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

A change of pace

As I wrote recently, I’ve been feeling the need to photograph something other than birds lately. So on Sunday, I drove to Ionia, Michigan to photograph a few of the historic buildings in that city. Ionia was the capital of Michigan for a short period of time in the 1800’s not very long after Michigan was admitted to the Union. It was at one time larger than it is now as far as population, but when a few of the large employers closed down after World War II, many people moved elsewhere to find jobs.

Ionia, Michigan is east of where I live, about the same distance from me as Muskegon is to the west of me.

Every day when I drive for work, I see the old railroad station which has been restored, as I pull into my first stop of the day.

The railroad station in Ionia, Michigan

It’s a privately owned building these days, so I didn’t go inside. In the background, you can see the steeple of an older church, and the dome on the county courthouse. Seeing those things every day piqued my interest, so I did a little research online, and learned of a few other places to check out. I had stopped on my way to Ionia to shoot this old farmhouse, which I imagine was a cut above the rest back when it was built.

Old farmhouse outside of Ionia Michigan

It’s in pretty bad shape now though.

I shot the railroad station from the other side, but I had to shoot across parking lot, so I’m not posting it, even though the background is better. Instead, I moved on to the Ionia County Courthouse.

Ionia County Courthouse historic marker

I’d say that the people of the county got a lot for their $42,380!

Ionia County Courthouse

Here’s a closer look at the entrance.

Ionia County Courthouse entrance

I also zoomed in on one of the carved faces to show the detail.

Ionia County Courthouse

So far, all of the photos were shot with my 60D body and the 15-85 mm lens as a test of sorts as I wrote about before. The images are all HDR images as well, and I used the perspective correction in Lightroom to make the buildings look as they should. However, I shot the courthouse dome from a distance using a 7D and the 100-400 mm lens, and these are straight out of the camera more or less.

The Ionia County Courthouse dome

A closer look.

The Ionia County Courthouse dome

My next stop was what is known as the Blanchard house.

The Blanchard House marker in Ionia, Michigan

Here’s the best view of the front of the house as I could get with the trees in the front yard.

The Blanchard House

Here’s a closer look at the entrance.

The Blanchard House entrance

I walked around the house, admiring the colors of the sandstone, as well as the patterns in it, used on the outside of the house, and shooting a view of the side of the house…

The Blanchard House

…and the rear.

The Blanchard House

I liked the fact that the landscaping looked like it probably did when the Blanchards lived there.

Again, all the exterior shots of the Blanchard House were shot with a tripod mounted 60D camera and the 15-85 mm lens, and are HDR images to compensate for the camera’s lack of dynamic range.

I did pull out the 7D and 100-400 mm lens for a couple of close-ups of the details of the exterior.

The cornice of the Blanchard House


Details in the carved sandstone


Since the house wasn’t open to tours yet, I checked several other old buildings out, but they were in poor repair, so I didn’t bother photographing them. The Blanchard House was open when I returned, and I ended up spending far more time inside than I imagined that I would.

The hand-carved walnut door of the Blanchard house

The Ionia County Historical Society has done a wonderful job of restoring the interior of the house!

The Blanchard House

A few pieces of furniture are pieces that the Blanchards owned, but most of the furniture that you’ll see has been donated to the historical society, which is why the pieces don’t all match.

Inside the Blanchard House


Inside the Blanchard House


Inside the Blanchard House


Inside the Blanchard House

I felt like a bull in a china shop, literally. đŸ˜‰

Inside the Blanchard House

Even when using my speedlite (flash unit), I was having trouble getting good photos inside the house. One problem was the lack of light, the other was that they have too much stuff inside the house. The people of Ionia have been very generous in donating items to the historical society that owns the Blanchard house, and they have run out of room to display everything. So, I wasn’t able to get far enough away from some of the things that I would have liked to have photographed.

I wanted to get photos of the fireplaces, but my view was blocked by furniture in most cases.

Fireplace mantel and items on display

I did find one fireplace that I could get a photo of, but for some reason they had placed a framed collage in the fireplace, so the lights and my flash are reflected back towards me in the photo.

Fireplace in the Blanchard House

Like the idiot that I am, I forgot to read the information about this urn, but I loved the way that it reflected light.

Unidentified urn object

I was also mesmerized by the original light fixtures in the house…

One of the unique light fixtures in the Blanchard House

…but I didn’t photograph them very well.

Another of the unique light fixtures in the Blanchard House

I’m not used to shooting inside, or using a flash, and I struggled a good deal with the dynamic range issues that photographing lights that were on presented. But, that was true everywhere inside the house.

The master bedroom of the Blanchard House

I have the flash exposure set to -2 stops so that the flash doesn’t over-power the existing light, and throw harsh shadows on everything. Most of these images were shot with shutter speeds slower than 1/60 second, in fact, I was overjoyed if I saw that the shutter speed would be 1/60 second before pressing the shutter release. Even then, I had to bump the ISO up to 1000 to get these images. They told me that I could use my tripod if I wanted, but there wasn’t really room to set it up anywhere. And, it would have taken me forever to get these photos if I had used the tripod. As it was, I got by relying on the Image Stabilization of the lens, the wide angles I was shooting at, and the strobe effect of the flash unit.

I have a few more photos of the main living quarters of the house.

Baby grand piano


Unusual chair

That also shows the walnut shutters on all of the windows in the house.


Another very ornate chair

The only place that the Ionia County Historical society has to store or display any items that they have is the Blanchard House, unfortunately. I say unfortunately, because they have the basement of the Blanchard House packed to the brim with items that have been donated or purchased.

If things were a bit cramped for space in the living quarters, then you can imagine what the basement was like. It was difficult to get far enough away from anything to get a photo of it.

Watch repair tools


The largest cash register I’ve seen


A blurry photo of the switchboard used at the Ionia State Prison

Even though I have only three photos from the basement, I spent a considerable amount of time there with one of the members of the Ionia County Historical Society getting the grand tour, and talking about the history of Ionia, Michigan, and the United States in general. We also discussed their efforts to keep the Blanchard House as close to how it was originally and how well they have been doing that overall.

Another topic of discussion was the craftsmanship of the people who built the house, the furniture, and many of the items in the basement, the watch repair person’s desk and tools being a great example of that. While we think that we’re more advanced than our ancestors, and as far as technology that may be true, we have lost as much knowledge as we have gained in some ways.

Now then, this post is almost done, and I’ve neglected to say anything about John Blanchard, who had the house built.

John Blanchard was an attorney originally from New York who came to Ionia, Michigan with a brief stop in Detroit, Michigan on the way. Once in Ionia, he branched out and became a business man as well. If you’d like a little more information, here’s a link to the Ionia County Historical Society’s website.

To sum it up, being a history buff, I thoroughly enjoyed the hours I spent there at the Blanchard House.

Now then, on to some boring talk about photography. I said that this trip was a test of sorts, to determine which lenses I’ll need when I purchase a full frame sensor camera. Since my 15-85 mm lens on a crop sensor body is the equivalent of a 24-105 mm lens on a full frame body, I’m happy to report that all the photos that photos in this post were shot with the 15-85 mm lens except as noted. There were a few times that I was tempted to go wider than 15 mm, but I was able to get the shots that I wanted for the most part. I was worried that to get the entire buildings that I shot in the frame, I would have to go wider, but I didn’t.

By the way, Lightroom does a magnificent job of correcting the perspective distortion that you can get when photographing buildings or even the interior of rooms when shot with a very wide-angle lens. This isn’t the best way of illustrating that, but I think that you’ll get the idea. Here’s a photo that I shot handheld just to see if I could get the entire Ionia County Courthouse in the frame.

The Ionia County Courthouse, no perspective correction

And, here’s the shot from above when I used the tripod, leveled the camera, and used Lightroom to correct the perspective. To make it easier for Lightroom to perform the correction, I stood as close to the center of the building as I could, and tried to keep the plane of the camera’s sensor parallel with the front of the building.

Ionia County Courthouse

You can see that the building doesn’t appear to fall away from you in the second image. Short of using a platform or a drone to get higher off the ground, the perspective correction in Lightroom is the best way to deal with the distortion. You can also see how much creating a HDR image helped to even out the exposure and bring the true colors of the building to life. I don’t use HDR to kill all the shadows, but I have Photomatix set to produce an image close to what I can see with my eyes when I shoot the photos. One thing to remember if using the perspective correction in Lightroom is to leave room on the sides of the building for the correction to be done without losing some of the building due to the cropping that takes place when you use that correction.

I applied the perspective correction in Lightroom after I had created the HDR image of the building. I did that because Photomatix, the software that I use to create HDR images sometimes crops a small amount from the images used to create the HDR as it aligns the images. I have no control over that cropping if it occurs, so I waited to apply the correction in Lightroom so that all three images I used to create the HDR image would be as close to the same as possible. I was afraid that the perspective correction in Lightroom may be slightly different for each of the three images I used to create the HDR image, resulting in alignment problems when I went to create the HDR image.

You can also see why I shot the dome of the courthouse from a distance using the 100-400 mm lens. If I had tried shooting it from where I was standing when I shot the entire building, I would have had the camera pointed nearly vertical, and much of the detail of the dome would have been hidden.

Overall, I’m very happy with the way that my images of the exterior of the buildings turned out. The same is true of the interior images as well, given the difficulties I faced when shooting them, they turned out better than expected. I could have used a wider lens inside though to leave more room for the perspective correction in Lightroom that I did to the full room shots. As it was, a few of them ended up cropped more than I would have liked, but they still convey the elegance of the Blanchard House quite well. The way that I used both the flash and ambient light from both the light coming through the windows and from the light fixtures was a wise choice. There’s no harsh shadows as there would have been if I had shot with the flash unit set to full power, and I was able to get the shots without using a tripod as I would have had to if I hadn’t used the flash.

One thing that I need to work on is learning the depth of field that I get while using a very wide-angle lens. I shot most of the interior photos at f/7.1 so that everything would be in focus. I may have been able to go wider with the aperture to let more light through the lens, but I’m not sure about that. If I had been able to use a wider aperture and keep everything in focus, then the images would have been even better. I was too busy trying to decide how best to shoot what I did to play around taking many test photos of each subject. None of my images are very creative, but they do show what I wanted them to show, and that’s the best that I can hope for right now. After all, interior photography isn’t my forte.

Another thing that I need to learn is how to do panorama images well. I don’t think that buildings would lend themselves to panoramas, but they work well for landscapes from what I’ve seen. Lightroom will do panoramas, and I’ve done a couple of them with good results for a rookie that doesn’t know what he’s doing. I shot a couple of landscape photos around Ionia, however none of them are good enough to appear here. I shot them with the 15-85 mm lens just to see how wide that lens is, so that I can use that information to help me choose the right lenses for a full frame camera.

From the images that I shot this day, I think that I’ll be able to get by with just two cameras and lenses at least 95% of the time. If I have the 100-400 mm lens on the 7D Mk II, I’m set for almost anything that I see in nature that requires a long lens. With a 24-105 mm lens on a full frame body, then I’m set for landscapes and other times when I need a wide-angle lens. That means a lot less weight than what I often carry with me now, which will be a good thing on longer hikes. If I learn to do panoramas well, then that will lessen my need for an even wider lens, at least for the time being.

It was a great day, not only did I see a good deal of history, but I learned a lot as well. Who could ask for more? I can, as while I did learn a lot, there are still more things that I need to learn about photographing some subjects. I’m not about to quit photographing nature, or change the direction of my blog. However, I would like to go back to mixing a post such as this one now and then from now on. Because of that, I would like to learn how to photograph the things that I see even better.

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



24 responses

  1. Fantastic! What a great post with brilliant photos of such interesting places. The courthouse with the statue of Justice on its dome is magnificent and the tour round the Blanchard House fascinating…thank you so much for sharing.

    August 8, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! The old stuff that we have here really isn’t very old when compared to your country. I’m glad that you liked it.

      August 8, 2017 at 9:47 pm

  2. Your eye for detail is excellent, I loved all your photographs and enjoyed the tour round the Blanchard House a lot. I love pictures of details on buildings and was very pleased to look at yours.

    August 8, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! I wanted to shoot a few more detail shots, but I wasn’t sure if any one would care if I did or not, I should have shot them.

      August 8, 2017 at 9:48 pm

  3. What a good idea to vary your subject matter. It made for a most interesting post and the camera musings were useful too.

    August 8, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I see the variety of subjects that you’re able to shoot and I was jealous, so I had to find something similar around here.

      August 8, 2017 at 9:50 pm

  4. Great post, Jerry – thank-you. I love the patterns on the sandstone on the outside of the building and also that wonderful main entrance!

    August 8, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! The sandstone may not last centuries as other types of rock do, but they sure built some beautiful buildings from it there in Ionia.

      August 8, 2017 at 9:51 pm

  5. Wow, that’s quite a railroad depot! I’ve never seen one like it here, and I’ve never seen a brick farmhouse either. Brick and stone must have been inexpensive there back in the day.
    I like the sandstone sheathing on the Blanchard house. That’s something you’d never see here; any sandstone used here would have to be imported.
    The purple glass urn is carnival glass, so called because they used to give it away as prizes at carnivals. It’s known for its iridescence and also called “poor man’s Tiffany,” It comes in many other colors and it has some value today, especially unusual patterns and colors. I doubt the Blanchards would have used it-they probably had the real thing.
    Ionia is quite a place!

    August 9, 2017 at 5:28 am

    • Thank you very much Allen! I see that railroad depot everyday as I pull into the dock area of my first stop of the day at work. From the first day that I saw it, I wanted to photograph it.

      Brick farmhouses like that are common here, but most have been painted over the years. Since Michigan is basically a pile of rocky rubble left here by the glaciers, people used what was at hand. We don’t have marble, granite, or any of the harder rock, so they used sandstone or made bricks from the material from glacier moraines.

      Thanks for the info on the urn, you can see the tag on it, but I didn’t read it or ask any one about it. It’s pretty, even if cheap, but that may say something about me.

      There was a lot of wealth in Ionia in its heyday, but many small towns and cities in Michigan are similar. I hope to slip similar posts in here from time to time in the future.

      August 9, 2017 at 7:39 am

  6. Nice work, Jerry! Something really different and you captured it all beautifully.

    August 9, 2017 at 8:38 am

    • Thank you very much Sue!

      August 9, 2017 at 9:23 pm

  7. Jerry, your change of pace is really inspiring. This post is a delight to read and the photos in it are very well done. Maybe one of these days I will make a similar change …

    August 9, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! I think that we all need a change of pace at times. I think that this post is the small scale version of the posts that you did from Vietnam when you returned home.

      August 9, 2017 at 9:28 pm

  8. Glad to see you branching out for a day. I’ll have to admit that I’ve not spent any time in ‘downtown’ Ionia, so the Blanchard House was all new to me. Is that the same family of our former Governor in the 80s?

    I can imagine your frustration at shooting around all the ‘stuff’ in that house. The photo collage in the fireplace would have thrown me over the edge. Guess it made me aware of the problems for small museum volunteers/curators. If folks donate stuff, they want it to be seen. But how to manage all of it?

    We spent the day at Meijer Gardens today, and you were on my mind. The stunning Japanese Gardens were just crying for someone with good gear, and a great eye. There were a pretty fair number of visitors, but everything is so spread out, that it’s easy to find a quiet spot.

    Hope you try this experiment again. Good to set yourself up with a new challenge, isn’t it?

    August 9, 2017 at 11:37 pm

    • Thank you very much Judy! I used to do an occasional post similar to this one before I became obsessed with bird photography. No one spends time in downtown Ionia unless they have a reason to. But, I like searching for and finding hidden gems like both the courthouse and the Blanchard House. I hope to find a few more from time to time in the future. I also find the craftsmanship of the things that I see from the past to be amazing.

      No, I don’t think that former Governor Blanchard was related to the Blanchards from Ionia.

      It’s hard to run a small town museum, I asked about the period carpeting that they had in the Blanchard House and where they found it. The first quote that they received was for $75,000 for just one room. Luckily, they found a place in Lansing that deals in such carpeting for a much more reasonable price. And, they do have way too much stuff crammed in there, the collage in the fireplace is just one example. A lot of it is just memorabilia, but interesting just the same.

      I do want to go back to the Meijer Gardens again, I did a couple of posts on them back in the early days of my blog, including the orchid show that they have in the spring.I should really go on a weekday, when there are fewer people though, and that’s tough for some one who works for a living. I do hope to make it there someday soon. And, stay tuned, now that I’ve “conquered” bird photography, I plan on doing more post on the scenic and historic places in Michigan.

      August 10, 2017 at 8:33 am

  9. Very interesting post, I hadn’t known that Ionia was the state capital. Some great shots of some cool buildings as well, well done!

    August 10, 2017 at 6:58 am

    • Thank you very much! Ionia was only the capital of Michigan for a few short years, back in the early days of Michigan statehood.

      August 10, 2017 at 8:07 am

      • Having grown up in Michigan, I am slightly ashamed that I didn’t know this…

        August 10, 2017 at 9:34 am

      • Don’t feel bad, some of the residents of Ionia don’t know that their home town was once the capital of the state.

        August 10, 2017 at 8:22 pm

  10. Beautiful images.
    From time to time it’s interesting to change a bit the subject.

    August 12, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    • Thank you very much Cornell! It was nice to change things up for a post.

      August 12, 2017 at 9:58 pm

  11. The historic building photos are an interesting change, Jerry, and very beautiful. I agree something has been lost in terms of beauty and craftsmanship, even as technology has gone forward in leaps and bounds. The craftsmanship and attention to detail and form is what I love most in these old buildings.

    August 20, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I needed a change of pace from shooting birds and a few other subjects now and then. This made for a nice day. You’re so right about the loss of craftsmanship and attention to detail.

      August 20, 2017 at 9:38 pm