Several years ago, we retired to Ludington, a small town on Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Pere Marquette River. Years before, ships loaded with logs used to rebuild Chicago after it’s disastrous fire would sail from docks along the river, headed out to Lake Michigan. Later, railroad ferries would carry trainloads of railroad cars across the big lake to ports in Wisconsin. The U.S.S Badger, the last of the greatest ferry fleet in the world and the only remaining coal fired steamship sailing under and American flag, was converted to carry trucks, cars and passengers across Lake Michigan.
Today, the logging boom is only remembered in pictures and the Bed and Breakfasts and art galleries of “Logger Barron’s Row,” the magnificent mansions they built around the turn of the last century. Small manufacturing operations, tourist related businesses, and the largest charter fishing fleet in Western Michigan have replaced the sounds of chain saws and saw mills. Downtown Ludington is lined with brick-front turn of the century commercial buildings, now filled with coffee shops, small specialty stores, art galleries, craft shops, restaurants, craft breweries, and pubs.
An excellent city beach and the walk out the North Breakwater to the Ludington Light draws thousands of visitors each summer. Ludington State Park with public access to Hamlin Lake and the incredible fall colors bring even more visitors to the area. Nearly all of them have some type of camera, from simple smart phones to professional DLSRs….all taking pictures of the Ludington Light, the beaches, the rivers or the forests. Many of those images with Lake Michigan in the background have the inland sea running uphill or downhill.
NEWSFLASH….LAKE MICHIGAN IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST BODIES OF FRESH WATER. IT MAY HAVE INCREDIBLE WAVES, ESPECIALLY DURING THE WINTER STORMS, BUT IT DOES NOT RUN UPHILL OR DOWNHILL.
The good news is there is a simple way to keep the lake level, or any horizon level for that matter. We all know how to play tic-tac-toe. You draw four lines on a piece of paper and put Xs or Ox in them. Next time you take a picture of Lake Michigan, draw an imaginary tic-tac-toe grid in the viewfinder. Use the lines to help find that elusive level horizon. Then, when you show off your pictures of that fabulous vacation, instead of “nice picture,” you’ll get a “WOW, that’s really beautiful.”
Some cameras, and most smartphones, have a “grid” that you can display to help you compose a picture. You can also use the focusing points in higher end cameras to help level that horizon.
Notice that the horizon in the first image is lower on the right, making it look like the ship is sailing uphill. By using the tic-tac-toe grid, I leveled the horizon creating a better image. Also notice also that in the upper right image, the Ludington Light is tilted clockwise. Do not use the light as a reference to level your horizon. In the late 1960s the light’s foundation shifted. It has since been stabilized so there is no danger of it falling over, but since that time, the Light has a slight tilt to the north. Depending on where you take your picture, you may or may not see the tilt. Know that it is there.
When you have a lake to help level the horizon, use vertical elements. For example, I used the bins of Asparagus as my reference in the left image and the “SELF SERVE” shelf as my reference in the right image. The result is the image on the right is more realistic. At least the honey and Maple syrup bottoms won’t slide off the shelf.
So, next time you get ready to shoot that fantastic picture, take a second to make sure the horizon is level.