Is Landscape Photography Important?

I felt chills on my body when I saw the sun would break through the cloud bank and create this beam of light shooting across Lake Superior from Brockway Mountain in Copper Harbor.

Honestly, in the big picture, I don’t know how important landscape photography is. With everything going on in our crazy world, everything going on in my world, feeling good and bad. Do pretty pictures of the land really matter. I guess it depends.

When I was a staff newspaper photographer, talking about my photography and what I would strive for in making photographs on my assignments. I told people that I never feel like I can personally change anything, my photos themselves, can’t change anything. But, if I can cause action by people viewing a photo I made, even just one person, then I did my job well. Even if they were so mad they canceled their subscription to the paper, editors didn’t like that though. Maybe they would go to city hall demanding accountability, or maybe they would vote for the first time. Maybe vow to never drink and drive or maybe see the joy, pain and emotion kids feel playing sports and how it teaches them about life. My wish is that images made a difference for one or for many. Even if that was to feel good for the day.

I had tears in my eyes photographing my daughter experiencing the northern lights over Lake Superior for the first time with me.

I guess landscape photography is a bit like that, for me anyway. When I go to shoot landscape and nature images the process is for me. I go alone most of the time, to get away. The further out in nature the better. Often not seeing another person is better. No assignment deadlines, mostly no pressure (Although I do put pressure on myself sometimes). I often don’t know where I will go at first or what I am looking for. But I will know it when I see it, or feel it.

If I am gone long enough or I find what I am looking for and the image just comes together, nicely which luck does play a role in. I feel at home, at ease and the rest of my concerns leave my mind for a time. It can be quite peaceful and even emotional.

I spent a couple hours photographing West Branch Falls on the west branch of the Yellow Dog River flowing through the McCormick Wilderness looking for just the right angle. I was lost in it and my mind was clear of anything else.

So then with the photographs I make I try to bring that feeling back to share with other people. I hope that emotion shows through in my images. Sure, its probably impossible for another person to feel like I did while I was there making the images they are looking at. But if in some way they can feel just a small bit of what I felt by looking at that image, it works for me.

Maybe in the bigger picture they get involved to save our natural and wild places. Or maybe it’s just small and it brings a smile to their face and a calmness to start their day.

I had a comment in a Reddit thread that made me feel good and I think the person got what I am trying to do. “I don’t care much for landscapes usually, but your images are refreshingly honest, as in “not edited to death”, and they show a distinct style of vision, using interesting compositions. I was also pleased with your use of out-of-focus-foliage in the foreground. Most times I see that, I feel that it doesn’t work out, but in your photos it somehow works.”

Shooting through branches, which I was forced to do here because of no clear spot, gives this image of the Two Hearted River some depth. Plus I was photographing it with my daughter and I think I like here image better. I think the peacefulness of the scene shows through.

Now that doesn’t mean photos I make are all good, although I would like to think some are. But to an extent the person understood some of what I’m working to accomplish in my images felt good.

So for me, yeah, I guess landscape photography is important. Maybe not so much the photography itself but the experience of being outside in the forest or looking across Lake Superior and the feelings and emotions tied to that. Then making an attempt to share that feeling with others.

sunset family photo in a sea cave
Not a lot of planning went in this photo. My wife and kids were sitting in the opening while I was making photos and I realized the sun would set through the other opening and I quickly made this photo. My favorite family photo of ours.

Write up about me in The ‘Ville

Two page spread. Read online HERE

Our local hometown Magazine The ‘Ville did a nice little write up about me and my landscape/northern lights photography. It was great sitting with writer Kevin Brown for a few hours to talk photography, newspapers, music and more.

I’ve been a long time Northville resident, since 1991, and was the staff photographer at the Northville Record and The Novi News from ’91-97. We touch on that a bit in the article. (Actually my families date back to the 1930’s living in Northville)

A big thanks to Kevin and The ‘Ville editor Kurt Kuban for the story and trusting people would find int interesting. If you lve in town you should get a print copy in the mail or pick it up at a newsbox in town. (Ya, they still exists.) Or read the story online HERE.

Below are the images in the story and others mentioned.

Watching the northern lights over Lake Superior.
View of Grand Portal Point in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Waves crash on the sandstone cliffs in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
A twisted old, dead tree partially buried in the sand at 12 Mile Beach.
Sunset along the shores of Lake Superior.
Sunset in a sea cave along the shores of Lake Superior.
Watching the Aurora thru the trees along Lake Superior.
Hurricane River Sunset Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Michigan
Sunset at the Hurricane River Campground.
The cover of my northern lights 2020 calendar.
Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains.
Brockway Mountain in Copper Harbor.
Tahquamenon Falls

Correction: The story mentions me shooting as a stringer for the Oakland Press when starting out and the Detroit Pistons. I actually photographed Pistons games for the Oakland Press.

2020 Northern Lights Calendar – December Photo

Light painting the December calendar image.

This image was photographed October 3, 2016 at 12:39 AM along along the beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I walked across the road, H58, from the park cabin I was staying in as the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore Artist in Residence (AIR) to make this image.

Relaxing in the cabin before heading out to shoot.

I didn’t get a real early start on this day because I planned a night hike later and would be up late photographing the stars and milky way in the night sky with no moon. I did a fairly easy hike after a relaxing morning in the cabin, then photographed the sunset after dinner before driving down to the Hurricane River for my night hike out to the Au Sable Light Station at Pictured Rocks. I wanted to photograph the light station at night with the milky way behind it. Turned out just as I had hoped with nice clear skies on a moonless night.

Sunset shot of the tree in the sand I would come back to later.
The milky way of the Au Sable Light Station.

While out there I noticed the northern lights becoming active. Content with my milky way photo I turned my attention to the aurora. I worked for a composition with the lighthouse in the foreground with the aurora behind. The lights were not really strong or very far above the horizon and I was struggling with finding a composition I liked. So I started hiking back toward my car looking for a spot along the beach or rocks to shoot an image of the aurora.

Northern Lights becoming active behind the lighthouse plus a shooting star.

I did make some images with rocks and sand in the foreground as well as the river. But, like I mentioned the aurora was not real strong, plus clouds were moving in from the south. So I packed up and drove back to the cabin. Once there, I don’t remember why exactly, I decided to walk across the road and down to the beach to maybe photograph a dead tree in the sand I had shot during sunset earlier. A evening shot of this tree was also one of the first photos I made during my AIR stay in the park.

Looking for compositions as the clouds roll in from the south.
Self portrait with the clouds and the aurora.
The first image I made for my Artist in Residence of the tree in sand.

With the clouds getting thicker I thought maybe I could get a shot with that tree along with texture in the clouds. The cool thing was those clouds had not reached the horizon line and I could see the aurora between that line and the clouds. So I decided to add some light painting to the shot. Light painting is when you shoot with a long time exposure (say 30 seconds) and take some type of light source and use it to light a subject in your composition with no, or very little, light illuminating it or use the light itself as an element. In this case it was my headlamp with the red light on. (Note: When shooting the night sky I try to only use the red light as it helps preserve my night vision.

So I first started by shining the white light on the tree to help with how I wanted to frame my composition. Luckily I had photographed the tree during the day so I had an idea of how to align everything. I set up my camera and tripod in the spot I liked an made a test shot with only the available light. Satisfied with the exposure I then added the red light. I set the timer on the camera for 30 seconds, quickly and carefully hustled down the beach and then walked back toward the camera with the light pointing in its direction. I started further away and ended up quite close also walking through the tree branches. It took a few tries to get the image I liked. The primary colors of red (the headlamp, green (the aurora), and blue (the clouds) play off each other nicely.

One of the other attempts. A little more back lit, not the right angle of light.
To much front light on tree.

So this is the last image in the calendar to blog about. I hope you have followed along and enjoyed reading about the images. If you are just finding this post, make sure and look through the other calendar image blog posts. If you have any questions on photo techniques, locations or my photography in general please let me know. Thanks again!


Exposure data: ISO 6400, 30 seconds at f2.8 Nikon D750, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm. My focus point on this lens is over the right side of the infinity symbol ∞ < on the lens at 17mm. Its closer to the center of the symbol if I shoot at 35mm.

If you want to see the scientific data, go to this link – Here

Kp number was about 2.5 to 3, and mostly cloudy skies.

The Kp Index numbers are not the only info to look at on aurora forecast, however it’s a good place to start. You can find more info on Kp numbers here. KP Info Here.

Here is a link to the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

What are the northern lights?

People ask is this what lights look like with the naked eye? The short answer is no. It has to do with how human eyes see at night, basically in black and white and not very well. More info here.

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing! -Bryan

2020 Northern Lights Calendar – November Photo

November image at Little Presque Isle.

The November image in my 2020 calendar was shot August 31, 2019 at 12:25 AM, the same night as the May photo out at Little Presque Isle, north of Marquette. As I mentioned in the May photo blog post I was on a family camping trip and I the texture of the clouds to the west that night.

So after photographing the aurora over the island I walked back down the path to photograph the lights through the tall pine trees. I made a few images as I worked my way back to the beach. Once down on the beach I could see the clouds and all the texture in the sky. Sure there would be lights on the shoreline from cabins but the sky was to good to pass up. Yes its quite dark up there but its still close enough to downtown Marquette causing light pollution reflecting off the clouds. However, this shows off the texture in those clouds.

Through the trees. Notice red light on trunks from a bonfire.
Vertical image through the trees.

You will also notice a bonfire along the shore and treeline that I included in the composition. I felt it added some interest and drama to the shot on a cold cool, early fall night. Note: Ground fires are actually not permitted at the Preque Isle area so I had my reservations abut including it in the shot. Not my fire, there was a lone person by it so I don’t know why they chose to have a fire.


Exposure data: ISO 2000, 20 seconds at f2.8 Nikon D750, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm. My focus point on this lens is over the right side of the infinity symbol ∞ < on the lens at 17mm. Its closer to the center of the symbol if I shoot at 35mm.

If you want to see the scientific data, go to this link – Here

Kp number was about 4, according to the historical data.

The Kp Index numbers are not the only info to look at on aurora forecast, however it’s a good place to start. You can find more info on Kp numbers here. KP Info Here.

Here is a link to the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

What are the northern lights?

People ask is this what lights look like with the naked eye? The short answer is no. It has to do with how human eyes see at night, basically in black and white and not very well. More info here.

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing! -Bryan

2020 Northern Lights Calendar – October Photo

Aurora over Lake Superior during a full moon.

The October image was photographed September 30, 2012 at 9:31 PM over Lake Superior at the Porcupine Wilderness State Park in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There was a full moon, it was the first time I’d ever tried photographing the aurora, there was a G3 solar storm, and I almost missed it not knowing anything about it.

This was a family camping trip to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. I had never photographed the northern lights at this point and only briefly seen them twice before, years ago. We were staying at the park campground near the entrance, sitting my the campfire when my wife noticed some light in the sky. It was a full moon, so I thought that is what she meant. No she said, I think it the northern lights. So we walked down to the shoreline and sure enough it was! I was surprised to see them with a full moon.

Moonrise just after sunset.
Full moon over Lake Superior, I didn’t notice the aurora when shooting this image.

A bit before that I was down by the rocks photographing the shore with the full moon rising and didn’t notice any lights. Looking back at the images I can see them faintly in some of the images. However, as the night went on the activity grew and turns out into the next day there was a G3 geomagnetic storm hitting earth making the display very active. I didn’t know anything about G3, Kp or any forecasting back then, I was just happy to see them.

So my kids and I are on the rocks, heads to the sky, while I was making photos. All of a sudden the display blew up. I ran back to the campsite to get my wife and left my camera sitting on the tripod. My son took the liberty to make a few images, I think he was 8 years old at the time, and a couple are kind of cool. I have a print of one sitting on my desk.

So you see the fall colors of the trees lit up my the moon on the September image. When out along the shore on a full moon night out in the UP wilderness its so bright you don’t need a flashlight to see. So I was surprised we could see the aurora with the naked eye. Looking back on it, I wish I had realized what a powerful amount of activity we were witnessing and stayed up through the night shooting more photos. What a great introduction to northern lights photography. I envy those who live far enough north and in such dark sky places that can witness this year round.

Photo my son shot.
Lake of the Clouds at sunset in the Porkies.
A photographer shooting the valley at sunrise.

Exposure data: ISO 200, 30 seconds at f/4 Nikon D700, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm. (Quite different then my other shots.) My focus point on this lens is over the right side of the infinity symbol ∞ < on the lens at 17mm. Its closer to the center of the symbol if I shoot at 35mm.

If you want to see the scientific data, go to this link – Sept 30 into Oct 1

Kp number was about 4, according to the historical data, when this image was shot. Yet as the night went on into the morning of October 1 the Kp rose close to 7! Very strong activity.

The Kp Index numbers are not the only info to look at on aurora forecast, however it’s a good place to start. You can find more info on Kp numbers here. KP Info Here.

Here is a link to the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

What are the northern lights?

People ask is this what lights look like with the naked eye? The short answer is no. It has to do with how human eyes see at night, basically in black and white and not very well. More info here.

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing! -Bryan

2020 Northern Lights Calendar – September Photo

September photo once again shot at the Hurricane River.

The September calendar image was photographed on October 10, 2016 at 2:48 AM over Lake Superior, where the Hurricane river pours into the lake. Hurricane River Campground in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. That fall, I was honored to be the Pictured Rocks Artist In Residence for 2016.

For 17 days in October of 2016 I was honored and lucky enough to be the Artist In Residence (AIR) at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It was an amazing experience. You can view my 50 favorite photos from my stay here – Top 50 AIR photos. As AIR the park gives you a place to stay, I chose a cabin out by the Hurricane River, of course, and you spend your time exploring and creating. My goal was to really get to know the park and work for some story telling images and not just the classic overlook spots to celebrate the parks 50th year. I wanted to create at least one image per day and I think I was able to accomplish that.

The cabin I stayed in during the Artist In Residence.
Backing up photos from the day inside the cabin.

In addition the park asks that the AIR do a presentation to the public and donate a printed photograph to hang in the park headquarters. I presented a slide show of images talking about the stories behind them during the parks 50th celebration and also a mini workshop on making better images in the park, especially with phone cameras since that is what many tourists use now days. The image chosen to hang in the office is one of my favorite shots. (see below) And the park superintendent at the time liked it best because it has the cliffs and the lake, plus shows how the shoreline became to be (and still evolves) from the power of the lake in one photo. Informative and educational, not only another pretty picture she said.

Waves crash on the rocks at Mosquito Beach.
Grand Portal Point, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

There were only 2 nights where the aurora was active or the skies were not cloudy, however on the morning of day 10 the aurora was out! I don’t remember if I had checked the aurora forecast that day as I didn’t have cell coverage at the cabin and it is spotty throughout the park. (Tip: you can get good coverage at the Grand Sable Lake parking area on the east side of the park.) But most nights it wasn’t cloudy I would check to see if I could see any activity with the lights.

A little before 2:00 AM I woke up and I could see clear skies from the cabin window and thought I saw a glow to the north. So I got dressed and went out for a test shot to see if the lights were active. Sure enough, they were. It was quite chilly out so I grabbed a warmer jacket along with some hand warmers and headed out for some nighttime photography. I walked across the road, county road H58, to see what I could come up with.

Test shot from the cabin driveway to see if the aurora was active.
I crossed the road for another test shot with less trees blocking the view.
A shot from the overlook just down from the cabin.

I wasn’t happy with any compositions I was working so I decided to drive the short distance down to the Hurricane River area to see what I could photograph in that location. There is a bridge that crosses the river for the hiking trail so I thought I’d try a shot from the bridge using the trees to frame the aurora. There wasn’t a large enough gab in the trees however to see enough of the sky. So I crossed to the west side of the river hoping to maybe work my way up that side of the bank where I had not shot before. The lake was fairly calm and the river wasn’t high so I was able to tuck myself up against the rooty riverbank and have the river in the foreground with the trees framing the lights in the sky. And I didn’t get wet feet! Well not too wet, my daughter laughs that I always end up wet when shooting around water.

View from the bridge crossing the Hurricane River.
Self portrait from the spot the calendar photo was created.

This aurora was not real strong so I used a bit higher ISO, 5000, and a 25 second exposure. This is pushing the limit of not getting star trails, see link on this below, and it gives the lights a more wispy look. However it also lets the camera collect a bit more light in the shadow area for a better exposure of the water and sand in the river. Quite pleased with the image I moved back across the bridge to see if I could find another composition. There was a rock on the beach I was using but not really liking the shot, but I did get kind of a cool self portrait. I shot for a couple hours and was back to the cabin about 4:00 AM to get some more sleep as I planned a long day of hiking later, but not too early. LOL!

Another self portrait down the beach from the river mouth.

Exposure data: ISO 5000, 25 seconds at f/2.8, Nikon D750, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm. My focus point on this lens is over the right side of the infinity symbol ∞ < on the lens at 17mm. Its closer to the center of the symbol if I shoot at 35mm.

If you want to see the scientific data on that day go to this link – HERE

Kp number was 3 when this image was shot.

The Kp Index numbers are not the only info to look at on aurora forecast, however it’s a good place to start. You can find more info on Kp numbers here. KP Info Here.

Here is a link to the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

What are the northern lights?

People ask is this what lights look like with the naked eye? The short answer is no. It has to do with how human eyes see at night, basically in black and white and not very well. More info here.

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing! -Bryan

2020 Northern Lights Calendar – August Photo

Magic over Lake Michigamme.

The August image was photographed this year on September 1, 2019 at 3:50 AM over Lake Michigamme. Same night/morning as the July image during our family UP trip this year. Everyone else in camp and the campground was sleeping now so I had it all to myself. 🙂 This is also the cover image of the calendar.

After photographing the aurora with my daughter earlier than getting into the tent for some sleep I awoke about 3:00 AM. It was quiet and peaceful in the campground now as most all were asleep. My camera and tripod were already set up and I was dressed for the cold morning air so I threw on my jacket, hat and gloves, then walked back down to the boat launch for some more photography.

What a treat. The aurora was still quite active, Kp Index of 5, and quite wispy looking. There were light and airy clouds overhead, moisture in the air, plus the mist and fog forming over the lake which created a very magical look when I made an image and looked at the camera LCD screen. I sat for about an hour making a few images, but mostly just enjoying the early morning along the lake to myself.

I do have to admit, I so wish the sky looked like this to my eyes with all the shades of green. I would still be there. I could see the glow, the rays and the misty look however it was shades of white and grey. See my January post for a photo of how the lights actually look to me. There is a link below you can click to read about why what we humans see is different then what the camera sees. I have read and been told that when you get to Iceland or Norway, places like that, close to the arctic circle you can see the colors and the aurora is on a whole other level. Maybe someday I’ll witness that.

Photographing the northern lights and the night sky is still landscape photography to me. As just a photo of the sky, in many images, is just boring and plain. (Note, I’m not taking about astrophotography that shows space in detail, especially shot through a telescope, those are, well, out of this world amazing! LOL!) Composition is still important. Like in this image things that are included in the frame with intent. The trees and shore on the left to add a bit of layering and leading lines (subtle). Or if you look back at the July photo I shot low using the rocks in the foreground for more layering and depth to that image. It this one I like the wispy, magical feel to the clouds and the reflection of that in the water that falls off toward the bottom of the frame. In this photo I didn’t want the rocks to distract from the reflection.

Using the moving water as a foreground element and leading lines “into” the photo.
Using the foreground for framing is another way to create depth and layering.

Also notice that the horizon line is straight, which I think is important in landscape photography. Also the line is not in the middle of the photo. Very rarely would I have the horizon in the middle. Either close to the top or bottom of the frame. Maybe close to the middle as in this image, but almost never in the middle except on those rare occasions I wanted symmetry between top and bottom. Its still the rule of thirds which I still use in many photos. I mostly prefer things off center, then symmetrical. For example, you will never, well 99.9% of the time, see a sunset photo of mine with the sun in the middle. More Landscape photos HERE

Horizon line far to the top, sun in the far right, top corner of the frame.

So a quick tip for you is to slow down just a bit. Even when taking a picture with a phone camera. Don’t just raise it and push the button. Pause for a second. Would the photo look better if you tilted up or down panned left or right? Just a little? Give it a try. As always, thanks for looking.


Exposure data: ISO 2500, 15 seconds at f/2.8, Nikon D750, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm. My focus point on this lens is over the right side of the infinity symbol ∞ < on the lens at 17mm. Its closer to the center of the symbol if I shoot at 35mm.

If you want to see the scientific data on that day go to this link – HERE

Kp number was 5 when this image was shot.

The Kp Index numbers are not the only info to look at on aurora forecast, however it’s a good place to start. You can find more info on Kp numbers here. KP Info Here.

Here is a link to the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

What are the northern lights?

People ask is this what lights look like with the naked eye? The short answer is no. It has to do with how human eyes see at night, basically in black and white and not very well. More info here.

Where have you seen the northern lights in Michigan?

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for sharing!

Bryan