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.

Winter at the Sixth Street Dam

Winter has been pretty tame here in West Michigan.  Yesterday morning, though, we had a good burst of snow that gave us a few inches and made for a productive photo shoot at the Sixth Street Dam.  The first dam in the location was built of stone, gravel, logs and brush in 1844. It was replaced by a wooden dam in 1866, constructed by the Water Power Company.  As factories along the river diverted water for their uses, the flow of the river diminished and the water became more and more polluted.  The dam was replaced by the current dam in the 1920s, as part of a beautification project.  Plans are underway to remove the dam and bring back the rapids for which the city was named.  A history of the rapids in the Grand River can be found here.

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A sudden burst of sunlight

I drove up to Sleeping Bear in the snow early Saturday morning. The sky was a dull gray and the light was uninspiring. Then all of the sudden the sun broke through for about a half hour. I made the most of it, climbing an 8-foot pile of snow to capture this photo.

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I have shot this building several times  and always like returning to it.  I don’t know what the building was used for.  It is adjacent to an old farmhouse, which was equally stunning in the bright sunshine against the dark sky.  The red barn was an added accent.

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A day at the beach. . . in February

These photos were taken on the beach at Muskegon State Park looking out over the frozen shore of Lake Michigan.  I arrived just as the sun was rising above the horizon.  The sun caught illuminated the clouds to the west and the tops of the mounds of ice that have formed on the lake.

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The sun catches the second ridge , leaving the first in shadow.

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A patch of blue sky opens up for a brief moment.

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Looking north and the moonscape created by the ice.

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Looking to the south, the Muskegon lighthouse is visible on the horizon.

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Up North on the First Full Day of Winter

I wandered north on Saturday, December 22, to do some photography on the first full day of winter. Unlike my usual trips that begin long before dawn, this trip started at 10 a.m. I was at Point Betsie by 1:00 p.m. On such a gloomy day, it didn’t matter that I was shooting at mid day. There is still so much beauty on a cloudy day. And I found lots of it on the Platte River as it prepares to flow into Lake Michigan. But, my intention in starting out late was to shoot at dusk and after sunset to capture a photo of Art’s Tavern, festively lit for the holidays, and Fishtown in Leland, which is also sporting festive, though less garish, lights.

Point Betsie

You may remember from my photos of the Point Betsie lighthouse last year how it gets consumed by ice. Well, winter is being very slow in coming and there is just a little bit of ice beginning to form. You have to start somewhere.

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The Platte River

The Platte River flows into Lake Michigan at the south end of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. As it approaches the lake, it passes some low sand dunes.  The ice forming on the grasses on the river’s edge intrigued me — like diamonds forming on the shore.

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The reflection of the dunes in the slow moving river caught my eye.

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The Platte River as it approaches Lake Michigan. A brief bit of sun is hitting Sleeping Bear Dune in the distance, while Empire Bluff remains in the shadows.

Art’s Tavern, Glen Arbor, Michigan

It’s always worth the drive to Art’s Tavern. But Art’s gets bonus points this time of year for its festive decorations.

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Fishtown, Leland, Michigan

In the latter part of the 1800s, Leland became a fishing town for white settlers on the Leelanau Peninsula.  They joined native people who had fished Lake Michigan for hundreds of years.  The shanties in Fishtown began to be constructed at the turn of the 20th century.  The Janice Sue and the Joy are two fishing tugs that still conduct commercial fishing operations out of the Leland harbor.

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Winter’s Last Hold on Sleeping Bear

Spring is here, but I needed one more dose of winter. So I headed once again to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Some may wonder why I return to the same location so frequently.  There are a number of answers to that question.  First, it is my favorite place on earth – my happy place. When I arrive, I am at once at ease.

I return as well because it is never the same.  The light, the clouds, the surf, they are always different. So every time I go there is another challenge as I learn the craft of landscape photography.

Finally, it helps that I am familiar with the area.  I plan my initial shots well ahead of my trips.  When you leave at 4 a.m. (3:00 a.m. in the summer) to make the three hour drive and get there an hour or so before sunrise, you can’t be wishy-washy about where you are headed.  In advance of my trips, I study the weather and use apps called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris” and “The Photographer’s Transit” to learn where the sun will rise and decide where I want to stand.

For Saturday’s trip, I wanted to take a photo of Shalda Creek as it flowed into Good Harbor Bay on Lake Michigan.  I thought if I could get set up before dawn, I could make a nice composition as the creek water flowed towards the glowing sky.  I was lucky that there were a few clouds in the sky to reflect the sun’s glow before it crossed the horizon.  The long exposure gave the creek a milky smooth texture, just as I had planned.

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They call it “the blue hour,” for obvious reasons.  I was glad to get there in time.  In the winter, I am able to stop for breakfast at Rosie’s Country Cafe in Thompsonville on the way up north.  But, the dawn now comes earlier and earlier until the summer solstice, so I settled for a granola bar on the drive up. The morning light did not disappoint.

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As the sun came above the horizon, the light changed from blue to golden and the ice on shore and in the lake began to glow, creating small landscapes to photograph.

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After breakfast at Art’s Tavern, I headed to Point Oneida and the beaches on Sleeping Bear Bay. At my first stop, at Lane Road Beach, the water was mostly clear of ice, but I could see plenty of ice in the distance.  The ice was moving closer and closer.  Soon, the bay was filled with pancake ice flowing through the bay at an incredible pace.

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The ice along the shore once again made for a chance to photograph small landscapes. . .

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and a chance to experiment with neutral density filters to take a long exposure that smoothed out the waves crashing against this bit of ice.

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I will return to Sleeping Bear again in the next month or so.  By then, the snow will be gone and the first of the spring wildflowers should be popping.  Always something different. Always something to keep me coming back.

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On a Cloudy Day, Go Close

Yesterday was a gray winter’s day. Early in the day, I set out to shoot some landscape photos. The trees were flocked with a new coat of snow, but the light was so diffuse that the photos all looked flat and dull. So I shifted gears and decided to look more closely at the landscapes and find mini-landscapes in the details. I headed to one of my favorite spots, Honey Creek, for these shots. (Click on images to see them larger.)

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