Head Out On An Indian Summer Photo Safari Along Lake Erie's Shore

Oct 20, 2016

Fall colors are peaking in these last days of a warmer than normal October. For nature lovers venturing out with their cameras, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman offers the guidance of one of Ohio’s leading landscape photographers in today’s State of the Arts.

It’s Indian summer, and we’re not just talking Tribe.

Ian Adams has spent a quarter century photographing Ohio's natural areas and preserves.
Credit ZACHARY DUVALL / WKSU

It was 70 degrees and partly cloudy on a late September day when we met Ian Adams just east of Painesville and a mile west of the Perry nuclear plant.

“We’re in the initial 20-acre tract of land that was opened in 2012 as the Lake Erie Bluffs,” says Adams.  It’s a new unit of the Lake County Metroparks, and his camera knows it well.

Ian Adams now calls Cuyahoga Falls home. He left Birmingham, England, 40 years ago. “And for the last 25 years of that I’ve been a professional Ohio photographer, writer, and teacher.”

Making others care
Adams has authored two dozen books, most of them about Ohio, including two volumes of “A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio.”

He’s a passionate lover of nature who says he takes pictures as a means to an end "to introduce people to places that I think they ought to care about and know about in the state of Ohio.”

One of his go-to places is Lake County. "Of course you have the Holden Arboretum, the second largest arboretum in the United States. You have the Lake Metroparks system which  is a fabulous set of parks.”  Lake Erie Bluffs is the newest park, stretching for two miles along the shoreline. 

Lake Erie Bluffs Park is a prime area for watching bird migrations.
Credit ZACHARY DUVALL / WKSU

Adams covers a lot of ground shooting pictures for coffee table books and calendars.

“I’m up to 1.2 million miles on the road around Ohio,” he says. And the spot we’re in is one of his favorites. “There aren’t very many places like this that still exist along the Lake Erie shore.” 

Lake Erie Bluffs Park is one of the least developed of Ohio’s natural areas, and at 600 acres, one of the largest on the lake’s south shore.

“We’re coming to the edge of some 40-foot shale bluffs created by Lake Erie. It just eroded them away.” 

Clouds improve the picture
The panoramic view of the lake is spectacular from a new 50-foot observation tower that opened last month. But for landscape photography, conditions are less than perfect.

“I would prefer to be here early in the morning or late on in the evening,” says Adams. “But we do have some cloud cover which lowers the contrast and provides some interest in the sky, and I like the fact that we’ve got some blue sky which will reflect in the lake.” 

Lake Erie Bluffs Park stretches for 9,000 feet along the shore.
Credit ZACHARY DUVALL / WKSU

But Adams wants a different vantage point for a close-up shot of the bluffs. So we make our way down to the beach.

“Watch your footing,” Adams cautions. We’re on shaky ground as we descend to the shore. These are bluffs, after all, not cliffs. “Typically a cliff is solid rock and this is not,” says Adams. “This is shale. It’s very muddy.”

We reach the beach and Adams lifts his binoculars. 

Bevy of blooms
Thousands of wildflowers cover the bluffs for at least a hundred yards.

“If you look over there,” he says, pointing to a colorful bunch, “The yellow of course are goldenrod, and right there next to them, you can see the purples. That’s New England aster, beautiful purple flowers with a yellow center.” 

New England aster and goldenrod are among the wildflowers that cover the bluffs.
Credit ZACHARY DUVALL / WKSU

The scene is a photographer’s dream, and this partly cloudy day is good for close-ups.

“Wild flowers, mushrooms, diffuse overcast light is much better. You don’t want to do that in bright sun.” 

Further up the beach through a bramble of bushes at the foot of the bluffs Adams spots a patch of cerulean blue.

We’re treated to a dazzling display of blue wildflowers with spreading fringed petals.

“And you’re looking at one of the largest populations of fringed gentians, which is a rare plant, in the state of Ohio. Maybe 10,000 of them just in this one section here.” 

Late-comers
Long after other flowers fade, these late bloomers are a treat for even an experienced photographer’s eyes. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen another wildflower that is a more spectacular blue than that.”

The fringed petals of the gentian close at night. That helps keep out ants that love the wildflower's nectar.
Credit ZACHARY DUVALL / WKSU

Gentians abound on the bluffs, and in patches where goldenrod mixes in, Adams says the blue and yellow complementary colors are great for a wide shot.

“And then get in closer and take a shot at just one or two of them as a portrait of the plant because it’s so beautiful in close-up.”

Back on the sand he spots a branch of bleached driftwood he likes for a foreground.

“And then the background of course is the beach, and the waves, and the horizon and the sky, but that something to put in the foreground often includes the driftwood and those big boulders that are right around it.” 

Adams shoots it with his I-phone.

“Do I use it for my professional work? No. But the quality of the pictures coming out of the I-Phone is as good as my regular cameras within certain limits.”

A Monarch butterfly enjoys the last of the goldenrods now fading away in the fall.
Credit ZACHARY DUVALL / WKSU

In two volumes of “A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio,” Ian Adams shows 300 natural areas.

“It would take you 10 lifetimes to explore them all thoroughly.”    

He says he photographs them to inspire others to preserve them.

“We need to protect these places because we can’t make a natural area. Only God can do that.”