Nature in your Lens

By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Jim Brandenburg's My North

No matter how slick you are with a 35mm (or an iPhone), you’re probably not getting quite the same results as world-renowned nature photographer and native Minnesotan, Jim Brandenburg. And while Brandenburg’s celebrated mastery of light comes from decades of hard work, finding a compelling Minnesota landscape scene to photograph couldn't be easier. So point your viewfinder toward these five Minnesota nature vistas, where even the most fledgling photog can come away with something positively Brandenburg-esque.

Temperance River State Park

Summer scenes in Temperance State Park.
Summer scenes in Temperance State Park.

Located almost exactly between Grand Portage and Duluth on Highway 61, Temperance River State Park is loaded with photo fodder. With scenic overlooks galore and three distinct waterfalls, it’s hard to find a photography location that more perfectly encompasses the North Shore’s natural wonders. For the real show-stopper, capture a shot of the river spilling forth from the dense forest and out into the gaping vastness of Lake Superior.

Pipestone National Monument

Just 10 minutes north of Jim Brandenburg’s hometown of Luverne in southeastern Minnesota, Pipestone National Monument is one of the more geologically unique spots in the state. Surrounded by the ubiquitous tallgrass prairie of southern Minnesota, Pipestone is a craggy valley of quartzite stone cliffs where Native American tribes have been quarrying stone for ceremonial pipes for centuries. Go at dusk, open up your shutter speed, and let the long sun and red rocks do the rest.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Less than an hour south of the Twin Cities sits one of Minnesota’s best kept secret state parks, Nerstrand Big Woods. One of the last vestiges of the old-growth forest that dominated the state prior to logging, the park is defined by its brilliantly dense greenery (a site that only gets more stunning come fall). The other must-shoot feature of the park is Nerstrand’s lengthy and rolling waterfall, always good for a pretty picture or two.

Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse at dusk. Photo by Jacob Richards.
Split Rock Lighthouse at dusk. Photo by Jacob Richards.

Pop off of Highway 61 and get your camera warmed up at Gooseberry Falls and then head another 10 minutes north for the most iconic Minnesota photo opp this side of the Stone Arch Bridge. Perched majestically on a stone cliff extending from the mainland into Lake Superior, the Split Rock Lighthouse might have been built to give incoming ships a beacon of coming land, but through the years it’s become clear that its main use is making the north shore look epic in pictures.

Voyageurs National Park

The only thing better than shooting pristine northern Minnesota lake scenes? Shooting pristine northern Minnesota lake scenes that most Minnesotans have never seen before. That’s exactly what you’ll do if you dare venture to Voyageurs National Park, one of the country’s northernmost National Parks. The vast network of lakes, with shoreline so extensive and dynamic it feels more like coastline, is mainly accessible only by water (so get your houseboat/canoe/kayak ready), and is therefore vastly less trafficked and vastly better photo fodder than other, more populous National Parks.

My North is a weekly video series created in partnership with Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and Explore Minnesota. If you missed Jim Brandenburg's story, view it here.

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