Posted by: kerryl29 | June 3, 2019

Wisconsin: McGilvra Woods (and Notes on Forest Photography)

On the first day of my brief trip to Wisconsin last month, after I wrapped at Pewit’s Nest I made the short drive west to McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, a small tract of hardwood forest in Sauk County.  With an entrance that’s located off a small side road, all that exists in the way of “services” at McGilvra Woods is a tiny parking area.  There are no trails, per se, so I got out and simply wandered into the forest.  What I found was surprisingly enchanting.

McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, Wisconsin

McGilvra Woods is the kind of place that most photographers I know wouldn’t bother looking at.  These rather densely wooded sorts of places can be quite chaotic; finding compositions in locations such as this requires quite a bit of work and, I would argue, some experience in the art of “seeing.”  I’ve been lucky (?) enough to have a great deal of such exposure.

Forest Phlox, Fort Harrison State Park, Indiana

Aspen Forest, Ohio Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Fern Forest, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

I have noted, on this very blog, that having cut my teeth in places such as this, I find myself comfortable at locations where many other photographers do not.  In fact, I often find myself spending time in such spots even when I’m photographing in regions where other, more broadly attractive subjects abound.

Dogwoods, Mirror Lake Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Aspen Forest, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

At McGilvra Woods, I had the benefit of even light but I had to contend with a fair amount of wind.  This was a problem because I had to focus stack all of my shots, either because I was in such a low shooting position with nearby foreground objects or because I was using relatively narrow focal lengths or both.  But patience (or persistence) was ultimately rewarded.

McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Time spent in other locations over the years made my session at McGilvra Woods feel like a trip down memory lane.  Having spent extended stretches in heavily wooded areas I’ve developed a real affinity for trees over the years, as I noted in a past entry.

East Woods, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Easton Road Birches, Grafton County, New Hampshire

The spring bloom was late in the Upper Midwest this year and thus toothwort was in bloom when I was in Wisconsin.  The blossoms were everywhere when I was at McGlivra Woods and I hastened to take advantage of them.

Toothwort Forest, McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, Wisconsin

I have frequently been treated to wildflower blooms when photographing in wooded areas and I always try to incorporate the blossoms on such occasions.

Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Rhododendrons and Redwoods in Fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

White Trillium, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

I didn’t make all that many images while I was at McGilvra Woods, but I ended up being quite satisfied with the photographs that I emerged from the forest with when I called it quits.

McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, Wisconsin

While the place was new to me and the subject matter is always different, the experience had a very pleasant, familiar feel to it.

Wildflower Forest, Sweedler Preserve, Tompkins County, New York



  1. Wow…the Aspen forest and the fog shot are my favorites!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! Your photographs are stunning and show a beauty that is so often missed. You’ve given me some great ideas of how to photograph such scenes when I happen on them in the future. Wonderful work!

    • Thanks very much. I can’t adequately communicate how pleased I am that you received some artistic inspiration from this post.

  3. I love how I can see deeply into the forest as well as witness the blooms and moody fogs.Lovely!

  4. These are brilliant. Most images seem to be shot with a normal wide focal length. 24mm?

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. Sorry for the delayed approval/response to your post; for some reason it ended up being automatically designated as spam.

      I think there’s only one image accompanying this post that was wider than 24 mm (the sixth one down–Cove Hardwood); I’d guess that about half of the remaining images were 24 mm or a bit tighter and the remainder were anywhere from slightly wide (let’s say 35 mm or so) to short telephoto (probably nothing longer than 85 mm or thereabouts).

  5. You really do remind us that there is photographic potential pretty much anywhere if you’re willing to ‘see.’ Thank you

    • Thanks very much!

      My next post may discuss some of the specifics–to the extent that I can find an effective way to effectively explain them–involved in my approach to photographing in forested settings.

  6. These photos are magical, Kerry – everything I love about the woods. The very first photo is brilliant – the criss cross patterns of the fallen logs and the soft tones, just beautiful. Glad to hear that the experience was so positive.

    • Thanks, Lynn. I’m leaning heavily in favor of making the next entry one where I try to describe how I compose these forested scenes. The problem with doing these kinds of pieces, I’ve found, is that I often find it extremely difficult to articulate the process in tangible/actionable terms. We’ll see how this goes…

  7. […] My last post was entitled “Wisconsin: McGilvra Woods (and Notes on Forest Photography)”…unfortunately it was almost completely lacking the notes.  I made a few generic comments, of little value to anyone, and spent the rest of the time talking about the specific experience of photographing at McGilvra Woods (and, truth be told, I didn’t say very much about that, either). Let’s see if we can rectify that shortcoming this time around. […]

  8. […] same morning that saw me spend time at Pewit’s Nest and McGilvra Woods ended with a stint at Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area.  (One of the most attractive […]

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