Earlier this week, I drove north to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for sunrise. During the night, the temperature had dropped to near freezing. Cold air over the warm water of Otter Lake and Bass Lake created a beautiful fog that made the journey worthwhile. (Click on the image to see them larger.)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Winter insists on sticking around, much to my delight. Yesterday, I drove up to the Leelanau Peninsula. The forecast was for snow – less than an inch – and blowing wind. I got a little more than I bargained for. There was snow mixed with sleet and considerable wind for most of the three-hour drive. Upon arriving at the coast of Lake Michigan, I decided to backtrack to the forest in the Betsie River Valley where the trees would protect me from the bitter wind.
The Betsie River Valley is not an area I have explored much, although I canoed the length of the Betsie River over a four-day period about 25 years ago. Driving over snow covered country roads, I came upon the Borwell Preserve at Misty Acres on the road that runs along the line between Manistee and Benzie Counties.
The Preserve, which is owned and managed by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, includes 360 acres of hardwood forest and a farm that is home to a small herd of sustainably managed Belted Galloway cattle. There is a convenient parking area and a short loop trail that runs along the top of a ravine through which a creek makes its way to the Betsie.
The hike begins at the parking lot. Two tenths of a mile along the trail, it splits into a half mile loop.
The windblown snow stuck to the north side of the trees in the forest making for a beautiful walk.
One of my goals for the trip was to find some photos to blend together in a photo montage, something I learned about at a recent photography conference. In the field I felt as though I came up empty, but when I got home and looked at the photos on my screen I saw the potential and created this photo montage by blending a straight shot of the trees in the forest with an intentionally blurred image of yellow leaves that are still hanging on, waiting for spring.
On Sunday, which was the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, I visited the Silver Lake Sand Dunes. The dunes are 1.5 miles wide and 3 miles long, comprising around 1,875 acres between Lake Michigan and Silver Lake. The dunes are a state park divided into three areas – a natural area for hiking sandwiched between a section for off road vehicles and a section for commercial dune rides. I was fortunate that neither section for vehicles was open, so I could explore the dunes in peace.
I arrived shortly before sunrise. I had not been looking forward to the steep climb through sand to get to the top of the dune, but found that the sand was still frozen and the hike was not a matter of two steps forward and one step sliding back through the sand. I was thankful that it was so easy going.
The moon was low in the sky as I reached to top. While there was no snow on the dunes, in some areas there was a thick layer of frost, which gave a ghostly shine in some parts of the dune.
Early morning on the dunes is lovely as the sunlight strikes the peaks and works its way into the shadows.
The way the sunlight plays on the dune is wonderful. It can be dark and moody or light and soft,depending on which side of a dune you are standing.
One of the fun things to photograph in the dunes are the trees that were once buried by the sand but have now been revealed by the work of the wind. I came across a ghost forest that I don’t believe had been exposed on either of my previous visits.
In my past visits, I had never seen a wall of dark sand as in the photo below. I think this occurs because the sand is frozen and not shifting. I will be interesting to see how this wall is transformed once the thaw comes and the wind can have its way.
I hiked for close to three miles in the dunes and got to a point where I could see the forested land to the south of the park. I look forward to venturing back later this year and having another crack at photographing this beautiful place.
Here’s a little something different from me. Not my usual landscape work.
As I was eating breakfast yesterday, the local news ran a story about a commercial building that burned overnight. The building was on my way to work so I grabbed my camera and tried my hand a photojournalism. (Click on an image to see it enlarged.)