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.

2020 Northern Lights Calendar – February Photo

February Calendar Photo

The February image was photographed over Lake Superior on October 7, 2015 at 6:33 AM from the mouth of the Hurricane River while I was camping at the Hurricane River Campground in Picture Rocks National Lakeshore.

I spent a couple days at Pictured Rocks that year and this is one of my favorite paid, drive up campgrounds in the state. Maybe my favorite. I even joke with my kids that site #10 in the lower campground is “my” campsite. 🙂 Although I do like to camp for free on National Forest and State Forest land and sometimes hike in more often than not.

The day before I hiked the Chapel Loop in Pictured Rocks. I think it’s one of the top three hikes in Michigan and you should check it out if you have not hiked it yourself. The trail runs along the tallest sandstone cliffs in the park during the lakeshore section of the hike. Its about 10 miles long and people who have never been to the Lakeshore can’t seem to believe it’s in Michigan. Check out this PHOTO of Grand Portal Point along the hike.

Info hereMap here

I think I need to write about this hike and photography along the way some day..

So needless to say I was quite tired, but I was camping on lake superior and that always means a possibility of being up late into the night and early morning photographing the northern lights.

I’d like to say I was prepared, knowing about the predicted favorable aurora forecast, but I don’t remember doing so. I was still new to the whole night sky photography thing and I more or less just checked every cloud free night to see if the aurora was visible.

My camp was already set up from the day before, so I returned from my hike, made some dinner, photographed the sunset and then relaxed a bit until it was dark enough to see the lights and photograph them. Looking back through the photos the first shot I took was about 9:00 PM. Turns out the Aurora would be active all night long.

Hurricane River Sunset
First image around 9:00 PM. You can see the start of the aurora activity, the milky way and some airglow.

The image I chose for February was at shot at dawn. The sun would rise a little more than an hour after the photo was taken. So you see the warm orange glow of dawn on the bottom right of the photo. Clouds came and went through the night and I was glad to have some in the early morning as I love the texture they create with the aurora back lighting them. Also the moon was still out and setting so you can see a bit of moonlight hitting the sand in the bottom right of the photo as well.

It turns out the aurora activity would only grow stronger as the day went on with a G3 geomagnetic storm was hitting earth. But more on this when I post about the March photograph, stay tuned! 🙂

Aurora behind the clouds.

Exposure data: ISO 2000, 20 seconds at F/2.8. Using a Nikon D600, 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 memory serves me, I didn’t take notes, I used 20 seconds to have a bit of “wispy” movement in the clouds. At the same time being careful not to have too long of a shutter speed otherwise you would start to see “star trails” and not points of light. You can read a more detailed description of this here “How to Avoid Star Trails by Following the 500 Rule”

Self portrait with my red headlamp watching the aurora grow.

If you want to see the scientific data on that day go to this link – October 7, 2015 aurora.

There was a G3 geomagnetic storm starting to hit earth with Kp numbers climbing as the night went on, into the early morning and the next day.

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.

You can order a calendar HERE

Have you seen the northern lights?

Thanks for stopping by.


2020 Northern Lights Calendar – January Photo.

The January photo was photographed over Lake Michigamme on August 31, 2017 about 5:30AM. More specifically the boat launch at Van Riper State Park, so not the most glamorous location. Michigamme and the park are located in the central Upper Peninsula of Michigan, about 40 minutes west of Marquette.

Photo for January in 2020 calendar.

I was on a UP mountain bike trip with my son, 13 at the time, and we were camping at the state park in the rustic campground. So this was not a photography trip yet I always try to make some images if I hear the Aurora forecast is promising and the skies are clear. I don’t remember exactly, but I believe it was cloudy earlier in the night so I didn’t even look to see if anything was visible.

Our campsite at Van Riper State Park

We crawled into the tent on a very chilly night thinking maybe later the skies would clear. I forgot to set my alarm so good thing I woke up at about 4:30 in the morning. I knew my son wouldn’t want to get up to go check the skies to see if the aurora was visible, not his thing. So I quietly got up, grabbed the camera and tripod and walked down to the boat launch, which is only a few hundred years from our campsite. The plan wasn’t to stay out all night anyway as I didn’t want to leave him alone for a long time.

Test photo over the trees from outside the tent.

The skies cleared and I could see the distinctive glow to the north, northwest. I had scouted the boat launch area the evening before while still light out and I had a good idea where I wanted to shoot from to keep the dock out of the image and include some of the shoreline. I liked that some lights from a cabin or house where on off in the distance. Just across the lake is highway 41 but at this time of the morning there was very little traffic if any so I didn’t have to deal with car lights in the trees.

Test photo at the boat launch.

I only stayed out for an hour or so as light pillars were coming and going and I hoped they would get real strong before dawn after which the lights would be too hard to see. So I was quite happy with the images I made, I wasn’t out all night and was able to get some sleep for mountain bike riding the next day.

BTW, exposure data: ISO 3200, 8 seconds at F/2.8. Using a Nikon D600, 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 – Space Weather Live

There was a G1 geomagnetic storm with Kp numbers at 5+ but that mostly happened after dawn and sunrise so I would not have seen it. So my guess is this image was during the start of a good Aurora and maybe Kp 4.

The Kp Index numbers are not the only info to look at on aurora forecast, however its a good place to start. You can find more info on Kp numbers here – Kp Numbers Info

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

Here is a good write up about why this is – What our eyes see VS what camera sees

More (not exactly) what I see with my eyes.

Some say they can see the colors and maybe so, but in my experience its a milky, white color. Although I have seen a faint glow of green with my eyes. And even though mostly white I have definitely seen light pillars shot up into the sky. But, just because the human eyes are bad a night vision doesn’t mean the color isn’t there. I would also love to be in Greenland or Norway close or above the arctic circle some day as I understand that far north you can see more colors, especially with strong geomagnetic activity.

Have you seen the northern lights?

Thanks for stopping by. – Bryan

Order your calendar HERE!

Mountain bike riding with my son

Fall Color Photo Tour 2019 – My favorite 30 images

In case you missed it I posted my 30 favorite images from this years fall color, camping, photography trip to the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Fall on the Two Hearted River

Click here to see the images!

My daughter went with me the first week and then I drove back up for a second week. It was awesome getting to experience the UP during fall color season with my daughter. Hiking, camping, exploring!

Hiking Porcupine Mountains with my daughter.

Check out these to video shorts from this years adventure.

My favorite 30 Images from my recent fall UP trip in Michigan

UP fall 2018 Images
Click the link above to see the 30 images big if on a computer.

New prints form this trip also available! Click the print store link above. Thanks for looking and thanks for sharing. I’m hoping to blog about some individual images and stories from my trip.

Bryan in the Trap Hills area of the Ottawa National Forest (near Bruce Crossing, MI) on a rainy day close to peak color.

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 –

Wilderness info –

What is my favorite subject to photograph?

When I used to teach a beginning photography class at Schoolcraft Community College I would always get asked, “what do you like to take pictures of?”

My first gut reaction was usually that I wasn’t sure. But my actual answer was along the lines of, “things I have never photographed before.”

That was one of the reasons I liked being a newspaper photographer. And when I started my career, at The Northville Record and Novi News, I was the only photographer so I had to shoot all the photo assignments. Sure some of those assignments were quite dull, like city council meetings, but I enjoyed most of my assignments.

BROOKLYN, MICHIGAN – Matt Kenseth (17), Jeff Gordon (24) and other drivers race past the MAIN grandstand during the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race August 21, 2011 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. (photo by Bryan Mitchell)

In addition, I have always liked and played sports so naturally I gravitated to photographing many different sports for the papers. Early in my photo journey I would have said sports where my favorite subjects to photograph. (And I still love high school football photo assignments.) I enjoyed working to get nice action photos, but I also really liked the emotion of sports both on and off the field or court. I challenged myself to show what it “feels” like to play a sport. Small fraction of seconds of these young athletes giving their all, winning and losing.

Wyandotte Roosevelt High School running back D’Aries Davis (25) stiff arms Detroit King’s Omari McCauley during a prep football division 2, regional finals playoff game Friday night November 15, 2013 at Wyandotte Roosevelt High School. (photo by Bryan Mitchell)

I often had the chance to photograph things I had never seen or been involved in before. Big news stories, small slices of life, house fires, flying in a bi-plane, documenting a women’s prison or a day at the state police academy, on and on. Trying to show the readers what is was like to be in these places. Over 30 years I have photographed the same or similar things many times, yet the first time was always my favorite.

A military honor guard carries the casket containing civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks out of Greater Grace Temple as Jessie Jackson, top center, looks on after her funeral service on Wednesday morning November 2, 2005 in Detroit, Michigan. The funeral lasted more the seven hours with more then 20 speakers. In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, an incident which helped sparked the civil rights movement. (Photo by Bryan Mitchell/Getty Images)

Amid chaos Girl Talk, center, performs at the Movement ’08 Electronic Music Festival Sunday night May 25, 2008 at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit. Before the show even started fans stormed onto the stage and stayed through the whole set which got crazier as it went on with fans crushing to get closer. (Photo by Bryan Mitchell/Special to the Detroit News)

I remember photographing the electronic music festival in Detroit for the first time. (Know as D.E.M.F back then, Movement Detroit now) It was amazing! The energy of the crowd and artists, the amazing access to them both, access to the stages and photos everywhere. When I look back at those photos from that first year they are not as good as the past few years but that first year was still my favorite.

Many photographers thrive on shooting things for which they already have a love or an interest in. No difference for me and that was (still is somewhat) mountain biking. I raced mountain bikes for almost 10 years and of course I carried the camera along the way. I remember someone, I forget who it was, giving me this great compliment, “Bryan is the best mountain bike photographer you have never heard of.”

This was pre-internet the way we live with it today and no social media documenting our lives. I never promoted myself as a mountain bike photographer. That was a mistake for sure, but that’s another story. I had a staff newspaper photographer job and when my shift was over, despite enjoying shooting people mountain biking, I lived for riding and racing mountain bikes myself.

I stopped racing and I stopped shooting bike photos for a while. I never quit riding though and the last few years I’ve been shooting more mountain bike photos again. Especially of my son who rides and is quite good.

What I’ve really focused more of my photographic heart on lately is outdoor and landscape photography. Not just the big, popular scenes, although I do those, but just what I find interesting as I travel around northern Michigan. I have always been into the outdoors and camping and in the last several years I made it more a priority. Every October for the last 5 years I have been going camping in the UP of Michigan. Being in the woods and getting away are my main focus with photography being second. This has let me work on a more relaxing type of photography and I’m quite proud of what images have come out of these trips.

I still love mountain biking but being alone in the north woods of Michigan’s UP and along the Shores of Lake Superior, I don’t quite know how to describe it. Just feels right. I love photographing the UP and there is always something new. Even places I’ve been to a bunch of times.

I hope to continue making more of these images. That’s where those that follow me can come in. I’m shooting less and less newspaper assignments these days (sign of the times I suppose) which frees me up to be in nature more (still a stay at home dad as well) however making an income as a photographer has decreased.

So if you know of anyone who might find my nature photography inspiring enough to purchase a print that would help me to keep moving forward. Please send them my way. Or if you just want to follow along and let me know if an image I make moves you, or maybe you want to know more about an image you see, lease ask. That interaction would be great as well! I recently turned 51 years old and I’m looking forward to where my photography leads me now.

If you sign up for may mailing list (in the sidebar) before April 30th there will be a 40% off code for prints in the print store.

More to come.