Chasing the Colors, Chasing the Sun

Getting great fall foliage pictures can be easy, challenging, or impossible. There are two important elements you must have to get those knock-your-socks-off pictures... timing + sunshine. The timing has to be just right. If you're too early in the season, you won't get vibrant colors, too late and you won't get any color. And sunshine is a must. If you try to capture bold bright colors on an overcast day, well, give it up. It just ain't gonna happen. There's just nothing like Mother Nature's spotlight to give vibrancy to fall foliage.

If you have the right timing + lots of sunshine you almost can't take a bad picture of autumn's canvas. Just find yourself some pretty trees and click the shutter button. If you have the right timing but the sun is playing hide and seek with the clouds you'll have yourself a bit of a challenge. Have patience, stick with it, and you'll be glad you did. If you have the right timing but it's overcast, or worse yet, raining, don't waste your time. It will be virtually impossible to take pictures you'll be thrilled with.

Last Sunday was the first chance I had to get out and shoot some fall foliage pictures in the St. Joseph area. Unfortunately, the timing was less than optimal (the color season was just getting started, probably 7-10 days before peak) and the sun was dancing with the clouds. But I enjoy a photographic challenge so that didn't deter me!

D and I went first to the Lookout Park on Lakeshore Drive. As you can see, we caught some nice morning sunlight but there were more clouds than blue sky.

Next we headed over to Riverside Park to try to get some nice foliage-on-the-river pics. As you can see in these pics, there's not much color yet. And we were running out of patience. The sun wasn't cooperating.

Even after I "helped" the color a bit in Picasa, the pictures are still flat and uninspiring. I did manage to get one decent shot, but that's all.

I decided that if I was going to get anything worthwhile, I'd better check out the color foliage report at Pure Michigan. I needed to find a place with more color and more sunshine.

Found it! According to the web site, while there was some color reported as far south as St. Joseph, but there was much more color reported just a ways north at the Van Buren State Park south of South Haven. So D and I jumped in the car and took off for South Haven. I was hoping to get some foliage pictures with Lake Michigan in the background. The blue of the sky and water would make for a very dramatic backdrop for bright foliage.

We took M63 north out of St. Joseph. The farther we got the more sunshine there was and the more autumn colors too :-). We bypassed the turnoff to the state park in favor of a quick lunch in South Haven. When we got into town, we noticed right off that the sky was almost solid overcast with low dark clouds. No problem. Surely they'd be gone by the time we finished lunch.

We went over to the Thirsty Perch, a restaurant that we'd visited before and enjoyed. Unfortunately we didn't enjoy it this time. We both ordered "fish and chips" a lunch special that the menu indicated came with your choice of a salad or fries, a cup of soup, and a cookie. But when ordered we were told the salad was not an option with fish and chips and the soup wasn't included either. My fish was more like breaded mashed potatoes than flaky tender fish. The fries were OK. The cookie was the only really good thing about lunch. Not sure if we'll go back there again.

We stepped out of the restaurant to find that the clouds were still there, no lighter, no brighter. :-( So we decided to call it a day and head back St. Joseph. We wished we'd stopped along the way and taken some foliage pictures on the way up when the sun was shining!

And then a funny thing happened on the drive back. The farther south we got, the fewer clouds and the more sunshine there was. By the time we passed the turn off for the state park again it was all sunshine and blue skies! So we decided to head over to the state park to look for some good picture opportunities.

Oh oh. Not again. We had to head slightly back north and guess what happened. Yep. Socked into clouds again before we even got to the park entrance. Clearly this was not going to work! We gave up on the state park once and for all and headed south into the sunshine and blue skies once more.

I snapped a few pictures of the road (M63) while we were driving. There wasn't a lot of color yet but in the areas where there was color it was lovely.

We came across a lookout/picnic area in Hagar Township and decided to stop and check it out. What a good decision that was! We finally found our sunshine, brilliant color, and the lake too. Don't you just love the bright yellow against the deep blue sky?

And then we took a stroll down the path to the lake.

This is where I get all choked up by the beauty.

I look at this deep blue lake, the sandy shoreline, the dunes behind me. As I take it all in my thoughts go to the Native Americans who once walked the beaches and the forests of Michigan. They lived off the land and the lake and had unspoiled vistas. I imagine what it must have looked like before there were massive beach houses and nuclear power plants dotting the shoreline. Raw beauty on fire with nature's colors and the autumn sun.

We stood on the water's edge for a while, taking it all in. We were glad that we chased the colors and the sun. The pictures are what I was looking for. They don't do justice to the scenery but they do tell the story I wanted to tell... the story of the beauty of Michigan in its autumn glory.


  1. Your pictures are beautiful, as always. We're having a miserable fall here. Peak came and went and I missed it.

  2. Ah, Michigan! Nice pictures Jasia.


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