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.

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.

Views of the Leelanau

After months of working at home, we spent a week physical distancing in Leelanau County.  I rose early each morning to shoot as the sun rose.

Sunrise in Glen Haven

One of my goals for the week was to practice panoramic photographs.  It involves taking several overlapping photographs and stitching them together using Photoshop.  I had some pretty dramatic sunrises looking across Sleeping Bear Bay toward Pyramid Point.

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Glen Haven was once a bustling port.  One of the remaining buildings in the village the Glen Haven Canning Company, owned by D.H. Day.

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Dew on the beach grass creates specular highlights in this photo.

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Even without dramatic clouds, the sunrise on Sleeping Bear Bay is breathtaking.

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Finding My Roots

Lately, I have been intrigued by the roots of trees. So another goal for our trip was to try to take some interesting photos of them.  I visited Bass Lake, where the shore is lined by cedar trees.

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I also visited the Teichner Preserve on Lime Lake where cedars again line the shore.

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These cedar roots are the last thing keeping these three trees from falling into the lake.

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I took this shot along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail in Glen Arbor.

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Port Oneida Rural Historic District

I return frequently to the Port Oneida Rural Historic District, where the farms were established in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  For a time, the National Park Service was letting the farms decay, with the intention of turning Sleeping Bear Dunes into a wilderness area.  That plan has changed, and with the help of Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear, a not-for-profit, the farms buildings are being restored and preserved.

This is a panoramic photo of the outbuildings of the Thoreson Farm.  The red building is the granary.

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I have taken so many photos of this granary, one of the few remaining buildings on the Peter and Jenny Burfiend Farm.

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Omena, Michigan

Omena, Michigan, is a tiny town on the Leelanau Peninsula, between Sutton’s Bay and Northport.  It has a few charming buildings, including the local post office . . .

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and the Omena Bay Country Store, which has unfortunately closed.

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The Omena Presbyterian Church was dedicated in 1858.  It holds services only in the summer, with visiting ministers.

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But, services were suspended this year because of the Covid-19 virus.

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Photographing the church, I noticed the cemetery behind it.  The cemetery was unlike any I have visited before.  Most of the graves were marked by blank, roughcut  headstones.

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A marker explained.

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Sunset over Lake Michigan and South Manitou Island

One of our traditions when vacationing in Glen Arbor is watching the sun set each evening.  The show was dramatic on our second evening,  as the sun set amidst a clearing storm._MG_5837-Edit-5 Noise reduction

Each subsequent evening offered a different show.

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