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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.

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Winter; Love it or Hate it!

Winter sucks!  There.  I said it (I have been thinking it for the last month).  I have often, tongue-in-cheek, described my home in Saginaw, Michigan as “flat, brown and boring, unless you like power lines.”  But in winter, it actually changes from brown  to white (and then back to off-white or grey).  And here, Winter lasts for as long as 5 months, followed by about a
month of the brown “mud” season.  Maybe I am being
unfair to Saginaw.  I have certainly found a successful photographic image or two during the 25 years I have lived here.

Thinking back, I haven’t made a “successful” winter or snow image in years.  But I wonder if that isn’t my own fault?  Actually, to quote Jimmy Buffet, it is “my own damn fault.”  Winter–and snow–present some wonderful photographic opportunities.  Light, texture, color and shapes are all elements readily available in snow.  Water and ice are also prevalent and can create dynamic compositional elements and wonderful, contrasty, “black and white” or monochromatic images.

Snow images present challenges.  As a new photographer, I remember finding a bright yellow barn with a silver metal roof on a bright, snowy, sunny day.  I enthusiastically shot it, following the suggested setting on the “match-needle” metering on my new Canon SLR camera.  Afterward, I anxiously awaited the return of my mail-in slides, only to be crestfallen when the photographs came back severely underexposed!  How could that happen?  My “intuition” told me that if anything, that all that bright sunlight with white background and foreground would, if anything, cause my photo to be overexposed.  In reality, my meter did exactly what it was supposed to do (turn my beautiful white snow grey–hey, come to think of it, if I have been in Saginaw, I could have metered directly off that “neutral grey” snow).  In my view, bright conditions which provide high contrast in a monochromatic context are perhaps the most difficult of photographs.  Detail in the snow and other brightly reflected elements require attention exposure.  And with modern digital cameras, getting proper white balance (so we don’t get blue snow) is also an important consideration (although I tend to deal with that afterward in my RAW converter–you just had to know I couldn’t stay away some from “gear-based” technical discussion).

So, why have I not made any successful “Winter” images?  Its cold.  Its dark.  I am more comfortable sitting on the couch in front of my laptop.  I don’t have time.  Winter does that to me.  I really have no excuse.

I am posting this more than a week after I wrote the original text.  As I sat there thinking about blog topics that Sunday morning, it occurred to me that maybe I should have gone out and found a Winter photograph.  My personal challenge/commitment then and there was to get out and get at least one “successful” Winter photograph (I plan to
write a post in the future about my idea of a “successful” photograph) for illustration before I published this post.  On Saturday, I traveled to the Northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan and found a small stream (The “Rapid River” — there is another “Rapid River” in the U.P.) and actually made some winter photographs.  The day was dull and grey; not the best light for photography.  But it was still a more fulfilling experience to be out in it than to sit on the couch and write about it!



Thanks for reading . . . . .