Category Archive: Michigan Landscapes

  1. 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.


  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Double Rainbow


    Double Rainbow

    I was recently traveling in the Thumb of Michigan and had stopped late in the day at a grocery store in Caseville. When I approached the checkout counter, I were puzzled to see that the store staff had abandoned their posts and were gathered at the front window.

    Someone came and checked me out, and, as I left, I saw what had drawn their attention: the most intense rainbow I have ever seen! I grabbed my camera and snapped some pictures, but the setting was hardly scenic. So I got in the car and went on my way towards Port Austin.

    My route must have perfectly matched that of the weather, because, as I went, the rainbow went before me! After 10 minutes I came to Sleeper State Park, so I pulled into the parking lot and excitedly ran for the beach with my camera.

    I was able to take photos of this rainbow for 15 minutes–including a dash back to the car to grab a wider angle lens. After taking more than a hundred shots framing the rainbow every way I could think of, I spent the last five minutes just relishing the view as the sun descended in the west. On the outside I was calm and still, but inside I was totally channeling YouTube sensation YosemiteBear.

  6. Creating Panoramic Images

    Platte Bay

    Platte Bay

    I’ve created a lot of new panoramic images in the last couple of years. These aren’t just cropped from a standard image. Instead I shoot a series of overlapping images and then combine them in Photoshop. This creates a very high resolution image that captures far more detail than a cropped image would. You can see a gallery of my panoramic images on my website.

    I thought I’d share a few tips for creating your own:

    • Use a tripod and make sure it is level. I use a tripod for virtually every photograph I take. In addition to assuring that the camera is absolutely still during the exposure, I find a tripod helps me be more thoughtful and deliberative in my work. When shooting a series of images for a panorama, it is important that the tripod be level–otherwise your images will line up in an arc instead of a straight line. My tripod has a built-in bubble level, but you can also purchase one as an accessory. 
    • Use a tripod head with a panoramic base. My ball head has an independent lock so it can rotate in the horizontal direction while the rest of the camera remains firmly locked. This assures that the overlapping images will be closely registered.
    • Level your camera too. My camera has a wonderful display that I can use to make sure it is level across the horizontal plane. Again, you can also purchase an accessory bubble level for this. For shooting panoramas it’s okay if the camera is tilted forward or back, but you want the horizon level.
    • Shoot in manual mode. You want your exposures to be identical in all of the overlapping images. The only way to do this is to set both the aperture and shutter speed manually. I first take test shots of the scene in aperture priority mode to find the ideal exposure, and then I switch to manual exposure using those settings.
    • Overlap your images approximately 25 percent. Take a series of shots, rotating your camera so that they overlap by about 25 percent. Frame your images with a little extra space on all sides, so you have some wiggle room when it’s time to crop the final composite.
    • Be careful with polarizing filters. I use a polarizing filter on most of my images. This filter cuts glare on reflective surfaces and enriches the colors. But you have to be careful with panoramic images, since the effect on the blue sky is most pronounced at a 90 degree angle from the sun. It can create an unnatural looking gradient from dark to light blue across the picture when shooting a long expanse of sky.
    • Blend the images in your favorite software. I use Photoshop for the vast majority of my panoramas, but there are lots of other options. Some are freeware or shareware, and some are far more sophisticated and expensive. You’ll have to do your own research on this!
    • Crop to a standard size. My favorite proportion for panorama is 3:1. I also have used a 5:2 ratio and 2:1 ratio.


    Sturgeon River Canyon

    Sturgeon River Canyon