Early morning on Esch Road Beach

Some photos taken yesterday morning as the sun rose on Esch Road Beach in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Waves on Lake Michigan cut away at the beach, leaving this temporary pool.
Clouds over Lake Michigan.
Incoming waves swamp a stump that has washed ashore.
For a brief few moments, the receding waves created this pattern in the water. A crocodile? Nessie?

The Natural Landscape Photography Awards

The Natural Landscape Photography Awards is a new contest for “photographers who dedicate themselves to capturing the beauty of the landscape in a realistic fashion.” The competition will be judged by an international panel of landscape photographers whose work I admire. One aspect of the contest I greatly appreciate is that photographers whose images meet the first cut will be required to provide the image as it came out of the camera so the judges can confirm that the image was not heavily processed.

I have entered 12 photographs in the contest. I have no expectation of being recognized, but figured I would learn a lot by choosing 12 photographs from my portfolio and preparing them for submission. Knowing your work will be reviewed by such an incredible panel creates a special incentive to take care in the editing and presentation of the photos.

Here are the 12 photos I submitted. (Click on a photo to see it full frame.)

Travel log: The American Sign Museum

Last week, we visited the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. The museum features signs from the late 1800s to the 1960s. The museum was extremely well curated with explanatory pieces describing the significance of the items on display. That’s not too surprising. The museum was founded by Tod Swormstedt, a man who can claim a long lineage in signs. Tod served as the editor of Signs of the Times Magazine, a leading industry journal (not to be confused with Signs of the Times Magazine published by the Seventh Day Adventist Church). Tod’s great grandfather founded the magazine in 1906 and Tod was the fourth generation editor. Tod started the museum in 1999, as the National Signs of the Times Museum. In 2005, it was renamed the American Sign Museum.

Cameras are not allowed in the museum, but photos shot with cell phones for personal use are permitted.

The collection begins with wood and metal hand-crafted signs from the late 1800s to the 1940s. (Click on an image to enlarge.)

The next era in signs was the lightbulb era, during which signs were illuminated by incandescent lightbulbs, which the museum dates from 1900 to 1930. The Kelly Springfield Tires sign was crafted in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Neon lights were introduced in the 1920s and continued in use into the 1960s.

I thought this sign for a pentacostal church was particularly interesting, completed as it was in the art deco style.

Having grown up in the shoe business, I was interested to see all of the signs promoting shoes. (I actually sold Freeman shoes.) The yellow Freeman sign is an example of a sign that transitions from the neon era to the next era, the plastic sign. Plastic signs, lit with fluorescent lights, began to be introduced in the mid-1940s and predominated until the introduction of LEDs.

The collection includes two signs that took me back to my youth. Signs for the Howard Johnson’s restaurant used to dot the country’s highways. Today, there is only one such restaurant left, in Lake Placid, New York.

Simple Simon met a pieman, going to the Fair.

The museum also includes a McDonald’s sign, which as been restored to its original condition. Who remembers the “Speedee Service System,” and a 15 cent hamburger?

The McDonald’s sign was acquired from a franchisee in Huntsville, Alabama. The local community tried to raise funds to restore the sign and keep it in Huntsville, but the effort was unsuccessful.

Rohs Hardware was a store in the Over the Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati. When the building was repurposed, the museum acquired the sign and the entire front of the building which was constructed of porcelain.

Here’s a few, quite recognizable signs from the plastic era.

The museum continues to add to its collection. These items are recent acquisitions awaiting permanent display space.

There are several versions of Big Boy around the country. This is an early version of the Frische’s Big Boy, with red hair and a slingshot in his back pocket to symbolize his mischievous nature. Today, the hair is black, the slingshot is gone, and Big Boy has a more svelte physique.

Another sign that has disappeared from the roadside.

This sign was made for the owner of the Satellite Shopland in Anaheim, California, by a local metalworker who designed and built it in his garage.

The American Sign Museum is a great nostalgia trip for us Boomers and a fascinating look at the history of signs in the 20th century. It is well worth the visit if you are in the Cincinnati area.

A little early morning fog

I drove north to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore earlier this week. It is a trip I take regularly. My drive takes about 3 hours. The anticipation builds as the first hints of morning light begin to reveal the conditions. The last three times I have made the trip, I drove through areas of fog, giving me hope that my destination would be shrouded with interesting atmosphere. On my previous two trips, the fog dissipated about 5 miles from the lakeshore. But, Tuesday a low fog hung on for me.

Noticing that the fog lingered in open fields, I decided to start photographing in the Point Oneida Rural Historic District. I started at the Pete and Jennie Burfiend farm. I have taken photos of this old granary at all times of the year. Enamored of its simplicity, I am drawn back time and time again.

Up the road from the Burfiend granary is the Martin and Allay Basch Farm. Fog engulfed the fields on both sides of the farm buildings.

Continuing on Baker Road (formerly known as the “Back Road”), I came to a clearing that overlooks the wetlands along Kelderhouse Road and took this panoramic shot.

Off to the side of the clearing was this tangle of poplars.

The clearing also overlooks the Carsten and Elizabeth Burfiend farm on Point Oneida Road. The Burfiends homesteaded the land, which sits on the bluff above Sleeping Bear Bay, in 1852.

I ended my morning shoot photographing the Tucker Lake wetlands along S. Westman Road. This area has frustrated me in the past, as it was just a little bit beyond the reach of my 70-200 mm lens. I recently upgraded to a 70-300 mm lens, which enabled these shots.

The Brewster Flats

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.

Target Beach at high tide.
Target Beach at high tide.

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.)

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.