Posted by: kerryl29 | February 22, 2021

The UP: The Final Photo Sessions

As cloudy as it had been during the first couple of hours of daylight on the final full day I was in the UP, it didn’t last long.  By mid-morning, it was mostly sunny and while a few clouds came and went during the bulk of the rest of the day, by mid-afternoon it was almost completely clear.  What didn’t change was the wind; it was quite breezy–15-20 MPH, I’d estimate–just about all day long, though by late afternoon the velocity had slackened noticeably.  All of this made for quite challenging photographic conditions, but that had been the case, as I’ve noted repeatedly in these chronicles, throughout the entire trip.

After Jason and I parted at the White Birch Forest, and before the cloud cover had lifted, I made my way back to the eastern end of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, to the Sable Falls trail.  Jason and I had visited and photographed extensively in this area several days earlier.  During that time, I had taken note of several spots along Sable Creek, downstream from the falls but above Sable Beach, that I thought might make interesting photographic locations.  These areas had been unshootable that day due to–wait for it–bad conditions.  By the time I arrived at my pre-appointed spot, the sky was partly cloudy.  The wind was somewhat stifled at this location, well below parking lot level.  I came prepared (I wore my rubber boots down the trail); I meandered down the bank, grabbed my tripod and the camera with the 24-70 lens on it and waded into the creek.

Sable Creek, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I spotted another intimate that I liked and waited the wind out to finalize it.

Sable Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The sun came out full strength while I was in the creek.  I finished up and wandered down to the beach, but didn’t see anything that I hadn’t already photographed to my satisfaction on the previous excursion at this location, so I headed back to the trailhead.

The rest of the middle part of the day was very much a hit-or-miss proposition given the (have I beaten this horse to death yet?) lousy conditions.  I stopped and looked at a number of spots in Pictured Rocks, but made few images.  One exception was a location along the Beaver Lake Road.  I spotted a scene while driving along rather aimlessly and got out to investigate, sized the location up and then got out my gear and waited for some clouds to diffuse the sun and the wind to die down.  It took about 15 minutes all told, but I eventually produced a horizontal and a vertical that I liked.

Fall Color Intimate, Beaver Lake Road, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Fall Color Intimate, Beaver Lake Road, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The other images I made prior to late afternoon were all telephoto driven intimates that I spotted in various parts of Pictured Rocks abutting H-58, the two-lane county road that runs east-west through the lakeshore.

Fall Color Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Fall Color Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Fall Color Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

By late afternoon I had returned to Miners Beach, with the thought that I’d photograph there at sunset if the conditions were compelling.  The sky was just about completely clear at this point in the day and the wind was still blowing, though probably at half the velocity of the morning.  On this occasion I decided to wander around the west end of the beach, near the area where Miners River empties into Lake Superior.  I’d photographed at this location years earlier, but on this day, for whatever reason, I came up empty.  I decided, however, to follow the river upstream a bit, to some spots I’d never previously explored.  I was again wearing my rubber boots, which came in handy when I found a scene that I liked.  The four-image focus stack required to pull off this photograph necessitated a lull in the breeze, which meant waiting a bit.

Miners River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Rather than walking more than a mile in the sand (and facing another such walk after it got dark), I returned to my vehicle and drove to the parking area at the east end of the beach and returned to a familiar scene.  Unlike my last visit to the Elliott Creek area (and to my surprise), there was no one present when I arrived, about a half an hour before sunset.  I used this opportunity to photograph the waterfall and its environs, composing differently than I had previously.  I had to be careful because the rocky shelf near the creek’s end was incredibly slippery.

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

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

The sky was still clear as a bell when I wrapped at the waterfall and I despaired of there being a particularly compelling sunset–which was now only about 15 minutes away–but I walked past the creek to my usual spot on the shelf to the north to see what, if anything, would happen.  To my delight, things came together quite nicely, the product of a bank of broken clouds that rolled in, just about perfectly timed, from the west.

Lake Superior Sunset, Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Before the sun went down completely, during the several minutes when it was partially diffused by the clouds on the western horizon, the rays lit up a wet spot on the shelf itself, and I included it in the lower left of the above image.

Lake Superior Sunset, Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

After the sun went down, while I was waiting to see what might happen to the clouds in the western sky, I noticed an interesting kind of blue hour effect to the north, looking towards Miners Point.

Dusk, Lake Superior Shore at Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

And before the light began to fade, the clouds above the point had one last trick up their sleeve.

Dusk, Lake Superior Shore at Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I had one more morning of photography left and I decided to take a chance on a spot that Jason and I had discussed visiting for sunrise, but never did.  This was Au Train Beach, about a mile west of the Scott Falls location we had visited two days earlier.  The forecast was not encouraging…again.  It was cold, extremely windy (25-30 MPH, with the wind coming out of the north on this day) and clear.  But this was to be my last morning–I piled all of my belongings in the car in the dark before pulling up stakes at the motel about 45 minutes before sunrise–so I figured it was worth the attempt.

The wind was vicious.  I stopped first at a pullout along the beach about 1/4 mile east of the main parking area and got out–sans gear–to explore the spot.  There was just enough light to see what I was doing, but I was almost knocked over by the wind a couple of times and I could constantly feel wind-blown sand pelting me, despite being covered from head to foot.  I really thought that this was going to prove to be a waste of time, but I dove to the main parking area and got out again.  At this spot, the Au Train River flows into Lake Superior, and the beach stretches out on both sides of the estuary.  I wandered around the mouth of the river for a few minutes, then took up a spot on the beach west of the estuary.  It was still very windy, of course, but here I was upwind of the loose sand, so I didn’t have it blowing all over me.

I looked to the east; very little was happening in the sky, due to a lack of clouds, but that’s where the sun was coming up.

Sunrise, Au Train Beach, Alger County, Michigan

Due to the north wind, the lake resembled an ocean.

I kept looking to the west, because of the clouds that were present there, and after the sun came up, I quickly pivoted.  The western clouds took on a remarkable color, but the bonus was the reflection in the wet sand that developed during the recession of each wave.

Sunrise, Au Train Beach, Alger County, Michigan

Sunrise, Au Train Beach, Alger County, Michigan

Extremely satisfied after getting something when I expected nothing, I retreated to the car and made my way back toward Munising.  Before starting the lengthy drive back to the Chicago area, I had one last spot to visit–MNA Memorial Falls, which Jason and I had scouted back on the Day of Waterfalls.  We hadn’t been able to photograph the falls that day due to–what else?–conditions, and I wasn’t sure that today would be any better, but if that cloud bank took over the sky for a bit and if the canyon area including Memorial Falls was sheltered at all from the wind…

I decided to find out, because I’d found several compositions that I liked during the scouting session.

The cloud bank did indeed roll in, putting me in even light.  The area was partly sheltered, it turned out.  The trees at the top of the canyon were blowing like mad, but the foliage down at ground level was somewhat better behaved.  Again, I hoped that patience would pay off because I had focus stacking in mind.  It basically worked out in the end.

MNA Memorial Falls, Alger County, Michigan

MNA Memorial Falls, Alger County, Michigan

MNA Memorial Falls, Alger County, Michigan

MNA Memorial Falls, Alger County, Michigan

I’d more or less finished when the wind got worse and some other people showed up, making it much harder to time image sets, so I called it a day, putting a wrap on the trip as I prepared for the roughly seven-hour drive back to the Chicago area.

Considering the (this is the last time I’ll bring it up, promise) less-than-ideal conditions, the trip had gone very well, I thought.  I’d visited some new spots, covered a number of old ones, and obtained a fair number of images that I was pleased with.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the experience, albeit vicariously.

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 15, 2021

The UP: Hurricane River Morning

The previous day’s activities had been significantly impacted by the issues with the car and the far less than optimal weather conditions, as related in the most recent chronicle.  The weather, in fact, had been sub-optimal throughout virtually the entire trip, excepting the very first day in the UP.  The forecast, unfortunately, wasn’t any better for the next several days, all of which called for relatively high winds and mostly sunny conditions.

This fact, along with the earlier than usual peaking of fall color had led to a decision to cut things short by a couple of days.  Some unexpected issues on the home front required Jason beginning the long trip back to Colorado several days earlier than anticipated; this morning (a Friday) would be his last in the Upper Peninsula.  I had originally planned to stay put through the coming weekend and return to the Chicago area following a Monday morning shoot, but given the forecast, the color situation and the fact that the weekend would be relatively crowded with leaf peepers, I’d decided to bug out two days earlier, on Saturday morning.

After returning to Munising following Thursday’s session and checking the Friday daybreak forecast (which wasn’t at all promising), I’d suggested that we hit the Hurricane River area at daybreak.  The chance of a visible sunrise was slight; the forecast called for heavy cloud cover first thing in the morning, dissipating to just about full sun shortly thereafter, accompanied by a stiff breeze out of the south.  The beach at Hurricane River would provide a viable venue in case a sunrise did develop, but even if it didn’t we’d have the opportunity to do some shooting in an area that had looked promising but hadn’t been mined when we’d scouted the area several days prior.  Since Jason would start the drive back to Colorado right after the morning shoot, the decision was made to head to the location–a solid 45 minutes east of Munising–separately.

I got out early and could immediately feel the breeze and the lack of visible stars in the early morning sky confirmed a heavy cloud cover.  As I drove east toward Hurricane River, I spotted several sizable flashes of lightning to the north, over Lake Superior, and heard some accompanying rumbles of thunder.   The likelihood of a sunrise, already slim, was diminishing by the minute.

Natural light was just starting to come up when I reached the turnoff for Hurricane River along H-58, the road that runs through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  There’s an overflow parking area just off the main road and a smaller, day-use area a few hundred feet closer to the beach.  I parked the car in the deserted overflow lot, figuring it would be easier for Jason to spot the vehicle when he arrived.  I grabbed my things and wandered the short distance down to the area where Hurricane River spills across the beach and empties directly into Superior.   Sporadic lightning strikes over the lake, near the northern horizon clearly outlined a passing storm.  The effect was fascinating, but impossible to photograph effectively given the impossibility of anticipating the strikes and the fact that I don’t own a lightning trigger.

Other than the lightning, the first thing that caught my attention was the defined heavy cloud cover over Superior.  It was phenomenal, and I planned to take advantage of it.  Then I turned my attention to the estuary and the bright orange tree on the west side of the spillway.  I pulled out the camera and went to work.

It was still quite dark–partly because of how early it was and partly because of the cloud cover.  Shutter speed limitations were working at cross purposes:  slow, to render the water in the desired fashion, fast to attempt to counter the effect on the foliage on the other side of the river.  This is the same basic situation that I’d faced on a number of occasions during this trip, most recently on the previous day at Chapel Beach.  There was a subtle, but significant difference between the two situations, however:  the direction of the wind.  At Chapel Beach, the wind was out of the north, meaning that the lakeside trees were continuously subject to direct frontal exposure to the wind.  On this day, with the wind out of the south, the impact on the trees right along the beach was much more sporadic, given the beach was somewhat sheltered by the sloping embankment that falls away in the direction of the lake.  Sometimes, the foliage was being whipped around; but there were significant lulls.  Whereas at Chapel Beach I’d had to resort to capturing multiple frames and blending them manually, here I simply needed to exercise patience.

Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I wasn’t really done at the mouth of the river; I wanted to wade across and explore the other side.  Since I had my rubber boots on, I was able to do so.

Hurricane River at Hurricane Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River at Hurricane Beach Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I wanted to check out some spots upriver that had intrigued me during the scouting session a few days prior.  But first, I decided to make some images that included the truly remarkable sky above the lake, so I made my way a short distance east on Hurricane River Beach.

Stormy Lake Superior Morning, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I was thinking “black and white” as I was shooting, though the imagery was compelling in color, so I’ll present examples of both renderings for this batch of photography.

Stormy Lake Superior Morning Black & White, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Stormy Lake Superior Morning Black & White, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Stormy Lake Superior Morning, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

After some time on the beach, I walked upstream to see if the spots I’d found a few days prior were still appealing under these different conditions.  They were.

Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

There was a bit more breeze here, unsurprisingly, as my shooting position was at a modestly higher altitude than at the mouth of the river, but, again, patience was a virtue.

Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

When I returned to the mouth of the river, another photographer was present and he beckoned to me.  When I got close enough–about 20 feet away–he told me that someone had been looking for me.  It had to be Jason.  I thanked him and told him I’d look into it and, before long, found Jason, who had arrived while I’d been photographing away from the beach, around a bend in the river and out of sight.  Jason was looking the area over.  I gave him a quick summary of what I’d done, pointed out the clouds and the tree on the far side of the Hurricane River, all of which he’d probably already spotted on his own.

I wandered back out on the beach to see if the sky had changed; it had, and, if anything, it was even more interesting.

Stormy Lake Superior Morning, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Stormy Lake Superior Morning Black & White, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Stormy Lake Superior Morning, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Stormy Lake Superior Morning Black & White, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Note how much more emphatic the various tones and textures, particularly in the clouds and water, are in the monochrome renderings.

Stormy Lake Superior Morning, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Stormy Lake Superior Morning Black & White, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Stormy Lake Superior Morning, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Stormy Lake Superior Morning Black & White, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Stormy Lake Superior Morning Black & White, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I made my way back to the river’s mouth yet again.  After another shot looking to the west, I investigated some different perspectives.

Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

One of the different perspectives I explored was pairing the cascades of the river’s mouth with the cloud-filled sky to the north.  This was, from the inception, an image I envisioned rendering solely in monochrome.

Hurricane River Estuary Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River Estuary Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The other mouth-of-the-river perspectives I examined involved facing slightly different directions and incorporating different foregrounds compared with the images I’d looked at from the same basic spot earlier that morning.

Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River at Hurricane Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

A sporadic light rain had fallen during the latter part of this shoot and finally we wrapped up.  Before Jason began the drive back to Colorado in earnest, we decided to make a quick stop at the White Birch Forest, which was on the way.  I wasn’t hopeful of being able to do much, given the wind, but since the clouds were still hanging on and it was on the way in any case, I figured there was no harm in it.

As I’d anticipated, it was much too windy to do much of anything, but I did manage to produce one quick high shutter speed image that I liked, using my telephoto lens.  It was a shame that the conditions weren’t more cooperative, but that was kind of the mantra of the entire week.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Jason didn’t spend much more time trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear than I did and before long he was ready to hit the road.  We said our goodbyes and as he began a brutal drive I prepared to spend the rest of this last full-day looking for additional photographic opportunities as the sun began to make its inevitable appearance that morning.

I’ll detail the rest of this day, as well as the following morning’s sessions, in the next post.

I’ve mentioned, via sporadic blog posts in the past, about the growing tendency for me to “see” in monochrome, when conditions allow.  Last October’s fall trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan would really put this trend to the test:  would it be possible to continue my black & white development on a trip essentially dedicated to the search and discovery of fall color?

Let’s let a sample of the results attempt to answer that question.

Lily Pads Black & White, Mabel Lake, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

The Z Black & White, Ontonagon River, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

Canyon Falls Black & White, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Kingston Plains Black & White, Lake Superior State Forest, Michigan

Memorial Falls Black & White, Laughing Whitefish State Scenic Site,Alger Country, Michigan

Au Train Falls Black & White, Alger County, Michigan

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

Chapel Creek Abstract Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Stormy Lake Superior Morning Black & White, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River at Hurricane Beach Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

With an acknowledgment that water is a nearly universal element in these images, I think I did a decent job of keeping my monochrome hat on despite being surrounded by a nearly endless amount of bright color.  While I likely did a bit less black and white “seeing” while in the field than would ordinarily be the case, there was nothing ordinary about the circumstances.  The purpose of this trip, after all, was to photograph fall color.

As a basis of comparison, the last time I was in the UP in autumn–seven years earlier–I think I produced a handful of monochrome images, all told.  On this trip, I think I averaged that many black and whites per day.

The moral of the story?  In time, a way of seeing can take on a subconscious life of its own.

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 1, 2021

The Story Behind the Image(s): Before the Convergence

Back in December, there was, as many of you undoubtedly remember, a planetary convergence.  When viewed from the Earth, Jupiter and Saturn were remarkably close together in the western sky.  On December 22, my wife and I decided to have a look, given that the conditions were cooperative in the Houston area that evening.  So, about an hour before sunset, we drove about 15 minutes to a junior high school in a neighboring town, in Houston’s northern suburbs.  I suspected that, from the school’s parking lot, which would be completely deserted between pandemic conditions and the holiday break, we’d have a clear enough view to get a good look.

And so we did.  Once it was dark, the planets could easily be seen with the naked eye, though we got a much better view through a pair of binoculars, through which Saturn’s rings were visible.  I also brought my camera along, even though I was pretty much certain that I didn’t have nearly enough magnification to obtain anything worthwhile.  (I was right about that.)  But even though the would-be astrophotography proved to be a waste of time, the experience wasn’t a total loss, photographically speaking.  Before things became dark enough for our planet gazing, I liked what I was seeing with the sky as the sun began to set.  Though we weren’t necessarily in the best location to engage in landscape photography, I tried to make the best of it.

There were a number of mature trees scattered around an L-shaped open field, surrounded by all sorts of dwellings, a high school (a major complex, across the street to the east of us), utility poles, power lines and other representations of development.  In some respects, it was reminiscent of the experience in Arkansas a few weeks earlier that I blogged about in a prior post.

But I had some interesting cloud formations, very nice light, the half moon and a desire to make something of the situation, so I spent a bit of time examining the position of several of the trees relative to what was going on skyward and came up with what follows.  It was a reminder of the fact that, even in less than ideal places, there’s almost always something of interest.

Moonset, Harris County, Texas

Moonset, Harris County, Texas

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 25, 2021

The UP:  Making the Best of It

My last post detailing last October’s photo trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan concluded with a bit of a cliffhanger:  a probable flat tire.  And sure enough, when I poked my nose outside in the still dark predawn of the following morning, the driver’s side front tire on the car was as flat as a pancake.  I spoke to Jason by phone, told him what was going on and that I was going to begin the process of removing the tire and putting the donut spare on, but that I’d need to get the car to a garage or tire store to see if the impacted tire could be plugged or if a new one was necessary.  We found a listing for a garage in Munising, just a few miles away, and Jason said he’d call to confirm that they could handle tire repair (and if so, when), while I worked on the car itself.

That all seemed just fine except for one problem; after pulling out the jack and the lug wrench, I couldn’t get the lugs off the rim.  I literally climbed on top of the wrench, to put the full weight of my body at my disposal, and none of the lugs even budged.  It was going to take an electric device to loosen the lugs, and I didn’t have one at my disposal.  The folks down at the garage undoubtedly would, but now I couldn’t drive the car down there.  So, I called AAA.  I was told a tow truck would be there within an hour.  There would be no sunrise photo shoot that day.  (It was too cloudy to really matter, fortunately…or unfortunately, depending on your perspective.)  Jason arrived and confirmed that he’d spoken with someone at the garage; yes, they could deal with the tire.  Fortunately, the tow truck arrived something like 20 minutes after I put the call in to AAA; the driver had the car on the flatbed in a couple of minutes and knew right where to go.  Jason and I followed, in Jason’s car.

At the garage, I was told that the “tire guy” was out at the moment but would be back soon and would pull the tire off, find the source of the leak (which Jason had already spotted–as expected, there was a nail that, fortunately, appeared to be confined to the tread), would plug it if possible and if not, we’d figure out what to do about replacing the tire.

It was unclear exactly how long this would take, so we decided to stay relatively nearby so that I could take a call from the garage when the problem had been assessed and, if necessary, return in short order.  What we wanted to avoid was this problem wrecking the rest of the day’s plans.  The garage closed at 6 PM, which was before sunset.  We wanted to wrap up our involvement there long before then, if at all possible.

I suggested that we take a ride about 10 minutes to the west to Scott Falls, right along highway M-28, a short distance to the east of the town of Au Train.  I hadn’t been to Scott Falls since my very first trip to the UP, in 2002, but remembered it as a nice little waterfall, very easily accessible.  The falls are visible from the road, in a small alcove on the south side of the highway.  There’s no real parking area there, but there is a public parking lot about 500 feet to the west, on the north side of the highway, which provides access to a sandy beach along Au Train Bay, an arm of Lake Superior.

After navigating through a road work area at the west end of Munising, we made the drive and were in the parking area in short order.  The sun was up by now, but was peeking in and out of the cloud cover; it was, yet again, quite breezy.  After Jason parked the car, I made the very short walk to a staircase that provided access to the beach and peered out; the beach itself appeared to be a promising photo location and I mentioned to Jason that I thought it would be worth a look once we were finished at Scott Falls.

We grabbed our things, crossed the highway and made the short walk back to the falls, meandering down a very short embankment.  I made a fairly quick reconnaissance of the area and determined quickly that there were a number of compositions worth examining more closely.  I began by wading through the shallow stream and getting relatively close to the waterfall.

Scott Falls, Alger County, Michigan

As the scene itself is north-facing (i.e. you’re largely looking south when photographing Scott Falls), the wooded area above the falls, atop the shallow cliff, was lit up by the sun (when it was out) and the breeze was an annoyance, as it had been most of the week.  The area in the bowl created by the waterfall was in open shade throughout our time in the immediate area.

Scott Falls Black & White, Alger County, Michigan

I examined a few other possible images from ground level, but ultimately deemed them undesirable, for a variety of reasons.  Before long, I had retreated back across the stream and, from partway or all the way above the embankment, was closely examining these wider options.

Scott Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Once again, some patience was required to wait out the breeze and take advantage of stretches when passing cloud banks cast the entire scene in even light.

Scott Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Scott Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Scott Falls, Alger County, Michigan

I finished at Scott Falls before Jason did and told him that I was going to recross the highway and check out the beach along Au Train Bay.  I retraced my steps to the parking area and made my way toward the short wooden staircase that leads to the sand.  The wind was out of the north again on this day, which was kicking up a pretty significant surf on Lake Superior.  The same stream that produces Scott Falls drains under the highway through a culvert and empties directly into Superior across the narrow strip of sand, just a few hundred yards to the east of the staircase beach access.

From the wooden platform at the top of the stairs, with a field of tall grass beneath me, I framed the composition you see below.  Note the line of footprints in the strip of sand.

Au Train Bay, Alger County, Michigan

I descended the staircase and I wandered up the sand in the direction of the confluence and scoped out a composition.  The sun, to my right, penetrated through the trees that lined the parking lot and the area to the west, making for a mixed lighting situation when the clouds made way.

Au Train Bay, Alger County, Michigan

Eventually I reached the confluence itself.

Au Train Bay, Alger County, Michigan

Jason came along as I was putting the final touches on these images, and he set up to frame a shot or two before we retreated to the car.

If you’re wondering if I’d heard from the garage at this point, the answer is no.  Since it was approaching mid-day, and the garage closed for an hour at lunchtime, I wanted to know what the story was with the tire.  I wanted to pick up the car before they closed, so we wouldn’t be unnecessarily tied to the immediate area unnecessarily for another hour or more.  Fortunately, when I called, I learned that the tire had been patched and the car was ready to be picked up.  We arrived at the garage about 10 minutes before noon, so I was able to complete the transaction and avoid any further inconvenience.

We dropped my car off back at the motel and then, with Jason driving us in his car, we made our way to the Chapel area of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

I made mention of the Chapel area in an earlier post, when I described the thought process behind photographing Grand Portal Point.  This was the day of that excursion.  In fairness to both of us, what else were we going to do with the remainder of that day?  Half the daylight (or nearly so) was already gone; the skies were partly cloudy (and would, by mid-afternoon, become basically entirely cloudless, making for some less than terrific light for a lot of potential scenes.  Add in the 15-20 MPH winds and you have some pretty awful conditions.  We might as well make the 3 1/2 mile (one-way) trip down to Chapel Beach, right?

We drove to the Chapel area, which was several miles off the main highway on a badly maintained unpaved road.  I’d warned Jason that the road was, as best I could recall (I hadn’t been to the area in 12 years), pretty bad, but it was even worse than I remembered.  Still, we made it…and found approximately a million vehicles already in the parking area and lining the road approaching the lot.  Still, we found a spot and, before long, hit the trail.  There were many people coming and going, but none were queuing up anywhere, so social distancing really wasn’t a problem.

A bit more than a mile down the trail we reached Chapel Falls.  When I’d been in the area previously (i.e. in the fall of 2008), there were no good views of the falls and all the foliage in the area was still green.  Well, this time, we found a terrific vantage point (a platform, near which a clear view of the falls could be obtained) and, because of how much farther along the color was this year, a truly excellent scene.  The only problem was the sun…and the wind.  Okay, so there were two problems.  But a nice big bank of clouds rolled in shortly after we reached this spot and, with patience, lulls in the breeze arrived as well.  I needed to stack images, so I had to wait longer than would have been necessary otherwise, to produce both a vertical and a horizontal of this scene.

Chapel Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Chapel Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Not long after we finished at this spot and returned to the main trail in the direction of Chapel Beach, the sun came out full throttle…and didn’t recede again for the rest of the day until it set.

Roughly 2 1/2 miles later, we found ourselves at Chapel Rock, which is a huge edifice with a massive tree growing right on top of it, that overlooks the eastern end of Chapel Beach.  Looking from the rock toward the beach, Grand Portal Point, jutting out into Lake Superior, is visible in the background.

I remember sizing up Chapel Rock when I was first at this location in 2008, and could never find a compelling composition.  But was bound and determined to try again.  Jason, making his first visit to this area, drew the same conclusion that I’d made on my first time and, in his defense, between the natural difficulty of the scene and the light and the wind, I can’t say I blame him.  Still, I thought I’d found something that might work this time; I told him to go on ahead, that I’d catch up.  I knew he was most interested in Grand Portal Point.  Regardless, this turned out to be a big mistake, as I’ll recount presently, but neither of us knew it at the time.

Given the wind, I knew that there was no way I could create more than one frame at this location, and that a fast shutter speed was going to be needed to freeze the foliage, which was whipping around.  I had to hope that I had enough dynamic range at my disposal to make this work and I knew that, even if dynamic range was sufficient, it would require some special attention in the digital darkroom to make the image worth anything in the end.

Chapel Rock and Grand Portal Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

From Chapel Rock, the trail runs down the side of the bluff for about 1/4 mile to a point where Chapel Beach can be accessed.  On the way down, I had a clear view of the beach and saw Jason–at least I think it was him–out on the sand, amidst a few other people.  I stopped at a point at the east end of Chapel Beach where Chapel Creek–the same waterway that’s the source of Chapel Falls–empties into the lake.  It’s a nice shot–even nicer than I remembered, and despite the fact that the light was bad and the wind was worse, I decided to try to make something of it.   You can see Chapel Rock, with its telltale tree, in the background.

I created this image with black & white in mind, but I’m presenting the color version first, just you can get a sense of what the scene looked like to the naked eye.

Chapel Creek at Chapel Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

This scene was a real challenge, for many reasons.  Given the wind, there was no real way to effectively combine multiple images.  But a shutter speed fast enough to keep the foliage sharp made for an extremely unappealing rendering of the creek’s flowing water.  In fact, this scene was sufficiently unique from an in-field rendering and postprocessing standpoint, that I’m going to make the execution and digital darkroom work the subject of a separate technical post (probably next week).  In the meantime, I’ll simply display the final product, in monochrome, and move on.

Chapel Creek at Chapel Beach Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

When I finished at the Chapel Creek estuary, I wandered up the beach.  Jason was nowhere to be seen.  I figured that he’d followed the trail in the direction of the point.  I decided to produce one image and then move on.  I figured I’d find him photographing along the trail, or on the way back.

Grand Portal Point from Chapel Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I moved down the trail.  I saw a few other hikers, but not Jason.  I also found a couple of spots with interesting views, but nothing compelling enough for me to produce any more images.  The trail kind of deteriorated as I moved to the west, in the direction of the point and eventually I found myself out at the Point itself.  Still no sign of Jason.  I didn’t see how I could have missed him.  And I wondered if he’d decided to go all the way on to Mosquito Beach (something that had been a topic of conversation at one point during trip planning, weeks earlier, but had not been part of any discussion that day).  I wasn’t sure what to do.  I decided to backtrack toward Chapel Beach, to see if I’d somehow missed him.  On the way, I found myself on a short spur trail the Chapel Beach Campground, and quickly worked my way back to what appeared to be the main path.  Eventually I was back at Chapel Beach and then at Chapel Rock.  Still no sign of Jason anywhere.

At this point, I was at the head of the trail back in the direction of Chapel Falls and the Chapel area parking lot.  I didn’t want to go all the way to Mosquito Beach.  It was close to three miles to the east and though the trail is really one big loop, to get back to the parking area by way of Mosquito Falls was, from this point, roughly six miles, as opposed to about 3 1/2 from where I was.  Besides, there was a spot in the forest along Chapel Creek, above the falls, that I’d taken note of on the way down; if it was in full shade by the time I got there (it was now late afternoon, probably no more than two hours until sunset) I thought I might photograph at the spot.  At this point, I figured that the best way to be sure to find Jason again was to go back where we both eventually had to go–the vehicle we’d brought in.

So, I returned the way I came.  In about 2 1/2 miles, I reached the area of the creek that had interested me, and descended down the bank to check it out closely,  The area was indeed in full shade, so I spent a bit of time photographing this interesting little spot.

Chapel Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Chapel Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Chapel Creek Intimate Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Chapel Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Chapel Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The last shot I made at this spot involved my finding a natural eddy–you can see it in the middle of the image two above this text–and greatly embellishing it by throwing a mess of fallen leaves in the water.  Then, with the assistance of a neutral density filter, a narrow aperture and an extremely low ISO, I used a long shutter speed (about 20 seconds) to produce the abstract you see below.

Chapel Creek Abstract Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I hiked the final mile of the trail back to the car.  The parking area that had been so stuffed with cars when we came in was more than half empty at this point–not a shock given the time of day (it was now, at most, an hour until sunset).  I half expected to see Jason back at the car but he wasn’t there.  I didn’t have the keys so I put my pack and tripod on the ground and munched on some trail mix and drank some water while I waited.  Lots of people came to their cars in small groups, but I still didn’t see Jason.

The wind had dropped significantly at this point and the woods to the side of the road was enveloped in soft light.  I noticed for the first time just how nice the color–albeit entirely yellow–was in this area, so I walked about 50 feet, found a composition I liked, and made a few images.

Autumn Woods Intimate, Chapel Area, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Autumn Woods Intimate, Chapel Area, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Autumn Woods Intimate, Chapel Area, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I kept looking for Jason and, finally, I saw him coming up the trail, through the parking area in the direction of the car.  After a few moments of discussion, where we told one another how much time we’d spent down near Chapel Beach looking for one another, we figured out what must have happened.  There are apparently two trails that course between Chapel Beach and Grand Portal Point, and they parallel one another, one that runs right along the bluff (which is the one that I was on for most of the time) and another that runs a bit inland (which Jason had been on most of the time).  I told him that I’d gone all the way out to the Point in search of him.  He said he never went that far.  We were clearly on separate stretches of trail, out of eyesight, at the same time.

It was moments before sunset.  We definitely weren’t going to make it to any photo-worthy spot by then, given where we were, the time, the condition of the road we still had to traverse and the distance we’d have to travel.  As I pointed out at the time, it wasn’t much of a loss, in all likelihood; the sky was now entirely clear.  On the way out, just before we lost the light entirely, we saw what appeared to be an interesting spot in the forest, along the roadside, and stopped for about five minutes to make a parting image or two to close the day.

Autumn Woods Intimate, Chapel Area, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sun-Kissed Treetops, Chapel Area, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 18, 2021

The Story Behind the Image(s): Thanksgiving Sunset

There are few, if any, things left untouched by the ravages of Covid-19.  The malady, caused by the SARS-CoV2 virus, has seeped into just about every aspect of human endeavor, some of massive consequence, some of relatively modest significance.  In the greater scheme of things, the story related here falls into the latter category, but I believe is worth telling nonetheless.

As I noted some time ago on this blog, after approximately 16 years of traveling back and forth between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas every two weeks–a journey of about 3 1/2 hours each way by car–I began dealing with the need to travel back and forth between the Chicago and Houston areas…a trip of approximately 1100 miles each way by road…beginning in the summer of 2019.  The decision was made to make the trip by air approximately once a month, and that’s what I started doing in the second half of 2019.  I had just begun settling into a routine when the pandemic hit.  I flew from Houston to the Chicago area in the middle of February, 2020, and haven’t been on a plane since, due to the risk of contracting the virus (and potentially spreading it to others on both ends) as a function of being on a crowded plane and/or in crowded airports.

After returning to the Chicago area, I stayed put for approximately 5 1/2 months, and then a mini-crisis back in the Houston area made it necessary for me to return to Texas at the beginning of August.  I had to figure out a way to do so safely, so I contrived a means of driving down there with almost no chance of coming into contact with anyone along the way.  I was able to accomplish this by, in part, attempting to catch some sleep overnight in the car at a rest stop in west-central Arkansas.  It–the sleeping part–did not go well, but I did avoid face-to-face contact with anyone over the two-day drive.  When I returned to the Chicago area about four weeks later, I drove straight through…1100 miles in 17-18 hours.  I held up pretty well–I never felt as though I was falling asleep and made the trip without incident–but I don’t recommend it and I have no intention of doing this ever again.

As I mentioned in one of the lead posts chronicling my October trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, part of the rationale of making that autumn trip was to use it as a kind of dry run for making a two-day drive from Chicago to Houston later in the year that included staying at a motel.  Could it be done safely?  I had reason to believe it could and the UP experience would be a test of that assumption.

This was all part of my broader belief that traveling during the pandemic could, in some instances, be done safely.  The key was establishing an itinerary and modus operandi that involved assiduous avoidance of direct contact with other people.  Travel by car meant avoiding sitting on a plane with scores of others; it also meant avoiding potential contact with thousands of people at airports.  Gas could be purchased at the pump; copious use of hand sanitizer would be helpful in that regard.  Food and water could be brought with me from the outset.  The big question for me was the motel part and, in both Wisconsin and Michigan, I proved to myself that, with a bit of research, it was possible to find places that could be relied upon.

I used this experience to assist me when I returned to the Houston area in late November.  On the morning of Thanksgiving Day, when I knew interstate travel would be light and crowds at motels would be non-existent, I made the first leg of the trip, with the plan to stop at a lodging in east-central Arkansas after driving about 550 miles.  Everything went smoothly and I pulled into the motel parking lot in Forrest City, Arkansas about 30 minutes before sunset.  After the contact-free check-in I entered the a room that hadn’t been disturbed in more than two days.

What has any of this got to do with photography?  Hang on.  As I was moving my things into the room I noticed that the sky to the southwest was quite nice with a smattering of clouds and the sun sinking towards the horizon.  This had a chance to be a nice sunset; nothing epic, but nice.  I had my camera equipment with me, so I thought I’d try and take advantage of the conditions.

I had nowhere to go; I didn’t know the area at all and, even if I had known of a great location relatively nearby, I almost certainly wouldn’t have time to drive there.  By the time I’d gotten my tripod and camera out and ready, the sun was less than 10 minutes from setting; it was here or nowhere.  The area I was in was filled with unattractive clutter:  buildings, brightly lit signs, vehicles, power lines, you name it.  But on the far side of the nearly deserted motel parking lot was an interesting–to me–tree, nearly bare, and I was easily able to position myself in a manner to take advantage of it while excluding all of the objectionable stimuli.  The sunset cooperated and I managed to produce two compositions which, despite being made from almost exactly the same place with the same lens and only a minute or two apart, produce a very different feel from one another.

Add another couple of images to the parking lot portfolio.

Sunset Silhouette, St. Francis County, Arkansas

Sunset Silhouette, St. Francis County, Arkansas

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 12, 2021

The UP: Pictured Rocks

If you have any interest in photographing fall foliage anywhere in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I’m about to let you in on a little secret, so listen up:  color peaks later, often by more than a week, in relatively narrow bands along the Great Lakes than it does just a mile or so inland.  I learned this through experience–and common sense, given the natural warming effect of large bodies of water–a long time ago and this knowledge has stood me in very good stead on subsequent trips to the UP.  It has never been more emphatically demonstrated than during the week or so that Jason and I spent in the Upper Peninsula last October.

In the weeks preceding the trip, when we were corresponding–mostly by email–about a loose itinerary, I repeated the “color turns later along the lakeshore” mantra more times than I could count.  It was our ace in the hole, I told Jason:  our hope was to mainly photograph along the small lakes in the northern part of the Hiawatha National Forest but, if we missed peak in the Hiawatha we were almost certainly going to be able to count on experiencing excellent color in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore because…Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore runs in a relatively narrow strip along the Lake Superior shore for more than 50 miles between Munising and Grand Marais.  (Those paying close attention will realize that this is the reason why basing a fall color trip to the UP in Munising is such a good idea; if you visit Munising some time in the first 10-odd days of October you are almost certain to have close proximity to peak color somewhere, whether the color is early (as it was in 2006 and 2020) or late (as it was when I was in the UP in 2008) or on schedule (2002, 2003, 2013).  But I digress…)

In truth, we kind of straddled the marker on this trip.  We were late for color in parts of the Hiawatha, but caught peak in others.  And our early explorations of Pictured Rocks showed that the area was rapidly approaching peak during the first half of the week.  We had then seen, on a quick visit near the end of the third full day in the UP, that the notoriously late-changing White Birch Forest, was nearing peak, courtesy of a couple of nights cold enough to bring frosty mornings to the Hiawatha.  After seeing the White Birch Forest at the end of that third full day I could confidently conclude that peak color would be available throughout Pictured Rocks during the rest of our time in the area.

With all of this in mind, the decision was made to maximize remaining time in and near the Lakeshore, so, with a cloudy early morning forecast in place for the next day, we decided to start things out at Sable Falls, located at the far east end of the Lakeshore, roughly an hour’s drive away from our base.   On the road along the way we spotted a compelling cluster of trees that begged further investigation.

Fall Color Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Falls is reached via a relatively short trail that includes a decent via a series of well-maintained wooden staircases.  When you reach sight of the falls you realize, pretty early on, that truly compelling compositions require descending from the wooden platform; there simply aren’t any great viewpoints without doing so.  Having visited the location several times previously, I already knew this and told Jason to be prepared with the proper footwear.

Water flow at Sable Falls that day was quite good; color was as good as it ever is near the falls.  (The area immediately around the falls isn’t what I would call a fall foliage garden spot.)  The only real problem was a persistent, and extremely annoying, wind.  I had hoped that being in a sunken location might help limit the effect of the breeze and it did, but only to a degree, primarily because the wind was out of the north on this day, meaning it was blowing upriver from lake level.

We took turns photographing the falls, mostly from inside the creek bed, to avoid being in one another’s shots.

Sable Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

When not photographing the falls upstream, I focused my attention on intimate creekside compositions, which were plentiful.

Sable Creek Intimate Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sable Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

At one point, after we’d been at the location for some time, the sun began to break through the clouds–the forecast had indeed called for partial clearing by mid-morning–which created some colorful reflections in small pools in the creek, well downstream of the falls.

Sable Creek Reflections, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

After we’d had our fill of the falls and creek, we wandered the short remaining distance (no more than 1/2 mile) down the trail to its terminus at Sable Beach.  Along the way, I made note of several possible intimate creek compositions, utterly obtainable at this time given the light and wind, for possible future reference.  When we reached the north-facing beach we were met with a stiff blast of wind, which was creating a significant surf.  Sable Creek itself took a sharp right turn on the beach and drained directly into Superior.  The channel connecting the creek and the lake was just deep enough to dissuade an attempt to wade through it.  Astride the channel was a plethora of colorful beach stones, frequently found on beaches along the southern shore of Superior.

I decided that I’d make some images of the stones, but was also curious as to whether the wider beach scene held a compelling composition and hastened to find out.  I decided fairly quickly that it probably didn’t but, for some reason, decided to produce a quasi-grab shot anyway.  I ultimately converted that image to black and white.

Sable Beach Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I had to do some creative work with my body to ensure that the entire area including the stones I chose to photograph was in open shade, but eventually managed to make it work for a couple of compositions.

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

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

After we finished in the Sable Falls/Creek/Beach area, we explored other spots in the eastern part of the Lakeshore, including the area around Grand Sable Lake.  Gradually we made a move a few miles west to look over the Log Slide area.  The Log Slide is a spot along the Grand Sable Dunes where, a century or more ago, logged tree trunks were rolled down the steep sand dunes to barges waiting in the Lake Superior shallows, in preparation for shipment to other Great Lakes destinations.  Today it serves as an excellent viewpoint to the west (Au Sable Point) and the east (Grand Sable Banks).  The official viewpoint here is overgrown and effectively worthless, as I discovered when I was at this location in 2013.  We followed some of the unofficial paths along the high cliff to the west of the viewpoint and found several better views of Au Sable Point.  I photographed the scene with both a wide-normal lens and a telephoto.  (Note the lighthouse at Au Sable Point in the telephoto image.)

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

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

At a cliffside spot further east, I found what I felt was a better location to photograph the Grand Sable Banks to the east.

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

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

As we were leaving the Log Slide area, I noticed that the tire pressure indicator on the car’s dashboard was alight.  This, is never a good sign, trust me.  We were fairly close to Grand Marais, so I detoured us to the west and checked the tire pressure at a gas station (which, fortunately, had a working air hose).  Sure enough, the driver’s side front tire was low.  I refilled it, which caused the light to turn off, but fully expected that this was no more than a temporary fix.  I kept my eyes on the dashboard whenever possible the rest of the day, in expectation of seeing the light go back on.

In the meantime, we made our way back to the east, in the direction of Munising.  At various points along the way we stopped to take advantage of compelling intimate scenes, as banks of clouds temporarily blotted out the sun and lulls in the wind provided opportunities.

Shocking Red, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Fall Color Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Fall Color Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

By mid-afternoon, we made our way to Hurricane River, which is the jumping off point for the easy 1.5 mile walk out to Au Sable Point and its beach and lighthouse grounds.  My first image was of the lighthouse and its out buildings.

Au Sable Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

From there, I descended  to the rock strewn beach and dodged the incoming waves to photograph the lighthouse and beach stones, in something of a rerun of the session at Sable Beach that morning.

Au Sable Light from Au Sable Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

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

Au Sable Light from Au Sable Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I climbed back up to promontory level and spent some time amid the trees not far from the lighthouse grounds, in a spot sheltered enough from the wind to allow me to produce a stack of images of an intimate scene that appealed to me.

Fall Color Intimate, Au Sable Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

After hiking the mile and a half back to the trailhead, with perhaps 90 minutes of daylight left, we made the relatively short drive to Twelvemile Beach, in the hope of catching just a bit more time at the White Birch Forest, after the previous day’s experience.  This turned out to be a pretty good call, though the wind was still enough of a factor to be an annoyance.  Still, I was able to photograph a few scenes that I liked.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Maple Intimate, White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

One spot that I’d been able to look over quickly in the rain the previous evening, but had been unable to photograph, beckoned.  The wind was a constant problem but I waited and waited and finally was able to produce a stack of three images necessary to obtain the desired depth of field.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I was feeling pretty good after completing this series.  It was only about 15 minutes until sunset at this point.  Jason was still working a forest scene and I called to him to let him know that I was going to head down to the beach, just in case the sunset amounted to something nice.  It turned out to be a good call, I think.  I found a nice piece of driftwood and watched the sky light up around me.

Sunset, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sunset, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sunset, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

After I made the above image, I had just enough to sense to look around me.  I saw what the limited remaining sunlight was doing to the birch trees and beach grasses to my left, up on the sand dunes, and quickly moved to make something of the opportunity.

Golden Light, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Golden Light, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I then returned to the driftwood for a parting shot.

Sunset, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

There was still more to photograph after the sun dipped below the horizon, as scenes that were reminiscent of seascapes, less the absence of the saltwater scent, beckoned.

Sunset, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Lake Superior Sunset Surf, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Lake Superior Sunset Surf, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Lake Superior Sunset Surf, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

It was a very satisfying end of the day, photographically speaking.  Why the conditionalizing?  Because a return to the car reawakened my concerns:  the telltale tire pressure warning light reared its ugly head again.  We made it back to Munising and I immediately stopped at a gas station and filled the tire again, but I knew it was a futile effort.  It would get me back to the motel but there was nothing I could do about the problem that night and I fully expected to awake to a pancake flat tire in the morning…

Posted by: kerryl29 | January 4, 2021

The Story Behind the Image: The Original Gorge Sunrise

A few weeks ago I posted a “Story Behind the Image” entry centering around a photograph made at Letchworth State Park in western New York.  In response to one of the comments, I made mention of another, earlier formed image of an early morning scene of a fog-filled gorge.  This post details that image and the experience surrounding it.

I spent the better part of a week a number of springs ago exploring the Red River Gorge area of the Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky.  One of the locations I visited–more than once–was the Swift Creek Overlook, perched high on a rocky cliff above the appropriately named Swift Creek.  During my pre-trip pIanning, I had been told by someone who had photographed in the area extensively that, particularly in the transitional times of the year (i.e. spring and fall), early mornings are often fog-filled at this spot, as the comparatively cool air temperatures at daybreak intermingle with the relatively warm water, maxing out the dew point.  “Sometimes thick,” I was told.  In other words, conditions pretty much identical to those I found at the Gorge Overlook at Letchworth should be anticipated.

I scouted the Swift Creek Overlook, just to be sure I could find it, on my first partial day in the area with the intention of returning in the predawn darkness of the following morning, marking the location on my GPS.  There was a parking area (the spot I marked) followed by a very short hike to one of several spots looking out on the gorge.  I took note of the options, investigating each, and settled on one as having the most desirable view.

When I came back the following morning I drove to the appointed spot, which was, unsurprisingly, completely deserted.  The previous day’s scout had been time well spent; I doubt I’d have found the best location to set up in the dark.  I made my way to the overlook and set up.  I could hear Swift Creek flowing far below me, but couldn’t see much of anything as it was so dark.  When the ambient light conditions rose to the point where I could, theoretically, see something I realized that I remained effectively blind.  Looking out into the gorge, all I could see was a band of fog.  I feared that I’d wasted my time.  Some fog is almost always a good thing, but as I’ve said before, the one instance when it’s often not a complement is when a grand view is the main attraction.

Still, I decided to wait things out–not that I had much of a choice at this point.  But after a little while, as it got a bit brighter, I could see that the fog wasn’t quite as opaque as I’d originally thought.  I could make out the shape of some of the trees in the gorge below me, even if the creek itself was only identifiable audibly.  As the sun began to rise closer to the horizon, the sky in the east absolutely lit up in a blaze of red, orange and yellow.  The effect didn’t penetrate very high up in the sky, lingering mostly at horizon level, but where it was visible, the sky seemed to be on fire.  I exposed multiple frames, choosing to express the final product as a blend of images, the result of which you see below.

It remains to this day as one of the more evocative photographs that I’ve made over the years.

Swift Creek Overlook at Sunrise, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 28, 2020

In Memoriam: Danny Burk

On Saturday, as I was making the long drive back to the Chicago area from Houston, I received an email that my friend Danny Burk had passed away earlier in the week.  Danny had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor about 10 months ago and, following multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a subsequent experimental treatment that failed, I learned a few weeks ago that attempts to treat the cancer had been abandoned.  It was just a matter of time.  I knew this.  And, somehow, it still came as a complete shock when I read the news.

Road to Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

I’d known Danny for about 20 years.  We originally met due to our mutual participation on a photographic website that included a forum centered around landscape photography as well as one devoted to nature photo enthusiasts of all sorts based in the Midwest.  I was trying to take the final step in my attempt to get “serious” about my photography and Danny played a key role in helping me master the skill of spot metering, which was critical to successfully using an emulsion like Velvia Classic, the slide film that I was shooting at the time.  Danny was always doing helpful things like this, for just about anyone who appeared in need of help.  In 2002, he spent the better part of a day showing me the ins and outs of using a view camera when I expressed an interest.

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

Danny had a longstanding commitment to very large prints and, as a result, continued to shoot film using large and medium format (primarily the former) cameras until relatively recently, but he was no Luddite.  He was firmly committed to the digital dark room more than 20 years ago and acquired, and became expert in the use of, a drum scanner so he could extract as much out of his transparencies and negatives as possible.  He also owned a digital camera about a year before I did, though he ultimately determined that it wouldn’t allow him to print, with results he deemed satisfactory, as large as he wanted to…which, as I mentioned, was very large.  He finally became convinced, about four years ago, that advancement in smaller format digital cameras had proceeded far enough to meet his exacting standards, and jumped into the digital realm with both feet, selling off all of his film gear.

Otter Cliffs Sunrise, Acadia National Park, Maine

When he was still shooting film, Danny acquired more varied pieces of medium and large format cameras, lenses and accessories than anyone I’ve ever known.  But Danny was no dilettante when it came to photographic equipment.  While he was a bit of a gear hound, he was expert in his knowledge and skill with all of it.  He didn’t collect photo gear; he bought it to use it.  He was an active advocate of the notion of, as he put it, having the right tools for the job, and that meant more than just acquiring equipment; it meant having the needed gear at hand and being facile using it.  If you’ve photographed with large format equipment–or even if you’ve just watched someone else do it–you know that the only chance a large format photographer has to realize his/her vision is to know what he/she is doing.  Large format equipment isn’t for everyone, and it’s definitely not for someone who isn’t willing and able to commit to learning how to use it properly.  Danny not only taught himself, many years ago, how to use such equipment, for years he held workshops to demonstrate the proper process for doing so to others.

Middle Prong of the Little River, Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

I mentioned Danny’s “exacting standards.”  He was a stickler for proper technique and squeezing every ounce of quality available out of his gear.  Part of this was a function of embracing large format photography, which requires meticulous in-field workflow to avoid screwing something up.  The process is no stronger than its weakest link; make a mistake with any of the many steps involved in exposing a single frame and you’ll have a very expensive candidate for the round file.  But part of this was also clearly a function of Danny’s personality; he was highly detail-oriented and this attention to what might seem like minutiae, in my view, is part of what made his photography sing.

Danny was as close to a photographic mentor as I’ve ever had, or ever will have and he was, in my opinion, an absolutely outstanding photographer.  His website is still accessible as of this writing, and I encourage everyone to have a long look at his work.

Jordan Pond in Fog, Acadia National Park, Maine

Danny and I had this eerie, uncanny tendency to photograph the same scenes in nearly identical ways, without knowing that the other person had even visited the common location.  On numerous occasions one of us would send the other an image from a particular spot only to have the other person respond with an image that he had taken, sometimes years earlier, that was a dead ringer for the photograph that started the exchange.

Council Lake in Morning Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

I think a big part of Danny’s inherent–it certainly wasn’t planned–influence on my own photography came in the emphasis on a deliberate approach to subject matter in the field, another thing that was partly a function of using large format equipment, which absolutely requires patience and a plodding pace.  Not long after I met him, Danny paid me one of the highest compliments that he could offer anyone when he told me:  “I think you have the eye and, every bit as important, the patience to be a large format photographer.”  This was not something he said to many others, so I’ve always remembered it as a personal badge of honor, even though I decided, for a variety of reasons, not to go the large format route myself.

Big Tree Trail, Bendix Woods County Park, St. Joseph County, Indiana

Over the years, I had the good fortune to photograph with Danny on many occasions, in numerous places, from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (three times), the Smokies and Acadia National Park to Sleeping Bear Dunes (with mutual friend Gary Dardas) and various places in northeast Indiana and southwest Michigan.  We always talked about him joining me for a shoot in one of my regular haunts–Starved Rock State Park in north-central Illinois–but, sadly, it never happened.  All of the images accompanying this post were made on photo shoots that I went on with Danny over the years.  In fact, he was no more than steps away from me when every single one of these images was made.

Newfound Gap at Sunrise, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

There were few things I enjoyed more than being in the field with Danny, looking over a scene, and discussing composition.  In many cases, we were finishing one another’s sentences, given our inexplicable propensity to view scenes similarly.  We also shared a natural affinity for what Danny (and subsequently I) referred to as “soft light.”  Many photographers regard overcast conditions as producing light that they describe as “flat.”  Our attitude was, if you think soft light is inherently “bad,” you need to broaden your list of acceptable subject matter because many, many scenes, particularly intimate ones, are made for such lighting conditions.  It’s no accident that the vast majority of subjects Danny and I photographed together over the years were not only amenable to such light; they positively begged for it.  Just look at the images accompanying this post.  Al but a couple of them were made under soft light conditions.

Fern Forest, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

The last time Danny and I photographed together was in the fall of 2018.  We had made plans to shoot along stretches of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail that cuts through parts of St. Joseph’s and Elkhart Counties in northwest Indiana.  The conditions turned out to be pretty disappointing; the color generally wasn’t what we’d hoped for and the weather conditions were less than ideal, but we made the best of it, had a pretty good time and still managed to find a few hidden gems, some of them in unlikely places.

Red Maple, Elkhart County, Indiana

We had a few plans for additional photo sessions in 2019 and beyond, but, to my everlasting regret they never came about.  Things got in the way on my end in the first 2/3 of the year and then, in the fall, during a period of time when we were making plans for a couple of possible local fall outings, Danny had the first of multiple seizures that led to what ultimately became the diagnosis that I mentioned at the head of this post.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Communication gradually became increasingly difficult for Danny and, eventually, impossible.  And it all culminated with the sad news I received after checking into a motel Saturday evening following a 500-mile drive.  Not great.

But as depressing as this news was near the end of a year that was filled with depressing news, I’m going to try my very hardest to remember my experiences with Danny, which were, after all, relentlessly positive.  Hopefully that will become easier over time, because if anyone deserves to be remembered in a positive light, it’s Danny Burk.

Grotto Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 21, 2020

The UP: Day of Intimates

After fighting off a windy, mostly/partly cloudy day, Jason and I prepared for much of the same on our third full day based in the Munising area.  We began, again, at Council Lake.  Jason was camping there and we knew that the color was still pretty good around the lake, so it made sense for me me to make the 10-odd minute pre-dawn drive there, photograph during the early light, and then make plans for the rest of the day.

It turned out to be a pretty good decision, as it was calm at daybreak, making for excellent reflections.  We were also treated to some extremely nice light and cooperative clouds at sunrise.  As I’ve mentioned, this wasn’t my first fall color rodeo in the Upper Peninsula, so I knew to arrive early enough to beat any potential workshop that might descend on Council Lake.  Outside of people who were camping there, I was the first person on site that morning–and none of the campers were out and about when I arrived.  But after I’d been present for perhaps 10 minutes I heard the telltale sound of multiple vehicles traversing the forest road that leads to Council Lake.  Sure enough, it was a workshop, with about 12 participants and two instructors.

I’m going to fight the urge to launch into a long polemic about the propriety of conducting a photo workshop of this magnitude–or possibly any magnitude–in the middle of a raging pandemic, other than to say that I wasn’t particularly comfortable with the arrival of all of these folks, despite the fact that there’s plenty of room to spread out along the southeast shore of Council Lake.  These people were not masked and were somewhat randomly sharing vehicles, to cut down on their footprint.  Fortunately, once on site they basically kept a reasonable distance (six feet or more) away from us, but…under the circumstances I don’t see any way that this workshop, based on what I saw, could possibly have been conducted safely.  (Perhaps I won’t fight the urge to launch a long polemic…)

Workshop aside, it was a nice morning to be at Council Lake.  Other than the glass-like reflections (the below image was a five-second exposure and every leaf is still sharp as a tack; that is dead calm), things didn’t appear all that promising at the break of dawn.

Council Lake Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

But as the sun, rose the sky (and its reflection) improved quickly and dramatically.

Council Lake Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Council Lake Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

If the two images above look like a scene just begging to be photographed as a panorama, well….yep.  I very quickly leveled the camera (easy to do with the Acratech leveling base that I have mounted below my tripod head) and rapidly produced the frames necessary for the panorama, before the light changed.

Council Lake Dawn Panorama, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

When a somewhat diffused sun finally directly hit some of the trees on the northwest lakeshore, I made one final relatively wide image.  Note the massive change in the light’s hue.

Council Lake Morning, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Even after the sun rose, some of the trees along the lake remained in open shade and I hastened to capture a few intimates.

Council Lake Color, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Council Lake Alcove, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Council Lake Trees, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Council Lake Trees, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Council Lake Trees, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Council Lake Trees, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Council Lake Trees, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Council Lake Trees, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

These intimates set the tone for the rest of the day’s photography, which only resumed after a lengthy delay.  After we finished at Council Lake we decided to take a drive to the west and check out an area near Marquette about which we’d heard promising things.  The route to Marquette–about a 45-minute drive away–took us through an area of the western part of the Hiawatha National Forest that we’d driven past the previous day as well, on the drive back from Laughing Whitefish Falls.  We’d noted some excellent color through this area and we were reminded of it on the drive toward Marquette on this morning.  We took particular notice of a location near a sign for Valley Spur, a bike trail in good weather and a snowmobile trail in the winter.

When we arrived in the Marquette area we saw very promising color that was still a few days shy of peak, mimicking some of the scenes we’d seen in the Dead River Falls area late on our very first day in the UP, as we drove toward Munising.  We explored Marquette County Highway 510 for about 10 miles and saw some real potential.  In fact, we took a closer look at one scene that caught my eye that I will probably always regret being unable to photograph.  (The conditions while we were on this road were terrible for photography:  breezy and sunny.)  It was a two-track S-curve–really it was someone’s driveway, but it had the look and feel of a country road–snaking through an almost impossibly yellow forest, with a perfectly placed lichen-covered boulder for foreground interest.

But despite a couple of hours of exploration and a number of interesting locations, we made no images in the Marquette area, due to the aforementioned awful conditions.  As we made our way back east, toward Munising, things improved somewhat.  The wind wasn’t as strong and the skies started showing signs of clouding up as we drove.  By the time we reached the Valley Spur area again, it was blessedly mostly cloudy.  There was still some wind to deal with, but we decided to see if we could find some image making opportunities.  We pulled into the Valley Spur parking area and almost immediately were greeted with captivating intimate scenes.

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

We worked the clearing immediately surrounding the large unpaved, mostly empty, parking area.  There were a handful of other vehicles present, but no people were to be found, which was perfect.  The wind was a nuisance, but ultimately could be dealt with by waiting for lulls.

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

There were pockets of excellent color, but broadly speaking it was just okay.  What made the spot so captivating was the spacing of the trunks and the character-filled nature of some of the individual trees.

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

After shooting in the clearing for about an hour we walked out to the main highway.  I crossed the road to explore an area bisected by an unpaved forest road.

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

The area along this road had additional intimate scenes begging to photographed.

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

I found a spot with rich reds branching off a bent trunk.  I spent at least five minutes waiting for the wind to cooperate to allow me to produce the image below.

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Back along the highway, we ran across one of the nicest collection of intimate elements that we’d seen since our time in the Ottawa National Forest near Bond Falls, back on the first day in the UP.:  beautiful color amid lichen-covered sugar maple trunks.

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Before heading back to the parking area, I made a grab-shot like image of the setting moon in a clearing western sky, above a cluster of colorful trees,

Valley Spur Moonset, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

I trudged back to the parking area while Jason was still working on a scene along the highway and suddenly caught a glimpse of a plethora of additional images, all requiring a telephoto lens.  It was another in a seemingly never-ending series of lessons focusing on just how different scenes can appear depending on the direction one faces when viewing them.  This area had been utterly unremarkable when viewed while walking out of the parking area, but when entering the same area from the highway it was another story entirely.

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

We finally wrapped up at this location about two hours before sunset.  It had clouded up again and it didn’t appear that there would be a sunset that day.  Based on his experience camping the previous couple of nights, Jason noted that it had been very cold in the forest–cold enough to produce frost two nights in a row.  He wondered if the White Birch Forest, which we had explored on our first Munsing-based day and found mostly green–had progressed significantly, color-wise.  I had my doubts, given how green it had been just two days earlier and the likelihood that it hadn’t been nearly as cold so close to Lake Superior.

We were a long way from Twelvemile Beach in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, where the White Birch Forest is located, but, despite my misgivings, I agreed that it was worth making the drive to take a look; the White Birch Forest is simply breathtaking when the conditions are right (a circumstance I’d only experienced once previously in five autumn trips to the area over the years).

The sky became cloudier and cloudier as we drove along and the wind continued to drop as well.  We got to the turnoff for Twelvemile Beach about 45 minutes before sunset time, but there would definitely be no sunset this day–it was completely cloudy and getting somewhat dark.  But as we made our way down the road in the direction of Superior I saw that Jason’s instincts had been right–there had been dramatic color change in the forest in the last couple of days, far more than I had anticipated.  As long as the light held out, we were going to have a rare combination of circumstances at the White Birch Forest:  even light, good color and no wind.  We wouldn’t have long to take advantage of it, but we hastened to try

Teasing compositions out of the White Birch Forest, as captivating as it is, can be a real challenge.  The birch trunks are tightly packed in most places and associated color, mostly from maples and beeches sprinkled here and there, isn’t always strategically positioning.  As a result, some work is involved.  We found a few areas that were promising, however.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

We had to wade into the forest to find a particularly promising cluster of birch trunks.  These images, requiring long exposures and multiple frames as part of a focus stack, were only possible because there was no wind.

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

We were running out of light while exploring a clump of birches very close to the beach when it started to rain and the wind picked up.  It was simply impossible to make any further images so we reluctantly called it quits for the day.

It had been a long day, and though we’d covered quite a bit of ground, we’d only photographed in three different locations.  The intent focus on intimate scenes coupled with the abundant subject matter, however, had led to the making of many images.

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