Category Archive: Michigan Horizons

  1. Star Trails over Lake Michigamme


    Star Trail over Lake Michigamme

    I’ve wanted to experiment with star trail photography for some time, but the necessary conditions are not as common in Michigan as in dryer climates. For success you need a cloudless night with no moon in a location with a very dark sky. The stars finally aligned for me recently when I was camping on the shores of Lake Michigamme at VanRiper State Park.

    Lake Michigamme is midway between Marquette and Houghton/Hancock in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The land north of Lake Michigamme is the most remote and unsettled in all of Michigan. I knew the night sky would be as dark as any I’d ever see.

    To capture this image, I set my camera and wide angle lens on a tripod and framed the photograph so that the North Star was centered in the sky. Because the North Star is a pole star, it remains motionless in the night sky while all the other stars appear to revolve around it over time.

    To get a proper exposure, I set the aperture to f/2.8, the ISO to 1600, and took a sequence of 30-second exposures over the course of about three hours. Rather than manually tripping the shutter every 30 seconds, I set my camera’s drive mode on continuous shooting and used a remote cord that can be locked in the on position. It was a cold night, so I climbed in my van and took a nap under a sleeping bag.

    I ended up with 355 individual exposures. In my studio, I opened the raw files in Adobe Camera Raw and made a few adjustments to the images. Only one plane flew overhead during this time, so I removed the streaks it created in a few frames with Photoshop’s spot healing brush.

    I saved the edited versions as jpegs and then opened them in software appropriately called StarTrails. The software builds the image one exposure at a time, and it is interesting to watch the process. I have a pretty powerful computer, but it still took about 20 minutes to create the final rendering using the finer of the two blending modes.

    I made a few final adjustments in Photoshop to create the image you see here. U.S. Highway 41 skirts the north shore of Lake Michigamme, so headlights from the few passing cars did a nice job of highlighting just a bit of the fall colors in the trees. The faint green glow on the horizon is a distant display of the Northern Lights.
  2. Circles of Confusion

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    Glistening Lake Michigan

    It was late afternoon and the sun glistened on the rippled surface of Sleeping Bear Bay. I wanted to capture the simple essence of the peaceful scene, so I chose a low vantage point and framed a row of dune grass against the twinkling lake. The bright reflections are called specular highlights. Since my point of focus was the grasses in the foreground, I knew these out of focus highlights would be rendered as glowing circles of light.

    Light passes through a lens in a cone shape. When an object is in focus, the points of the cones of light coming from the object fall on the image sensor. When an object is out of focus, the points of the cones of light fall in front of or behind the sensor, so the light falling on the sensor is a circular cross section of these cones. These “circles of confusion” are usually just rendered as an unfocused object, but specular highlights are rendered as glowing circles.

    The size of the circles of confusion are influenced by the aperture of the lens. If you chose a large aperture like f/2.8, the cone of light is wider and the circles of confusion are bigger. If you chose a small aperture, the cone of light is narrower and the circles of confusion are smaller. This is why more of your photograph appears to be in focus (you have greater depth of field) when you choose smaller apertures.

    I took a series of photos of this scene, varying the aperture from a large f/2.8 to a very small f/22, and sure enough, the size of the circles caused by the specular highlights varied dramatically depending on the aperture. My favorite, and the image you see above, was shot at a moderate f/8.0.


  3. Beaver Island Horizon

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    Beaver Island Horizon

    I recently made a 30×45 canvas print of this image–a truly immersive experience!

    Beaver Island is the largest island in Lake Michigan. Most people visit the Island in the summer months after taking a 2 hour ferry ride from Charlevoix.

    The ferry docks in a protected harbor fronted by the village of Saint James, the only settlement of any size on the Island. A little over 600 hardy souls call the Island home year round, but vacation homes ring the island. I visited in mid-August—peak season for Beaver Island—and found the village pleasantly busy and no problem leaving civilization behind as I explored the rest of the Island.

    A well-developed network of roads provides easy access to most of the Island, though only a couple of miles are paved. The interior of the island is flat and covered with second growth forests and marshes—with a few sizeable lakes scattered about. No dramatic dunes are to be found here, though the north and eastern shores boast many miles of pleasant beach. Only a small portion of these are open to the public, but when I visited I often had them to myself.

    Beaver Island’s isolation and relatively modest development appeal to those who crave a simpler life. I soon found myself relaxing into the pace of island life. I spent many hours at the lovely beaches admiring the crystal clear water and clear views to the horizon. I became fascinated by the play of sunlight on the bottom of the lake through the rippled water.

    This image transports me to those relaxing days.

  4. Lake Michigan Gale

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    I’d wanted to take a photo that emulated a traditional seascape for some time, but most especially since I’d seen Ran Ortner’s entry, “Open Water no. 24”, in the inaugural ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids in 2009. I got a golden opportunity on a blustery day in late October of 2010.

    What made this day so special was the unusually clear skies coupled with near gale force winds. This rendered the crests of the waves a brilliant white and gave the waves themselves an exquisite translucence.

    I wanted to use a moderate aperture so I’d have adequate depth of field. But I also needed a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the waves. So I set the ISO to 400. The resulting shutter speed of 1/800 second was sufficient to freeze every drop in the spray blowing off the crests of the waves. 400 is usually the highest I set the ISO for landscape and nature photography. It increases my shutter speeds without noticeably degrading the image quality. Higher ISOs would begin to degrade the image with digital noise.

    I show this piece as a 30×45 print on canvas in my art shows. Although they struggle for words, people often remark that my prints on canvas almost seem “real.” I think this is in part because there is no glass between the viewer and the image with prints on canvas. When printed very large this image is especially immersive.


  5. 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.