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    October 2012
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Fall Color in the “UP” – 2012 – Part 3 – Forest Roads

Logslide Road, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

My good friend, Al Utzig, often remarks on “S” – curving roads being one of his favorite compositional elements. So I will dedicate this blog to Al. In prior years, I have noted nice curving road compositional opportunities, but normally see them when en route to a destination. This trip, I decided to “stop and smell the roses” (or maybe better, stop and shoot the curves), and specifically sought out a number of shots of forest roads, often with a canopy of foliage.

Last week, I blogged about getting of the “beaten track” (i.e., the paved roads), and following some of the dirt roads that are still designated as roads throughout the Hiawatha National Forest, in order to find some great fall foliage photo opportunities. Next week, I’ll illustrate some of the isolated foliage shots I found while driving these “back roads.” The opening shot here of the road to “The Logslide” on Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore,  is clearly not off the beaten track. But its multiple curves intrigued me – enough so that after going to the destination it took me to, and shooting that destination, I back-tracked and walked the shoulder until I found a pleasing composition. While perhaps not many that have this “squiggly” curving thing going on, there are myriad opportunities to find curving road shots in the UP, especially on the National Forest Roads.

National Forest Road; Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Another shot that grabbed my interest was this shot of the National Forest Road that accesses the Pete’s Lake campground I illustrated last week. Jim Moore, the workshop leader, took off exploring one afternoon during the week on his own and drove this road until it ended at a gravel NF road. He found several nice color compositions along the road and encouraged me to drive it to look for some of them and for research for my “in-the-works” “Photographing the UP” eBook. Friday morning, flying solo (the workshop participants had all left either Thursday night or early Friday a.m., leaving me to my own devices), I drove the length of the road in the pre-dawn, turned around and started working my way back. Some time during the morning, the sun struggled through the clouds and I discovered this classic “S” curve shot (my personal favorite of this group of images) of National Forest Road 2173.

Red Jack Lake Road; Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

But one of the goals was to try to find a road with a full foliage canopy overhanging. In order to do that, you have to drive some of the back roads that are less “maintained.”  These  images were taken on Red Jack Lake Road. While not technically “S” shaped, the road still has a nice curves off into the horizon.  The leaf drop along the shoulders and the filtered sunlight made for nice, albeit mid-morning, lighting.

Red Jack Lake Road, Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

The last image will give some viewers discomfort. I have occasionally heard the comment that elements that lead a viewer’s eye from the right side of the image to the left are discomfiting because we read, and therefore tend to view images from left to right. Hmmnn. Not all cultures read and write from left to right; do they? 🙂 From an artistic viewpoint, I don’t buy the suggestion. I look for balance in composition and I don’t feel any discomfort from this image. I do have a number of friends who will take some discomfort, however, at such a severe left turn. But that’s politics. 🙂 My photographic view is “ambidextrous,” seeking only what looks good to me.

Irwin Lake Boat Launch Access; Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards


10 Responses

  1. Andy, I just returned from my Smoky Mtns. fall workshop–the U.P. definitely spoiled me for the diversity of peak autumn color this year!

    RE your post, I loved exploring the unpaved N.F.S. access & fire roads. They were a joy to travel–like a superhighway–compared to my beloved W.V. off-the-beaten-path mountain F.S.road forays. They were also filled with multiple photo opportunities seemingly around every bend!

    BTW, I love to incorporate roads, paths, trails, etc as elements of composition too. Your banner “Logslide Road” image strikes several creative chords!

    IMO, it all begins with ‘seeing’. A ‘good photograph’, which I define as one that captures and holds a viewer’s attention, also communicates effectively. It’s characteristics are:
    1. they resonate and stir the human psyche, not just once but always;
    2. they communicate messages to our hearts and minds;
    3. they are timeless–one never grows tired of viewing them; and,
    4. they transcend technology (old school is good too).

    I suppose your readers will also find my opinion just as discomfiting–there are multiple models of composition, but that’s all they are: models or starting points to achieve an aesthetic image. IMO, what I learned and always taught it is the wise photographer consistently practices all of them, regardless of how accomplished or “advanced” the photographer thinks of themself (then delete them–harsh light is the perfect use of time for such practice).

    Composition is simply the strongest way of seeing. IMO, only when one can consistently execute all of these various models and forms upside down and backwards without pause should one feel ready to begin creating compelling images with a foundation of color, pattern, texture, negative space, contrast, KISS, lens choice, use of every part of the image, or giving full reign to one’s personal creative vision and sense of aesthetic.

    A couple of relevant (paraphrased) quotes that always run through my mind while in the field exercising my creative vision:
    1. “The so-called rules of photographic composition are, in my opinion, invalid, irrelevant and immaterial” –Ansel Adams
    2. Regarding composition, Edward Weston said, “Such rules and laws are deduced from the accomplished fact; they are the products of reflection.” (put the emphasis on the last three words)
    And, my favorite which says it all…
    3. “Where there is a perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see” –Dorothea Lange

    As I said, “seeing” is the key. All of the rest eventually comes to those who learn and routinely practice.

    Thanks again for being a great guide and workshop co-leader for the U.P.!

  2. Forgot to mention: one purpose of single and double leading lines, “C” & “S” curves (like your road shots), diagonals, near/far, etc. is to lead the viewer’s eye INTO the relative center of the image where they can explore all of the elements the whole image offers–why “every part of the image is important”–to discover what they missed on first glance.

    For the benefit of your readers: SLOW DOWN in the field and you’ll begin creating better photographs: landscape/nature photography is not a race or competition.

  3. Thank, as always, for your comments, Jim. I will be anxious to here how the GSM workshop went. I enjoyed being “guide” in the U.P. immensely. It was a privilege and pleasure to learn from you and to meet and learn with and from Sandy Reich and Kathy during the week. Such trips always get my “creative” juices flowing, though much like you, I suspect, I usually do my best work solo, where I have only my craft and nature to contemplate.

    If only the “day job” didn’t interfere, I would be better able to “practice” as you suggest 🙂

  4. Beautiful pics!!

  5. Andy, thank you for dedicating this blog to me! The curve in the road is a favorite compositional element.

    I like your last image very much even though it takes the eye from right to left. Would it be better if you flipped it so the curve went from left to right? I don’t think so, but some might like it better that way.

    When I first saw your top image, I didn’t like it but not for any reason you would think of. That black road with the double yellow line instantly reminded me of a slithering garter snake and I dislike snakes. Once I got passed my initial reaction, I liked it better but the image of the snake still lingers in the back of my mind.

    I like curvy elements in photos. How about some photos with the road replaced by a stream?


    • Al: Glad you got a “kick” out of the “dedication.” :-). I would like to find some images like these with a stream instead of the road. Part of the problem with that is I have to get off my butt, out of the car, and do some hiking! :-). I would really like to find a stream like that right after a fresh, sticky snowfall, for my Winter collection.

      I’m with you on the snakes. The give me the willies. But I wouldn’t have a problem photographing them – from a comfortable distance. And, wouldn’t “flipping” the last image be “photoshopping” it and dishonest manipulation???? Gasp!!

  6. Andy: Since I live in Texas, the reservations I make to see Vermont foliage have to be locked in stone. I try to be there in the Oct. 5-12 time frame and have only been disappointed once in 9 tries.

    Now you have me interested in the U.P. Can you suggest a similar time frame to catch U.P. foliage that will be reasonably reliable?

    Also, would making Marquette my “base of operations” be wise?

    • Hi Tim: Don’t know when you are planning to go, but I am currently working on an eBook on photographing the UP, which will be similar to the Vermont eBook, which will give places, directions, shooting times, etc. Will try to remember to let you know when it is released (probably early next year at this point).

      I understand your issues. Living in Michigan is almost as bad – its a 14 hr. drive to either end of Vermont, so I have kind of split my trips between flying and driving. As I get older, I’ll probably drive more, as I have more flexibility in my schedule, but between work and the long distance, there are no spur of the moment trips to Vermont. OTOH, I am only 3 hours from the bridge and probably another 1 – 3, to some pretty nice photographic destinations in the U.P., so I can (and have been) be more flexible. For you, UP and Vermont will both continue to require the plan ahead – stuck with it routine.

      I can say that the color timing in the U.P., is roughly the same as it is in Vermont. That is, you can expect color any time from the last week of September to about the Middle of October. If I were planning the trip, I would pick the first week of October and the “odds” are best that you will (like Vermont) find color somewhere.

      Where your base of operations is, may well depend on what you are planning to shoot. Its kind of hard to explain in a short answer, but imagine Vermont, turned sideways and you have a rough idea of the geographical space we are talking about. The big difference is no Mountains, so going from north to south is not too difficult. Many criss-crossing roads (lots of them through State and National Forest). Marquette is pretty central from east to west, and on the north side of the U.P. (Southern Shore of Lake Superior). U.S. 41 goes N/S from U.S. 2 along the southern border. Many shooting opportunities along 41 (mainly waterfalls). Marquette offers the shoreline of Lake Superior, and to the East between Marquette and Munising, some great shore opportunities (watch for a blog in the next couple weeks with some Lake Superior Sunrise images). To the west is more forest, including the Van Riper State Forest (where you have the best chance of seeing Moose in that area). Lake Michigamme, and some other places will offer some nice color ops. North of Marquette is Big Bay, which is, in my view, the best “fodder” for a landscape photographer, including a high view down onto Lake Superior at Sugar Loaf “Mountain” and the Lighthouse (converted to a B&B) at Big Bay – very photogenic when conditions are right. Most other “ops” up that way (especially waterfalls) will involve some serious hiking.

      For “my money,” if you are going for a week, I would stay at Munising. There is an awful lot to shoot between Munising and Grand Marais to its east. Marquette is a good 40 minute drive to Munising, and then all the shooting ops are to the East. Also, all the forest lakes you see in the prior blogs and roads in this one are shot due south of Munising. There are going be some of them around Marquette, but not a plentiful.

      Next Fall, I am tentatively planning on shooting with Al Utzig in the Western U.P. More over there, too. 🙂

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