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Making “Art” Images from Photographs

Barn, Saginaw County, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I continue to experiment with digital “painting” on my photographic images.  As I mentioned last week, I have been using Corel’s Painter Essentials 5.  The full Painter program looks pretty awesome, but a bit rich for my blood.  But I have been impressed with the estimable “light” version in Painter Essentials.

I made the barn image a few years ago, driving around my home county in Saginaw, Michigan.  While it caught enough of my attention to stop and photograph it, I never really thought much of the resulting photographic image.  As I began working with the paining programs, however, it seemed like maybe this was an image that had some possibilities.  I used the “impressionist” paint filter in Painter Essentials, and then brought the image back into Photoshop to do some final editing.  I like the final result.

Clearwater, Florida Scene
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The Clearwater image was made with my cell phone, while meeting some friends from home who were visiting Clearwater Beach a couple years ago.  This was the view from an outdoor bar at their hotel, overlooking Clearwater Harbor.  I played with several different modes in Painter Essentials, eventually landing on this “watercolor” rendering.

Red Jack Lake
Hiawatha National Forrest, Michigan
Copyright 2018

Painter Essentials has a mode called “illustration.”  It rendered this image with an impressionist look.  This is an image that has, off and on, been featured on my website, Facebook Page and this blog.  I have always liked the photographic rendition.  But this is pretty cool. too.



Here We Go Again (It’s Fall!)

Second Edition!

Here we go again.  It’s fall foliage photography season.  Are you ready?

Reflections; Cascade River, Minnesota

Over the nearly 10 years since I started blogging here, I must have blogged about fall color and foliage a dozen times.  Maybe More. Not surprisingly, it remains a favorite subject for me.  For some who are fortunate enough to have great foliage photo-ops in their backyard, what I will say here may not apply. But for perhaps the vast majority of us, these opportunities often come only after travel to a more aesthetically accommodating venue.

Somesville Town Hall and Bridge
Somesville, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

I have traveled to New England (prominently: Vermont), the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Maine, Minnesota, West Virginia, Virginia and New Mexico, in various years, to photograph fall color. Vermont has long been a love of mine, and I have made numerous trips there; enough to prompt me to take my first foray into “publishing” with the first edition of “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage” in 2012.

As the previous blog notes, I am very happy to announce the 2nd Edition of this book, with updates and substantial additional locations (the first edition is no longer available, as the sellers required that it be removed from circulation in order to sell subsequent editions). The New Edition is currently available on Amazon, Apple, in the iBookstore, and Kobo.

Maple Leaf
Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Many of the persons I communicate with at this time of the year are primarily leaf peepers with cameras. For those folks, go and enjoy! For serious photographers, I want to make a few observations, based on my own travel experience.

Miner’s Castle; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Preparation is Key

Mental preparation is the most important piece of this. Just because it is fall foliage season, doesn’t mean the rules for good photography change :-). It is important to be thoroughly familiar with the gear you will be using, as the “window” for a great image is often very short, and you may only have one chance to visit the location. In 2010, prior to my planned week-long trip to Vermont, I hit a milestone of sorts, in my own photography.  I had always planned my locations and tried to find as much “intel” about a location as I could.  But this time, I focused less on those details, and instead gave some contemplative thought to what I wanted to present visually, emotionally, and artistically.  I think this contributed to one of my most successful trips.

Hiawatha NF Color Sections
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

What you can take on a trip is also always a consideration. When I shoot near home, or somewhere I can drive to, the photographic gear I will take is generally only limited by what I own (and can afford).  When flying, you really have to consider weight, and bulk. Most of us do not feel comfortable checking a bag with photo gear in it for a number of reasons. So what can you carry on, along with your other needs?  One of the miracles of modern technology is the ability to make great images with a lighter, simpler gearset.  For “casual” travel (I define that as any travel I do that is not specifically and solely dedicated to photography), I now carry a very small, packable carbon fiber tripod and the RXSony 100 iv (a point & shoot sized camera, with some professional credentials).  Even when I go on a dedicated photo shoot, the camera, lenses and tripod are much small and lighter than in the past.

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

A better question might be “what lens will you use?”

Photographic gear is a subject that is often over-thought, in my opinion.  Cameras, lenses, filters, and accessories are — for sure — tools that are necessary to the making of an image.  And there is no doubt that higher quality tools can render a technically better result.  If that is what you seek.  I have already read, several times recently, the question:  “what is the best lens for foliage photography?”  I don’t think there is a “correct” answer to that question.  A better question might be “what lens will you use?”

Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan Upper Peninsula
Copyright 2004 Andy Richards

However, that there are other considerations that will have a more direct bearing on the successful image.  Understanding light, and composition will have much more effect on imagery, in my view, than any other factor.  This assumes, of course, that you already have a solid grounding on exposure principles, how to focus the camera, and considerations of aperture and depth of field.  This relates directly back to the first point:  preparation.  If you do not come to your subject in the best light, it will be difficult to make a really great image.  More often than not, this means early and late (or–think:  during breakfast and supper :-)).  Much of my more recent travel has centered around other activities, such as family time, tours, etc.  While I do make images, it is often apparent that they were not take in the “best” light, and I frequently lament that it would be nice to be at a location either very early or in the late afternoon/early evening.  If your trip is photography-focused, you will need to be mentally prepared to be on site at times that may be inconvenient to others you travel with.  When I have made my fall foliage trips, the majority of them have either been alone, or with other, equally serious, photographers.

Santa Fe Ski Basin
Santa Fe, NM
Copyright 2008 Andy Richards

Don’t forget the “other” gear you may need.  Most fall foliage locations have the potential for very warm weather, rain, and even freezing temperatures (especially at sunrise).  Hat, gloves, sunscreen, and adaptable clothing is important.

Fall Color Reflection
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Most important of all, though is to have fun and enjoy the process as much as the result!  Best to all of out out there and good shooting!

Burton Hill Road
Barton, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Truth in Photography (Here I go again)

Birch Clump Hiawatha NF; Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Birch Clump
Hiawatha NF; Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

[Recently, I seem to have run out of fresh, new material, which partially explains my more infrequent posts here (my goal has been one a week and over the years, I have largely met it).  When I get into these times, I will sometimes look back at prior posts to see if there is anything worth re-visiting, and through my Lightroom archives to see if anything stimulates me.  I have done that for the last 2 weeks.  Nothing.]  🙂

“truth isn’t absolute”

So, this morning, I spent some time with my friend, “GOOGLE,” and found this article, Why Facts Aren’t Always Truth In PhotographyMany will remember the Afgan Girl magazine cover that (perhaps) launched photographer Steve McCurry into international recognition.  He has recently made news (at least in the photographic world) again.  Without getting into the specific circumstances of the article (written by a colleague and fellow professional photographer, Peter van Agtmael) it’s “10,000 foot view” is, in my view, focused more on some principles of “truth” in photography that can be generalized.  And boy, did it resonate with me.  In fact, it can — I believe — be applied to much of what has gone on in the past several months over media, social media and even the coffee table.

Starting with one of my earliest posts, “Get Real,”  and for example, “Has The Digital Medium Changed Everything?,” and “Photoshop Is Not Evil,” over the years I have been writing here, I have made frequent reference to my thoughts on the use of “digital darkroom techniques” to “enhance” my own images.  I think I have made position clear when it comes to the art of photography.  But Mr. van Agtmael ventures into photography that is not made, per se, as “art.”  Rather, he addresses what I refer to as “reportage” photography.  Presumably, the image depicts things exactly as they appeared.

“We shouldn’t mistake something factual for something truthful, and we should always question which facts are employed, and how.” (Peter van Agtmael)


Humanity is not scientific.  Biology is.  The human brain is a scientific wonder.  The workings of human brain?  Well that is only “scientific” to the extent that it is thinking about science.  The rest?  It’s an art form for certain.  How else can both the consistency and inconsistency of human thought be explained?  And so, Mr. van Agtmael posits something we have all heard back in our own ancient histories, at some point.  In my words, “truth isn’t absolute.”  But that is a bit cliche‘.  In his much more eloquently stated words: ” ... there were a lot of loaded words like ‘truth’ and ‘objectivity’ being thrown around. I don’t really believe in these words. I’ve never met two people with the same truth, nor seen true objectivity ever demonstrably applied to anything. They are nice words, but remain aspirational and cloud a more nuanced interpretation of reality and history. We shouldn’t mistake something factual for something truthful, and we should always question which facts are employed, and how.”  I like that.  Our world is filled with millions and millions of “facts.”  We also hear a lot of opinion which is cited as fact.  But even with incontrovertible, empirically provable facts, it is still important to understand context and relevance.

Goat Island Light Newport, Rhode Island Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Goat Island Light
Newport, Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The opening image here is (OMG!) altered.  I know viewers will say I “saturated” it, I “enhanced” it, etc. (maybe; maybe not 🙂 ).   But that isn’t really what I mean.  This image was physically “altered” before it was even made!  I had an image I wanted to depict, and in the crotch formed by the 3 trunks there was I small pile of dead branches which were (in my view) unsightly and distracting.  Is it relevant that I removed them and spread the leaves around a bit?  Could the image have been found the way I have presented it?  Perhaps if I were trying to depict the “pristine” quality of nature, or deny that it can sometimes be messy, the answer would be different.  I appreciate that this is not reporting on the refugee crisis and is trivial in relation to that.  But this is a photography blog, and I don’t do reportage photography.  I just thought Mr. van Agtmael’s point would resonate even in the perhaps less significant milieu of nature photography.

How else can both the consistency and inconsistency of human thought be explained?

Those who have read here previously know the story of the Goat Island Light Image.  I placed those chairs there.  “Hand of man and all that good stuff.”  Again, I don’t mean to trivialize the serious piece.  But I do think the larger point has application to all of our photography.

Fayette State Park Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Fayette State Park
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

If the viewer looks carefully at the bottom center of this image, there is a snarl of yellow polyethlyene rope in the foreground.  A better photographer than I would probably have seen that detail and excluded it (or perhaps purposely included it, again depending on the goal of the image).  I would not perhaps shock anyone here that before I made a print of this image I (GASP!) “Photoshopped” the rope out.

Small things.  But then, from small minds ……..  🙂

But seriously, I would commend the reader to read the Peter van Agtmael piece on Steve McCurry debacle.  While you may or may not agree with me, or with its premise, I hope you will agree that it it thought – provoking.




The Sun Rises; Reprise

Bay Bridge Sunrise San Francisco, CA Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Bay Bridge Sunrise
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

It seemed like 16 images were too many for a single blog post (really, 8 is probably too many, and my blogs tend to be longer than a blog should be 🙂 ).  So I split my sunrise images into 2 installments.

Bean Pond Barton, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Bean Pond
Barton, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

In 2010, I again visited Vermont for a fall color photography excursion.  My good friend, fellow photographer, fellow blogger, and co-author of the 2nd Edition of Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage, Carol, acted as my host and guide for the first couple days.  One magical place she took me too was Bean Pond, a small, unremarkable roadside pond near here home in Barton in the “Northeast Kingdom” of Vermont.  Unremarkable, that is, unless you are a photographer looking for fall foliage venues.  Since my first trip there, I have been back to the pond several times (and I am certain Carol has been there almost daily when she is in Vermont in season).  Our morning broke very cold, with frost on the ground, after a prolonged spell of heavy rain.  We knew the conditions were ripe for fog and steam rising off the pond and she had us there by twilight.  The resulting images (only one here) made the cold, early morning well worth it.

Bay Bridge San Francisco, CA Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Bay Bridge
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

In 2011, we visited San Francisco, to visit our daughter.  She lives in downtown, which put me in the middle of one of the best photography venues I have ever visited.  Once again, the 3 hour time change worked in favor of early rising, and a 15 minute walk brought me to the Embarcadero, at the eastern boundary of the city, and one of San Francisco’s seaports with a closeup view of one of the two major bridges leading into San Francisco, the San Francisco Bay Bridge.  There are San Francisco Bay shooting opportunities all along the Embarcadero.  We returned again in 2014, and I couldn’t resist a couple more early morning walking trips to the Embarcadero.

Mocassin Lake Munising, MI Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Mocassin Lake
Hiawatha NF
Munising, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I have been traveling to the Michigan Upper Peninsula (U.P.) for many years for fall color photography.  As many readers here know, I think highly enough of the photographic potential that I have co-written an eBook on Photographing the Michigan U.P., with my good friend and fellow photographer and blogger, Kerry Leibowitz.  I have photographed Mocassin Lake many times and never cease to find it photogenic.  My writings on the U.P. and some of my imagery captured the attention of a professional photographer and teacher in Pennsylvania, James Moore.  Inn 2012, he decided to host one of his workshops in the U.P.  He asked me to be his guide.  These images were all made during the 2012 trip.  I appreciate his inspiration and I think that week was the most rewarding of all of my trips to the U.P.  I was there from the beginning to the peak of color, perhaps the only time in my shooting career.

Pete's Lake Hiawatha NF, Munising, MI Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Pete’s Lake
Hiawatha NF, Munising, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Pete's Lake Hiawatha NF, Munising, MI Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Pete’s Lake
Hiawatha NF, Munising, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

In 2013 we went on two more cruises.  In January, we joined a group affiliated with the O’Brien Estate Winery in Napa, Ca, on a Caribbean Cruise.  We didn’t know a soul when we boarded.  We were fortunate to have some very friendly table mates and we ended up not only spending most of our time on board with them and another couple, but we have made lifelong friends.  We have traveled to Napa together, and they have recently visited us in our Florida home.  It was a great cruise.  As we arrived home in the early morning hours, I was able to capture this sunrise image of the Miami Skyline.

Miami, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2013

Miami, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

Later, in September, we took what was my first trip out of the U.S. (Canada doesn’t count 🙂 ); a Mediterranean Cruise.  We started with a few days in Venice.  My only sunrise shot during that trip was the famous gondolas in St. Mark’s Square, which took some doing.  We were staying on the mainland, so I had to take the early train to Venice and then find my way through the maze to the square before the sunrise.  I had practiced a couple times.

Gondolas San Marco Piazza Venice, Italy Copyright Andy Richards 2013

San Marco Piazza
Venice, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

I grew up in the Northern Michigan town of Traverse City.  It is a resort town, and by all reports, beautiful in all seasons.  The city sits at the base of a peninsula of land (Old Mission Peninsula) which creates two deep bays (East Bay and West Bay) into Lake Michigan.  It has unique, sandy coastline and a climate similar to that of Northern California (except that winters up there are brutal and snowy).  I moved away from there shortly after I graduated from High School in 1975.  But I still have family there, and only live about 2 3/4 hours away.  It occurred to me at some point that I had spent little time photographing up there, and so, in 2014, with no major fall foliage outings planned, took a long-weekend trip up there.  I was on the high point of the peninsula, where it is possible to see both bays, at sunrise.  This sunrise image faces (perhaps obviously) East Bay.

Center Road Old Mission Peninsula Traverse City, MI Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Center Road
Old Mission Peninsula
Traverse City, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2014


O.k., I think I am safe here: “The Sun Also Rises”

Otter Beach Sunrise Acadia NP, Bar Harbor, ME Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Otter Beach Sunrise
Acadia NP, Bar Harbor, ME
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

When I — “tongue in cheek” — noted that I didn’t want to offend Hemingway and be guilty of the very thing I occasionally rant against, copyright infringement, an astute friend pointed out that it wasn’t Hemingway’s at all, but actually comes from the bible.  I am reasonably certain we are beyond the copyright expiration date for the particular author.  So there you go.  🙂

Sunrises reveal themselves in a number of varied conditions

Perhaps more meaningfully, my left turn into the topic of “sunrise” vs “sunset,” caused me to wonder just how many times I had ventured into the early morning, pre-dawn darkness, to try to capture the sunrise.  So I went back through my archives.  I was surprised (though I should not have been) to find that my sunrise images were far fewer than my sunset images.  I found about sixteen of them, most of which I had never given any serious post-processing.  I will use the next two posts to showcase some of them.  I will not say they are in every instance, my best work (in fact a couple were taken with lower-quality digital cameras in low light conditions — in a time when sensors were simply not as good as they are today).  The St. Thomas shot was made as the sun broke the horizon in the pre-dawn light, with a Canon G12 (which had a smaller and less capable sensor than my Sony RX100iv).  My Sony body is half its physical size.

St. Thomas, USVI Copyright Andy Richards 2012

St. Thomas, USVI
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

I believe the images here illustrate some of what I said in the prior post.  Sunrises reveal themselves in a number of varied conditions.  Sunsets can often be colorful.  Sunrises are generally more subtle, but as the Otter Beach shot shows, there are occasionally glorious exceptions.  Cooler temperatures create fog and mist.  Cold temperatures create a cool look to the image colors.

Saginaw County Sunrise Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Saginaw County Sunrise
Copyright Andy Richards 2006

The earliest recorded attempt I made at sunrise shooting was on a freezing cold morning in February, not far from my home in Saginaw, Michigan.  Saginaw is part of the so-called, I-75 industrial corridor, formerly known for its General Motors auto manufacturing plants.  But it may not be a well-known that it is also one of the largest agricultural areas in the mid-west.  As soon as you leave the city in almost any direction, there are farms and farmland.  This image was taken with my Nikon 35mm SLR camera and color transparency film.  Slow ISO speeds of such film dictated the use of a sturdy tripod and cable release.  The image here was scanned with an Epson scanner and is not the quality equivalent of the drum scanners that were used back then to digitize media in high resolution.  Even so, I am impressed with what modern “home-brew” digital technology can accomplish.

Horseshoe Lake Huron NF, Glennie, MI Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Horseshoe Lake
Huron NF, Glennie, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

When my son was younger (me too 🙂 ), we used to do an annual late summer camping trip.  One of our favorite spots was a small National Forest Campground called Horseshoe Lake, in Lower Michigan.  One of my early “successful” attempts at sunrise photography was, perhaps, unplanned.  I have never been a fan of camping and especially, of sleeping on the cold, damp, lumpy ground.  So it was not surprising that I woke early in the pre-dawn.  I restarted our campfire and boiled a pot of water for coffee.  My son (like any pre-teenager) was sound asleep and apparently unfazed by the lumpy ground.  So I carried camera and tripod a few hundred feet down to the water’s edge and began looking for compositions.  I made a few images that morning, but the resulting shot was a bit of a surprise.  The image was shot on Fuji Velvia color transparency film.  A characteristic of this film with certain light conditions is to render blue.  While this was not my “vision” while making the image, I liked it well enough to keep it.  And it has been sold a number of times.  Who knew?

Otter Cliff Otter Beach, Acadia NP Bar Harbor, ME Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Otter Cliff
Otter Beach, Acadia NP
Bar Harbor, ME
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

In 2009, my best friend, Rich, and our spouses made a week-long trip to Bar Harbor, Maine, and Acadia National Park.   We always have fun when the 4 of us travel.  But Rich and I are pretty unrelenting on our commitment to be out early.  This trip was no exception, and we picked our way down a little known path (we had found during prior daylight) to a rocky portion of Otter Beach, where both the image above, and the opening image were taken, several mornings, waiting for the elusive sunrise I think it was worth the wait when this one finally came.

Sunrise on the Gastineau Channel; Inside Passage Juneau, AK Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Sunrise on the Gastineau Channel; Inside Passage
Juneau, AK
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

In 2010, we to our first cruise.  I was lukewarm about the whole cruise idea.  In my mind, cruises were about partying shipboard, buffets, and sun and fun in the Caribbean (which, it turns out, isn’t such a bad gig after all).  My wife wanted to do a cruise, so I agreed–as long as I got to pick it.  And I chose the Alaska Inside Passage cruise.  It turned out to be a great trip and we learned that cruising is a pretty comfortable way to see new places.

Inside Passage, AK Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Inside Passage, AK
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Another plus to going west is the time change.  Already a relatively early riser, the 3 and eventually 4 hour time difference had my wide-eyed before first light nearly every morning, as we cruised the inside passage.  The sun was pure gold the morning we approached the port of Juneau.  A day later, approaching Skagway, the rising sun lit the sky with multiple colors.

Whittier, AK Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Whittier, AK
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

On the final morning of our cruise, I walked the rear deck of our ship, the Diamond Princess, and watched a dramatic sunrise under cloudy skies.  I was a convert to cruising, and we would cruise 3 more times between 2010 and 2013.

Sunrise in the Caribbean Royal Princess Cruise Ship Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Sunrise in the Caribbean
Royal Princess Cruise Ship
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

“Digital” Michigan “UP” Photo Excursion – 2004

Tahquamenon Falls Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Tahquamenon Falls
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
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
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
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
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
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.

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.