Photographing Natural Minnesota - ColdSnap Photography

Photographing Natural Minnesota

During my presentation at the TCACCC Spring Break this last weekend I promised to post the information about Photographing Natural Minnesota in this newsletter. The following articles are from that lecture. In this newsletter I will cover the Intro, and the Aspen Parkland Region. In the next newsletter I will cover the Tall Grass Prairie and the Deciduous/Big Woods Regions.


Aspen Parkland




Minnesota is comprised of 4 eco-regions or distinctly different biological environments. These regions are:

Aspen Parkland

Tall Grass Prairie

Deciduous/Big Woods

Coniferous/North Woods


The following resources are great places to go to find out information about regions that you are planning to visit. These websites are full of information about locations, phenology, species, and much more. Prior to any photographic road trip I spend a significant amount of time researching where I want to go and when a good time to go would be. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call the people on the ground at the locations you are thinking of visiting. Generally I have found that the Park Rangers, Wildlife Managers, or other Natural Resource personnel are more than happy to share what they know about the region or interesting things to photograph. Treat them with respect and they will be eager to help you.



            Parks and Trails system

            Scientific and Natural Areas Program (SNA’s)

            Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s)


The Nature Conservancy (TNC):

            MN TNC Preserves


US Fish and Wildlife

            Wildlife Refuges


You can also check out the Master Naturalist Program offered by the Minnesota DNR.


Planning a trip:


When I plan and go on a photographic road trip I try to plan at least 3 days. Less than that and it gets rushed–more is always better. In Minnesota you are generally no more than 8 hours drive, and usually much less, from great places to photograph. The North Shore is a 3 hrs drive, the best parks in the big woods are only about 2 hours, the prairies in the NW are 4-8 hours drive. Don’t try to cover too much territory, pick 1-3 locations for your trip depending upon the size of the area you expect to photograph. For instance if I were to plan a trip to the NW Prairie and I am going to Glacial Ridge Wildlife Preserve–at 26,000 acres in size — that would be the only location I would plan to visit for my 3 day trip. Plan to spend the first half day of your visit scouting the region or locations you plan to photograph. This time spent scouting will pay great dividends for your photography. During your scouting forays you should note good locations for wildflowers, fauna, and landscapes. Keep in mind which direction the sun will rise and set. Don’t forget to check your sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset charts before you head out into the field. I use thePhotographers Ephemeris. It is a great program for this information.




Generally when I go on photographic road trips I camp. Not only does this save me money it also usually gets me closer to where I need to be for photographing early morning sunrises or late evening sunsets. I generally use State Forest Campgrounds on weekdays because most of the time they are empty during the week and you will have it all to your self or nearly so. On the weekends I use State Park campgrounds, if I can find a vacant spot, because they are quieter and the Park Rangers strictly enforce a 10pm quiet time rule.


Aspen Parkland Aerial  

Very basic phonology of locations:





                    Big Woods for spring ephemeral wildflowers,

             Prairie-Pasque Flowers prairie smoke and prairie               white lady slippers



May-            Coniferous/North Woods for Calypso Orchid




June                Coniferous/North Woods for early orchids

                       3rd weekend of June is good for wildflowers on                         North Shore, Lupine, orchids, bunchberries                                

June-July        Coniferous/North Woods for Showy Lady                                   Slippers

Late July:        Prairie for grasses, blazing stars, cone flowers  




Prairie for sunflowers and grasses-fall color can come early on the prairie


End of Sept- Early Oct

Coniferous/North woods Lutsen Hardwoods area for color


Oct- Big Woods area for fall color, along Mississippi River 


Aspen Parkland:Showy Lady Slipper


The Aspen Parkland region looks and feels much like the Tall Grass Prairie. It is comprised of open grasslands, brushy areas, prairie fens and wetlands, broken up by clumps of Aspen woodlands.


Time to visit:


Spring–for prairie orchids-Early to mid May (Prairie White Lady Slippers, and Yellow Lady Slippers)

Summer–for Showy Lady Slippers and other orchids-Mid June to Early July

Fall– late August or early September (grasses and yellow aspen trees, general landscapes.)




Wallace Dayton Preserve is a Nature Conservancy site. At over 15,000 acres there is much to explore. Fall landscapes are particularly good here.


Agassiz Wildlife Refuge is a Federal WMA. It is over 61,000 acres and home to a wide diversity of waterfowl and other birds, in fact there are 294 species of birds.


Hwy 11 from Baudette to Greenbush. In summer through fall this 81 mile stretch of highway has over 2 Million orchids! Many of them are the Showy Lady Slippers.