Exploring Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Winter

I visited Silver Lake Sand Dunes State Park yesterday anticipating the graceful dunes I had seen on previous visits. (See “The Sand Dunes at Silver Lake State Park.”) But, instead, the sinuous dunes I had anticipated looked more like sedimentary rock that had been disturbed by some incredible force.

The dunes freeze in the winter, so only a fine layer of grains of sand at the surface are free to blow with the wind. I suspect that the formations I saw were caused by the expansion and contraction of the ice crystals in the sand as our crazy temperatures have swung wildly this winter. Having anticipated smooth dunes, I needed to shift gears. I decided to go in close and photograph the formations left by the ice and the wind.

Photos from my previous visits to Silver Lake can be found here:

In Search of Snow

Cross country skiers and snowmobilers must be very disappointed this winter. The snow brought by the Christmas week blizzard disappeared almost as fast as it arrived. But this past Friday, just a couple hours north of our home, my wife and I found a winter wonderland. The snow was not deep, but the trees were flocked with snow. It was so beautiful, I returned on Saturday to see if I could capture the scene in some photos.

I left Grand Rapids early and arrived at Rosie’s Country Cafe in Thompsonville for breakfast and to await the sunrise. When the sun came up, I was disappointed. While some snow remained on the trees, it was nothing like the day before. Nonetheless, I continued on my way to the Betsie River Pathway. The Pathway has about ten miles of trails. I chose to hike the 2.7 mile West Loop, which passes through a meadow and forest reaching the Betsie River to the west. While it was nothing like I had hoped for, I found a few areas where the snow still clung to the grasses.

Still, there was much to see and enjoy on the hike. The footpath through the forest was carpeted with leaves.

Along the footpath, I took time to explore an ice-covered pond filled with colorful leaves.

After my hike, I headed north on County Road 677 to explore a campground I had found on the map. About two miles up the road, I came upon the snow globe we had seen the day before!

Along County Road 677 is the Weldon Township Cemetery. The cemetery always catches my attention, with its simple white crosses decorated with artificial flowers and American flags. I have stopped before, without success, to try to capture the feeling of reverence I get whenever I pass it. This time, I think I got it.

Looking Back at 2022

It’s that time of year again, time to look back at over the past 12 months. The year 2022 offered me some wonderful opportunities to share my work. In addition, we had the opportunity to travel abroad, in the course of which I was reminded of a valuable lesson. Here are some thoughts on the past year and several of my favorite photos taken in the last 12 months.

SHOWING MY WORK

The Glen Arbor Art Center exhibited six of my photos in its lobby gallery at the start of the year. The show, titled Woodland Studies, was my first opportunity of its kind, for which I am extremely grateful to the Art Center and to the Art Center’s Gallery Manager, Sarah Bearup-Neal. Sarah guided me through the process of curating the exhibit and getting it ready to show. Sarah and I recorded a video conversation about the photos in the exhibit, which you can find here. The online version of the exhibit is no longer on the Art Center’s website, but you can view it here.

The Art Center provided me with two other opportunities to display my photos. The following photo was displayed as part of the annual “Members Create” exhibit in April and May. The exhibit is a non-juried show open to members of the Art Center.

Silver Lake Sand Dune, Mears, Michigan

The Art Center also invited me to submit photos to the “Small Works Holiday Exhibition,” where artists display small, original art work for sale for $150 or less. I displayed eight photographs, three of which were taken in 2022.

In addition to displaying work at the Glen Arbor Art Center, I entered a photo in the Ray and Nancy Loeschner Annual Art Competition at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. I had not heard of the competition before September of this year, but the timing was fortuitous. Some dear friends of mine married at the end of August. Their registry included an 11×14 frame, which we purchased and gave to them along with a note offering to fill the frame with one of my photos. They chose a photo I had taken of Aria, a wonderful sculpture by Alexander Liberman, which was acquired by the Gardens in 1999. The more I worked with the photo to make a beautiful print, the more I came to love it. I was excited to have the opportunity to enter it in the competition and was gratified to learn recently that is has been selected as a finalist. The final judging will occur in January 2023.

Alexander Liberman’s “Aria”

TRAVEL

My wife and I traveled to Jerusalem and Paris in early June. Of course, I took my camera and I took plenty of snapshots. The snapshots will help us remember the experience, but the photography was not the focus of the trip. I do, however, want to share one photo with you. We toured Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité in Paris. Sainte-Chapelle was the royal chapel in the palace of the King of France. The chapel was consecrated in the year 1248. The upper chapel has 15 stained glass windows, each 15 meters tall, that include 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testament. In a crowded chapel filled with tourists there was neither time nor room to take a studied photo, but I was pleased to get this photo, which will serve as a reminder of the most beautiful room I think I have ever seen.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France

MY FAVORITE PHOTOS OF 2022

At the end of the year, I like to look through my photos and select a group of images that are my favorite photos from the past 12 months. Here’s what I came up with for 2022.

The first photo is a close up of Honey Creek in winter time. We don’t have waterfalls or big significant rapids in southwest lower Michigan. But, by focusing close on an ice formation in the creek, a small scene becomes filled with action and drama.

I enjoy being in the forest in winter. I find the stillness, the quiet, peacefulness, and even the challenge of staying warm to be reinvigorating.

I took this next photo in the Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Mears, Michigan. The shifting sands reveal the stumps of trees, such as this one, that were swallowed up by the dunes years ago. The early morning light shining on this stump accentuated the grain in the wood and the embedded grains of sand.

Coming upon the following scene was a pleasant surprise. I was on a trail that passed through a pine forest. The pine trees were so thick and the canopy so dense that little else could grow in the area. I didn’t expect to see anything of interest to photograph along the trail. But a brief break in the clouds created patches of sunlight on the forest floor that brought depth and dimensionality to what otherwise was a monotony of tree trunks.

Michigan is not at its photogenic best in early spring, when the snow has melted and brown is the dominant color. So I bought a dozen tulips and used them as my subject everyday for a couple of weeks. When they were fresh, the tulips exuded their typical elegance. But I found that it there was beauty to be found even as the tulips wilted.

I am attracted to gaps in the forest canopy created by the death of a tree. The gaps permit the sunlight to break through to the forest floor – a patch of hope in the darkness.

We visited Acadia National Park in mid-September. Peak fall color was still a month away, but as we hiked along the Jesup Path, we came upon this scene. It is a bit chaotic, but I thought the alignment of the birch trunks and the splashes of color brought an order to the chaos and made for an appealing photo.

I have shot this scene on Bass Lake in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore many times. (I included a photo of this point of land in my Woodland Studies exhibit.) But on this morning, I was fortunate to be able to shoot the scene in a dense fog, creating a softer, more soothing image.

A key to success in my photography is being aware. These last two photos are of things I might of missed had I not slowed down to take in my surroundings. I found this maple leaf beautifully highlighted by ice crystals when I took a walk on the morning of our first hard frost.

This was another happy find as I explored the shoreline of a local lake on a recent foggy morning.

Here are links to my favorite images of 20192020, and 2021.

AN IMPORTANT LESSON

I learned an important lesson while in Paris. Everywhere we went in Paris, my camera went with me. I made a lot of snapshots. When we entered the Musée de l’Orangerie, I saw a sign showing a camera with a red circle and slash through it – no photography. So I checked my camera and began viewing the museum’s wonderful collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art. In the galleries, though, I noticed so many people taking photos with cameras and cell phones. The guards did not seem concerned, so I went back to look at the sign again and read the small print: “No flash photography.” I could have retrieved my camera, but chose not to. Without a camera, I explored the galleries with my wife, comparing thoughts about the paintings. I was able to see the art not only through my eyes but also through hers, which enriched my experience immensely.

In the museum that day, I learned in important lesson: sometimes the camera can get in the way of the experience. It’s a lesson I need to remember whenever I go off on a photo shot. I think if I focus on the experience first, my photographs will improve. But even if they don’t, I will find more meaning in those experiences and be a better person for it.

The Birches of Houdek Dunes

On Saturday, I hiked in the Houdek Dunes Natural Area, north of Leland, Michigan. One of the interesting features of Houdek Dunes is the presence of very old white birch trees. Birch trees are a transitional tree in the succession of the forest. You generally see them in parts of the dunes where the forest has begun to take hold.

The trails at Houdek Dunes pass through a mature forest of beech and maple trees. But, in the valleys of the dunes are white birches that are over 100 years old. That is extraordinary for a birch tree.

Time, however, catches up with these old birches and more and more you are likely to see them lying on the forest floor.

The innards of a fallen birch tree decay before its bark. Strewn throughout the forest you see the white remains of a once stately tree.

Of course, the rotting tree provides nutrients to the soil and other vegetation in the area.

And, while the forest is now composed primarily of beeches and maples, you will see an occasional young birch tree fighting to establish itself in the understory.

The birch tree below is my favorite along the trail. Clearly past its prime, it shows evidence of the struggle to compete in the forest. Barren of leaves now, a standing skeleton of a tree, its roots once grabbed for the soil and a branch reached out to find the light among the surrounding red pines. I visit this tree each time I return to Houdek Dunes. I suspect that one of these days, I will find that branch lying on the ground, another victim in the story of forest succession.

For an earlier post on the birches at Houdek Dunes click here.

Into the Night Once More

I had another chance to go north this weekend to try my hand at a little night sky photography. The last “Super Moon” of the year arrived on Thursday. As a bonus, mid-August is the peak of the Persied meteor shower. So, I planned a shot of the full moon the following night right between the silos of the D.H. Day Barn at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I used the Photopills app to determine where I needed to stand and the time I needed to be there to shoot the moon in all its glory above the barn. I was able to reserve one of the last available campsites at the D.H. Day campground and headed north.

In the afternoon, I used the augmented reality feature of Photopills at the D.H. Day farm to confirm that the shot would work. The photo below hints at the problem I would encounter. The wispy clouds in the sky are cirrus uncinus clouds. In Latin that means “curly hooks.” The clouds are commonly called “mare’s tails,” and are precursors of rain.

The sky was filled with mare’s tails. Things weren’t looking good, but I had several more hours before sundown and moonrise.

I decided to watch the sunset from Van’s Beach in Leland, Michigan. While waiting for the show, I snapped some photos of the boats in the harbor. The reflection of a sailboat’s mast caught my eye. I watched the reflection as it morphed with each passing boat.

It became clear that there would be no great sunset show and likely no shot of the moon over the D.H. Day barn. The clouds in the west were headed my way, fulfilling the prediction of the mare’s tails. I took a photo of the entrance to the harbor and then set upon my way, hoping the skies would be clear 20 miles to the southwest.

No such luck. At the D.H. Day farm, the sky was thick with clouds. I determined to go with my plan B, a shot of the Point Betsie lighthouse. Point Betsie was another 24 miles to the south. On the way, I stopped by the beach at Empire. There’s a small lighthouse there in the middle of a parking lot. When I got there, the parking lot was full of revelers enjoying the evening. The night was dark but there was a faint reflection on the water. An 11 second exposure looking into the darkness revealed what was barely visible to the naked eye. 

Finally, I made it to Point Betsie. My goal was to get a shot of the light house with the lamp lighted. The challenge is that the lamp is so bright compared to the lighthouse itself that if you expose for the lighthouse, the lamp gets blown out and has no detail. But, I had a plan.

Every lighthouse has its own “signature.” Some lights rotate, some are stable. Some flash, while others stay lit constantly. The Coast Guard publishes a list of the signatures of every lighthouse and buoy in the country. I knew from the list that the Point Betsie light flashed white for one second every ten seconds. After much experimentation, I discovered that a 3.5 second exposure allowed for a proper balance between the lighthouse itself and the lamp. But the key was not having the shutter open for the full one second the lamp was on. I learned to open the shutter shortly after the lamp lit so that it was on for probably just a half second or less during my exposure. I was helped in getting a proper balance by the moon, which peaked through the clouds, lighting the side of the building. I augmented the moon’s light with a small light panel.

The photo reminds me of an Edward Hopper painting. Hopper, of course, lived and painted for many years on Cape Cod, an area that resembles the Leelanau Peninsula in many ways. His work has influenced many photographers.

Mission accomplished, I drove back to the campground and crawled into my sleeping bag about 1:30 a.m. I was awakened briefly at 3:00 a.m. by the sound of raindrops hitting my tent fly. Never doubt those mare’s tails! 

Nightscape Photography at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Earlier in the week, Friday night looked like it would provide a great opportunity to try my hand at nightscape photography. The long-range weather forecast predicted clear skies, and the moon would not rise until long after the galactic center of the Milky Way would reach its highest point in the night sky. As luck would have it, the D.H. Day Campground at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore had one campsite left for Friday night. So I reserved it and started planning.

I used an app called Photopills to identify possible locations to shoot. The app allowed me to locate a spot on the map and see where the Milky Way would be in relation to it in the night sky. I checked out several locations, finally deciding on three sites that would be close enough that I could cover each of them in one evening.

On Friday morning, I made the three hour drive to Glen Arbor, Michigan, and visited my intended locations during the afternoon. I used the augmented reality feature of Photopills at each site to confirm the position of the Milky Way at the times I intended to shoot. Now all I needed was clear skies.

I had been using three different sources to predict the weather for Friday evening. Two forecast clear skies and one predicted thunderstorms. Turns out, all three were partially right and partially wrong. As evening approached, so did some foreboding clouds.

Undaunted and certain that “this too shall pass,” I set up at my first location (the old cannery in Glen Haven) around 11 p.m. I could see some breaks in the fast moving clouds, but soon the rain began to fall. I jumped into my car and headed to my next location, hoping that the sky there would be clear. Within a few miles I was in the midst of a thunderstorm, so I pulled over to the side of the road to wait it out. It didn’t take long for the storm to pass. Within 10 minutes I was on my way again.

My second location was the bridge over the Crystal River on Country Road 675. People who have kayaked the Crystal know this bridge as the location where you “shoot the tubes,” the culverts that allow the river to pass under the road. Getting out of the car, I was pleased to see that the sky had cleared. I quickly donned my reflective vest and set some reflective triangles along the road to warn approaching cars that I was standing on the bridge with my camera and tripod.

The biggest challenge of photographing stars is getting them in focus. There are a couple of methods of doing so. The first one failed me completely. That method involves placing the brightest star in the middle of the camera’s LCD screen and magnifying it to allow you to focus. Sounds great, but on my LCD screen all I saw was darkness. On to method two – relying on the “hyperfocal distance.” The hyperfocal distance is a spot at which everything halfway from the camera to infinity will be acceptably in focus. I knew that for the focal length and aperture I was using the hyperfocal distance was 16 feet 6 inches. But how do you focus in the dark? I set my camera 16 feet 6 inches feet from the back of my car, shined my flashlight on my bumper and focused on it. And then I was in business.

There it was, just as Photopills had predicted, the Milky Way!

Having found success on the Crystal River, I moved on to my third location, the Carsten and Elizabeth Burfiend farm in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District. Carsten Burstein bought 275 acres in what became known as Port Oneida in 1852, when the government opened the land up to settlement. I was interested in photographing the farm’s granary, corn crib and shop.

I lit the buildings with two small LED light panels. Both were set at their lowest output and placed on light stands far away from the scene. To the naked eye, they provided little illumination, but to the camera, with its 8 second exposure, the lights provided about as much light as would a one-quarter moon.

Having met with success at my second and third locations, I headed back to the cannery in Glen Haven, unsure of whether the Milky Way would be positioned well to get the picture I wanted. After all, it had been nearly three hours since I originally had planned to shot there. While it is not the shot I had planned, it still worked out pretty well.

I was pleased with the evening’s success. Several years ago, I had tried my hand at photographing the Milky Way, but my equipment wasn’t up to the task. I recently purchased a “fast” lens that has a much wider aperture. That made a significant difference. The night provided everything I hoped for. . . and more.

Shortly before calling it a night, at 2 a.m., I checked in with a woman I had met earlier in the evening in the parking lot at Glen Haven. She had come north from Saint Joseph, Michigan, when she learned there was a chance to see northern lights. “Any success,” I asked. She said that indeed she had seen them. “In fact,” she said, “they are out there right now.” I looked off to the northwest and all I saw was a faint glow along the horizon. “That’s them,” she said, and she showed me some photos she had taken earlier in the night with her cell phone. So I set up my tripod and aimed it at the horizon, taking a twenty second photo. Sure enough, there was the faint glow of the northern lights.

The color wasn’t visible to my naked eye, but there on the back of my camera was the telltale green glow I have seen before. I switched from a wide angle lens to by telephoto.

I crawled into my tent about 2:15 and was up and out again at 5:30 a.m. to catch a different glow as the sun rose on Sleeping Bear Bay.

Street Art at the Shuk – The Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem

The Mahane Yehuda Market, also known as the Shuk, is the central market in Jerusalem. The market has over 250 vendors who sell everything from fresh meat and fish, to nuts, vegetables, baked goods, candy, clothing, coffees and teas and clothing.

Beginning in January 2015, street artist Solomon Souza began painting pictures on the metal shutters and doors of the market stands. He has made over 250 paintings. Most are paintings of current or historical figures. The market is a popular place to stroll in the evening and on Shabbat, when the market is closed and the paintings revealed. Here’s a sampling of my favorites. (If you click on the first photo, you can rotate through a slide show.)

Going Abstract at Townsend Park

I recently discovered the trail at Townsend Park in Cannonsburg, Michigan. The trail passes through red pine forest on rolling hills. The canopy of the towering trees makes for a relatively clean forest floor, with good sight lines for photography. I visited the trail three times this week and took several photos from this spot.

I attended a workshop recently where one of the presenters discussed multiple exposures and photo montage images. On my visits to the trail this week, I experimented with both. This is a multiple exposure. After taking the first exposure, I shifted the camera to the right for the second.

This next image is a five-shot exposure. I had the camera on a tripod, angled 10 degrees to the left. After each exposure, I angled the camera back to the right 5 degrees.

The next photo is a 3-shot image. After each exposure, I shifted the camera up and to the right a little bit.

For the last image, I created a photo montage from these two images:

I opened both images as layers in Photoshop, with the leaves as the base layer. I then adjusted the blend mode of the trees to get the following image:

I am looking forward to experimenting more with these techniques and exploring the creation of images that are more abstract than my usual work.

Tulip Time

In Michigan, we are in that period between winter and spring when the weather can’t figure what it wants to do. In Grand Rapids over the last three weeks we have had only 18% of the total possible sunshine. On 13 of those days, we had less than 10%. I have been out and about with my camera, but the world is pretty brown right now. So, I bought myself some tulips and have been photographing them on the kitchen table. I have made some photos every day. Here’s a sampler.

The inside of a tulip is a magical place.

Even as they pass their prime and begin to wither, the tulips have a special gracefulness and beauty.