Detroit’s island Getaway

Due to the growing global COVID-19 pandemic, my traveling plans are put on hold for while. And like many other travel bloggers, we are going on a virtual trip. I want to show you a place that is very near and dear to my heart, the island park of Belle Isle. If someone told me, I had to pick one place to take photos for the rest of my life, Belle Isle would be a strong contender. Even though I strongly dislike Michigan, I do have an infinity for Downtown Detroit. The best way I can express my feelings, is with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross amazing quote about beautiful people. I just substitute places for people.

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

And within this beautiful city, hides a twinkling gem out shining its surroundings. The island park known as Belle isle. The always Photogenic Anna Scripps Conservatory, the soothing sounds of the James Scott Fountain along with the proud standing Nancy Brown Peace Carillon are a few of the attractions on Belle Isle. I’m not going to bore you with some long-winded narrative explaining the history of the island. But what I do want to share, is what Belle Isle means to me, a few of my projects and images that I have captured there along how I use Belle Isle as my photographic classroom.

Map of Belle Isle

Belle Isle has always been a place of peace and serenity for me. A haven where I could go and forget about all the madness and endless complications of the world. And when life shows up with a grin on its face and deals me a hand of shitty cards, I have found that going to Belle Isle offers me a form of mental sanctuary that I have not found anywhere else. Even though the island is technically connected via the MacArthur Bridge, I’ve always felt by going there I could get away from Michigan. Even during my darkest and trying times, Belle Isle has away been the needed distraction to help me cope with life on life’s terms.

Detroit’s island gateway has been home to a few of my blog projects. Off the top of my head, I can name at least 4, if you include this one.

  • Race Cars on water. A little adventure about trying to capture a shot of a racing hydroplane that I had envisioned for years, along with practicing my hand-held panning technique.
  • Knowledge or gear. My experience driven post that ask a simple question; “What’s more important, having knowledge of photography or having Professional gear?”
  • Passion. The post that started my “Exploring My Creativity” My personal journey into what makes me creative.

During my lifelong journey into photography, I’ve visited Belle Isle countless times over the pass 16 years. And has captured some of my favorite and unforgettable images. In late May, Belle Isle is transformed from my loved getaway island, to a world class race track to host the Grand Prix of Detroit. During the weekend it’s held, Friday is the day to go. It’s a day of testing and practice for all the car classes. As well as you can venture to various grandstands and the paddock for free.

The racing of the Unlimited Hydroplanes during the APBA Gold Cup is always brimming over with fast paced action. The Belle Isle side of the river offers a bunch of exclusive shooting locations to catch the intense pace of the race. From up on the MacArthur bridge to the down low perspective of the fishing pier, it’s always exhilarating to see the untamed power and speed of the hydroplane.

Many years the Gold Cup manages to get the Navy to bring one of their Super Hornet demonstration team to perform during the race weekend. It’s unique venue to see the Super Hornet get run through its paces. The is flown much close than normal due to the tight confines of the city. Where the sound of the twin General Electric F414s are noticeably much louder.

I can’t remember how I found out about Belle Isle, but I do remember my first time there. After months of saving up, I was finally able to purchase my first DSLR, Canons Digital Rebel. Those days I was so excited about photography, I try to shoot the whole 900-acre island in a half hour. As I grew as a photographer, I learn to use Belle Isle as my testing grounds for new gear. It’s a place I can go that has a consistent setting. I know what’s there and there’s no surprises. As well as going to the conservatory, I know I’m going have a ton of colorful subjects without worry of Mother Nature being nasty.

The conservatory is my classroom, it’s where I developed and continue to nurture my creative eye. It was there that I discovered my walk through then shoot technique. Were I would go through the conservatory, gear still packed up. Walk from room to room, looking at the light and how it hits things. And all the while asking myself “What is the light doing? What do I want to show?” Portrait or landscape? Once I’ve made a complete lap, I then go through again and shoot the subjects that stood out to me.

There were days that I would give myself photo assignments. For example, concentrating on color, focusing on texture & light, and playing with depth of field. There are assignments I still want to do, like portrait format only along with shoot just one color. Both should be challenging and fun. As a result of my assignments, it had taught me many things, such as to focus in and appreciate the tiniest of details, to celebrate color and to know what to emphasize.

Belle Isle, my little getaway island, my project place and my inspiring classroom. After all this is over, I can’t wait to return to see what I’ll stumble upon next.

Stay safe and busy,

Steven

Race Cars on Water!

I found out that the APPA Gold Cup Hydroplane race was going to be taking place this weekend and it would be a great opportunity for some panning practice. The Gold Cup race has many classes of boats but it’s the unlimited hydroplanes I wanted to see again. With top speeds up to 200 mph and those large rooster tails as they turn the corners, there are like Race cars on water!  The hydroplanes race on the Detroit river in between Detroit and the island park of Belle Isle. Which is connect to the city via the MacArthur Bridge.

google map image for belle isle

For years now, I’ve been wanting to shoot from the bridge to get a head a on shot of the hydroplanes as they race to the first turn. In past years, shooting from the bridge was restricted and was unsure if I could shoot from it this year. I figure what I’ll do once downtown, drive over the bridge, I’ll try and spot any signs and ropes blocking the sidewalk facing the race course. If so, I’ll keep driving and shoot from the fishing pier on the island. If not, I’ll head back to the parking lot at Gabriel Richard park and walk to the bridge. I packed up my gear, downloaded the race schedule and heading off to Detroit.

Once I got Downtown, I had forgotten how much I love Detroit. I used to live downtown for several years and love to venture all over the city with my camera shooting the urban landscape of Detroit. Driving through Detroit was like revisiting old friend that I had lost. Memories of creating images over the years, finding the right time of day for a shots and searching for new ones… I miss those days.

Going down Jefferson Avenue and a quick lane change so I can take the bridge to Belle Isle. Driving over the bridge and I see no ropes or posted signs. Sweet! Time to “Whip a shitty”, look for parking spot, gear up, walk to the bridge and wait for the heats of the Unlimited class. The first heat came and went without incident.

Click on thumbnail below to view larger image.

 

During the second heat, the Miss Rock KISW hydroplane flipped and crashed. The driver, Kevin Eacret escaped without injury. The crash did cause the second heat to end early.

APPA_GC_7

I headed back to my car and was going to shoot the remaining heats from the fishing pier on Belle Isle. As I’m walking back, I spotted another shooting location. It’s close to the action and right on the water in Gabriel Richard park. One of the hydroplanes that had stopped due to the flipping had restarted and was heading around the course to get back to the pits. The hydroplane pass by at near top speed and was dragging a huge wall of water behind it. Most of the time I hate back lighting. But here the light lit up the wall of water. The falling drops of water looked like thousands of sparkly diamonds. But it was another hour until the next two heats and decided to move on. I’ll save that shot for next year.

For the next two heats, I’m going the shoot them from the fishing pier on Belle Isle. There are many advantages from shooting from the Belle Isle side of the river. Your facing north and the sun is behind you all day. Also, if you shoot from the pier, it gets you closer to the race course and the action of the hydroplanes fighting the first turn. I have found if you sit on the pier, you can use the lowest rail as a guide for your lense while panning. I shot most of the day in shutter priority, starting out at 1/200th then dialing it down to 1/80th and I’m really happy with my results.

 

Click on thumbnail below to view larger image.

 

 

Until next post,

Steven