Thursday, June 30, 2016

Superior Photo Destination: Michigan's Upper Peninsula

If you seek a remote place for wild and scenic photographic opportunities, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, known as the UP to locals, is one of those below the radar places with something for almost any photographer. This narrow peninsula is bounded by the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan to the south and the scenic Lake Superior coast forms the northern boundary. Part of Lake Huron also frames the eastern UP. It is connected to the rest of Michigan by the impressive Mackinac Bridge (pronounced Mackinaw) which spans the Straits of Mackinac and is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. The largest cities are Sault Saint Marie (population 75,000) to the east and hugging the Lake Superior shoreline further west is Marquette (population 21,000). The cities of Duluth, Minnesota and Green Bay, Wisconsin can also serve as bases for excursions into the UP. Many small-quaint towns dot the landscape and most will have a family run diner or other places to eat and comfortable lodging. 
             Canada Dogwood, also known as bunchberry

With two national forests (The Hiawatha and Ottawa), over 2 million acres of state forest land, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Isle Royale National Park, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and many other state and local parks the UP has a wide range of photographic locales.

At this northern latitude summer days are long, but the summer season is very short with the peak of summer being July. Daytime temperatures are usually comfortable and with occasional cool or hot stretches, but bring your insect repellent. Mosquitoes and biting flies can be a nuisance, especially in June and July. Evenings and and nights can be cool, so bring a light jacket. 

For summer shooting there are over 200 waterfalls in the UP including Tahquamenon Falls, the photogenic Bond Falls and even some waterfalls that flow more than 100 feet down mineral-stained sandstone cliffs to Lake Superior at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Many waterfalls are best in spring or early summer, when runoff from melting snow supplies ample water. Several books are available to provide detailed information on almost all of the waterfalls. Summer sunrises and sunsets over Lake Michigan and Lake Superior can be incredible spectacles to photograph.
  Union River, Porcupine Mountains

Sugar maple, aspen, ash, birch, oak and other hardwood trees can put on a spectacular autumn display. This may start as early as September and may only last a few short weeks. Must visit places in the fall include the Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and Council Lake on the Hiawatha National Forest. Spring, the other short-shoulder season, begins in May and can yield awesome displays of woodland wildflowers.
                                                                                                   Sunrise over Lake Superior

Winter is by far the longest season and some places receive an average of over 200 inches of snowfall. Access to remote areas is often by snowmobile or snowshoe hiking. Spectacular ice formations such as the Eben Ice Caves on the Hiawatha National Forest or the huge frozen falls at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are unique photographic opportunities.

Moose, wolves bears, deer and other wildlife inhabit forests throughout the UP, but due to the dense vegetation most people will never see many of these animals, especially the elusive wolves. The Seney National Wildlife Refuge is however a great place for loons, ducks, geese and other waterfowl.

If you want to get away from some of the crowded national parks, try Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. It is actually closer to Canada than the US and it is only accessible by boat or seaplane. Thus, it is one of the least visited national parks. However, Isle Royale National Park has beautiful rocky bays and inlets to Lake Superior, wolves, moose and trails throughout the 48-mile long island. There are no roads for cars on the island and lodging is either at the park service lodges at Rock Harbor and Windigo or in a tent.

To top it all off, the UP is one of the best places in the lower 48 states to see and photograph the northern lights. Although the Aurora Borealis can been seen any time of year, on a clear winter night in a remote area of the UP skies are plenty dark to view and photograph the northern lights.

      Presque Isle River, Porcupine Mountains

So, if you really want to get away from the crowds as well as summer heat and humidity while photographing fantastic waterfalls, fantastic sunrises and sunsets over the great lakes and other amazing spring, fall or winter scenery you may want to consider Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Bridal Veils, Canyons, Laughing Whitefish and more - oh my!

Also known as Michigan's Waterfalls

By Tom Haxby

Why are waterfalls so fascinating? Is it the thundering roar, the picturesque scenes where they are found, or is it thousands of gallons of water cascading in unison over a precipice, that depending on how you view the falls can appear to be still or in endless motion?

Whatever the answer, there are about 200 waterfalls, some say more than 300, in Michigan. Some falls are named and many others are unnamed. Of the named falls only one, Ocqueoc Falls, east of Onaway, is in the Lower Peninsula. The remaining falls are in the Upper Peninsula and it seems that they are just about everywhere in the UP.

For those who are properly equipped and skilled for paddling on the big lake, a kayak can allow access to Bridal Veil Falls from Lake Superior at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising. My only trip in a kayak to view the falls revealed the technical nature of the trip, and quite frankly if I were to do it again, I would be better prepared and probably safer too. For those not so daring, this waterfall is part of the boat tours of the spectacular Pictured Rocks cliffs. Bridal Veil Falls flows down the mineral stained cliffs into Lake Superior and is a spring event due to snow melt runoff and only occasionally flows at other times as a result of heavy rainfall.

One of my favorites is Canyon Falls and the Sturgeon River Gorge off of US-41, South of L'Anse in Baraga County. The trail leading from the unassuming rest stop on the west side of US-41 leads along the Sturgeon River to Canyon Falls which begins the Sturgeon River Gorge. It took me by complete surprise on my first visit when I unexpectedly stumbled upon this amazing river canyon. Local residents and students from nearby Michigan Technological University have known about this area for some time and have utilized the pools in the gorge for swimming. My other revelation was of the wildflowers such as nodding trillium that line the path to the river.

One of the tall waterfalls, Laughing Whitefish Falls, in Alger County slides more than 100 feet over layered rocks. It has been several years since my last visit and my memory is of the staircase from the top to the bottom of the falls and the difficulty of capturing the essence of this waterfall with a camera. Still, the view from the top of the falls is spectacular.

For those who desire a hiking adventure to a waterfall, Spray Falls at the Pictured Rocks can be the focus of an 8 mile round trip hike. The trailhead is accessed via H-58 and Beaver Creek Road. Part of the hike is on the Lakeshore Trail which parallels Lake Superior and offers incredible views of the bluegreen lake from the bluffs above. There are some challenging stairs and moderate climbs on the trail, but the reward for the hike is a view of the falls and the lake from a plateau more than 100 feet above Lake Superior.

For those wanting a more leisurely experience, Alger, Scott and other falls can be viewed from a car or may only require a very short walk, as is the case for Wagner Falls.

No waterfall tour is complete without a stop at Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls southwest of Paradise. Upper Tahquamenon Falls is the largest in Michigan. The wide expanse of tannin colored water which forms the falls has long been a must-see for any who enjoy viewing waterfalls. The area surrounding Tahquamenon Falls is especially attractive in autumn colors. On one of my late winter – early spring trips I had the good fortune to visit these falls at the peak of the snow melt. The extreme volume of water thundering over the falls was literally shaking the ground.

There are so many fascinating waterfalls and scenic rivers in Michigan, and favorites of mine also include the Presque Isle River in the Porcupine Mountains or Bond Falls for the iconic photo possibilities. But surely there are more my travels have yet to discover. My introduction to the waterfalls of Michigan and a good resource is the book, “A Guide to 199 Michigan Waterfalls” by Laurie Penrose. Another good source of information is the Internet. A search for Michigan waterfalls will reveal many useful websites for waterfalls in Michigan.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Looking Back on 2014

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.

While watching an annual slide program populated with photos by members of the Traverse Area Camera Club, it made me think back to this past year in photos for me. There have been a few trips and a few local photos that were memorable. Here are some of the images:

The epic winter of 2013-14 was memorable for the trip to the shoreline of Lake Superior. This is Madeline Island, Big Bay State Park, which in years when Lake Superior freezes, can be reached by driving over the frozen lake. It was a balmy 3 degrees that morning.

 The ice formations along the Lake Superior Shore at the Apostle Islands National Park were impressive. This formation is known as the keyhole. This photo was a finalist with the North American Nature Photography Association.   Amazing experience along the frozen shore of Lake Superior.
Back in Michigan, Lake Michigan was frozen into April. A truly historic winter.

The next trip was to the Great Smoky Mountains in late April. The bears seemed to be quite active at that time. This mother and her yearling cub (not pictured)  were chomping on plants. Bears draw quite the crowd in Cades Cove, hence the term "Bear Jams".

Hyatt Lane in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of my favorite places in the spring and fall. This photo was two days in the making. I spotted this the previous day when the clouds refused to yield.

Being surrounded by Elk in Cataloochee Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains is quite an experience. It was my intention to keep a safe distance, but they were coming out of the surrounding forest behind me. This young bull elk was nice enough to let me photograph him.

 Along the North Country Trail at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore the first week of June. The mosquitoes were horrendous. So, it was click, slap, click, slap. Beautiful sunlight through the trees near Miner's Castle.

This wood lily was a perfect specimen and is actually a composite of two images to increase the focus distance. Though the mosquitoes were out in force, my preparations allowed me to ignore the bites. 

Back home until the next journey, this delightful scene presented itself to me at the Sleeping Bear Dunes. It is so rare to find a dune sans footprints and to get great light and clouds too is even better.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Watkins Glen State Park in upstate New York, bring your camera. There are at least 19 waterfalls in the gorge, plus bridges and tunnels along the route. Truly one of the more spectacular places I have visited. 

The days were already starting to be quite chilly in September. On one of those chilly evenings I was fortunate to find this scene looking west from the Old Mission Peninsula. It actually reminds me of the Smoky Mountains because of the layering.

 One last day of sailing on Grand Traverse Bay before the cooler weather.


Great reflection on a beautiful fall morning. The reflections seemed to last for a long-long time that morning. If you are standing in the lake, the slightest movement causes ripples all the way across the lake.  Given time, the reflection reappears.


One of those intimate scenes that sometimes just grabs you. Especially if you have to make a "U" turn to go back to get it. Was that a good opportunity for a photo?  Well, go back and check it out, and yes, it was a fantastic scene.

Yes, the fall of 2014 presented many photo opportunities. This was a pre-visualized photo that actually worked as planned. The gold color was really accentuated by the late-day light coming through the leaves.


Believe it or not, this is actually a winter image. Taken in a thick fog, these pines give a real sense of the mystery in the woods. 

Finally, winter scenes like this one taken at night on the Boardman River in downtown Traverse City.

If you have made it through my year in pictures, thank you. It has been a pretty darn good year for photos and I really appreciate the support from everyone. I am truly blessed to be able to capture and share some of the beauty of this world. 


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thanks for Business Support

Yesterday, after meeting with several of the businesses in Traverse City that have supported me over the years, I realize that I have been fortunate to have lots of support for my photography. So, I wanted to highlight those that have been helped in one way or another to promote my photography.  Here they are in no particular order:

The Camera Shop of Traverse City
Excellent technical assistance, photography equipment and printing

Bulls-I, Inc. of Traverse City
Outstanding Framing and sales support

The Dish Cafe 
Great food and sales support

The Garvey Family Wedding Barn
Beautiful wedding setting and sales support

Michigan Blue Magazine
Publication Support

The Traverse Area Camera Club
Technical support and fellowship

The City Opera House
Beautiful restored Opera House and Sales Support

The Watershed Center
Environmental Education and Sales Support

Total Electronics
Computer Support

And, because no photography blog would be complete without a couple of photos, here are two from the past two weekends:

Leaf on Ice

Foggy Pines

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Focus Stacking

Focus Stacking or Extended Depth-of-Field

Here is a trick for digital shooters that will increase depth-of-field. The technique is called focus stacking or extended depth-of-field and this is an easy software solution to a common issue in photography. This is not to say that it is always necessary to have nearly unlimited depth-of-field. Sometimes a nice soft out-of-focus background is essential such as in portraits or wildlife photography. There are other times when it is more aesthetically pleasing to have a photo where nearly everything is in focus. 

Start by taking a series of photos with the center of focus beginning in the foreground and extending through the picture. It is necessary to overlap the areas of focus so that areas between sharp points of focus are not out of focus. 

Here I have a bed of tulips and I have taken 6 photos and each photo has a different focus point until I have enough images so that there are no areas that are out-of-focus.You may want to use a system that indicates that these are sequential photos for a focus stack.  I use a photo of my fingers at the end of the shots that indicates the number of shots in the sequence. You may also want to work fairly quickly in case there is something that may move in the image.

It may be difficult to discern the center of focus in these low-resolution images, but believe me, there are different focus points throughout the image.  Once the normal processing for exposure, saturation, and contrast, etc. are done you can save these files for stacking. I save as a .psd file if I am going to print later. 

Using Photoshop CS6 I can now begin the process of stacking the images. In Photoshop go to File>Scripts>Load Files Into Stack. A dialogue box will open and you can either choose to load open files or browse to the images.  You will then see each image added as a layer. Click and Shift+Click so that all layers are selected. Now go to Edit>Auto-Align Layers. A dialogue box will open and you can just select Auto. Then select Edit>Auto Blend Layers and choose Stack and check Seamless Tones and Colors and Photoshop does the rest. When Photoshop finishes the stacking you can now flatten the layers and finish processing by sharpening and any cleanup or cropping as needed. 

There are other software programs such as Helicon Focus© that will do the same thing and you can even get into layers and masks to do this manually in Photoshop. However, it has been my experience that the latest version of Photoshop does a wonderful job and this is a great skill to have in your digital toolbox. 

Try it out. In the digital world what do you have to lose?


Sunday, March 3, 2013

My February Newsletter was published earlier at

This edition focused on photos captured this winter along with a presention to the Grayling Photographic Society and tips for photographers.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Article in Northern Express

I was the featured artist in the Northern Express Weekly on October 8, 2012.  Here is the article.
From Northernexpress