Archive: Apr 2015

  1. Ocqueoc Falls

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    Ocqueoc FallsOcqueoc Falls, near Rogers City, is remarkable primarily because it is the only substantive waterfall in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. At the main drop the Ocqueoc River plunges less than three feet over a limestone ledge to create a deep pool that is a very popular swimming hole in the summer months. Though in this shot the falls appear quite pristine, in reality it is a very well developed recreation site including a day use parking lot, campground, trail system, and extensive riverside landscaping. It really is a nice place to hang out on a hot day, and the users are respectful and appreciative of the natural setting. There is something wonderfully nostalgic about cooling off in a good old fashioned swimming hole.

  2. Fishtown

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    Fishtown, in Leland Michigan, is a remnant and reminder of the commercial fishing industry that once thrived in northern Michigan. Early in the last century, is was a bustling port filled with fish boats, shanties and smokehouses. Though a few commercial fishers remain, these days it bustles with tourists drawn to the picturesque setting and the galleries, shops, and boutiques that have moved into the historic district. It is also the launching site for day-trippers and backpackers headed to the Manitou Islands just off shore.

    Because its a popular tourist destination, I had to wait until the season was over to take this crowd-free photo. It was late October and the afternoon sun cast strong light on the north shore while creating deep shadows on the other side of the Leland River. I knew it would take some work to tame the strong contrast in the scene.

    Here is a view of what the untouched raw image looked like:

    Fishtown Raw File

    As you can see the shadows are really too dark to make a pleasing print. So I opened the image in Adobe Camera Raw and made some rather strong adjustments. You can see what I did in the image below. You can also click on it to see a larger version.

    Fishtown Hightlight and Shadows adjustment

    First, to tame the bright highlights in the image I dragged the Highlight slider all the way to the left to -100. This darkened the sky a bit and brought out more details in the brighter portions of the image. I then brought detail out of the shadows by moving the Shadow slider all the way to the right to +100. Finally I brought up the exposure just a bit to restore the sky to it’s original tone.

    As I expected, making such profound adjustments to the Shadows and Highlights sliders reduced the contrast a great deal, to the point that the image appeared a little dull. To reintroduce some contrast without loosing the detail I was trying to reveal, I made more modest adjustments to the Whites and Blacks sliders. If you hold to the Alt key while you move these sliders you’ll see the image in the highlight and shadow warning modes. When adjusting the Whites slider with the Alt key depressed, I moved the slider just to the point that the white highlight warnings began to show. I then adjusted the Blacks slider with the Alt key depressed just to the point that the shadow warnings began to show. This procedure made sure the image contained a full range of tones from black to white and improved the overall contrast.

    Finally, to punch up the mid-tone contrast I adjusted the Clarify slider. I don’t use this slider often, and rarely use more than +25. But because I’d made such profound adjustment to the Highlights and Shadows slider, I found I could crank Clarify up to 100 as well. Here is the final version as seen in Adobe Camera Raw.


  3. More Panorama Tips and Tricks

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    Porcupine Mountains

    I took this photo of the Porcupine Mountains last fall and thought I’d use it to illustrate some of the tricks I use when developing panoramic images in Photoshop.

    I began by taking a series of three overlapping shots. I find that an overlap of between 25% and 50% works well. Since I was shooting from a canoe, I couldn’t use a tripod or carefully level my tripod and camera as I would on land. So I just did the best I could to keep the horizon level and in about the same place as I quickly snapped the three shots. Of course, as is always important when taking shots to be later blended, I shot in manual so the three shots would have the same exposure.

    Back in my studio I selected the three shots in Adobe Bridge and then double clicked to open them in Adobe Camera Raw. Since I wanted any adjustments made in Camera Raw to be shared by all three images, I selected all three and then clicked on the “synchronize” button. When I was finished with my adjustments I clicked the “Done” button, which brought me back to Bridge with the three adjusted images still selected.

    Camera raw

    Adobe Camera RAW


    Adober Bridge

    Adobe Bridge


    I went to the tools menu and then selected Photoshop>Photomerge. This opens Photoshop and the Photomerge dialogue box (below). I find the “cylindrical” option works best in most cases.

    Photomerge Dialogue box

    Here is the resulting image:

    Photomerged image

    Photoshop generally does an amazing job at blending photos for panoramas. But I noticed that the coastline seemed to curve down towards the point. Luckily, there is an easy fix for this! I navigated to Photoshop’s Filter menu and selected the Adaptive Wide Angle filter. This filter is tailor made for straightening curved lines in distorted wide angle and panoramic images. I simply clicked on one end of the shore and then dragged my cursor to the other end and clicked again. Magically, the shoreline straightened!


    Adaptive Wide Angle Filter

    Now that the shoreline was straight, I could see it was not level. Once again there is an easy fix. I selected the ruler tool (it’s in the eyedropper tool group in Photoshop’s tools bar) and clicked and dragged another line along the coast. I then navigated to the Image menu and selected Image Rotation>Arbitrary. The ruler tool has automatically populated the amount field so that when you click OK, the picture rotates just the right amount to make the horizon level. I then cropped the image to a 3:1 ratio to create the final version at the top of this post.

    Rotate Canvas

  4. Superior Falls

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    Superior Falls

    The approach to Superior Falls is hardly auspicious. It’s on the site of an hydroelectric dam so you’ll see the inevitable trappings of a modest industrial site as you arrive. An upper viewing area is somewhat obscured by a tall chain link fence–understandably so since a misstep would send you over a precipice. A very rough, steep, and slippery concrete path leads down to the Montreal River below the falls, just a few yards from Lake Superior. You have to backtrack upstream a few hundred yards past the dam’s powerhouse to see the falls.

    What awaits is truly a stunningly beautiful sight. Superior Falls flows over the lower lip of an immense stone amphitheater. You’ve got to shimmy around a narrow stone ledge to enter the amphitheater itself, but it is worth the effort.

    I arrived on a bright fall afternoon. The left half of the scene was in full sun and the right in deep shadow. I knew I would not be able to capture the vast brightness range in a single exposure, so I took a series. I set my camera on manual, the aperture at f/8, and then took five shots varying the shutter speed from 1/20 to 1/160 second.

    Back in my studio I found that the middle shot of this series, an exposure of f/8 at 1/50 second, was a good base for working with this image. By adjusting the shadows and highlights in Adobe Camera Raw, I was able to accomplish most of what was needed to make the image express itself to it’s full potential. But the sky remained somewhat washed out, and I wanted more detail.

    I found that the sky in the last photo in the series, f/8 at 1/160 second, was perfect for my purposes. So I opened the two shots in Adobe Photoshop, and dragged the photo that was my base onto the photo exposed for the sky, to create a layered image. I then used Photoshop’s eraser tool to erase portions of the overlying image and let the darker sky show through. I used a large 1000 px eraser, set to a hardness of only 50%, and an opacity of just 25%, so that the edges of erased portion would be soft and I could build up the effect with multiple passes. I fully erased the portion over the sky, and partially erased the portion over the sunlit bluff to darken it just a bit.

    Here are the two images I combined to create the final image above:

    Superior Falls Fall ExposureSuperior Falls Sky Exposure


  5. Rock River Falls

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    Rock River Falls

    Alger County, in the center of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is home to many famous waterfalls. Munising, Miners, Chapel, and Sable Falls are all popular destinations in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Wagner and Laughing Whitefish Falls are well developed destinations too. While I’ve enjoyed visits to all of these, my favorites are the more out of the way locations where crowds don’t need to be controlled with boardwalks and decks and the falls are in more pristine settings.

    Nestled deep in the Rock River Wilderness Area, Rock River Falls takes some finding. Starting at the small farm town of Chatham, your journey begins with an 8 mile drive down a series of gravel roads. The last 3/4 mile you’ve got to navigate a two track forest service road of questionable navigability. You eventually reach a small clearing with room for a few cars. You’ve got to go forth in faith because there’s no sign, though the trail is clear enough.

    A three quarters mile walk through the woods brings you to the falls and an ample reward for your adventuresomeness. It’s a beautiful falls and humankind has been mercifully gentle in it’s enjoyment. I rested an hour to the sound of falling water and never saw another soul.

    This panoramic view is a blending of three shots that I took in sequence. The key to success in situations like this is to set your shutter and aperture manually to assure the three shots share an exposure. In this case 1 second at f/11. I also make sure that both the camera and the tripod are level so that they swing in a flat plane when rotating through the scene.

  6. Higgins Lake

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    Higgins Lake

    Now know as Higgins Lake, the native Ojibwe called it Majinabeesh–sparkling water. A fitting name for this large spring fed lake in Northern Michigan. Though it reaches depths of 135 feet, the south end of the lake has an extensive sand bank that suddenly drops off hundreds of feet from shore. I let my canoe drift in the gentle breeze while I captured shots of the dappled sunshine on the shallow sand bottom.

  7. Moonrise over Higgins Lake

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    Moonrise over Higgins Lake

    I’d begun the day in Michigan’s thumb, and wanted to make it to Higgins Lake in the middle of northern Michigan by nightfall. I knew a full moon would be rising in the East just as the sun was setting in the west. I arrived at dusk, set up my camera on a tripod, and waited. As the evening grew darker I began to worry I’d somehow miscalculated. But soon the moon peaked above a line of clouds that had hidden it.

    I used the highlight warning display on my camera to set an exposure for the moon. As the moon moved higher it also got brighter while the far shore fell into ever deepening shadow. This is my favorite shot of the night–an exposure of 1.6 seconds at f/11 and ISO 100. I had a 1.4 teleconverter mounted on my 70-200 lens to give me an effective focal length of 280 mm. I always leave the color temperature setting on auto on my camera, but chose a daylight balance when I developed this shot so the color would be true to what I had witnessed.

    I returned to the same location early the next morning to capture this shot just before sunrise.

    Sunrise, Higgins Lake

  8. Turnip Rock

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    Turnip Rock

    The Lake Huron shore has a more modest beauty than that of Lakes Michigan and Superior. There are pleasant beaches, but not the majestic dunes of Lake Michigan. There are rocky shores and limestone outcrops, but not the towering cliffs of Lake Superior.

    One notable exception is Turnip Rock, a small island on a pedestal barely off the shore of the tip of Michigan’s thumb. There is no land access, so you’ll have to approach this spot by water from Grindstone City or Port Austin. You can rent kayak’s and take a tour from Port Austin Kayak. As long as you’re making the trip, the Port Austin Reef Lighthouse is just a mile off shore from Turnip Rock, but you’ll only want to approach this on a very calm day.

    Port Austin Reef Lighthouse

  9. St. Claire River Delta

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    St. Clair River delta

    Lake St. Clair is a large shallow lake mid-way between Lake Huron and Lake Erie just north of Detroit. Water from Lake Huron flows into lake St. Clair through the St. Clair River and on to Lake Erie through the Detroit River.

    The swift flowing St. Clair River empties into Lake Saint Clair through the largest fresh water river delta in the world. It is a vast marshy landscape unlike any in Michigan. I was so surprised on seeing it the first time that I almost felt I’d been transported to Chesapeake Bay.

    The best views of this unique landscape are to be found on Harsens Island, a horseshoe of high ground surrounding a marshy interior. A short ferry ride across the North Channel of the St. Clair river drops you at about the middle of the crescent. A road hugs the coast in both directions. What little development there is on the Island is clustered on the northeast near the ferry. There’s a decent restaurant in the old school house.

    The southwest half of the island is encompassed by the Saint Clair Flats State Wildlife Area. The photograph above is a view across the marsh and open water from the southern arm of the island.

  10. Fallasburg Covered Bridge

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    Back in the 1800’s, wood was the material choice for bridges in Michigan. Because wood didn’t stand up too well to the elements, covered bridges were the standard. My own town of Grand Rapids had several covered bridges spanning the Grand River.

    What must once have numbered in the hundreds, dwindled to a handful of remaining wooden covered bridges by the late 20th century. Most were simply replaced by modern structures spanning crucial traffic corridors. The few that remained were in lightly trafficked rural backwaters that unfortunately also left them exposed to vandals and arson. In my neck of the woods, the Ada covered bridge succumbed in 1979 (but was subsequently rebuilt), and more recently White’s covered bridge was completely destroyed. And they’re not immune to other forms of idiocy, such as when a cement truck driver crossed the Fallasburg covered bridge (pictured above) with a full load of concrete weighing over 30 tons–ten times the rated limit for the historic bridge.

    As far as I can tell, the Fallasburg covered bridge is now the oldest and one of only two covered bridges that remain in service in their original locations in Michigan. The other is Langely covered bridge that crosses the Saint Joseph river in southwest Michigan.

    I arrived for this photograph on a perfect summer afternoon with blue skies and puffy clouds. The Fallasburg covered bridge is bordered by a beautiful park, so there is almost no modern development marring the scene. I tried a number of vantage points but liked best this location with the arrowroot and lily pads in the foreground. The bridge angles slightly to to the southwest, so in summertime the afternoon sun glances across the northern side. In full sun the slight overhang of the bridge created deep shadows, so I waited for a thin white cloud to cover the sun and soften the shadows.