I grew up in Northern Michigan, a place that I’ve jokingly referred to as a “La, La” land because of its sublime and stunning beauty. I often wonder to myself if this is why photography has become so important to me; that I grew up surrounded by raw beauty but never fully understood capturing it.
The jutting lighthouses, staggeringly long coastlines and dunes, hilly forest lands and meadows all combine in tableau of blue that can be equal parts enchanting and calming; this is the Michigan I remember. And, fortunately, it’s the Michigan I still know.
Most of my trips to Michigan over the past 30 years have involved my children. I took on the responsibility of sharing my home and family with my sons early on in their lives. Their mother and I are both teachers, so summertime pilgrimages “back home” were generally a multi week affair. We almost always drove, and usually divided our time between the coastal scenes of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, and the farmers, forests and freeways connecting everything together.
My family is fortunate enough to have a Centennial Farm, my parents have another farm “up north” and have also had property in the Upper Peninsula, on Lake Superior or the river separating the US from Canada. So, while Michigan is very familiar to me, it isn’t a Michigan of my childhood, but rather my children’s childhood.
In all of this there have been hundreds of sunrises and sunsets, and countless miles hiked along a beach or along a wooded trail. But I wasn’t ever able to “capture” these sights the way I am now. So, taking the time to return home for a Thanksgiving gathering gave me my first opportunity to actually shoot my home. I’ve often thought of the different settings and reminisced about the changing light, but now to better understand the complexity, timing behind and the technique required to capture images, I’m excited to begin to to that process.
My older son and his girlfriend Adison loaded up early on a Saturday morning to make the cross country trek. It wasn’t an overly eventful trip; we met Adison’s parents in Des Moines and plotted out a few breweries to visit. A night in southern Michigan at my brother’s home then off to Northern Michigan and my parent’s home. A day to see breweries up north, and a day to scout of Frankfort and the Point Betsie Lighthouse gave a few compositions and some ideas for further research. This left my with Thanksgiving morning and a setting full moon to try to capture.
I was up early to verify the composition, as it looked like the moon would be setting directly over the lighthouse in Charlevoix, my hometown. This was going to be serendipity at its finest I thought! Charlevoix was cold, around 22°, but it was calm, and Lake Michigan was calm. The moon was it’s bright November glow, but the low clouds the haunted the horizon were beginning to climb. There was a low mist on the channel which connects the harbor to Lake Michigan, and the clouds were diffusing the moonlight perfectly. The lighthouse reflected the different lights as I moved my way around it to different vantage points waiting for the moon to set.
As the morning started to dawn, the clouds proved their complicity; I wouldn’t capture the setting moon. But, I captured the lighthouse in a morning glow of the softest hues over the water. More importantly, I captured the inspiration, the desire to see my children’s childhood memories in new light, retracing family journeys and sitting in the rising and falling light of the Great Lakes state.