Archive: Apr 2013

  1. Point Betsie Horizon

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    Point Betsie Horizon

    Point Betsie Horizon

    Point Betsie is one of my favorite locations in Michigan. It’s located just south of the Sleeping Bear Dunes and north of the village of Frankfort. It boasts one of the most extensive light stations in Michigan, which has been lovingly restored in recent years and is a popular destination for tourists.

    I had driven up to submit a photograph for an art exhibit that was to be part of the 150th anniversary celebration of the lighthouse. As luck would have it, it was a beautiful early summer day. The sun was warm, there was a fresh gently breeze off the cool lake, and lovely white clouds were scattered across the sky.

    Budding photographers are often urged to seek out the warm soft light near sunrise and sunset for their photographs. I’ve certainly taken my share of photos at these times, but I find the dictum too restrictive. I believe you can take beautiful photographs in all kinds of lights. You just have to take the right photographs.

    The mid-afternoon sun was high in the sky casting intense light on the scene. The light created too strong a contrast between bright highlights and deep shadows for a successful photograph of the lighthouse. But my spirit was lifted by the beauty of the day, and it was this feeling that I wanted to capture.

    The front of the lighthouse is armored against erosion by a sea wall and concrete apron. I set up my tripod on the edge of the sea wall and used a wide angle lens to capture the expansive scene. I included the steal buttress to add interest to the foreground and lead the eye to the horizon.

    Polarizing filters have their greatest effect 90° from the sun. With the sun overhead my polarizer enriched the color of the sky and water on the western horizon.


  2. November Gale

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    November Gale, Grand Haven

    November Gale

    Sustained winds near 30 mph, and gusts near 50, had whipped Lake Michigan into a frenzy of sea and spray. I was at home in Grand Rapids and debated if I should head out to Grand Haven. It was a mild but dreary day, and I didn’t have much hope that I’d be able to get any usable images.

    So I had headed out to Grand Haven more out of curiosity than photographic intent. As I expected, the waves were crashing against the pierhead lighthouse with incredible force, but the light was dull and lifeless and frustrated my attempts to capture the drama of the day.

    As evening approached, a break in the clouds appeared far out over the lake. A single beam of light streamed down and I hoped against hope that it would wander my way. I framed up the shot I wanted and waited.

    They say luck smiles on the well prepared, and to my great good fortune the beam of light moved over the lighthouse, the perfect wave crashed and was suffused with the afternoon light. I tripped the shutter and I had my shot. The opportunity lasted seconds.

  3. Ludington Storm

    Ludington Storm

    Ludington Storm

    I was on the first day of a winter road trip that would eventually cover most of the coast of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Strong winds and high seas had been battering the shore of Lake Michigan all day long, and now storm clouds were moving in in force. I arrived in Ludington as sunset was approaching to encounter a breathtaking scene.

    The actual temperature was hovering in the low teens, and winds were gusting near 40 mph. The wind chill was nearly unbearable. I wear relatively thin liner gloves when I’m shooting in the winter so I can adjust my camera. I could only stand the conditions for a few minutes at a time and even so came the closest I’ve ever been to freezing my fingers. They were numb when I returned to my car but really started to scream as they warmed up.

    I set up on a small dune near the mouth of the harbor within the protective walls of the breakwater. The Ludington lighthouse is at the end of one of the longest piers in Michigan, so I mounted my Sigma 70-200 zoom with a 1.4x teleconverter. For this shot I didn’t take advantage of the extra reach the teleconverter provides, but I did for others and I wasn’t about to change my lens in these conditions.

    Immense waves were crashing into the pier and shooting nearly 60 feet in the air. From my vantage point they seemed to move in slow motion, so it was relatively easy to catch the peak. Beams of light pierced the ochre colored clouds. Off in the distance birds were tumbling and wheeling in the wind, as if this was most fun they’d had in a long time. It gave me a new respect for gulls.

    Because I wanted this shot to be sharp throughout the image, I chose a moderate aperture of f/8 for greater depth of field. The shutter speed of 1/125 second was sufficient to freeze the motion of the waves.

  4. Empire Bluff

    Empire Bluff

    Empire Bluff

    The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has been a refuge for me for decades. Early in my career I was a middle school science teacher. Believe me, I needed to get away from it all on weekends! In just a little over two hours I could be in the middle of this vast expanse of natural beauty. And more often than not, I could have it almost to myself since it gets little traffic outside of the summer months.

    One of my favorite places is the miles long beach that faces Platte Bay. The easiest access is from Esch Road where it dead-ends at Lake Michigan. Even in summer you can have this place almost to yourself if you arrive early or stay late. It’s the sort of place whose natural beauty leaves a lasting impression. Many times I’ve seen the light of recognition dawn on someone’s face as they exclaim “I KNOW that place!”

    Although most people perceive this as a summer scene, it was actually taken in mid-October. I find that the “shoulder” seasons of late spring and early fall are good times for photography. I can take images that have the look and feel of summer without battling the crowds of peak season.

    I took this photo in the fading light of day. The warm light masks the fall colors that were more visible earlier in the day. The landform that dominates the scene is Empire Bluff. Just at the tip you can see a hint of Sleeping Bear Dune further down the coast. I used a moderately long shutter speed so that the waves would blur slightly. I like the way the waves and clouds echo one another.

    I composed the image so that your eye would be drawn from left to right by the converging lines formed by the ranks of waves. Just as your eye reaches the left edge of the image, you encounter Empire Bluff which draws your eye back to the center.

  5. Ice Mosaic

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    Ice Mosaic

    Ice Mosaic

    Sunny winter days are rare in West Michigan. So when a day dawned bright and clear in late February, I headed to the shore to take advantage of the rare opportunity. My destination was Pere Marquette beach and the south breakwater of Muskegon. I could not anticipate the breathtaking sight I would encounter when I arrived.

    In winter, ice often builds up along the shore in a series of dune-like ridges. Along the water’s edge are volcano shaped blowholes. Beyond is usually an area of floating ice shaped like cannon balls or giant icy lily pads.

    So imagine my surprise when I encountered instead a wide expanse of perfectly crystalline ice stretching along the shore as far as the eye could see. In the gentle swell the ice twinkled in the light and made a mesmerizingly musical tinkling. I took a few shots trying to capture the entire experience, but soon realized to capture its essence I’d have to narrow my focus.

    This photo is abstract in two distinct senses. Most commonly we think of the word as an adjective referring to a style of art that emphasizes lines, colors, and generalized form rather than representation. Clearly this piece fits in that tradition. The most common response to it is “What is that?”

    But abstract can also be used as a verb, meaning to draw out, remove, or consider the general qualities of something. This is a form of abstraction I often employ in my work. Sometimes to abstract the essence of a scene, you have to narrow your focus.

  6. Dune Grass and Lake Michigan

    dune grass and lake michigan

    Dune Grass and Lake Michigan

    The beaches and dunes of West Michigan are unique in all the world and a beloved summer refuge for Michiganders. I think that accounts for the popularity of this, my most popular, image. To look at it is to be transported to the halcyon days of summer, a place of beauty, and a time of peace.

    I’m pleased by the success of this image because it shows that I have been able to effectively capture the emotions I experience when I took it. I think this is the primary purpose of my work. My goal is not to simply document a place of beauty, but rather to capture and communicate my experience of it. I don’t so much want to show as to tell.

    Our family had been through difficult days. As winter passed into spring, we were exhausted and emotionally frayed. My son and I decided to spend a few days decompressing in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, an isolated expanse of forests and dunes just north of Ludington. Not many seek this place out in early spring, so we occupied it almost as a personal refuge.

    Fortune smiled on us with warm sunny days and cool clear nights. Stress free days in a place of beauty was balm for or souls. I felt the creative impulse and began to explore with my camera.

    I came across this scene and was taken by its simple beauty. The gentle curves of delicate sand reed grass were nestled perfectly in a small bowl of dune. I chose a low angle so that I could isolate the grass against the sand, water, and sky. I think this gives the picture a feeling of repose. A polarizing filter enriched the colors in the water and sky.

    A moderate aperture of f/8 rendered the grass in focus but slightly blurred the background. This helps to isolate the subject and give the photo a feeling of depth.