Categories
Landscape Michigan Nature

Upper Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains – The Porkies

Lake of the Clouds AutumnLake of the Clouds

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in western Upper Michigan is one of my favorite play spots! I used to live in Houghton about 2 hours north, so it was “almost” in my backyard at one time. I can still get there in 5-6 hours from the Twin Cities. At 60,000 acres, it’s the largest state park in Michigan and you can spend a lifetime exploring and still not see everything.

I highly recommend stopping in the Visitor Center on the east side of the park. Check out their bookstore – they have lots of titles covering the history of the area as well as guides about your favorite activities. One of my faves is The Last Porcupine Mountains Companion by Michael Rafferty & Robert Sprague (fifth edition).

So, here are a few highlights:

Hiking the Porkies

If you want to see the best of the Porkies, you’ll want to get out on the trails. You have options ranging from short and easy jaunts to multi-day backpacking adventures on fairly rugged trails that can test your endurance.

Big Carp River Valley - Porkies
Big Carp River Valley and Lake of the Clouds from the Escarpment Trail

The Escarpment Trail is truly awe-inspiring, providing beautiful vistas of the Big Carp River Valley and Lake of the Clouds. The easiest way to enjoy it is to start from the Lake of the Clouds overlook (which is typically very crowded). You can simply turn around and go back the way you came at any point, or have a choice of 2, 4 or 8 mile round trip loop options.

The Union Spring Trail can provide good options for birding in the summer. It is one of the less-traveled hikes and is typically quiet for those seeking more solitude.

Lake Superior Trail is an out and back 4.4 miler if you go all the way to the shoreline. The first half is relatively easy, but you’ll have a long climb back if you go all the way down to the water’s edge.

Waterfalls

The Porkies is loaded with waterfalls! Another nice hike is to Greenstone and Overlooked Falls from the Little Carp River Road. It’s a short easy jaunt to Overlooked Falls, which is probably my favorite spot in the park.

Overlooked Falls Porkies
Overlooked Falls

There are several smaller falls all along the trail if you choose to continue to Greenstone Falls.

The Presque Isle River on the western side of the park has several beautiful waterfalls as well, but the Potholes section just before it empties into Lake Superior is my favorite.

Presque Isle River
The Presque Isle River shortly before it enters Lake Superior. One of my favorite spots in the Porkies!

Fall Colors

Fall colors in the Porkies
Early October in Upper Michigan overlooking Lake Superior.

Just two things you need to know:

  1. First week of October
  2. Fall colors in the UP are like nowhere else on Earth. They glow in the day. Literally. A nice lady visiting from the south asked me at one of the overlooks, “Who turned the lights on?” referring to how brightly colored the leaves were. Word.

I hope you get a chance to see for yourself some of what the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness has to offer. Lots of mining history as well as beautiful scenery. Put it on your bucket list!

In the meantime, head over to the gallery and dress up your walls by bringing some of the North Woods wild inside šŸ™‚

Categories
Creative Tips Landscape Nature Photo Editing Topaz Labs tutorial

How to Photograph Waterfalls

Have you ever wondered how to photograph waterfalls so that you get that silky smooth water effect? It’s not as hard as you think! Here are a few simple tips:

Gooseberry Winter Lower Falls

Gooseberry Falls State Park, North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota

Gear Needed to Photograph Waterfalls

If you want to get that silky smooth water flowing effect, you’re going to need some gear:

  • Sturdy Tripod
  • Neutral Density Filters
  • Possibly a Polarizing Filter depending on your focal length and the scene you’re shooting.
  • Camera that can accept filters and can be set to manual to do long exposures.
  • Backpack or other means of getting your gear to the location.
  • Possibly ice cleats for your boots/shoes if you’re shooting in winter, like this particular shot.

Ideal Conditions to Photograph Waterfalls

The best weather conditions for shooting waterfalls is a calm overcast day. The rocks and surrounding areas are typically much darker than the whitewater that flows through the river channel, so sunny days can really blow out your whites and highlights. You also want calm winds since you’ll be doing long exposures and you don’t want the camera getting buffeted by the breeze. And of course, you want to shoot during a time of year when there is adequate water flowing, otherwise you’ll be left with a trickle (if anything) coming over the drop. Typically spring snow melt or after a rainfall are good times.

Gooseberry Upper Falls

How to Photograph Waterfalls

Once you’ve scouted a location and managed to get there, choose your composition and set up your tripod. Determine what aperture you want and keep it constant. Since you’re on a tripod, make sure your image stabilization is turned off. If you’re going after the silky smooth water look, you’ll want a relatively slow shutter speed, at leastĀ a few seconds long. Use a remote control to trip the shutter, or set a self timer so that you don’t move the camera when you press the shutter. I typically bracket my shots 2 stops of light apart until I’ve covered the dynamic range in the scene by keeping the aperture constant and changing ISO or shutter speed. You’ll be underexposing some shots to get details in the whitewater while overexposing others to get details in the surrounding rocks.

Post Processing

This particular shot was actually four different exposures that were then blended together using HDR (High Dynamic Range) software in Adobe Lightroom. There are other HDR programs out there, but Lightroom or Photoshop are the ones that I use. Once you’ve got your HDR, process to taste as usual.

Gooseberry Falls hdr

Four shots blended to create a HDR image.

This is what my image looked like after blending the four exposures together, but I wanted to add some color to give it a little more pizzazz. There are lots of ways to do that, but the fastest and easiest for me is to use Topaz Restyle plug-in. That program has more presets than I’ve counted, and you also have complete control to customizeĀ those presets and even change blending modes. It’s also non-destructive, so play around with as many different edits as you like. The options are endless! For this image, I used “Blue Gray Shade” and adjusted opacity as well as a few other tweaks to get my final result:

Gooseberry Winter Lower Falls

Final Result after adjusting color palette in Topaz Restyle

I hope you learned a few helpful tips – now go out and give it a try yourself!