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Photographing the Michigan U.P.; Update – Iron Mountain Area

Fumee Falls
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

As I noted in my recent blog about my quick U.P. trip this fall, I did have an opportunity to scout two new areas.  The first was the Escanaba Area, and particularly, the Garden and Stonington Peninsulas, which I covered in the previous blog.  My plan was to to shoot as much as possible around the good light, but if the weather was uncooperative, to make the approximately 1 hour drive to Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Perhaps unfortunately, the weather was not very cooperative all weekend.

Fumee Falls
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Perhaps best known these days for its provenance for nationally noted sports coaches, Iron Mountain’s welcome sign boasts of being “the “proud hometown of Tom Izzo and Steve Mariucci.” But it certainly is also world-renowned for its namesake.  At one time, Iron Mountain held one of the largest iron ore producing and processing resources in the world.  There is still a mine there, which can be toured.  While I am not sure I would consider the area a photographer’s destination, a day trip would probably be filled with opportunities.  The color in Iron Mountain was still nice, but well past “peak” when I was there in the second week of October. Escanaba is approximately 50 miles further west (from Escanaba) on U.S. 2. Being inland and at a higher elevation, this area’s probable normal “peak” is late September to early October.

Fumee Falls
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The area is blessed with some nice natural phenomena, including rivers, waterfalls, rocky foothills, and lakes.  Just east, and outside of town, there is a roadside stop for Fumee Falls.  Fumee is perhaps the most accessible of the numerous waterfalls in the Michigan U.P.  This was my first trip to these falls.  There are two drops visible from the roadside, with a small, photogenic footbridge across the stream at the bottom of the second and larger drop.  Many years of visitor traffic has resulted in significant erosion of the original falls area, and today, viewing is restricted to the boardwalks which border the falls.  While this perhaps limits the photographer’s access, it hopefully preserves the falls for the future.  Although the light was terrible, I was able to make a couple “record images.”

Lake Antoine
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Just to the Northeast of the downtown area, is a nice small lake, Lake Antoine.  The northern 1/2 of the city of Iron Mountain borders the west endo of the lake. There is a significant residential presence around the west side of the lake.  On the east end, is Antoine Park, a public beach, picnic and boat launch.  I found a small memorial park with a fishing pier on the way to the lake, and make a couple images.    Antione Lake Road loops around the lake and crosses U.S. 2 both to the east of and to the north of town.

Understory; Fumee Recreation Area
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

About 4 miiles east of downtown is the small community of Quinnesec.  In about 2 1/4 miles, you will come to County Road 10 (a/k/a “Upper Pine Creek Road), which goes north, to The Fumee Recreation Area. The entrance is marked, but it is a rustic sign, about 1 mile north of U.S. 2.  There is a parking lot and no motorized travel is allowed beyond. There are two lakes, “Little Fumee Lake,” and “Big Fumee Lake.”  The recreation area has several trails around both lakes, with a total of about 8 miles of trails, which are used by walkers, runners, bicyclists and horseback riders.  I walked the short trail around “Little Fumee.”  Again, the light was awful, but I could see the possibility of some nice imagery.

Fumee Recreation Area
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

On the county road in to the recreation area, I also found some nice farm scenery.  The shot here is on what appears to be a private road, called “Baclack Road.”

Farm near Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

 

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Escanaba Area; (Update – “Photographing Michigan’s UP”)

Sturgeon River
Nahma; Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Six years ago, I made my first gambit into “publishing.”  That word used to be a big deal.  These days?  Not so much.  With just a little initiative and some cash, anyone can now publish online.  So, in 2012, believing there was a need,  I published my first eBook, “PHOTOGRAPHING VERMONT’S FALL FOLIAGE.”  The book was the result of my personal experience with a dearth of current, useful information about “places” in Vermont that I had seen in print, but did not know how to find.  So I began keeping relatively detailed notes on my own shooting experience in the two places I have spent the most time in:  Vermont and the Michigan Upper Peninsula.  The book (now in its 2nd edition – 2017) seem to be relatively well received, and so, I decided to add the Michigan eBook, “PHOTOGRAPHING MICHIGAN’S UPPER PENINSULA,” to the mix.  By the time I was ready to pursue publication in earnest, I realized that my own personal experience was not enough.  Adding a co-author (done, now for both books) would at least double the coverage and give the reader not only more material but new and different insights.  With that in mind, Kerry Leibowitz and I co-authored and published the Michigan UP photography book (when a second edition will be in the outing remains to be seen).  Until that does occur, the best that I can do is to try to update readers with new information here, and hope it somehow gets “out there.”

The Munising area, with Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and The Hiawatha N.F., still remains the “most bang for the buck” destination

The Michigan e-Book had a perhaps unbalanced focus on the northeastern U.P., particularly in the area between Munising and Paradise.  This encompasses much of the “Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore,” and the Hiawatha National Forest.  But my continuing research seems to support the proposition that this is still one of, if not the most fertile ground for the outdoor and landscape photographer.  There is just so much to shoot in a fairly compact area, that it remains the most “bang for the buck” destination, especially for a new visitor.

Having spent a lot of time in and around Munising, I only had a brief window to travel to the U.P. this fall and I wanted to explore some areas that I had only touched on and had not extensively explored.  The eBook has only coverage of Fayette State Park, and a couple nice waterfalls in this area (all of which I had visited on a short trip in late October, 2007).  So this year, I spent the better part of 3 and 1/2 days driving and exploring (and occasionally shooting) in the Escanaba area.  I’ll summarize some of my “findings” here.

Farm on Stonington Peninsula; Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The area which I am calling “The Escanaba Area” is a part of the U.P., which is basically the south-central part of the main peninsula, nearly bordering on Wisconsin.  The area is bounded on the south by Lake Michigan.  To the east of Escanaba are two peninsulas, which extend south into Lake Michigan; the Stonington Peninsula, and the Garden Peninsula. Stonington is the first peninsula, to the east of Escanaba, and forms Little Bay De Noc and Big Bay De Noc, between the “mainland” and the peninsula.  My hastily planned trip had not included any particular destinations on this peninsula, but perhaps some driving and exploring.  I have a friend who has a cottage on the Stonington Peninsula, however, facing Escanaba, and I was able to stop and see him – and get some suggestions for possible shooting locations.  The bays De Noc and their peninsulas reach toward the iconically famous “Door” Peninsula of Wisconsin which forms Green Bay, in Lake Michigan.

Fayette State Park is a location definitely worth a stop

Originally, my primary focus was originally on the Garden Peninsula.  I arrived there on Friday afternoon.  “Garden” sounds awfully inviting.  I am not sure where the name comes from, but it is really not anything unique as far as Michigan goes.  Fayette State Park (an old iron smelting operation in the late 1800’s) is a few miles down the west side of the peninsula.  The area was preserved as a State Park in 1959, and the grounds are nicely kept.  Most of the old buildings, including brick blast furnaces, some housing, and timbers in the area where the ore boats docked, have been preserved.  Most of the trees around the park, including up on the bluff behind the harbor, are Beech, Birch and other varieties, which tend to turn a bit later and last a bit longer than the more colorful Maples.  They are more yellow, rust and orange in coloration, but still provide a nice photographic opportunity.  There are a couple very large maples on the grounds near the furnaces that seem to also turn later.  Most of the U.P. was well past peak the weekend I was there.  The harbor, called “Snail Shell Harbor,” is a harbor of refuge on Lake Michigan and has a nice modern harbor which can hold just a few boats at a time.  My shot of the old crib timbers was made from the modern harbor, and is one of my favorite “U.P.” Images.

Fayette State Park, Michigan U.P. – Copyright 2007 Andy Richards

The drive down to Fayette State Park begins at the small community of Garden Corners, at the northern base of the peninsula, where U.S. 2 intersects with MI 183.  As you follow down toward the park, you pass through the town of Garden.  It appears to be a mix of farm and summer dwellers, and there is nice harbor – Garden Bay – that the town borders.  Wikipedia notes that it has a year-round population of less than 1,000 people, and the median income is well below the U.S. officially published “poverty” line.  As I approached Garden, I was greeted by the bittersweet view of one of the near-ubiquitous “Wind Farms,” that have cropped up over the State of Michigan.   I am certainly cognizant of the desirability of cultivating renewable energy resources.  And where there is water, there is wind.  At the same time, It is hard to see these massive, whirly-gig, towers as bucholic or photogenic.  Form subsequent research, I learned that this was the first wind farm in the U.P.  It has been the subject of some controversy, and appears at the moment, to be the only such farm in the U.P.

Unfortunately, I saw very little sun and experienced mostly grey, dreary sky and drizzle for most of the weekend.  While overcast conditions can sometimes enhance colors, in my opinion, there is only so much you can do without including the sky in landscape photos.  So This weekend would not turn out to be very good for shooting.  I drove the perimeter of the Garden Peninsula, including a stop at Fayette State Park.  By this time of year, the park is essentially closed up for the season (although I think it was still “officially” open), and almost deserted.  That is actually a good thing for a photographer.  I briefly walked parts of the park, and confirmed in my mind that this is a location definitely worth a stop.  I took a couple cross-roads, also, as thought I had recalled some “long view” farm scenes which might reveal some fall color as well as views of the lake in the background.  It may well be that inhabitants of the area could tel me otherwise, but I did not find anything really worth a stop on the balance of the peninsula.

Farm Scene; Stonington Peninsula; Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The Stonington Peninsula, however, revealed several worthwhile items and some rather picturesque driving, particularly along the eastern side of the the peninsula.  Though not necessarily providing the “long view” of Lake Michigan in the background, there were – nonetheless – some nice farm views.  Had the weather been more inviting, I might have spent more time exploring some of the side roads and shooting.

View From Farmer’s Dock
Stonington, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

My first “stop” in Stonington was provided by my friend who had the cottage nearby.  There is a public boat launch just south of the small community of Stonington, called the Farmer’s Dock.  There is a nice rock bluff to the northeast across the water, that was nicely lit by the only sunrise I saw all weekend.  Saturday morning turned out to have some early sun and then some late sun, alas with the same cloudy, dreary conditions in between.  My research told me that sunrise was around 8:00 a.m. (one of the positives of fall shooting is that the days are shorter – which means the mornings aren’t so awfully early 🙂 ).  My hotel was about 45 minutes from the dock, so I left at 7:00.  The dock is just under 14 miles down Delta County Road 513, from the intersection of U.S. 2, east of Rapid River.  The boat launch entry is on Swede 13 Road.  While I cannot say this is a recommended destination, if you are in the area, it has some promise.

After the sunrise, I headed across the peninsula, in search of a “tunnel of trees” my friend also recommended.  About 2 miles back north from the Swede 13 Road intersection, on CR 513, you come to the intersection of CR513 and Old K10 17 Road (approximately 12 miles south from U.S. 2).  K10 will take you east across the peninsula.  In about 6 miles, you will cross County Road 511.  In about another mile, you will turn south and after about another mile, east again.  At some point the road will have changed from pavement to gravel.  As you round the bend, you will see the tree tunnel, which appears to go on for about 2 more miles.  Colors were mostly yellow, gold and orange.  But it is an impressive tunnel.

Tree Tunnel
Stonington Peninsula
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I drove a few more of the back roads on this part of the Peninsula, but really didn’t find much else to photograph. There are lots of “curve in the road” shots, but none that really got me excited. I did follow County Road 513 to its southern end, on Peninsula Point, where the Peninsula Point Light stands. It is not a particularly noteworthy or photogenic light, and I did not even take a “record” image. For the lighthouse hunters out there, it may be worth the drive, though the last mile or two is a narrow 2-track.

Stonington Peninsula
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I drove up the eastern side of the Peninsula during the balance of the morning, and then down the coastline along Lake Michigan to the historic town of Nahma.  County Road 513 goes nearly the entire length of the peninsula, and to the north, is where I found some nice farm scenes.  Again, the poor shooting conditions meant that I didn’t make as many stop, nor explore the side roads as much as I might otherwise have done.

Farm; Stonington Peninsula
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

My morning ended by visiting the so-called historic town of Nahma.  While it may have some charm in the busy summer months, there was little going on there this afternoon.  They do have some pretty well preserved natural areas.  I stopped a couple times along the Sturgeon River, which empties into Lake Michigan just west of the little downtown.  The opening image was made there.

I spent my afternoon driving up the Hiawatha National Forest Road H-13, up to just south of Munising.  The sun peaked out for an hour or so that afternoon and I visited the old haunts: Pete’s Lake, Mocassin Lake, Counsel and Red Jack Lakes.  Hot afternoon sun made any shooting pointless, but I was able to confirm that they still hold their place as premier shooting destinations.

Headed back toward Escanaba, I decided to find a rather difficult to find, waterfall; Whitefish Falls on the way home.  I was able to find it, and discovered some significant changes, which I will discuss in an upcoming blog.  I finished the day at the National Forest Campground boat ramp back on the Stonington Peninsula.  The entrance to this boat ramp is  just 2 miles south of U.S. 2 on County Road 13.  There was some nice color there, but I was really too late for any good sunlight for shooting.  But Mother Nature obliged me with the only sunset I saw all weekend.

Sunset; Little Bay De Noc
Stonington Peninsula
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

October Foliage; November Weather

Scenic Overlook; Epoufette, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Once autumn arrives many of us who are outdoor photographers wait with at least subdued excitement for the foliage changes that occur, particularly in the northern and western parts of the U.S.  Over the years, I have come to expect a week or two of cool, sunny-to-partly-sunny, weather during the month of October.  When November comes, those of us in the northern parts, and in the mountainous regions in higher elevations know the show is over and winter is coming.

From my observation, this year was odd.  From all appearances, the foliage in the Northeastern U.S., was reasonably good, to spectacular in some places; what we have come to hope for in early to mid-October.  But the weather has been “November” weather:  cool, windy, cloudy and rainy.  Certain “conventional wisdom” has it that rainy, overcast conditions actually enhance color foliage photography; intensifying color that can be captured because of the lack of short, blue light rays that cause randomized reflections.  To a point, I concur.  This is particularly true with closeup images.

Farm; Trenary, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

But that same conventional wisdom acknowledges that photography, at its core, is about light.  Good light = good imagery.  Bad light often results in wasted effort.  I often use that time to scout locations, and sometimes to shoot to make “record” images or to look later at composition.  And, in my view, solid, gray overcast skies make for bad light.  What I am looking for is either partly cloudy with puffy white clouds, or “edge” weather (just before or after a storm) which can create dramatic lighting.

My time in the field has been abbreviated this year.  I spent 3 days in the Michigan “U.P,” exploring new territory (for me).  Based on others’ images, I may have missed the best color, which seemed to be evident in my old “hunting” grounds in the Northeastern U.P., and perhaps up in the western portion in the Porcupine Mountains.  In our eBook, Photographing Michigan’s U.P., Kerry Leibowitz and I concentrated heavily on the northeastern region from Marquette to Sault St. Marie, along the southern shore of Lake Superior, and in the Hiawatha National Forest.  Those places are still the premiere locations.

Fumee Falls
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

But in my Travels, I had spent a brief stint in the Escanaba area.  Two peninsulas jut down into Lake Michigan just east of Escanaba, which is the southernmost part of the U.P., on Lake Michigan.  Without intending to denigrate Escanaba, for the outdoor photographer, does not appear to hold much interest for outdoor photographers.  If there is any promise, it would be during the summer months, when the boat marina is full of boats.  My interest, however, was in the two peninsulas.  The first one, immediately east of Escanaba, forms Little Bay De Noc.  I am not certain the peninsula has a name, but since the small community at the southern tip is Stonington, for my purposes, I will refer to is at “The Stonington Peninsula.”  The second peninsula, further east, is known as “The Garden Peninsula.”  Lest you get excited about what the name suggests, it gets its name from the township and community which is at its northern base; “Garden Township.”   If Kerry and/or I ever get ambitious enough to edit and write a Second Edition, we will augment the brief coverage of this area with some of my findings.  In the meantime, I will probably just do it as a series of separate blogs here.

Sunset; Little Bay De Noc
Rapid River, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I was able to make a day trip from my Escanaba motel to Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Iron Mountain is perhaps best known as the hometown of MSU basketball legendary coach, Tom Izzo, and NFL coach Steve Mariucci.  But long before they were born, Iron Mountain was one of the top producers of iron ore in the United States.  Its higher elevation meant that the foliage there (mid-October) was past peak, though there was still some lingering color.  But I did find a couple areas worthy of some photographic interest, including a waterfall I had not yet had the opportunity to visit.  This was my first time in Iron Mountain.

And finally, I was able to visit Whitefish Falls (not to be confused with Laughing Whitefish Falls) which is addressed in the eBook, but has been difficult to find in the past.  As my separate upcoming blog will confess, I may have added to that difficulty (stay tuned for some clarification).

Farm near Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

As the images here illustrate, it was difficult to find nice light for photography.  As they will also illustrate, the Munising area (northeastern U.P.) still holds the top honors for diversity of color and imagery.

Is Digital Capture Too Easy?

Do We Take Digital Capture For Granted?

In the “My Story” page on this Blog, I suggest that it would be a wonderful exercise for “new” photographers to begin with a truly all-manual camera and color transparency (“slide”) film.  Perhaps there are readers here who don’t even know what that is (or was).


For many photographers – particularly nature and outdoor photographers – a process called color transparency film, became the medium of choice

The “brave new world that digital “capture” has given us has also done a pretty good job of hiding the technical aspects behind the curtain (no pun intended).  To understand that statement probably requires a little trip down memory lane.  The original idea, of course was chemical reaction caused by exposure to light (hence, “exposure”) light on a medium. The reaction caused the chemical to change color (or at least contrast).  While there were some prior experiments, the first “permanent” photographic image was probably the Daguerrotype, in the 18th Century.  Over time, the chemical medium of choice became silver nitrate crystals, suspended in an gel-type emulsion which we called “film.”  A series of red, green and blue layers were later added to the process, to create “color” images.  Compared to the vivid color we see on our computer screens today, early color film was rather subdued.

Black and white, and later, “color reversal” films were designed to create a “negative” image.  The negative image was developed in a chemical bath process in the darkroom.  Then, a second process was used to expose photographic paper (coated with a silver crystal emulsion of its own) to yield a “positive” image.

I believe there is a learning “take-away” from the color transparency film story

For many photographers – particularly nature and outdoor photographers – a process called color transparency film, became the medium of choice.  The color transparency was designed primarily to be projected onto a screen by shining a light through it.  It was also possible to create prints for personal use and for publishing with these images.  In its early stages, this process was confined to a very complex development process, that required very expensive equipment.  Perhaps the first and most famous was the vaunted “Kodachrome.”  Later, processes were created that would allow a less expensive, more routine form of development of the film.  The draw of the color transparency was its detail and realism.


Color transparency film is rarely used anymore, primarily because of the modern digital sensor.  Film had certain limitations, including relatively low ISO ratings (particularly in relationship to grain).  While the film industry made wonderful advances – particularly during the 1990’s, the arrival of digital sensors turned the photographic industry on its “ear.”  Suddenly, we could have a variable ISO “film” in our cameras.  And the quality of digital sensors has continued to get better and better, allowing for a relatively grain-free image at previously unheard of ISO ratings in the tens of thousands (compared to perhaps 200 ISO in a color transparency film).

If digital is so good, why do we care about all this?  Aside from the fact that history is interesting to some of us, I believe there is a learning “take-away” from the color transparency film story.

Our eyes are amazing biotechnical wonders.  Those familiar with cameras that allow user input, are perhaps familiar with the established system used to characterize the amount of light allowed to “expose” the medium (whether film or digital sensor), known as “f stops.”  Scientists say that the eye is altogether capable of seeing a range of up to 30 stops (though, at any given time, depending on lighting conditions, the useful range is perhaps closer to 10 stops).  Neither film nor digital sensors are capable of that much range (though digital technology will probably get there one day).  Because of this limited range, what we are able to record and present is much more limited that what our eye can actually see.  The magnitude of this range is known as “exposure latitude.”

Our eyes are amazing biotechnical wonders

Without getting into a detailed analysis of the various and relative exposure latitudes of different films and digital sensors, knowing these limitations is instructive.  As a general rule, B&W film had greater latitude than color negative film (perhaps comparable to the best digital sensors).  But color transparency film had nearly zero practical latitude.  When shooting slides, I would often under or over expose by 1/3 stop.  Any more than that and the image exposure just began to deteriorate.  So how is that useful?  It forces us to be thoughtful and careful about our exposure techniques.  I learned early on that I could be a bit sloppy when using negative film and still get acceptable exposure.  With slide film there is no margin for error.

But if other media is more “forgiving,” why does this all matter?  Well, what you can see in the darkroom is that there is a lot more you can coax out of a well exposed negative than a poorly exposed one.  And sometimes that is the difference between “acceptable” and “desired” results.  Using color transparency film was an in-your-face demonstration of how critical correct exposure is.  I have always thought of my digital sensor recordings as “digital negatives.”  And, much like the physical film “negatives” the quality of the “digital negative” critically impacts what you are able to do with it in post processing.  Getting correct exposure will yield desired results!

This image, made on Fuji Velvia; the most colorful and saturated film of the day, even with digital “enhancement” shows the more subdued colors and contrast ranges of transparencies

Of course, the comparison between film and digital is not exact.  There is a “science” to correct exposure with a digital image, and the response to exposure latitude is mathematically different.  Enough so that different and new techniques evolved for exposure judgement.  This technique, know as ETTR (or “Expose To The Right”), recognizes use of the graphic, “Histogram” for judging exposure.  I explain this exposure theory and technique in The Perfect Histogram, posted here in 2010.  While again, not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, there are many parallels to shooting with transparency film and optimal use of the digital sensor.

So, to my original question, do we take digital sensors for granted?  I believe many of us do, by not doing the “homework” involved to understand how these marvelous tools do their work.  The “cover” image was taken with my Smart Phone (the ill-conceived Blackberry Priv – Blackberry’s last ditch stand and attempt to compete in the Android world).  My first digital camera had a sub-2 megapixel sensor and produced, small, rather low-quality images.  Today’s smart phone cameras rival nearly any other small-sensor camera out there.  Most of them do not have the ability for significant user technical input, but the ability of the software to “do it for us” yields some impressive and often acceptable results.  But I will stick to my more sophisticated equipment and my knowledge of it, to obtain desired results.  And if you want a “tough lesson” learning experience, grab an old manual SLR camera and a roll of Kodachrome 25 and make some images!

I am experimenting with a beta version of WordPress’ new “Gutenberg” editor, which uses “blocks” of information.  Like anything new, there is a learning curve.  And bugs.  I like the ability to customize backgrounds, and to insert multiple images as “galleries” instead of just a single image at a time.  I am not sure I like the captioning,  I like that they have added drop caps (my prior solution was to make just the first letter in a bolder, larger font).  I do not like the in-your-face, hugeness of the drop caps.  I hope the final version gives us some more adjustability.  Likewise, I would like the ability to use font colors in the blockquotes, and vary the fonts within the text boxes.  Time will tell, but I apologize for any “wonkyness” here.

Fall Foliage: The “Best” Time?

Red Jack Lake; Hiawatha NF; Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

This time of year, some of us get “antsy” about the progress and success of leaf turning, weather, and in general, the logistics of getting on to great fall imagery.  A number of basically dormant internet sites during the remainder of the year suddenly heat up.  Some “old friends” show up.

Every year, there are a number of new joiners to some of the sites.  Some are looking just for “leaf peeping” and travel advice.  Others are seeking information about photography.  Where to goWhen to go. What to expectLodging. TrafficWeather.  There are so many questions.  And predictably, they are generally the same questions from year to year.

Whitefish FallsMichigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

I often jump in and answer the questions.   But I am “that guy.”  No short, definitive answers here. 🙂 A question on a Facebook page earlier this week prompted me to think about this blog.  So I thought I would do some “Q&A.”

Predictably, they are generally the same questions from year to year.

The question I see most often asked is:  When is the best time to go to a destination for “peak” foliage?  The short answer is:  when the foliage is at its peak 🙂 .  Right.  Thanks for the help. 🙂

The thing is, there is no really good, concise answer to this question.  There are many variables. Perhaps the first is: what do you mean by “peak”?  There are different views about that.  One of my favorite (and best-selling images) was made in the Michigan Upper Peninsula years back on a pretty disappointing trip in terms of the “wash” of color we expect to see this time of year.  While the image below, of the Presque Isle River, as it leaves the iconic “Lake of the Clouds,” is arguably not even close to “peak” fall color, the contrast the early color present is pretty dramatic and pleasing.  Likewise, the Whitefish Falls image was shot during a period well past peak.  I excluded foliage that showed evidence of significant leaf drop.  But the colored leaves in the water made for pleasing color, and suggested “fall.”

Presque Isle River, Porcupine Mountain State Park; Michigan U.P.
Copyright 1997 Andy Richards

Perhaps the real point is that you can find some pretty nice opportunities and views without being on destination at exactly the “right” time.  I spent a number of years of my youth in Vermont, working and later attending college.  I remember some pretty spectacular color shows.  Yet when I travel back there, it seems like hard work to find some of those scenes.  When I lived there, I was (obviously) there every day and could see things develop and take advantage of the “peak” times – when they occurred.  In 2012, I guided a photo-workshop in the Michigan U.P., for a pro that I got to know from Pennsylvania, and for perhaps the first time in many years, arrived when the “show” was pretty well under way and watched it develop to peak and then a bit past peak.  The opening image of Red Jack Lake is – arguably – at “peak.”  But again, “peak” will be different things to different observers.


The question I see most often asked is:  When is the best time to go to a destination for “peak” foliage?  The short answer is:  when the foliage is at its peak 🙂 .  Right.  Thanks for the help. 🙂

The best time for fall foliage is very much environmentally driven.  Weather is the biggest factor.  And weather – despite the irony that there are people who make their living “predicting” it – is nothing if not unpredictable.  There needs to be enough moisture through the late months of summer and early autumn to keep the leaves green and healthy.  A very dry “runup” period is a recipe for dull color and early leaf drop.  Then, the conditions during the generally brief window of time when they begin to change to the point where they drop is equally critical.  Cooler temperatures, particularly at night (think frost), is what will kickstart the color change.  Wind and heavy rain can also be the death knell for fall foliage viewing and photography.  Obviously, the timing of this can be only very generally predicted.

Transient Light Photography Workshop; October, 2012
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

There are numerous other factors to consider.  Disease and predators can create negative conditions.  Over the years, I have noted a shift from the very bright reds produced predominately by Maple trees in Vermont, to more of an orange, yellow and brown mix.  Part of this is because of some blight and leaf cutters that have attacked mainly Maple trees, and caused damage and early drop of those species.

Geography and topography can also make their mark.  Generally, higher elevations experience “turn” sooner than lower elevations.  Areas that are in the lee of significant bodies of water will generally experience later color change than areas more inland.  This is almost always evident in the area of Vermont on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, and on the west coast of Michigan, and on the peninsulas that cover the Great Lakes.  Some of the northernmost parts of the U.P. often turn weeks later than other areas further south and inland.

So, while we can try to plan for the “best” time for our visit, there is going to be a significant element of chance.

Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage; 2nd Ed.
Copyright 2017; Andy Richards and Carol Smith

Planning is still important and getting as much useful information about a planned destination as possible will help manage expectations.  There are a number of resources, mostly on-line, that are useful, including local weather pages, and foliage progression charts.

While I am admittedly biased 🙂 , I think that perhaps the single best resources for fall photography are my own eBooks. Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage; now in its second edition, and co-written by my good friend and talented photographer, Carol Smith.  We have illustrative photographs and detailed directions and relevant information about many great foliage-viewing and photographic spots throughout the state of Vermont.

Photographing Michigan’s U.P., co-written by another friend and talented photographer and writer, Kerry Leibowitz, does pretty much the same thing for Michigan’s vaunted “Upper Peninsula” (which I will argue, rivals New England for fall foliage viewing and photography).

Photographing the U.P. eBook
Copyright 2016 Andy Richards and Kerry Leibowitz

THE Photographer’s Guide To Minnesota’s North Shore, written by another very good friend, Al Utzig, another talented photographer, writer and teacher (who I also met on the SOV forum originally), gives a pretty thorough account of photographic opportunities on Minnesota’s North Shore, along the Lake Superior shoreline.  This area is also not lacking in great fall foliage opportunities.

Some years back, while researching a fall trip to Vermont, I stumbled on the Scenes of Vermont Forums.  This site is a wonderful resource for visitors to Vermont, and to some extent, all of New England; particularly in the fall.  I soon became friends with the proprietor of the site, became a moderator, and even talked him into adding a photo forum.  Unfortunately, these stand-along forums have become less popular due to the dominance of social media sites like Facebook.  But one of the things it does better than any other is to provide “boots-on-the-ground” information during the short and unpredictable foliage season.  I highly recommend a trip there.

A good friend (we met on the Scenes of Vermont forums), Margy Meath, yet another talented photographer, also has a very good Facebook Page; Vermont Foliage Fanatics, which has a number of “cross-over” members from SOV.  If you are a Facebooker, I recommend checking that out.

Big News in Mirrorless

During the past 30 days or so, both of the big camera companies, Nikon and Canon have announced their entry into the full frame, mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MIL) market.  I wondered it this was ever going to happen!  Without getting into the “white hat vs. black hat,” “Ford vs. Chevy” discussion, suffice it to say that there are a number of other players in the market, all of whom make some very estimable camera gear.  But it is difficult to argue that, over the past 30-40 years, Canon and Nikon have been the market leaders.  Consequently, when they do something, it usually get noticed.

I intuitively knew that the industry would eventually move away from the popular and ubiquitous DSLR, to the smaller MIL

I got “married” to Nikon in 1980, and we had a happy relationship until sometime in 2013.  I think by then, that I intuitively knew that the industry would eventually move away from the popular and ubiquitous Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR), to the smaller MIL.  In 2013, after hanging around and watching Nikon, it became apparent that they had no intention of making a serious entry into the MIL marketplace.  Their eventual contestant, the Nikon 1,  offered no compatibility with the existing Nikkor lens line, and a sensor significantly smaller than the competitors and only slighly larger than the typical “point & shoot” (P&S) equipped sensor.  Disappointing for Nikon loyalists.

The NEX series by Sony, first introduced in 2010, signaled a commitment on their part to the MIL camera market.  The earliest DSLR consumer and “prosumer” cameras were equipped with a sensor smaller than the 35mm film cross-section which was the benchmark of Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras that were the most popular film cameras in use at the time, popularly known as “APS” sensors (eventually, technology allowed for affordable and useable sensors equivalent to the 35mm film cross-section.  These became know as “full frame.”  Cost and technology were factors.  The NEX line was one of only a couple mirrorless cameras that offered the APS sensor.  It was still a bit of an unknown at the time and what attracted me to Sony was the sensor that was the same as the one in my Nikon APS backup camera, along with Sony’s partnership with Zeiss lenses.

The “mirrorless” camera, of course, is not a new phenomena.  Rangefinder cameras were widely used by film shooters, even in the light of the popularity the SLR (single lens reflex) camera gained when it later hit the scene.  I was an SLR user.  Like the many other users, I liked the “what you see is what you get” view through the viewfinder (even though in most cases, it wasn’t 100 percent of what the lens actually captured).  But what really made/makes the new digital “rangefinder” cameras stand out, is the new electronic viewfinder (EVF).  Early copies were just not very good.  Today, I actually prefer the EVF.  One of the things I like is its ability to mimic the look through the lens as you stop down or open up, making your view brighter or dimmer (my Sony can override that if you find it disconcerting, but I have grown to really like it).

I know there are a lot of challenges to adding a new technology to very successful existing lines.  Lens mounts, lenses, and focusing technology are among them.  But given the inexorable growth of this camera platform, I have been surprised at the apparently sluggish progress both of the big guys have taken to this.  The recently announced entries by both of them come nearly 10 years later than the first popularly used MIL cameras!  I have thoroughly enjoyed the past 8 years of carrying much smaller, lighter gear in the meantime.

For those who waited patiently for Nikon or Canon, there may be a reward

For those who waited patiently for Nikon or Canon, there may be a reward.  Both of these bodies spec out pretty impressively.  For Nikon, this is only the second physically “new” mount they have designed for any of their interchangeable lenses (the only other one being the Nikon 1 mount).  By that, I mean that even though there have been changes over the years, every Nikkor lens is capable of being physically mounted on every Nikon interchangeable lens body (except for the Nikon 1).  Nikon has already also announce several new lenses (three of which, I believe, will be available yet in 2019) for its Entry, the Nikon Z series (currently, 6 and 7).

I am not sure what offerings Canon has – or will have for their new EOS R.  But both companies have adapters for their “legacy” SLR/DSLR lenses.  Again, in the case of Nikon, that should mean virtually any Nikon mount lens should mount on the Z series with this adaptor.  Of course, there is certain to be limits on functionality, depending on the age of the lens.  Not being familiar with Canon, I am not certain, but I am guessing there will be more limitations on which lenses will mount and which won’t.  But you should be able to use your professional glass on either of these models.

It remains to be seen whether this will be a workable thing.  I could see having one or more of the new lenses for a “travel” outfit, but still being able to use the pro glass for situations where you would be carrying the bigger equipment anyway.  For me, its too late.  I am perfectly happy in my new relationship with Sony.  For now.  🙂

Here We Go Again

I want to start with a blatant “plug” for both of my eBooks. The books (both written with the help of co-authors with their own impressive experience in the locations) are excellent resources for photographers planning to shoot these destinations. Please take a look at these books. They are available on the major sites, including Amazon and Apple iBooks. Go to the link page

Photographing the U.P.
eBook
Copyright 2016 Andy Richards and Kerry Leibowitz

Second Edition!

It’s that time.  Fall.  My favorite time of the year.  Like a cute puppy, I wish it could stay fall forever (maybe I wouldn’t like it so much if it happened – and most cute puppies grow up to be pretty nice dogs anyway).

Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Fall brings fresh, cool air, football, the harvest, and for most of my adult life, the most important “fall thing” of all: fall foliage.

Tahquamenon River
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

While I enjoy photography most times of the year, the fall season presents – for me – the greatest opportunity to make the images I like.  The days are shorter, which means I don’t have to get up so early, or stay out so late, to get the nice light mornings and evenings bring.  The air is clear and fresh.  The sun is lower on the horizon, widening the photographic time window.  It always gets me recharged and excited about getting back out and shooting.

Burton Hill Road
Barton, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Most years, I have a travel plan to someplace spectacular.  My favorite place over the years, of course, has been Vermont.  I like fall foliage and Vermont so much, I wrote an eBook (now in its Second Edition, which features my co-author, Carol Smith’s insights and photography along with my own).

Glade Creek Gristmill
Babcock State Park, WV
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

No specific plans this year.  I may make a weekend trip or two up to Northern Michigan or the Upper Peninsula, but that will be spur of the moment.  But even in such “off” years, I always seem to find something “fall” to shoot.

Babcock State Park
West Virginia
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Please consider purchasing both of my eBooks.  Both were started as logs of my shooting experiences in two of my favorite places in the world:  Vermont and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Both are wonderful outdoor shooting destinations – and both are especially magnificent in the fall.  The books (both written with the help of co-authors with their own impressive experience in the locations) are excellent resources for photographers planning to shoot these destinations. And if you are an outdoor photographer and have not traveled to either of these locations you should – best in the fall.  The books have directions and observations about the best times to shoot, difficulty of getting to them, and other items of information that we have found useful.  In many cases we have even included approximate gps coordinates.  Please take a look at these books.  They are available on the major sites, including Amazon and Apple iBooks.

Somesville Bridge
Town Hall, Somesville, ME
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

I hope all have good fall shooting and safe travels.

Photogaphers At Red Jack Lake
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards