Inspiration is a critical component of successful photography, but when conditions aren't good, inspiration can be difficult to find. During a two-week photo trip to the shores of Lake Superior on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I endured more than my fair share of cold, windy, and rainy days, and more than once I had thoughts of abandoning my efforts in exchange for the comforts of home. I forced myself to stay the course, however, and I kept working despite the unfavorable conditions, waiting for those rare moments when light, weather, and composition came together. That's because I have learned through my many years as a pro that with photography, you get what you give.
I captured this stunning display of fall color along the rocky shores of Lake Superior using my drone. I returned several times to this remote location by boat, waiting for the color to peak. DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone, ISO 200, f/4, 1/8 second.
One day, a heavy rain settled in, and it seemed that there would be no chance of getting any good photos. I relentlessly reviewed the weather forecast, and noticed that the trailing edge of the storm might pass over a favorite shooting location at sunset. Fingers crossed, I drove an hour in the pouring rain, and then waited another hour in the cold wind. Luckily, my perseverance paid off, and the storm broke right on time, creating a stunning show of light and color as the sun passed below the western horizon. The entire sky lit up a fiery red, and I kept shooting until the color faded into the dark of night.
I put on a pair of waders and got into the "splash zone" along the shore, waiting for incoming waves to wash over the rocks. I kept shooting as waves battered the shoreline, hoping for some interesting shapes to lead the eye into the scene. Canon R, Canon 11-24mm lens, ISO 100, f/13, 0.5 seconds.
The fall color peaked early this year, and although it was stunning, it didn't last long. Gale-force winds lashed the forests almost every day, stripping the trees bare at least a week earlier than normal. I spent a lot of time searching for remaining pockets of autumn, but sometimes all you need is a little splash of color to make it work.
After exploring the forest for an hour, I found this pleasant arrangement of pine trunks framing a lone splash of autumn color. Canon R, Tamron 35-150mm lens, polarizer filter, ISO 400, f/22, 1/4 second.
Autumn leaves and sunsets weren't the only source of color during my trip. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore gets its name from the colorfully striped cliffs that rise from Lake Superior. The stripes are formed by water seeping over the weathered sandstone after passing through iron (red and orange), copper (blue and green), manganese (brown and black), or limonite (white). I visited the cliffs by boat, the best way to see the stripes as they plunge into the water.
I cruised along the shores of Pictured Rocks, famous for its colorfully-stained cliffs. I waited for a moment when a wave splashed along the rocks to complete the composition. Canon R, Tamron 35-150mm lens, polarizer filter, ISO 400, f/3.5, 1/250 second.
With photography, the details—sometimes even the smallest ones—matter most. I spent most of my free time scouting and researching possible shooting locations, meticulously assessing the details that could make or break my images. I endlessly reviewed satellite maps looking for interesting aerial perspectives for drone photography, eventually discovering this winding stretch of a small river surrounded by wild forest. One morning, I went out and launched my drone, taking the image that had been only in my head and making it a reality.
Good photos don't just fall into your lap. You have to spend a lot of time researching and scouting to find the most interesting compositions, and then you need to wait until conditions are right to optimize the final image. While technical execution of the photo might take only a split second, hours or even days of preparation precede that moment. DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone, ISO 200, f/4, 0.4 seconds.
Although the stormy weather could be frustrating, every now and then the skies would break at just the right time. For this photo, I hiked several miles to the rocky coastline of Lake Superior to be in position at sunset. The sun found a gap in the western horizon, bathing the sandstone in golden light. These are the moments I am waiting for as a photographer, and to get them, one usually has to patiently endure the less inspiring moments. I hiked out in the dark, knowing that it was worth all the effort.
I got low and close with a wide-angle lens to emphasize the striations in the sandstone, using them as leading lines. Canon R, Canon 11-24mm lens, ISO 400, f/8, 1/80 second, focus stack.
One morning, I tried to reach a remote spot for sunrise by boat, but the waves were too big for a safe landing. So, instead, I flew my drone to find an intriguing perspective of the rising sun. The clouds turned a fiery orange color, and below me was a sea of autumn color and the brilliant blue waters of Lake Superior. Despite bobbing back and forth on the turbulent waters (and a harrowing drone landing on the boat that almost went horribly amiss) I wouldn't have changed a thing.
When one pathway to making photos is closed, I do my best to find another. Keep trying until you figure out a way to make it work. DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone, ISO 200, f/4, 1/240 second.
Lake Superior does not give it up easy, but after two weeks of relentless hard work, one good image became two, and two become three, and so on, and by the end, I had a collection of photos that I was very happy with. When conditions are challenging, you might not always end up with good shots, but if you don't try, your chance of failure will be 100%. If you give it your all, however, eventually the photos that you're proud of will add up.
I made this photo from inside a sandstone cave along the shores of Lake Superior. The cloudy sky blocked the epic sunrise light I was hoping for, but I got to work anyway, assessing the scene for what it had to offer rather than getting hung up on what it didn't. Canon R, Canon 11-24mm lens, ISO 100, f/11, 8 seconds.
LEARN MORE: Check out my Ultimate Landscape Photography Course. Packed with over three hours of field and digital darkroom instruction, you'll learn how to make the landscape photos you've always dreamed of taking.
About the author: Whether hanging over the rim of an active volcano, braving the elements to photograph critically-endangered species, or trekking deep into the wilderness to places most people will never see, world-renowned professional photographer Ian Plant travels the globe seeking out amazing places and subjects in his never-ending quest to capture the beauty of our world with his camera. Known for his inspiring images and single-minded dedication to creating the perfect photo, Ian has reached hundreds of thousands of people around the world in his mission to inspire and educate others in the art of photography. Ian is a frequent contributor to many leading photo magazines, the author of numerous books and instructional videos, and founder of Photo Masters.