Sometimes nice photos just happen

sunset family photo in a sea cave
Our sunset family photo in a sea cave along the shores of Lake Superior near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s upper peninsula.

I don’t often pre-plan photos, even when setting out on a hike to a specific destination. Probably because of my start and continuation as a newspaper photographer. In that realm my job was to make an interesting of what I see while there and try to tell a story in that photo. (More on that in another blog post). Take the photo above as an example. I received a nice compliment from another photographer on how it was a well thought out and executed photo. The thing is, I never planned or thought about this photo, it just happened.

I have been to this semi-secret location before, alone and specifically for photography. I fell in love with the spot and wanted to take my family the next time we were camping in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. When I’m camping or spending time with my family, shooting photographs is never my priority. I’ve tried making both family and photography a priority at the same time and it just doesn’t work. For me anyway, I need to be alone to create, to go where the light, location or urge takes me. That doesn’t often fit into a family schedule plus my kids can get bored easy waiting around for a photo to come together.

We hiked out to the spot, luckily Lake Superior was fairly calm and the weather was warm, so we swam out around a cliff and into the caves. Just to hang out as a family and enjoy the day in the late afternoon. We all played in the water, explored, had a snack, laid on the warm rock and shot some photos. The only time I have ever been in the caves was October and at that time of the year the sun sets further in the west relative to the location. This was late August and I noticed the sun might just set where I could see it through one of the cave openings like I had seen in other photos. I was as far back in the cave as I could get helping my daughter with a photo composition. My camera was already on a tripod making images from inside the cave when I realized there would be a nice sunset shining through the left opening.  As the sun moved lower in the sky I photographed my kids walking around and then asked everyone to sit in that spot before the moment was gone. It was then I knew I had our best family photo to date.

I just asked my daughter to go sit with them, double checked the exposure, set the self-timer and ran to sit down with them. (I didn’t have my remote trigger) I tan back to the camera to make a 2nd photo and that was that. The kids were over sitting there for a photo and off doing whatever.

Sometimes in photography it’s just a matter of being ready, (as in knowing your camera controls well) so when the right location, light, composition and a bit of luck come together you can make a nice photo.

BTW, I exposed mostly for the sunlight hitting the rocks just inside the cave. Doing this full well knowing the sky would be somewhat overexposed and more of the inside of the cave underexposed. I knew I would “burn” down the highlights and “dodge” the shadows to bring the scene closer to what my eyes could actually see. I will discuss this dynamic range more in the future.

Till then, that’s for looking and reading. There are a few more photos below from our cave adventure.

Photo tip: Learn all the controls on your specific camera. Get the manual out (i know, I know) and know how to change and adjust everything. Even if you don’t yet know why you would adjust something. Then as you learn you will know where on your camera to make the changes.

The photo below is available as a print HERE – Sea Cave Sunset.