My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Stalking the elusive good landscape photo

A while back, I left a comment to Kerry’s Lightscapes Nature Photography blog to the effect that he must stalk the exact position to shoot his magnificent landscape photos from, just as a hunter stalks his prey. I’ll have to start this by saying that I’m nowhere near as good as what he is, but I’m learning, you do have to stalk a great landscape, or at least that’s the way I have to approach that genre of photography. That’s how I got some of the photos from the last short post, including this one.

Muskegon State Park beach in autumn

Muskegon State Park beach in autumn

The story on that image is that I had finished birding for the day, and was driving towards Duck Lake to shoot the sunset if a good one materialized. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the red leaves of the maple trees through a small gap in the trees, and knew that I had to investigate the scene to see if I could get a good photo. I turned around, found a place nearby to park, then grabbed the camera with the 15-85 mm lens on it, along with my tripod. The lens already had the polarizing filter on it, I’m finding that it does wonders for the fall colors as it cuts down on the glare and reflections coming off from the leaves.

Anyway, as I walked along, I began setting up my tripod in at least half a dozen spots, until I chose this one.

The beach at Muskegon State Park, first attempt

The beach at Muskegon State Park, first attempt

Not bad, but I knew that I could do better. I zoomed in a little, lowered the tripod, and shot this one.

The beach at Muskegon State Park, second attempt

The beach at Muskegon State Park, second attempt

Better, but then you can’t see much of the beautiful blue-green water of Lake Michigan, which I thought was a big part of the scene, at least to me.

So, I moved down to the beach, looking for something to put in the foreground of the photo to give the photo some depth, and found a piece of driftwood in the sand. That led to the photo that I began this post with, but I still could have done better. I should have moved a little closer to the piece of driftwood, and lowered my tripod a lot more, to make the driftwood more prominent in the frame. Darn, why didn’t I think of that then?

Even the photo that pleased me the most is a chamber of commerce, picture postcard style of photo, sorry about that. 😉 However, we’re supposed to photograph what we love, and there are few things that I love more than warm sunny fall day as you see in the photos so far, so I don’t care what the experts say. I only missed the golden hour of sunset by a little bit, as you can tell from the long shadow cast by the driftwood in the first image. Oh, that reminds me, I did consider moving closer and lower to make the piece of driftwood more prominent at the time, but I was worried that the shadow would also become much more prominent as well as the driftwood. I suppose that I should have hung around a little longer for perfect light. But, I was off to shoot the sunset at Duck Lake.

Two posts ago, I said that I could get a much better photo of the Duck Lake channel leading to Lake Michigan, yes and no. My composition was much better this time….

Duck Lake channel to Lake Michigan

Duck Lake channel to Lake Michigan

…but I missed the exposure or something. The color saturation is way too high as the image came out of Photomatix, but when I tried to reduce it, the photo looked bad, really bad, so you get to see the over-saturated version, sorry. Not only can I get the color better, but I believe that there’s still a better position to shoot from. However, I was running late for the sunset, as I got distracted by the antics of a pileated woodpecker on my way to the beach.

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

 

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

And when the woodpecker started snacking on grapes, well, you know me, I just had to shoot away.

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

 

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

 

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

 

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

 

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

 

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

Pileated woodpecker eating grapes

I think that I should have cropped those for my blog, I’m getting so used to seeing the large display on my computer that I forget how small the images and subjects in the images appear here.

As it was, I made it to the beach just as the sun was going down.

Sunset at Duck Lake

Sunset at Duck Lake

 

Sunset at Duck Lake 2

Sunset at Duck Lake 2

Wouldn’t you know, there was a gap in the clouds right in the direction that  really wanted to shoot towards, so I had to make do with those.

An interesting side note, you may have noticed that the channel had been blocked by sand, it had been very windy that day and the day before. The wind was actually blowing the water draining from Duck Lake back into the lake itself, and the drifting sand took advantage of that to create a temporary dam, blocking the channel completely. That causes the water level in Duck Lake to rise, but eventually, it will break through the sand dam and drain into Lake Michigan again, until the next very windy period comes along. This happens over and over again to the smaller streams that empty into Lake Michigan. Each time the stream gets blocked, it cuts a new path to the big lake, so the scene is often very different from the last time you saw it.

Anyway, I stuck around until it was almost dark to shoot the image that you saw in the last post…

Duck Lake sunset

Duck Lake sunset

…as well as this one.

Moving clouds at sunset

Moving clouds at sunset

Because of the very long shutter openings needed to get enough light to the camera sensor, the clouds moved during the times that the shutter was open while shooting the three images I used to create those HDR images. I kind of like that effect, and I don’t think that I overdid it the way some people do. I wish that the wind had wiped out the footprints in the sand that people had left behind though, in this photo as well as the earlier one from the beach, but you can’t have everything. At least not in Michigan, where you’ll find people walking the beach no matter what the weather is, any time of the year.

Gee, I started at the end of the first day of this past weekend, a bad place to start, so I may as well throw in the photos that I shot with the 300 mm lens while at Duck Lake now.

Sunset over Lake Michigan

Sunset over Lake Michigan

 

Bird of fire again

Bird of fire again

 

Oops, forgot something

Oops, forgot something

In that last shot, I forgot to extend the lens hood after having adjusted the polarizing filter, so I got some lens flare in that one. Oh well, there’ll be other chances in the future.

In my quest for good landscape photos featuring the fall colors around here, this is the typical view of the fall colors that we have in southern lower Michigan.

The back 40 woodlot

The back 40 woodlot

While the colors may be great, the photo is the pits. The farm field in the foreground is boring, even a bit ugly, and there’s nothing there to add interest or depth to that image. The area is flat, and if there isn’t water or the hand of man to break up the woods, then this is what you see.

In the woods 1

In the woods 1

 

In the woods 2

In the woods 2

There are no steep hills, rock outcroppings, or anything else to prevent vegetation from growing, so that’s what you see in the woods. These next two will show that as well, they were shot on the trail to Lost Lake.

Lost Lake trail, the wide view

Lost Lake trail, the wide view

 

Lost Lake trail, the less wide view

Lost Lake trail, the less wide view

I really wanted to set-up my tripod and do that one right, but I got run over by a mountain biker on that trail earlier this year. The trail is very narrow, with the planks laid down to prevent you from sinking into the mud, as the ground is very wet there. But, I think that you can see how the vegetation grows so thick around here that it’s hard to find an opening to shoot photographs through. The rest of the trail is even more enclosed by the vegetation…

Along the Lost Lake trail

Along the Lost Lake trail

…it isn’t until you get to Lost Lake itself that you can see through the trees.

Lost Lake through the woods

Lost Lake through the woods

By picking one of the few larger openings, you can get a photo like this one.

Lost Lake on a fine fall day

Lost Lake on a fine fall day

It’s not that I’m complaining about how well things grow around here, but you can see that across the lake, the vegetation grows dense around here, and even in the parking lot for the trail, I had to shoot tight shots of the trees.

The parking lot for the boat launch and Lost Lake trail at Muskegon State Park

The parking lot for the boat launch and Lost Lake trail at Muskegon State Park

So, I’ve been looking for bodies of water to break up the woods, but most of the time, that’s only substituting an uninteresting body of water for a farm field in the foreground.

Fall colors across a small Michigan lake

Fall colors across a small Michigan lake

If there had been less wind, and I could have gotten reflections of those colors off from the water, then that would have been much better, but the story here this fall has been the wind. You can see that by the flag in this next photo.

A cloudy, windy day at Muskegon Lake

A cloudy, windy day at Muskegon Lake

By the way, you’re looking across Muskegon Lake at the city of Muskegon itself in that last photo, and what do you see, trees and one or two large buildings. That’s Michigan, where not only can’t you see the forests for the trees, but you can’t see the cities either. 😉

So, when you see a scene like this…

Two trees in a corn field

Two trees in a corn field

…you know that there are more trees nearby.

Two trees and lots of friends in a corn field

Two trees and lots of friends in a corn field

It’s true, great weather makes for boring skies, but I’ll take a day like that every once in a while. 😉 I should also note that I wanted to isolate the brightly colored tree in the first photo, and easily could have if I had moved to my right so that the colored tree would have blocked your view of the green one as I did in the second photo. However, you may have noticed that the brightly colored tree looks brighter in the first photo than it does in the second. I’m finding that moving a few feet one way or the other can make a big difference in how the colors of fall look in my photos. If it’s sunny and I can, I prefer to shoot from a spot where I get a combination of side lighting and back lighting where the sun really lights up the leaves of the trees as in this photo.

The marsh at Lane's Landing

The marsh at Lane’s Landing

However, that’s a difficult direction to shoot, so it requires making a HDR image to kill the shadows that I get on sunny days, and we’ve had a lot of them the past two weeks as you can see.

Yellow at the Muskegon State Game Area

Yellow at the Muskegon State Game Area

 

Orange at the Muskegon State Game Area

Orange at the Muskegon State Game Area

 

Sunny days at the Muskegon State Game Area

Sunny days at the Muskegon State Game Area

 

More sun at Lane's Landing

More sun at Lane’s Landing

You can also see that those last 4 are rather plain snapshots, even though I was able to get some great color. Color alone doesn’t make a great photo, you need to seek out a good scene, then stalk it to get the light just right. Remember to clean the front of the filter before you start shooting though. 😉

Oops , I forgot something again

Oops , I forgot something again

Luckily, I shot a few more photos of that scene from different angles after cleaning the filter, along with a couple from Creekside Park.

Creekside park on a cloudy day

Creekside park on a cloudy day

 

Creekside park on a sunny day

Creekside park on a sunny day

 

Creekside park on a sunny day

Creekside park on a sunny day

 

Creekside park on a sunny day

Creekside park on a sunny day

 

Across the street 2

Across the street 1

 

Across the street 2

Across the street 2

I do believe that I’m starting to get the hang of getting a sense of depth to my photos, when the scene allows it. When I get it right, it looks as though you could walk right into them, when I really get it right, they look as though you’d want to walk into the scene.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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26 responses

  1. You take excellent landscapes but I liked the Duck Lake channel the best. For me water improves all landscape photographs.

    October 22, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! We have many bodies of water around here, but most of them are lined with houses. I’ll see what I can about finding some more natural looking places with water.

      October 23, 2015 at 2:45 am

  2. Jack Pohler

    Hi Jerry.

    I read somewhere that a good landscape photo has something of interest in the foreground, something in the mid-ground and something in the background. I think that you’re doing this instinctively as shown in many of your photos Keep up the good work.

    Jack

    October 22, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    • Thank you very much Jack! You’re correct, good landscape photos have something of interest in the foreground, something in the mid-ground and something in the background. But, I’m a wildlife and portrait photographer, used to trying to isolate my subjects, so landscapes are instinctive to me yet. I need to really think about the elements that make a good landscape photo as I’m shooting them.

      October 23, 2015 at 2:48 am

  3. Jerry this post is a feast for the eyes and I think your landscapes are beautiful. Love the gorgeous colour!
    I’m still practicing landscapes too!

    October 22, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    • Thank you very much Robin! Remember, practice makes perfect. 😉

      October 23, 2015 at 2:49 am

      • Thank you Jerry – you are so right 🙂 Onward!

        October 23, 2015 at 4:17 am

  4. I find landscapes difficult too. Often I like what I see but when I see the photo it just doesn’t thrill me, so for every landscape shot you see on my blog there are many rejects!
    I agree with “leading people into” the shot and that’s often what I try to do, but it’s not as easy as it sounds, is it?

    I never knew pileated woodpeckers ate grapes!

    I think your shot of lost lake on a fall day is my favorite of all of these, more because that’s the kind of place I love to be more than any other reason. I also like the shots of creekside park. What color!

    I’m glad you were able to find some colorful foliage after all. It’s really beautiful!

    October 22, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! All those online “how to” videos I’ve been watching, along with studying the photos that Kerry posts to his blog are starting to pay off, as you say, it isn’t as easy as it sounds to lead people into a photo.

      I never knew pileated ate grapes either, but it makes sense, all the other species of woodpeckers eat berries. I have another bird eating photo for my next post that has me wondering about a lot of things.

      I spend almost entire summer days at Lost Lake, it is that kind of place, lots to see, but also just relaxing to be there.

      I hate to brag, but I think that I’m getting very good at capturing the colors as they appear to my eyes, now I have to keep working on my compositions,and find more really good settings to shoot at.

      October 23, 2015 at 2:59 am

  5. Lost Lake on a fine fall day did it for me too. A little water always helps. Your very last shot had that inviting air that you are looking for as far as I was concerned.

    I must say that your enthusiasm for getting things right is wonderful and it fires me up to try to be a bit more exacting on myself. I might even start carrying a tripod soon.

    October 22, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I didn’t use the tripod for all of those, for most of them I did though. The more I use the tripod, the more I want to use it, the results are so much better.

      October 23, 2015 at 3:09 am

      • I know that and if I could find a really good way of carrying one about, I would use one much more. I think I am going to get Mrs T to make me a purpose built tripod carrier.

        October 23, 2015 at 5:01 pm

      • I’ve looked for a good tripod carrier, no one seems to make one.

        October 24, 2015 at 6:00 am

  6. What a great collection. Not sure why I like the Cloudy, Windy Day shot so much, bit I do.

    Thanks for the pileated woodpecker shots. I rarely see them, but whenever they’re nearby, I always feel like I’m camping in the jungle somewhere. They add lots of life to the party, every time.

    As always, love your commentary. You are a very harsh critic of your own photos.

    October 22, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    • Thank you very much Judy! The cloudy, windy day scene was one that I had to shoot when I saw it, even though it doesn’t quite fit the rules as well as it should. But the clouds were special that day, which makes all the difference. Yes, I am a harsh critic of my own photos. Last year I went to the Jordan River valley and got great color, but otherwise rather plain looking photos that didn’t do justice to the scenery. This year, I’m shooting ordinary scenes and making them look better than they really are because I’ve improved my skills by being so demanding of myself. So the next time I go to the Jordan River valley, I will be able to bring back photos that show just how beautiful that area is.

      October 23, 2015 at 3:20 am

  7. My best landscapes have almost always been of places I love. Something about the way you see when exploring a place that has become very special.

    October 22, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    • Thank you very much Bob, that’s very true!

      October 23, 2015 at 3:11 am

  8. I think I’m going to have to quit reading your thought process for shooting landscape or I’ll start to overanalyze what it is I do… 😉

    October 22, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    • Thank you very much Gunta! You have a natural eye and talent for great landscapes, I don’t. I have to think about them a great deal as I’m shooting them.

      October 23, 2015 at 3:11 am

  9. Wow, Jerry, you really showed me the extraordinary beauty of a Michigan autumn and its lake sunsets in these shots. No wonder you love where you live. I think perhaps Fall has become my favourite season in your blog now. That will change again of course as I see other seasonal pics again…like the snowy owls. 🙂 Beautiful work. Thanks for sharing them.

    October 23, 2015 at 8:37 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! Yes, Michigan is a beautiful place to live, especially in the fall, I hope to improve my photography skills to better show that. The only reason that fall isn’t my favorite season is that when fall passes, we have winter. Our winters wouldn’t be so bad, but for the almost constant lake effect clouds and snow, as you will hear about all too often soon. 😉

      October 23, 2015 at 10:52 am

  10. Spectacular autumn pictures!

    October 23, 2015 at 9:47 am

    • Thank you very much Sue!

      October 23, 2015 at 10:49 am

  11. These are very beautiful shots of fall colour. Like Judy, I too liked the cloudy, windy day photo. I am glad you have been able to get such wonderful shots without having to travel far from home!

    October 23, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! No, I didn’t have to go far, many of the photos were shot within a mile of my apartment.

      October 24, 2015 at 6:26 am

      • Once you start to really observe your surroundings you can usually find plenty to see close to home – even in the city. With your work schedule this is good to know!

        October 24, 2015 at 10:17 am