Golden hour photography at Barton Dam

Last night, I drove over to Barton Dam in Ann Arbor. The dam is the link between the city’s water supply, Barton Pond, and its residents. It’s a popular spot to take photos, but I’d never been before.

In this photo, what I wanted to do is capture the mist that collects at the bottom of the waterfall into the river. It was tricky! The mist was certainly more pronounced in person, but I did get some of it here. It would’ve been great for the sky to be less cloudy, but c’est la vie.

The water is stunning. It’s loud, shockingly loud…the train tracks are very close by and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to tell if one was passing (a bit more on that later).

The sky in this photo is what makes it. I edit all my photos in Lightroom, and I did so a little more editing than normal in this photo. I applied a graduated burn filter to the upper half of the image in order to regain the integrity of the blue sky that I saw, and I got rid of some tree branches that were invading the view in the upper left-hand corner of the image.

My goal with editing is to never edit past truth. Some photographers pursue a certain aesthetic, and that’s certainly an art of its own. But my philosophy thus far has been to use photography to find unexpected meaning in what we see every day. That might change someday, but it’s how it is for now.

I walked up a set of stairs that had a broken caution tape at the foot of them, assuming (hoping) they had been blocked off for winter but now there there was no ice and snow it was safe. There were other folks in the area who had done the same. Nevertheless, the catwalk that goes over the dam doesn’t feel like the sturdiest bit of equipment ever made. The water is rushing so hard and fast that the metal seems to always be shaking a bit moment to moment.

I had a lot of fun playing with shutter speed, though, and love the movement I was able to capture of the water rushing and subsequently crashing as seen from above.

The train tracks at Barton Nature Area.

The train tracks at Barton Nature Area.

I discovered that if you walk behind the entirety of the dam and reach the other side of the river, there doesn’t seem to be an official way to get back to public property/the rest of the Barton Nature Area. But there were multiple trails crossing the tracks to get over to the rest of Barton anyway.

NB: I DO NOT CONDONE STOPPING AND TAKING PHOTOS IN THE MIDDLE OF RAILROAD TRACKS. But I can’t seem to help myself when the occasion arises, either. I made sure I was looking in both directions every few seconds, but it really probably wasn’t a good idea considering the noise of the dam is so loud in this area too.

While editing, this photo somehow ended up a bit more desaturated than I usually go for, but I ended up really liking it. Something about the wood and steel of the tracks.

I don’t love this photo, but this is just to say LO AND BEHOLD, five minutes after I took the photos on the tracks I did catch the Amtrak zooming by.

I don’t love this photo, but this is just to say LO AND BEHOLD, five minutes after I took the photos on the tracks I did catch the Amtrak zooming by.

As you walk along the main path in the Barton Nature area, you eventually reach another pedestrian bridge. From this bridge, you can see the railroad bridge and the M-14 bridge over the river, which makes for some interesting layering. I didn’t do any editing to this photo at all - pretty rare for me. But I liked pretty much everything about it as soon as I saw it load up in Lightroom.

I turned around and headed back to my car, but as I was starting to drive home I noticed the sunset lighting up the sky in a spectacular fashion, and drove a bit recklessly to try to find a spot to take a photo from. But this is Ann Arbor, and there are trees EVERYWHERE. Trees, ye foul beasts!!

As seen from the parking lot at Wines Elementary School.

As seen from the parking lot at Wines Elementary School.

I ended up in the Forsythe/Wines parking lot and did manage to get those rosy-fingered clouds I had seen from the car. Moments before, the magenta hues were far more pronounced, but I just wasn’t there in time. And moments after I took this photo, the skies were simply dark gray. If you don’t already know how quickly things can change from moment to moment, getting into photography will quickly drive the point home.

I turned away from the sunset and saw this spare quality emanating from the combination of the empty parking lot and empty soccer field. Lonely spaces that are meant to be full hold a certain allure to me as a photographer.

As the weather improves, I can’t wait to spend more time outside with my camera, and to find more local gems to highlight.