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“Digital” Michigan “UP” Photo Excursion – 2004

Tahquamenon Falls Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

In spite of the newly acquired digital SLR camera, aside from a couple “forays” into “birding,” my photography stagnated during the period after 2002.  I needed some motivation to get shooting again.  I was a reader of Moose Peterson’s books and his website.  He had an associate who helped him with his website and did some shooting on his own – David Cardinal.  When he offered a 2-day, October “UP” workshop at what seemed like a reasonable cost, I signed up (for those who haven’t read here, the “Upper Peninsula” of Michigan is referred to by us Michiganders simply as “The U-P”).  The UP is – in my view – second only to New England when it comes to colorful fall foliage.

To the oft-repeated “truism” that foliage photographs better on cloudy days, in the words of the Dave Mason song, “we just disagree

I communicated directly with David (turns out, his dad lived in Northern Lower Michigan, and David thought it made sense to combine a trip from California to Michigan to visit, with work) and he indicated that the workshop would be based in Paradise, Michigan, and would generally focus on Tahquamenon Falls, just outside of Paradise.  There are two drops, the upper falls and the lower falls, all part of a Michigan State Park.

Curley Lewis Highway Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Curley Lewis Highway
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

The workshop was “officially” from Friday evening through Sunday.  My buddy, Rich and I decided to head up Thursday afternoon, and take a full long-weekend.  The drive up is a 4-hour jaunt from where we live in Saginaw, Michigan.  The northern border of the UP runs entirely along the southern shore of Lake Superior (the biggest and coldest of the 5 “Great Lakes”).  Nearly the entire eastern part of that shoreline is taken up by the Federal National Park System’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Knowing we would be spending the better part of the weekend at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, we decided to head to an area further west – a pretty little summer resort (and harbor of refuge) known as Grand Marais.  We pulled into the town late on a sunny afternoon and began scouting.  We planned to visit Sable Falls – one of the numerous waterfalls that cover the UP in the morning.

Sable Falls Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Sable Falls
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Friday morning we awoke to a steady rain.  It deteriorated from there.  We did find the waterfall.  I have some images, but had to learn how to retouch raindrops on the lens in Photoshop in my later post-processing.  After getting completely soaked, we eventually gave up.  But not before I did something that reinforced one of life’s lessons.  I have no idea who said it first, but:  “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  We walked downstream to the mouth of the river.  It emptied, not onto a sandy beach like I expected, but onto some very rocky shoreline.  Not seeing much of anything but grey skies and therefore boring shoreline images, I turned my camera down and started looking for compositions in the rocks.  The resulting “Rocks, Lake Superior” image is one of my most memorable and has sold a number of times.  It has appeared here in past years’ posts.

Rocks; Lake Superior Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Rocks; Lake Superior
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

The day did not get better, so we headed for Paradise.  We got settled in the hotel, and met the group for dinner and introductions.  Disappointingly, Saturday dawned cloudy with rain showers.  There was no steady rain, and we stayed dry.  But it was a gray day.  There is an oft-repeated “truism” to new photographers that fall color photographs so much better on cloudy days.  In the words the Dave Mason son, to those people, I say, we just disagree.  :-)   If you are shooting close-up images it may have a kernel of truth.  But to my taste, the best I can hope for is a partly cloudy day, with some sunshine and puffy clouds.  Bue sky and sunlight will add some dramatic lighting to your images, especially if you want to include some sky in your images.  For landscape shooting, I think sky is often necessary to give perspective.  So this day wasn’t one of my favorites.  Nonetheless, I was able to make some images of the very impressive upper drop of Tahquamenon Falls, and even squeeze out just a hint of blue behind all those clouds.

Tahquamenon Falls Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Sunday morning broke very cold and the drenching produced a heavy shroud of fog late into the morning.  The sun and blue sky finally appeared – as we drove home.  But we started the day at the lower falls and one of my favorite images is downriver from the falls with some fog and color.

Tahquamenon River Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Tahquamenon River
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Driving home, we took the Curley Lewis Road toward Sault St. Marie, and the bridge back to lower Michigan.  We finally saw a hint of the great fall foliage shots the Michigan UP is known for.  This trip was a great ending to the year and a beginning of some travels and a lot more photography.  And, this would not be my last trip to the Falls and was one of many more trips to the UP.  As many of you know, my travels to the UP eventually resulted in the recently-published Photographing Michigan’s UP, ebook.

A Change in Technology; 2002

Copyright Andy Richards 2002

Copyright Andy Richards 2002

During the years after I returned to shooting in earnest, I was heartened by the significant advances in color slide film technology (still the media of choice for nature photographers in the 1990’s).  We were shooting faster ISO ratings (the jump from 25 – or 64) to 200 was huge, and manufacturers were creating fine-grained, colorful versions of these films with the added advantage that they were able to be processed by almost any lab (or at home).

I continued to shoot flowers (I still do), and was impressed with the image quality I was able to produce with my D100. Copyright Andy Richards 2000

I continued to shoot flowers (I still do), and was impressed with the image quality I was able to produce with the D100

Copyright Andy Richards 2002

The “holy grail,” though, was still to be able to make a decent sized print to be published in a magazine, or matted, framed and hung on a gallery or home wall.  And for some of us who knew the potential lying in the slide, but didn’t have access to our own color dark room, results could be frustrating.  For those of us who lived in more rural communities, the mail-out option was a matter of giving your best instructions, waiting a week or longer, and often getting a result really wasn’t what you envisioned.

The fascination with birds continued and by this time, I had acquired a 300mm f2.8 lens for these kinds of images. Nikon D100; Tokina ATX 300mm f2.8 Copyright Andy Richards 2002

The fascination with birds continued and by this time, I had acquired a 300mm f2.8 lens for these kinds of images.

Nikon D100; Tokina ATX 300mm f2.8
Copyright Andy Richards 2002

Turkey Vulture Nikon D100; Nikkor 28-200 zoom Copyright Andy Richards 2002

Turkey Vulture
Nikon D100; Nikkor 28-200 zoom
Copyright Andy Richards 2002

Bard Owl Howell Nature Center Copyright Andy Richards 2002

Bard Owl
Howell Nature Center
Copyright Andy Richards 2002

 

The Kodak NC2000/2000E DSLRs retailed for $17,950

Like many other shooters, I dreamed of someday installing a color darkroom in my basement.  But the cost of the equipment was daunting–easily in the thousands of dollars.  And the learning curve in the color darkroom was significantly steeper than the B&W work I had done in college.  Ironically, it was probably best that I wasn’t yet economically ready.  I have known a number of people who later found it very difficult to sell their expensive darkroom equipment.

The Howell Nature Center rehabs mainly raptors, but does work with other animals, too. We had a chance to shoot this Opossum on my trip there in 2002. Copyright Andy Richards 2002

The Howell Nature Center rehabs mainly raptors, but does work with other animals, too. We had a chance to shoot this Opossum on my trip there in 2002.

Copyright Andy Richards 2002

By the beginning of the decade, digital cameras had been around for a while, but were not yet popular with the majority of photographers.  They came in two varieties.  Pro-level cameras and consumer “point & shoot” cameras.  The pro cameras were mostly a sort of “hybrid” with an expensive digital “back” (really more like a bottom), made by Kodak, affixed to adapted SLR bodies obtained from Canon and Nikon.  The were large, heavy, unwieldy, limited pixel coverage, and very expensive (The AP/Kodak NC2000/2000E series was introduced in 1994 and touted as the first “photojournalist” DSLR camera.  It retailed for $17,950).  Consumer point & shoot models showed up around 1994 and approached $1,000).  For most photographers (other than photojournalists) these cameras produced image files that were just too small.  Many felt that the low resolution images not only were inferior, but that they would never approach the quality of medium or large format color transparency images.  But as we approached 2000, it became clear that not only would it match, but it would someday surpass.  As we entered the “megapixel wars” between manufacturers (mostly Nikon and Canon in the early days), we began to see rising pixel resolution and falling prices.

Great Horned Owl Howell Nature Center 2/2002; Nikon Coolpix 5000 maximum physical zoom only; 100 ISO Used 3x Stair Step Interpolation on Ghowl3-1 (which was cropped from original Tiff) to upsample to 8x10 size Set Black and white points with eyedropper on defaults and gamma at 128 Sharpened at about 200 amount, 3 pixels, level 3

This Great Horned Owl image was made with a Nikon Coolpix 5000. I used a process called “stair step interpolation” to enlarge and crop the digital image file. While the image hear clearly exposes the limitations of the small P&S sensor and small digital file, I was pretty surprised about how far I could push it.

Copyright Andy Richards 2002

My first digital camera was a 3 megapixel Canon point & shoot.  I shortly traded up for a Nikon point & shoot that was more sophisticated and higher megapixel (but still only about 5).  Neither of these were ever intended to replace my SLR cameras.  It was my foray into digital.  By then, I knew it was a matter of time until an affordable digital SLR (DSLR) would come around.  For me, that happened in 2002.

I live in a largely Agricultural area and serve many clients in the Ag Industry, so it was natural that I began shooting some Agricultural subjects. It is still an area where my portfolio is surprisingly weak. Saginaw County Granary Copyright Andy Richards 2002

I live in a largely Agricultural area and serve many clients in the Ag Industry, so it was natural that I began shooting some Agricultural subjects. It is still an area where my portfolio is surprisingly weak.

Saginaw County Granary
Copyright Andy Richards 2002

My first DSLR was the Nikon D100.  By then, I was shooting the “upgrade” to the N90s, the F100 and it was perhaps the best quality camera body I had ever owned.  I had hoped that the D100 would be essentially an F100 with digital “guts.”  Not to be.  But wanting to take the plunge into digital, I traded the F100 in.  Over the years, I progressed through a number of “upgrade” DSLRs, eventually so-called “full-frame.” And then I regressed back down to carrying a Sonyrx100iv a couple years back.:-).

Saginaw County Farm Copyright Andy Richards 2002

Saginaw County Farm
Copyright Andy Richards 2002

Exposure media and mechanics remained essentially unchanged for a half-century

It is almost cliche’ to say the changeover from film to digital revolutionized the photography industry.  But SLR pentaprism cameras were introduced to the consumer the year I was born – 1957.  Over the next half-century, the mechanics and materials of the boxes changed.  The lens technology changed.   Electronics enhanced and in some cases replaced mechanics.  But the exposure method and media remained essentially unchanged.  Until digital.  Digital changed everything and from my perspective, for the better.

Tractor in the Fog Copyright Andy Richards 2002

Tractor in the Fog
Copyright Andy Richards 2002

By 2000, computers in the household were relatively common.  In most business settings, they had become ubiquitous.  I carried a Laptop Computer, and suddenly, with the advent of digital imaging, I carried my much-desired “color darkroom” in that laptop!  Even in the late 1990’s when scanning became available to consumers, I began using Photoshop to work with images.  From the day it debuted in 1988 as a graphics artist program, Photoshop was an insanely complex program.  Both the software and my ability to understand and use it were pretty rudimentary compared to where it is today.  It has — largely — become a photographer’s software.  And, at the same time, a number of other photo-editing softwares have become available and in a couple of cases pretty much go head-to-head with Photoshop.  So when in 2002, I got my hands on my first DSLR, I was off and running.  I now could go from capture to print, all in my own home with my own equipment.  That early DSLR was 6MP (contrasted with the 20MP my A7 sports today).  Yet the images were pretty amazing.

Red Tailed Hawk Nikon D100; Nikkor 28-200 Copyright Andy Richards 2002

Red Tailed Hawk
Nikon D100; Nikkor 28-200
Copyright Andy Richards 2002

What I have seen in later years, and hopefully the technical quality of the images show it, is a continual increase in image quality.  At first this was by gaining megapixels.  As technology allowed, it became about larger sensors at still affordable prices.  In my own little world, I believe I have maxed out the “necessary” MP size and now I am amazed at how technology is producing better and better images with smaller sensors (which opens the door to smaller, lighter equipment, and–perhaps more importantly–smaller and cheaper high quality optics).

Nikon D100 Copyright Andy Richards 2002

Nikon D100
Copyright Andy Richards 2002

 . . .  and perhaps more importantly, smaller and cheaper high quality optics

I saw a brief video of the Light L16 camera, a soon to be available pocket sized camera with multiple small lenses built in and will give the user the ability to control not only focal length, but depth of field, and adjust them post capture (“The L16 is a compact camera that uses multiple lens systems to shoot photos at the same time, then computationally fuses them into a DSLR-quality image“).  Technology is certainly fascinating and exciting.

Ebbs and Flows; 1998 – 2000

Iris Fuji Sensia II Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Iris
Fuji Sensia II
Copyright Andy Richards 1998

My thinking at the time was that after 1997, it would be some time before I had another year like that.  And, until starting in about 2004, it seemed like that was the pattern.  I went several years without much memorable production.  But still, most years, there were keepers in my archives.  While I did get out some over the next 5 years, there were no real dedicated photo excursions.

Day Lily Fuji Velvia (40) Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Day Lily
Fuji Velvia (40)
Copyright Andy Richards 1998

I did ramp up my bird shooting.  I found a raptor rehabilitation center in southern Michigan that sponsored captive bird photo shoots to raise money for its programs.  I attended several of these and had an opportunity to photograph birds that I would likely never be able to get close enough in nature to shoot.  Two of these birds had injuries significant enough that they would never be released.  The Red Tailed Hawk and the Great Horned Owl were both “regulars,” used to being handled and shot by photographers, and pretty easy to shoot.  The Red Tail even had some personality.  These were fun events, and an opportunity to shoot with other photographers and compare notes.

Nikon N90s Tokina 80-400 Fuji Velvia 50 Exposure data not recorded Birds, Vol. 2

Fuji Velvia 50
Copyright Andy Richards 1998

Nikon F100 Tokina 300mm Fuji Sensia II 100 Exposure data not recorded Birds, Vol. 2

Fuji Sensia II 100
Copyright Andy Richards 1998

Nikon N90s Tokina 80-400 Kodachrome 25 Exposure Data not recorded Birds, Vol. 2

Kodachrome 25
Copyright Andy Richards 1998

Willet in Flight Nags Head, NC Copyright Andy Richards 1998

Willet in Flight
Nags Head, NC
Copyright Andy Richards 1998

Downy Woodpecker Copyright Andy Richards 1998

Downy Woodpecker
Copyright Andy Richards 1998

Black Capped Chickadee Copyright Andy Richards 1998

Black Capped Chickadee
Copyright Andy Richards 1998

The Black Capped Chickadee species became a special favorite.  Michigan’s state bird has always been the Robin (my friend, Phil Dolinger’s absolute favorite bird species.  Everything looks like a Robin to Phil:-) ).  But for a period of time, there was a movement to re-designate the state bird to the Black Capped Chickadee.  Found throughout the state, this little bird is a very gregarious species and has virtually no fear of humans.  I have had them land on my hand (as the photo here demonstrates).  They are active, colorful, and a fun subject to study and shoot.  The two with the bird on the branch were both taken through my office window during the winter months.  Unfortunately, with a glass window along with my mediocre Tokina 80-400 lens, they are not as sharp as could be.  Indeed most of my avian images suffer from a lack of critical sharpness.  I am never going to compete with Arthur Morris. :-).

Black Capped Chickadee Copyright Andy Richards 1998

Black Capped Chickadee
Copyright Andy Richards 1998

Black Capped Chickadee Copyright Andy Richards 1998

Black Capped Chickadee
Copyright Andy Richards 1998

White day lily Fuji Velvia (40) Copyright Andy Richards 1998

White day lily
Fuji Velvia (40)
Copyright Andy Richards 1998

Flowers continued to continued to be a frequent subject, even getting more creative in some instances, with more closeup shooting. In the case of the white day lily, I was specifically interested in the rain droplets.  I also ventured out of the backyard and into some natual areas, with a series of wildflowers.  In may of 1999, I did a quick weekend trip, following a business meeting in northern Michigan, to shoot the state wildflower, the White Trillium.  Along the way, I also found Pink and Yellow Lady’s Slippers, Columbine, Swamp Iris and others.

Nikon N90s Tokina 300mm Kodak Elite Chrome II f5.6; 1/60; fill flash -1.7 Flowers, Vol. 2, #32

Kodak Elite Chrome II
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Nikon F100 Nikkor 60mm Micro (2x) Kodak E100SW Flowers, Vol. 2, #72

Kodak E100SW
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Nikon F100 Kodak E100SW f8; 1/60, fill flash -1.3 Flowers, Vol. 2, #87

Kodak E100SW
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Nikon F100 Nikkor 60mm Micro (2x) Fuji Sensia II 100 f8; 1/13 sec.; fill flash -1.3 Flowers, Vol. 3, #5

Fuji Sensia II 100
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Nikon F100 Kodak Elite Chrome 100 exposure data not recorded Flowers Vol. 3

Kodak Elite Chrome 100
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

When he was younger, my son and I did a late summer, annual camping trip.  I don’t know what it is about sleeping out in a tent.  When I was a kid, I loved it.  As an adult — not so much.  But it was father and son time.  This year, we camped in a National Forest campground in lower Michigan’s Huron National Forest, near a small lake named Horseshoe Lake (one of many so-named lakes in the country).  Waking early, stiff from a cold, damp morning and lumpy ground, I got up and built a fire.  My son had no problem sleeping, and while I waited for him to wake up, I wandered down to the shore with my gear, to take some sunrise photos.  When the image here showed up on the light table, my first thought was “oops.”  On closer inspection, this shot seemed to have some potential.  It became my second best selling image.  The Velvia film used for this image had a tendency toward blue color cast in conditions like the ones that morning.

Horseshoe Lake Fuji Velvia Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Horseshoe Lake
Fuji Velvia
Copyright Andy Richards 1999

Broadening Horizons; 1997

1997 held “more of the same” (flowers and wildlife locally). But it turned out to be a big year for me (perhaps one of the biggest and certainly a turning-point in my photographic journey).  I made my first “photography-dedicated” trip (the first of 2 that year), spending a week in New Mexico.  That fall, I made my first fall-foliage trip to Michigan’s U.P.  I also photographed some of the beach areas of Nags Head, North Carolina, where we vacationed every summer for a number of years.  By now, I had been stricken with a serious case of NAS (“Nikon Acquisition Syndrome), exacerbated by NLAS (New Lens Acquisition Syndrome).  By now, I was carrying the “prosumer” Nikon N90s and an old F2 as my backup body.  For different reasons, those two bodies will remain in my memory as the very best Nikon gear I ever owned.  I had also managed a collection of lenses (perhaps the best of which was the Nikkor 60mm “micro” prime lens).  Most of my flower images were made with that lens.

Redrock Formation Jemez, New Mexico Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Redrock Formation
Jemez, New Mexico
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

1997 turned out to be a big year for me, photographically

My sister and brother-in-law had moved to New Mexico recently, and she and I talked about me making a trip out there.  In the Spring that year, I traveled to Albuquerque, and spent a week touring the state, with my sister as my guide.  We covered much of the state and saw some of the best of America’s outdoor beauty.  It was a trip that opened my eyes to the photographic opportunities there, and at the same time, underscored the limitations of my skills and experience.  The Jemez red rock shot is a prime example.  While I carried a split neutral-density filter by this time, I really didn’t have it down well and it takes some skill and patience to use it properly.  I don’t have the data and don’t remember specifically, but I suspect this image was shot with Fuji Velvia film, which was a very contrasty color negative film.  I didn’t get the exposure right here and the split ND filter rendered the sky much too dark.  While I tried to have a print of this made using a silver masking technique used in color printing labs in those days, the result was not what I would have liked.  It was not until many years later, when I was able to use Photoshop on scanned digital file of this image that I was able to finally make an acceptable print.

Ground Squirrel Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Albert’s Squirrel
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

I was fascinated by the pointy ears on these ground squirrels which were all over Bandolier National Park.  A little quick research enlightens.  They are called Albert’s Squirrels and are pretty common from the Rocky Mountains to Mexico.  The ruins and the old cave dwellings once inhabited by the native population there, were a wonder to behold.  I didn’t do them justice.  If you are a fan, you might want to stop over at my Upper Peninsula eBook co-author, Kerry Leibowitz’s site, Lightscapes, and see some of his work.  He has some magnificent imagery of Bandolier.  We saw many great places in New Mexico and I made many images.  However, I returned to New Mexico for a week in October of 2008 and returned to many of the places.  It was a much more photographically successful trip, so I will save the remaining NM images for later.

Bandolier National Monument Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Bandolier National Monument
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

I have come to see all but a few filters as gimmicky

My family had tradition from sometime in the 1980s, of spending a week on the Beach at the Atlantic Ocean.  My wife and her brother and his in-laws all lived in the Washington, D.C. area, and we ranged from Delaware, to Ocean City, Maryland for the first few of those year.  Eventually, as families grew and the need for larger rentals became an issue, we migrated this summer trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  By now, my photography “fire” had been restarted, and I was not about to travel to a new place without my gear and some planned early morning excursions.  I took a number of images during those years.  This year, I was playing around with filters, and had an orange split-density filter.  I made the image here with it (I also made the image without the filter).  Perhaps including this one, I have come to see filters — by and large — to be gimmicky.  My own rule of thumb is to never put anything in front of a lens unless you need it to enhance the image.  To me that means a polarizing filter or a neutral density (full and/or split).  I do not use other filters in most cases.  But for some reason I kept this one.  Maybe I was just “feeling orange,” when I was culling. :-).

Nikon N90s Fuji Velvia Nikkor 60mm Micro f16; 1/6 sec. Sunset Grad

Nikon N90s
Fuji Velvia
Nikkor 60mm Micro
f16; 1/6 sec. Sunset Grad

Because my in-laws lived in the Washington, D.C. area, we generally combined a trip to visit them with the beach trip, driving to D.C. for a few days; then to the beach; then back to D.C. before returning to Michigan.  The D.C. area has a lot of natural wonder of its own, not to mention historical areas.  Over the years, I was able to visit a number of (mostly Northern Virginia) places to shoot.  One of them was Great Falls National Park on the Potomac River.  There is a Virginia side and a Maryland side.  Each has some pretty photogenic views.  In 1997, I visited the park on the Virginia Side.  One of the most impressive drops I have ever seen is at Great Falls on this side of the Park.

he Spout, Potomac River Great Falls National Park Copyright Andy Richards 1997

he Spout, Potomac River
Great Falls National Park
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Sometimes luck plays a big part in imagery

Known as “The Spout,” it is a favorite for thrill-seeking kayakers.  As you can see, it is not for the unskilled or for the faint of heart.  I had just finished shooting the “scenic” shown here, when I saw a flash in the sunlight.  A couple kayakers were in the water and heading directly for the spout.  I didn’t have the longer lens on at the time and knowing that a scramble to change quickly would be futile, I missed any real opportunity of capture.  But for a heart-stopping few seconds, the kayaks, one by one, completely disappeard in that water.  And then, out they squirted.  What a ride.  Opportunity missed?  I went back to my framing and shooting of the “scenic.”  Sometimes luck plays a big part in imagery.  A couple minutes later, I saw some activity down the bank.  One of the kayakers was climbing up to me and hailed me, asking if I had gotten a shot.  I explained that I didn’t have the correct equipment set up.  He said, “I can do it again if you want.”  Sure!  The only thing he asked was for a copy of the image.  What you see here is the result of luck and patience.

"The Spout" Great Falls National Park Copyright Andy Richards 2012

“The Spout”
Great Falls National Park
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

1997 was a “turning point” for me because I began to have some success with my imagery.My trip the the “U.P.” was over a long weekend with some good weather for a couple days and then “bust” for the rest.  I may have been my last ever “bad-weather” trip.  I have been very blessed with good weather on almost all of my photography trips over the years, since.  Both trip yielded some successes and some shots I wished I could repeat.  I did have a second opportunity to shoot New Mexico in later years, and many opportunities to shoot the “U.P.”

Nikon N90s Nikkor 28mm; polarizer Fuji Sensia II 100 f16; 1/5 Scenic, Vol. 2, #85

Nikon N90s
Nikkor 28mm; polarizer
Fuji Sensia II 100

In early October, I made a long weekend trip (my first since I was 11) to Michigan’s upper peninsula (we “Michiganders” have always just called it “the UP.” [“youpee“].  Michigan’s mitten-shaped lower peninsula is pretty commonly known.  If you have never been to the area, you may not know that there is “another Michigan” which is long and narrow east to west, and spans portion of 3 Great Lakes (Michigan, Huron, and Superior).  Over the years, I have come to know this peninsula fairly well.  And yet, I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of its photographic potential.  The trip began a life-long love of  this photographic wonderland, and I have made many trips up “over the bridge” (The Mackinac Bridge spans “The Straits of Mackinaw,” a narrow transition between Lakes Michigan and Huron, and the separation between the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan).   One of my pro friends often quotes one of his mentors:  “To shoot great images you have to stand in front of great things” (I am sure my paraphrase is a bit off, but you get the idea:-) ).  That has certainly been a factor in my success.  And the UP has a number of different natural phenomena, depending on whether you are near the lakeshore or inland.  Along about 1/2 of its northern border (the entirety of which borders the southern shore of Lake Superior), has been dedicated as National Park land, and is known as “Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.”  These very accessible area has some really photo-friendly locations.  Inland are some truly wondrous ponds set in a National Forest setting.  Waterfalls abound.  On the lake shores there are Lighthouses and Marinas.  My travels up there, and my note keeping, together with a dearth of available research materials led me to write my second photography eBook, Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, (co-written with my friend and talented photographer, Kerry Leibowitz) .

Known for its sandstone cliffs, perhaps its most famous formation is “Miner’s Castle,” right outside of Munising, Michigan.  Munising has become my primary “headquarters” for most of my U.P. shooting excursions.  I arrived here late Friday afternoon on a warm, sunny fall day and stood and waited for the late afternoon sun to light this up.  There is a viewing platform from which this perspective can be easily shot (an thus, you will see this image repeated many times if you do a Google search for it).  This image is dissappointingly soft (which may be a function of the scan).  But it is unique today for one reason.  The view can see the 2 “turrets” on the so-called castle here.  If you visit this site today to photograph it, you will no longer see the turret on the right.  A few years ago, natural erosion of the sandstone caused it to fall in.  In some future blogs I will show images of it as it occurs today.

An additional disappointment for that trip was that, although the scene is photogenic, I wanted to see ripple free water (as you can observe here, you can see to the bottom), good light, and some interest in the sky.  It would take me many trips before I finally got that combination.  But I did, and that image is the cover image on on the Upper Peninsula ebook.

Munising Falls Fuji Velvia Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Munising Falls
Fuji Velvia
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Waterfalls abound in the U.P.  I have made a run at about 60% of them.  Some are not really photogenic.  Some are difficult to get to.  Most of the falls I have shot are either in and around Munising, around Escanaba on the southwest border of Michigan and Wisconsin, and to the far western side of the U.P.  I have yet to tackle the western rivers.  They are on the “bucket list.”  There is one that is probably the “granddaddy” of all midwestern waterfalls that is on the northestern corner of the U.P.; Tahquamenon Falls (the Niagara Falls of the west).  I made several trips there in later years and it will be featured.

The last part of my trip was ALMOST a bust

But perhaps my favorite of all the shots I have made over the years is the image here, of Munising Falls.  I got the lighting just right and have taken others here a number of times and not been able to duplicate it.

Presque Isle River Porcupine Mountains Wilderness SP, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Presque Isle River
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness SP, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

The last part of my trip was almost a bust.  The northwestern part of the U.P. was my “main attraction.”  My destination was Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park.”  There is an iconic shot there of a wide spot in The Presque Isle River flowing through the park, from way up high, surrounded with foliage.  It is aptly named, “Lake of The Clouds.”  A google search will reveal some pretty impressive images of this scene.  But none of them are mine:-).  It is a long shot from my home in Michigan and a long shot even from Munising.  To date, I have made one trip there.  And as I approached the escarpment from which you see this scene, the weather had deteriorated, bringing in clouds and a steady 30-mph wind.  Conditions were difficult and I had to literally lean on my tripod to get a still enough base to shoot.  Also, the fall color was still in its infancy — not the conditions I had hoped for.   I made some shots, and decided I could only hope for a better chance at sunrise.  This chance never materialized as I awoke before sunrise to a steady, hard rain that showed no signs of abating.  But before I left the escarpment that night, I scouted around and saw the image shown here.  I really liked the composition, but again, had been looking for better foliage turn.  I took a couple “for the record,” not really being overwhelmed by them.  But back home, on the light table, they jumped at me.  There was some real interest here with just a few “firecracker” trees turned in a relative sea of green.  This image is my best selling image, has been sold for use on websites, printed and hung in several offices around Michigan and continues to garner interest, almost 20 years later.  This was one of those instances when I was looking for the iconic shot and found my own (arguably better) image.

Note that on a number of the images in the last couple blogs I have included technical information.  I promise to stop doing that when we transition to digital.  But since I have commented on film and film-based bodies, I thought it might be interesting information for these few blogs.

Kodachrome and my Nikon Camera – 1996

Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away

Paul Simon; 1973

Pink Rose Nikon N6006 Kodachrome 25 Copyright Andy Richards 1996

Kodachrome 25
Nikon N6006
Copyright Andy Richards 1996

I started shooting again in 1996.  In earlier years, I fell in love with the realism produced by color slide films, and Kodachrome 25 quickly became my film of choice.  When I started serious shooting in the late 70’s, there were really only two or three choices: Kodachrome 25, Kodachrome 64, some Kodak Ektachromes and a couple of Agfa emulsions (I am sure there were others, but these were what I seemed to find in the camera stores).  There was something about K25 that just hooked me.  Ektachrome was a slide film that could be “home” developed and often local shops had the processing equipment to do so.  But to me it seemed washed out and kind of “bluish.”  The Kodachrome films involved a complex development process that required expensive equipment.  It ensured that rolls of film were going to be sent in and you were going to generally wait a week or so for the results.  It took me a while to work up to the Nikon camera:-), but by the time we reached the ’90’s I was a confirmed “Black Hatter.”  And in my closet, I had an old, cracked, brown leatherette bag stashed with 2 Nikkormat bodies and an assortment of “eh” third party glass.  My only Nikkor lens was the 50mm lens.

By 1996, a lot had changed in the industry.  And yet nothing had really changed

Nikon N6006 Kodak Elitechrome II (50) Copyright 1996 f4.5; 1/60 sec Flowers Vol. 1, #3

Nikon N6006
Kodak Elitechrome II (50)
Copyright 1996
f4.5; 1/60 sec
Flowers Vol. 1, #3

By 1996, a lot had changed in the industry.  And yet nothing had really changed (the real change came in the late 1990s – early 2000s with the advent of the consumer-affordable digital capture DSLR).  My first Asahiflex SLR camera had a focal plane, horizontal, fabric shutter.  The lenses screwed into the body and there were no mechanical linkages.  “Stopping the lens down” to the selected aperture (in all but one case — wide-open) was done manually with a ring on the lens barrel.  Focusing and composing was done by using a waist-level viewfinder.  My second SLR, a Canon TX, incorporated radical changes:-).  It had a pentaprism viewfinder, bayonet mounting lenses, and on the mount, a little lever that “automatically” stopped down the lens, when the shutter was tripped (that was first meaning of “automatic” with reference to SLR cameras).  While those were hugely convenient new touches for me, I was mildly surprised to realize they did not improve the quality of my images:-).  This was my first inkling of the idea that “its all just gear.”  My third SLR was my first Nikon.  There were really only minor differences and I quickly assimilated to it.  All of those cameras had to be fed film and mine were nurtured with virtually 100% Kodachrome 25 when shooting for myself (the Nikon ran through a fair amount of B&W Tri-X as a college student staff shooter).  But in the end, the cameras were all functionally identical; a light-tight box that accepted various lenses and allowed us to adjust shutter speed and aperture, and to variably focus the lenses.

The one constant was the most important one; film

Nikon N6006 Kodachrome 25 f5.6; 1/8 sec. Flowers, Vol. 1, #34

Nikon N6006
Kodachrome 25
f5.6; 1/8 sec.
Flowers, Vol. 1, #34

There was also a “new automatic.”  While I was “sleeping” during the 1980’s, Nikon, Pentax led the charge, first with integrated motor drives and then with “autofocus.”  In 1985, along came Minolta and put what was perhaps the first programming function into their Maxxum line of cameras.  I remember keeping up and reading from time to time and was very enamored with the idea.  I have always been a “gadget-guy” and I think that intrigued me.  Today, I yearn for a simpler body that has just the features I find useful.  Every camera I have owned since I moved up to modern SLR cameras have had “program” functions.  I have never used one of them and consider them bloatware on the cameras.  Anyway, the newer bodies all had auto-focus, integrated motor-drives, and in Nikon’s case, some pretty impressive flash technology.  But as I said.  Nothing had really changed.  Don’t get me wrong.  These were often fun and convenient features.  But they really did nothing to change the essence of the camera (again, a light-tight, interchangeable lens camera).  Getting caught up in the “gear” thing, I traded that cracked brown bag, and the gear in it, for my first “all-automatic” Nikon; a N6006.  I eventually acquired an old manual F2 as a backup and moved my main body up to an N90s.  The N90s was probably my favorite camera body if all time and was the last SLR I owned before moving to digital.

Rose Copyright Andy Richards 1996

Rose
Copyright Andy Richards 1996

But the one constant was the most important one; film.  And because of its nature, you either had to shoot the entire roll, figure out how to wind it up into the canister and then fish it back out again, or use multiple camera bodies (something many of us ultimately did do).  I carried 2 bodies in the field most of the time, usually loaded with different films.  Film really changed a lot during that periodFuji began making its Velvia emulsion which was vibrant and contrasty and especially favored by nature photographers.  Kodak eventually caught up with some of its Elite Chrome (Ektachrome) emulsions and it was a time for experimentation on my part.  As the Fuji and Kodak (all new development for them was in Ektachrome films) films got better and better, I essentially would leave K25 behind.  Newer films were rated at much higher ISO ratings (Kodak Elite Chrome II for example, was 100 compared to Kodachrome’s 25 or 64 — isn’t there a Chicago song in there somewhere:-) ?–and could be push processed to 200).

Nikon N6006 Kodak Elite chrome II 50 Copyright Andy Richards 1996

Nikon N6006
Kodak Elite chrome II 50
Copyright Andy Richards 1996

My primary interest in those days was so-called “nature photography.”  By this time I was a little older and a little smarter, and realized that what I did not know about photography was an awful lot more than what I did know.  I began to read.  The best book I have ever read on the subject was (still available) a book by pro, Bryan Peterson, called “Understanding Exposure.”  It was, for me, an eye opener.  I followed up by reading other books he has written.  His were the best resources I had (and still have).   I also read wildlife shooters Moose Peterson, John Shaw,  and the late Larry West (a premiere birding photographer, whose “How To Photograph Birds” remains, in my view, the best succinct handbook on this subject), and many others as well.

Day Lily Copyright Andy Richards 1996

Day Lily
Copyright Andy Richards 1996

Flower shots are often one of the first love’s of new shooters.  They are cooperative.  They are colorful.  They are easy to find and can be shot in a variety of conditions and setups (natural and man-made).  I was no exception and began photographing flowers.  Lots of them.  Too many of them.  But I did learn a lot about lighting and depth of field.  As you can see from some of the images here, soft lighting and harsh lighting can have very different effects on a subject.  I also began experimenting with flash to control the image background and/or to fill shadows in contrasty image conditions.  These images are also illustrative of the need for critical focus.   They are often shot with very shallow depth of field and critical focus on some part of the image is pretty important.  It is ok (even desirable in many cases) to have parts of an image out of focus, but the shooter needs to be able to see and control that (unfortunately there is sometimes a certain softness introduced by the film to digital scanning process).

Nikon N6006 Tokina 80-400 (400); 1.7x converter Fuji Sensia 100 (200) f5.6; Copyright Andy Richards 1996

Nikon N6006
Tokina 80-400 (400); 1.7x converter
Fuji Sensia 100 (200)
f5.6;
Copyright Andy Richards 1996

I also began shooting wildlife shots.  I immediately learned that there really are some areas where “gear” matters.  And this is especially true with birds.  Unless your name is Grizzly Adams, it is pretty unlikely that you will get close enough to make wildlife portraits with a 50mm (or even a 135mm) lens.  Many of the “consumer” zoom lenses of that day has some serious shortcomings.  In addition to the fact that the best light occurs most often in early morning or evening, those also tend to be the times when certain wildlife are most active.  Most consumer zooms were variable aperture, with f5.6 often being the best you could hope for at the long end.  This makes capturing wildlife, who are rarely still, a challenge.  I purchased a Tokina “prosumer” 80-400 zoom lens.  While Tokina produced some very fine glass at prices roughly 1/2 the cost of good Nikon or Canon glass, this particular model was a bit on the soft side, as the wildlife images here demonstrate.  In later years, for a time, I owned a 300mm f2.8 prime lens, which was great for wildlife and sports, but also required a virtual caisson to move around and to mount.  The image of the deer was one my most frustrating and disappointing moments.  It highlights the limits of f5.6and really not very good quality glass, as well as the further negative of a teleconverter (only in the late 2000’s did Nikon finally produce a sharp teleconverter – up to that time, all the commentators agreed that all teleconverters were going to produce some image degradation on long glass).  At a distance, a significant crop with those variables was — as can be seen — hopeless.  Yet the setting and the pose was really nice.  I wasn’t going to get any closer to this guy who was all the way across a cornfield.  While slightly better, you can also see that the Great Blue Heron shot lacks the nice detail (partly due to harsh lighting) we would like to see on bird feathers, and lacks the “razor-sharpness” bird photographers demand from their best work.  But heck, I was shooting.  And I was having fun!

Nikon N6006 Tokina 80-400 (400); 1.7x converter Fuji Sensia 100 (200) Copyright Andy Richards 1996

Nikon N6006
Tokina 80-400 (400); 1.7x converter
Fuji Sensia 100 (200)
Copyright Andy Richards 1996

My “Political Years” – The 1980’s

NIKKORMAT FT-2 Kodachrome 25 Nikkor 50mm Slides - Architecture #8

U.S. Capitol Copyright Andy Richards 1980

My “adult” fascination with photography began in 1976-77.  I was just a bit too young to really have embraced the sometimes tumultuous 1970’s – the era of counterculture, the war in Vietnam, “hippies” and some pretty good rock and roll bands.  By the time I graduated from High School, the likelihood of being drafted was almost nill.  I was only 14 when the Kent State Massacre happened.  So you could probably fairly say that my photography, “came of age” in the 1980s.  And yet, ironically, while I made many images during the next decade, very few of them survived, and fewer yet, have been scanned in digitally.

The era of the 1970’s was one of counterculture, the war in Vietnam, “hippies,” and some pretty good rock & roll bands

Like many amateur photographers with no training, the “keeper-ratio” was rather low.  Two things probably contributed to this in a big way.  The first was technical – not really understanding exposure (I understood the basics – but I didn’t really understand how to consistently properly expose an image).  The second was more related to “vision.”  My imagery was still mainly “snapshots.”  I took too many shots.  They were often without a vision.  In later years, as I scanned “keepers” and culled many more slides, I realized this.  My technical knowledge and my “vision” will – I hope – be ever evolving, but it did not really move forward until the 1990’s when I retook the “hobby” with a vengeance.

Maybe these “early years” were more of a foundation-building period (more to my philosophy and vision than to my technical skills).  During the period between 1975 and 1984, I moved to Vermont and lived there off and on for 4 years.  I moved back to Michigan and attended Hillsdale College for 2 years as a Junior and Senior.  I went to Washington, D.C., where I again, lived off and on over at least a 4-year period, including 3 years in law school there.  It is where I met my wife.  It was a pretty intense time of my youthful life.

My images were often without “vision”

During my 1979-1980 academic year at Hillsdale, I took 100s of images as a Newspaper and Yearbook staff photographer (to see most of those images-made nearly exclusively with B&W and some color negative film, which to my discredit, I did not archive well-you would have to get your hands on a 1980 “Wenona” Hillsdale College Yearbook, or some old archive copies of the “Collegian” newspaper):-).

I spent the fall semester of the 1980-81 year in Washington, D.C. on a congressional internship.  While the city is a treasure trove of photographic opportunities, I was a young, college student in one of the most exciting places (especially for a politically-inclined person) in the world, and did not spend much time behind the lens).  It is on my bucket list to return there on a dedicated photography trip in the future (sadly, it will not be as easy, or as accessible today, as it was back in 1980).  Much of my photography today is not only influenced by, but often subject-specific to those years (readers here may know that I have written an eBook for photographers on photographing Vermont, and regularly travel back there specifically to photograph).

Washington Monument Copyright Andy Richards 1980

Washington Monument
Copyright Andy Richards 1980

I did get a few opportunities to get out and shoot some of the city’s famous highlights.  I even took a shot at my first night-time photography and my favorite of the shoot is the Washington Monument from the reflecting pool.  I lived in Rosslyn (an urban “mistake” between D.C. and suburban VA), which was in view of Arlington Cemetery, the Iwo-Jima monument, the Capitol and Washington and Jefferson monuments and within walking distance of Georgetown.

Arlington National Cemetery Copyright Andy Richards 1980

Arlington National Cemetery
Copyright Andy Richards 1980

There is probably nothing more “iconic” about the 1980’s than Ronald Reagan

The 80’s we turned a corner from the turbulent ’70s.  We became more conservative.  We became more focused on affluence and were perhaps more seriously intent on careers and business.  You could fairly say we became more self-centered.  We also had a more optimistic outlook and things were more focused on on fun and less on societal commentary.  We had disco, and disco music, Billy Joel, Christopher Cross, Men at Work and Kool and the Gang.  Malls became the thing for teenagers, and we spent $200 or more on high-top basketball shoes.  But there is probably nothing more “iconic” about the 1980’s than Ronald Reagan and the “Reagan Revolution.  I admit (in my rare excursion into politics here) to being an admirer.  If you don’t understand why, look up Hillsdale College:-).  It was pretty thrilling to be able to see him up close a number of times.  I have images of him and the campaign that I am pretty certain nobody could get close enough to make without security clearance today.  This is one of my favorites.  Shortly after this speech, I was close enough to touch him!

Ronald Reagan Copyright Andy Richards 1980

Ronald Reagan
Copyright Andy Richards 1980

My digital archives show a single non-memorable image made in 1982 in D.C.  Then life happened.  Law School, career and family.  The next year I have images is 1996.  My one memory of dusting of the cameras during my law school years (1982-84) was a fine spring day when I went down to the reflecting basin area around the monuments.  It was one of those blue sky/cotton candy clouds and late afternoon sun days.  The Cherry Blossoms were at their peak bloom.  I shot an entire roll of images.  When I got back to my apartment and rewound the film, I realized it was Tri-X B&W.  Palm smack to head:-).  Actually, the B&W images were pretty nice, but alas, in my youthful ignorance, I did not save them.

Next, some images from my “re-awakening.”

The Early Years – 1978

Orchard, Randolph Center, VT Copyright Andy Richards 1978

Orchard, Randolph Center, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 1978

As I noted in my last blog, I shot in the 1970’s with a couple different “fundamental” SLR cameras; my dad’s all manual (I mean really manual) Asahiflex and a Canon “automatic” TX.  While I made a number of images with both of them, only 2 (one from each body) reside in my digitally-scanned archives.

The Orchard in Randolph Center, Vermont, was somewhere on campus at Vermont Technical College, where my math professor, John Knox, inspired me to pick up the camera and begin shooting.  While the image shows many hallmarks of a “newbie” amateur, there are some elements of decent composition.  One of the things I remember about the images made with the Asahiflex camera was how great the color rendition and sharpness was from the Kogaku Takumar lenses, wonderfully built with stainless steel bodies, small (but heavy) size, and great, sharp, contrasty glass.  Both images were made with Kodak’s Kodachrome 25 color transparency film (my film of choice for many years).

By contrast (and surprisingly, as Canon lenses are currently highly regarded), the Canon did not seem to render as nicely, in either sharpness or detail.  And the color was even less accurate on most of the images made with this camera-lens combination.

Canon TX Kodachrome 25 Canon 50mm Slides - Scenic Vol. 1 #14

Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 1978

The image here was made in Stowe, Vermont, at the famous Trapp Family Lodge.  The second image illustrates a regret, and a takeaway from modern digital development.  I used to be pretty heartless about culling my own images (which means, to my regret, that some of the technically poor results might have been salvaged today, if I’d had the foresight to keep them).  Today, I am very much less so.  Part of this is because of the ease and relatively low cost of digital storage.  But a large part is because with every advance in digital imagery and post processing technology, there is more of a chance to “salvage” an image that might not have been a keeper.

Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 1978

Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 1978 Color corrected with NIK Viveza

The Stowe image – while not a glowing example – is nonetheless, an example.  The shot was taken in relatively harsh, early afternoon light.  The color suffers, as well as the quality of light.  The fix – done with Google’s NIK Viveza – doesn’t transform the image into an award-winning, magazine cover.  But it does illustrate the ability of digital post-processing to do things that traditional wet darkroom processing was essentially incapable of.

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