Northern color tour, 2014, Part I
Well, I’m back from my trip up north. As per usual, things did not go as I had planned, but it was great to get away for the weekend. And, I learned a great deal about photography, myself as a photographer, and places to go here in Michigan. I’ll touch on all three of those things as I go.
I started out from home just before noon on Saturday, later than I would like, but with my work schedule, that’s the best that I could do after getting everything loaded into my Subaru. Traffic was quite heavy for a weekend, a portent of things to come. I also saw a few scenes along the road that I would have liked to have stopped to photograph, but between the traffic, and wanting to make it to Petoskey with enough time left for photography, I didn’t stop until I got to the rest area on US 131 north near Cadillac, Michigan.
The weather was living up to the forecast, raining more than not, and windy. So, when I stopped at the rest area, I thought that it would be a good time to get my landscape camera body set-up for the conditions, while stretching my legs.
While I was playing with the camera settings on the one body, I heard, then saw, a flock of sandhill cranes flying over, so I grabbed the second body with the 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter on it for this shot.
Hearing the croaking warbling of the cranes still gets to me the same way that hearing the call of a loon does, hence the rather poor image of the cranes compared to others I have posted recently.
Back on the road, I passed a juvenile bald eagle perched just above the highway, and an American kestrel that was also in range of the camera had I stopped. But, silly me, I wanted to get to my destination, and didn’t want to take the time to stop for them, or the gorgeous displays of fall colors that I was seeing while driving.
When I got to Petoskey, it was a madhouse, much like when I went to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore last summer, complete with traffic jams, and just way too many people for my tastes.
Every year, I read about how beautiful the drive along M 119 from Petoskey, north to Cross Village is during the fall, and apparently, so have thousands of other people. As a matter of fact, M 119 is known as the “Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route”, which has me wondering how it received that designation. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lovely drive, except for the traffic, and no places to pull over and photograph what scenery there was. I would guess that the route is best viewed as a passenger in a vehicle, rather than as the driver.
M 119 is a narrow, twisty road, and after two days of heavy to moderate rain, many places along the road were covered by water. That made dealing with the traffic even worse, as a lot of people were trying to avoid driving through the puddles, and hogging what little pavement that there was to drive on. So, I didn’t have much of a chance to really take in what few views that there were. In my opinion, there are many other back roads in the area that offer as good or better views, with a lot less traffic, and with places to pull off the road to enjoy the views.
However, the drive wasn’t a complete waste, as along the way, I saw a sign pointing to a nature preserve owned by the Little Traverse Conservancy, of which I’m a member. Actually, they own several preserves along M 119, but I only stopped at this one.
A great place to escape the traffic, and stretch the legs out, even if it was raining moderately hard at the time. I started by visiting the interpretive building….
…amazed by how much stuff that they packed into that small building. I also had a chance to talk to the resident manager of the preserve, he was very informative. Then, despite the rain, I set off for a short walk down to the Lake Michigan beach and back.
Because of the rain, I didn’t take my tripod, I should have. I did take my umbrella, which the wind destroyed the first time that I opened it. Without it, I had a hard time keeping the lens free of rain drops, so I didn’t linger over any of the photos, I simply pulled the camera out of my rain jacket and shot as quickly as I could.
I was a bit surprised at how small the waves were on Lake Michigan, as strong as the wind was, but that shore is in the lee of Beaver Island, and somewhat protected from the gale that was blowing at the time. Because of the rain and fog, I couldn’t see the island well enough to attempt to photograph it.
Not wanting to deal with the traffic on my way back to Petoskey, I took the back roads, and doing so planted a seed in my brain that I should have allowed to grow faster than I did. On the way, I stopped to shoot these three deer in a field, using a wide-angle lens to also get the trees behind the deer.
I should have gotten the exposure right, but I thought that I would end up deleting that image, but it plays into what I’m learning.
A little further down the road, I came to an open marshy area too good not to photograph, despite not being able to keep the rain off from the lens. 😉
If there had been less wind or rain, I would have gotten out my tripod and shot the scene to create HDR images so that I could have gotten the sky exposed correctly. But, I still wasn’t allowing that seedling that had been planted in my brain to grow, after all, this was just a no-name marsh in the middle of nowhere in northern Michigan.
I made my way back through the traffic jams in Petoskey, and continued to the southeast to East Jordan, Michigan, where I stopped for a bite to eat before continuing to the Graves Crossing State Forest campground, where I spent the night. I slept in the back of my Forester, which isn’t the most comfortable arrangement, but I used my skills as a truck driver to make it work. To be a good over the road driver, you need to be able to sleep anywhere, anytime, and besides, the back of my Forester was dry. I woke up several times during the night, and it was still raining every time that I did wake up.
At 6 Am, I did roll out, and I could see stars above me, so I fired up the camp stove and brewed a pot of coffee. While I was drinking the coffee, I shot a few photos in the campground, using the flash, since it was still dark.
Neither are very good, but at least I didn’t get my feet in the second one. 😉
As soon as it was light enough to see, I wondered over to the Jordan River, set-up my tripod, and shot these.
My goal on this day was to shoot the Jordan River valley from the Landslide and Deadman’s hill scenic overlooks, and as I starting driving to get to the Landslide area, it began to rain. I stopped to shoot this one on the way, just to be sure that I could get a shot under the conditions at the time.
The low fog had me worried, so I stopped again for these.
Not great, but it was just light enough to see, and it was raining lightly, so I thought that I was good to go.
I didn’t mention it earlier, but the previous day, I had stopped at Deadman’s Hill to check to see how far along the colors were, and the parking lots were jam-packed! There are two parking lots, one for long-term parking for people hiking the North Country Trail, or the Jordan River Valley Trail, which is a loop off from the North Country Trail. The second lot is for people visiting the scenic overlook, and like I said, there wasn’t a place to park in either lot the day before.
I could tell by the lack of tire tracks in the dirt two-track that leads to the scenic overlook that I was the first person to drive back to the Landslide area that morning. So, I parked, strapped my camera gear to myself, and started the short hike from the parking lot to the scenic overlook. That’s when panic set in!
NO! The sun was coming out! Not only that, but there was uneven lighting all across the valley, what the heck do I do? I’m not prepared for this at all!
I told myself to calm down, but it didn’t help much. I tried going small, shooting just small parts of the valley at one time.
No, no,no! The last one, shot with the 70-200 mm L series lens wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I wanted either.
I was at a complete loss as to how to set-up to shoot the entire valley. I told myself that this view was one of the reasons that I had purchased to Photomatix software to create HDR images, but I’ve never had a chance to shoot such a large view as the one before me since I had purchased the software. It wasn’t as if I could shoot the scene, run the images through Photomatix to see how they turned out, adjust my settings and try again.
To make matter worse, the clouds began to roll back in, so the lighting was constantly changing. I would think that I was set-up correctly, but when I went to actually shoot the images, the light had changed again. I did the best that I could.
I tried again.
Oh no! Now there’s something else going on, the sky and clouds are turning pink as the sun rises! Now what do I do?
I sure wished that I knew what I was doing! That could have been the shot of the trip, but I blew it, so I tried again, but by this time, the clouds had closed in for more even lighting.
Thoroughly disgusted with my lack of ability, I gave up. I had a lot of respect for really good landscape photographers before, now, I have even more!
I tried to console myself by thinking that I didn’t know how the HDR images were going to turn out, and that I may be pleasantly surprised when I processed the images once I arrived back home. But, my mood was not helped when I blew a great shot of a northern harrier, with help from the 300 mm prime lens.
I had seen the harrier coming towards me as I was driving to the Deadman’s Hill area, and managed to get pulled off the road and stopped in time to get the harrier in the viewfinder as it was passing me. But, the darned 300 mm lens would not focus on the harrier thirty feet from me, it insisted on focusing on the trees 100 yards behind the harrier. I couldn’t get the bird in focus until it had pulled up, and turned away from me, but then, I didn’t have time to adjust the exposure correctly.
I arrived at the Deadman’s Hill area early enough so that I was just the third vehicle there, much better than the day before. I grabbed my photo gear, and headed up the hill for these.
The rest of these are as they came straight out of the camera.
Still not great, but I’m making progress, these are ten times better than the photos that I shot the last time I was there in the fall.
One thing that I learned was not to use the live view mode to shoot landscapes, I can’t see the details well enough on the small screen to get my compositions correct. I did much better when I used the viewfinder, even if it’s a pain to do so when the camera is on the tripod.
I’m getting better at setting the camera up to get images to be processed in Photomatix for HDR images, but I need more practice. The same could be said for my shooting large-scale landscapes like the Jordan River Valley overall, and in processing the images later.
I thought about reshooting both places, but I was frustrated at that point, so much so that I knew my second effort would be even worse than I had done already. And, it was already 11 AM and I was hungry. So, I decided to head back into East Jordan for breakfast, and to do a little birding, and that’s where the next post will begin.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!