Ocqueoc 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.
Category Archive: Michigan Waterfalls
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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:
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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.
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When I’m in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, one of my favorite pastimes is to track down remote waterfalls that are off the beaten path. I’d tried to locate Pinnacle Falls on the Yellow Dog River a couple of times without success. But through perseverance I was finally able to track it down last fall.
From its headwaters in the McCormick Wilderness to its mouth on Lake Independence near Big Bay, the Yellow Dog flows through some of the most remote territory in the Upper Peninsula. Its bordered to the north by the exclusive Huron Mountain Club, a vast wilderness retreat for the uber rich.
The Yellow Dog is one of the most pristine rivers in Michigan. In recent years it has been the scene of some controversy as the State of Michigan approved a industrial Sulfide Mine near its watershed–a move vigorously apposed by the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.
Finding Pinnacle Falls is an adventure that requires navigating miles of gravel roads and unmarked dirt paths. I’d never found clear directions, so even though I knew I was close a few times, it eluded me in the maze of dirt paths that crisscross the Yellow Dog plains. Finally through a process of elimination I came to a trail head with a small sign that confirmed my destination. A short hike along the ridge of a ravine brings you down to the edge of the river where you then backtrack up stream to the falls. You’ll not find a more beautiful waterfall in a more remote location in Michigan.
I was recently exploring the many frozen waterfalls and ice caves near Munising, Michigan and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I was particularly amazed when I came across this blue green curtain of ice across the mouth of a deep cave. I had been to this location this past fall, and there wasn’t even a waterfall. The stream that flows here must be seasonal–probably flowing primarily in the spring. The deep caves in the cliffs in this area were probably scoured out when torrents of water rushed over the cliffs from the melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age.
This image faithfully represents my experience of this place. But since the human eye can experience a much greater range of brightness than can be captured with a camera, viewed on a screen, or printed on paper, I had to use a special technique called High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography to create it. There are basically three steps to HDR photography. First, I had to take three different exposures of the scene: a dark one exposed for the snow so that the highlights would not be overexposed; a medium one exposed for the waterfall; and a light one exposed for the cave so that there would be detail in the shadows.
The second step in HDR photography is to use software to combine these three images into a single image that encompasses the full range of all three exposures. You can do this in Photoshop, but most people use a programs specifically designed for this. I used Nik HDR Efex Pro since it integrates nicely into my Photoshop workflow.
This combined, or High Dynamic Range photograph, captures the complete range of tones from bright highlights to dark shadows in the original scene. But there is no computer screen or paper that is able to display this vast range of tones. So the third step in HDR photography is to use software to translate the HDR photograph into an image that can be viewed on a screen or printed.
There are many different strategies for this tone mapping or compression step and HDR software often has a bewildering array of controls to generate images that range from the very natural looking to the bizarre. Early in its evolution HDR photographers seemed most enamored with the strange effects that could be generated with this technique–but I prefer a more natural look. I think of HDR photography as one more tool to help me capture the amazing beauty of the natural world.
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Upper Tahquamenon Falls is one of the most iconic landmarks in Michigan. The water is stained brown from tannins leached from the vast expanse of cedar swamps that form its headwaters. As the water crashes almost 50 feet into the deep pool beneath, it foams and boils giving it the nickname “Root Beer Falls.”
This is a very popular spot and the infrastructure is designed to handle crowds. Paved paths and cleared overlooks line the bluff overlooking the falls. Boardwalks and stairs lead to decks with scenic views above and below. Finding a time when the light is ideal for photography can be a challenge. Generally mornings are best since the falls face east. Since it’s down in a gorge, deep shadows are an issue on sunny days.
On this fall morning the sky was brightly overcast. The scene was illuminated by a gentle diffused light that was perfect for the circumstances. I took my picture from one of the overlooks and framed it to eliminate the dull sky.
A well-developed infrastructure isn’t always a bad thing. If, like me, you find yourself developing a thirst watching all of this foamy water rush over the falls, there is quite a good brewery just off the parking lot. They’re open year-round since this is also a popular spot with snowmobilers.