November 23, 2022

A Photographer's Collection of Powerful Lake Erie Wave Photos Shows the Wilder Side of Our Great Lake

Clevelanders might think the waves on Lake Erie small and relatively unnoteworthy. On windy days, choppy waters draw the occasional surfer to Edgewater or send splashes crashing over the breakwall and onto I-90. But generally, our Great Lake is regarded as a flat, placid neighbor.

Trevor Pottelberg knows differently.

The Ontario, Canada-based nature photographer has spent some of the past eight years in the waters capturing pictures of powerful, majestic and mesmerizing waves on Lake Erie.

He shared some of his favorite images with Scene along with thoughts on getting the shots.

Like what you see? Purchase a print via his site.
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“It was during an intense wind storm in the fall of 2014 that I first witnessed the powerful waves Lake Erie can generate. Lake Erie is the shallowest and the warmest of the five Great Lakes. And the waves I capture on this lake are generally two-fold. There are the main lake waves, which are generated from strong winds that whip up the water, and there are secondary waves that are created when these waves crash into barriers near the shoreline.”
Trevor Pottelberg
“It was during an intense wind storm in the fall of 2014 that I first witnessed the powerful waves Lake Erie can generate. Lake Erie is the shallowest and the warmest of the five Great Lakes. And the waves I capture on this lake are generally two-fold. There are the main lake waves, which are generated from strong winds that whip up the water, and there are secondary waves that are created when these waves crash into barriers near the shoreline.”
“The result is a new outgoing wave that clashes with the incoming waves. These two opposing forces clash and create massive explosions of water sent upward. When the wind is powerful enough, intense back spray is created and blown hundreds of feet off the top of the wave. This can lead to some absolutely magnificent captures.”
Trevor Pottelberg
“The result is a new outgoing wave that clashes with the incoming waves. These two opposing forces clash and create massive explosions of water sent upward. When the wind is powerful enough, intense back spray is created and blown hundreds of feet off the top of the wave. This can lead to some absolutely magnificent captures.”
“I always say that the storms where everyone is running for cover are the ones that I am racing toward the water. The more intense the storms, the better the results. This also means that the personal risk skyrockets. You have to be smart and very aware of your surroundings at all times. I’ve had it before where I was sitting 50 feet in on the shoreline, only to be swept into a rush of water that was driven onshore without warning.”
Trevor Pottelberg
“I always say that the storms where everyone is running for cover are the ones that I am racing toward the water. The more intense the storms, the better the results. This also means that the personal risk skyrockets. You have to be smart and very aware of your surroundings at all times. I’ve had it before where I was sitting 50 feet in on the shoreline, only to be swept into a rush of water that was driven onshore without warning.”
“I typically hunker down on the water’s edge and shoot with a long telephoto lens. The winds during these storms can get very powerful to gale force, so you need a good center of balance to keep yourself steady. I’ve endured wind gusts over 100km per hour and it is a challenge to keep both the camera and myself steady. The pelting of sand, rain, sleet, snow and debris can wreak havoc on your eyes and equipment.”
Trevor Pottelberg
“I typically hunker down on the water’s edge and shoot with a long telephoto lens. The winds during these storms can get very powerful to gale force, so you need a good center of balance to keep yourself steady. I’ve endured wind gusts over 100km per hour and it is a challenge to keep both the camera and myself steady. The pelting of sand, rain, sleet, snow and debris can wreak havoc on your eyes and equipment.”
“I’ve gotten frostbite twice while out shooting waves and now have permanent nerve damage in both my hands and feet. I am super sensitive to cold now and have to be extremely careful when out shooting during the fall and winter months.”
Trevor Pottelberg
“I’ve gotten frostbite twice while out shooting waves and now have permanent nerve damage in both my hands and feet. I am super sensitive to cold now and have to be extremely careful when out shooting during the fall and winter months.”
“I get into a zone and all of the chaos that surrounds me gets filtered out. When I’m looking through the viewfinder, it's like I’m sitting in a lazy boy recliner at home watching the storm unfold. I tune out any people, noises, distractions around me and put my full focus on capturing these magnificent waves."
Trevor Pottelberg
“I get into a zone and all of the chaos that surrounds me gets filtered out. When I’m looking through the viewfinder, it's like I’m sitting in a lazy boy recliner at home watching the storm unfold. I tune out any people, noises, distractions around me and put my full focus on capturing these magnificent waves."
People have messaged me after a storm and said that they tried to get my attention but I looked like I was completely consumed with what I was photographing through my viewfinder. I tell them that I don’t mean to ignore them, I’m just in business mode.
Trevor Pottelberg
People have messaged me after a storm and said that they tried to get my attention but I looked like I was completely consumed with what I was photographing through my viewfinder. I tell them that I don’t mean to ignore them, I’m just in business mode.
“I find photographing waves, landscapes, astro or wildlife to be very soothing. It gets my mind off of things and is very meditative. I’ve always loved the animals and the great outdoors, so I spend as much time as I can immersed in it. It simply feels like home to me.”
Trevor Pottelberg
“I find photographing waves, landscapes, astro or wildlife to be very soothing. It gets my mind off of things and is very meditative. I’ve always loved the animals and the great outdoors, so I spend as much time as I can immersed in it. It simply feels like home to me.”
“I would love to travel the world and explore as many places as I can, but my illness has kept me grounded for the past 27 years. I have an autoimmune disease called Ulcerative Colitis. It has controlled my path for my entire adult life. I’ve had many ups and downs over the years, but I feel that it has shaped me into becoming a better person and to appreciate life more.”
Trevor Pottelberg
“I would love to travel the world and explore as many places as I can, but my illness has kept me grounded for the past 27 years. I have an autoimmune disease called Ulcerative Colitis. It has controlled my path for my entire adult life. I’ve had many ups and downs over the years, but I feel that it has shaped me into becoming a better person and to appreciate life more.”
“Anywhere that has a barrier, be that man made or natural, could potentially be a prime spot to capture these waves. I like to shoot at Ports closer to home, such as Port Burwell, Port Bruce and Port Stanley. These three spots have man made piers that can deflect the water back out to the lake when the winds are at the proper angle.”
Trevor Pottelberg
“Anywhere that has a barrier, be that man made or natural, could potentially be a prime spot to capture these waves. I like to shoot at Ports closer to home, such as Port Burwell, Port Bruce and Port Stanley. These three spots have man made piers that can deflect the water back out to the lake when the winds are at the proper angle.”