“Woodland Studies” Update

“Woodland Studies,” an exhibit of six of my photos, opened today at the Glen Arbor Arts Center in Glen Arbor, Michigan. The exhibit will run until April 13. The exhibit can be viewed online at https://glenarborart.org/events/exhibit-woodland-studies/. That page also has a link to a video of a conversation about the exhibit that I had with Gallery Manager Sarah Bearup-Neal. I have also embedded that conversation below.

I am grateful to the Glen Arbor Arts Center for hosting this show and especially to Sarah Bearup-Neal for guiding me through the process of preparing my first exhibit.

My Favorite Photos of 2021

The year is drawing to a close and it is time to look back and select my favorite photos taken in 2021. I prefer to call them my “favorite” rather than my “best” photos. I am still learning the craft and the art of photography and still trying to figure out what “best” means. But, each of these photos is among the most personally satisfying photos I took this year.

Let’s begin with this photo of a thorny stick rising out of the snow. I was standing in the middle of a stream taking a photo of snow covered rocks when I looked and saw this stick on the shore. The contrast between the severity of the thorns and the softness of the snow made this image for me.

It was a cold morning in March when I took this photo on the Boardman River near Traverse City shortly before sunrise. The subtle purple and orange colors pulled me into the scene.

Early one Saturday morning, I took my camera downtown Grand Rapids. I rarely shoot in the urban environment, but this particular morning I just needed to get out with my camera. The light and shadow and the lack of any people in the scene reminded me of a painting by Edward Hopper. Hopper’s influence on photographers was highlighted in a 2009 exhibit by the Fraenkel Gallery and in “Edward Hopper and Company,” the book that accompanied the exhibition.

One of my favorite places to photograph is where the land meets water. I am drawn to the sound of moving water and to the reflections of the trees in the water. I used a slow shutter speed in this photo to smooth out the water in Honey Creek and accentuate the reflections.

I had the chance to visit Cape Cod this summer and was struck by the beauty of the salt marshes. I spent several mornings at the Sandwich Marsh and was grabbed by the color palette of greens, blues and purples. This shot too reminds me of Edward Hopper, who, of course, lived and painted on Cape Cod.

Our second week on Cape Cod, we stayed on the Brewster Flats, the widest expanse of tidal flats in North America. At low tide, we could walk out nearly a mile before coming to the ocean’s edge.

As I walked along the Houdek Dunes Trail this fall, the ferns had already turned brown and had begun to curl. I wasn’t sure there was a picture until I got in close and found this shot. I liked the shallow depth of field and contrast.

I traveled to Sleeping Bear Dunes 16 times in 2021, at least once in every month except December. My practice is to leave home early enough to make the three-hour drive in time to arrive an hour before sunrise, hoping for a beautiful morning glow. I have stood on the culvert where Shalda Creek flows underneath Bohemian Road many times waiting for that glow. That’s where I took this photo in November. This photo brings to mind that last few sentences of Thoreau’s Walden: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

The reflection of fall foliage in a beaver pond on Shalda Creek made this image among my favorites. For me, the image has an abstract quality that I like.

This is one of my “U-Turn,” photos. I was driving home from Sleeping Bear when I passed this lone tree in a farmer’s field. I turned the car around, got out and set up my tripod to capture the scene. Landscape photographers gush about the light around sunrise and sunset. But in the late fall and winter, when the sun is not so high in the sky, mid-afternoon light can work just as well. The low angle of the light in this photo creates the shadows in the furrows and the deep, long shadow of the lone tree’s trunk.

I planned this shot even before I arrived in downtown Detroit during the first couple of days of December on a business trip. I had seen the American Coney Island on a similar trip two years ago. I remembered that the scene would be near my hotel and so I took along a small camera and travel tripod. I was fortunate to have some rain that reflected the light on the sidewalk and fortunate to have a lone diner in the restaurant. This is yet another image that reminds me of the work of Edward Hopper. Nighthawks in a coney island?

I came across this gathering of roots three years ago when visiting the Teichner Preserve on Lime Lake near Maple City, Michigan. I returned four or five times over the past three years looking for the right angle to get the compelling image I wanted. I finally found it on my second visit this year. I call the image “Gathering Place.” The image speaks to me about community. I have been asked whether I warped this image to make the trees spread out from the middle. I did not. Nature did. The trees on the very left of the image hang out over Lime Lake. I suspect that in a few years the trees on the left will succumb to the waves that eat away at the shoreline and then fall into the lake.

I am grateful that “Gathering Place” was selected by the editors of Lenswork Magazine for publication in its annual edition of “Our Magnificent Planet,” and will be included in “Woodland Studies,” an exhibit of my work this winter at the Glen Arbor Art Center.

I have taken over 8,000 photos in 2021. Yet, selecting a dozen favorites was not that difficult. The good ones stand out to me. Most of the images I took are pretty underwhelming and can be chalked up to learning the craft and art of photography – training the eye and developing the skill to capture what my mind’s eye sees. That might be discouraging to some, but to me it is all part of paying my dues. As Ansel Adams said, a dozen significant photographs in a year is “a pretty good crop.”

Here are links to my favorite images of 2019 and 2020.

Upcoming Exhibit: Woodland Studies

I am excited to share information about “Woodland Studies,” a small exhibition of my photographs that will open at the Glen Arbor Art Center on January 7, 2022. The details can be found by following this link. If you happen to be on the Leelenau Peninsula this winter, stop by and have a look. If you can’t make it, the photos will also be available for viewing online at the link above.

I am grateful to the Glen Arbor Art Center for hosting this exhibition, the first of my work. I have enjoyed working with Gallery Director Sarah Bearup-Neal and have learned a great deal in preparing the prints for exhibit.

Another Color Show

The fall colors in northern Michigan are past their peak, but I was still treated to a beautiful color show yesterday at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This first photo, taken where Shalda Creek crosses Bohemian Road, reminds me of the final words from Thoreau’s Walden Pond: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

Shalda Creek snakes through Sleeping Bear just south of Good Harbor Bay and pours out into the bay. Shortly before it does so the beaver have built a dam creating a pond in the forest.

As I passed by, I noticed the reflection of the golden leaves in the still water of the pond and stopped to take these photos.

Driving home along Indian Hill Road in Benzie County, I pulled over to take this photo of a lone tree in a plowed field.

Chasing Fall Colors

The fall colors have been late in coming to Michigan this year. I am guessing that we are still a couple of weeks away from peak colors in southwest lower Michigan. I drove north yesterday hoping to find nature’s brilliant display. I can report that the area on my route from Cedar Springs north to Thompsonville put on quite a show. But as I reached the Leelanau Peninsula, it remained pretty green. That’s good for the tourist industry on the peninsula, as leaf peepers will continue to be drawn to the area, extending the season. It was not a bust, by any means. There were pockets of color, harbingers of what is yet to come.

I began the day in the field below the iconic D.H. Day barns near Glen Haven. I waited in darkness for the sun to rise and light up the clouds from underneath. That never quite happened, but the image below was still worth the wait.

I found some dramatic red colors on Tucker Lake, beneath Miller Hill.

I hiked along the Crystal River for a bit and came upon salmon spawning on a gravel bed. It was amazing to watch as the dominant male chased off other males and the females prepared to lay their eggs.

This trout stood still long enough for me to capture a semi-decent photo.

Here’s a dash of color I found along Bohemian Road (CR 669) near Shalda Creek.

The weather was interesting, with intermittent rain showers and sunshine. I took the photos above in my rain gear, holding a large umbrella over my tripod and camera. Rather than hiking in the occasional rain shower, I stayed close to my car and visited a few of the historic farms in the National Lakeshore.

The Bufka farm is near the northern boundary of the National Lakeshore, along M-22. It sits down in a valley below the highway. The farm was established in the 1850’s by Joseph Bergman, an immigrant from Germany. Bergman built a log cabin that still stands today and can be seen in the photo below (the building farthest to the right). Charles Bufka purchased the 200 acre farm in 1880 and, over time, built the buildings (other than the chicken coop) seen in the photo. Upon purchasing the farm, he also built a house. The cabin was converted to a chicken coop in 1940. More information about the Bufka farm can be found here, on the National Park Service’s website.

I visited the Ole and Magdalena Olsen farm on Kelderhouse Road in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District. Ole Olsen was brought to North America from Norway by his grandparents in 1869 when he was 14. His grandparents settled in Sarnia, Ontario. Ole went to live with his uncle in Northport, on the Leelanau Peninsula. But soon his uncle and his family left to stake a claim in Minnesota under the Homestead Act, leaving Ole alone in Northern Michigan. In the early 1870s, Ole worked in the logging industry. In 1875, her met and married Magdalena Burfiend, whose father, Carsten, owned a 275 acre farm on what was the most valuable land in Port Oneida. With the help of Carsten Burfiend, Ole and Magdalena purchased their farm in 1877.

I took just a few photos on the Olsen farm, including this photo of the foundation for the barn.

The photo below is of the pig pen on the Olsen farm. Someone had placed a row of apples from a nearby tree on the window sill.

The photo below is of the farm buildings on Carsten Burfiend’s farm, with a lovely splash of color in the background.

As I left to return home, I drove by the Tweedle Farm on Norconk Road, south of the town of Empire.

Before driving home, I took one more photograph, a panoramic shot of the trees along Aral Road in Benzie County. While the colors had generally not reached their peak in the areas I visited, there were still areas of resplendent displays of fall foliage. Rain or shine – and I experienced both – it was well worth the trip.

A little early morning fog

I drove north to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore earlier this week. It is a trip I take regularly. My drive takes about 3 hours. The anticipation builds as the first hints of morning light begin to reveal the conditions. The last three times I have made the trip, I drove through areas of fog, giving me hope that my destination would be shrouded with interesting atmosphere. On my previous two trips, the fog dissipated about 5 miles from the lakeshore. But, Tuesday a low fog hung on for me.

Noticing that the fog lingered in open fields, I decided to start photographing in the Point Oneida Rural Historic District. I started at the Pete and Jennie Burfiend farm. I have taken photos of this old granary at all times of the year. Enamored of its simplicity, I am drawn back time and time again.

Up the road from the Burfiend granary is the Martin and Allay Basch Farm. Fog engulfed the fields on both sides of the farm buildings.

Continuing on Baker Road (formerly known as the “Back Road”), I came to a clearing that overlooks the wetlands along Kelderhouse Road and took this panoramic shot.

Off to the side of the clearing was this tangle of poplars.

The clearing also overlooks the Carsten and Elizabeth Burfiend farm on Point Oneida Road. The Burfiends homesteaded the land, which sits on the bluff above Sleeping Bear Bay, in 1852.

I ended my morning shoot photographing the Tucker Lake wetlands along S. Westman Road. This area has frustrated me in the past, as it was just a little bit beyond the reach of my 70-200 mm lens. I recently upgraded to a 70-300 mm lens, which enabled these shots.

The Sandwich Salt Marsh

We recently spent a couple of weeks on Cape Cod visiting family. That gave me the chance to explore a different type of landscape than we have here in West Michigan. The Cape and West Michigan have much in common, with their sandy shores, dunes, and bodies of water that reach the horizon. But, of course, there are some key differences. Michigan promotes the Great Lakes as “unsalted and shark free,” and the Great Lakes do not have tides.

I was delighted to visit the salt marsh in Sandwich, Massachusetts. The marsh is twice a day flooded by salt water as the tide comes in. I was smitten with the marsh. The rich green of the marsh grasses and the oranges, purples, and magentas of the dawning light created a palette of colors that were hard to resist. I went back several days in a row.

A boardwalk passes through the marsh taking one from the parking lot, over a low dune to the beach on Cape Cod Bay.

Homes and cottages in the town of Sandwich line the shore of Cape Cod Bay and the edges of the marsh.

I was struck by the texture of the marsh grass and the sensuous curves created by the tidal waters as they carved their way through the marsh at high tide.

Thank heavens for clouds

Landscape photographers generally aren’t excited by cloudless, bluebird skies. In composing the “grand landscape,” an empty sky is negative space that most of the time adds little to the composition. I have seen a lot of bluebird skies this spring and early summer. But on Tuesday, I was treated to some great clouds.

I hiked the Sleeping Bear Point Trail in Glen Haven, Michigan. The main trail travels 1.9 miles up and down over the sand dunes. After the initial climb, you drop down to an area known as the ghost forest.

The ghost forest has the remains of trees that were buried by the dunes and that have now been exposed as the dunes shifted.

After completing the trail I headed off to other parts of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. While shooting at the Thoreson Farm, I noticed the clouds building off to the west and headed down to the shore of Sleeping Bear Bay in time to catch a thunderstorm coming ashore. In the distance, a great lakes freighter made its way through the Manitou Passage under a roll cloud.

The roll cloud extend across the sky.

The storm spawned several waterspouts like this one.

I continued taking photographs until I thought better of standing on the shore amidst the lightning.

Grateful for the dramatic skies, I headed back to my car and the safety of lunch at the Good Harbor Grill.

The Platte River and Otter Creek in Winter

I traveled north to the Leelanau Peninsula early Saturday morning. It was a snowy drive and took me about an hour longer than normal. But once I arrived and the sun came up, I was treated to awesome beauty.

My first stop was Point Betsie, shortly before sunrise. I was curious to see whether in the intervening weeks since I last visited (February 2) the ice had built up on the trees and bushes south of the lighthouse. While ice had built up on the breakwaters, the ice that had formed on the trees was not what it was three years ago when I visited in January. Back then the trees were thick with ice and the place was thick with photographers.

I ventured next to the Platte River near the point where it enters Lake Michigan. To get the perspective, I wanted I waded into knee deep snow. The scene was peaceful, interrupted only by a beaver swimming by and two swans that flew overhead making a terrible racket.

The needles of larches, or tamarack trees, typically turn a golden orange and fall to the ground in the fall. They are beautiful trees in their fall colors. This young larch on the river’s edge managed to hang onto its needles as a winter coat.

All along M22 the road and the trees were covered in snow. I seemed to have the place all to myself.

The trees glistened as the sun rose in the east. I pulled to the side of the road on M22 to get this shot of trees in an open field on the edge of the forest.

The scene below is Otter Creek where it crosses Aral Road in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This is the site of the town of Aral, a booming mill town in the 1880s. Nothing remains of the town today except for a large concrete block that likely served as a base for the sawmill that was about 25 yards east of this spot. An old map shows that this area is where the mill pond formed when Otter Creek was dammed.

Today, Otter Creek flows freely into Lake Michigan except, of course, in winter when shore ice builds and obstructs the the creek’s pathway, as shown in this photo. In the background on the right is Empire Bluff.

Enjoying winter shooting

Wintry weather returned to West Michigan this week. I love to do photography in the winter and, since I had some extra time, I took some long drives scouting shooting opportunities. On Tuesday, I drove all around the farming country east of our town. I had hopes of finding a snowy scene of interest. I found a couple, but in each instance determined it wasn’t safe to stand by the side of the slippery road with my tripod. Eventually, having lost hope, I headed home when I passed a woodlot that caught my eye. I did a u-turn and parked by car on a side road and hiked back to the woodlot.

Two things struck me about the scene. First, the trees were all planted in a straight rows as we typically see with plantation pines, but these were deciduous trees. Second, the trees were covered with snow on the north side, unusual since our storms typically come from the west or southwest.

On Thursday, I drove to Duck Lake State Park on Lake Michigan, about an hour from our home. I had a specific photo in mind. There’s a tree that hangs out over the water on a point of land. I hoped that the the rocks along the shore line would be covered with snow and ice. We haven’t seen much in the way of shore ice during this mild winter, but I was pleased to find the snowy scene I hoped for.

I came away with two photographs, the one above in color and the one below, a more dramatic shot, in black and white.

I drove home feeling rewarded and grateful for the luxury of time that allowed me the opportunity to explore.