It's been a few days since we completed the very first workshop that I had the pleasure of co-hosting alongside Ezra Coe (Seriously big thanks to your assistance!) and I could not be feeling more satisfied with the entirety of the trip. As a quick summary, this trip was intended to be a photography workshop for all skill levels, for any photography enthusiast, pro shooter, or even the most basic amateur, to enjoy learning about a mix of different styles of photography, and to have some really great shared experiences. From traditional landscapes on the beaches of Lake Huron, to hazy sunrises with an explosion of red and magenta hues, to birds and woodland nature, and clear night skies with the milky way galaxy over a silhouette of trees, we got it all. In this blog, I'll dive into what our days were like and show off some of my, and a few participants', images
The first day involved travel to the campgrounds. Our longest distance driver came from the Detroit area at an easy six hours on the road. Many of us were from the Charlevoix/Petoskey area, and even so, we all got on-site early enough that we were all able to set up tents, get comfortable and do some location scouting as a group well before golden hour and sunset began.
Initial scouting went well. We rounded a couple peninsulas on the beach, saw great blue heron, a hummingbird, and plenty of loons on the lake. Everyone got a great initial feel for the layout of the land and got a chance to think up some compositions to try for when sunset rolled around, and so it did, but with storm clouds.
Luckily, we didn't get rained on that evening; instead, we all got to watch from the beach as an isolated thunderstorm swept across Lake Huron into the St. Mary's River area east of our location. Clouds snuffed light from the west, but a few clouds did catch some light and color as we watched lightning strikes on the horizon as freighters rolled through. We all watched in awe as we could see the rainfall, but felt totally safe in our location. For the rest of the night, clouds rolled in and stayed in, so we all were able to get a good night's sleep before the morning, and boy did we get a good morning.
As we rolled out of our sleeping bags and air mattresses at 5am to get the fire going again for coffee, I noticed a glow on the eastern horizon - a good sign for what was to come. We all made it up, got our gear packed up, and by 5:15 we were walking the short walk from campsite to shoreline where we were met with the most amazing sunrise we could have been given. Truly, it was one none of us will soon forget.
Following this sunrise on the first day, we did some more location scouting and opportunistic shooting as the haze was thick enough to completely eliminate any sign of a golden hour. Later on, we all made a quick drive out to what we thought was a trail that would lead us to a lighthouse. Unfortunately, that was not the case, but we did discover that this location would be great for a sunset. We walked the trail, shot around a bit, and headed back to camp shortly thereafter.
The entirety of the campground included a trail that took a couple hours to walk around completely (longer than normal) - but that was due in part to high water levels that blocked parts of the path that otherwise would have been accessible as it lined the shoreline in some areas. As we learned though, we were not the only creatures in the area that ranked highly in the food chain. Take this for what you will, but I will go ahead share our experience with what we think was a nearby cougar.
On this morning, one of the participants made the decision to trek out west a bit along the shoreline and found himself about a quarter mile off from the rest of the group, making clear footprints in the wet sand as he walked around the beach. He made some images out that way, and not much more than 20 or 30 minutes later, he made his way back and what he found came as a bit of a shock. In his own footprint (a size 13 shoe, I might add), was the print of a large cat pressed into his own, telling us that this big cat was very close to him, and must have been checking us out just moments before. I made the walk back to that location after he notified us and took a quick snapshot of the print next to my shoe (Size 11). Go ahead and google what cougar prints look like - you'll see the results are very similar to what I have here. But that's not all! Our encounter with this animal would get closer yet.
After the print sighting and shooting the sunrise, we decided to walk the trail we found that led to the very west end to scout for sunset images. We made it there, finding morel mushrooms, and discovering lots of potential for some creative and compelling sunset photographs.
Ezra and myself decided to walk up the beach a little ways and what we heard next had us making the decision to leave immediately. We weren't more than 50 feet from the tree line, and from that direction, Ezra and I both heard a very deep, warning-like growl. This was no bear, certainly no small mammal, leaving very little else, but we knew; it must have been a warning from the animal that left tracks near us earlier. Here is what happened exactly: We heard one growl - stopped - heard a low rumble of a boat a few seconds later; we thought we were safe.
No, a second later yet, another low cat-like growl. We both knew at that moment, this was a large cat letting us know that we were too close. We turned around, gathered our things quickly and calmly and let our participants know what had just occurred. We all made our way back to camp right away, but this cat was not done. It continued to growl at us, hidden behind the tree line and its darkness, following us for a short while until we were far enough away from its claimed territory. That was that and we never had any interactions with it for the rest of the trip, but you can be sure it left some lasting impressions on us.
At the time, we were thinking we had a run-in with a bobcat, but as I later made comparisons of size with these prints we found, a cougar seems to be a match. You can tell by the depth of those prints, there appears to be some serious weight to the animal. Bobcats aren't too big. I'm now under the impression that a cougar came to check on our activities that morning and made its way to the west end, where we accidentally encroached on its territory. Why it growled remains a mystery. It's springtime, so cubs may have been a part of the equation, but that's speculation. We just know that it warned us we were too close, so away we went.
That evening, we made the decision to not go back to that location for the sunset shots we were planning to get, but instead we called an audible and right before sunset, a few of us drove back to the trail we had gone on earlier in the day to find a good spot to shoot the sunset, and so we did.
And even though I clocked in over 22,000 steps for the day, we weren't done yet. As darkness fell, and dinner was had, the stars came out, and we had about an hour between midnight and 1am to shoot the milky way and get some practice in before the next night. Here are a few shots I got of our group members before the clouds came including one shot Erick was able to get this night too.
We watched the clouds roll through and made the decision to head back to camp, just a short walk away, to sleep and make the effort to wake up for another sunrise - except for Erick, who outlasted the clouds and, by about 3am, was able to continue shooting the night sky.
The group awoke by 5am, got the fire going to warm up, and shortly after that, we grabbed our bags and headed to the beach again to catch the sunrise. This sunrise was nothing spectacular as all the clouds had cleared, leaving us with blue sky. That isn't to say there were no images to be had though.
So, with the morning sunrise and golden hour complete, we returned to camp, had a good long nap as we resumed our rest from the previous day's work. We awoke for lunch and talked about plans for sunset. It was decided that half the group, including myself, would stay back on our close beach for sunset, facing the east, and the other half went back to where the cougar growl was heard. In their adventure back, they had absolutely no issues getting in and out. They got some great shots over there, and my group did as well.
Again, as darkness fell this night, we had all night to shoot the stars, and we all took advantage of that. Jupiter aligned well with the Milky Way, shining brightly in the core. As well as that, the green you see in my images below are from a phenomenon called "airglow". It's caused by similar effects on our atmosphere to what causes the northern lights, but behavior is quite different. You cannot see airglow with the naked eye, and additionally, it does not dance around or move with any real significance like northern lights tend to do. Here are more images I got from our final night together.
As I look back on this trip, more than a week later now, I absolutely value every experience we all shared. The availability of different conditions, from lightning storms, to hazy sunrises, to clear starry nights - we had everything we could have wanted out of just a few days. We all took the opportunity to make a bond, as people and as artists. We all grew; making photographs that, for some of us, were completely out of our normal routines. And since our time together, we've kept in touch, chatting about new plans and what we're currently up to shooting and that's because we were able to make lasting connections on this workshop. I'm forever grateful that these guys took a chance on me. They allowed me to show them around an area I love; they allowed me to teach them a few things, or give them a few new ideas to consider, and we all came out of it with a stronger connection to each other and with a stronger connection to our own passion - the love of photography.
Photo Credit: Ezra Coe
Thanks for taking the time to read about my very first photography workshop. Consider following on Facebook and Instagram and keep your eye out for upcoming details about new workshop announcements soon where you could have the opportunity to experience similar events and activities to what we were all able to do.