Pan the Sky

A photographer captures the deep, rich shades of a Thunder Bay moment. Text and photo by Rick Houchin.

I’m lucky to live along the shores of Thunder Bay in northeast Michigan. Aptly named the Sunrise Side, we get some of the most beautiful sunrises around. But every once in a while, we’re blessed with a glimpse of a sunset. There’s something magical about the time just after the sun has dipped below the horizon; for a few brief moments the sky is transformed with a palette full of deep, rich colors. The hues of pink, orange, and purple create a stunning backdrop for any photo — or just a peaceful moment to enjoy in silence.

The uniqueness of this shot was created by holding my camera shutter open and slowly panning across Thunder Bay. This technique smooths the choppiness of the waves while softening and blending the colors of the post-sunset glow. Standing on the beach, I pointed my camera to the north with the sun setting directly to my left, the colors bouncing off the atmosphere and filling the sky. I only had about five minutes before the colors started to dim and the blue hour crept in. The moment passed just as quickly as it began. Those last few moments before darkness are heavy with symbolism, and bring a glorious end to the day. It’s a reminder that not all endings are bad. They can be just as beautiful as beginnings.

Nature has a way of showing us how small we truly are in the vastness of the universe. There’s a special kind of calmness found in these moments. It’s a sense of peace I get nowhere else.

P.S. Thunder Bay, in northeast Michigan, is on Lake Huron, and the city of Alpena lies at the mouth of the Thunder Bay River. Several islands in the bay are protected as part of the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Thunder Bay Island is located just east of North Point, outside the bay. The wildlife in the bay’s waters are protected as part of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Rick Houchin is an Alpena-area photographer. Originally from Ohio, he was transferred to Alpena in 2006 while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. After falling in love with the region, he decided to stay permanently when he retired in 2014. He now calls Ossineke home, and lives there with his wife, Meag, and their dog, Gracie. He’s a volunteer coordinator for the Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency and owner of Rick Houchin Photography. See more of his work at

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