When we imagine winter landscape photography, we picture fresh snow decorating tree limbs. Ice coated branches. Scarlet cardinals on bare trees. In Michigan, what we get is gray skies and dull light.

I’m fortunate to live near Ann Arbor, where we have Matthai Botanical Garden. It has a nice indoor greenhouse with three different biomes. In the dark gray days of winter, these warm, green spaces lift the spirits.

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Winter in Michigan can be a miserable time for a landscape photographer. We might dream of brilliant snow on branches against warm cottage lights. What we get more often is endless days of gray. This past month, Grand Rapids, Michigan got 5 minutes of sunlight for the whole month. The trick to survive this is to take advantage of the opportunity for foggy atmospheric mornings.

We had one of those foggy mornings last week, and after a month of being cooped inside, I leaped on it. In the early summer, I found a local nature preserve with a pond that billowed fog in the early morning. I set out to find that nature preserve again. What I hadn’t counted on was that in heavy fog, seven months later, I wouldn’t find the particular combination of country roads that led me there.

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One of the joys of landscape photography is traveling away from home to get dramatic pictures. Getting fed while you’re traveling isn’t always so full of joy. Especially since the pandemic, my wife and I now plan to prepare at least some of our meals ourselves when traveling. It’s become so ingrained in our travel life that when we spent two weeks in Hawaii, we still prepared most of our breakfasts.

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Petoskey and Charlevoix are peak Monied Tourist destinations in Michigan, and rightly so. It’s a beautiful area, and Lake Michigan is always gorgeous. The Tunnel of Trees is a pleasant drive. There are small wineries in the area that are less crowded than the Traverse City area wineries. There’s an endless supply of beautiful drives.

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Big Game in the Park

As a young man, I wanted to be a wildlife photographer. Right until I talked to an actual wildlife photographer about the realities of their job. That’s why I studied physics in college. But that urge never left, and as an adult, I’ve found a way to fulfill that desire: Daily walks in the park.

A professional wildlife photographer will put an intense amount of research into finding their subject, and a lot of time waiting in blinds for the right shot. I’ve got a day job and am only slightly more able to sit still than a five-year-old. Fortunately, in the last twenty years, wildlife has become much more comfortable living near humans. That means a park with good cover will probably have wildlife.

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Writing my fall color how-to post inspired me to do more color photography. A gorgeous weekend after a week of cold and rain didn’t hurt either. I went out with my wife on Sunday, along with half of Ann Arbor, and again this morning before work.

This trip was a perfect lesson in being open to what you find, instead of what you planned. There’s a wall of oaks I’ve been dying to photograph in the morning light. After hiking to my site, I found that I had no light. But the walk back? I had glorious light streaming through golden leaves. I could have easily stayed another hour, but I was already late for work.

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Author's picture

Clay Dowling

Clay loves to explore nature, and live outside with his cats. He only comes in because it’s raining and his wife is there.

Part Time Photographer

Michigan, United States