Back in June I went to the U.P. on a photo workshop to shoot the Lake Superior shoreline and maybe get some waterfalls if the weather cooperated. All of the locations were in the Marquette-Munising area.
There were only 5 of us including the leader so it was a manageable group. My husband went with me and was there for most of the sessions so that was a nice bonus. In each one I managed to get some images that I quite like and that I think fit together well to tell the story of the place.
Notice a theme? It was all about the rock.
Being that it’s the greatest of the Great Lakes, you naturally think about water. Like an inland sea it spreads to the far horizon without a break. The expanse is truly a spectacle. I never tire of these wondrours waters when I make the trip to one. And even though Superior is known as a weather-maker, the conditions were calm and mostly clear. What makes the world happy makes photographers sad, but it isn’t a new challenge and I did my best to make things work.
So that was the first sunset. Not bad. People don’t often figure in my photos, but I liked having those two on the cliff there. It gives it some scale and makes it personal in a way that just a landscape sometimes doesn’t. Known as Sunset Point it’s very popular and accessible.
Doing a photography workshop this time of year means you get very little sleep. The sun didn’t set until about 10pm Eastern time and it rises again before 5. If I was the kind of person who naps easily it probably would have been easier, but I can get by on low sleep for a few days.
The following morning was clear with what would become bluebird skies so once again the challenge is to find something to make the color interesting. I tried a bit of a long exposure here –
This next one is a little experimental. That bit of cloud was all we had and check out how calm the water was. Totally boring. So I made it all about the rock by blocking most of the water with ledge. It’s weird, but I like it for that. A real challenge to process, let me tell you.
This one is a bit more traditional. I originally tried shooting it lower down, but the tallest rock on the left kept converging with the farther shoreline so I gave up and climbed higher. The light was so amazing and the textures really popped. A tiny bit of Photoshop magic to clean things up and expand the canvas and done!
I didn’t do any real macro work, but this close up worked well. These pink lady slippers were beautifully isolated and so I set up away from the others who were shooting basically right on it and used my long telephoto to fill the frame with them, but throw the background completely out of focus. I waited until they were in a slice of sun with full shade behind. It’s tricky to expose and process, but darn if I don’t love it. They really were this pink!
Later that day we took a quick trip to an overlook on top of a hill. It wasn’t going to work for the sunset, but the guide wanted to show us for any future trips we might take. On the way back to the cars, I was struck by how thick the bracken was growing and wandered through some trails looking for a decent composition. Some other folks on Nature Photographer’s Network had been producing some excellent fern images and it was fun to see if I could join that train. It might be my first photo of bracken which is weird considering how much I like and photograph ferns. Doing a larger landscape with them is tricky, but I like this. Believe it or not it’s a 2-second exposure. The sun was below the hill and the canopy made for deep shade. I was lucky with the wind and so everything is pretty crisp. If it had been windy I probably would have put a neutral density filter on and tried for a long exposure. Something I have a mind to try on a windy day.
We ended up at Little Presque Isle and this is a rather typical view of it, although I like the foreground I used here. At the suggestion of another photographer, I tried a long exposure, but didn’t like it. The whitish stripe in the rock is real. The water level of the lake was fairly low so it showed up well.
Then I went around the point to the spot I wanted to use for the sunset itself. The sweep of the beach that curves around finishes what the big log started. While I like this image, it frustrated me something awful in post. It’s a 5-image HDR blend, but the colors kept coming out really weird and wrong. Finally after a lot of tweaking I have something approaching reality and my vision for the image.
We didn’t start quite as early the next day (5:30, woo hoo!) because we were going after waterfalls. Unfortunately the lack of rain made most of them seem like someone left the hose on. Wagner falls near Munising was flowing well though and I made the best of it by getting around the viewing platform and into the stream. I only needed a polarizer to get the shutter speed I like for this kind of thing – less than 2 seconds generally. It preserves some of the character of the water and adds a lot of texture. I processed these two a little differently to convey different atmospheres. Some of my newly-acquired Photoshop skills came in handy removing distractions.
After that we headed to a few more falls, but none inspired me and all were pretty dry. So I went a-wandering off the beach onto the exposed rock of the lakebed. I also abandoned my tripod and just walked and shot, handholding and marveling at the layers in the rock. In ancient times, volcanic activity created the rift that became Lake Superior and it isn’t more evident than here on Miner’s beach. I was lucky the water level was low so I could get back a bit and shoot wide – I guess I could have gotten into the water, but I kept dry.
Even though there were only a few participants, this was the only time I didn’t have to work around people in my shots. There was one person who was particularly oblivious to where she was and didn’t once ask if she was or apologize for being in the way. Granted, she was oblivious to a lot of things and the way she treated her gear made me want to keep her as far away from mine as possible. So having a wander was nice. A bit of freedom. Since my photography is such a solo pursuit, I chafe a little when I’m in a group, especially when we’re all trying to shoot the same thing.
After some down time, which for me was processing and internet time, we were back out for a sunset. I think the lack of sleep was getting to me because I had a hard time finding the shot this time. Everyone else seemed to land quickly (settling?). I wandered up and over and around, then found this view –
Which would have been fine, but turning to a portrait orientation really makes it –
That one required some careful polarizer & tripod management. I wish I could have been over to the left more, but the rock curved down sharply to the water and I was as left as I could safely accomplish. I’m thinking about printing that one to hang in one of my large frames that are already in the portrait position on the wall.
Last, but not least is Marquette Harbor Light –
This first one was a bit of friendly comp-stomping. There is another photographer, much more familiar with the area than me, just to my right out of frame. Our tripod legs practically touching. We had a laugh because it’s the way everyone shoots this scene, but the colors and the smooth water were too appealing. Plus including any beach at this stage would have had to include the several people parked in chairs or walking dogs. It’s a popular morning ritual to have coffee and enjoy the sunrise.
Can’t say that I blame them, but I had to figure out a way I could remove them ahead of time. It would be a tricky job in Photoshop to remove them so I went up to a small grassy area and lowered the tripod until the beach disappeared.
I did try a wider shot while folks were still in their chairs because it adds to the story of the place. Locals love this little beach and lighthouse and showing that is important, too, so with this next one I left a few people in chairs, but removed a person who was standing.
Speaking of standing – I was practically on top of a dead seagull to shoot this next one. It was pretty dessicated at that time so wasn’t smelly or gross, just a little surprise in the grass. Another surprise was this log. As soon as I saw it I knew I’d have to use it as a leading line. It works well and balances the visual weight of the lighthouse itself.
By that time most of the people had gone and I could include more beach. I like the contrasting textures in this one. The tripod was a little higher than the telephoto shot with only the lighthouse and sky above.
So that’s it. A lovely time on the Superior shoreline.