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I have heard it mentioned before that sometimes in photography it is better to spend money on gas than equipment. Considering there are lenses for purchase that cost the same as a house mortgage, one can appreciate the value in this statement. Yet, I believe the essence of this opinion lies in the fact that part of the thrill of photography is how it has the ability to invoke that deep sense of adventure inside many of us. Trying to find the next best shot is like participating in a game of hide and seek and tests how keen the photographer's eye can be in creating a fresh new composition to share with the world. The compact size and diversity of Door County thus makes it a perfect location to accomplish this task. In addition, it is pretty hard to get lost here for the most part, because you will always inevitably hit water; unless you are heading south, then you may be in trouble! So how does one go about finding the hidden gems of these 2,370 square miles? I have diligently scoured the county for the past few years and will share with you some of these pearls discovered in my travels.
We will start our tour in the southern part. I know it is easy to tune out this segment of the trip when first crossing the county border and heading north. After all, it is just a bunch of farmland and cows, right? Yet, many times I have been pleasantly surprised with some interesting photo opportunities. For example, the town of Brussels and historical district of Namur possess some unique architectural finds such as a feed mill, churches, an old grocery store, Belgian style brick buildings and the Belgian Heritage Center. Peppered in between these areas are miles of rural rustic land and farmscapes. If heading up along the Eastern border of the peninsula, you will be presented with much the same with the addition of the beautiful backdrop of Lake Michigan. It may be easy to pass through this part of the county in the blink of an eye, but it does have its own personality and is worthwhile to stop to take a few pictures.
"Brussels Store" captured in downtown Brussels.
Another reason I enjoy southern Door County is because this is where I often go for a "cow photo shoot". I never know how I am going to be received by these lovely creatures when I pull over along a roadside and take their picture. Cows are such simple yet curious animals and make great photo subjects. One time when I pulled over, an entire herd charged at me from across the field with such gusto, I thought they were going to run over the fence. Other times, I have been curiously stared at like an alien species from another planet. I always enjoy these interactions and just let the cows decide how the scene will play out. Of course, the best part is I always get to practice a "moo" sound!
"Cow Selfie" taken along the roadside off Cty Rd S .
This brings me to my next recommendation, which is to get off the busy, main drags and explore the quieter rural roads that meander all over the county. This is not an exact science by any means and basically involves driving and turning onto roads that happen to look interesting. Door County is included in the Wisconsin Rustic Road system and these scenic drives are identified by brown markers. Sometimes, I haven't found much of anything venturing like this, but other times I have discovered many weathered barns and silos, fields of hay bales, roadside creeks, abandoned houses, tractors and vintage trucks and automobiles. I also encounter a wide variety of trees, foliage and flowers; various animals like horses, donkeys, alpacas and many other species of wild animals and birds along the way. Sometimes, the landscaping features of local residents and businesses can make great subject matter as well. I mean, how can you go wrong with brilliant colorful hollyhocks strategically placed in front of a weathered barn window? Or haybales stacked into the shape of a tractor? These are the little treasures I am always keeping an open eye for when searching in this manner.
"Barn on the Hill" was discovered during a driving adventure on rural inland roads.
Another lesser known photography gold mine are the preserves open for public recreational use owned by the Door County Land Trust. These are nice because they are located all over the county and I find are not as busy and crowded as some of the more popular state and county parks. Each preserve offers a little something different than the other, and I have spent many hours hiking and photographing everything from trees, flowers and butterflies in the summer to spewing ice volcanoes along the shoreline in the winter. The beauty of Door County is definitely reflected in these wonderful protected lands and offers another option for finding interesting and new images for your photo gallery.
The final gem I will share with you is my new favorite place that I finally had the chance to visit for the first time this past June. The location of this one involves some effort to get to, but that all becomes a faint memory when you step of the Karfi onto the very scenic and rugged Rock Island State Park. The first thing you notice upon arrival is the historical Thordarson boathouse which is an amazing place to wander and take pictures.
"Boathouse from the Banisters" is an inside perspective of Thordarson boathouse.
I highly recommend taking advantage of the camping opportunity here to further explore the photo ops on the island. Pottawatomie lighthouse is another highlight to check out as well as the famous face carvings found on the rocky cliffs on the shoreline. Just please make sure you do not repeat my blunder and plan an entire photography excursion to this remote place and then leave your camera battery plugged into your wall at home. As well as bring a dead spare one along. Opps! Sometimes we have to learn lessons in life the hard way and although without DSLR, I was able to obtain some great captures with my iphone and GoPro.
So there you have it. A few shutterbug insider tips on how to find inspiration in this visually engaging part of the world I am lucky enough to call home. The hidden gems I have stumbled upon in my time photographing are available to anyone who is willing to realize there is potential available in all 2,370 square miles of land mass that make up Door County. The second part of this equation then lies in ourselves. As in the words of the famous photographer Ansel Adams: "The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it."
"Follow the Floral Pathway" taken with the iphone on Rock Island... because the camera battery was left behind!
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