A couple weeks ago, I finally did something that I have thought about doing for a while; I took a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.


Portrait with the Milky Way


It was about 5:30 pm when I decided to take my first road trip up to Michigan, on a whim. I was sitting at my computer with no plans for the evening, so I jumped in the car and started my six and a half hour drive up north. At the time, I didn’t have many locations that I knew about or planned to photograph, but I knew that I had wanted to explore the place for a while. After getting into astrophotography, the Upper Peninsula was one of the first places I found relatively close to my home where I could get good photos of the stars without much light pollution. With the summer Milky Way season starting, it was time to check it out.

Upon crossing the Mackinac Bridge, I was immediately treated to a beautiful, orange crescent moon setting over the road in front of me. I didn’t have a long lens to capture it properly, but I knew I had to capture the moment to look back on, so I grabbed a shot with my 24-105mm lens from inside my car. Still being pretty solid winter where I was, most of the pull-offs on the northern edge of Lake Michigan were still closed. Driving about 20 minutes, I was luckily able to find one and grab the portrait above with my Subaru and the Milky Way. Continuing down route 2 along the lake, I found a small rest stop where I decided I should attempt to take a nap in the back of my car.



Mackinac Bridge from the UP


Moon Setting Over Route 2


After laying in the back of my car for about 45 minutes, I realized sleep wasn’t going to happen. It was about 5:30 am and the pre-dawn blue light could be seen above the surrounding trees. I decided to push on and continue north to Whitefish Point on the edge of Lake Superior. The sunrise light was a brilliant sight during the drive and finally being able to see the surrounding forest landscape woke me out of my sleepy state. I stopped many times to grab photos with my iPhone, I was really happy I had decided to make the drive the previous evening. Passing through a small town called Newberry, I saw that one location I had put on my map was just up the road and that I would pass it on my way to Whitefish; Tahquamenon Falls. I had to stop here and hike to the falls. Suiting up for the freezing weather, I was relieved to find that the hike to the falls was only like a 5 minute walk from the parking lot. As I got closer to the river, I started to hear the rushing water and began to be more excited. I had forgotten what the place looked like because I had made the marker many months earlier. As I got to the viewing point, my breath was almost taken away. The view was extremely beautiful. This was my first time seeing a waterfall in person, and it was very impressive. Grabbing a few photos with my DSLR, I then walked down a staircase to the edge of the falls and captured my first panoramic photo that I’ve ever taken.

Tahquamenon Falls from Above


Tahquamenon Falls Panorama


After this awesome stop, I went up to Whitefish Point. When I arrived, the coast was very windy and the loose snow was blowing across the scattered driftwood on the edge of the lake, making for a very cool image, and what would have been a really amazing video clip to grab in slow motion. Seeing the Canadian coast on the other side of the lake was a inspiring sight as well. I had only seen something like this once before on a trip to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, during much warmer weather. After stopping here, I looked at the weather app on my phone and saw that a large snowstorm was coming into the area and would last for a couple days, so I had to call the trip and begin my seven hour trek back home. Even though I didn’t get to sleep for something like 36 hours, I believed the trip was a success because of the locations I was able to see and experience for the first time.

Snow Blowing Across the Driftwood


Whitefish Point Lighthouse


About a week and a half later, I decided to take another trip back up to the Upper Peninsula. This time, I sort of had a game plan with the places I wanted to shoot in timelapse. With recent aurora activity, I also hoped I would be able to capture them in the sequences as well. Again, I entered the peninsula after night had fallen, and this time the moon was rising instead of setting. I was happy about this because I wanted to capture the movement of the shadows of the forests that pretty much cover the entire area. My first stop was Muskallonge State Park. I thought this area might be a good start to look for aurora because it is directly on the edge of Lake Superior and has a mostly open horizon view looking north. I received a text on my phone about Storm Level aurora and hurried to the park. Almost at Newberry once again, I began to see the lights in the sky above me, another first. I had never seen the northern lights with the naked eye, only once with my camera. Of course I had to stop and grab a portrait with them along the highway.

Portrait with the Aurora


When I finally arrived on the edge of the lake, the aurora had died down quite a bit. Luckily, there was still a little bit going in the sky; so I set my timelapses up and let them shoot. With the moon in the sky, I was able to do relatively short exposures at five seconds a piece and complete my shots within an hour and a half. After these were done, the aurora was pretty much gone, so I moved on to my next spot; a moonlit Tahquamenon Falls.

Aurora Over Lake Superior


Walking through the woods alone at night is always unnerving, even is such a remote place, but after arriving at the falls I walked through the dark to the viewing spot and set up my timelapse camera for a two hour shot. My goal with the falls was to capture the shadows of the surrounding forest and the sequence came out very nice. With the sunrise coming soon, my next goal was to get to Grand Marais and capture it. Luckily, I arrived just in time and set up my shot. The sunrise over the ice and lake was brilliant. The pink colors in the sky made for a great timelapse sequence.

Moonlight Over Tahquamenon Falls


Sunrise from Grand Marais


With sunrise complete at Grand Marais, I jumped back into the car and headed for Munising to capture a couple more smaller waterfalls in that area. Still being winter, the first waterfall I arrived at was closed off for the season. At this point I got slightly discouraged but realized there were still two more near me and was able to get to them in a few minutes. The second waterfall was right off the road, Alger Falls. I climbed over to the edge of it, set my tripod down in the water and began shooting another sequence there. With the sun just coming over the falls, I was able to grab and awesome shot of the sun bursting through the trees above. ¬†With these sequence complete, I headed to the next spot, Wagner Falls. These falls had multiple drops and were very interesting. Getting into the water and planning out my shot, I grabbed my Kessler Shuttle Pod and began shooting there. During the shot, it began to snow heavily, drenching my camera and equipment. Fortunately, the weather sealed Canon gear held up and wasn’t damaged in any way. Even after leaving it out in the snow for around 45 minutes. Again, my trip was cut short by the weather. The outlook was another snow storm that was supposed to last 2 days. I decided to head back home.

Alger Falls Sunrise


Wagner Falls


Even though I didn’t get to sleep again, the trip was well worth it. I got to see some amazing things and fell even more in love with the place. I am definitely looking forward to exploring more of the Upper Peninsula and seeing it in all of the seasons, especially fall.

Most of the photos here are available for viewing on my Flickr page. If you wish you continue following my work more closely, you can check me out on Twitter and Facebook.

Standing in the Shadows