Posted by: kerryl29 | April 7, 2014

Seeing in the Field Part IV

This is the fourth part of the “seeing in the field” series, an ongoing dialogue between myself and Tom Robbins.

The introduction to the series is here and Part I , Part II and Part III can be read via the corresponding links.

With this installment, we’ll continue our look at images that were made on excursions to places where scenes other than that represented by the selected image were the main impetus for the visit.  The principal question we’re batting around is:  what is it that compels us to take notice when we’re in the field?

For this installment, Tom will set the scene for the included image and then Tom and I will engage in a dialogue to try to tease out something of the creative process that led to the shot’s capture.

Setting the Scene

Unexpected photography subjects are usually found while en route to a destination or after having arrived on site. Occasionally, they will present themselves in the most humble and unpromising circumstances. This simple winter landscape, photographed within a half mile of home, is an example:

 

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

[View a larger rendition here.]

I was out that windy and near zero degree February day primarily to shake off a case of cabin fever blues, something almost everyone in the upper Midwest has experienced this winter to one degree or another. All roads leading out of town were hazardous that morning due to yet another snowfall, so a quick hike in a local park would have to do. I expected only fresh air, but took the camera gear along out of habit. About half way into the hike, the scene in the photo grabbed my attention. It’s a place I’ve been to countless times, yet fresh snow, diffuse light, arrangement of elements, and subtle colors created an entirely new combination that I simply could not pass up.

The local park served as a stage for the distant coal chute, a relic from the steam locomotive days. Nothing else seen during the walk caught my eye. It is odd how a particular point of view and the circumstances of a moment can lift the spirits as if by magic.

The Dialogue

Kerry:  Odd indeed, but I think we’re discussing the essence of what constitutes the substance of the matter underlying these dialogues:  seeing in the field.  It really is fascinating how a scene that, under one set of conditions is a compelling photographic subject but under another wouldn’t merit so much as a glance, let alone consideration for setting up one’s gear.  I’ve poked at the carcass of this issue a few times in the past, most notably in an entry on shooting in foggy/misty conditions but perhaps we can dip into this a bit more completely–and universally.

What was it about this particular visit that made this scene–one that you specifically noted you’d encountered many times before–so compelling on this occasion?  You’ve hinted at this in your description–fresh snow, diffuse light, etc.–but can you be any more specific?  Can you draw a direct comparison to how this morning’s visit differed, aesthetically and in motivational terms–from your previous experiences in the same spot?

Tom:  On that day, the surface of a pond at the lower left side of the frame had completely frozen over after several days of extreme cold. This, combined with fresh overnight snow, effectively masked some of the visual elements that are usually present at this location. The result was a landscape with its normal distractions naturally filtered away. The simplifying effect of snow and ice in this instance is similar to that of fog and mist; it provides a clean stage for the central elements. 

KerryI think we’re approaching a near-universal conclusion here (and I say “near” because, when it comes to art, I’m not sure that there’s anything that is truly literally universal):  simplicity is a very powerful–and inspirational–aesthetic.  It certainly holds up to intuitive scrutiny as well.  Think about how often, when composing in the field, the instinct is to attempt to remove or at least de-emphasize compositional “distractions.”  So when atmospheric forces–fog, snow, soft light conditions in general, etc.–perform that task for us, we can take advantage.  Obviously this is part of a larger, more general theme–knowing what conditions flatter what places–but I think there’s something directly actionable here:  otherwise cluttered places (e.g. woodlands, etc.) are often best photographed when something obscuring is present.

Tom:  I agree with your assessment of simplicity; Asian ink wash painting is an example of the aesthetic. There is probably a limit to how far the idea can be taken. The old chestnut, if less is more, then nothing is everything, comes to mind.

Kerry:  Oh, absolutely.  Taken to its logical extreme, the most highly simplified picture of the foggy scene would be of nothing but fog…which, presumably, wouldn’t be particularly compelling.

Tom:   Your observation about knowing what conditions flatter what places is on the money. Wonderfully complicated and tangled landscapes do exist, but when they are effective, it is usually because all elements are working in harmony or are supporting a theme.

Kerry:  Are there other times when you’ve revisited a spot that hadn’t spoken to you previously but something about that time, that moment resonated with you?  If so, can you compare/contrast those times with this one?  What are the relevant comparative similarities and differences?

Tom:  There was almost too much fog at the creek one foggy July morning last year:

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

[View a larger rendition here]

The same place with snow and ice, about half a year later:

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

[View a larger rendition here]

Fog simplifies in the first image and ice and snow simplifies in the second. This third image is straightforward September:

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

Copyright Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

[View a larger rendition here]

The creek reliably conveys its water from source to destination without regard to any viewer’s point of view. Just the same, I prefer the winter version because it’s similar to the stark aspect of the winter coal chute photo. There’s something irresistible about the cold and clean contrasts of winter.

KerryThese sample images are an excellent guidepost, demonstrating what the scene looks like at different times of year and in different conditions.  It’s interesting…it almost seems to me that the best of all possible worlds might be a kind of combination of the foggy image and the winter one (a set of conditions that, admittedly, is extremely unlikely to reveal itself in the real world, since we don’t see much fog in winter).  Somewhat ironically, I think the foggy image may very well have the best sense of visual depth of the three (ironic because the fog all but eliminates the background and totally obscures the horizon, making actual depth almost non-existent), due to the comparatively strong leading line of the creek itself.  That leading line is greatly mitigated, of course, by the snow in the winter scene, and the foliage in the late-summer version. 

But on the subject of simplicity, I’m wondering…is perhaps one reason why you don’t feel that the foggy scene works as well as it otherwise might the fact that, despite it’s simplicity inducing properties, something about this location makes it impossible to really simplify it enough
to really make it work?  Consider this image:


Copyright Kerry Mark Leibowitz, All Rights Reserved


I think this shot works precisely–and in fact solely–because of its stark simplicity.  There’s an entire background–a tree-filled hillside–that’s normally completely visible behind the lone tree you see above, one that–without the heavy fog–makes it impossible to make the tree (and its reflection) stand out.  Given the proximity and size of the elements in the foggy creek shot of yours above, it’s probably impossible to garner that kind of effect, no matter how thick (or thin) the fog is.  Perhaps this–the creek–is the kind of scene that works best with a half-step of simplifying obscurity–the snow cover, as depicted in the winter shot–rather than the full step?

Tom:  Yes, absolutely so—wonderful image, by the way. Varying degrees of simplification are needed for different subjects and circumstances. It is rare for the simplifying element (snow/ice, fog, or whatever) to be ideal for a given scene, and I suspect some photographers haunted their prospective gems for many years before the tumblers of the lock finally clicked into place. The reason that a photographer’s best work is often made locally probably has more to do with the ability to make numerous attempts than to knowledge of place.

Kerry:  Agreed.  And I think this reinforces the notion that we’re speaking in abstract generalities here; there is no cookbook recipe to follow.  We’re simply identifying and discussing general principles, the specific applications of which will vary depending on location, subject matter, specific conditions, individual artist and so forth.

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 27, 2014

The Sweet Spot

I’ve said it many times:  photography, at just about every level, is about making and accepting compromises.  The reality of this is made evident, for instance, when you gain depth of field at the cost of losing stops of light by closing down the aperture of a lens.  It’s revealed when increasing the ISO–to get that shutter speed you need in a low-light situation, for example–comes at the price of increased noise.  It shows up when the photographer makes the fundamental decision to use a telephoto lens for an intimate scene, at the expense of depth of field.  There are countless examples of these kinds of tradeoffs.  You can prove this to yourself.  Head out for a day of shooting and take note of how many times you give up one thing in order to obtain another while in the field.

While the tradeoff examples are most obvious when it comes to the technical aspects of photography, the analogy plays out in more distantly-related realms as well, including equipment–what to buy, what to use.

*                     *                     *

I did something a bit unusual a few weeks ago, something I hadn’t done in nearly six years:  I bought a new lens.  The lens in question is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens .  This model, which hit the market a bit more than a year ago, is the long-awaited (and requested) replacement for the Nikon AF VR Zoom-NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED lens, which I have owned and used for approximately 11 years. 

Nikon 80-400, D (left) and G (right)

Nikon 80-400, D (left) and G (right)

If I already owned an 80-400 mm lens, why did I need another one?  The short answer is, the new one’s better. :)  No, really, it is.  Much of the attention regarding the “G” version has centered around the (much) faster autofocus capability relative to the “D” version (the “G” is an AF-S lens) and the improved vibration reduction system, and the improvements in both of these areas are quite real and significant.  But they’re also not particularly important to me, given the kind of photography I engage in.

Freeland Farm Morning, Tucker County, West Virginia

Freeland Farm Morning, Tucker County, West Virginia

The issue is this–and it’s a classic case of the tradeoff matter outlined above:  the older, “D” version of the 80-400, was never the greatest lens, in terms of optics.  It was never better than “decent,” in terms of its ability to render image quality, with it’s most significant shortcomings visible in the corners of the frame (where IQ degrades for many lenses).  This was never a big deal when I was shooting with AFS-C crop-sensor (DX, in Nikon-speak) cameras, as was the case when I first obtained the 80-400 D in 2003.  But when I made the move to a full frame (FX) camera at the tail end of 2008, when I purchased the D700, the optical shortcomings began to be revealed just a bit.  I loved–and still do–the flexibility of the focal length of the lens, and with the 12-megapixel sensor of the D700, the image quality provided by the 80-400, even in the corners, I deemed “acceptable.”  The tradeoff was obvious–some IQ sacrificed (over, say, a 70-200 mm/2.8) in order to gain the flexibility of the focal range.  (As I’ve noted on this blog, I not infrequently find myself shooting at focal lengths well above 200 mm, so limiting myself to 200 mm on the long end has never been a desirable situation.)

Solitude, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Solitude, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

But the IQ problems of the “D” version of the lens started to really become objectionable, at least to me, when I began to shoot with the D800E and it’s 36-MP sensor in the summer of 2012.  Those corner problems didn’t seem minor anymore.

When the “G” version of the 80-400 was announced early in 2013, I paid close attention.  I wanted to see if early reviews of the lens were positive, particularly in the IQ department.  They were, pretty much uniformly.  Objective tests of the two lenses showed a significant improvement throughout the entire frame, particularly in the corners.  I was excited.  Until I saw the announced price–roughly $2700.  Ouch.  Based on what I was reading, the lens was very good, but this is a variable aperture lens (i.e. the maximum aperture changes–becomes narrower–as you move from the shortest part of the zoom range to the longest).  And that range is f/4.5 to 5.6.  $2700 is an awful lot of money for a variable aperture lens.  It’s also more than $1000 more than the “D” version had been selling for prior to the introduction of the “G” version of the lens.  Everything I was reading suggested that the “G” version was very good.  But was it $2700 good?  I had my doubts.

Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Nikon (and Canon, for that matter) have had a habit in recent years of introducing new equipment at premium prices and then, after six months or so, cutting the price significantly.  As much as I wanted to replace the 80-400 with the new version, I decided to wait and see if a discount was in the offing.

By January of this year, no price cut had come and I had decided that if, by March, there was no drop I would probably swallow hard and simply make the purchase.   But around the beginning of February Nikon announced instant rebates on more than a dozen lenses and–guess what?–one of them was the 80-400 G.  That rebate was $400.  The wait had been worth it.  The lens was still, arguably, somewhat overpriced, but I felt that I’d waited long enough.  I pulled the trigger.

Setting Sun, Clingman's Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina

Setting Sun, Clingman’s Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina

When it arrived in late February I immediately spent some time setting up some test shots of my own just to confirm what I’d already learned–there was a clear and undeniable IQ improvement from “D” to “G.”  I finally had the opportunity to try the new lens out in the field following a very wet, sticky snow in the Chicago area in early March.

Winterwood, Churchill Woods Forest Preserve, DuPage County, Illinois

Winterwood, Churchill Woods Forest Preserve, DuPage County, Illinois

Note how this story is shot through with compromises–cash retained, IQ unrealized; cash spent, IQ obtained; flexibility obtained, IQ sacrificed; IQ potential attained (D800E), lens limitations exposed.  It’s the never-ending push-pull of photography, rearing its head yet again, as we search for the elusive sweet spot.  I’ll have more to say on this topic in another post in the relatively near-future.

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 7, 2014

Fool Me Twice…

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, I use Nikon Capture NX2 to convert my RAW files.  This, as much as anything, is a result of inertia.  When I first started shooting with a digital camera back in 2003, I made the transition from a Nikon film camera to the D100, a Nikon DSLR, in order to utilize my existing F-mount lenses.  At the time, Nikon’s software did a palpably superior job with NEF (Nikon’s RAW format) files than third party converters, including Adobe Camera RAW (part of Photoshop).  This is at least in part because Nikon’s RAW files encapsulate a series of proprietary algorithms, and the folks at Nikon know exactly how to decode them.  The third party folks, by contrast, have to reverse engineer the file format and that isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do.

Bridle Path, Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

Bridle Path, Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

As time has passed, the distinction between the results obtainable with Nikon’s RAW converter and third party options has narrowed and, arguably, has disappeared altogether.  Yes, I could have migrated to something else, such as Adobe Camera RAW, but my attitude was, essentially, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  I was already plenty facile with Capture, so why reinvent the wheel? Capture may have been effective, but it was never a very elegant, well-programmed or well-designed piece of software.

Forest Moon, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

Forest Moon, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

In fact, Nikon has a rather well-deserved reputation for putting out lousy software.  (In fairness, I’m not sure any of the camera companies handle the software end of things very well, but some are worse than others [COUGH, Nikon, COUGH] and some have been better than others at realizing that they’re not doing very well on the software front (Nikon?  not so much).  Most Nikon software is buggy, has a relatively (or very) poor user interface, bucks a lot of conventional operating system conventions for no apparent reason and often performs fairly sluggishly.  (Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?) And yet, my complaining notwithstanding, I’ve managed to adapt to Capture’s quirkiness and make it work for me.

Sulphur Springs, South Chagrin Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks, Ohio

Sulphur Springs, South Chagrin Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks, Ohio

So what’s the problem? This is the problem.  Briefly, Nikon is beta testing a replacement for Capture NX2, called Capture NX-D.  The new program is actually a significant substantive downgrade.  NX2 is apparently going to disappear, as will support for it.  As a practical matter, a fully featured version of Capture will become orphaned software.  You may ask why this is a problem, and the answer is that as long as I don’t get a new camera (which would be unsupported by an orphaned program) and as long as I don’t need to change computers/operating systems, there is no problem.  And, as luck would have it, I have no plans any time in the foreseeable future to do either.  But eventually–particularly on the computer/OS front–something will have to give, so at the very least the clock is ticking, even if nothing needs to be done immediately.

Sunflower Morning, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Illinois

Sunflower Morning, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Illinois

Then there’s this.  The long and the short of it is that, if you’ve been using Capture software for RAW conversion and have been saving your edited changes using your original NEFs (as opposed to using copies), you have some real problems going forward.  Any saved changes to NEFs using Capture software were embedded in those files (as opposed to being written out as instructions to separate sidecar files, as virtually all other RAW converters do), and at least some of those changes can’t be recognized, edited or undone by any other software–including, at least at this time, the soon-to-become standard Capture NX-D.  In other words, your original RAW files aren’t truly original anymore; they were altered when you made changes using Capture and saved the files.  The article offers a few suggestions for dealing with this matter, and one choice is less palatable than the next, as Thom Hogan plainly states; the options, he says, “suck.”  (Seriously, take a look at the choices one faces and consider how viable they seem to you.)

October Light black & white, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, West Virginia

October Light black & white, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, West Virginia

I’ve been using Capture software for more than 10 years now, and in a sense, I feel kind of lucky.  Yes, you read that correctly:  lucky.  In addition to having four unaltered backup copies of every RAW file I’ve ever shot, I’ve never saved any of the changes that I’ve made in Capture to the files I’m editing.  Those changes are written to a TIFF and then opened in Photoshop for further work, and once that happens I’ve closed the original NEF without saving any of the changes.  (In that respect, I have five copies of every original RAW file, all of them unaltered.)  So the problem outlined above doesn’t apply to me; that’s why I feel lucky.  I really feel for anyone whose work has been impacted, however.

Pink Canyon Abstract, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Pink Canyon Abstract, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

But just because I feel lucky this time around doesn’t mean I’m complacent.  Some of you may remember my near death experience last October,  While I certainly share in the responsibility for the unneeded stress that was experienced (due to an admittedly less than flawless in-the-field backup regimen–which has now been rectified, incidentally), the foundation for the entire problem was–wait for it–Nikon software…and Nikon’s exceptionally cavalier attitude toward dealing with a known catastrophic problem with one of its programs.

Grotto Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Grotto Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

In light of all this, I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise  that the revelations about Capture strike me as yet another example of the (seemingly) never-ending catastrophic litany of problems that have bedeviled Nikon software for ages.  There’s no harm–I guess–in continuing to use Capture NX2 the way I’ve been using it (i.e. non-destructively) all of these years, but given that the “new” version of Capture is going to be less functional than its predecessor and the old version evidently won’t be supported anymore, I think this may well be the time to move on to a different RAW converter and simply be done with Nikon software once and for all.

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 21, 2014

The Preservation of Silence

The Law of Unintended Consequences seems to crop up with the introduction of every new bit of technology.  There’s nothing new about this; it was true long before I was born and it will persist well after I’m gone.  But the implications of this truism have more impact in some instances than others–and the degree of impact may certainly vary from individual to individual.

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

For me, the “new” technology with the highest unintended consequences quotient (UCQ) is the ubiquitous nature of cellular phones.  Cell phones became commonplace in the Western world roughly two decades ago and have since become considerably more than just telephones, but the added capabilities that have appeared over the past 20-odd years have made relatively little difference in UCQ terms, at least from my perspective.

Dawn, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim, Arizona

Dawn, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim, Arizona

For all the intended–and, in some cases, possibly unintended positive–aspects of the mainstreaming of cellphones, they’ve had at least one very–in my opinion–negative consequence, which stems from an ostensibly positive impact:  the ability to be “in touch” just about everywhere.  And that negative consequence?  Succeeding the ability to be in touch anywhere was the expectation of being reachable anywhere…at any time.  In theory, of course, one’s phone can be turned off, but that’s a violation of what I’ll term the new normal (though it’s not especially new anymore) of common culture:  the assumption that each of us is accessible at almost literally any instance.  And, with few exceptions, when it comes to one’s job, one’s career…if you’re not available 24/7, you’re going to pay a pretty steep price.

Fire Wave at Dusk, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Fire Wave at Dusk, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

What’s lost?  What’s the cost of this new normal?  In my view, quite a bit:  a sense of privacy, a sense of being able to separate work and personal time…and pure, unadulterated silence.

Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

I’m no Luddite, believe me, but I will readily admit to having fought against the aforementioned “new normal,” and if I’ve paid a price for it (and I undoubtedly have), I think it’s been well worth it.  Simply put, I value the ability to control my own solitude too highly to surrender it.

Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Channel Islands from the Hurricane Ridge Road, Olympic National Park, Washington

Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Channel Islands from the Hurricane Ridge Road, Olympic National Park, Washington

I wasn’t conscious of the fact when I first became interested in the endeavor, but I’ve come to realize that one of the reasons that photographing the landscape appeals so strongly to me is that it coincides with the opportunity to be in a place where I can be alone with my thoughts, devoid of sounds other than, perhaps, the wind, running water and the distant call of wildlife.  When I’m concentrating on what I’m doing I’m not conscious of this bliss, but–invariably–between shots, perhaps–I take a step back, often literally, and allow the palpable presence of quietude to penetrate my awareness.  Whatever the cost of these experiences has been, it’s been worth it.

Coneflower Morning, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, Illinois

Coneflower Morning, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, Illinois

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 6, 2014

Five of My Favorite Landscape Photography Fallacies

My apologies for the lack of postings over the course of the last month.  I’ve been dealing with multiple medical emergencies in my family that have required me to make numerous trips back and forth between Chicago and Indianapolis and I’ve had next to no opportunity to do any writing–let alone any photography.  Things are still a bit on the hairy side, but I hope that everything will at least begin to ease over the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I managed to find a few moments to catch my breath and put together a breezy piece.

There are a great many misconceptions about most endeavors, but as this is a blog dedicated to the art and craft of landscape photography, that’s the subject I’ll focus upon in this entry.  Here are five (relatively) common fallacies:

1.  You’re a landscape photographer; goodness knows you don’t need a telephoto lens.

In the immortal words of Col. Sherman T. Potter:  Buffalo Bagels!  I would guess that at least 1/3 of my images are captured with a telephoto lens and something on the order of 10% of my images are captured using a telephoto lens in excess of 200 mm.

Swift Creek Overlook black & white, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Swift Creek Overlook black & white, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

I know that when most people think of landscape imagery they immediately conceive of wide, open vistas, but–particularly when I’m photographing from an overlook–I almost invariably reach for a telephoto lens, to capture details that would otherwise be lost amidst a vast view.

Autumnal Impressions, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Autumnal Impressions, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

The value of a telephoto lens can’t be overstated in its ability to isolate intimate nearby scenes, eliminating unwanted distractions from a composition.

2.  You’re a landscape photographer; you certainly aren’t concerned about your camera’s high ISO performance.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now:  I fully realize that high ISO performance is more important to an action shooter, particularly one who works in low light, than it is to a landscape photographer like myself.  But even acknowledging that, the fact that it’s of greater relevance to someone else doesn’t make it irrelevant to me.

Apple Blossoms, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Apple Blossoms, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

In fact, it never ceases to me amaze me how often I hear other landscape photographers say something along the lines of “I don’t care about high ISO performance; I never move the ISO off the base setting.”  I guess these folks never shoot subjects that include elements that move…like foliage or blossoms…in the wind, particularly in relatively low light situations.

Oaks and Maples, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

Oaks and Maples, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

I find myself doing this sort of thing all the time, and the ability to raise the ISO level by (as much as) a few stops without worrying about excessive noise is not infrequently the difference between a sharp image and a candidate for the round file.

3.  It’s not the golden hour; I guess you’ll be off to the motel for a nap, huh?

Regardless of the light conditions, there’s almost always something that you can shoot; you may simply have to work a bit harder to find flattering subjects than you would during the “golden hour.”  The truth is, many subjects–particularly waterfalls, creeks, streams and forest intimates–often work better in overcast conditions (i.e. on days when there is no “golden hour” at all).

Elakala Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Elakala Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Even in the middle of a harsh, sunlit day, you can almost always find subjects to shoot, be they intimates in deep shade or elements that simply work in mid-day light.

Summer Breeze, Jardin du Soleil Lavender Farm, Washington

Summer Breeze, Jardin du Soleil Lavender Farm, Washington

Reflection abstracts are another subject that will often work well in the light of mid-day.

Oconaluftee River Reflections, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Oconaluftee River Reflections, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Even if its just a scouting expedition, I’m pretty much always actively engaged as long as there’s light of any quality available to me.

4.  There’s no point in spending any time photographing landscapes east of the Mississippi River in North America.

(I hope the above images put the lie to that statement–all but one are of locations east of the Mississippi.)

Look, I love the western landscapes of North America as much as the next guy, and head out there as often as I can (which isn’t anywhere near as often as I would like).  And, there’s no question in my mind that eastern landscape photography is, on balance, considerably more challenging–in terms of composition and aesthetics–than it is out west.  But I’ve found it to be immensely rewarding.

Tunnel Falls, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

Tunnel Falls, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

There are many, many wonderful spots in the eastern halves of the United States and Canada at which landscape photography is well worth the time and effort to investigate.  An added benefit is that many–though not all–of these spots are mostly overlooked by landscape photographers, making it possible to create your own iconic images.

Au Sable Channel, Pinery Provincial Park, Ontario

Au Sable Channel, Pinery Provincial Park, Ontario

5. Well, the sun’s gone down.  Time to pack up.

Oh for the love of Pete…the number of times I’ve heard something like this, even from supposedly experienced photographers…it’s shocking.  The very best evening sky shows I’ve ever seen have all taken place after the sun has set.  Sometimes, the best of the action is 30 minutes (or more) after sunset.  (The morning corollary applies–the best morning skies are pre-sunrise.)  Consider my experience on my trip to the UP last fall.

Miners Beach at Sunset (western sky), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Miners Beach at Sunset (western sky), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Whether it be the post-sunset western sky or the earthshadow effect to the east, resist the urge to break down your gear and leave when the sun goes down.

Earthshadow, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Earthshadow, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Particularly if you have a nice arrangement of clouds to the west, you’re almost certainly setting yourself up to miss the best of the action if you don’t wait for the post-sunset sky show to begin.

Pacific Sunset, Port Orford Head State Park, Oregon

Pacific Sunset, Port Orford Head State Park, Oregon

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 7, 2014

The UP: Days 8 & 9

After experiencing a truly brilliant sunset on Day 7, we prepared for the last full day of the trip–Day 8.  The forecast was calling for clear skies at sunrise, but I suggested that we give Pete’s Lake–a location we’d only scouted (i.e. we hadn’t shot there)–a look.  Pete’s isn’t among my favorite lakes to photograph in the Hiawatha for two reasons:  first, it’s not a great location for fall color, due to an abundance of conifers fringing much of the shoreline; second, it’s a large lake, as Hiawatha lakes go, which means that very little wind is needed to disturb reflections.  Did I mention that the forecast, in addition to clear skies, was calling for significant breeze?  On the plus side, Pete’s Lake has excellent access, which provides a large number of vantage points to the photographer.

It was still dark when we arrived at the lake.  Sure enough, there was plenty of breeze, making  reflections a rumor that morning, but there ended up being just enough clouds in the southern sky to make something of the sunrise.  I decided, almost immediately upon our arrival, to use a bench as my foreground interest.

Pete's Lake at Sunrise, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Pete’s Lake at Sunrise, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

After playing with the lake itself as the sun itself came up, on the way back toward the parking area I found a fairly unorthodox composition that I found appealing.

Pete's Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Pete’s Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

In the forest, not far from the spot where we parked the car, Terry discovered this stump, which we both spent a bit of time working with, as it made for an interesting intimate subject.

Near Pete's Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Near Pete’s Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

After sunrise, we decided to return to Munising Falls.  We had scouted this area–sort of–on Day 4.  The government shutdown was still in place, so access to the area remained (officially) cut off, and when we arrived at the parking area, a ranger’s vehicle was in the parking lot.  We decided to wait until the ranger left before wandering into the area, so we parked across the street.  I’ve photographed Munising Falls several times in past years, and I knew that, despite the sunny skies, the waterfall, which is located in a lush gorge, would remain shootable until late morning when hot spots would begin to creep in amongst the trees on the bluff above the falls.  The canyon is typically fairly sheltered from the wind as well.

In a few minutes, the ranger left and we left our car outside the parking lot, grabbed our gear and wandered in.  The trail to the falls is on a well-maintained boardwalk and is less than 1000 feet in length.  Initially, we shot the falls from creek level.  I went back to the car for my boots so that I could set up in the stream below the waterfall.

Munising Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Munising Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

There are a couple of staircases that branch off the main boardwalk that lead to elevated observation points of the falls.  The one to the left of the stream is blocked by undergrowth but the one to the right affords a clear shot.  The wind was becoming an issue by this time, as it caused the foliage to dance periodically.  Given the desirability of a slow shutter speed to render the water, this was a problem, so I took a number of shots.  It was next to impossible to account for all of the leaves in the scene prior to clicking the shutter, so I had to hope that one frame was pristine.  This turned out to be a good approach.  Of the seven or eight shots of this exact composition that I took, only two were devoid of blurred foliage.

Munising Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Munising Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

By the time we wrapped up at Munising Falls it was approaching noon.  It was a warm, sunny and breezy day.  I suggested that we scout Memorial Falls and Tannery Falls, which are located on private land that is owned and administered by the Michigan Nature Association.  The trails that lead to the waterfalls are open to the general public and are walking distance from the Munising Falls parking lot.  Terry had a phone call to deal with so I ran up to check out the falls quickly by myself, without my gear.  The trails were pretty steep (and a bit muddy in spots, after all the recent rains), but not very long and since I wasn’t hauling any gear with me, I was able to get up and back quickly.  My scouting session determined that both falls were worth shooting, with Memorial Falls being the more compelling of the two if time was limited.  My plan was to return the following morning before heading back to the Chicago area.

From here, we took a quick run past Alger Falls, which is located only a mile or so from the motel, right off M-28.  I photographed Alger Falls in 2002, and had driven past it countless times since.  The color surrounding the falls was excellent this year, and I decided to add it to the following morning’s itinerary, when it would be in full shade.  We also ran out to Miners Castle, accessed from the same relatively nearby section of Pictured Rocks as Miners Beach.  Terry hadn’t seen it, and while I’ve photographed it several times in the past, I thought it would be worth his scouting it.  Miner’s Castle is a late afternoon shot, but you can get a sense of the place in any light.  So, we zipped over there and had a look.  Terry thought it was well worth photographing, so we planned to return later that afternoon.

From there, we headed back into the Hiawatha to check out a few spots we’d already photographed, just to see what was happening with the color.  We shot by both Council and Red Jack Lakes, for instance, and found that both–Red Jack especially–was beginning to look a bit picked over.

We also made a quick stop at Moccasin Lake, which is not far from Council and Red Jack.  When we gazed down to the shoreline right below the pullout on H-13 we saw someone familiar.  It was the same guy we’d seen two days earlier at Au Train Falls.  This was the guy who had said that he didn’t “waste [his] time with these little bull**** waterfalls.  [He'd] shot major waterfalls.” He was all set up, taking a picture of the lake.

I told Terry that I should call down to him that we “don’t waste our time with these little bull**** lakes.  We’ve shot major lakes, like Superior and Michigan and Huron.”  We had a good chuckle about that.  Of course I didn’t do it–we just left without announcing our presence–but I thought about it.

On the way back toward Munising, we stopped at a small preserve that I’d had my eyes on for years, but never explored.  It was a small(ish) wetland, with a series of boardwalks running through it.  It was mid-afternoon by now, but we decided to stop and take a look.  This was Cox Pond, and we walked all around the boardwalk access and found a few things that we thought were worth shooting.

The wind was out of the south on this warm afternoon, and the southern edge of the pond was pretty well sheltered from the breeze.  Careful use of a polarizing filter really helped bring the clouds in the sky to life without destroying the reflections.

Cox Pond Autumn, Alger County, Michigan

Cox Pond Autumn, Alger County, Michigan

I was also intrigued by the lines made from the shadows on the railings of the boardwalk, in certain spots.

Cox Pond Boardwalk Shadows, Alger County, Michigan

Cox Pond Boardwalk Shadows, Alger County, Michigan

By the time we finished at Cox Pond, it was late afternoon, and the light was angular enough to make a trip back to Miners Castle worth doing.  And so we did.

Miners Castle, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Miners Castle, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

As nice as the Miners Castle scene is, it’s pretty much a one-trick pony, so we weren’t on site long. It was time to think about what to do for sunset.  Much as had been the case on the previous afternoon, things appeared to be shaping up for a very nice sunset this evening.  After some discussion, we decided to head back to Au Sable Point.  We’d been there on Day 6, under (mostly) overcast conditions, and we knew that shooting sunset here would mean a 1.5 mile hike back to the trailhead in the dark, but the trail was so flat and easily traversed that neither of us was concerned about that.  Besides we both had flashlights, and Terry had a headlamp.  No problem.

So we drove east.  It took about 40 minutes to get to Hurricane River–the jumping off point for the trail to Au Sable Point.  We dodged the protective tape and moved into the campground area, which was completely deserted.  It was a bit less than an hour until sunset and the hike to the point wouldn’t take more than about half that.

I mentioned earlier that it had been a warm day, and despite the cold morning we’d experienced the previous day, there hadn’t been a hard freeze.  How did I know that?  When we got out of the car in the campground, located in a thick forest only a few hundred feet from the Lake Superior shore, we were greeted by copious mosquitoes and black flies.  This was my fifth autumn shoot in the UP and this trip was the first time I’d ever seen a mosquito or a black fly (both types of insects are notorious for their presence in the area in the summer).  Terry sprayed himself with DEET and I figured that when we got out to the point–in the open, with the breeze hitting us–the bugs would leave us alone.

The insects–especially the mosquitoes–harassed us all the way to Au Sable.  We were constantly slapping at them.  By the time we got to the point, they were thick as thieves.  I tried to set up to take a shot of the lighthouse from the bluff but if I stopped moving, the mosquitoes were all over me.  I couldn’t deal with it.  I made a beeline for the beach.

My assumption that things would be better on the beach was accurate–to a point.  The bugs were still present, but they weren’t nearly as numerous.  Terry followed me down the log “staircase” but, for some reason, the insects liked him a lot better than they liked me–they were all over him, and they wouldn’t leave him alone.  After a few minutes, he couldn’t take it any longer.

“I can’t deal with this,” he said.  I looked over and saw insects swarming all over him.  “I just can’t take it.”  I understood what he meant.  If you’re constantly being buzzed by mosquitoes it’s all but impossible to focus on photography.

“I’m going to head back to the car,” he said.  “Don’t hurry back on my account.  If you can deal with the insects, hang out here as long as you want.  You’ve got a flashlight, right?’  I said I did and pulled it out to show him…and discovered that the batteries were dead.  It had been working fine just a day earlier.  Terry gave me his flashlight.  I protested.  What would he use?  “I won’t need anything in all likelihood,” he said.  “Besides, I’ve got the headlamp.”  I thanked him.

“I’m not sure how long I’ll make it myself,” I told him.  “If the bugs start bothering me, I’ll be right behind you.”

For the most part, however, the insects left me alone.  I swatted away perhaps a dozen mosquitoes, but there were no swarms.  I was generally able to concentrate and remained on the beach until long past sunset.

Before the sun went down, I photographed the lighthouse from the beach.  Note the long shadows and the quality of the light.

Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I then set up to photograph the shoreline to the southwest when the sun disappeared but, mindful of the experience at Miners Beach the previous night, I glanced behind me–toward the north.  And saw what you see below.

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The sun hadn’t quite set, but it was beginning to appear as though this might be even a better sunset than the spectacle we’d witnessed the previous evening from Miners Beach.  Immediately after the sun set, I shot along the coast to the northeast.

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Once again, it was time to follow the color around the sky, but this time–because Au Sable Point provides a panorama that extends nearly 270 degrees, there was a lot more “around” to follow.

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The real color show, of course, got underway in the southwest sky about 15 minutes after the sun went down.

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

When the color in the sky finally began to fade, I got my things together, climbed back up to the bluff and made my way as quickly as possible up the trail.  The glow in the sky persisted all the way until I got back to the car and beyond.  We could still see the glow as we returned to the main road on our way back to Munising, nearly an hour after the sun had officially set.

When we got back to the motel, Terry and I said our goodbyes.  He was facing a 13-hour drive back to Pittsburgh, so he was going to leave first thing the following morning.  I wanted to shoot the waterfalls I’d scouted earlier, so I was going to head out and do that at first light, and then make the 6-7 hour drive back to the Chicago area.  It had been a great experience shooting with Terry, as I described at some length in the Day 1 writeup.  (In fact, it went so well that we’re hoping to do it again in a different location, perhaps as soon as this spring.)

The following morning, I was out at dawn for the very short drive to Alger Falls.  In fact, I was out too soon–I needed the ambient light to come up so I could get a shutter speed of no more than a few seconds.  There wasn’t much breeze this morning, but there was a bit.  It was pretty cold, waiting for the light, but I finally got what I needed.

Alger Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Alger Falls, Alger County, Michigan

After wrapping up at Alger Falls, I drove the 10-odd minutes to the access point to Memorial Falls.  I had hoped to shoot Tannery Falls as well, but I ended up not having time.  Memorial Falls didn’t have the greatest flow, but the setting was certainly plenty compelling for this 40-foot waterfall.

Memorial Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Memorial Falls, Alger County, Michigan

It’s possible to walk behind Memorial Falls, which I did…and composed this multiple-frame exposure.

Memorial Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Memorial Falls, Alger County, Michigan

On the far side of Memorial, if you walk around the wall into the adjacent canyon, there’s a natural window that can be used to frame the falls.  It’s pretty difficult to see the waterfall at this size–and there really aren’t a lot of compositional choices if you want to utilize the window–but it’s an interesting shot, I think.  In any event, this was both an exposure blend and an example of focus stacking.

Memorial Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Memorial Falls, Alger County, Michigan

The above shot was the final one I took on the trip.  I hope you enjoyed reading about the experience.  In case you missed any of the earlier entries, they’re linked immediately below:

Introduction

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 23, 2013

The UP: Day 7

The morning forecast for Day 7 in the Upper Peninsula was clear and cold–very  cold, as in possible frost.  We hadn’t experienced any truly cold weather during the previous six days, so this would be a change of pace.  The positive side is that clear, cold early mornings means mist off of forest lakes, so I suggested to Terry that we had back to Halfmoon Lake for day break one final time.

As we drove the now familiar route (this would be our fourth visit to Halfmoon Lake–we’d scouted the location on Day 1, and then had returned to photograph under cloudy conditions on Day 3 and foggy conditions on Day 5), we noticed that the car thermometer read 28 degrees F  And it was, in fact, very cold when we got out of the car.  It was still dark, but signs of dawn were just beginning to become evident.  I didn’t see any obvious evidence of frost as we descended the final few hundred feet to the shore of Halfmoon, but there was copious mist coming off the water.  It was so heavy, in fact, that it was impossible to make out the details of the trees on the far (i.e. east) side of the lake.  This all made for significantly different conditions than we experienced on our previous visit to Halfmoon.  Despite all of the apparent similarities of morning mist and true fog, there are some palpable differences as well.

Halfmoon Lake Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Halfmoon Lake Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

As heavy as the mist was, I decided to concentrate on the south shore of the lake, which was much closer to our shooting position and had the benefit of being able to incorporate a bevy of lily pads that has resided in this part of Halfmoon (at least) since I first shot here in 2003.

Halfmoon Lake in Morning Mist, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Halfmoon Lake in Morning Mist, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Ordinarily I see a shot as either a vertical or a horizontal composition, but in this instance I couldn’t make up my mind, so I photographed the scene both ways.

Halfmoon Lake in Morning Mist, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Halfmoon Lake in Morning Mist, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

It was interesting to play with the “diminishing details” effect that was being created by the mist.  Looking down the southern shoreline of the lake, towards the east, resolution gradually faded away.

Halfmoon Lake at Sunrise, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Halfmoon Lake at Sunrise, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

When we began to see signs of sunlight, I moved away from the boat launch area and bushwhacked my way along the shore to the north.  There is no trail around Halfmoon Lake and virtually the entire shore is heavily wooded, but I’d shot at the lake from the northwest shore in 2003 and again in 2008.

As I was making my way along, I glanced to my right and saw the combined effect of the mist and the rising sun.  It was a struggle to try to set up in the shallows along the lake and try to capture the phenomenon.  I’m certain I haven’t come close to doing it justice.

Sunrise, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Sunrise, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Once the sun cleared the tree line, it began to slowly burn the mist off the lake surface, but enough of it stuck around to make a wonderful complement to the northern shore of Halfmoon Lake, which I shot from atop a partially submerged log in the shallows along the western edge.

Early Morning, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Early Morning, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

I met Terry back at the car; we were both pretty well frozen.  We headed east from the road that provides access to Halfmoon Lake, towards H-13.  But on the way, we spotted some very nice isolated birch trees and reflections that were still in full shade on the eastern edge of Big Twin Lake, which runs alongside Doe Lake Road (our route back in the direction of H-13).  We stopped the car and quickly scrambled for a shot or two before the still rising sun ruined the scene with objectionable background hot spots.

Big Twin Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Big Twin Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Within minutes, the sun had done its thing and it was time to move on.  The question was, move on to what?  We were looking at a true blue-sky-day forming–something that really hadn’t happened during our entire stretch of time in the UP, so we weren’t sure what to do.  We decided to reconnoiter back at the motel for awhile.  Terry had some pressing business he had to take care of via phone, and the shooting conditions weren’t going to be great anyway, so we just cooled our heels for a bit.

Some time late morning, we slowly began to make our way back into Pictured Rocks, to see if any of the overlooks appeared different (read:  more flattering) in different light than the (mostly) overcast conditions we’d experienced on our previous visits.  Since the light was harsh, we spent a bit of time scouting.  We took another long look at the overlook on the north side of Grand Sable Lake, but between the light and the breeze, we didn’t do any shooting.  I also slogged part way up a trail on Grand Sable Dunes, just to investigate the locale.  I saw enough to tell me that this would be a very interesting area to shoot–in different light.  It was something to file away for future reference.

Eventually, we worked our way around to the south side of Grand Sable Lake, an area we’d briefly explored on Day 4.  The light was still a problem, but we found a small creek that had some areas that were in open shade.  There were some interesting reflections, and, since we didn’t really have anything else to do, we decided to see if we could make something of the place.

I found a small area, rich with reflections from the foliage in the trees and the sky, that also had some rocks with some current-driven leaf jams.  I cleared some of the jams, and played around with some long exposures.  I generally liked what I was seeing, but something was missing, so I placed a couple of colorful leaves on two of the stones.  I set up the shot, confirmed focus, and then placed a six-stop ND filter on my lens.  The resulting 30-second exposure is below.

Autumn Creek, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Autumn Creek, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

It was mid-afternoon by this point and since we were just a few miles away, we decided to go over to Grand Marais and see if the different conditions fleshed out anything we might have missed there during our previous visits.  It was clear and windy, and we did wander out to the signal light, on the edge of Grand Marais’ harbor, but didn’t photograph it.  We then moved along to check out the beach, and I was smitten by a storm fence, placed to help curb erosion, and its shadow.  It was still quite windy, but there was no problem obtaining a fast shutter speed.

The Beach at Grand Marais, Alger County, Michigan

The Beach at Grand Marais, Alger County, Michigan

When I was processing this image, I decided to see how this shot came across in monochrome, though I will readily admit that the notion did not specifically occur to me when I was in the field.

The Beach at Grand Marais black & white, Alger County, Michigan

The Beach at Grand Marais black & white, Alger County, Michigan

We headed back west, in the direction of Munising, on H-58, but stopped at the Log Slide again, where the weather/lighting conditions made for a very different view of Au Sable Point compared to our earlier visit.

Au Sable Point from the Log Slide, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point from the Log Slide, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

It was now late afternoon and it was time to think about sunset.  I’ve seen some exceptional sunsets at Miners Beach, at the far western edge of Pictured Rocks, over the years and based on what I was seeing, this evening had a chance to be something special, so I recommended that we head straight there, shoot Elliott Creek in the late afternoon sun and then prepare to shoot the sunset itself.  Terry readily agreed.

When we arrived at the Miners Beach area, after dodging the soft barriers on the way in as per usual, there were five other photographers there, all preparing to shoot the Elliott Creek waterfall.  I’ve been in circumstances like this at this specific spot before, so–at the risk of sounding a bit obnoxious–I pointed out to everyone assembled that with the sun setting to our left and behind us, and with seven of us lined up next to one another, we would cast some long shadows across each others’ frames if we weren’t careful.  I then demonstrated what I meant, and crouched down to shorten my shadow.  Fortunately, the other photographers understood what I was talking about and were quite agreeable to cooperate.

There was a bank of thin clouds in the western sky that was diffusing the light, but, as the sun moved very close to the horizon it found a clear patch, and the scene lit up beautifully.

Elliott Creek at Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Elliott Creek at Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

When this shot was complete, we had, perhaps, five minutes until the sun actually set.  I motioned to Terry and we climbed up on the rock shelf you see in the above image, crossed the creek (warning the other photographers that we were going to do so and would be out of their frames in a matter of seconds), and followed the ledge around to the right.  We now found ourselves at one of my favorite places to shoot sunset from Miners Beach.  A couple of the other photographers quickly followed us.

So, Terry and I set up, facing southwest, as we waited for the sun to disappear completely and the show to begin.  There was a very nice set of clouds in the western sky, and I repeated that I expected great things.  But as we were waiting, we casually glanced toward Miners Point, due north.  The northern sky was already beautiful, and we very quickly changed our focus (pardon the pun).

Miners Beach at Sunset (facing north), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Miners Beach at Sunset (facing north), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

It was at this point I was certain that this was going to be a terrific sunset. But not everyone was so sure.  One of the other photographers who had followed us to this spot said “that was great,” and started packing up his things.  I said to him “I wouldn’t leave if I were you.  We haven’t seen the best of this yet.”  Terry nodded his ascent.  The other photographer paused, looked at us a second time, and started to set up again.  It was a decision he wouldn’t regret.

We followed the color in the sky as it slowly cycled toward the west.  This is how things appeared to the northwest, just a minute or two after the above image was made.

Miners Beach at Sunset (northwest sky), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Miners Beach at Sunset (northwest sky), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Note that we still weren’t facing the actual sunset itself.  In a few minutes the southwestern sky started to light up but it was due west that lit up first.

Miners Beach at Sunset (western sky), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Miners Beach at Sunset (western sky), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Finally, I turned to more or less replicate the original shot I had planned to take, facing southwest to take in the beach itself.

Miners Beach at Sunset (southwestern sky), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Miners Beach at Sunset (southwestern sky), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Shortly after the above shot was made, the color in the sky began to fade, but there was one more shot to get in.  As Terry had noted, the moon had entered the scene.

Miners Beach Moonset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Miners Beach Moonset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

That was pretty much the end of the show.  While there was still a reflected glow, it was nearly dark.  We gathered our gear together and prepared to head out.  As we left, we passed the photographer who had nearly pulled up stakes about 20 minutes too soon.  As we went by I said, “Glad you stuck it out?”  He laughed and said, “Oh, yes!”

After days and days of (mostly) clouds and rain, we’d finally been witness to a sunset that had been well worth the wait.  Little did we know that we would be treated to another the very next day.

Next in this Series:  Day 8:  The Mosquito Coast

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 10, 2013

The UP: Day 6

If you missed any earlier entries in this series, you can catch up via the links below:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

The forecast for Day 6 implied that a sunset might be in the offing for the first time since Day 1.  But sunrise?  Not so much.  The early morning was expected to be–stop me if you’ve already heard this–cloudy with a chance of rain.  As thin as the sunset opportunities had been, we hadn’t seen a true sunrise yet, in four previous mornings.  The odds of the fifth morning breaking the trend were slim, but we thought we’d give it the old college try one more time.  So, we headed back to Otter Lake–where we’d shot sunset on the very first day –to see if anything materialized.

As the light came up on arrival, it didn’t appear promising.  The conditions were very much like those we’d experienced at Miners Beach the previous evening  (minus the fog):  a lot of fast moving, low-hanging clouds.  Our hope was that a window of sky would open to the east, and on a few occasions it appeared as though it might happen, but it never did.  Foiled in the attempt to shoot sunset, I decided to try something different.

Given the fast-moving clouds, I decided to mess around with some long exposures, to see if I got some interesting effects with the sky.  The first few attempts–1-2 seconds–were promising, but I felt that I needed to go longer, so I added a neutral density filter and dialed in an exposure compatible with a 10-second shutter speed.  I felt that a monochrome treatment was most effective, and the result is immediately below.

Otter Lake black & white, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Otter Lake black & white, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

It appeared that we were in for a windy, cloudy day–at least through the morning.  So after wrapping up our brief time at Otter Lake, we decided to head back into Pictured Rocks and visit some of the places we’d been unable to shoot during our previous trip to the Lakeshore, due to the rain and our uncertainty about how to handle the official closure (a function of the federal government shutdown).

During the drive east through Pictured Rocks on Day 4, I’d noticed a stand of birch trees that I thought would make great subjects, but I’d neglected to mark them on the GPS and so, as we headed east this time, I kept my eyes peeled, in the hopes of spotting them again.  Sure enough, as we rounded a bend, not far from Kingston Lake, there they were.  We stopped and examined the grove of trees and I decided that my first instinct had been a good one, in this case.

The light–relatively bright overcast at this point–was perfect, but the wind was an annoyance.  Still, it became clear fairly quickly that the gusts would ebb, and with a bit of patience, the shot was obtainable.

Birch Trees in Autumn Dress, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Birch Trees in Autumn Dress, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Further east on H-58, as the road skirts right along the edge of the Lake Superior shore, there’s a good-sized pullout with a large parking lot.  There were a couple of cones blocking the entrance (another soft barrier) but it was easy to get around them.  This location contains a small platform, that serves as an overlook (which we’d viewed on Day 4, while it was raining), as well as direct access to the shore.  We decided to check the access and found a very nice beach, with some photogenic tall grasses to use as foreground interest.  It was bright enough to get a fast shutter speed–making the copious wind a relative non-factor–so we pulled out our gear and nabbed some shots.

Lake Superior Shore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Lake Superior Shore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Terry had an important phone call that he needed to make, so we moved along to the small town of Grand Marais, where he could obtain a signal.  We’d spent a brief time in Grand Marais on Day 4, but hadn’t done any shooting.  This time, we stopped in the parking lot near the town’s marina–which was nearly empty–and I shot the image you see below.

Grand Marais Marina, Alger County, Michigan

Grand Marais Marina, Alger County, Michigan

When I got around to processing the above image, I realized that it could have a dramatically different feel–perhaps more reflective of the emotion that the day’s weather provided–if converted to black and white.

Grand Marais Marina black & white, Alger County, Michigan

Grand Marais Marina black & white, Alger County, Michigan

It was late morning by the time we wrapped up at the marina, so we headed back into Pictured Rocks, in the direction of the Log Slide Overlook.  This spot provides excellent panoramic views of the Au Sable Point Lighthouse to the west and the Grand Sable Banks to the east.  We’d scouted the location in the rain on Day 4, so we knew right where to go.

There’s an official overlook platform at the Log Slide, but the surrounding foliage has become so overgrown that it’s essentially useless as a shooting spot.  Instead, I climbed up the dune that leads to the Log Slide itself–a 500-foot embankment of sand, at a 30-degree pitch, that drops almost straight into Lake Superior–and wandered out on one of the small paths there.  It’s not for the acrophobic, given the height, the proximity to the edge (less than a foot) and the lack of any fencing, but it’s really not at all dangerous as long as you take care.

The light was far from ideal, given the subject matter–the sun was occasionally peeking through the bevy of clouds to the south–but I did take this shot of the lighthouse and the Au Sable peninsula (note the breakers, a function of a stiff northwest wind).  Au Sable Light is about three miles as the crow flies from the Log Slide.  Take note of how little color change there is in this shot.  This is another indication of just how much impact Lake Superior has on the microclimates in the region.

Au Sable Point Light from the Log Slide, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point Light from the Log Slide, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Looking the other way, toward Grand Sable Banks, made for a much better shot (I thought) under the circumstances.  I converted to black and white to emphasize the tones and textures.

Grand Sable Banks from the Log Slide, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Grand Sable Banks from the Log Slide, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

When we were done at the Log Slide, we move along to Hurricane River.  We’d shot the estuary there on Day 4, but this time we decided to make the hike along the lakeshore to Au Sable Point–about a mile and-a-half back to the east.  There, we’d be able to photograph the lighthouse from nearby.

The trail from the Hurricane River area to the lighthouse is actually a service road that the Park Service uses to supply the lighthouse, so it’s an easy 1.5 miles each way.  There’s a museum at Au Sable Point, and the lighthouse itself is open for touring during the summer months.  By October, the complex is closed for the season (though visitors are still allowed on the property–the buildings themselves are simply closed), and of course, with the government shutdown in place, it wouldn’t have been open anyway.  Because of the technical closure, there was almost no one around when we pulled around the Hurricane River barricades.  We parked in the deserted campground area and made the hike to the lighthouse.  It was still quite windy–and completely cloudy again–but we spent some time shooting the lighthouse from up on the bluff, above the lake.

Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Eventually, we wandered down to the extremely windy beach.  The waves were really rolling in, making the beach itself extremely narrow.  Still, there were undoubtedly things to shoot.  By moving around, it was definitely possible to shoot the lighthouse from the beach on the west side of the point, through a gap in the trees.

Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Again, I thought a black and white conversion, in some ways, better captured the mood of the day.

Au Sable Point Light black & white, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point Light black & white, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Before we departed for good, I shot a close-up of nicely moistened beach stones, though a rogue wave very nearly made me pay a steep price for doing so.  Luckily I saw it coming just in time and managed to get myself–and the gear I was using–out of the way.  This was nearly a very costly image.

Beach Stones, Au Sable Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Beach Stones, Au Sable Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Terry wrapped  up before I did and started the hike back while I was still on the beach.  On the way back to the parking area, this intimate scene below caught my eye, and I stopped to shoot it.

Au Sable Point Trail, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point Trail, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

When I got back to the car, Terry was waiting with some news:  we’d been “discovered.”  A park service ticket had been under the windshield wiper when he’d arrived at the car.

He pulled it out.  “Take a look at it,” he said.  “Be sure to check both sides.”

Here’s the front:

National-Park-ticket-front_cropped

Note that this is a “courtesy ticket,” meaning that there are “no fines or penalties” attached.  This is the functional equivalent of a warning.

Here’s the reverse:

National-Park-ticket-back

Terry and I agreed that this was a very courteous note, but we now wondered what might happen if we were “caught” again.  There was no indication that we’d be facing a penalty if we were nabbed a second time.  But were they tracking different vehicles by license number or something else identifying?  We didn’t know.  In any event, we left the Hurricane River area, a bit chagrined.

As we headed back east on H-58, in the direction of Munising, we saw a couple of vehicles pulled off on an unpaved road ahead well in front of us.  We could see warning lights on top of at least one of them, and figured that it must be a park service vehicle.  Perhaps it was the ranger who had written the ticket?  We decided to stop and speak with him, much as we’d done a couple of days earlier at Sable Falls.  Terry had handled that encounter so well, I thought it best to let him do so again with no interference from me.

As we approached the two vehicles, we could see that one was, indeed, a park ranger.  The other contained the seal of the Alger County Sheriff’s office.  They were just ending their conversation when we pulled in near them.  The county sheriff’s vehicle pulled away a few moments later.  I waved at the police officer as he drove by me and he gave me a smile and waved back on his way out.

Terry told the ranger about the ticket–he had indeed been the one who had written it–and thanked him for his courtesy, and then more or less gave a reprise of what he’d told the other ranger two days previous.  Once again, the response was, in essence, “I understand perfectly.”  There wasn’t a hint of attitude from the park ranger.  And, again, the thing that seemed to bother him the most was the destruction of the barriers.  Terry repeated what he’d told the other ranger: we not only weren’t pulling the barricades down; when we found them disturbed, we fixed them.  Finally Terry asked–outright–what would happen if we were caught again.  The ranger–his guard completely down by now–said, “Honestly, as long you don’t take a swing at me or something, the very worst thing that will happen is you’ll get another courtesy ticket.”  No fines, no penalties, no ejections.

Terry thanked the ranger and we headed off, now fully confident that we could continue our modus operandi at Pictured Rocks.

It was mid-afternoon by now and it was still cloudy, so I suggested that we head back to Au Train Falls–which we had scouted the previous day, but hadn’t photographed due to the heavy rain at the time.  It was only about 15 minutes west of Munising and when we got there it was deserted.  The water flow was almost exactly what we’d seen the first time we were in the area.

We spent some time working the main area of lower Au Train Falls.  The water level was such that, with our boots on, we could splash around almost literally anywhere we wanted without any real fear of getting wet–it was that shallow in most spots.  We worked the main area of the lower falls–which is just upriver from a bridge that is off limits to vehicles, but is wide enough to accommodate them (I’m certain that the power company does in fact bring vehicles across the bridge when it services the substation that lies just a few steps down river from it).

Lower Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Lower Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

We found that, with wide shots, we were constantly getting in one another’s way, so I left the lower falls area to Terry, climbed out of the river, and moved below the bridge to an area of rapids I’d scouted when we’d been to this location two days previously.

Au Train River Rapids, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train River Rapids, Alger County, Michigan

I played around with a number of different compositions at this spot.

Au Train River Rapids, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train River Rapids, Alger County, Michigan

I spent a lot of time looking through the viewfinder, sometimes getting very close to the rapids, and sometimes backing off a bit.

Au Train River Rapids, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train River Rapids, Alger County, Michigan

When I thought that I’d essentially played the scene out, I returned to the bridge.  Terry was just climbing out of the river and another photographer, along with his wife, was standing nearby on the shore, kind of looking the spot over.  I told Terry I was essentially done.

He said, “Have you taken a close look at that corner up there?”  He gestured to a spot on the main part of the lower falls.

“No,” I said.  “Not a close look.”

“You might want to take a peek,” he said.  “I really wasn’t feeling this place until I got up there.  Then it all kind of came together.”

“Are you done?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.  “But take all the time you want.”

So, I walked up to the area in question, with just my camera–no tripod–unsure if I’d want to shoot the spot or not.  After moving around there for about 15 seconds, I saw what he meant.   I came splashing back for my tripod.  And, I noticed that the other photographer now had his equipment out and was scoping out a shot.

“Just yell at me if I get in your way,” I told him.  “I don’t want to mess up your shot.”

“Don’t worry,” he said.  “I’ll just clone you out.”

“Really?’ I asked, and looked at the scene again.  Cloning me out of a shot like this would be a nightmare job, I thought to myself.

“Yup,” he said.  “I’m a wizard with the clone brush.”

Okay, I thought.  That makes things easier for me.  I took several shots, including the one you see below.

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Terry had headed back to the car shortly after I moved up to shoot the waterfall.  When I finished up, the other photographer, the one I’d briefly conversed with, was nowhere to be seen.  I assumed he’d done what he’d wanted to do and moved on.

When I got back to the car and unloaded my gear, Terry asked me if I’d talked to the other photographer.

“Just for a minute,” I said.  “I just told him to yell at me if I got in his way.  He said not to worry about it, that he’d clone me out of the shot if necessary.”

“You should have heard what he said to me,” Terry said.

“When?” I asked.

“After you went up to shoot the falls.”

“What did he say?”

“Well, I said something about how nice a scene it was, something like that,” Terry said.  “And you know what that guy said to me in response?  He said, ‘I don’t waste my time with these little bull**** waterfalls.  I’ve shot major waterfalls.’”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said.

“Nope, I’m dead serious.”

And then we both just cracked up.  It really does take all kinds.

It was finally clearing up as we left Au Train Falls., but it was very late afternoon, less than an hour before sunset.  And it appeared as though we’d finally actually have a sunset.  By my estimation, we wouldn’t have time to get down to Miners Beach, so I suggested that we zip over to one of the west facing lakes in the Hiawatha–either Thornton Lake or Moccasin Lake.  We could get there in about 30 minutes.  It would be tight, but it was our best option.

We got to Thornton Lake about 15 minutes before the sun went down.  The wind had died down a great deal by this time, which was nice, but the clouds to the west had thinned dramatically by the time we got there.  This part of Thornton Lake is quite shallow, so light winds don’t destroy reflections.  There would be a sunset this evening, but it wouldn’t be anything epic, unfortunately.

I pulled my boots back on and slogged my way along the shore of the lake, around a fallen tree trunk, and set up in a spot where I could use a partially submerged log as foreground interest.

Thornton Lake at Sunset, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Thornton Lake at Sunset, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

It had been another very long, but fairly productive, day.  We were getting used to it and the next day would be no different.

Next in this Series:  Day 7:  Now That’s a Sunset

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 4, 2013

The UP: Day 5

If you missed any earlier entries in this series, you can catch up via the links below:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

*                    *                    *

The Day 5 forecast was for cloudy skies and a chance of rain all day–again.  This was getting a bit old, but it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness, I told myself.

Although sunrise seemed highly doubtful, we got up early just in case, and returned to Halfmoon Lake.  We’d been there just two days prior, but we hoped we might be able to obtain some decent reflections this time around.  Halfmoon is such a great shooting location, we figured we’d get something good…and we weren’t disappointed.  As we made our way deep into the Hiawatha National Forest, ambient light slowly began to improve and we began to see evidence of fog.

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Sure enough, as we made our way over the final few hundred yards of the journey on foot, down the hillside to the shore of Halfmoon Lake, we could see evidence of significant fog.  This wasn’t morning mist off the water due to extremely cold air (we’d see that a few days down the road); this was honest to goodness fog.  While there was just enough breeze to mess with reflection possibilities, the foggy conditions more than made up for it, in my view.

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

The color around the edges of Halfmoon was sufficiently strong to bleed through the fog, which essentially turned every photograph into a faux watercolor.

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

At one point while we were shooting, the breeze dropped just enough to allow us to salvage some reflections from the nearby arm of the lake; the distance across the inlet from our location was modest enough to mitigate much of the fog effect–but not all of it.

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

The fog had it’s usual transforming effect; Halfmoon looked entirely different than it had just two days earlier when we were on site in bright overcast conditions.  These are the kinds of subtle effects that I love to work with.  It’s rare to produce anything jaw-dropping in conditions like this, but–and perhaps this is just me–I think that the moodiness that emanates from these kinds of scenes has a more lasting, contemplative impact.

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

I shot almost exclusively with a telephoto lens as I concentrated on relatively tight shots all the way across the lake. with a particular focus on complementary colors.

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

I can recall being struck by how prominent reds and yellows appear in fog, as they seem to pierce through the opacity much more emphatically than other colors.

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Halfmoon Lake in Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

The fog finally began to lift a bit, but it remained entirely overcast and as we drove away from the area a light rain began to fall.

With another cloudy forecast in place, I had suggested that we plan to spend the bulk of the day investigating some of the waterfalls in western Alger County.  There were three on my short list; I’d been to two previously.  As we approached the nearest of the three–Au Train Falls, about 15 miles to the west of Munising–the rain began to pick up.  By the time we reached the parking lot at Au Train Falls, it was raining much too hard to shoot, but we stopped to scout the location anyway.

Au Train Falls is located a short distance below a hydroelectric damn on the Au Train River, and you really never know what you’re going to get there.  If the power company opens the flood gates, you can have quite a broad gushing.  I’ve also been to this location when there was barely a trickle flowing.  On this occasion, it was something in between, and despite the raindrops we spent a fair amount of time poking around the lower falls area, making mental notes of possible shooting locations for a return trip.  We also took a quick glance at the upper falls area, but getting a decent look would have meant scrambling down a steep, muddy hillside in the rain, so we didn’t bother.  The upper falls area, when flowing, can be pretty impressive, but the scene is aesthetically marred by a huge dam-related pipe which is virtually impossible to work around.

After we finished our scouting session, we headed west toward Laughing Whitefish Falls, about 15 miles away.  By the time we got there, the rain had stopped.  It’s about a mile walk on a trail–which was surprisingly unmuddy, given the amount of rain that had fallen in the area over the previous two days–from the parking area to the top of the falls.  This was my third visit to the waterfall over the years, and I’d really never come away with images I particularly cared for on any of my prior trips.

Atop Laughing Whitefish Falls, Laughing Whitefish Falls Scenic Site, Michigan

Atop Laughing Whitefish Falls, Laughing Whitefish Falls Scenic Site, Michigan

Laughing Whitefish Falls is more of a long slide than anything else, and with mediocre water flow it doesn’t photograph very well from the bottom.  The issue is made trickier because it’s almost impossible to omit the sky when shot from the bottom, and since even light is a virtual necessity to photograph the waterfall, that means a patch of featureless cloudy sky.  Yuck.

My preferred shot at Laughing Whitefish is from atop the waterfall, looking down into the colorful valley below.  This can theoretically be done from a good-sized shooting platform adjacent to the falls, but I’ve never found a perspective I like from there, so I carefully went around the platform on the side of the falls and perched myself (and tripod) right next to a tree, just above the spillway.  By bending down and reaching to my right, I could have easily stuck my hand in the water just as it poured over the edge.  That’s where I obtained the downstream shot you see above.  From this same location, I also produced the black & white of the spillway itself that you see below.

Laughing Whitefish Falls black & white, Laughing Whitefish Falls Scenic Site, Michigan

Laughing Whitefish Falls black & white, Laughing Whitefish Falls Scenic Site, Michigan

I’ve always been a bit intrigued by the creek immediately above the falls, where intimates of cascades and fallen leaves abound.

Laughing Whitefish River Rapids, Laughing Whitefish Falls Scenic Site, Michigan

Laughing Whitefish River Rapids, Laughing Whitefish Falls Scenic Site, Michigan

Terry and I dutifully descended the long staircase to the base of the falls and then climbed off the platform and onto the limestone escarpment in search of the elusive base-of-the-falls shot.  I spent a lot of time looking around, but (as per usual) I couldn’t find anything I liked.

We made our way back up the staircase, made the mile-long hike back to the parking area and headed in the direction of Whitefish Falls (yes, I know it’s confusing, but Laughing Whitefish Falls and Whitefish Falls are completely different entities located about 25 miles apart on different rivers).  On the way, we caught sight of a small grocery in the speck of a town that is Rumely, Michigan, and stopped to photograph the building.  I processed the below shot as an old-style sepia-tinged film photograph.

Rumely Grocery, Alger County, Michigan

Rumely Grocery, Alger County, Michigan

As we neared the site for Whitefish Falls, we noted a particularly interesting farm not far from the town of Trenary, and resolved to stop on the way back, time permitting.

I’d never been to Whitefish Falls before, but had been told it could be tricky to find.  We did manage to locate the access point–an unpaved road that winds off into the trees off the main highway–without too much trouble, even though it’s entirely unmarked.  There was no one else around when we pulled into what appeared to be an unpaved loop road that served as a kind of campground.  We saw what appeared to be a trail peaking out of the trees and stopped to investigate.  Within a couple of hundred feet down the trail we found ourselves on the north bank of the Whitefish River and could see the series of cascades that make up Whitefish Falls.  I returned to the car for my boots and gear.  When I got back to the river to size things up, it appeared to me that the best shooting spots were on the other side.  I quickly sized the situation up.  The river was moving fairly rapidly, but it appeared, at least initially, that, if I was careful, I’d be able to wade across without getting wet.  This turned out to be trickier than it first appeared, because many would-be stepping spots led to water that was at least waist-deep on me.  Some of the rocks I’d have to step on to avoid these deeper areas were both slick and poorly anchored.  Long story short, I managed to get across without incident, but it was pretty hairy on a few occasions.

Whitefish Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Whitefish Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Still, as I surveyed the scene through the viewfinder, I was convinced I’d made the right decision–the shooting opportunities were much more pleasing on this side of the river.  While all of this was going on, for the first time all day, the clouds were parting and the sun was occasionally peeking through.  Since I wanted even light for these streamside opportunities, I occasionally had to wait for a cloud to pass in front of the sun, but I eventually got the shots I was looking for.

Whitefish Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Whitefish Falls, Alger County, Michigan

I then had to try to figure out how to get back across the river, which I managed to do without getting wet yet again (though it wasn’t easy on the return trip either).

As we headed back in the direction of Munising, we again encountered the farm we’d seen on the way in.  The sky was much more interesting now than it had been on our encounter, so we decided to shoot the location.  There were no “keep out” signs, but this was clearly private property, so Terry went to ask for permission from the occupant of the land while I scouted from the shoulder of the road.  No one was home, as it turned out, so we decided to shoot from the side of the road.  This limited our choice of perspectives a bit, but there wasn’t anything we could do about that.

Alger County Farm, Michigan

Alger County Farm, Michigan

By now, it was late afternoon.  With the partial clearing that had taken place we were hopeful that we might get a sunset for the first time in days, but as we headed back toward Munising–about 40 miles from Whitefish Falls–it clouded up again.  There was no more rain, but it was entirely cloudy.  We decided to head to Miners Beach, about five miles east of Munising, in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  This can be a phenomenal sunset location when the conditions are favorable; I’d shot at this spot many times over the years, but Terry hadn’t seen it.  I figured, at the very least, this was an opportunity to show him what Miners Beach was all about.

Unfortunately, that’s all it turned out to be.  We dodged the barriers, as per usual, on the way in, and we literally never saw another soul.  We journeyed from the Miners River estuary at the west end of the beach, all the way to Elliott Creek at the east end, and I was able to show Terry pretty much everything there was to see, but there was to be no sunset this evening.  At one point, in fact, a heavy fog drifted in and all but obscured the view of everything.  That lifted after a few minutes, but the clouds never parted and as the hour of sunset came and went, without even a hint of clearing, we gave up the ghost and called it a day without taking another shot.

We hadn’t seen a sunset since day one at Otter Lake, but our luck would finally start to turn the next day.

Next in this series:  Day 6:  Making the Rounds

Posted by: kerryl29 | November 26, 2013

The UP: Day 4

As was foreshadowed in the previous post in this series, the morning of Day 4 brought rain, and plenty of it.  Sunrise was a rumor, so we didn’t bother venturing out in the dark.  The forecast called for a chance of significant rain all day long, so we wondered if there would be any photography at all.  Mid-morning, with a steady rain still falling, we decided to brave the elements and take the opportunity to see for ourselves the degree to which the federal government shutdown was impacting access to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Pictured Rocks is administered by the National Park Service and, as was discussed in the first installment of this series, and again in the second segment, we were privy to second- and third-hand rumors about what was going on.  But it was raining steadily and we had nothing better to do, so we decided to see for ourselves.

Our first stop was the Pictured Rocks access point closest to our base–Munising Falls, less than five miles from our motel.  The falls area is on the southeast outskirts of the town of Munising and includes a good-sized parking lot and a visitors center (the latter of which we knew would be shuttered).  When we arrived, we saw, for the first time, the “soft barriers” that had been erected–in this case, a series of orange traffic cones blocking the entrance to the lot.  Munising Falls is a short–maybe 1000 feet–walk into a lush canyon, past the visitors center.  The parking lot was empty.  I had Terry drive down the road a bit further.  Access to the Sand Point area of Pictured Rocks is only a mile or two farther down the road.  When we reached the park boundary, we saw that several large barrels had been placed in the road to prevent entry.  So we turned around and headed back toward the falls parking lot and pulled onto the shoulder of the road to observe for a moment.  We saw a couple of people emerging from the trail to the waterfall.  They had parked their vehicle in a commercial lot across the road.  Shortly after they cleared the falls parking lot and reached the public road, a ranger’s vehicle arrived at the entrance to the park service lot.  The ranger got out of the vehicle, moved the cones, and drove in.  We left the area.  Things weren’t looking too promising.

I suggested to Terry that we check the Miners Castle/Miners Falls/Miners Beach access point to Pictured Rocks, which is about five miles to the east of Munising Falls.  This area is accessed via a lonely county road.  About four miles down this road lies the park boundary.  Based on what we’d seen at Sand Point, I anticipated another barrier.  Sure enough, that’s what we found–barrels in the road.  Another vehicle was turning around at this point when we got there, and drove off in the direction we had come.  A third vehicle was coming in behind us as we were turning around.  We recognized it as the vehicle that had been parked across the street from the Munising Falls lot.  Terry lowered his window and we engaged these people in a brief discussion, amidst the raindrops.

Were they going to breach the barrier?

They were thinking about it.  They’d made the walk to Munising Falls, they told us.  (Of course, we already knew this.)

As we headed back to the main road, I looked in the side view mirror and saw that they were driving around the barrels.

We decided to head east on H-58, the paved county road that went all the way from Munising to Grand Marais, at the far eastern edge of Pictured Rocks–a distance of about 50 miles.  This had been an unpaved road until 2010–two years after my last visit to the Upper Peninsula.  Paving the road dramatically improved access to the park and I had been looking forward to visiting areas I’d rarely (or never) been to in the past.  We knew that H-58 would be open–this was a public thoroughfare.  But based on what we’d seen, we strongly suspected that the many spurs into Pictured Rocks off of H-58 would be blocked off.  Still, we wanted to see for ourselves.

Sure enough, as we moved east, we saw soft barriers each time we approached a park spur.  Exactly what we saw varied–sometimes it was a few cones, sometimes it was barrels, on one or two occasions it was barrels with yellow “police tape.”  Since it was still raining, it didn’t really inhibit us from engaging in photography–since that wasn’t going to happen anyway, given the weather–but it certainly was discouraging.

One location I was particularly interested in seeing was the White Birch Forest, which is located within the Twelvemile Beach Campground area.  I had photographed there once before, in 2006, and was anxious to see it again.  (One shot from the area, taken in 2006, is immediately below.)  Twelvemile Beach is nearly 40 miles east of Munising, and when we got there we found barrels and tape blocking the road.  The entire area appeared deserted.  In fact, we’d seen very little traffic on H-58 over the course of the entire drive that morning.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Terry and I kind of looked at one another.  Should we breach the barrier?  We both shrugged.  There was no “no trespassing” sign or “violators will be prosecuted” notice or anything like that.  We talked about it a bit and concluded that, worst case, we’d probably be told to get out and that would be that.  So we decided to risk it.  I got out of the car and lifted the tape; Terry drove right under it.  We were determined not to damage or permanently disturb any of the barricade material.  I got back in the car and we drove down the short road to the campground area.

I had strongly suspected that this area–which tends to reach peak color much, much later than nearby inland areas–would still be green, and so it was.  There was almost literally no color change at all as we drove back and forth on the access road of the deserted campground.  Our reconnaissance could be done entirely from the car and I doubt we were in the area for 10 full minutes.  Based on what I was seeing there was probably no point in planning to photograph this area during the rest of our stay in the region, though it might make sense to check it one more time near the very end of that period, especially if it got cold.

We drove back out to H-58.  Once again I got out to lift the tape so the car could get through without doing any damage to the barrier.  We never saw a soul and, presently, we were back on H-58, heading east.  Having gotten in and out of park territory without incident emboldened us, to an extent.  Before the morning was over, we stopped at the Log Slide overlook area–a spot I’d never visited previously–dodging some cones on the way in.  This time there were several other cars in the parking lot.  We scouted the area–it was still raining, but much more lightly–to obtain a lay of the land.  We were probably on site for 20 minutes or so and, once again, we departed without incident.  When we left, we noticed that someone had tossed the cones aside.  We stopped and I got out and put them back in the positions we’d seen them in upon arrival.  Regardless, this was two times, in and out, without anything bad happening; now we were feeling pretty cheeky about the whole thing.

We stopped at an overlook at Grand Sable Lake–the overlook wasn’t blocked off at all.  We still hadn’t taken our camera gear out–there was still some light rain–and the sky conditions weren’t very good.  It was also a bit on the breezy side.  We ultimately made our way into the small village of Grand Marais, made a pit stop at a gas station, wandered around a bit to check the nearly deserted marina, and then discussed what to do next.  We’d traversed all of Pictured Rocks, from west to east (though we certainly hadn’t poked our noses into all of the access points).  The rain had actually stopped completely at this stage.  I suggested we head back west on H-58 and stop and check on Sable Falls, just a mile or so back up the road.  The conditions were optimal for waterfall shooting.

I hadn’t been to Sable Falls since 2002, and I didn’t recall having been impressed by it.  But we were here and the conditions were decent.  Why not give it a look?

We got to the parking area–it was blocked by three small cones, which we simply drove around.  There were three other vehicles in the lot.  We got out and decided to head down to the waterfall–the trail is mostly a long series of staircases–sans gear, just to check it out.  After I got down and had a look, I couldn’t understand why I had been so down on Sable Falls.  This waterfall was definitely worth shooting.  Terry concurred, and we headed back up to get our things.  It was early afternoon and it appeared that we would finally engage in a bit of photography.

Just as I was pulling my gear out of the trunk, I looked up and saw a park ranger’s vehicle pulling into the lot and making a beeline towards us.  I just groaned.  What bad timing!  I put my equipment back in the trunk and prepared to get back in the car myself.  I figured we were, best case, going to get thrown out anyway.  Terry told me “I’m going to talk to this guy.”  I just nodded.

When the ranger drove over and lowered his driver’s side window, I thought we were going to get an earful.  But we didn’t get any immediate attitude–he just said “You know, the park is closed.”  Terry–very calmly–made our case.  We were photographers, he said, him from Pittsburgh, me from Chicago.  We’d come hundreds of miles on a trip that had been planned for some time, and we were putting money into the local economy and now, through no fault of our own, we couldn’t do what we’d spent all this time and money planning to do.

The ranger nodded all through this.  “You’re preaching to the choir,” he said.  “But we’ve got our marching orders.  And all this destruction of the barriers we’ve put up…”  Terry assured him that not only hadn’t we destroyed any barriers, but that we were actually fixing anything that we’d seen had been tampered with.  This seemed to have an impact on the ranger, and we began to get an impression that would stick with us throughout the duration of our time in and around Pictured Rocks:  the rangers seemed to be more disturbed by people messing with the erected barricades than actually breaching them.

Sensing an opening, Terry said, “There’s a shot of the waterfall that I’d really like to get.  What’s going to happen if I go down there to get it?”

“Well, the park’s closed,” the ranger said.  “You can’t go down there…right now.”

Our ears perked up.  Right now?

“There are only two of us patrolling the entire park,” the ranger went on.  Pictured Rocks encompasses more than 100 square miles of land.  “If you come back in an hour…”  He shrugged.

We nodded, and thanked him, got back in the car and drove out of the lot.  (The ranger stayed, to deal with the other cars in the lot, whose occupants were nowhere to be seen at the moment.)

We’d interpreted our encounter to signify that, if we bided our time, we could go back and shoot Sable Falls.  So, we made our way to the eastern side of Grand Sable Lake, just a few miles away.  This was a location we hadn’t visited on the way in–it’s south of H-58 a bit–and explored a picnic area.  Vehicle access to the picnic area was restricted by some rocks that had been put in the entry way to block it off so we simply parked on the deserted unpaved road and wandered in on foot.  We had some time to kill and I finally found a subject that allowed me to use my camera for the first time that day.

Birch Tree Intimate, Near Grand Sable Lake, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Birch Tree Intimate, Near Grand Sable Lake, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The above image is a series of seven shots, focus stacked for depth of field purposes.

Before leaving the area I stumbled across the maple in the below image.

Ancient Maple, Near Grand Sable Lake, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Ancient Maple, Near Grand Sable Lake, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

At this point, roughly an hour had gone by since we left Sable Falls, so we returned.  It was still entirely overcast–as it would be all day–but at least the rain continued to hold off.  We decided to park on the shoulder of the road outside the Sable Falls parking area; that way, we wouldn’t have to disturb the barrier at all.  We pulled our gear together and walked in, then descended the 169 steps to the base of the waterfall.  The perspectives from the boardwalk are extremely limited, so I made my off the platform and splashed to a spot where I could shoot the falls with a wide angle lens, incorporating a foreground and omitting the superstructure of the staircase entirely.  It’s impossible to do this from the platform itself.

Sable Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

While Terry stayed to shoot the falls, I continued on the trail for another half mile or so, all the way down to the deserted Lake Superior beach.  Given the conditions, I couldn’t find a pleasing wide composition, but some marvelous beach stones caught my attention.

Beach Stones, Sable Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Beach Stones, Sable Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

It was mid-afternoon by the time we finished in the Sable Falls area.  We headed west on H-58, back in the direction of Munising, and decided to stop and check out the Hurricane River area, about 15 miles back down the road.  Another soft barrier had to be breached, but we were old hands at that now.

From the parking area at Hurricane River, it’s a very short walk to the beach, and the river estuary, and we found plenty to shoot.  My first subject was from a small footbridge above the river, a few hundred feet upstream from the estuary.  Looking almost straight down from the bridge, I was taken by this intimate scene of a conifer branch hanging over the rapids.

Conifer Branch, Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Conifer Branch, Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

From here I wandered down to the beach and spent some time playing with both the estuary itself and the shoreline.  The estuary shot below required a three-stop neutral density filter and a polarizer to obtain the slow shutter speed necessary to bring out the swirls in the water.

Hurricane River Estuary, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River Estuary, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I fiddled with a couple of shoreline shots–the one below is facing ostensibly northeast–and ended up converting to black and white, to better pull out the sky and water tones and textures.   There was a pretty stiff wind blowing out of the northwest which produced some nice wave action on this day.

Lake Superior Shoreline black & white, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Lake Superior Shoreline black & white, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

As I mentioned in the last UP entry, during the discussion of the Lower Tahquemenon Falls shots, it’s historically been very rare that I’ve thought about black and white conversions in the field when on what is essentially a fall color trip, but this is another occasion when the notion popped into my head as I was working with a composition.

It was getting dark as we were wrapping up at Hurricane River.  Just as there was no sunrise on this day, there would be no sunset, so we made our way back to Munising.  While we hadn’t done a lot of shooting–this was the single most fallow full day of the entire trip–it had still been productive.  We now had a pretty good feel for what to expect at Pictured Rocks.  Or so we thought…

Next in this Series:  Day 5:  Water, Water Everywhere…

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