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.

Winter Redux

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.

Silver Lake Sand Dunes on the First Day of 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 are links to photos from my two earlier visits to the sand dunes in 2018 and 2020.

“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.

A New Work by Plensa in Grand Rapids

Jaume Plensa is a Spanish artist noted for his public sculpture. Visitors to Chicago have likely seen his Crown Fountain, the spitting fountain in Millennium Park. The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has two works by Plensa and has commissioned yet another for its new entry way.

The DeVos family also commissioned a sculpture by Plensa, which was installed this week in downtown Grand Rapids. I have not been able to learn its name yet. I took some photos this morning.

Update: According to Experience Grand Rapids, the sculpture is named, “The Four Elements.” The sculpture uses letters, characters and element symbols to represent air, water fire and earth and signifies the diverse characteristics that bring people together to form a single human race.

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.