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

Anatomy of a sunset

With conditions similar to last week, although not as extreme as far as the wind, I returned to Duck Lake State Park Friday evening to capture this sunset.

Lake Michigan sunset from Duck Lake State Park

I was going to say that I don’t know how dedicated landscape photographers do what they do, set-up in advance, and get great sun sets or rises behind what would be a pleasing scene even without the colors of the sky being present. However, I do know how they do it, I chose not to do things the correct way Friday evening.

I’m still learning the 5D Mk IV and how it works with my two new wide-angle lenses, so I shot all the sunset images you’ll see in this post handheld. In some ways, I’m glad that I did, because the light that evening was always changing, and there were different scenes that I shot, which I’ll get to later.

I could have set-up in a different spot while using my tripod and I would have gotten an even better image of the sunset at its peak. In the past, I’ve gone so far as to set-up two tripods, one on the west side of the road that runs next to Lake Michigan there at Duck Lake, and the other tripod on the east side of the road, looking out over Duck Lake. But on this evening, there were still too many people who had come to see the sunset, and I didn’t feel safe leaving either of my cameras unattended while I raced under the bridge back and forth to shoot excellent images of the sun sets or rises that I’ve seen there during the times that I’ve shot with two set-ups in the past.

I think that I’ll go back a little, and go through the photos that I shot in the order that I shot them to help to explain my thinking. I had stopped in Muskegon State Park to check the horizon to see if there was a chance that the cloud cover that had been overhead all day would break to reveal a good sunset.

Looking toward the beach and breakwaters at Muskegon State Park

By the way, that’s one of three scenes that I shot with both the 16-35 mm and 24-70 mm lenses to compare the two, and I can see no difference between the two.

Anyway, looking to the south, as I was there, things looked pretty grim as far as there being a good sunset to photograph, but looking to the north, I could see some breaks in the clouds, and even a few patches of blue sky. So, I drove the short distance to Duck Lake State Park, and made another set of test shots to compare the two lenses.

Lens test and a warm up for things to come.

As the light changed, I shot this one, looking to the north.

The beginnings of a good sunset at Duck Lake State Park

I shot this series of three photos as the sun actually set.

Actual sunset at Duck Lake State Park 1

…but, because the color in the sky was in a narrow band at the horizon, I zoomed in a little with each shot…

Actual sunset at Duck Lake State Park 2

…ending with this one.

Actual sunset at Duck Lake State Park 3

I then zoomed all the way back out to 16 mm for this image.

Sunset looking northwest at Duck Lake State Park

I should have shot a panorama of two images to be stitched together for that view, either that, or I’ll need an even wider lens. But, I am impressed by the field of view of the 16-35 mm lens on a full frame sensor camera versus what I got on the crop sensor 7D.

I thought that there’d be a short period of time between when the sun slipped below the horizon, and when the light from the sun hit the underside of the clouds, so I was headed back to my Subaru when I saw that this had been behind me.

Looking to the east

Seeing that, I wanted to explore that scene further, but a check of the sky looking to the west again is when I saw the scene that is the first image in this post, which I’ll insert here again.

Lake Michigan sunset from Duck Lake State Park

I tried going wider, I tried zooming in more, but that’s the image that I liked the best from the many that I shot in that direction at the time.

I then turned back to the north to shoot this one…

Looking northwest over Lake Michigan

…and then literally ran up the dune that was behind my Subaru in the earlier photo to shoot this one on my way up the dune…

Looking east over Duck Lake

…and this one when I got to the top of the dune.

Looking east over Duck Lake at Duck Lake State Park

By the way, all of these were shot as single images with the 5D Mk IV, to see how well it reproduced the colors of the sunset. These aren’t bad, but I believe that more of the subtle colors would have been shown if I had bracketed three images to create a HDR image. I suppose that I could also bring out more color by using Lightroom, but this was all about learning what the camera is capable of by itself, for my future reference.

Anyway, the display of color in the sky wasn’t done yet, I shot this on my way back down the dune…

From one of the dunes at Duck Lake State Park

…and I shot these three as the colors began to fade.

Fading sunset at Duck Lake State Park 1


Fading sunset at Duck Lake State Park 2


Fading sunset at Duck Lake State Park 3

These last three are the ones that would have benefitted the most by my using my tripod and bracketing for HDR images.After having viewed these images again, and written what I have about them, now I have decided that what I should have tried was tilting the camera over to the portrait orientation to get even more of the clouds in  some of the scenes, and shot multiple images to be stitched together in panoramas to get the width that I wanted. Sigh, hindsight is always 20/20, and I did think about  panorama while I was there, but with the camera in the landscape orientation. I’m not sure if it would have worked as fast as the clouds were moving and with the waves on Lake Michigan, but I should have at least tested it to see if it would work. I have to keep telling myself these things in the hope that I will remember to try them the next time a similar occasion arrises.

That didn’t happen this week though, I did set-up the tripod and shoot a HDR image of the sunset Thursday evening.

Another Duck Lake State Park sunset

In fact, I shot quite a few HDR images on Thursday while using the new 5D Mk IV camera, here’s the best of the lot.

Muskegon SP colors in HDR

However, I’m finding that I don’t need to shoot bracketed images to blend into a HDR image with the 5D…

Muskegon SP colors in a single image

…as I prefer the single image version over the HDR version.

That’s been the case most of the times that I’ve tried shooting HDR images with the 5D with its expanded dynamic range over the crop sensor 60D and 7D Mk II bodies that I’ve been used to shooting with. Also, the sky ends up looking wonky in HDR images that I shoot with the 5D, along with the fact that the final image looks fake.

Bad HDR image of the fall colors

Anyway, I was using the 5D with the 24-70 mm f/4 so often on Thursday that I grew tired of swapping lenses all the time, so I put the birding set-up on the 7D just in case, and the just in case did happen.

Eastern bluebird getting ready for a bath

I had seen the bluebirds perched on sign posts as I moved from one part of the Snug Harbor area in Muskegon State Park to another area. They all flew off, but I parked there in hopes that they would return, and as you can see, they did. I shot the bluebird above as it bathed…

Eastern bluebird bathing


Eastern bluebird bathing

…when a second bird landed in the puddle to join the first…

Eastern bluebirds

…but due to the short depth of field as close as they were to me, I wasn’t able to get them both in focus at the same time. But, when the second one started its bath, I fired away…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…I kept an eye on the shutter speed as I shot…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…and seeing that it was 1/800 to 1/1000 second…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…I hoped that I’d get the amount of motion blur that I hoped for…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…while freezing some of the water drops in the air…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…but I should have gone even quicker with the shutter speed…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…to freeze the bird completely in at least a few photos…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…even if the water drops look good…

Eastern bluebird bathing

…and of course I thought about switching over to the 5D for more dynamic range so that the shadows in that last photo wouldn’t be as dark as they are. But by then, the birds felt clean enough that they moved off to look for food. Also, these were cropped only slightly, I would have had to crop more if I had used the 5D because of the crop factor of the 7D.

Sorry for so many photos of the bluebirds, but they are usually difficult for me to get that close to since they are quite wary of humans most of the time. They’re such cheerful little birds, and one of my favorite species to watch and hear singing, that I went a little overboard with the photos.

Earlier in the day I had been chasing other species of small birds…

Pine warbler stretching to see

…luckily, this pine warbler stuck around long enough for me to dial in the correct exposure…

Pine warbler looking chunky

…and, this white-breasted nuthatch worked its way towards me as I shot a good many photos of it, ending with this one.

White-breasted nuthatch with an attitude

I’ve already put too many images in this post, and I have plenty leftover from both last week, and from yesterday, so it’s time to put an end to this post before I go out again today to see what I can find now that the morning rain has ended.

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


23 responses

  1. What a wonderful series of sunset shots, Jerry! I also try to look eastward because the colours can be just as good in that direction. I love the photos of the bluebirds bathing and that last one of the nuthatch is a winner!


    October 12, 2018 at 6:10 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! It took me a while to remember to look to the east at sunset, but once I learned that, I seldom forget it. I wish that the birds would let me know what they’re going to do before they do it, then I could have been ready when they do something like splash around in a puddle.

      Liked by 1 person

      October 12, 2018 at 9:20 pm

      • Haha! Yes! Life would be much easier if we had more of a clue of what was to happen. Oh, to be more prepared! However, I am constantly amazed at the shots you take of animals and birds just behaving normally. I fumble and press the wrong button and miss so many opportunities. You, on the other hand seem so cool and collected and get fantastic photos!


        October 12, 2018 at 9:28 pm

  2. While it’s undoubtedly the better way to go, I rarely use tripods precisely for the reason you mentioned. I love being able to move about and capture different angles and shifting scenes. Surprisingly, as I went through this post, it was not your fabulous sunset photos that made me pause (though I admire how you were able to get those fiery colors), but the gentler scene of waving grass and wonderful cloud cover in your second photo.


    October 8, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    • Thank you very much! I find that using a tripod does slow me down, but not as much as it used to. The more often I use it, the quicker I become on getting it set-up. And, not only am I able to use the optimum camera settings for the best possible image, the thought process that goes into deciding where to set the tripod leads me to put more thought into the composition, which also leads to better images. The best of both worlds is something that I’ve been known to do as well, set one camera up on the tripod, and handhold a second camera as the light changes. But,I only do that when there’s no one else in sight, as I don’t want my camera gear stolen or damaged.


      October 9, 2018 at 8:16 am

  3. Hi Jerry! LOVE the bluebird sequence – all the little droplets of water….sensational. It’s all ordinary studd to you, but I don’t think I’ve ever even seen two bluebirds at once, much less two bluebirds bathing.

    You sure had a perfect evening for getting dramatic sunset photos. It may be off, but my favorite ones all have just the brilliant orange line, but not the round orb of the sun showing. Between the rolling waves and the dramatic sky, they are all showstoppers. I’m amazed that you had time to get in your car and drive from site to site. But it looks like you made the best choice for your photos.

    I have the feeling that we are somehow going to miss the best fall colors. Up here at Cape Breton, at the tip of Nova Scotia, it doesn’t seem like fall colors are in any rush to start happening, although the weather seems very fall-like. Spent yesterday wandering a very rocky shoreline, watching seals cavort in the waves. You would love this place.

    On Fri, Oct 5, 2018, 8:33 PM Quiet Solo Pursuits wrote:

    > quietsolopursuits posted: “With conditions similar to last week, although > not as extreme as far as the wind, I returned to Duck Lake State Park > Friday evening to capture this sunset. I was going to say that I don’t know > how dedicated landscape photographers do what they do, ” >


    October 7, 2018 at 7:46 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! From the fall until early spring, bluebirds tend to stay in small flocks, so it isn’t unusual to see more than one at a time. I did okay with the photos of them bathing, but if I had known how long they were going to stick around, I could have tried going both up and down with the shutter speed for different effects. When I stopped where I saw the bluebirds, I was just hoping for one to land on a signpost close to me, the puddle and their baths were a surprise to me.

      You’re one of the reasons that I posted so many photos of the sunset, every one has different tastes when it comes to them. Some people prefer large amounts of bright colors, other people prefer the more subtle colors. My preference is for the ones just as the sun actually sets, so that I get the starburst effect. But, that’s because starbursts were all the rage back in the days of film when I began photography, and you had to buy a special filter to put on the lens to get a starburst.

      Well, I hope that you do get to see some awesome displays of the fall colors in the east, but I’d just as soon see seals playing in the waves, as I’ve never seen that before. I can’t wait to retire so that I can chase both the stunning vistas and wildlife that North America has to offer.


      October 7, 2018 at 3:34 pm

  4. Pingback: Anatomy of a sunset — Quiet Solo Pursuits – Site Title

  5. You sure do have some fantastic sunsets there! ( And fantastic photos of them!) I wish I could find someplace that was as wide open here, but we have trees. 5 million acres of them.
    I love the shots of the bluebirds too. They’re something I never see.
    I’m glad you didn’t get any snow. They’ve shown snowy Michigan several times on the news here.


    October 6, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Trees and the lack of any open space in Michigan is the reason that I go to Lake Michigan to photograph sunsets, so that I can see the sunsets. I think that the Great Lakes influence on weather conditions also help, especially with the clouds. It’s much like living along the Pacific Ocean in the US, great sunsets occur here regularly.

      Bluebirds are one of my favorite species, but they seldom allow me to get close to them, or my blog would have even more photos of them.

      No snow downstate yet, although I thought that I saw a few flakes mixed in with rain a few nights back when I was driving back from up north for work. We may get a frost sometime in the next week, and snow won’t be far behind.

      Liked by 1 person

      October 7, 2018 at 7:00 am

  6. Wow..what a sunset! All the thought and planning that you put into being at the right place, right time and using right lens all paid off with your series of wonderful sunset photos. Love all the Eastern bluebird photos too especially where the water drops are ‘ captured’! The Muskegon wood photo is beautiful with the eye being led into the picture by the shadow…makes one want to run through the trees! Thank you!


    October 6, 2018 at 2:10 pm

    • Thank you very much Maryanne! The last three weeks the clouds have been pushed around at a rapid clip by high winds, so trying to figure out in advance where to go has been hard to do. If I had known in advance that the bluebirds would stick around as long as they did, I would have played with the camera settings more than I did to come up with other takes on what was going on, like going to a faster shutter for some, and an even slower shutter for others. Now that I have these images in the bank so to speak, I can play around more if I ever see them bathing again. You’re welcome.

      Liked by 1 person

      October 6, 2018 at 3:06 pm

  7. It’s so amazing how fast the scenery changes in just a few minutes.
    Your second photo remembers me of some watercolor works of Andrew Wyeth.
    And all these little birds are so beautiful.


    October 6, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    • Thank you very much Cornell! Yes, it always hits me how quickly the colors in the sky change along with the shapes of the cloud formations at sunset. Our bluebirds are cheerful little birds that can brighten up even the dreariest of days, but I’m still glad that I caught them in sunshine to really show their colors well.

      Liked by 1 person

      October 6, 2018 at 3:00 pm

  8. Wonderful sunset pictures whether easy to take or not, most enjoyable. I also liked the bird taking its bath, excellent close ups.


    October 6, 2018 at 8:49 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! In both instances, I was able to put myself in the right place at the right time for a change, Then it was simply a matter of pressing the shutter release.


      October 6, 2018 at 9:53 am

  9. Splendid sunset pictures, Jerry! And the bluebirds are awesome!


    October 6, 2018 at 8:04 am

    • Thank you very much Sue! Sunsets are almost too easy to photograph in some ways, but getting them right is still beyond my ability for now. I was afraid that I put too many photos of the bluebirds in this post, but I rarely get that close to them.

      Liked by 1 person

      October 6, 2018 at 8:25 am

  10. A delightful anatomy lesson! I enjoyed viewing every image, the sunsets one as well as the birds. You know that you are one of the few that have found a way to bring us the wonders of nature to contemplate and appreciate!


    October 6, 2018 at 6:28 am

    • Thank you very much Hien! I do the best that I can, but what I see is even more beautiful than my abilities as a photographer allow me to show, but I’m working on that as you know.


      October 6, 2018 at 8:22 am

  11. Beautiful shots 🙂

    Much love from India.


    October 5, 2018 at 10:19 pm

  12. A beautiful set of sunset shots, Jerry! Nothing like molten sky on the horizon with lavender and rose clouds. I love those bluebirds bathing. Nice series!


    October 5, 2018 at 9:33 pm