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Arts & Culture

Images of Erie's Liquid Mountains Show Lake in Very Different Light

Winds blowing across Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, can turn calm water into a frothing chop in a matter of minutes.

They're the kind of conditions that keep most people on shore, but inspire one Canadian photographer to head into the water.

The results are breathtaking images of Lake Erie as few have seen it.

London, Ontario-based photographer Dave Sandford makes a living shooting sports, but last fall he purchased some water-proof photo gear that allowed him to branch out into a new realm, the frigid northern shore of Lake Erie.

Sandford has captured images of massive waves that show the lake in a very different light.

I asked Sandford where his interest in waves grew from.

“Waves have always been a big interest of mine – and the water.  It goes back to my earliest childhood memories of being on, in, or around the water.  And I’ve always had a love for nature and wildlife, that goes back even further than sports. So it’s always been there.”

Had you noticed these wave formations and always thought in the back of your mind that you’d like to photograph them someday, or was it something you discovered in this process?

“No, I’ve spent a lot of time on Lake Erie over the years,  so I definitely know what the lake is capable of.  Lake waves like that are wind generated so you need the right conditions.”

The new gear allowed you to get into the water.  Can you describe a typical day of shooting these waves?

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Credit DAVE SANDFORD
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DAVE SANDFORD
Canadian photographer Dave Sandford's photo series of Lake Erie waves show a very different side of our familiar Great Lake.

“I’m a safe distance from what I’m photographing because I don’t think you’d survive if you were right in the mix of all that – it’s just far too dangerous.  But you’re still in pretty heavy surf.  Usually the waves are six to eight feet, and I’m in water that is about up to my chest level at the most.  You’re still getting tossed around a fair bit because lake waves have very short intervals and where I’m at, because of the action of the waves, it’s more like a washing machine.  So you’re getting waves coming at you from multiple directions.”

Can you describe what the weather is like and what it feels like?

“It’s definitely cold, and the wind gusts are like 30 knots steady, and then gusting anywhere from 60 to 70 mph, which is essentially (almost) level one hurricane force winds.  So you’ve got waves in the range of anywhere from 8 to 20 feet. And the waves that most people have seen that I’m photographing are a result of two masses of water, the wind generated waves that are coming in, and the rebound that’s off the pier creating these massive peaks that are upwards of 20 to 30 feet. It’s essentially one mass going one way and one coming the other, and they’ve got nowhere to go but up.”

They remind me of 19th century paintings of ‘storms at sea’ – the lighting and the painterly quality of the images. What did you first think when you first saw what you’re camera was capturing?

“I’m always in awe of it, whether it’s seeing it unfold in front of me with my own eyes, or taking a look at the back of the camera and just shaking my head, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I got that.’ 

You’re essentially freezing a fraction of a second in time, and you get to see things that the naked eye would never pick up.  With the camera I’m using you can shoot up to 14 frames per second, and it’s the perfect moment in time where that water and light have come together to give you that image. 

It’s pretty cool to be able to stop and freeze water that way, because it’s the only way you’re ever going to, and allow you to see these things you would never see otherwise.”

See more of Dave Sandford's work on his instagram page - sandfordpix

And his website -  http://www.davesandfordphotos.com/#