Posted by: kerryl29 | September 14, 2020

The Story Behind the Image: New Faces in Familiar Places

When I last visited the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in October of 2013 it was my fifth trip there in the fall since 2002.  I spent a significant amount of time visiting my old haunts in the Hiawatha National Forest and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, but I also made a point of checking out some new locations, like Tahquemenon Falls State Park and Whitefish Falls.  Another location I investigated for the first time was the Grand Sable Lake area of Pictured Rocks, in the far eastern part of the Lakeshore.  It was a partly cloudy, breezy afternoon late in my trip when I ventured to the spot, just a bit south of Grand Sable Dunes and Sable Falls.

H-58, the main road through Pictured Rocks, skirts Grand Sable Lake to the north, and there’s a pull-off on the road with an overlook, which I’ve never found particularly compelling.  But if you continue on H-58 to the east, you actually leave the Lakeshore property and about a mile after doing so you intersect M-77.  Take that about half a mile south and you’ll come to Lowder Rd.  Hang a right and, in short order, you will re-enter Pictured Rocks (again, in about a mile) and shortly thereafter you’ll cross a creek, the road will bend sharply to the left and you’ll find yourself near Grand Sable Lake’s eastern shore.  There are several pull-offs that lead to areas where very interesting intimate images can be made, if the conditions are good.

But that creek…I can’t remember why–it’s been seven years, after all–but something about it caught my attention.  I don’t recall it being particularly noteworthy at a casual glance, but I do remember wandering over to it and taking a look.  The water level was quite low, but I remember seeing some very interesting reflections.  I donned my rubber boots and found a composition I liked.  I remember setting up, in the water, fine tuning the composition, which included some fallen leaves on rocks that were above water level, and then metering the scene.  I recall having a polarizing filter on my lens, partly polarized.  After I produced the shot, at something like one quarter of a second, I remember thinking that the image might well benefit from a slower shutter speed.  I stopped down to f/11, but that only bought me one stop.  I went back to my bag–which I hadn’t brought into the creek with me; it was propped along the nearby roadside–and fished out a six-stop neutral density filter.  I recalibrated my settings and messed around with different shutter speeds, before settling on a 20-second exposure, the product of which you see below.

I really liked what the extremely long shutter did to the water in this image.  I doubt it would have worked had the water level been higher or had there been any whitewater present, but the slow shutter speed really enhanced the blue-gold character of the reflections and the smoothing effect produced on the watery surface helped bring out the sharpness of the leaves and exposed rock faces.

Autumn Creek, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Perhaps I’ll be able to find a comparable scene when I return to the UP in a few weeks, in what will be my first visit there in seven years.


  1. Nice reminiscent image, Kerry. I agree that the so-called “scenic” overlook on the main drag is “ho-hum.” Glad you found this. I don’t know when I’ll get back to the U.P., given that I now live in Florida, and that travel really sucks right now :-). Will be interested to see what you find up there, and how your travel/lodging works out.

    • Thanks, Andy.

      I went back and forth for some time about whether to go up to the UP this fall; I finally decided that it would be possible to do so safely. I’ll be based in Munising throughout and have discussed my concerns at some length with the folks at the motel that I stayed at seven years ago. I’m going to have a contact-free experience up there–no housekeeping service, no contact check in and out and, as per usual I’ll be taking my own food and supplies with me. Other than gas purchases I shouldn’t have to buy anything. Given how empty things typically are up there while engaged in photography, I quite literally expect this to be a contact-less trip.

  2. Kerry, I like the intentional, thoughtful nature of your image. While not the point of your post, your link to an old post about boots was also interesting. I absolutely agree about boots being essential. Unless I’ll be in the desert and nowhere near water, I always bring either hip waders or chest waders, even if flying — they are no less important than my hiking shoes. One note — I buy waders that are comfortable enough so I can hike a few miles in them if needed (e.g., scrambling along a stream in the UP to reach waterfalls). I’ve tried carrying waders strapped to my pack, but it’s a pain, so I generally just wear them to hike to the location.

    Hope you enjoy your trip to the UP — I had a wonderful time there last Fall, thanks in large part to your guidebook [highly recommended, BTW].

    • Thanks, Steve. You’ve taken the water garb one step further than I have (i.e. waders), which allows you to push the envelope a bit farther as well.

      Thanks for the shout out on the ebook; I do want make certain that my co-author, Andy Richards (he posted the note immediately before yours) receives his full share of the considerable credit he deserves for the effort.

  3. I visited Pictured Rocks a long time ago and found it to be a magical place. I was a beginner back then and I wish I could go back with more skill and a few decades of camera technology advances!
    Your picture is really nice as it still retains a bit o f texture in the movement of the water.

    • Thanks very much!

  4. The contrast between the sharp leaves and the smooth water makes this image work. Thanks for sharing the thought process behind it. The leaves are starting to turn here, so it’s time to think about the fall color possibilities.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

  5. I was surprised how crisp the leaves were against the water. Lovely effect.

    • Thanks, Jane!

  6. Amazing photo!

  7. The UP is a very special place. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit and made a camping trip up there with a high school friend in the summer of 1962. I had a very primitive Kodak camera and wish I could find the negatives, as there were some indelible memories. Hopefully they’ll turn up some day.

    • Outside of a few spots near my Chicago area base, I’ve spent more time photographing in the UP than anywhere else. And, despite the fact that I spent my college years in Ann Arbor, I never made a trip to the Upper Peninsula until 16 years after I graduated. This year’s trip will be my sixth visit.

  8. […] The Story Behind the Image: New Faces in Familiar Places — Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog […]

  9. […] I mentioned in my last post, I’m heading to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in a couple of weeks for a very careful (due […]

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