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.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a great place to visit during the winter season. Many people visit this park during the summer during its peak tourist season, but there is something special about Sleeping Bear Dunes during the winter. Gone are the people tubing down the Platte River. Gone are the people driving through the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Gone are the people crowding some of the popular hiking trails. There is a stillness at this park during the winter. When you stand out on the snow filled beaches, sounds of waves crashing against ice piles can be heard. When you walk through the snowy trails of Empire Bluffs there is total silence and the only thing that can be heard are a couple of creatures moving around, and the wind whistling between the trees. The scenery of Sleeping Bear Dunes is spectacular during the winter season. If you are looking to visit when the crowds are few then winter is the time to explore this top tourist attraction in Michigan.
If you are not prepared for the winter elements, you can run into a few problems. I have experienced some of those dangerous situations simply because of my lack of knowledge. As with many places up north, there are areas that do not get plowed. Keep in mind that some of the side roads to a few of the beaches do not get plowed. Stop by the Visitors Center in Empire to get an idea of what areas are plowed and safe to drive through. Two counties run through the park and each has their own plowing schedule. The visitors center park rangers should be able to tell you when the best time to head down certain roads are. As with many of my other adventures soft shoulders on the roadside are quite common. Look for a clear plowed parking lot or drive nearby to park the vehicle.
Snowshoes or skis are a must if you are doing some hiking in the park. This is where I had gone wrong in one of my first visits to this park during the winter season. I struggled in two popular hiking areas during the winter. The Empire Bluffs trail is a popular hiking trail during the tourist season. The trail gives you sweeping views of the dunes and Lake Michigan. You can see the village of Empire from the bluff. It is quite the sight to see during the winter, but you must be prepared. The park will give guided hikes in the winter of this trail. They use snowshoes to make the hike. There are many snow drifts up on the higher elevations. One minute you could be walking through a couple inches of snow on the trail and then the next you are knee deep in snow. Without snowshoes the hike is very difficult. I had to find this out the hard way. On the hike going down an incline I also slipped and fell right on my back. I would not recommend this hike without snowshoes.
The biggest mistake I made was out on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. During the winter this drive is shut down to all vehicles and is used as a cross country trail. It is recommended that you take the trail with skis or snowshoes. When I visited the park, there had just been a foot of fresh snow. There was a thaw a week before that so the road contained ice frozen over from the meltdown. This made it a lot more difficult. The scenery was nice and parts of the drive were pretty easy to walk by foot. Once I hit the higher elevations within the drive, I struggled a lot more. This is where the snow shoes or skis would have come in handy. Also, part of the drive was blocked off due to drifting snow. This is right at the Dune Overlook areas. The trail gets re-routed through the woods reconnecting back to the main drive in a lower elevation. The area I had the most trouble with was a huge hill heading to the Lake Michigan Overlook. Hiking with no snow shoes or skis was a workout and this hill became what I thought was going to be the death of me. I made it halfway up the hill and almost collapsed. I was so tired and so run down from the hike. I laid in the snow for about 10 minutes trying to gain the courage to keep going. I struggled up the rest of the hill and made it to the overlook. The view was stunning and it was a nice photo opportunity. However, I wished I had the right equipment to make the hike.
There are many times where some of the most simple things like snowshoes get overlooked. I have hiked many trails in the winter, and took it for granted that places like Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is in a league of its own when it comes to winter hiking. These are common mistakes that I have made and I have heard similar stories from others who have made those same mistakes. When going to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, check in at the Visitors Center first. They will always provide you with the right information and tips to make your experience a great one. I made the mistake of overlooking that valuable information. Overlooking information can be costly, and I found that to be true on the ice near the lighthouses on Lake Michigan. Find out what happened in a couple days.
When getting ready to head out for a photo excursion I am usually excited thinking on what type of shot I want to come away with. I start thinking about the various angles I can shoot a particular subject, especially one that I have seen before. As a photographer you are always looking for new ways to challenge yourself. The four seasons hold various opportunities for the photographer. Each season brings about something new to be discovered or some unique challenge. I have found that winter photography brings about the biggest challenges due to the inclement weather that goes hand in hand with the season.
What is it about winter photography that creates some challenges that are hard to deal with. First of all, there are dangerous conditions. Ice out on the lakes, snowstorms and deep snow in some areas, and roadways that are difficult to drive all make winter photography a challenge to overcome. In some cases these challenges present dangerous and perilous situations. I have been in a few of those situation as have other photographers. I love the sense of adventure, but experiencing these situations have given me an additional appreciation for a safe return home. In the excitement of a new photography adventure, I pray for a safe return home to my loved ones.
Along the way I have experienced some dangerous situations in winter photography excursions. Next week I will be writing a four part series on the dangers of winter photography in Michigan. These are situations that I have dealt with over the last several years in the field. I have seen plenty of beautiful winter scenes, but had I known what lied in front of me prior to heading out, I may have approached it differently. Michigan is a wonderful place during winter, but sometimes we don’t have all the information when we start. With a little bit of information from someone who has experienced some of the dangers and pitfalls, some dangers can be avoided. I want your journey to be as safe as possible.
I love the fall color season in Michigan. I only wish that it lasted a little longer. There is nothing like taking a walk in the woods smelling fall in the air and hearing the rustling of leaves below your feet. The colors in Michigan are amazing. The colors can vary from year to year based on weather conditions prior to the fall season, however the fall color season in Michigan usually does not disappoint. This year we experienced a late color season as we had unusual warm temperatures throughout October. In those years it is not uncommon to transition into winter really quickly. This year we have seen some snowfall throughout the state when there were still a few leaves hanging on the trees yet. This transition of seasons can make for some interesting photo opportunities.
Before Halloween my wife and I got to farm markets and buy small pumpkins and gourds. They are the perfect fall decoration around the house. If left uncut these pumpkins and gourds can last for a couple months. That is perfect for me because I love to have the house decorated in fall decor right up to Thanksgiving. There are many ways to preserve your small pumpkins to transform them into Christmas decorations found on places like Pinterest, but I try to get rid of mine after Thanksgiving. This time of year is that key transitional season. We have had snow before Thanksgiving in years past. If you still have small pumpkins and gourds around while the snow falls, they can be used as interesting seasonal photos.
A couple years ago we had an early winter. The snow started falling in mid November. Many places throughout the state had record snowfall in November. In many places within the state saw no accumulating snowfall. It was a green Christmas that year, but I was thankful the snow came when it did. We had just transitioned out of the fall color season. There were still a few leaves clinging to the trees, but most of them had fallen on the ground. I still had my small pumpkins in the house for Thanksgiving decor. I gathered all of them up and took them to a local park. I was able to place various pumpkins in the snow showcasing two seasons in one. It is not often that the seasons will collide like they did that year. It is also a blessing when snowfall hits and there are still colors on the leaves. Those are rare opportunities to take advantage of. I have also had a blast taking photos during these times. The same can be said of spring and winter as flowers start blooming and a late spring snowfall occurs.
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.