State of Grace

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 9, 2010

As staff photographers for the Missouri Department of Conservation, we travel all over the state on assignments. We experience firsthand the diversity and beauty of Missouri.

From prairies to caves, woodlands to rivers, if Missouri doesn’t have it all, it’s got an ample share. All of the images on the following pages were photographed within the past few years and include just some of the breathtaking landscapes, beautiful flowers and amazing critters that can be found in Missouri.

While we hope you spend some quality time with these pictures, enjoying the scenes as much as we do, our larger hope is that these images will inspire you to get outside and find your own wonderful views of nature.

—David Stonner and Noppadol Paothong

Shoal Creek

Noppadol Paothong

During the fall of 2007, I visited Shoal Creek early in the morning before sunrise. As I waited for the sun to rise, I spotted a group of Canada geese swimming in the creek. I used a mid-range telephoto lens (70–200mm f/2.8) and a slow shutter speed to get a movement of flowing water. Then I carefully waited until geese came into my frame.

Painted Rock Forest

Noppadol Paothong

During a late winter snowstorm, I took a hike at the Painted Rock Conservation Area in central Missouri. The forest was covered with fresh snow, and I found the sugar maple leaves to be a nice contrast with the trees. Instead of using a wide-angle lens to cover the entire forest scene, I decided to use a mid-range telephoto lens (70–200mm f/2.8) to capture the details of trees.

Glade Coneflower

Noppadol Paothong

In the spring, I found a patch of glade purple coneflowers at Valley View Glades Conservation Area near Hillsboro. I tried to emphasize the texture of the flowers from the top view. With a macro lens set at 100mm f/2.8, I was able to get as close as I wanted and achieved that effect.

Pickle Springs Pines

David Stonner

I arrived at Pickle Springs before sunrise one chilly morning last October, and I headed out on the 2-mile trail to see what the fall morning held in store. The sandstone arches, rugged boulders and rock falls along the path were interesting, but I decided to press on to the top of a bluff. Emerging from the woods onto the edge of the breathtaking precipice, the first rays of sunshine slipped over the tops of the pines, and the forest began to glow. I used a 24–70mm f/2.8 zoom lens on a tripod for this photo.

Duck Creek Sunrise

David Stonner

I was working on some photos about the bottomland forests at Duck Creek, and the images I got from a canoe in the swamp just weren't capturing the grandeur of being there in person. I hoped that some aerial photos would pay off, so I coordinated with MDC pilot John Westenbroek to pick me up in nearby Poplar Bluff for a sunrise helicopter flight over the area. I wasn't sure how the combination of low early morning light levels and aircraft vibration would affect the images, possibly rendering the photos unusable due to camera shake. All of the variables came together for several photos as the orange sunrise reflected in the pool of water with the misty Ozark hills in the background to lend a sense of depth to the images. I used a 24–70mm f/2.8 hand-held zoom lens.

Moonrise Over Stegall Mountain

David Stonner

My good friend, hiking buddy and photography teacher from college, Tom Mitchell, and I were hiking the Ozark Trail through Shannon County last October. After a long day on the trail we found a beautiful glade on the summit of Stegall Mountain at Peck Ranch Conservation Area. It is a photographer and nature-lover's playground with sweeping vistas, rugged ridge lines, towering pines and big sky. We photographed the glade and the surrounding landscape all evening, and I decided to wait until nightfall to try some star photography with the full moon just barely illuminating the glade. The trees swayed and the clouds streaked through the frame in a stiff autumn breeze for the 30-second exposure taken with a 16–35mm zoom lens.

Diana Bend Tree

Noppadol Paothong

I spend a lot of time searching for various areas in the fall, looking for subjects to shoot. At the Diana Bend Conservation Area near Rocheport, I set my goal to focus on one tree only. I decided that a unique way to photograph the tree was by pointing my camera up to the tree from below. I laid down on my back while pointing my camera upward and carefully framed the tree as to lead eyes to the top. A 17–40mm f/4.0 lens was used.

Hoar Frost, Spring Creek Gap

David Stonner

The heavy fog I encountered while driving to Spring Creek Gap near Vichy one February day had me feeling that it wouldn't be a very productive morning. I decided to press on, my best bet for good photos coming from the top of a fire lookout tower on the area. Shivering in the dark with my camera tucked into my down parka to keep the batteries

warm, the fog started to clear, revealing a beautiful layer of frost on everything in sight. The contrasts—light and dark, warmth and cold, color and monochrome, the cusp between spring and winter—evoke strong feelings for me. I used a 70–200mm f/2.8 lens on a heavy tripod.

Diamond Grove

Noppadol Paothong

One summer I visited Diamond Grove Prairie near Joplin when it had been raining all day. Finally, the rain stopped, giving me a brief window to photograph. I found these big bluestems to be quite beautiful against the sunset sky. I only had a few minutes to search for the foreground subject and set up my tripod. I used a wide-angle lens (17–40mm f/4.0) and a polarizer filter to increase the contrast of the clouds.

Mina Sauk Falls

David Stonner

This was my first photo assignment after joining MDC last year. Noppadol and I set out to capture the water and wildflowers of the rugged Ozark hills in May. High tech rain gear and waterproof boots were no match for the pounding rain we received while on the trail; of course it didn't help keep me dry when I decided that the perfect vantage point was from a waist-deep pool of water at the base of the falls. In between wiping rain drops from the front of my lens, I managed to make several 15-second exposures using a 16–35mm f/2.8 lens on a tripod to give the water a silky, flowing look.

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