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.)
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!
Some photos taken yesterday morning as the sun rose on Esch Road Beach in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
During the second week of our Cape Cod vacation, we stayed in Eastham, Massachusetts on Target View Beach. The beach is on the Brewster Flats, the largest tidal flats in North America, extending 9.7 miles from Brewster to North Eastham. When the tide goes out on the flats, it really goes out. From the high water mark on our beach, we could walk a half mile at low tide before reaching the water’s edge. Here’s a collection of photos I took during our week in Eastham – lot’s of beached boats, but I couldn’t resist.
The receding tide left all sorts of interesting things in the tide pools and beached on the sand. (Click on an image to see it enlarged.)
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.