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.

Once in a Blue Moon

On Saturday, we had a full moon for the second time in October. The moon set at 8:10 a.m., so I thought it would be good time to capture a photo of the moon close to the horizon. Things didn’t quite go as I had planned, but it was a wonderful morning for photography.

Prior to my trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, I used a couple of apps to find the right spot to shoot the setting moon. I needed something of interest in the foreground. What I hadn’t considered was that it would be dark and cold. I hadn’t given enough thought about how to balance a dark foreground against the brilliant light of a full moon. Still, I got this shot, which I like very much.

I chose to shoot the setting moon at a familiar spot, the Peter and Jenny Burfiend farm at Point Oneida in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Sunrise would follow the moonset by about 15 minutes, so as I stood in a field, the sky became brighter, allowing enough light that the granary was no longer silhouetted.

According to a map I have of Point Oneida, this is the old pig house on the Burfiend farm.

As the sun came up, I was surprised to see the beautiful fall colors still on the trees. This is the house on the Burfiend farm.

After the sun came up, I stopped by Bass Lake. I had stopped there three weeks earlier when the colors were just coming on

The colors were stunning.

After stopping at Bass Lake, I drove to nearby Narada Lake. The corner of the lake near the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail had a thin layer of ice that would disappear later in the day.

The view across Narada Lake was every bit as stunning as that on Bass Lake.

In the shadows of Narada Lake I saw this reflection of the leaves and a single dead tree that was bleached white.

Lily pads were frozen in ice.

This is the barn on the Lawr farm, which adjoins the Burfiend farm.

George and Louisa Lawr established the farm in the 1890s and and continued to farm there until 1945.

My last site for shooting was along Westman Road, in the wetlands north of Tucker Lake. These berries caught my eye.

The bright yellow tree is a tamarack, also known as an Eastern Larch. Tamaracks are conifers that grow in the wet soils around swamps and bogs and near lakes. Unlike other conifers, each fall their needles turn bright yellow and fall to the ground.

These maples leaves had fallen onto the ice in the wetlands near Tucker Lake.

The weather forecast called for snow on the Leelanau Peninsula last evening. I am sure the next time I venture north, the area will present starkly different things to photograph.

Fall Colors on Hall Lake

I visited the Yankee Springs Recreational Area yesterday, south of Grand Rapids, to catch another glimpse of beautiful fall colors. I set up on the edge of Hall Lake to see what the morning light would bring.

Dew on these branches that overhang Hall Lake catch the first morning light against a backdrop of mist and fall colors.

Reflections of the clouds as they catch the first rays of sunlight.

When the sun rose, the riot of color was revealed.

While I was out seeking fall colors, this scene of leave in the shallows of Hall Lake caught my eye and looked best to me as a black and white image.

Chasing Fall Colors

On Saturday I headed to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore hoping to find fall colors. I got an early start, as usual, arriving an hour before sunrise. Before the sun came up I shot several photos, experimenting with intentional camera movement. No two photos are the same. And sometimes the result is surprising.

The forecast was for a cloudless sky, which was basically true. But this band of clouds appeared and stretched across the sky.

As the band of clouds moved south, it caught the light of the sun, which was still below the horizon.

Shalda Creek flows into Good Harbor Bay. The salmon were running, heading upstream to spawn.

In the northern part of the park, the trees had not reached their peak color, but I was able to isolate some patches of color reflected in Bass Lake.

Birch trees at Point Oneida. The trees are no longer alive. They have been drowned by an expanding beaver pond and now serve as food for the beavers.

Looking down at North Bar Lake from stop number 10 on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This view shows just how green it was close to Lake Michigan.

The fall colors became much more vivid as I got a bit more inland from Lake Michigan. So I stopped at the Brown Bridge Quiet Area near Traverse City for some quick shots before coming home.

The meadow in the Brown Bridge Quiet Area used to be under a pond that was created when they dammed the Boardman River. The dam was removed in the summer of 2012.

ICM on Reeds Lake

Yesterday morning, I made a quick stop at Waterfront Park on Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids. Unimpressed by the light, I decided to deliberately create photographs that are soft a blurry by using a long exposure (around 1 second) and moving the camera while the shutter is open, a method called intentional camera movement or ICM. Here are the results.

Esch Road Beach

“Morning is when I’m awake, and there is dawn in me.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I spent the last two Saturday mornings on a Lake Michigan beach at the end of Esch Road in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Why go back twice in such a short period of time? As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, ““No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” The same is true for visiting Lake Michigan.

The morning of my first visit was moody and gray. A strong wind maintained a steady barrage of waves, which created the abstracts of sand that I posted last week.

The lake is at its highest point in at least 35 years. Strong winds and high waves have eroded the dunes causing many trees (and some homes) to lose their footing, falling into the lake.

Just south of the end of Esch Road, Otter Creek enters the big lake.

Returning to the beach a week later, I found a more uplifting sky. As the sun approached the horizon, it ignited the passing clouds.

A week of strong winds and waves had moved this tree, which only a week before commanded the view at the mouth of Otter Creek, and begun to bury it in sand.

Unlike a week before when a view of the mouth of Otter Creek only hinted at the warmth of the rising sun, the rising sun lit up the passing clouds.

When photographing the morning light, it pays to turn around. Watching the sky light up over Otter Creek was wonderful, but if I hadn’t turned around I would have missed a most amazing light show in the sky over Platte Bay to the southwest, complete with the base of a rainbow in the distance.

Abstracts of Sand

If you walk Lake Michigan’s beaches, you may come across black sand that has a hint of red it in.  Oil spill? No. The black sand is actually a mineral called magnetite. Another mineral, hematite, gives the sand its red color.  Magnetite and hematite are naturally occurring.  They were ground into sand by the receding glaciers and occasionally find their way ashore, delivered by waves and wind. Yesterday, I shot these photographs of abstracts of sand. (Click on an image to see them larger.)