Posted by: kerryl29 | December 14, 2020

The UP: Day of Waterfalls

After the first day in the UP you’d think that Jason and I would have had our fill of waterfalls.  But the Uppper Peninsula of Michigan is so filled with waterfalls, that it’s virtually impossible to overdo them, particularly if the weather conditions are cooperative.  As mentioned in a previous installment, there had been a great deal of rain in the UP during the week that preceded our arrival, which meant that the waterfalls were all flowing quite nicely, even if it had been a few days since there had been any precipitation.  The weather forecast was for partly to mostly cloudy until very late in the afternoon, with breezy (15-25 MPH) conditions.  The cloud situation was fine; the wind was a potential problem.

Of the waterfalls on our list, we decided to hit the locations near Munising first, being low-hanging fruit given their proximity to our base, and then work our way to western Alger County as the day moved along.  (I had been to all of the locations on the day’s itinerary in the past–many of them multiple times, but Jason hadn’t been to any of them.)  Wagner Falls, virtually walking distance from my motel, was our first stop.

Wagner Falls, located just to the southeast of Munising proper, is a Michigan state scenic site, with a small parking area and a trail of perhaps 1/2 mile, most of it a boardwalk, that leads to a viewing platform from which a perfectly fine image of the waterfall can be obtained.  I hoped that the relative shelter of this shallow canyon might provide some protection from the wind, and that turned out to be the case.  The flow of the falls–always pretty good, even in relatively dry conditions–was very nice on this day, but having photographed Wagner from the viewing platform a number of times over the years, I was anxious to try something different.  While Jason set up on the platform, I climbed down from the boardwalk into the stream bed, out of his shot, to investigate the options for photographing Wagner Falls from creek level.

Wagner Falls, Wagner Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

Once again, the advantage of having waterproof footwear was made apparent, as both of these images were made while standing in Wagner Creek

Wagner Falls, Wagner Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

When I was done in the creek itself, Jason and I switched places and, for something to do, I made the requisite image from the platform.

Wagner Falls, Wagner Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

Before we left the parking area, I suggested that we walk across M-94 and make a quick image of Alger Falls, which is visible right from the side of the road.  There aren’t many compositional options to choose from with Alger Falls, but the color in the immediate area is often pretty good and it’s so accessible it seemed silly not to have a look.

Alger Falls, Alger County, Michigan

I put a quick set of panorama images together for stitching as well.

Alger Falls Panorama, Alger County, Michigan

When we were done at Wagner/Alger Falls we made our way to Munising Falls, a few miles distant, located at the extreme western edge of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Munising Falls is located in a good-sized canyon and, again, was pretty well protected from the now copious wind.  There are a number of places inside the canyon–reached by a simple quarter-mile long trail–to photograph Munising Falls.  I’ve investigated all of them over the years; the most interesting, by far in my view, is a a high platform to the right of the falls.

Munising Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

On this day, the only issue with this spot was dealing with the breeze.  It was mostly stifled in the canyon, but there was at least some foliage movement the vast majority of the time, and since I wanted to include the overhanging branches in the foreground, that meant exercising enough patience to wait for a lull.  Making matters worse, the focal length necessary for these images was sufficiently long to necessitate a focus stacking approach to ensure sharpness throughout the frame…and that meant needing even longer spells of calm to properly execute the process.

Munising Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Fall color in the canyon containing Munising Falls is notoriously late-turning and relentlessly yellow.

Munising Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I was taken with one intimate shot of trees–sans waterfall–in the canyon and, even though color hadn’t developed all that much, I decided to produce the image anyway.

Trees Intimate, Munising Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Having finished at Munising Falls we made the extremely short trip to the plot of land, owned and managed by the Michigan Nature Association, that includes both Memorial and Tannery Falls.  I visited this area for the first time in 2013, when things were almost entirely dry.  These waterfalls don’t usually flow unless there’s been recent rain, so I was hopeful we’d see something worthwhile.

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

The problem was that the clouds were thinning at this point and the wind was a constant issue.  I managed to obtain one image of Memorial, which I converted to black and white.  We checked out Tannery, which I actually found more interesting, but between the wind and the light was utterly unshootable.  I made plans to return to this area before the end of the week in the hopes of photographing Tannery Falls.

It was early afternoon at this point and we had two more waterfalls we wanted to photograph–Au Train Falls, about 20 minutes west of Munising; and Laughing Whitefish Falls, about 40 minutes west of Munising.  While not exactly on the same route from the Munising area, some time can be saved by hitting Au Train Falls first, so that’s what we did.

Au Train Falls is on the Au Train River, about 10 miles south of Lake Superior.  The falls area–which is really quite attractive–is impacted dramatically by a dam just upriver from the two sets of waterfalls that make up Au Train Falls.  A power company controls the dam and, by extension, how much water is sent though to the waterfalls.  I have seen Au Train flowing pretty nicely and I’ve also seen it bone dry; there’s no way to know in advance what you’ll get at Au Train Falls on any given day, so you have to go there and check it out.  And that’s what we did; I was quite pleased to see a decent amount of water flowing over the falls.  I’ve been to Au Train Falls every year I’ve visited the UP and this was the second best flow I’ve ever seen.

With waterproof footwear (again!), it’s possible to easily explore the entire river bed immediately below the lower falls.  That’s what I’d told Jason, well in advance, so we were both prepared.

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

It’s possible to set up just about anywhere along this stretch of river, so the number of compositions is limited only by one’s imagination and creativity.  Thus, when there’s a decent flow of water, this is one of the best “working the scene” spots, I’ve ever visited, and probably the best such waterfall location.

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

We did have some obstacles to overcome.  The wind here was almost constantly a problem.  One way to deal with it was to omit active foliage from compositions, but patience also paid off.  As breezy as it was, lulls were pretty much always forthcoming by waiting long enough.

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

The sun was also an issue.  It was genuinely partly cloudy at this point of the day and to obtain the even light necessary to photograph the scene the way we wanted, we needed clouds blocking direct sunlight.  Fortunately, one bank after the other blew in so, even when the sun came out, we could confidently anticipate that within five minutes (at the longest) we’d have soft light again.

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Although a few people straggled by while we were on site, none descended into the river and they didn’t inhibit us much, though we did “get out of the way” for a few people who were trying to photograph the walls from the river bank with their phones.

Au Train River Rapids Black & White, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train River Rapids, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

We were on site for a couple of hours all told, but finally wrapped up and moved on to our last waterfall target of the day, Laughing Whitefish Falls.  It was mid-afternoon when we got there and there were plenty of cars in the parking area when we arrived but masses of people were returning to the lot as we hiked toward the falls and there weren’t all that many people to deal with after we traversed the easy mile-long trail that ends at the top of waterfall.  We surveyed the scene; I pointed out some of the potential tighter shots of the rapids above the waterfall that I’ve discovered over the years.

Laughing Whitefish Falls is a “slide” style waterfall, rather than a sheer drop (such as Munising Falls, pictured above).  This instance represented, by far, the best flow I’d ever seen in a total of six visits to the location.

Every time I visit this site I take the long staircase down to the platform just above water level, eyeball the scene, usually take my camera out…and produce no images.  In fact, I’d never produced a usable image of Laughing Whitefish Falls from the bottom.  But this time, I thought it might be viable.

While we were waiting for a couple of photographers to finish up near the bottom of the platform–and maintaining social distance while doing so–two other people just brushed past us and horned their way in front of us on the platform.  I was really annoyed and decided to return most of the way up the staircase where there’s a spot where it’s possible (with modest difficulty) to descend from another platform onto a rock bench astride the middle portion of the waterfall.  I was convinced that the spot would yield a pleasing image, so that’s what I did.

Laughing Whitefish Falls, Laughing Whitefish State Scenic Site, Michigan

You can really appreciate the aforementioned “slide” style of Laughing Whitefish in this image.

When I’d finished at this spot, I went back down to the bottom of the staircase and the offending photographers were gone, this gave me an extensive opportunity to look things over.  I was particularly intrigued by the swirls in the pool of water below the flow, something I’d never seen before at this location.

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

After producing the above image from the lower platform I decided to descend to ground level, which took a bit of doing (it was about a five-foot drop), but I wanted to check out a different perspective, unavailable from the platform.

Laughing Whitefish Falls, Laughing Whitefish State Scenic Site, Michigan

We ascended the stairs, all the way back to the top of the waterfall, and began to thoroughly investigate the rapids and the very top of the falls, just before the initial plunge.

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

Laughing Whitefish River Rapids Black & White, Laughing Whitefish State Scenic Site, Michigan

My parting shot was a bit of a grab.  The skies were beginning to clear and I was facing an extreme dynamic range situation.  HDR was out, because there was still enough wind to make it effectively impossible to pull off a bracketed sequence of shots.  The question was, would my camera sensor’s dynamic range, along with my customized post processing technique for such situations, hold up?  I decided to find out.  I positioned my tripod very, very low to the ground, got down on my knees and fine-tuned the composition.  I wouldn’t know whether it would work out until weeks later when I worked with the image on the computer but in the end–while not exactly a photograph for the ages–I was able to make it work.

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

It was only a bit more than an hour before sunset when we returned to our vehicle and it was clearing up dramatically.  We decided to try to hit Miner’s Beach again for sunset to see what might develop.  We arrived just in time to find out.  I suggested that we ascend to my “secret spot,” on a rocky shelf beyond the Elliott Creek waterfall, a location I’ve never seen anyone photograph from unless they were with me.  There was just a smidge of color kissing the cloud bank to the west, complementing the gradient in the sky.  I spent my time experimenting with different shutter speeds and produced this modest sequence of images to cap the day’s photography.

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

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

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

Posted by: kerryl29 | December 7, 2020

The Story Behind the Image: Gorge Sunrise

In western New York State, the Genesee River runs through a deep gorge, occasionally referred to as “The Grand Canyon of the East.”  This is Letchworth State Park, headlined by three prominent, powerful waterfalls.  But there’s more to the park than the three big falls on the Genesee River.  The gorge itself can make for a pretty attractive subject, particularly when the conditions are just right.

In the spring, when the nights are sufficiently chilly, the air above the river reaches the dew point, producing tremendous amounts of fog and at the right time of the year–mid-May, in the spring–the sun rises at a spot that will backlight that fog at daybreak, as seen from a prominent point along the rim of the gorge on the west side of the river–a location very easily reached, if you know where to go.  I went in search of such a location while in the park one afternoon, the day before morning temperatures were forecast to drop into the mid-30s (F) under clear skies.  Knowing the approximate spot where the sun would rise at that time of the year, finding the appropriate shooting location wasn’t all that difficult.

I returned in the pitch dark the next morning; it was plenty chilly, but there was no wind to speak of, so it wasn’t too bad.  I relocated my spot and waited.  As the dawn light increased, I could see the fog filling the gorge below me.  Everything was coming together nicely; I simply had to wait for the sun to crest the ridges to the east.  Eventually that happened.  The sunlight began to tickle the leaves of the trees on the canyon’s ridges and, before long, started to light up the fog as well.  I had to be careful not to overexpose the scene; where the beams of light were hitting the fog directly it was very bright, but the shadow areas were extremely dark, making for a classic dynamic range problem.  Fortunately, my camera‘s sensor could handle it and a postprocessing technique that I’ve refined over the years provided significant downstream assistance.

Photographing into the sun can be a bit intimidating and, sometimes, the extreme contrast it often produces can be difficult to work with, but when everything comes together the end result can be spectacular.

I didn’t think about it when I was producing the image, but I think this one might work well in black and white so I’ll have to take a look at a monochrome conversion at some point.  Depending on the results, I may reveal it here in a future post.

Gorge Sunrise, Letchworth State Park, New York

Posted by: kerryl29 | November 30, 2020

The UP: The Hiawatha Story

The second day in the UP was the first that didn’t involve extensive mandatory travel and, as a result, was the initial opportunity we had to see what the areas in the immediate vicinity of Munising would hold.  As mentioned earlier, we had reason to be concerned that we’d missed peak color in the Hiawatha National Forest based on what had happened, weather-wise, in the Upper Peninsula a couple of weeks earlier.  The consecutive nights of hard freeze had kick started color change much earlier than usual throughout much of the UP and, based on previous experience, I feared that the Hiawatha had been one of the places so impacted.  On this morning, we’d find out for certain.

I suggested we hit Council Lake, a spot I’ve visited countless times over the years, for sunrise, and though it was still fairly dark when we arrived, I was pleased to see that the color looked pretty good.  There was just enough wind at daybreak to be a nuisance; reflections were only occasionally available.  But the light was pretty nice.

Fall Color Intimate, Council Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Council Lake Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

There is a kind of “arm” of Council Lake, to the left of the main shooting area, which is often more sheltered than the rest of the lake and this morning was not an exception to the general rule.

Council Lake Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Council Lake Intimate, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Council Lake Reflections, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Council Lake Reflections, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Every time I’m at Council Lake I take a short, mostly hidden, path that provided access to the area where a small outlet stream flows out of the lake to the south.  Years ago there was a small wooden footbridge located here, but that fell apart at least a decade ago and has never been rebuilt.  The outlet stream meanders off into a meadow south of Council Lake.  Every time I’m at this location I look at the meadow; prior to this year I’d only photographed there once, very briefly, on my very first visit to this spot back in 2002.  That proved to be a pointless exercise and I’d never clicked the shutter at the meadow again.  Until this year.  When I wandered back to the outlet stream on this morning I was treated–completely unexpectedly–to a very attractive sky.  At the main shooting location at Council Lake, the southern sky is hidden from view by a plethora of tall trees, so I had no idea what I’d find when I went back there.  It was a very lucky discovery on this occasion and I hastened to take advantage of it as soon as I went back there.

Council Lake Meadow, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Fortunately for me, this spot was even more sheltered than the arm of Council Lake, which was immediately behind my shooting position.  That produced some semblance of reflections in the stream and kept the tall grasses (and foliage) from blowing…most of the time.  Fortunately for me, lulls were the rule rather than the exception.

Council Lake Meadow, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

When I returned to the main Council Lake shooting area, Jason was standing at least knee deep in the water, hoping that the wind at this spot (which was not well-sheltered) would ease so he could photograph a particular composition that included numerous reeds in the water that were blowing all over the place.  I told him that, based on my experience in this immediate area, I was going to take the very short drive (less than 1/2 mile) over to nearby Red Jack Lake because it was often calm there in the morning when it was windy at Council.  We’d planned to check Red Jack anyway, given its proximity to Council, and I wanted to get a head start.  We were driving separate vehicles at this point so I told him that I was heading over there and I’d wait for him at Red Jack; there was no need to hurry.

I was at Red Jack–which has only one easily accessible shooting location, where the boat launch is located–in a couple of minutes and saw immediately that my assumption was correct:  the lake surface was glass-like.  The color, I was sorry to see, was indeed past peak.  Red Jack Lake is one of the earlier turning lakes in the Hiawatha, so this wasn’t an entirely shocking revelation, but it was disappointing as it suggested that many other spots that I normally visit in the forest would also be picked over.

Still, with the light still nice and the lake calm, I figured it would be worth a few images this morning.  Besides, the color in one corner of the lake’s alcove, to the right of my shooting position, was still nice.  As I was setting up, I glanced out at the lake and saw that a rainbow had formed.  I rushed to ready my equipment so I could capture the rainbow before it started to fade.

Red Jack Lake Rainbow, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Red Jack Lake Rainbow, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

The rainbow faded and disappeared compleely after a minute or two and I focused on the more traditional Red Jack compositions. Those included ultra wide scenes, given the interesting sky, and tighter “across the lake” images, using a telephoto lens.

Red Jack Lake Reflections, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Red Jack Lake Alcove, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Red Jack Lake Reflections, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Red Jack Lake Reflections, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Red Jack Lake Reflections, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Red Jack Lake Intimate, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Red Jack Lake Intimate, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

We made the trek to Halfmoon Lake next, though I was all but convinced that it would prove to be a waste of time and, sadly, I was right.  The sun was now out full throttle–it was virtually clear at this stage–the wind was a problem and, worst of all, the entire area around Halfmoon was pretty badly picked over.  I’d estimate that the area had peaked a good four or five days earlier.  Driving around the Hiawatha on the way to and from Halfmoon had confirmed our concerns; the Hiawatha had already seen its best this season.  Now we had to hope that Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, much closer to the warming influence of Lake Superior and, therefore, always much later to change in my experience, would be able to sustain us for the duration of the week.  I was optimistic that it would, but we spent the rest of the day verifying that.

The weather for most of the rest of the day really wasn’t particularly conducive to photography, though we did a bit anyway.  It was almost completely sunny and quite breezy as we headed into Pictured Rocks.  After taking Jason to see the one trick pony that is Miners Castle, we moved east and checked out a few locations for possible future shooting.  The good news was that some areas we passed through were nearing peak but others were still mostly green.  We definitely weren’t too late for peak color in Pictured Rocks.  (Good thing, as there was another very cold night in our immediate future.)

We actually stopped and did a tiny bit of photography in the Kingston Plains area, technically just outside Pictured Rocks, but directly accessible from H-58, the road that runs trough the Lakeshore from west to east.  I’ve driven past this area many times but had never photographed there.  It’s an area of an old, logged White Pine Forest with many remaining stumps that is now protected and has a very different look and feel from the other areas in the UP.

Kingston Plains, Lake Superior State Forest, Michigan

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

We took a look at the White Birch Forest in the area near the Twelvemile Beach Campground.  The White Birch Forest is a notoriously late-turning area (I’d only seen it at peak once before), and it was still overwhelmingly green on our scouting session.   This wouldn’t be the case for long, however, as I’ll detail in a later post.

We moved along to the Hurricane River area and checked it out.  Again, the light was mostly awful, but we managed to find a few spots that were in open shade and broke out the cameras to focus on intimate scenes and reflections.

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

Hurricane River Reflections, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hurricane River Reflections, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The scouting session had been worthwhile, even if not all that productive in terms of actual photography.  We’d found gotten a broad sense of how far along things were in Pictured Rocks and had a direct look at a number of specific locations, which would be very handy for planning later in the week.

We’d decided to end the day back at Miners Beach, and so we did.  This is one of the nicest sunset locations in Pictured Rocks as there’s a tailor-made scene for pre-sunset, and a number of good locations to photograph at sunset.

The pre-sunset location is Elliott Creek, where a small waterfall empties more or less directly into Lake Superior.  The scene has a very attractive rocky foreground.  It’s a fairly popular spot, as UP locations go, and we took turns with several other photographers who were waiting for the light.

With the wind out of the north on this day, there were waves rolling in to Miners Beach.

Elliot Creek at Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Elliot Creek at Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Elliot Creek at Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Elliot Creek at Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The sky was mostly clear, but there was just enough color to make things interesting after the sun went down, and I put together a couple of frames as parting shots for the day.

Miners Beach at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Miners Beach at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

It had been a long day, more productive for scouting than actual photography, but the time spent would pay off as the week moved on.

On several previous occasions on this blog I’ve discussed the subject of “The Shot” mentality and how it can lead to a kind of tunnel vision when out in the field.  That, with a serving of “previsualization” is what led to an entry I posted just last month.  In this most recent post, entitled “Looking for Images vs. Finding Them,” I discussed my attempt to avoid falling into a trap, during a trip to the North Woods during fall color season, of being creatively blinded by…well, fall color.  The larger point is the notion–or at least the hope–that the awareness of inherent biases can lead to their mitigation.

This was all wrapped up with a neat bow on one day of the trip, a day I will relate in detail later, in a chronological entry.  For now, I’ll limit the narrative to the relevant points.

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

There is a location in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore known as Grand Portal Point.  It’s a rocky spit of land that extends from the connected coastline some hundreds of yards into Lake Superior.  Rocky cliffs, 30-40 feet in height, with the lake’s waters lapping against and sculpting them, are topped with an assortment of deciduous and coniferous trees.  When the leaves change in the fall, the colors are quite attractive–as is the case just about everywhere at peak color in the North Woods.

Yosemite Valley in Fog from Tunnel View Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Grand Portal Point is located between Mosquito Beach (to its southwest) and Chapel Beach (to its northeast) on Pictured Rocks’ slanted Superior coastline.  It can be reached by a hike from the Chapel Basin trailhead by walking in a clockwise direction (via Mosquito Beach) or a counterclockwise direction (via Chapel Beach), but is best viewed from the latter (i.e. the Chapel Beach area).  The hike from either direction is roughly equivalent in length–about 3 1/2 miles one way–and of approximately equal strenuousness.  It’s a fairly long hike (seven miles round trip), but not particularly difficult; the trails are in generally good shape and gradually descend a few hundred feet from their origin to beach level.

Ten Peaks at Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Prior to the trip, when we were discussing possible locations to visit, Jason brought up Grand Portal Point on multiple locations.  Having been down to Chapel Beach, which as I said is the place to view the Point, before, I had an opinion.  It’s pretty nice.  Chapel Beach is a nice enough location itself.  But is it worth a special trip down there?  No; in my opinion, it’s not.   And I concluded as much when I wrote about this location in Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the ebook that Andy Richards and I published a few years ago.  Like most locations of this sort, the Point is best photographed in early or late light.  And getting down there (or back from there) in time for late or early light means a long, rather unpleasant hike in the pitch dark.  And, honestly, the Point and Chapel Beach aren’t really inherently more photogenic than any other beach in the area.

So, I wasn’t super-encouraging about going down to Chapel Beach, for the above reasons, which had little if any meaningful impact on Jason’s enthusiasm for doing so.  (And, of course, we did end up going there ultimately.)  This fixation puzzled me.  But then I remembered an image of Grand Portal Point that Jason had sent me the link to back in September and I realized that we were dealing with a version of a “pursuing the shot” phenomenon.

Bow River Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

The version of “The Shot” that I’m referring to is a subconscious variety.  It’s something I’ve fallen into the trap of doing myself.  Case in point:  before I made my first trip to the Canadian Rockies in 2014 I purchased copies of Darwin Wiggett’s ebook photo guides to the Canadian Rockies (which, parenthetically, appear to be no longer available).  There was an image (not pictured here, since it’s not an image I hold title to) in one of the guides, of the Bow River Outlet, that I found absolutely captivating.  I was apparently so taken by it that I shoehorned a visit to the location into what was a very tight itinerary when I was on the ground there.  And in the end, going to this location wasn’t a mistake.  (In fact, I went back to the spot when I returned to the Canadian Rockies the following year.)  But after I first visited this location, I came to realize that I’d done so because I was, subconsciously, chasing the shot from the ebook.

Bow River Outlet Stream, Banff National Park, Alberta

So it’s a bit of a trap, and I think that’s kind of the story of Grand Portal Point.  As was the case with the Bow River Outlet, it wasn’t a mistake to make the trek down to Chapel Beach, as I hope you’ll see when I get around to chronicling that particular adventure.  But both instances demonstrate what’s fraught about the process of “chasing the shot.”

Moraine Lake from the Rock Pile Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I think it’s a good idea to ask yourself, on a regular basis, why it is that you’re so keen to photograph at a particular location, and be brutally honest about answering that question.  For my money, the answer you’re looking for is something akin to:  “I think this area has the potential for a lot of interesting photographic opportunities.”  A place to explore.  A place to work.  A place filled with hidden gems, just waiting to be discovered.

I believe the answer you shouldn’t hope to find is “I saw a great photo from that spot.”  If that’s all you’ve got, you might want to rethink whether it’s worth the time and effort.  It might be worth it…but if you can’t get from “great photo” to “great opportunities,” it may not be a location you want to place near the top of your priority list.

Mule Ears at Sunrise, Mule Ears Viewpoint, Big Bend National Park, Texas

As 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 visited this location for the first time, I photographed “The Z,” an area of rapids in the Ontonagon River above the falls that resembles the shape of the letter the feature is named for.  On that day–early on a sunny morning–the reflections in the water above the cascade were captivating.  On this cloudy day, there were no colorful reflections, but I deliberately photographed The Z nonetheless, fully intending to convert the image to black and white.

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

The shape of The Z–what makes The Z the Z–is more evident without the distraction of color.  Whether that makes it better or not is in the eye of the beholder, but the point is I didn’t go to this location predetermined to look for a particular shot; I went (wait for it) in search of photographic opportunities.  And wonder of wonders, I found some.

Posted by: kerryl29 | November 16, 2020

The UP: Heading East, Part II

I 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 Bond Falls.  It was roughly midday at that point, and we were about 45 minutes away from our next planned stop:  Canyon Falls Roadside Park, near the tiny town of Alberta, Michigan.  I’d photographed at this site once before, briefly, in 2003 and had been back on a scouting expedition in 2006 on a windy, blue sky day.

I’ve long felt that this site doesn’t receive the attention it deserves.  Here, the Sturgeon River flows through a narrow canyon at the top of which the short but powerful Canyon Falls flows.  I think most people who visit this location take the short walk down to the falls…glance at it for a minute or two, then turn around and head back to their vehicles.  If so, they’re missing a great deal.  I’ve always felt that the river, both above and below the falls, holds a plethora of photographic opportunities for anyone who bothers to look for them.  Given the near perfect conditions on this day–soft light and no wind, as outlined in the previous post–I would put those assumptions to the test.  How much could this location yield?

Jason and I wandered along the upstream rapids and we both confirmed my thoughts: there were lots of photogenic subjects here.  We decided to explore them more thoroughly on the hike out.  Just before we made it to the falls overlook I mentioned to Jason that we should be certain to check a few downstream spots as well.  What I remembered from my scouting session, 14 years earlier, was that there were a lot of interesting spots below the falls as well.

But we started at Canyon Falls itself.  As noted, Canyon Falls is a gusher under any circumstances, but it was really flowing on this day, following a week of fairly consistent precipitation.

Canyon Falls, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

A rocky ledge provides the best view of the waterfall, and I hastened to make the leaf-strewn platform my foreground.

Canyon Falls, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

With a limited amount of fall color near Canyon Falls it’s best to rely on other means to bring the site to life.

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

We then wandered downstream and it wasn’t long before we found several interesting locations to work.

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

At this spot in the park, the river is flowing through a fairly deep, narrow canyon, so there’s always something of an aerial perspective accessible; it’s difficult bordering on impossible to descend all the way to river level.

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Nevertheless, numerous vantage points of the canyon are available and compositions are only limited only by one’s vision.

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Gradually we made our way back upstream, past Canyon Falls, to the part of the river that runs through a broader plain prior to entering the canyon.  We worked the site back towards the parking area, leaving few stones unturned…or, at the very least, uninvestigated.

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

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

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

As we were hiking out, I spotted another scene that caught my eye.  We’d already packed everything up, as we thought we were done at this site, and I really debated whether I wanted to bother unpacking and setting up again, particularly since I wasn’t even certain that there was a shot to be had.  But then I remembered what I have termed the Bird-in-the-Hand Theory of Photography and decided to go ahead with it.  The resulting image is below.

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

This sort of experience (should I bother?) turned out to be a recurring theme on this trip, one I will revisit in a dedicated post at some point.

It was around 4 PM by the time we wrapped up at Canyon Falls.  We really only had time for one more location that day, given that we were still a good two hours drive from Munising and there were only about three hours of daylight remaining.  I suggested that we head to the Dead River Falls area, just a bit north of Marquette.  This is a location I’d never been to and wasn’t sure we’d have another opportunity to visit on this trip.  We had to drive right past Marquette on the way to Munising, so I suggested that we make the most of the time we had.  It was more than an hour from Canyon Falls to Dead River Falls and we pulled into the parking area after 5 PM.  We had fewer than two hours to see what we could find.

This is a fairly remote, heavily wooded area with what amounts to an informal trail that meanders upstream along the Dead River.  We made our way into the woods as quickly as possible and rapidly found a scene worth photographing.

Dead River Falls, Marquette County, Michigan

We discovered that Dead River Falls is really a series of cataracts on the Dead River.  Getting from one spot to another was challenging, because the area was extremely muddy in places and hiking the “trail” is a bit of a slog, given that a stream has to be crossed, embankments have to traversed and spots have to be found from which to photograph the scenes.  It was a bit of a challenge in every respect.

Dead River Falls, Marquette County, Michigan

Parts of the area can only be photographed from bluff tops; in other instances, river level can be reached.

Dead River Falls, Marquette County, Michigan

Dead River Falls, Marquette County, Michigan

Shortly before dark, we reached an area of cascades that we could approach.  Given that we were almost out of light, I concluded that this would be the final series of images of the day.  One of these is below.

Dead River Falls, Marquette County, Michigan

We avoided a bit of a mishap, just as we were preparing to leave, when Jason picked up one of his bags without realizing that it hadn’t been zipped closed.  A camera body and a lens (among other things) both rolled out and one took a bit of a tumble, but there was no lasting damage.  By the time everything had been returned to the bag and secured, it was dark.  I put on my headlamp.  We hadn’t hiked very far–probably only a half mile or so from the trailhead, perhaps a bit more–but, as I mentioned earlier, the “trail” was more a suggestion than anything else.  We followed it as best we could.  Navigating the stream crossing in the dark was something of a challenge, but we managed to do it without any real issues.  But it was pitch dark as we approached what we thought was the trailhead.  We remembered that there was roughly a 200-foot stretch of trail that brought us out of the woods that intersected at a right angle with the route we were hiking, but…did I mention that it was pitch dark?  And that the trail wasn’t really marked in any sense?  Yes?

So that’s how we found ourselves perched on a ledge above the rushing river (we could tell the river was below us because we could hear it; we certainly couldn’t see it).  A steep embankment was on the other side of us.  We were sure that the trailhead was somewhere on the other side of that embankment.  We had the choice of going back the way we came and hoping we found the access point to the trailhead or climbing the embankment…and hoping we could find the access point to the trailhead.   I did mention that it was pitch dark, right?  Yes.

Jason suggested we climb the embankment.  I “looked” up and saw what my headlamp allowed me to see–tree trunks, roots, bushes, rocks–and agreed.  It wouldn’t necessarily be the easiest way out, but it would be the most direct and the fastest.  So we climbed…got to the top of the embankment with less trouble than might have been expected given that we were hauling lots of equipment, including tripods…and saw fairly readily that it had been the right decision, because we were able to climb out of the woods and see a light illuminating the readily accessible trail back to the parking area.  All’s well that ends well.

It was another hour before we reached Munising, so unfortunately we didn’t have time to do any scouting in the area for the following morning.  I suggested that we plan to head into the Hiawatha National Forest–I had recommended locations for sunrise and the immediate aftermath, based on my experience in the area–and see how thing looked there.  The next day would be the linchpin for planning the rest of the week.

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.

As I mentioned in the previous post, and highlighted in the UP introduction entry prior to that, I spent part of a day before hitting the Upper Peninsula in northern Wisconsin, specifically in the Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest, just a bit south of the border with the UP.  I had driven though this area several times in the decade of the 2000s on my way to the Upper Peninsula, but had never photographed there or really spent any time looking around.  I hoped to rectify that oversight, in a limited way given how little time I had.

This part of Wisconsin has one of the densest–if not the densest–concentrations of lakes anywhere in the United States and I hoped that would lead to some interesting image making opportunities.  And it did.

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

Jag Lake Black & White, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Leaves in Water, North Trout Lake, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

I arrived in northern Wisconsin late in the morning of October 2 after leaving the Chicago area at 4:30 AM.  With nothing more than a passing familiarity with the region, I kind of wandered around aimlessly, using the network of paved county roads that wind around the many bodies of water as a rough guide.

Pine Forest Color, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Autumn Splendor, Jag Lake, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Birch Trio, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

The weather was not much of an asset.  The skies were cloudy almost all day long–there wasn’t even a hint of a sunset, for instance–and that was fine, but it was cold; the temperature rarely crept above 40 degrees (F) and there was on-and-off precipitation, mostly in the form of light rain but occasional sleet and even wet snow was in evidence as well.  There was a pesky wind blowing much of the time, too, unfortunately.  Still, I had seven or eight hours of daylight to explore and I tried to make the most of it.

Color Remnants, Mabel Lake, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Birch Cathedral, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Autumn Dress, South Trout Lake, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

The color in this part of Wisconsin, when I was there, was pretty good, but not great.  Some areas seemed past peak already, but others had scarcely begun to turn.  This was to prove an odd foreshadowing of my time in the UP itself, where similar disjointed color circumstances were also evident.

Cathedral Point, Trout Lake, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Manitowish River, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Nichols Lake Reflections, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

With nothing like a formal itinerary or priority list, I mostly just drove around and stopped when I saw something interesting.  On several occasions I parked my car and wandered around on foot.  I did have notes on a few locations that I wanted to check out, but these were little more than glorified scouting opportunities, as I really didn’t know what I was looking for beyond the generic something-that would-catch-my-eye.

Between the Conifers, South Trout Lake, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Autumn Aerial, Cathedral Point, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Nichols Lake, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

One of the things I noticed fairly early on was that this forest–unlike what I’m used to seeing in the Hiawatha National Forest in the UP–has a lot of oak, much more than I expect to see in the North Woods, which is dominated by maple, birch and beech.  All three of those tree species were evident in this part of Wisconsin, but there was plenty of oak as well.  This made for an interesting mix of colors and leaf shapes but it also has the effect of dulling the colors a bit as oaks generally aren’t as bright and vibrant in fall as the other mentioned trees.

Nichols Lake, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Cathedral Point, Trout Lake, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Birch Reflections, Manitowish River, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

I also noted that the lakes here tend to be somewhat larger than those in the southern part of the Hiawatha, which means that they’re likely deeper and definitely more prone to rippling in even a light wind than smaller, often more sheltered, lakes and ponds.

One nice aspect of the time I had in the area was that I never saw anything that resembled a crowd anywhere.  Perhaps this was a function of it being a weekday (though a Friday); perhaps it was a function of the weather.  Maybe it was the pandemic.  Whatever the explanation, I had no objection to the lack of people around, and I often had locations entirely to myself and, regardless, never came within 20 feet of another person.

Jag Lake Reflections, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Cathedral Point, Trout Lake, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

When the day was over, as the late afternoon gloom settled slowly into genuine sundown darkness, I felt as though I had barely scratched the surface of what this region of Wisconsin had to offer and perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to more thoroughly explore the area, under better conditions, at some point in the future.

But now it was time for the main event: time in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula would commence the following morning.

Posted by: kerryl29 | October 26, 2020

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: Trip Planning Considerations

Planning for the trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was a bit more of a tortured exercise than has ordinarily been the case with my photo excursions, almost entirely because of SARS-CoV2.  In short, this is the first time I’ve made a photo trip during a pandemic.

The Back Story

Some time in the early part of September, I received an email from my friend Jason Templin.  Jason and I first met in April of 2006, at the Pigeon River confluence in the Greenbrier area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  After a brief discussion we discovered that we both frequented the same landscape photography forum on a nature photography website and we ended up photographing together for part of that day in Cades Cove.  Though we’ve kept in touch since then, we hadn’t photographed at the same time in the same place since that April day in the Smokies.  This was not due to a lack of trying.  We had planned a photo excursion to southern Utah in the fall of 2016 but I had to quash those plans a few months in advance due to some pressing family matters.  When I made a two-week trip to western Colorado in the fall of 2017, Jason–who resides in Colorado Springs–planned to join me for part of that time, but was unable to get away.

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

The email I received in September included some questions about the Upper Peninsula because Jason was planning to make it up there–or to northern Wisconsin, the specifics remained undefined at that point–during fall color season and was hoping I could provide some information about peak color timing and a few locations that he knew I was familiar with.  I hadn’t planned to go anywhere this fall, due to the pandemic; in fact, a long-planned return trip to Alaska in late August/early September had been cancelled months earlier.  But Jason’s inquiry made me think:  was it possible to safely take a photo trip at this time?  I hadn’t used my camera–literally not once–since I returned from Big Bend National Park in Texas, just a couple of weeks before the impact of the virus began to be felt in the United States, and the truth is that the idea of photographing again was incredibly enticing.  But was a trip a realistic option?  I was pretty doubtful.

Golden Forest, Chapel Basin, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

But I gave it some thought.  Flying was out of the question, but I wouldn’t need (or even want) to fly up to the UP; I’ve been there five times before and have always made the drive from the Chicago area.  But was it safe to stay in a motel?  And was it possible to stay safe during the days while up there?

Ontonagon River Intimate, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

Coronavirus Considerations

When I started thinking seriously about making the trip, I slowly concluded that it wasn’t an entirely crazy notion.  After all, the idea was to go up there and be outside as much as possible and to avoid other people as much as possible.  I realized that it would not only be theoretically doable, it would be likely that–with proper precautions–I would make less contact with others on a photo trip to the UP than I would in a normal week in the Chicago area.  Maybe this could happen.

Council Lake Meadow, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

I spoke to someone at the motel that I stayed at when I made my last trip to the Upper Peninsula, in October, 2013 to see how they were handling things given the COVID situation.  I was told that it was possible to secure a completely contact-free check-in/check out procedure.  And, even more importantly, they told me that members of the housekeeping staff were not permitted to enter rooms while guests were in residence on the property.  In short, no one would go into my room, other than myself, while I was staying there.  Given that this is an old motel-style property, there are no common areas to navigate to get to one’s room–you enter from and exit to the parking lot directly.

Chapel Creek, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I started putting the entire procedure through my head.  If I brought my own supplies–as is my wont–it might be possible to go up there and literally never come into direct contact with anyone.  Gas could be purchased right at the pump using a credit card (followed by a thorough hand sanitizing).  This might actually work!

Council Lake at Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

(Jason camped in the Hiawatha National Forest during the trip, which was, in some ways, almost certainly even safer than staying in a motel/hotel.  But that meant subjecting oneself to some pretty rough potential conditions.  Having been up to the UP at this time of the year five times previously, I know what kind of weather (rain, cold, wind…even snow, on occasions) can be experienced.  For someone (i.e. me) who doesn’t like to camp to begin with, I had no interest in taking that on.)

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

In practice, my theory of how things could work is pretty much how they played out.  I did stay for one night at a motel in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, due to a slight itinerary change, but was able to go in and out without contact as well.  I never so much as entered a place of business on the entire trip, other than to pick something up from the motel office in the UP.  When I did that, I found myself alone with a clerk, separated by a huge plexiglass installation.  I was in the office for less than two minutes and never made direct contact with anyone.  When Jason and I were in the same vehicle, which was the case most of the days we were there, we both wore masks and vented the vehicle by cracking the windows.  When in the field, we were rarely near others for any length of time and essentially completely avoided close contact with anyone, as I’ll detail in future posts.

Color Riot, White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

In short, it is/was possible to make a trip like this one and, with some care, utterly eliminate potentially high risk behavior.  Some planning, effort, awareness and common sense are all required, but it can be done.  The key is resisting the inevitable tendency to lower one’s guard.

Autumn Aerial, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Trip Challenges Other than the Virus

We were thrown some curves when carrying out this trip.  When I more or less invited myself to join Jason, it largely centered the itinerary once and for all on the Upper Peninsula, specifically many of the areas that I know well through my experience up there over the years.  While we discussed specific potential locations to visit at some length, deference was given to that experience, because I felt pretty confident that I would know which locations would work best depending on conditions on the ground at any given point in time.  I told Jason that, historically, the first full week of October is when peak color visits the Hiawatha National Forest, which was to be the primary location we planned to visit, though I made sure to mention that it’s impossible to know a month in advance when peak will take place; there are simply too many variables that can mess with timing, and I gave him copious details of my previous trips, some of which ran into these very timing issues.  I also mentioned that, if there was something that caused an early turn in the forest, we would have a built-in Plan B:  the areas around the Lake Superior shore always turn later than the Hiawatha, so if color was past peak in the forest, we should still see excellent color closer to the water.  With all of this in mind, Jason planned to drive from Colorado Springs to the Upper Midwest over the first weekend of October, arriving in the UP on Oct. 4 or 5.  I made plans to head up to Munising from the Chicago area on the 3rd, with the thought that I could scout the area that weekend, see where the color was and we could hit the ground running when he made it up there.

Miners Beach Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

In mid-September, we got wind of an impending hard freeze in much of the Upper Peninsula.  Word is that inland temperatures dropped into the mid-20s (F) for consecutive nights around September 14-15.  That is extremely early for a hard freeze of that sort up there, and, inevitably, it kick started the change in foliage color much sooner than is the norm.  Jason was following image posts on Instagram and we were starting to see consequential color change in some spots a full 10 days before the end of September.  For the record, I have never seen meaningful color change in the UP that early in the 18 years since I first went up there.  There was really nothing we could do other than continue to monitor the situation and hope for the best.

Splash of Red, White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The week prior to arrival saw the forecast for some rain on several days–nothing too heavy–and some wind, including a day with 20-30 MPH breezes.  This, I feared, could bring down leaves that had already turned.  Again, there wasn’t much for us to do, though Jason pushed his potential arrival up by a couple of days–it was as much flexibility as he had–and I scrambled to do something similar.  I couldn’t head all the way up to the UP any earlier than Oct. 3, but I could go most of the way up there, and decided to make it as far as northern Wisconsin on Oct. 2 and poke around there for part of one day.  The conditions would give me some insight as to what we might expect in the Hiawatha.  I made a quick reservation in Rhinelander, after talking to someone at a hotel there to make sure my COVID concerns were addressed.

Birch Alcove, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin

Very early on the morning of Oct. 2, I started the drive to northern Wisconsin, arriving there late in the AM on a chilly, threatening day.  I had been watching the color, from the moment the sun came up, and as I drove through central Wisconsin I started to see significant change when I reached Wausau.  Conditions appeared similar when I got to Rhinelander, about an hour further north, and I spent the remaining daylight hours meandering around the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest in Vilas County.  (I’ll detail that experience in a future post.)

Color Amid Pines, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

Jason met me in Rhinelander on the morning of Oct. 3 after a marathon drive from Colorado and we drove to the UP that morning, slowly working our way north and then east across the Upper Peninsula toward Munising, stopping to photograph at a number of spots along the way.  It was dark long before we got to Munising that evening and so we couldn’t scout the Hiawatha until the following morning.

Red & Yellow, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

As I feared, the Hiawatha was mostly–not entirely–past peak, as we discovered on the morning of October 4, but many other areas we had access to were not and, as things played out, we ended up experiencing excellent color for most of the week, largely by relying on the aforementioned Plan B.

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

The early turn wasn’t our only challenge.  While we were treated to a marvelous overcast/no wind day on our Oct. 3 drive in, much of the rest of our time in the UP–which extended until Oct. 9 for Jason and Oct. 10 for me–was accompanied by wind,–frequently of truly obnoxious speeds (pushing 25 MPH).  That was a challenge, but I was able to mitigate it a bit for us based on my familiarity with certain locations that were sheltered, depending on wind direction.  We also had a little bit more sunshine than I think either one of us would have preferred, but we did get at least some cloud cover for part of every day and, I think, we ended up managing to hit just about every spot on our short wish list.  (The extended wish list saw some material on the cutting room floor, unfortunately, given our limited time and the extreme distances involved in reaching many of these spots.)

Sunset, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The specifics will all be fleshed out in the day-by-day chronology and I’ll touch on some more thematic subjects, as is my habit , in the form of an occasional interruption post, as the chronicling of this trip unfolds.

Posted by: kerryl29 | October 19, 2020

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: An Introduction

Fall is my favorite time to photograph the North American landscape and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is the place I’ve spent the most time doing so, with the possible exception of a few places to which I’ve taken day trips in northern Illinois over the years.

Fall Color, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan
Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan
Chapel Creek Abstract Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Au Train Beach at Sunrise, Au Train Bay, Alger County, Michigan

In early October I made my sixth trip to the UP since 2002. Following a day in a new location (for me) in northern Wisconsin, I spent a week in the Upper Peninsula, beginning on October 2. It was an interesting, and ultimately highly productive, time despite some challenges; I was able to leverage my experience to my advantage. More on all of that in later blog posts detailing the experience.

Bond Falls, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan
Fall Color, Ottawa National Forest, Michigan
Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
The Z Black & White, Ontonagon River, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

After all these years, the UP is a phenomenal autumn location for photography, in large part because it remains so remote. Five years ago, Andy Richards and I published an ebook designed as a photographer’s guide to the Upper Peninsula and since then, little has changed, as best I can tell. The UP remains lightly populated, difficult to access and relatively uncrowded.

Au Sable Point from the Log Slide, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Fall Color, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin
White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Miner’s Beach at Dusk, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The UP is a true North Woods ecosystem, filled with birch, maple and beech and turns into a riot of color early in the fall. With multiple national forests, countless (mostly undeveloped) small lakes, rivers and streams, waterfalls and seemingly infinite miles of Great Lakes shoreline, there are photo opportunities to be had seemingly everywhere.

Laughing Whitefish Falls, Laughing Whitefish Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan
Fall Color, Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Miner’s Beach Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I have a habit of visiting familiar spots whenever I head to the UP; I can’t help myself, there’s something almost magnetic about certain spots that beg repeated visits. But I always aim to check out some new locations as well and this trip was no exception. And I managed to spend a bit of time at a few spots that I’d only been to once or twice previously, many years ago. All of these locations ended up being worth my time.

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan
Chapel Creek at Chapel Beach Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Sable Creek Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Fall Color, Valley Spur, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

As of this writing, I’ve been back from the UP for about a week and have been engaged in image processing ever since. I’ve made a decent dent in the material, but have not even begun to approach the halfway point. It will probably take at least another couple of weeks before I’ve gone through everything. What you see here is a tiny smattering of what I came home with. I’ll present a far more complete picture of the photographic database from the trip in subsequent posts.

Au Sable Light, Au Sable Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Sable Creek Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Council Lake Color, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

My next installment will discuss some trip planning and general notes detailing the experience, including the special challenges caused by the weather, both before and during the trip itself. Then I’ll begin the familiar pattern of detailing the chronology of the experience as well as the occasional thematic interruption.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the accompanying images.

Fall Color, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, Wisconsin
Elliott Creek at Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Hurricane River Black & White, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Chapel Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Posted by: kerryl29 | October 14, 2020

Looking for Images vs. Finding Them

I returned from my photo trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan this past weekend; posts covering the specifics of the trip will ensue, beginning next week.  But a series of experiences during my time in the UP placed an idea for a blog entry into my head, and that’s the theme of this post.

Wild Bleeding Hearts & Shamrocks, Trail of Ten Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

I’ve danced around the subject of “previsualization” (more accurately described simply as “visualization,” in my view) on this blog before.  I’ve also covered the notion of “the shot” mentality when in the field, and tied it all up in a bow or at least attempted to do so.  But I want to return to the subject now.

Lake Willougbhy Black & White, Orleans County, Vermont

There is, in my view, a stark difference between actively looking for a particular image, or type of image, and finding an image or images.  In various previous blog entries, I’ve mentioned that I’ve “stumbled across” this scene or that, which may imply a certain amount of passivity to my explorations. Drawing that inference is, I think, essentially correct.

Lichen Wall, Acadia National Park, Maine

Typically, when I’m out exploring with my camera in tow, I’m looking for something that catches my eye.  And while I acknowledge that it would be folly to operate under the belief that I’m some sort of tabula rasa, unaffected by my experiences and biases, I do think there’s a difference between broadly letting myself react to something–anything–that I find interesting (i.e. finding) and looking for something in particular.

When you look for something in particular, there’s a very real possibility that you won’t find anything else worth photographing.  That’s the danger, in my estimation, of seeking out specific images. 

Forest Floor, Auxier Ridge Trail, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

This subject was planted in my head–again–during my time in the UP because…well, a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the autumn is, in essence, a trip about fall color.  There’s a tendency to wander around looking for the brightest hues.  The problem with this mindset, as you might imagine, is that if your prime directive is color, you’re going to naturally overlook scenes where color is, at the very least, not the prime driver of what makes the scene photogenic.  And, yes, scenes absolutely do exist in the UP in the fall where color is a secondary or tertiary element.  In fact, there are interesting scenes, under such circumstances, where color is entirely irrelevant.  (I believe I found several such spots while I was on location last week and plan to reveal them in a later entry.)  But since autumn in the UP is, as I said, more or less by definition a trip about color, there’s a tendency to lock oneself into a kind of tunnel vision and be so guided by the notion of finding and photographing the most vibrant locations that everything else kind of falls by the wayside.

South Side of Haleakala Black & White, Maui, Hawaii

This example of the UP is just one illustration of the aforementioned tunnel vision problem.  There is an innate tendency, I believe, to carry a preconceived notion about photo opportunities–even those located in places that the photographer has never previously visited–along for the ride, in the form of an intangible piece of gear.  If my mindset is that I’m going to photograph waterfalls or tropical beaches or classic desert scenes…what am I going to overlook at those locations that I’ve informally classified as representative of these genres?

Date Palm, Hot Springs, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Some of this tunnel vision, as I have implied, is certainly inevitable.  But if you can remain aware of this inherent bias, it can be possible to overcome it to at least some degree and that may be enough to keep at least a few gems from being left on the cutting room floor.

Otter Lake black & white, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

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