Posted by: kerryl29 | April 11, 2022

The Story Behind the Image(s): Laughing Whitefish Falls

I have photographed in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the fall at least seven different times over the past 20 years and every time I’ve made the trip I’ve visited Laughing Whitefish Falls, Located about 30 miles west of Munising and 20 miles southeast of Marquette, the waterfall–a “slide” style that drops a total of about 100 feet–can be reached via an easy hike of roughly 1.25 miles (round trip) through an old growth forest of hemlock and white pine.

I’ve always spent the bulk of my time at Laughing Whitefish Falls photographing at the top of the waterfall. The gorge that the waterfall–on the aptly named Laughing Whitefish River–flows through is quite nice and, with a bit of care, can be photographed from the initial spill point, by navigating alongside a wooden observation platform and carefully setting up right next to it. (A composition can be obtained from the platform, but I like the perspective closer to the spill much better.)

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

While at the site, I’ve also typically spent time photographing the river rapids immediately above the waterfall. Tannins in the water produce a brownish/reddish tinge to most of the rivers and creeks in the northern part of the UP and the Laughing Whitefish River is no exception.

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

A lengthy wooden staircase descends from the top of the waterfall all the way to the base and, without fail, I make the trip down on every visit, checking the shooting options from multiple spots along the staircase. Despite my diligence, I never produced any photographs from any of the staircase locations prior to my last visit.

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but on my most recent foray to Laughing Whitefish Falls in early October, 2020, I made the trip down again the staircase yet again. I suppose I keep thinking that, at some point, I’ll spot something I’ve missed previously.

Autumn is usually a relatively dry period in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan but this particular fall there had been a lot of rain and the waterfalls–including, but not limited to, Laughing Whitefish–were experiencing especially strong water flow. And that, it turned out, was the difference maker as I ended up finding several locations on the staircase I found compelling, beginning with a spot on a landing roughly 20 feet below the top of the falls. From this particular roost, the waterfall’s slide down the gorge reminded me of a train on a bride’s wedding dress.

Laughing Whitefish Falls, Laughing Whitefish Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

I was particularly surprised that I found something appealing at the bottom of the platform. The copious precipitation led to the development of a swirling pool at the bottom of the spillway. The slowly rotating whitewater was producing all sorts of interesting patterns, which I felt were best revealed in monochrome. The lower part of the gorge, unlike the rim, isn’t particularly colorful, with only the fallen leaves providing something to offset the nearly black rock and the white water. In this case, I felt that the color was more of a distraction than a complement; hence the black and white treatment.

Laughing Whitefish Falls Black & White, Laughing Whitefish State Scenic Site, Michigan

The moral of the story? Even when you think you know everything about a subject or location, based on direct, personal experience, it may be worth testing that assumption by taking yet another look. An unanticipated circumstance may produce a significant change.

It may not be the easiest thing in the world to see a familiar scene with fresh eyes, but with a bit of awareness you may be able see your subject in a new light, literal or figurative.



  1. Great pictures. As always enjoyed the narrative that went with them.

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Kerry,
    Enjoyed your post, and agree completely about always exploring options even at familiar locations. The way we “see” evolves over time, and conditions can change, so it never pays to take anything for granted. Nice catch with the little whirlpool!

  3. The swirling pool is simply captivating. What was your shutter speed for this one, please?

    • Thanks, Gary.

      I experimented with several shutter speeds but settled on 1/6 sec.

  4. I love waterfalls at any speed. 😉

  5. I love your explanation as to why you chose black & white for the last picture. It definitely shows off the patterns in the scene.

    • Thanks very much!

  6. Joy full of love 💘

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