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.
On a recent and rare sunny day in west Michigan I took to the Lake Michigan shore suspecting that the conditions were right for getting photos of ice built up on the Lighthouses of Saint Joseph and South Haven. A December thaw, that had kept the lake’s surface from freezing, was followed in January by a week of bitter cold temperatures and strong winds. Both the Saint Joseph and South Haven lighthouses are far out on their piers and in such conditions dramatic ice formations build up on the lighthouses and the catwalks that lead to them. The ice is most beautiful when it is fresh, since it tends to melt quickly during the frequent winter thaws we have in southwest Michigan. Here are a few of my favorite shots from that day.
While in South Haven I shared the pier for some time with photographer Jodi Byers. She was kind enough to snap and share a photo of me at work. Walking on the ice covered piers can be hazardous, but if you look closely you may be able to see that I’ve strapped a pair of 6 point crampons onto my boots to give me dependable purchase. I wouldn’t walk on the ice with them!
This shot had been on my wish-list for some time and I finally made it happen last fall on a quick trip I made to southwest Michigan. A number of Lake Michigan lighthouses have retained their catwalks, but few are lit as nicely as South Haven’s. The catwalks were originally designed to give the keepers access to the lighthouse during stormy weather when it wasn’t safe to walk on the pier. But on a calm night they have a peaceful beauty.
It’s a bit hard to see on this small image, but each of the lamps in this photo is surrounded by a starburst of light. This is another dependable phenomenon caused by specular highlights in a photograph (see the previous post on circles of confusion). In this case the starbursts are caused by the tendency of light to bend (diffract) around edge of the aperture in a lens. Since apertures are made of overlapping blades, the diffraction is uneven and causes the starburst pattern.
The diffraction effect is most pronounced at small apertures (because the ratio of the circumference to the area of the circle is larger). The number of blades in the aperture of your lens will determine how many rays are in the starbursts, so there is lots of room to explore this effect with different lenses and different apertures. You’ll also find the effect is more pronounced at longer shutter speeds. I took a series of photos of this scene as dusk faded into night, and the starbursts became more pronounced as the light in the sky diminished. For this shot my exposure was 25 seconds at f/11.
I was recently viewing a collection of “60 Insane Cloud Formations” and was inspired to revisit some of the more awesome experiences I’ve had of cloud formations. I took this shot from the shore in Saint Joseph, Michigan, back in October of 2005. This squall line was an incredible example of a roll cloud. It sped in off the lake like a rolling pin, except that it was rotating forward as it progressed. As it passed over me there was a an intense gust of wind–and then perfect calm and blue skies.
I was on South Manitou Island, in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, when I encountered this example of a shelf cloud. The leading edge, which you can see in the distance in this photo, was perfectly smooth and shaped like a wave. Behind was the most turbulent sky I’ve ever witnessed. I don’t have this photo on my website, but a shot I took looking straight up into the turbulent sky has been a fairly popular image. I was able to take pictures of this advancing front for a full half hour–and then the dam burst and I had the most exciting hike of my life back to my campsite.
I witnessed these mammatus clouds at sunset over Leelanau county. I was driving the back roads of the county when I first saw the formation and looked for a place to pull over safely with a clear view of the horizon. They were initially backlit and gray, but as sunset approached they were transformed into an awesome inferno.
Although I have many photos of lighthouses that evoke peaceful days of summer, it’s these dramatic shots that really capture people’s imagination. I think this has something to do with the symbolism we attach to these structures. We associate them with courage, integrity, and strength in the face of adversity, and these dramatic shots underscore those associations.
For this shot I once again headed out to the lakeshore on a day of near gale force winds with the intention of capturing a dramatic lighthouse photo. Many lighthouses are nestled close to shore, so I chose to head to Saint Joseph whose beautiful lighthouse is far out on a pier.
Afternoon is the best time for these shots on the west coast of Michigan because the sunlight streams through the waves. This day was extraordinarily clear considering the intense winds, and it created the most remarkable translucence in the waves I’ve ever witnessed. As a testament to the extraordinary beauty of this day, three of my top selling images were captured near this location within a short time of one another.
Because I wanted a motion stopping shutter speed, I set the ISO to 400. A moderate f/5.6 aperture was a compromise that gave me a fast shutter speed while still maintaining sufficient depth of field to render the key elements of the image, the waves, in sharp focus. The lighthouse itself is slightly out of focus, but because of the spray blowing over the pier, it has a natural look.
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.
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.