Island Street Photography in Winter
Mackinac Island is well-known for many things: horses everywhere; numerous fudge shops and the Grand Hotel, just to name a few. In the summer, tourists by the many travel there by ferry to take in the sights and sites. Cars have been banned since around the early 1900’s so once there, the clip-clop of hooves and the hard-working Belgian draft or Percheron horses are commonplace.
Winter though, is a beautiful contrast compared to the summer. Seasonal residents have gone and the number of tourists who visit are far, far fewer. Although many of the horses are transported back to the mainland, there are some that remain to work. They tow wagons carrying freight, people and waste so they’re still quite useful.
When the Straights of Mackinac are frozen, one can take a 5-minute plane ride to the island. Once the thickness of the ice is sufficient, a person can even cross-country ski or snowmobile to the island via a marked trail from the mainland.
Recently we went there for the annual New Year’s Eve turtle drop. Although the celebration is fun, one of my favorite photography experiences is getting out and walking through town to make pictures. The weather is unpredictable but it’s usually some variation of cold so I always make sure my batteries are fully charged. On this trip, the weather was perfect, at least for me. There was some cloud cover for light diffusion and there was also a touch of snowfall which adds some tranquility to the already-serene mood.
My goal for this trip was to capture at least one portrait; the ferry dock is one of the most people-dense places so I concentrated my effort there as workers were tending to the horses and preparing for ferry arrival. There was a gentleman standing off to the side who had a great style—he had a pack of cigarettes in his walkie-talkie pocket and a cell phone in the other while being properly dressed for the cold—and I felt would make for a wonderful portrait. I approached him, Tex, and asked if I could make a portrait of him and he kindly obliged.
After quickly reviewing some of the photos I took of him on the back of my camera, I was pleased but I knew I could do better. Pro Tip #1: With portraiture, sometimes there’s only a small window of time when a subject will have the patience to sit/stand for you, so have your ideas and settings ready. This isn’t always the case but it sometimes is, so be prepared. Also, sometimes the smallest details and backdrops can make a huge difference in the outcome of your photo so don’t hesitate to ask for another shot at the portrait if need be. Read on…
I thanked Tex for his portrait and we chatted a bit. While we were talking, there was a wall in the distance which I felt would make a better backdrop. Tex was super kind and was game to take a couple more portraits there. Thanks Tex! The results were much more satisfactory to me so it worked out well.
Aside from portraits, some other photo objectives I had were to capture people instead of the normal landscape shots without people. A street hockey game took place, which I’ve photographed before, so that was wonderful. It was an easy-going group so I didn’t ask, I simply was respectful and cautious of the “puck”, an orange ball, and did my thing. Pro Tip #2: You’ll get better at this with practice, but whenever possible it can be nice to start taking photos in a natural way without asking for permission. That way your photos are authentic, the subject(s) aren’t bothered and there’s a natural flow to the shoot.
Another photo I was interested in was to capture people as they disembarked the ferry. I stood at the exit ramp and photographed as people made their way off the ferry. A couple of my photos had people looking directly into my lens so I edited those out and selected one where eyes were away from my camera, which is what I was going for. Pro Tip #3: In street photography like this, just be cool and photograph. What I mean is, be purposeful, and if you’re nervous try not to show it too much. People are smart and intuitive so if you’re calm and photographing, they’ll often “read” that and not pay too much attention.
Overall, it was a fantastic trip to the island and I was highly satisfied with the photographs I came away with. Being a photographer, it feels like there’s never enough time to hone the craft but I was happy with the time I was there and I look forward to returning for more photos.