Voyageurs National Park Infrared Reflection
Infrared,  Landscapes,  National Parks

Capturing the Beauty of Voyageurs National Park through Infrared Photography

The best way to see and photograph Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota is by boat.  40% of Voyageurs National Park is water and a lot of the 60% land percentage is made up of islands.

So, I hired a local guide to give me a tour of Voyageurs National Park with a focus on photography.  We were scheduled to leave at 6am and I had a 40 minute drive to meet the captain from my hotel in International Falls.  Just as I was about to leave the hotel, the captain called me and asked, “are you sure you want to do this?”.  The smoke from the Canadian wildfires had moved in overnight and we had completely overcast skies.

Since I had nothing else scheduled and I didn’t want to sit in the hotel all day, I decided to go ahead with the boat tour.

While I was driving to meet the captain, I saw that there was some structure in the clouds.  It wasn’t completely flat gray.  This would be perfect for black and white infrared photography. Luckily, the night before I had packed my infrared converted Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III in my backpack.

I spend the morning mainly focusing on Infrared photography.  I did also photograph some birds and wildlife: Bald Eagles, Common Loons, and American White Pelicans.  However, the light was not great for bird and wildlife photography.

Voyageurs has some unique scenery which can produce excellent black and white infrared photographs.  The black and white infrared photographs also emphasize the impact of the smoke from the Canadian Wildfires.  In this blog, I’ll highlight some of the infrared photo opportunities at Voyageurs National Park.  This same technique can also be used for similar conditions in other parks while you are traveling, and help you avoid sitting in the hotel room all day.

Sculptures at Ellsworth Rock Garden
Sculptures at Ellsworth Rock Garden

Ellsworth Rock Gardens

The Ellsworth Rock Gardens in Voyageurs National Park is a beautiful attraction where visitors can marvel at beautiful rock sculptures and carefully designed gardens. Created by Jack Ellsworth from the 1940s to the 1960s, these gardens blend art and nature, offering many photo ops for photographers.  The rock gardens can only be reached by boat.

The gardens provide good photo opportunities for black and white infrared photography as well, with the white of the foliage contrasting nicely with the dark stone sculpture and tree trunks and branches.

Kettle Falls, Infrared
Kettle Falls, Infrared

Kettle Falls and Kettle Falls Hotel

Kettle Falls provides a hotel, and a waterfall and dam for photo opportunities. Kettle Falls Hotel is the only lodging within Voyageurs National Park and is only accessible by boat. You can also stop for lunch at the hotel.  If you go in the hotel, visit the bar.  Not for a drink, but to see the tilted floor.  The floor in part of the bar has sunken but the pool table is level since they built an angled base for the table.

Both the waterfall/dam and hotel make good subjects for both normal and infrared photography.  The hotel is white with a red roof, so color photography may work better for the hotel.  However, I decided to continue to stay with a black and white, infrared theme for the day.

Island, Infrared Black and White
Island, Infrared Black and White

Islands, Channels and Bays – Compositions from the Boat

There are many compositions in Voyageurs National Park that are conducive to infrared photography with overcast conditions. Black and white infrared photography will turn many of the trees and foliage white that will provide contrast with the dark water.  Dark rocks and building like cabins will also provide contrast with the white foliage.

Some of my favorite on the water compositions for infrared photography are:

  • Bays and channels with reflections of the trees in the calmer waters
  • Solo islands with dark, stormy looking clouds in the background.  With the sky selection tools in both Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, you can easily darken, and add contrast to the skies to add drama to the image.
Houseboat on Kabetogama Lake
Houseboat on Kabetogama Lake

Boats on the Water

Life in and around Voyageurs National Park revolves around boats and boating.  It is the main method of transportation to get to many of the park’s attractions. There are also many camping and day use sites in Voyageurs National Park that are accessible only by boat. The lakes have many fishing boats, pontoon boats, and house boats.

Capturing infrared photographs of boats in this scenery helps to tell the story.  Contrast in black in white, infrared photographs is important to creating a good image, and the light colored boats provide a nice contrast to the dark water.

Nik Silver Efex Pro
Nik Silver Efex Pro

Post Processing Black and White Infrared Images

I like to use Silver Efex Pro from the Nik Collection to convert my infrared images to black and white. Silver Efex has a variety of Presets to get you started in your black and white conversion and give you ideas on where you want to go with your image. There is also a variety of adjustment sliders to further process your image, and the Nik Collection Software also has Control Point to allow you to edit selective portions of the image.

I like a lot of contrast in my black and white photographs. I do a lot of dodging and burning to selectively brighten the whites and darken certain areas of the photograph to increase contrast. This can be done in photoshop using the Dodge tool and Burn tool with a low exposure, or you can use the selection brush in Adobe Lightroom.


In the world of photography, there’s no such thing as unfavorable weather, only fresh opportunities waiting to be captured through the lens.  Black and White infrared photography is a great way to capture these unique photo opportunities on cloudy days.

Written by Martin Belan

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