"Autumn Sunrise at Lake of the Clouds: The Story Behind the Shot"
By Aubrieta V. Hope, originally published on Northland Adventurer's website
Maybe there are prettier places than Lake of the Clouds Scenic Overlook in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And maybe there are better times to visit than October when mild days and cool nights paint the hillsides with brilliant color. But, as a landscape photographer, I haven't found a better place or a better season.
In the fall of 2013, I headed to the Porkies with my tent and waited out five days of rain in hopes of photographing a sunrise there. On the sixth day, I got my chance. Though I arrived long before dawn, I was amazed to find a large crowd of photographers already gathered, waiting for the light. Shooters were shoulder to shoulder, four or five deep on the main overlook (where all the pretty calendar pictures are shot). I took in the scene: headlamps, knapsacks, camera gear, coffee cups, and conversation. On the rock outcropping above the main overlook, photographers were lined up like skirmishers ready to defend the hill. I wasn't even fully awake and yet, here I was, lost in the tripod forest.
Everyone was friendly, but it was tough to find a shooting position. So, I scrambled down the rock in the dark, dropping below the outcropping. Then, I jumped up and down, waving my arms and called to the skirmishers on the hill, "Can you see me?" They hollered back that they could not see me. I wasn't in anyone's line of fire. I had found my position. As I set up, the night sky brightened and a dense mist rose from the river valley, sweeping across the lake and the hills beyond. I tried compositions and checked my exposure. I figured I was ready to shoot. But when the sun broke across a saddle on the distant hills and flooded the mist with smoky color, it took my breath away, emptying my head of everything but wonder. I could barely press the shutter.
I thought about the shooters above me and hoped that somebody up there was good enough to capture the scene. In every direction, the sunrise drama was unfolding. The mist shifted continuously, changing the light, sometimes blocking the sun, bathing everything in pink and lavender. Moments later, the mist drifted away from the sun, and golden light hit every tree, rock and ripple on the lake. I crept forward, tracking the mist that was chasing the sun. With the mist as a magic filter, the beauty did not end with the dawn. I shot a long time, until the mist faded away completely. Climbing back up the rock in the bright light of day, I was sure I had captured nothing on my memory cards that would convey what I had seen. So, I recited what I always tell myself after an uncertain shoot: You were there. You saw it. Maybe you didn't get the shot, but you were there.
A couple of years later, my best shot from that morning was selected as one of the winners in the "Pic Your Path" contest sponsored by the Upper Peninsula's Facebook page. (Ultimately, that win resulted in a free trip to Isle Royale National Park, sponsored by UPTravel.org, but that's a story for another day!)
This image has received quite a lot of attention online and is now featured on the Explorest app. I'm delighted to share my picture with others who love the U.P. My shot is true: the clouds really were that dramatic and the mist actually was that golden. But I have to say that, honestly, my picture doesn't even come close to showing the beauty of that smoky October morning at Lake of the Clouds. However, I was there. I saw it, and so too, now, in a little way, have you.