Photo Flexibility

Several months ago, I attended a wedding in northern Michigan. Originally, I planned on spending only a few days, but found the area so interesting, I stayed nearly two weeks.

My only other visit to Traverse City was several years earlier on a cold winter evening in the middle of a snowstorm. I was there to photograph a baseball-bat inventor for Sports Illustrated. To me, Traverse City, on a Lake Michigan bay, was synonymous with slippery, snow-covered streets, so this more recent trip was a pleasant contrast.

When making travel plans, it’s nice to have some flexibility built in. Too often, a schedule is so rigid that it prevents staying in places we really enjoy. I’ve had friends show me an itinerary for an upcoming trip, and sometimes I think they’re only interested in the number of places they visit—they’re leaving no room for serendipity.

I arrived on a sunny August afternoon, and after a quick dinner, I took a drive along the shoreline. The road ended at the tip of a peninsula with a small park dedicated to a historic lighthouse. The sun had already set, and the beacon wasn’t operating. Someone, however, was living there—a caretaker, perhaps—and the warm glow of the window lights harmonized nicely with the deep blue sky of approaching night. It was a pleasant start to my visit.

The next morning, before the wedding, I noticed several beautifully restored, old wooden boats being towed into town, where they were tied up along a canal that ran through the town center. I made a nice shot of the stern of the gorgeous Andalé as she started up. With video, the sound makes it even nicer. In talking to the boats’ owners, I learned of an even larger gathering the following weekend farther to the north at Hessel.

At the wedding, I met the “official” photographer, Siri Salonen, who invited me to join her the following day at a monthly photo workshop organized by Todd Church and Bevin Buchler. They were photographing aspiring models, but more importantly, they passed along information and tips about some of their favorite local sites. If you’re in the area and want to spend an inspiring afternoon of photography, look them up.

Later, I explored the Leelanau Peninsula and found lakes with crystal-blue water that reminded me of the Bahamas. It was here I photographed a beautifully restored mahogany boat making its way up the Leland River with a large Bernese mountain dog perched regally on the front seat, the captain of all he surveyed. I tracked down the owners and learned the vintage Chris-Craft, Ghost, has been in the family for 75 years, ever since their grandparents bought it new in 1935. I accepted their invitation and rode in Ghost from Lake Leelanau back to the Leland River. This time, I shot video and captured the echoing sound of the boat as we passed under a low bridge.

It was raining at the wooden-boat show in Hessel, but I felt that just added another dimension to my images. After all, these are boats, and they’re used to water. I concentrated on a striking boat named Pioneer while it was wiped down after a shower. The next day, I jumped at the chance to go for a ride in Pioneer and captured some images traveling at high speed.

Northern Michigan Shores and other short films of mine can be seen by going to my website,, and looking in the Selected Photos section. The two Panasonic Lumix GH2 videos are rendered at 1920×1080 resolution. Download times may be long, and if you’re viewing them with a weak graphics card, you may get some stuttering. Viewed on a strong machine, the videos are sharp and smooth.

As you can see, my trip got longer and longer. I’m thankful to the many friendly and generous people I met along the way. I had lucky moments and not so lucky moments. When possible, I went out of my way to get permission to photograph things like empty docks, and the typical reply was something like, “Of course, why would you even ask?”

But sometimes I made mistakes. I got hollered at for photographing a painted barn, and no, I won’t do anything with those photographs. I forgive the church group that evicted me from their parking lot, where I had stopped to photograph a tree. I apologize again to the lady crossing the road towing a wagon with two children and several large inflatable toys. I asked first, and I thought she said, “I don’t care,” but apparently she really said, “Don’t take my picture!” And I really did erase the photographs. (They weren’t that good anyway.)

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