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When Plans Go Awry

Point AuBarques Light
Copyright 2008 Andy Richards

As I recently noted, when it comes to my photography, I am a planner. I research places before I go, and plan when and where to be to get the shot or shots I am looking for. I am very dependent on tools from the internet and wonder how in the pre-internet days, one would even plan a trip to somewhere they weren’t familiar with. I use maps extensively, and a Google Maps-based program called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris” (TPE) which is a really cool tool that in addition to giving twilight, sunrise and sunset data for any time of the year, shows a sunset/sunrise/moonrise angle overlay over the top of Google Maps. Usually, when I pull out of the driveway or the hotel parking lot, I have a destination and time in mind, and often have even pre-scouted.

As important as I think that is, I am realistic enough to know that you always have to have a “plan B.” What is “plan B,” you ask? Well, sometimes, I don’t even know. On an extended trip, I will usually have several alternative locations scoped, with data about the type of conditions that they photograph best in. For example, if you are looking for that clear, crisp, sunrise and/or blue skies with puffy white clouds and instead are greeted with cloudy or even rainy conditions, you head for the woods to look for wildflower closeups, or go to a waterfall. In any trip plan, it is important to have alternative locations. If things are really bad, I will use the time to scout new locations, or planned locations that I haven’t been to yet.

Point AuBarques Light House
Copyright 2008 Andy Richards

But sometimes, “plan B” develops as you go. Perhaps the best unplanned “plan B” result I have had in recent years was the image of the Point AuBarques Light on Lake Huron in the Great Lakes. One late May Saturday morning, I left the house at about 4:15 a.m., my destination Port Sanilac, which is about 2 hours South East of my home, on the Lake Huron Shore. The objective was the Port Sanilac Lighthouse. The weather forecast was for a clear, sunny day. I drove toward the water with excitement building as it always does when I am headed toward a new and interesting photographic destination. I arrived just before sunrise in the sleepy little town and immediately found the lighthouse. I hadn’t been there in years (since I was a young kid), but my research showed that the light was inland a way, but there was a shot from the seawall toward the light. This was fine, as the sun would be rising behind me, hopefully bathing the light and attached keeper’s house in the golden early morning sun. I set up and waited. As it got light, it became apparent that is was going to be mostly a dud. Cloudy overcast, windy and no direct sun – no sunrise. While I did hang around and get some shots, they were not what I had anticipated, primarily due to the less than ideal lighting conditions.

So; “plan B”: I knew there was another lighthouse to the North about 35/40 miles. To the best of my recollection, I had never been there. But I had an idea where it was. Thinking the day was otherwise a bust, I decided to go find it and scout it for the future. As I drove North, the sun started to burn off the cloud cover and I suddenly was filled with nervous anticipation, then concern, then plain old fear that I was going to arrive to a great scene, but too late in the morning to photograph the light. This day, however, was one of the days that cooperates, and developed very slowly. I am guessing I was at the light between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m., usually right on the edge of being too late for the golden morning sun. While this image was not a sunrise image, the light was still nice enough to yield pleasing color and detail texture to the image.

Another unplanned “plan B” experience I had was at the beginning of (so far) the worst photographic trip/outing of my many years. I generally have pretty good luck with weather on my trips. May, 2010 in Alaska yielded 5 days of sunny to partly sunny days. October, 2011 in San Francisco, gave the same great results. October, 2005, 2006 and 2010 in Vermont, while bracketed with horrible weather in 2010, yielded only one fully rainy day in all three years. It was a torrential down poor the Saturday afternoon we arrived in Acadia NP in 2009. We didn’t see rain the rest of the week. Same result in Babcock SP in October 2011. Not sure if I have incredible luck, or God just likes me. If he doesn’t, this blog might be provocation for payback.

My friend and photographic companion, Rich and I left a day early for a weekend-long workshop with pro, David Cardinal at Tahquamenon Falls in the Michigan UP. We arrived Friday afternoon to the pretty little Lake Superior resort town, Grand Marais (not the one in Minnesota). It was the only time we saw sun for the entire weekend! The next morning, we stood in the middle of the Sable River trying to shoot Sable Falls without raindrops on our lenses – to no avail. After following the creek down to the rocky Lake Superior shoreline, we found nothing but grey skies, dark grey water, waves and rain. We were ready to go find someplace warm and dry to have coffee and some breakfast. Not giving up easily, I vowed to bring back at least one image of the morning. I put my 60mm micro Nikkor lens on and pointed my camera down at the rocky shore in a puddle of water and began taking a series of closeup shots of the rocks. This image is the result and has hung on several walls around Michigan. I have always liked the strong graphics, the vivid colors in the rocks and the fine details in the sand.

Lake Superior Shore; Grand Marais, MI
Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

Another “plan B” yielded an image that gets a lot of comment from folks who see the print. I headed to my local National Wildlife Refuge one late October morning to try to find some fall color. The leaves were mainly off the trees that morning and nothing in the nature of a “landscape” image came about. So I turned my camera to the water in a small slough and started looking for more intimate compositions. I think the image of leaves floating on the water is pleasing, even with some blown out highlights on some of the leaves.

Leaves On Water; Shiawassee NWR, Saginaw, MI
Copyright 2004 Andy Richards

In 1997, I went to Munising, Michigan to photograph Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. One of the iconic photographic subjects is a very unique sandstone formation known as Miner’s Castle. In 1997, with its 2 distinct “turrets” of stone, it very much resembled a castle. Sadly, in recent years, the left “turret” fell and today’s version, which still definitely photogenic—and still definitely worth a trip, has only the large “turret” to the left. I found the site on a gorgeous late September Friday evening with nearly flat clear water around the base of the formation. You could see all the way to the bottom. The sunset yielded beautiful reds, pinks and purples. But the contrast was substantial and I wasn’t familiar enough with exposure back then to know I needed split neutral density filters to make that image (using film back then). In 2007, I had another opportunity to be in Munising on a Saturday evening and with hopes of re-creating the shot the “right way” (by now, I was shooting with a DSLR and knew I could make multiple exposures and combine them in PS), I headed for the site. Alas, Mother Nature had a different idea. Wind whipped at very high speeds, creating rough conditions and waves.

Miner’s Castle, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising, MI
Copyright 2007 Andy Richards

Plan B”: The closeup shot of the “portal” at the bottom of the “castle” with white water rushing out.

In October 2010, I stayed 2 days in Montpelier, Vermont to photograph the vicinity.  I planned to arrive for sunrise in Peacham (about an hour away) for a shot that I had scouted (completely missed on prior trips in 2005 and 2006) after seeing a photograph of the village from this location.  I awoke to a constant drizzle which occasionally became a downpour.  Knowing there would be no sunrise, I headed about 45 minutes in the opposite direction, down Route 100, to a place I found in 2006 on the Mad River.  “Plan B”:  Donning rain gear and rubber barn boots, I spent the morning in the river shooting the several cascades made by the “river” as it descends into Waitsfield.  The rain added a wetness to the rocks that gives it a rich color saturation

Mad River, Waitsfield, VT
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

I will be on the road off and on over the next several weekends, on family business in Missouri, up to the Michigan U.P. for a scouting trip for October, and then, to Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone NP for a week in May. I will probably take a hiatus here off and on during that period, as I “recharge” my photographic arsenal; and my creative “batteries.” I am looking forward to having a chance to give the new lens lineup a solid workout, and to see yet again, a new (to me) part of our beautiful United States.

As always, thanks so much for reading………….

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