There have been some signs of life around lately. I have seen some smaller flowers sprout out of the ground with a little bit of the warmer temperatures. We are still a ways away from full blooming Tulips later in the month of April, but the fact that I am seeing a few flowers come out of the ground is good enough for me. As with many, it has been a long winter. It seems as if winter tends to drag on longer each year. Naturally, when spring arrives many of us are excited about what is around the corner. Spring officially began in the later part of March, but places in Michigan could swear it felt nothing like spring.
Each year these seasonal changes bring about a sense of hope. As a photographer, I love seeing the flowers because they tend to add a little bit of color in what has been previously a colorless season. I love that the flowers come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. What is really visually appealing to me is when I see the new life of the flowers pop up in the midst of a brown and dead environment. I have seen flowers pop up surrounded by old brown leaves from the previous fall. It showcases that the season is all about life rather than a period of dormant life.
There are plenty of landmarks and landscapes to photograph in the state of Michigan. To any photographer, I would always recommend taking time to photograph the flowers. The landscapes and landmarks are going to be around for a while, but flowers then to have their own season during spring. You will see the crocuses first and then start to see many daffodils. By the end of the month tulips are in full bloom. The month of April is a great month to capture the different flowers of spring. The best way to capture them is getting down and dirty on the ground. Have fun with the subject and see what beautiful image you can create!
The month of month can be a bit of a challenge when trying to find subjects to photograph. March is similar to November in the fact that it is a transition month between seasons and can be a little tricky finding some good overall landscapes to photograph. The grass if brown just having the snow melt off of it. In some cases the snow does not disappear off the ground and lingers around here and there. When pressed with those challenges, it is best to look at the small things. March can offer up some interesting small subjects.
It is not uncommon to see some of the crocuses come out in the later part of March. This signals the first sign of spring to many. The warmer air, rain and sunshine combined allow the flowers to start sprouting out of the ground. They are not the biggest flowers around, but they are a breath of fresh air. They come in different colors ranging from yellow and white to even a blueish purple color. I like to get right down on the ground when photographing these flowers. Yes, it can be messy with soft wet ground, but the best photographs come when you get up close and personal. I have found that a small little tripod works well for these shots.
In some years we have had warmer than normal months of March. This has also brought out the daffodils blooming from the ground. Typically you will see these flowers in the first part of April. If the weather is warm and there is plenty of rain, these flowers may but out early. Again, the same approach applies when photographing these flowers. Get as close to them as you can. A couple years ago, I got on the ground and inches away from the flower. A small bug was on the pedal of the daffodil. It was a nice added element to the flower simply because it showcased the natural process of nature. Standing up and looking down at the flower is not always going to produce a vantage point like that.
If the flowers are not blooming out, look at various elements on the ground. Sometimes you see boats sitting by a pond waiting for the season. In other cases you may see sporting goods sitting out in the grass as people get ready to play a particular sport. The ground is often mushy and that provides a unique element to the scene. It will amaze you how much can be found if you are looking at a piece of the overall scene. Sometimes the most interesting subjects are not the overall landscape, but an element within the landscape. That is how I would approach photography during these transitional months. Challenge yourself and see what you can come up with.
The Port Oneida Historic District is one of the less traveled areas of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This area continues north on M-22 into the Leelanau Peninsula. This is more of an area of countryside lands with old historic farms and houses. I have included this in one of the must see areas of a winter visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes for a reason. It is an area that you can explore and get lost in the history of the park. In some of the roads travel is difficult, but most of them are plowed out well. There are about 120 farms and homes in this district. Occasionally you will come across some old farming equipment in an empty field which is often an interesting subject to photograph.
Typically the best time to visit this area is during the summer. The houses tend to be open to the public and there is a festival in August where you are able not only to see the barns and houses up close and personal, but you are able to get a deeper grasp of the historic value with several park rangers and volunteers working providing demonstrations of the typical life during the late 18th century and early 19th century. However, I have found that from a photographic standpoint the contrast of some of these historic barns works well with the white snow cover. Being able to see this area during the winter season provides a little bit of a different perspective on the landscape. Here is a list of a few barns and places that I would stop by when visiting this area during the winter.
Charles Olson Farm (pictured above)
Port Oneida School – The school is a historic school building, but is white and may blend in with white snow. It is worth a look though
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore draws in several thousands of visitors during the summer tourism season. Often the parking lots for viewing areas are filled and you cannot walk a quarter mile on one of the trails within the park without passing someone else. Sleeping Bear Dunes is a great place to visit during the spring, summer and fall seasons. Once those seasons pass the park numbers die down tremendously. It still sees quite a few visitors, but does not draw the crowd that it would during the main tourism season. A partial reason for this is that during the winter the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, one of the most popular attractions, is shut down for the season and only accessible by snowshoes or skis.
The winter season at Sleeping Bear Dunes offers plenty of fun and things to do. In this next series I will take a look at four key areas within the park that are must see stops if you visit the park during the winter. Each of these places provide plenty of photo opportunities as well as unique landscapes that offer a different perspective from the other seasons. The four areas that I am focusing on will be:
Platte River area — The Platte River empties out into Lake Michigan at the end of the Platte River road. The journey to the mouth of the river gives you some unique views of the river itself.
Empire Beach area — The South Bar Lake is nearby along with the Lake Michigan shoreline. You see sweeping views of the dunes from each direction. During the summer it is a beach goers paradise. In the winter; a frozen oasis with several unique formations of ice and sand.
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive — Closed for vehicle traffic, but accessible by snowshoes and skis. The various viewpoints are spectacular in the winter.
Port Oneida Historic District — Old barns and homes from the historic district of long time settlers. It is a draw during the summer months, but somehow a blanket of white snow changes the perspective and contrast to what you would normally see.
The latest trend right now is the mannequin challenge. The process behind this is that a group of people stand as still as possible in various poses as if they were frozen in time. Several people are posting their mannequin challenge video on social media and some are going viral. In some cases, many pull it off really well and have very creative frozen in time moments. On the other hand, there have been a few that could not live up to the challenge and one or more people in the group of people started laughing, or moving around to break the challenge. It has been really entertaining to see all of these challenges. The frozen in time concept got me thinking. I have not participated in a mannequin challenge, but have had my own frozen in time moment in life dealing with recovering from knee surgery. Life has continued and I have felt that I have been caught in this moment of time where I have been forced to remain off the grid of my normal daily schedule. However, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.
As a landscape photographer you live for the changing seasons. The season that excites me the most if the fall color season here in Michigan. It is one of the busiest seasons that we have as there are only a few weeks until the leaves have fallen off the trees. I have found myself in past years driving all over the state trying to make as much of the three weeks that I have to get valuable fall color photographs. This year, due to the injury I had to sit this one out. It killed me and there were days where I looked outside the window seeing a perfect fall day knowing I had to be inside off my feet. I am not the first photographer that has sustained injuries, and I won’t be the last. If they are like me, it was a tough to be inside when you knew other photographers were out there capturing the beauty of the season. Time for me stood still, but life was continuing all around me.
I found this to be a blessing in disguise. It is so easy to become complacent out on the field. The photography industry is constantly evolving and all to often we do not evolve with those changes. I have found myself taking the same type of photograph year after year. I may have hit gold in a previous year that I took the shot, but if I attempt to repeat it, I am not giving the viewer anything new. It is an easy trap to fall into. I began thinking about where I would go if I was totally healthy and came to the conclusion that I probably would have gone to the same spots that I had gone to in previous years. That made me think about what I have been missing in previous years and what I don’t want to miss in the years to come. There are a lot of places that I have not been to in the State of Michigan during the fall season. I started listing some of those places realizing that I may not come away with a popular photograph of a particular place that is recognizable, but I may come away with a new photograph that captures the essence of the fall color season.
Time has stood still for me in the last couple months. I have been forced to research different photography techniques. I believe you never stop learning even if you are on the top of your game. There is always someone out in the field that puts out a photograph that you can learn from. I believe the minute we stop attempting to learn our craft because we believe we are bigger than it, we lose our edge. This is true in every career field and not just photography. In the last couple months I have been forced to re think how I want to photograph various subjects within the State of Michigan. In the last couple months I have had to look at the things that worked for me as a photographer and what I need to do to change direction. Time has stood still in my life for the past couple months, and that has not been a bad thing. In many ways, I needed time to stand still. I needed to refocus and come to a realization of what I wanted out of my own photography. In the season of Thanksgiving, I can be plenty thankful that I missed out on the fall color season and that time stood still.
Sitting around a table with some acquaintances of mine we were generating conversation about places we wanted to go see in our home state of Michigan. The usual places that most people want to visit such as Mackinac Island and the bridge, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and summer resort cities like Grand Haven, Petoskey and Ludington were high on everyone’s list. In spite of knowing about these places, it amazed me how little people really knew about some of Michigan’s most frequently visited locations. It astounded me that several people did not know that cities like Marshall, Coldwater, Monroe, Bad Axe, Clare, Midland, Ironwood, Hancock and Copper Harbor even existed in the State of Michigan.
To be honest, while I have heard of these cities; there are a few things that I never knew existed within these cities. Earlier this summer I stopped at the Underground Railroad Monument in Battle Creek. Did you know that the monument is operated by the U.S. National Park Service? I would have never thought it was, but it makes sense in hindsight. They have a park ranger right at the monument to answer any all all questions about the fascinating history of the Underground Railroad and how it impacted Michigan. There are so many events and places that I have yet to discover in our great state. Don’t get me wrong, I love the lighthouse tours and the pristine waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula, but there is more to learn and more to discover.
This past year in photography has been a little bit of a transition for me. I have wanted to discover the unknown. I have wanted to get the experience of what is now known as our state’s famous tagline “Pure Michigan”. I have been blessed to see the Mackinac Bridge and many of the state’s famous landmarks. I yearn to see more and gain an understanding of what this state has to offer. To experience Michigan is to also converse with the people behind the scenes of some our cities annual events, or those running the museums, cider mills, and farm markets.
I have learned a great deal throughout this past year and I plan to pass some of this information along. Some of my posts will contain some facts and statistics about certain places as it is important to have some of the detailed information. However, a majority of the posts are going to be experienced based. I will not write as if I am an expert on various places within Michigan. Instead I will provide content about the journey to discovering new and exciting places. Those who are looking to find out what Michigan has to offer come with me on this journey. Let’s discover the mitten state together!