Posted by: kerryl29 | October 24, 2013

The UP: Day 1

As I mentioned last month in the Introduction to the Upper Peninsula entry, posted as a foreshadowing of my UP photo trip in the first third of October, I’ve photographed in this area more than anywhere else outside of Illinois and Indiana.  I shot in the UP four times, always in the fall, between 2002 and 2008, but this was my first trip up there in five years.  I had actually been contemplating an autumn shoot in New England this year, but that was set aside for good–for a variety of reasons–during the summer.  As I considered alternatives in early August I concluded that I would be best served by a location with which I was already familiar, since I had relatively little chance for research and planning.  What better choice than the UP?

Advanced reports I received suggested that fall color in the region this year would be very good and was likely to be at or near the typical peak dates (roughly Oct. 4-9), with any error likely causing a slightly earlier-than-normal peak.  So I made my plans to head up to the Munising area, in the north-central Upper Peninsula, on October 2 and return to the Chicago area on October 10.

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan Image Made 2006

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
Image Made 2006

Some time in mid-September, less than three weeks before my departure, I received an e-mail from an unfamiliar name.  Upon opening it, I immediately identified the source.  Two years ago, while shooting in the Canaan Valley area of West Virginia, I ran into another photographer in the field and we briefly exchanged pleasantries and discussed photographic opportunities in the area.  I subsequently exchanged comments with this same gentleman on my blog a couple of times.  His name was Terry Miller and, in this e-mail, he asked me–very politely–if I if I minded if he followed me around up in the UP.  He made clear that he wasn’t asking me to “hold his hand,” photographically speaking.  He simply said that he’d never shot in the UP before and knew I’d been up there multiple times and this would be a way of him getting to some good spots that he otherwise wouldn’t know about.

I was ambivalent about it.  On the one hand, other people had essentially done for me what he was asking and I was happy to “give back.”  But on the other, I was really worried about being “held back” by this kind of arrangement.  When I’m on a photo trip, I’m really at it, all day, every day, and one of the reasons why I usually shoot by myself is that almost no one I’ve ever met wants to keep up with the kind of pace that I run…and I must confess to being pretty selfish about sticking to it.  I typically don’t eat normal meals–pretty much ever–when I’m on one of my photo excursions and even when the light is poor, I’m out scouting.  It all makes for a lot of very long days.  I was also concerned about possible incompatibility.  After all, we really didn’t know one another (though it turned out that we had a few mutual acquaintances).  What if we didn’t get along?

Alongside Otter Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan Image Made 2008

Alongside Otter Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
Image Made 2008

So, in response to his inquiry, I told Terry about all of my concerns, as politely–but directly–as I could.   He responded by saying that he completely understood what I was saying and that he was still game if I was…and that if, at any point while up there, I wanted to just take off on my own, I should feel free to do that.  Given his reply I told him okay…I’d meet him up there.

My concerns turned out to be completely unfounded.  To make a potentially very long story comparatively short…first, he ended up being a very experienced photographer…he needed absolutely no help from me–technically or aesthetically–which was great, since it meant that I could focus entirely on my own shot making and in-field workflow.  Second, he never once so much as hinted irritation at my pace in the field during the (parts of nine) days that we were up there.  I’m extremely deliberate when I’m in the field shooting; I believe this is in part a function of the fact that in the early days of my becoming serious about landscape photography I frequently shot with large format photographers.  By the very nature of the medium, large format requires a very slow, methodical in-field approach and I think a lot of that rubbed off on me.  In any event, this slow pace kind of chafes at the preferred speed of many other photographers and is one reason why I usually find myself much less-stressed and more productive when I’m shooting by myself.

Council Lake Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan Image made 2003

Council Lake Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
Image made 2003

I had expected that Terry and I would go to places in separate vehicles, thereby allowing me the freedom to light out if I felt like it.  But by the second day, we were taking one car (his rental) everywhere and we never even considered changing that modus operandi the rest of the time we were there.  That’s how smoothly things went.  I essentially set the itinerary each day, because I was the one with the experience in the area, but by about the fourth day, as Terry was gaining a feel for the lay of the land, I was presenting options for him to weigh in on, rather than just dictating what we did.  In the end, it all went incredibly well, so well, in fact, that we’ve had some preliminary discussions about doing something like it again in the foreseeable future.

Along the Road to Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan Image Made 2008

Along the Road to Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
Image Made 2008

So, on the morning of Wednesday, October 2, I woke up a bit before 4 AM, more than two hours before my alarm was due to go off, and after tossing around in bed for 30 minutes or so, simply accepted that I wasn’t going to fall back asleep.  I had the car loaded and was on the road by 5 AM to begin the nearly 400 mile trip from the Chicago area to Munising.  By very late morning, I was at the point where highway US 2, in the southern part of the UP, junctions with H-13 which cuts straight to the north for about 50 miles, right through the heart of the Hiawatha National Forest.  It was a warm, sunny day and the color already looked quite good to me–probably just a couple of days from peak.  Since I was so early, I decided to make a scouting stop along the way at some of the most accessible lakes in the northern half of the Hiawatha, just to see what the color looked like at these locales.  I stopped at Pete’s Lake first.  The color was good there, but not quite at peak.  Then I stopped at Moccasin Lake, on a roadside pullout on H-13; color there was still a ways off from peak.  Finally, I hit both Council and Red Jack Lakes, off the same forest service road to the west of H-13.  Color at Council was similar to Pete’s, maybe a little bit more advanced.  Color at Red Jack was the best I’d seen yet–essentially at peak.

Council Lake in Morning Mist, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan Image made 2003

Council Lake in Morning Mist, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
Image made 2003

By the time I was done with the four lakes, it was nearly 2 PM, so I drove the final 12-15 miles to Munising, checked into the motel and met Terry (who was staying at the same place, two doors down).  The light was still pretty harsh, but I told Terry that, if he was game, I thought we’d go scout one more lake and then find somewhere to shoot as sunset approached.  He was ready, so off we went to Halfmoon Lake–probably my favorite lake to shoot at in all of the Hiawatha.

The road to Halfmoon Lake is extremely hard to find, but fortunately I had it marked on my GPS.  The dirt road down to the lake is also pretty badly maintained, and part of the attraction of the area is shooting along the road through the forest on the mile or so it takes to get down to the lake.  So I had us park our cars–this was the last time we had two vehicles–at the head of the road and walk down.  The conditions still weren’t good for shooting, so I recommended leaving our gear behind.  The forest on the Halfmoon Lake Road was in terrific shape; I made a mental note to come back as soon as we had shooting conditions that were conducive to the location.

Near Pete's Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan Image made 2008

Near Pete’s Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
Image made 2008

On the walk down, a vehicle passed us in the direction of the lake, which shocked me.  There’s almost never any traffic on that road.  I noticed that the car had Illinois tags.  When we got down to the lake, I saw the car that had passed us, parked there and immediately recognized one of its occupants:   well-known professional photographer Willard Clay, who I’ve run into many times in the UP over the years.  I think he remembered me. 🙂  We exchanged a few pleasantries and spent some time discussing how the then-in-progress government shutdown was impacting access to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Then I took a good look at the lake and the surrounding color, which was very nice–if not at peak, it was just a day or two away.  Again, I made a mental note to return as soon as conditions allowed.  (Which we would–three times.)  After checking a couple of additional vantage points, we hiked back to the head of the road.

Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan Image made 2003

Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
Image made 2003

From there, I suggested scouting Otter Lake.  My experience with Otter Lake over the years has been that the color there turns as early as any lake in the northern part of the Hiawatha, so I thought it made sense to check it out sooner rather than later.  That turned out to be a good move; upon our arrival there (it takes less than 10 minutes from the head of Halfmoon Lake Road, though I must confess to having taken a wrong turn, what with this being an unfamiliar route, so we had to backtrack for a few minutes) I saw that color around the lake was as good as it would get.  Since it was now late afternoon we decided to hang around for sunset and hope that the moderate wind would die down as the sun dropped, which would enable us to obtain some pleasing reflections of the cloud banks we hoped we’d see.  Otter Lake has a broadly accessible shore, making it a reasonable candidate for sunrise and sunset shooting.  It’s a fairly good-sized lake–which makes it less than entirely ideal (since larger, deeper lakes are more susceptible to wind, making reflections more of a dicey proposition).  And besides, we were there; I thought that we’d done enough running around that day.  (The remaining two images, from Otter Lake, were shot on Day 1 of this trip.  All of the preceding images in this post were made on trips taken in previous years of locations that I scouted on the first day of this trip.)

Trees in Afternoon Light, Otter Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Trees in Afternoon Light, Otter Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

The wind did, in fact, die down and we ended up getting a pretty nice sunset.  With mostly calm waters in Otter Lake, reflections were good, if not entirely pristine.

Otter Lake Sunset, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Otter Lake Sunset, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

It had been a long day, what with the seven-hour drive and all of the scouting.  The forecast was for a chance of rain each day for the next five.  Sunrise seemed unlikely for day two of our excursion, but I suggested to Terry that we be prepared for it anyway.  Sometimes a sliver of light is all you need for something special, I said, and he completely agreed, so I told him that we’d plan to hit Council Lake before sunrise the next morning and see what happened.  And something did happen.

Next in this series:  The UP: Day 2 – Council Lake, Coalwood Trail and the George Washington Forest, Swan Lake Plains, Little Indian Road and Wagner Falls



  1. If I had known you were there, I’d have waved at you – you know, from wherever I was in your general direction 😉 I would love to do a photography-only kind of trip up there some day, but my husband (and this time a friend from Maui) accompanied me, and so I try to fit photography into our hiking expeditions. Thankfully, husband is very flexible, so it works reasonable well.
    The sunset you captured at Otter Lake was worth the wait, but my favorite image from this set is the one from Red Jack Lake in 2006. That composition just sticks with me.

    • Thanks, Heather. I checked out your blog and it appears that you covered at least some of the same ground (parts of Pictured Rocks) as I did, and had at least similar experiences re the closure issue. I’ll get to that in some detail in future installments.

      In my experience, it’s extremely difficult to really indulge yourself in the photographic experience when you have non-photographers in tow, regardless of how patient they are. For instance, my wife is (truly!) remarkably supportive and willing to allow me to indulge myself in the picture-taking experience, but…photography just isn’t a spectator sport and even though she never even hints at boredom or fatigue I’m always aware that she’s waiting for me…and I inherently move along more quickly than I otherwise would when she’s with me. I can’t help it–it’s instinctive–and it’s no one’s fault; it just…is. In any event, as a result, there’s a world of difference between a trip where photos are taken and a photo trip.

      Finally, re the Red Jack image…I’m extremely partial to that comp myself (with the repeating diagonals of the birch snags and their reflections). I honed in on that scene again this year (though the smallest of the birch snags appears to have fallen since 2006).

      The back story to that ’06 shot (I’ll provide the abridged version). I received an e-mail from a local contact of mine in the UP that year telling me that the forest had peaked quite early–nearly a week before I was planning to come up) and that if I could, I should head up there immediately. I couldn’t get up for a couple of days, but I still made the drive four or five days earlier than originally planned and I can recall driving through the Hiawatha late in the afternoon of the day of that drive, absolutely awed at what I was seeing and thinking how phenomenal the next few days would be. I whipped over to Red Jack just 30-odd minutes before sunset and got that and one other shot before the light disappeared completely. That night, a huge storm blew in off Lake Superior–I mean, 40 MPH winds and torrential rain. By the time it had (partially) cleared the following morning, 95% of the orange and red leaves in the UP were on the ground. (Over the next few days, about the only place I could find that wasn’t almost instantly past peak was around 12-Mile Beach Campground in Pictured Rocks, right along the shore–where things always peak significantly later than they do inland.) The moral of the story: timing is everything.

      • Did you at least get some great wave shots when the storm was blowing through? We accidentally hiked the escarpment trail last year during a windstorm, and the crashing waves were phenomenal.
        My experience with non-photographers is very similar to yours. I suspect my husband and your wife share a saintly patience, but I know that I do hurry. One of these days I might indulge in a photography exclusive trip, but it’s not such a bad deal combining two loves right now.

        • Re wave shots…if you’re asking about the storm back in ’06, no. That storm took place overnight, so there was no chance to do anything with it photographically. But I have done some coastal shooting during some very windy days up there. The key to big waves on the southern shore of Superior is a north wind (northwest will do as well). No matter how strong the wind is, if it’s out of the south/southwest, you won’t get big waves at or near Pictured Rocks. (I saw that again this fall.)

  2. Sono fantastiche queste foto autunnali. Che colori splendidi!!

  3. Some stunning photography here, in such gorgeous locations! I just love Council Lake and Otter Lake sunset 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Amanda.

  4. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing.


    • Thanks, Bruce!

  5. Hello Kerry,

    Thank you once again for letting me join you on this incredible autumn adventure. I can only tell you that I’m truly thankful and hope to someday be able to repay you in someway. You made it so that I had nine full days of shooting and not nine days of hunting to find something to shoot.

    With that said I still have to pinch myself as I was shocked that you accepted my proposal. I talked this over with Kathy before sending you that email as well as my wife and in the end I just decided that the worst you could do is say no. I put myself in your shoes and I didn’t know if I would be able to say yes or not but boy am I happy that you did.

    I have worked with a good two handfuls of other photographers in the past and I must say that this is the first time that I found someone that worked the way I liked to work. Someone that understood that a photography trip is about photography. Poor weather does not mean you stop working. I can’t tell you at what point it was that I felt totally at ease but I am sure it was pretty quickly. When we went and found Half Moon Lake then I knew that you were a resource that I would come to treasure on this trip. I don’t care how well you try to tell someone how to get there, if you are not there to spot the little road then it isn’t going to happen. Well, at least not without a few tries, in my opinion.

    I have not gotten around to do much with my shots at this point. I am still at least 10 days out from any real processing but I have snuck a look here and there and all I can say is that our work did indeed payoff, at least a few times a day. I can’t wait to see the next installment even though I know what the big reveal is. 🙂

    Oh and my final word on this one…I can’t wait to get something together with you again. I just love going to shoot and then ending up shooting. You may not feel this way but I find that working with you is just totally comfortable and accommodating. I also love your pace as it took me a few days to realize that I would have the time to do what I want to do since you do work at a great photographers pace. I just am not used to being out with someone that will take the time to get the shot.

    • Hey, Terry, thanks for weighing in. It’s only appropriate since you’re going to play an important co-starring role in the rest of this saga. 🙂

      I appreciate the kind words. I’m really glad that you did e-mail me back in September, because when it was all said and done I don’t know how it could have worked out any better if I’d scripted it. And I, too, am looking forward to the next time we get a chance to do this again.

      Can’t wait to see what you came up with once you’ve had a chance to process some of this material.

  6. colours were good here too, enjoyed your photos.

    • Thanks, Jane!

  7. Awesome photography!

    I know that just the last two are from this year, still, it’s hard for me to believe how much the color changed in just a few days from when I had been there. Plus, you had just the right amount of cloud cover for sunset photo, I had a week of almost no clouds for the sunrises and sunsets. I shouldn’t have changed my plans.

    • Thanks very much, Jerry.

      Re the change in color, correct me if I’m wrong, but the last day you were up in the UP was Sept. 28. I didn’t get up there until Oct. 2; a lot can happen in four days. Also, as best I can recall, you didn’t get into the heart of the Hiawatha at any point; your route just had you skirting the edge of the forest. The areas close to Lake Superior (and in the extreme southern part of the UP that I saw on my drive in) were still overwhelmingly green when I got up there. In fact, many of the areas right on the Superior shore were still almost entirely green a full week after I arrived.

      I think my experience over the past 11 years at many of these specific locations has really paid off in terms of being able to predict the relative pace of color change from spot to spot. For instance, Otter Lake–where the Oct. 2 shots were taken–tends to run ahead of the 15-odd Hiawatha Lakes where I’ve shot over the years. Red Jack Lake is another relatively early turning location. I’m not entirely sure why the visible patterns run the way they do. Some of it surely due to microclinmate differences. Another factor has to do with the prevalence of different species of trees that surround different lakes. (Red maples tend to turn quickly–and there are a ton of them on the north shore of Red Jack. Mature birches tend to turn later, so lakes with heavy stands of them–Moccasin Lake, for instance–often stay green longer.) And real time events can make things change very, very quickly. A very cold night can massively impact things, for example.

      Regardless of the specific reasons, I guess I’ve been to many of these spots–usually multiple times on the same trip–enough to have a pretty good feel for how they’re advancing relative to one another. Based on what I had seen at five other lakes prior to descending on Otter, for instance, I expected that lake would be at peak and any other result would have surprised me.

      As for the clouds…yeah, that’s just dumb luck. 🙂

  8. Kerry, I always learn so much from your posts! Beautiful images as always (LOVE the white birch trunks) and a great story too. I have been reflecting on the progress of my Penn’s Woods project and realize that I have been following a process of shooting as much locally as possible and in a few select spots so that I get to know them in many different seasons and weather conditions. While this means that I haven’t been able to expand to some of the more remote areas as I had planned (leading to some deadline unease), it also has allowed me to go “deeper” rather than broader. Reading your account of familiarity of a region and its payoff, including scouting expeditions, reassures me that I have taken the right path for me at this point and spending the week sorting through many gigabytes of HD video confirmed that I’m “getting there.” Thanks again for being such a great teacher of capturing beautiful images in the field!

    • Thanks, Lynn.

      Regarding the broader issue of focusing on places with which one is familiar versus new spots…I really try to look upon them as complementary, to the extent possible. Generally speaking, I think you’ll get more bang for the buck when you’re dealing with familiar places, and I’ve also found that relying on known spots is much better for executing images that present themselves first in your mind’s eye (the misnamed “previsualization” technique, in a nutshell). But new spots can sometimes force your creative being out of a rut into which you’ve fallen (often times without realizing it).

      What I’m saying may not apply to everyone–doubtless it doesn’t, in fact. But I offer these products of my experience, for what they might be worth. Occasionally, the creative “reboot” that’s a natural accompaniment to spending some time in a new spot can materially assist in the process of seeing familiar locations in a different light.

  9. Ah, Kerry, thanks for this. I’ve been to the UP several times in recent years, but I haven’t been east of Ironwood for a very long time. This is such a spectacular part of our natural resource, and I’d love to get up there again. Beautiful work!

    • Everything in the UP is east of Ironwood. If you’re west of Ironwood, you’re in northern Wisconsin. 🙂

      Seriously, thanks very much for the kind words.

  10. I’ve often wondered why it was that I couldn’t focus on taking shots unless I was by myself. You explained it perfectly well. Have to say my favorite shot in this series was the birch trees (Road to Halfmoon Lake). There’s just something about those white trunks.

    • Thanks very much. Re the birch trees–agreed! I’m a huge, huge fan of birches (and aspens) precisely because of the terrific contrast provided by the white trunks.

      • You inspired my shot for today. I’m not exactly sure which it is. I didn’t think we had birch or aspen out here, but it sure looks like one of them. The black lichen made it even more fun. I think I’d guess birch if I had to.

        • Yup, that sure does look like white birch to me. (Definitely not aspen, though the species are closely related.) Very nicely done!

  11. The photography is of course, stunning, but I also enjoyed the story.

    • Thanks very much!

      BTW, I just found about your Smokies mishap. Hope you’re recovering well.

  12. Happy to have found you through Composer in the Garden. Beautiful work! And an interesting post, hearing about the ins & outs of the trip. And I love the birch trees & morning mist on the lake.

    • Thanks very much for checking out my blog and for taking the time to leave a comment…and for the kind words. If you enjoyed this entry, I hope you’ll stop back. The installment for Day 2 of the trip will be up Monday morning.

  13. […] I mentioned at the end of the UP installment dealing with day one of the trip, the forecast for the morning of day two was calling for a chance of rain.  Since it didn’t […]

  14. […] I’d scouted Red Jack on Day 1 of the trip, it was essentially at peak color and it still looked good on Day 2 when we took a […]

  15. […] 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 […]

  16. […] Day 1 […]

  17. […] Day 1 […]

  18. […] 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 […]

  19. […] 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, […]

  20. Great shots again, the Council Lake mist is fantastic.

    • Thank you. That shot dates to 2003, for what that’s worth.

  21. […] to want the day-by-day detail, and so I reverted to that form beginning with a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the autumn of 2013, and with all the trips I’ve made […]

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