Waterfall Wednesday – West Branch Falls on West Branch Yellow Dog River

West Branch Falls (West Branch Yellow Dog Falls on Google Maps) are in the north half of the McCormick Wilderness, part of the Ottawa National Forest. The area is in one of the most isolated parts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, northwest of Marquette, in the southern part of the Huron Mountains. (yes, you read that correct).

Camping in the wilderness is amazing. There are no amenities and no established campsites, other than if you sometimes see where others have camped. I prefer to follow leave no trace and make sure no one can tell where I camped. There is a good chance you won’t see another person while in the backcountry there. One of my favorite parts of Michigan.

The wilderness area is off-trail hiking for the most part however there is a trail to the falls. It’s about 1 ½ miles from the north trailhead. Getting to this trailhead can be tricky and somewhat of an adventure.

There are a few ways to reach the trailhead but this is the easiest. Take County Road 550 (Big Bay Road) about 22 miles north from Marquette towards Big Bay. Two miles before Big Bay, turn left on County Road 510.  Drive southwest about 3 miles where you will stay on the paved road but it becomes Triple A (AAA) Road.  510 veers to the left going south. Go west on Triple A Road for 14 miles (passing the Eagle Mine), until it intersects with Ford Road.  The road is paved until the mine entrance (makes it easier now, but not better IMO) and this is where directions get trickier. You won’t see many signs helping you out, mostly snowmobile rout signs.

Stay on Triple A road which will now be dirt but a decent road. You will come to a sometimes sandy road to the north, this is Anderson Crossing I believe. I’ve never seen a sign here. Keep going west on Triple A. Just past the crossing the road will curve to the south (left) and a little further Triple A turns back to the west (right), stay straight, which is Ford Road. Again, I’ve never seen a road sign. The trailhead is about 2 miles from here.

On Ford Road you will pass a backwoods home and a sign that asks you to go slow (if it’s still there). When you start getting 2 miles from the last intersection start looking for a 2-track road on your left. If you veer to the right and back west on Ford Road, pass a house and start going uphill you missed the 2-track.

If you found it congrats! If is been raining you might have to drive through a large water hole. I’ve driven my Ford Escape through it no problem. A couple hundred yards down the 2-track ends with a sign for the McCormick Wilderness area, a board with maps and a registration station. You know, in case you get lost back there. J

Start hiking down the trail to the right of the Wilderness sign until you reach the small river. Then hike off trail, uphill and upstream to the falls. Also if you want you can cross the river and when you get to the next branch of the river you can hike upstream to Bulldog Falls, or Yellow Dog Falls. Which is confusing because there is another waterfall back on road 510 called Yellow Dog Falls or Yellow Dog River Falls. It depends on the map, what you read and who you ask.

Now, you can get to the north trailhead from Highway 41/28 along the Peshekee Grade (County Road 607, Huron Bay Grade) that leads to the south trailhead of McCormick. I’ve done it but the drive was slow and not easy on the car. Don’t expect any road signs but expect very rough dirt roads. A high clearance truck would make things much easier.

Have fun exploring!

Map – https://naturalatlas.com/wilderness/mccormick-1936011

Wilderness info – https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ottawa/recarea/?recid=12361

11 tips to help improve your photography

An old weather beaten tree partially burred in the sand along Lake Superior in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Get close, and fill the frame. Lead your viewer

1. Get close. “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough,” a quote attributed to famous war photographer Robert Capa. Getting close helps you to isolate your subject, or main subject, and shows the viewer exactly what you want them to see. If you can’t physically move closer for whatever reason, but try to, then grab that telephoto zoom lens you might have. Another bonus is this also helps your camera meter with the subject you are going for by isolating that subject. (Trust  me)

Not this. A bit scattered. (iPhone photo)

2. Fill the frame. Like getting close, make sure your subject is very dominant in the frame. Like real close on faces, don’t worry about cutting the top of someone’s head off sometimes. I don’t give this photo tip or getting close because you should always do it, as space for the subject to “breath” can convey a nice mood. But most beginners error the other way and have too much going on in the photo and the main subject gets lost. Getting close and filling the frame can help.

But more like this. Not great but much better. (iPhone photo)

3. Avoid Clutter, especially edge clutter. This goes along with the first tip. If there is too much going on in a photograph (and not a reason for it to be) it creates clutter. This can make it hard for the viewer to focus on the main subject. Or the subject even gets lost. This leads to #3.

This is one of those photos you might take I call a “record shot” just so you have it. Can’t get close, not long enough lens, very cluttered.
Try for a shot more like this. Much cleaner background, closer (with lens, and cropping) and not all the clutter. Not perfect but much better.

4. Keep your backgrounds simple. Just like clutter around your subject or at the edges of the photo, cluttered backgrounds can be quite distracting. I realize sometimes its unavoidable. But remember to also look past your subject and into the background so see what could be distracting. Branches or poles sticking out of a person’s head or neck (this is common), a washed out bright area, or maybe some unwanted people. Most the time the background is either distracting or for the most part unnoticed. Work toward the latter.

Use the rule of thirds in your composition. The girl, main subject, is in one of the thirds of the frame.

5. Use the rule of thirds in your compositions. Sure this rule can be overused, I’m guilty of that sometimes. However it’s something most beginners don’t do in my experience. So divide the frame horizontally and vertically into thirds and put your subject, or something important, where the lines intersect. By moving things away from always being centered you can sometimes give photos more drama and they can be visually more interesting.

The sun shining through clouds creating dramatic light over Lake Michigan. You’ve seen this light, make a photo.

6. Light, watch for good light, wait for good light. With sunlight the best light of the day starts a couple hours before sunset and in the morning up to a couple hours after sunrise. High noon tends to be the worst light to shoot in (but sometimes we don’t have a choice). The time of the year also effects these hours. In later fall, winter and early spring the sun stays much lower to the horizon. At least in more northern areas like where I live in Michigan. Also, don’t be afraid to shoot on overcast days. The same subject will look quite a bit different in that flat, even light. Overcast days are also better for waterfall photography early and late in the day in my opinion.

Don’t be afraid to shoot into light.

7. Shoot into the light. When I was young I remember being told to “always take photos with the sun to your back.” Maybe you did as well. I’m here to tell you don’t be afraid to shoot into the light. The sun, car lights, other artificial lights, can give your images more drama shooting into the light. Playing with highlights and shadows can create all kinds of cool looks with a subject.

This indoor action photo was shot at ISO 10,000.

8. Don’t be afraid to raise your ISO. Now I realize this isn’t always true based on the camera you have and how old it is. And if it’s a full frame camera (better high ISO, less digital noise). IMO there really is only one reason to raise ISO, to get a faster shutter speed for freezing motion. Possibly your motion trying to hand hold a camera without a tripod. But more for shooting subjects like sports. If you have blurry and/or dark sports photos in low light (not bright sun) then try raising the ISO.

My daughter jumping into the cold waters of Lake Superior.

9. Shoot more candid photos then posed photos. See my last blog post on this topic.

10. Always have your camera close and ready. Most of us have a nice camera on our phones these days. Remember, If you say to yourself, “I should be taking a picture of this”, you are right! And not just selfies. LOL!

11. Ok you are going to hate this one. READ YOUR CAMERA MANUAL! If you are just starting out down this photography rabbit hole you probably don’t have a grasp of all things exposure, depth of field, and the like just quite yet. But as you learn it’s important to know how to make all these changes on the camera you have. Even if you don’t understand them yet. Do you know how to change your ISO? Do you know how to change the autofocus mode? What does this button do? J You will also learn what you can set and mostly not worry about anymore or things you may never even use on your camera.

A few more tips for shooting with camera phones.

  • Clean the lens. Really, look at it right now. I bet you have fingerprints on the lens.
  • Hold the phone steady like a camera instead of one handed like a phone.
  • Zoom with your feet if you can. As good as the camera phones are the digital zooms are awful.
  • Try Snapseed to edit photos. (My favorite photo app)
  • On an iPhone, tap and hold the screen for an autofocus point and to adjust the exposure.

These tips are geared for those just starting out and not wanting a bunch of technical info yet. If you use a few of these tips I bet your photos will be better. They won’t make things perfect as there is much more going on and photos can still not turn out the way you want. But, this is a start. As always if you have any questions hit me up.

Thanks for being here!   -Bryan

Shoot family photos like a photojournalist

My son thought it would be fun to spray his sister with the water hose when they were outside playing in their younger days. Have that camera ready!

There have been times I’ve been sent on photo assignments by a newspaper to capture someone going about their job or daily life, but when I get there the first thing they say is the dreaded, “what do you want me/us to do.” Ugh!

Or I’ve been at a school, maybe photographing some kids working on an art project or science experiment and a well-meaning teacher or mom says, “Look at the camera and smile.”

Noooooooooo, I just spent 20 minutes working to get the kids get used to me being there so they would ignore me and do their thing!

Thirteen-year-old Adam Saunder lays next to Delilah, a foster puppy and future seeing eye dog at Pioneer Middle School in Plymouth, Michigan. School counselor Pat Butzin brings the 11-month-old Golden Retriever to school with her everyday to help socialize the dog.

As a photojournalist or newspaper photographer unless I am shooting a portrait the goal is to capture people doing what they do despite the camera being there. To tell a story, their story, or help show the story to the readers. Sure just having a camera pointed at people can often change their behavior, but it usually doesn’t take long for them to mostly forget about the camera and just do their thing.

My son skips rocks in a small cove along Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

I have never, or very few times, told my kids to smile at the camera when photographing them. Just shooting as they do what they are doing. Its something I recommend you give a try. Your photos will have more life to them, more emotion and hopefully more meaning while telling “your” story. Sure posed, looking at the camera photos have their place, but those can get old and boring. Plus you have the advantage of access and being with your kids all the time. They will ignore the camera fast and while I could get some real nice candid photos of your kids you are there for almost ALL the moments. Get a shot of those candid moments and you won’t be disappointed.

A kindergartner gets a hug from a high school student helper during a kindergarten graduation.
My wife and daughter sit outside a sea cave along Lake Superior soaking in the late afternoon sun.
Students from Webster Elementary School in Livonia ham it up for TV cameras as they arrive on a bus at Taylor Elementary February 25, 2008 for their first day back to school after a fire closed Webster last week. The Livonia school district is using the vacant Taylor school building temporarily and calling it Webster at Taylor.
My wife and kids check out a view along the road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park while striking the same pose.
Emalie Brookbanks, 3, of Warren, goofs around in the back of a Ford Fusion at the North American International Auto Show Saturday January 22, 2011 at Cobo Center in Detroit.
One of my all time favorite photos of my daughter. And her face isn’t even in the photo! I was working on photos while she napped and when I checkout on her I saw her reaching through the slats of her crib for a book. I quickly grabbed my camera and got off 2 frames before she saw me and was ready to get up.
We do posed family photos too but try to keep them fun and show the environment we are in. This is at Badlands National Park.