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.

Slowing down

One of my colleagues encouraged me to join 52 Frames, a weekly photo challenge. This week’s challenge is “slow shutter.” I decided to go very slow, using a “Big Stopper” filter for my camera. The Big Stopper is a dark piece of glass that is the equivalent 10 stops. It allows me to have the shutter open for an extended period of time, even in broad daylight, which has the effect of smoothing flowing water.

For the challenge I set up along the Grand River, at the Sixth Street Bridge across from Riverview Center. Shooting normally, the shutter length was just 1/40 second.

17mm, f/11 at 1/40 second

Using the “Little Stopper” filter that is the equivalent of six stops, I was able to take a 25 second exposure, smoothing out the river and catching the reflection of the clouds.

17mm, f/11 at 25 seconds.

While this makes a lovely photograph, I decided to try something different. I used the Big Stopper, enabling me to take an even longer exposure of 40 seconds. While the shutter was open, I slowly zoomed in from 17mm to 40mm, which produced this photograph.

f/11 at 40 seconds.

I quite liked the results and tried the same technique downstream, photographing the Plante Moran building that overlooks the Sixth Street Dam.

f/11 at 30 seconds
f/11 at 30 seconds

The results are interesting, I think, and worth further exploration

Winter’s end

On the last day before the beginning of Spring, I went looking for some last vestiges of winter. I hiked along the Boardman Valley Trail near Traverse City. The morning was crisp but, after a couple of weeks of warm weather, the only hint of winter appeared to be some residual snow on portions on the trail and a hoar frost that coated the vegetation.

I started my hike while it was still dark. Having never been on the trail before, I wasn’t sure what the view would be when the sun came up. I got for first hint at an overlook along the river’s edge. Not a bad way to start the day.

The railing on the overlook was covered with frost.

The trail follows the river and passes through meadows and through stands of cedar trees.

As I passed through a cedar grove, I noticed a pond glazed with a layer of ice. Initially, I was drawn to this composition.

As I got down to the edge of the pond, I was struck by the patterns of ice and made several images.

Catching this last glimpse of winter was exciting. I, for one, will miss winter’s beauty. But, for now, our hemisphere has tilted toward the sun and I will lean that way as well.

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.

The Power of the Lake

“I am a lighthouse, worn by the weather and the waves.
And though I am empty, I still warn the sailors on their way.”

The Lighthouse’s Tale, by Nickel Creek

The Point Betsie lighthouse is located a few short miles north of Frankfort, Michigan, just west of Crystal Lake. It is a favorite location for photographers, especially in winter when the spray from the crashing waves covers the grounds with ice. To date, this winter has been so mild that little ice has formed, but Point Betsie never disappoints. I visited Point Betsie on Ground Hog’s Day, arriving shortly before 7:00 a.m. to scout it out and take some photos.

The lighthouse was completed in 1858 at the southern entrance to the treacherous Manitou Passage. Today, the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve is a popular location for divers to explore 33 shipwrecks. A keeper’s house adjacent to the lighthouse, a fog horn and oil house were all added later. The lighthouse was automated in 1983, but the lighthouse was staffed by the Coast Guard until 1996. Today the lighthouse is owned by Benzie County and cared for by the Friends of the Point Betsie Lighthouse.

The Point takes a beating from the waves. The lighthouse is protected by a seawall of steel, an apron on concrete that extends from the seawall up to the lighthouse, and a series of steel breakwaters all of which date back 75 years. But the shoreline protection system is in need of repair as Lake Michigan’s historically high waters take their toll. The concrete apron has an widening crack, which gets exacerbated in the winter when ice forms and expands. Efforts are underway to raise $1 million to repair the protection system.

Even when riled up by the wind and waves, Lake Michigan is a beautiful shade of blue.

The fury of the lake is awe inspiring. On Ground Hog’s Day, the wind was out of the north at a steady 20 mph, gusting to close to 30 mph.

Here are a few sequences of waves crashing against the breakwaters.

Before leaving to explore other areas, I took one last shot of the lighthouse standing guard as it has for 163 years. Point Betsie is one of the country’s most photographed lighthouses. There are many photographers who have captured images here. The thrill of photographing at Point Betsie is not so much the chance to get a photo no one else has captured, but the excitement of feeling nature’s power and capturing it in an image.

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.

A Rare Sunny Day in January

Yesterday was a beautiful winter’s day, with plenty of sunshine, something we see little of this time of year. It has been a quiet winter, with with relatively warm temperatures and lots of clouds. On the Leelanau Peninsula, where I headed yesterday, they had received just 26.4 inches of snow as of Wednesday morning, compared to 87.8 inches a year ago. So far in January, the Leelanau has received just 4 inches.

I arrived at Good Harbor Bay an hour before sunrise. It’s a very short walk through the woods to where Shalda Creek flows into the Bay. The clouds were beginning to break up, allowing morning’s first light to illuminate the scene.

There was just a thin layer of ice on the beach.

I hiked back into the woods, following Shalda Creek upstream, but couldn’t find a composition. So, I got back in my car and drove to Esch Road Beach, south of Empire. I have pictures from years past in which the ice pack had mounded along the beach. That’s not the case this year, though the surf is transforming this tree into an ice sculpture.

My final shooting location before grabbing lunch and hiking on the Sleeping Bear Dunes Trail was Inspiration Point above Big Glen Lake.

While at Inspiration Point, I took a moment to photograph the Faust Cabin, which was build in 1929.

I tarried at Inspiration Point for a while, enjoying the view and watch a bald eagle soar over the open water, perhaps keeping an eye out for a meal.

Looking back on 2020

The sun sets on Sleeping Bear Bay in Glen Arbor, Michigan

With 2020 thankfully in the rearview mirror, I am taking a moment to look back at the past year in my photography.  I’ll share with you my personal favorites from among the photos I took.  But first, I want to share some thoughts on my development as a photographer this year. 

I have a sense that I did not shoot as much in 2020 as I did in 2019.  I suspect, however, that is not really the case.  I made 10 day trips to northern Michigan, nine to my favorite of places – Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and one to Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling, home to a stand of virgin white pines.  My wife and I also spent a week socially distancing in the heart of Sleeping Bear, allowing me to shoot in the park early each morning without having to leave home at 3:00 a.m.  I also had a productive visit to the sand dunes at Silver Lake State Park. So, I had plenty of opportunities to shoot.

Locally, I got out quite out frequently as well, visiting Seidman Park multiple times and shooting at Fallasburg, Lowell, Yankee Springs, and the Sixth Street Dam,.

Logjam on the Sixth Street Dam, Grand Rapids, Michigan

So, as I think about it, it is probably not that I did not shoot as much this year as I did in the past. Instead, I didn’t shoot as much as I would have liked.

I have tried to use this year to improve both in the field and in my post-processing. I attended two on-line photo conferences that were incredibly instructive and inspirational.  Out of Chicago Live was held right after we came under Michigan’s Covid stay-home, stay-safe order.  The conference brought together instructors and participants from around the world and offered three days’ of instruction.  I submitted 4 images for review and was thrilled with the positive feedback I received from Jack Curran and Tim Cooper.

Encouraged by their review I submitted three images to LensWork magazine for possible inclusion in a book it was publishing called Our Magnificent Planet.  I learned later in the summer that one of the three – my photo of the Burfiend Granary – had been selected from among 2,700 entries for publication.  The book came out in the fall.  It is stunningly beautiful.  I am honored to have been included.

The granary on the Peter and Jennie Burfiend farm in the Point Oneida Historic District in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

LensWork is a premier fine art photography magazine published by Brooks Jensen.  I have subscribed to Lenswork for a number of years and listen to Brooks’s daily and weekly podcasts to benefit from his incredible insights.

In August, I attended another photography conference, this one titled Out of Chicago – In Depth.  I participated in a number of 4-hour workshops, including one taught by Brooks Jensen and Jack Curran.  That workshop focused on creating projects rather than simply single images.  It inspired me to look at my photography in a different way and led me to produce my first folio to share with family and friends.

The cover page of my Folio No. 1.

A folio is a set of photographs printed and intended to be viewed together.  Choosing the photos, selecting the paper, and printing them became a project this fall.  I decided to process the photos in black and white.  I struggled to come up with a title for the folio and ultimately failed.  Instead, I called it simply “Folio No. 1,” taking comfort in the fact that Ansel Adams named his seven portfolios simply numbers “I” through “VII.”

So much of photography today is viewed online.  I wanted to provide a tactile experience where the viewer can hold the photo and study it without aid of a computer or cell phone.  I was pleased with the final product and have begun working on Folio No. 2 and thinking about other projects to undertake.

Processing my folio photos in black and white was inspired by a workshop I did with Jack Curran at Out of Chicago Live.  Jack was one of several influencers from whom I have learned this year.  I did three workshops with Jack, who helped me begin to see the potential of black and white. Unfortunately, Jack passed away shortly after the workshop he taught with Brooks Jensen.  Jack was an amazing, generous person with a love for sharing his gift for photography with others. I am glad I had the opportunity to learn from him.

Another influencer has been Brooks Jensen himself.  Each issue of Brooks’s magazine, LensWork, exposes the reader to beautiful fine art photography, most of it in black and white.  Brooks issues daily podcasts that cover a wide range of topics of interest to an aspiring photographer. Brooks also shares his photography for free in pdfs he publishes under the masthead Kokoro. On the website Lenswork Online, Brooks shares a treasure trove of commentary on fine art photography.

There is one other influencer I have come across only recently, Michael Kenna.  Kenna is a British photographer now living in the U.S.  His black and white photography is stunning. He spent several years in the early 1990s photographing the Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan.  The photographs are a master course in composition through light and shadow, shape and form. I only recently discovered Kenna and look forward to studying him further in 2021.

Interviewed in Lenswork in 2003, Kenna explained, “Photography, for me, is not about copying the world. I’m not really interested in making an accurate copy of what I see out there. I think one of photography’s strongest elements is its ability to record a part of the world, but also to integrate with the individual photographer’s aesthetic sense.”  I am trying to find my way on the path toward developing my aesthetic sense and am grateful to Jack Curran, Brooks Jensen and Michael Kenna for lighting the way. My aim is not to emulate their photos but to find my own way of expressing what I see and feel when I am out with my camera. That is the journey I am on.

So all this was a a rather long-winded introduction to sharing my favorite photos of 2020. I’ve chosen a baker’s dozen to share with you. I hope you enjoy them.

King Milling, Lowell, Michigan
King Milling, Lowell, Michigan
Bass Lake, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Uprooted, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Maple Leaf, Honey Creek, Ada, Michigan
Frederik Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Intentional camera movement photograph of docks on Reeds Lake, East Grand Rapids, Michigan
Reeds on Hall Lake, Yankee Springs, Michigan
Moon setting on the Burfiend Farm, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sunrise on a frozen Narada Lake, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Giles Road, Cannonsburg, Michigan
Sand Dunes, Silver Lake State Park, Mears, Michigan
Ghost Forest, Silver Lake State Park, Mears, Michigan

The Sand Dunes at Silver Lake State Park

Yesterday, I returned to Silver Lake State Park to takes photographs in the vast dunes between the west shore of the lake and Lake Michigan. I visited the dunes two years ago and posted color photographs that I took then. On this visit, I thought I would try my hand at processing the images in black and white.

The curves of the dune point towards Lake Michigan.

The shifting dunes are a study in light and shadow as the wind creates sinuous patterns in the sand.

Enhancing the contrast in a photo creates some interesting patterns.

In several areas in the dunes you come across “ghost forests,” the remains of trees that were swallowed up by the dunes and now have been exposed by the shifting sands.