Posted by: kerryl29 | November 9, 2020

The UP: Heading East, Part I

The first full day in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was a very long one, so I’m going to break the narrative up into two parts.  Part I is below; Part II will follow next week.

As I mentioned in the post that served as an introduction to this series, Jason met me in Rhinelander, Wisconsin on the morning of October 3, after a marathon drive from Colorado Springs, and we briefly discussed what to do.  The day was chilly, cloudy and windless and, based on my check of forecasts across the Upper Peninsula, the weather was to remain this way for the remainder of the day.  In other words, since our hope was to photograph waterfalls, streams and foliage as we made our way toward Munising, the conditions would be just about perfect.  I told Jason that we should make the most of this opportunity because it wouldn’t surprise me if we never saw comparable weather conditions for the rest of the week.  (A bit of foreshadowing:  that would prove to be a prescient statement.)

Our first planned stop was at Bond Falls, a popular waterfall located on the Ontonagon River, not far from the tiny hamlet of Paulding in the western part of the Upper Peninsula.  I had photographed at Bond three times previously, but not since 2006.  I’ve always regretted that I never spent more time shooting the area above and around the falls, and this was an opportunity to rectify that shortcoming.

But before we arrived at the parking area for Bond Falls, we reached a spot in the Ottawa National Forest on the drive in that I simply couldn’t bypass.

Autumn Intimate, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

The tree you see above, with the lone birch trunk peeking through, was the initial attraction, but poking around the immediate area revealed a plethora of other interesting compositions.

Autumn Intimate, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

Autumn Intimate, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

Autumn Intimate, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

Autumn Road, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

When we finished at this spot, we moved a mile or so down the road to the falls area.  Jason had never been to the location, so I gave him a quick tour.  After parking along the roadside, we walked along the Ontonagon River streambed, which is filled with interesting rapids.  Eventually, you reach the top of Bond Falls itself and, after descending a narrow staircase, you find yourself immediately below the falls where a paved path leads to a bridge that crosses the river, downstream of the falls, and winds around to the far side of the cataract.

We took this all in without photographing and finally, after reaching the bottom, pulled out our cameras and began to examine specific spots.  I focused my initial attention on some clusters of color in the trees below the falls.

Autumn Intimate, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

Autumn Intimate, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

Autumn Color, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

I’ve never been a particular fan of photographing Bond Falls head on, including the entire waterfall; I’ve simply never found a composition that I found pleasing and this experience was no different, but I did pull out the telephoto lens from the downstream bridge and zoomed in on a couple of tight frames that I found pleasing.

Bond Falls, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

Part of the reason why I’ve never been enamored of full shots of Bond is the same reason why I think it makes such a terrific sectional waterfall to photograph:  Bond Falls flows over a concave rocky outcropping, spreading over and around the rock like a hand fan opening.  Besides, there’s no way to photograph the entire subject without including the staircase, which is about as photogenic as a rusty hubcap.  In my view, Bond Falls is a subject best revealed in bits and pieces.

Bond Falls, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

I eventually made my way back to the staircase that sits astride the side of the waterfall.  The staircase itself may be an eyesore, but there’s a platform on that staircase that provides a cross-sectional view of Bond Falls that I’ve always found captivating and, on this occasion, I had decent color in the background, something that had not been in evidence on my previous visits.  I hastened to take advantage of the near perfect conditions to capture an image I’d always hoped to see on my previous visits but never did.

The area around Bond Falls isn’t a phenomenal color location, due to the collection of trees in the immediate vicinity, but it’s not terrible either and on this visit, the foliage was much farther along than it had been on any of my previous three trips to the spot.

Bond Falls, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

This was the only time on the entire trip that I felt a bit uncomfortable, due to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.  When we arrived at Bond Falls a fair number of people was already present at the site and the crowd only grew in size during our time there.  Some of these people were…how shall I put this…not acting responsibly under the circumstances.  Social distancing was not always being observed, to put it mildly.  For instance, while I was on the platform, capturing the above image, someone else–sans mask–moved right next to me to shoot the waterfall using his cellphone.  I moved aside, to the extent that I could–I straddled the far side of my tripod and leaned against a railing–until this individual was done.  He seemed completely oblivious to what was going on.

The narrow staircase that I mentioned, which is the only way to get from the area above Bond Falls to the area below, is only wide enough for someone to go down, or go up, not both.  But a huge queue formed on both ends of the staircase, with people, in some instances, pressing together.  At one point, as a line formed at the bottom of the staircase, I saw a woman literally push her way to the front of the line and start ascending the staircase while a group of people was already in the midst of descending, creating a massive logjam.  I have no idea what this woman thought she was doing.  She had no business cutting in front of the line at the bottom of the stairs and there was no way for her to get past the group heading down.  Eventually, someone backed up and it was possible for traffic to move again, but the whole scene was discomforting.

Eventually I descended from the platform, after the cattle drive was over, and took a closer look at a scene that drew some commentary when I first posted an image from the Bond Falls area a couple of blog entries ago.  At the bottom of the waterfall, I had noticed an intimate scene where a straggling cascade, separated from the main body of Bond Falls, rolled through a small crevice, with a lone branch of bright red-orange maple leaves overhanging the stream.  I told Jason that I was going to take another look at this spot before returning to the top of the falls, and this was my opportunity.

I sized the scene up:  there were two problems, one fairly readily solvable, the other not so.  The first issue was that composing this scene in the manner that appealed to me introduced an inherent depth of field problem:  the focal length necessary to frame the image in the desired manner made it impossible to get everything in sharp focus.  This was remedied by implementing a focus stack.  The second problem?  Though this was a virtually windless day, a breeze was being created by the moving water itself, which meant that some of the leaves on the aforementioned overhanging branch kept moving.  It was pretty dark in this area and even if I could achieve a shutter speed that would freeze the moving leaves, it wouldn’t allow me to capture the water at the relatively slow shutter speed that I preferred.  Besides, given the need to produce a stack, there was no way that all of the leaves were going to remain stationary for the entire time necessary to obtain multiple frames.

I set up and watched these leaves pretty carefully.  Most of them would hold still for a moment, but a few simply would not.  And, remember–I needed to fire off multiple frames (three, to be exact) to get everything in focus.  There was absolutely no way to get all of these frames sharp under these circumstances.  As a result, I almost didn’t bother photographing the scene at all, but ultimately I decided that, since I’d already gotten set up, I’d go ahead and see if I could do anything about the sharpness problem in post-processing.  I wasn’t particularly optimistic regarding the outcome, but in the end, I was amazed how much I like the final product, which appears below.

Ontonagon River Intimate, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

After finishing at this spot, and finding the staircase clear, I moved back above the falls and started to carefully examine the many potential images defined by the upstream Ontonagon River cascades.

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

Fortunately, while a steady stream of visitors passed by this area of the site, everyone stayed well clear of my position, whenever and wherever I was photographing.

Ontonagon River, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

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

Ontonagon River, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

We were at Bond Falls for the better part of two hours, I’d estimate, and then we made our way east, and north.  We were driving in separate vehicles, and at some point on the drive back toward M-28, the main east-west artery in this part of the UP, I lost Jason, who’d been following me.  I figured he’d found something of interest and had stopped to photograph, but since he knew our next destination, I just continued to drive along…until I found a spot that I found attractive and stopped.

It was another location in the Ottawa National Forest, with a kaleidoscope of fall color in the midst of a mature pine forest.  I pulled off to the side of the road, sized the scene up and found a number of compositions that I found appealing.

Autumn Intimate, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

Color Amid Pines, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

Color Amid Pines, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

Autumn Road, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

Color Amid Pines, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

I even took the time to put together the frames for a stitched panorama, which was a viable option on this occasion due to the dead calm conditions.

Autumn Intimate Panorama, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

Jason caught up to me just as I was finishing up at this spot and we resumed our drive to our next destination:  Canyon Falls, near the small town of Alberta, about 45 minutes to the northeast.  I’ll detail that experience, and our last stop of the day, the Dead River Falls area just north of Marquette, next time.


  1. I think the Bond Falls Intimate came out very nice, Kerry! Probably the best of this group of images, in my opinion. Looking forward to reading on …….

    • Thanks, Andy!

  2. You have caught the autumn colour at its peak. Love how the green maple leaves on the side of the road lead you onto the road and into the depth of the image. Always enjoy the intimate shots of waterfalls, especially the first one in this series.

    • Thanks, Jane!

  3. Beautiful – those waterfalls especially! ❤

    • Thanks very much!

  4. Thanks for the explanation re the Ontonagon River photo. I think I can follow how you would handle the depth of field issue, but not clear regarding a shutter speed fast enough to freeze (or freeze as much as was possible) the leaves while maintaining the blurring in the water. I’m going to review the focus stacking post.

    • I didn’t really explain what I did. Re the gap between what would have been necessary to freeze the leaves but deal with the water blurring, had stacking not been necessary, I likely would have fired off two frames, one to freeze the leaves, the other to obtain the silky water look and hand blended them. That would have been a tricky bit of post processing work, but doable with some time and care. But that was out because a stack was necessary.

      So what did I do? In the end, most of the leaves were sharp–since they weren’t being impacted by the “breeze” coming from the moving water. For the others…some I was able to keep sharp by timing the shutter properly and relying on a specific set of stacking algorithms available in Helicon Focus. (The specifics are too arcane for this venue; I can explain them by email if you like.) For the leaves I couldn’t render as sharp? Well, I cloned a few small ones that I found particularly objectionable out of the final image. And for the others, leaves that were very close to the water, I just left alone, content with the notion that sometimes objects in or very near moving water move and are impossible to render sharp and it never seems to bother me (or anyone else) when they’re left alone.

      An imperfect answer, admittedly, but there it is.

      • So the primary concern was the need for focus stacking for depth of field and the leaves were sufficiently handled in the images that make up the stack with a little tweaking in post processing…regardless of the methods, it is absolutely one of my all time favorite images in your portfolio.

        • Thanks and, yes, that’s about the size of it. I created the stack, which included some blur in some of the leaves.

          One of the nice features of Helicon Focus is the retouching module which essentially allows you to select certain parts of the final merged stack from one of the images. So if part of the frame is sharp in one of the shots, it’s possible to manually brush it into the final product, even if there’s ghosting/blur in the automated product. (This feature is not accessible in the “Lite” version of Helicon Focus, but in the “Pro” version it is. I’d held a lifetime license to the lite version for years but this summer I upgraded that license to the pro version of the software, specifically to access this feature. I used it a number of times, to great effect, when editing the UP images and in time I’ll regenerate some old stacks from scratch and make use of it, and I’ll surely use it again in the future. Access to this feature has already effectively paid for the upgrade.

  5. Beautiful Pictures of Michigan!!

  6. Definitely an amazing blog 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  7. Beautiful shots! I love the monochrome long exposure! 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  8. […] left off my narrative of the first day in the UP with a description of photographing in the Ottawa National Forest, a bit to the east of […]

  9. […] described in a recent entry, we visited the Bond Falls area in the UP early on the first day in the Upper Peninsula.  When I […]

  10. […] the first day in the UP you’d think that Jason and I would have had our fill of waterfalls.  But the […]

  11. […] 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 […]

  12. Another well written post! Thank you for sharing! – Mike

  13. […] 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, […]

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