautiful images he's captured this winter.

Full chat transcript after the highlights below
During a typical workday, I try to get to the shore an hour before sunrise. I shoot the sunrise and then head home. After I workout, I edit images from the morning. Pick one to post to Facebook. Then answer email for about two hours a day. Do some marketing. Fulfill image requests and print orders. Work on blog posts for my paddling website: www.paddlinglight.com. And then head back out for the sunset. There's no 9-5 in nature photography.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:47 AM


Photo by Bryan Hansel
by Michael Olson, MPR News on Mar 15, 2013 at 11:03 AM

I took this one near Stoney Point in Duluth, although it looks like it could be anywhere. I love the simplicity of the shot and the lines in the clouds and along the shoreline all leading into the shot.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 11:03 AM


Photo by Bryan Hansel
by Michael Olson, MPR News on Mar 15, 2013 at 11:02 AM

This photo was one of my photography workshop participants making a photo along an icy shore. This winter started warm and we didn't have any ice on the lake until a few days before my workshop. The wind came in and smashed the ice into plates. With the red sunrise, it made for great fire and ice photos.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 11:01 AM

Everyone got a great photo they could frame from this sunrise.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 11:01 AM


Photo by Bryan Hansel
by Michael Olson, MPR News on Mar 15, 2013 at 10:59 AM

This is my favorite photo from the winter.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:55 AM

I usually scout the areas that I'm going to shoot before hand and know what I'm going to photograph. This day, I just went somewhere without having scouted. The sky about 90 degrees off the sunset started to light up with the three pink lines and I just happened to be standing near an ice form that echoed that shape.

I did have to downclimb an icy cliff to get to the ice, but it was worth it.

The simplicity of the picture and how the shapes in the ice and sky echo and how the pink color gloves across the image really pulls everything together for me.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:59 AM

Photo by Bryan Hansel
by Michael Olson, MPR News on Mar 15, 2013 at 10:55 AM

I love this first image. I took it for the Grand Marais Art Colony's Winter Plien Air festival. This was one of the few mornings during the week-long festival that we had a great sunrise. This is on Artist's Point in Grand Marais and I was standing on the ice for about 30 minutes waiting for the right color.

I really love how the lines from each of the icy points and the clouds lead into the photo. The color was subtle that morning as well.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:51 AM

I printed this one 16 by 24 and it's gorgeous.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:52 AM

How do you decide to frame the photo, in terms of composition of water to sky? Did you end up cropping this image much in post-production?Michael Olson, MPR NewsMar 15, 2013 at 10:52 AM

I almost never crop in post-processing. I try to get everything right in the camera. For this one, it's a classic rules of third composition with two thirds water/land and one third sky. It's also a near/far shot. I found something interesting near me, the ice, and something interesting far away, the horizon and clouds, and then I connected them using the shapes and lines in each area.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:54 AM


The gear nerds are demanding to know: What gear do you use? What is one thing you couldn't live without?Michael Olson, MPR NewsMar 15, 2013 at 10:39 AM

I'm a Nikon user. I shoot with a Nikon D800 and three primary lenses: 16-34 f/4 VR, 24-120 f/4 VR and a 70-200 f/2.8 VR. I also use a 105 f/2.8 and a bunch of prime lenses when I need something faster than f/4. For fun, I have a Lensbaby. All my lenses are Nikon, which I feel is important to keep a constant color profile and look across all my pictures.

This winter, my 16-35 had to go back to the shop multiple times for a faulty VR system, and I thought that that lens would be one I couldn't live without, but I did fine with a 24mm prime lens. And I've shot multiple cameras, so I know I can easily change cameras. I think I couldn't go without my Gitzo tripod legs and my Kirk BH-1 ballhead. A sturdy tripod is essential for the work that I do.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:44 AM

How do the cold temperatures and snow change your approach to capturing images in the winter?Michael Olson, MPR NewsMar 15, 2013 at 10:35 AM

There are a few techniques that I have to consider to get to the locations. The shoreline is icy and without crampons or spikes on my feet, it'd be easy to fall in. The cold, especially when it drops below zero, makes it hard to keep your hands warm. I always where multiple layers of gloves. A thin layer to use when setting the camera and thicker gloves to wear between shots.

I have a friend who is a polar explorer and he recently gave me a tip about how to stay warm in winter. His tip was wear multiple base layers. I tried it this winter and it really works!Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:38 AM

Do you have a favorite season to photograph?Michael Olson, MPR NewsMar 15, 2013 at 10:32 AM

Winter by far is my favorite season. The Lake Superior shoreline changes daily. The sun rises late in the morning and early at night which makes it easy to capture both. Colors seem more vibrant and there seems to be an added crispness to the photos. In Grand Marais, the shoreline runs almost due east-west, so we get sunrise and sunsets over the lake here, which is a bonus in winter.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:34 AM




When you are surrounded by something and it becomes familiar what makes it beautiful or attractive to your eye often changes, doesn't it? How do you avoid taking the beauty of the North Shore for granted?Michael Olson, MPR NewsMar 15, 2013 at 10:17 AM

When something feels familiar, it does change to the eye, but I find it hard to take the beauty of the North Shore or anywhere for granted. There's a small point of land near Grand Marais called Artist's Point. I've been shooting images there since I moved here, and I shot images there twice this week. There's always something new or different -- especially in winter -- to find along the shore. The key is to always approach the subject with new eyes -- look at the world as a child would and you'll never take anything for granted.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:21 AM

Can you talk more about looking at the world with fresh eyes? How do you condition yourself to do that? And maybe on a related note, how do you get yourself out of a creative rut?Michael Olson, MPR NewsMar 15, 2013 at 10:23 AM

I'm sure that there are many ways to approach this. I do it by practicing mindfulness, which is trying to keep your mind fully engaged in the current moment. That means that if you're pulling radishes, then that's all you're concerned about. You're not thinking about what you did last week or all the chores that you need to do tomorrow. It's just about pulling radishes. If you train your mind to think this way, then you don't have any preconceptions to overcome and your view is always fresh. I try to practice mindfulness with everything I do -- it's not easy -- but with practice, it gets easier when it counts. During photography is when it counts for me.

There's also a sport concept called flow, which is being fully engaged in the moment. I feel that when I'm taking photos, but I first felt that when I used to climb. Every sense was engaged in each move up a rock face. I translated that to photography.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:28 AM



A quick way to get out of a rut is to give yourself an assignment. I do this in my workshops by giving each participant a phrase that they need to photograph during the weekend.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:29 AM

What new professional or amateur Minnesota photographers stand out to you?Michael Olson, MPR NewsMar 15, 2013 at 10:14 AM

I'm going to narrow this down to three from the north shore. Travis Novitsky from Grand Portage covers the same area as I do and it's so fun to see what he takes pictures of. His night photography is amazing. He also helps teach during my fall workshop. Down towards Duluth, Nate Lindstrom and Shawn Thompson cover that shore. I look forward to seeing their posts on Facebook each day.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:17 AM


Oh, ya, and Paul Sundberg.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Who do you consider to a great Minnesota photographer?Michael Olson, MPR NewsMar 15, 2013 at 10:11 AM

There are so many. I think most people would say Jim Brandenburg and Craig Blacklock. And they're great. I get so many people that come to my photography workshops who also are great photographers that it's hard to narrow it down. With digital photography, it has gotten so much easier to make a great photos, so the level of good photography out there has risen significantly.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:13 AM

Who or what is a source of inspiration for your photos?Michael Olson, MPR NewsMar 15, 2013 at 10:07 AM

The landscape is my primary inspiration. When I look at Lake Superior, I get inspired by it. I'm also inspired by a desire to live simply, so I try to combine that desire with the natural beauty to make photos.

As far as photographers that have inspired me, I'd say that Galen Rowell served as an inspiration when he was alive. David Muench and Art Wolfe are two others.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:11 AM
What makes the North Shore home to you?Michael Olson, MPR NewsMar 15, 2013 at 10:04 AM

I love the scenic and natural beauty here, and because I'm a kayaker and canoeist, it's the ideal place. We have ocean-like paddling on Lake Superior, and canoe country in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Those two features also make it the perfect place for photography.

I also love the small town feel to the area. I've never been a big town person with its constant rush. It feel so easy going here and that's what I like.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 10:07 AM




Thanks for the interview. You can see more photos, purchase prints, sign up for classes, or other photo services at Bryan's website.Michael Olson, MPR NewsMar 15, 2013 at 11:07 AM

My main words of advice for people that want to get into photography: Practice. Practice. Practice.

Thanks for having me.Bryan Hansel, PhotographerMar 15, 2013 at 11:05 AM

For more images of Minnesota view our collection of Minnesota Scenes on MN Today and our series Minnesota in Photos. Share your photos by adding them to our Flickr Pool.

The full transcript of the interview begins below.

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