Destination: Upper Peninsula, Michigan

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There is a plethora of great photographic opportunities around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and, as Adam Jones says, get ready for a great adventure in the absence of tourists and other photographers

My photography career has taken me to some of the most beautiful locations in the world: Africa, Patagonia, Europe, Asia, South America. It’s very difficult to pick a single favorite as they are all so different and unique. East Africa is top on my list for wildlife photography. There are numerous landscape destinations around the world that also pull my heart to see and photograph. In the eastern USA fall color is a major attraction for photographers and tourists alike. Unfortunately, some fall color destinations are simply overrun with tourists during peak fall color. The Smokey Mountains, Acadia and Blue Ridge Parkway come to mind; great locations, however, the roads, overlooks and restaurants are swamped when the hardwood forests are in their autumn splendor.

A few years ago, my good friend and Michigan resident, John Dykstra, introduced me to the upper peninsula of Michigan. In just four short days I came away very impressed on so many levels. The scenery is stunning and there are no throngs of tourists or photographers enjoying the wonderful north woods. Here the forest is laced with brilliant red maples, tranquil lakes and ponds, carnivorous plants, floating bogs, waterfalls, rivers, lighthouses and a spectacular Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to explore. The Upper Peninsula is 29% of Michigan’s land mass, but only 3% of the population lives there. On my last four-day photo workshop in the Upper Peninsula, we encountered only one other photography group. The Lake Superior shoreline offers photographers countless rugged beaches and shorelines, with miles of dramatic meeting of land and Lake Superior.

We always plan our fall workshops in the Upper Peninsula for the first week in October and the color has always been great. One could spend the entire autumn season exploring the endless photographic subjects of the Hiawatha National Forest. However, four or five days let you see most of the major sites in good light and the right time of day.

The nearest airport (Sawyer International Airport) is in Marquette, MI. From the airport, it is an easy 1hour drive to Munising. Munising is my pick for the most centrally-located city from which to headquarter your visit. There is plenty to see and cruises along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore depart from Munising regularly, weather permitting. Paradise is an additional location for exploring points further east and is closer to Tahquamenon Falls.

There are numerous waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula. Tahquamenon is a must-see and has numerous vantage points for viewing and requires minimal walking/hiking. In fact, there are many great locations you can simply drive to and photograph, very near your vehicle or a short walk down to the lakeshore. Tahquamenon’s tea-colored water flows gracefully over numerous falls with a backdrop of stunning fall color. I have a passion for the smaller secluded lakes such as Red Jack, and Irwin that are off the beaten path. These small lakes often offer misty mornings with white birch trees and autumn colors reflecting on still waters for postcard-perfect images.

As already stated, photography in the Upper Peninsula is outstanding, but the other main draw is the feeling of remoteness when exploring the area. Yes, there are plenty of visitors in Munising around the harbor and at Tahquamenon Falls, but, visit the waterfalls on cloudy rainy days and you will have them to yourself. The lack of people in the area is simply astonishing. I need to see what it is like in the winter for snowmobiling and photography.

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Last year we were exploring the area and I couldn’t help but notice the unusually high winds one day. We were near Grand Marais Light on Lake Superior and thought crashing waves would be a worthy subject. We were surprised to see waves crashing nearly to the top of the light. We ventured out onto the beach twice, only to be drenched by wind driven rain, forcing us back to our vehicle. Finally, on the third attempt, the rain stayed away long enough to capture stunning waves crashing in all kinds of shapes around Gran Marais Light. This was totally unexpected, but delightful to witness and photograph the extraordinary power of Lake Superior. Now I understand why there are so many shipwrecks in the Great Lakes!

One of my all time favorite images is from Red Jack Lake at sunrise. We had very dark stormy skies to the west. The sun managed to peak through the clouds in the east and illuminate the far shoreline of the lake against the dark storm clouds. The lighting was phenomenal and I decided to try to create a panoramic image before the fleeting light disappeared. Fortunately, the tripod had been levelled earlier so I removed the polarizing filter – usually attached to the lens – and switched to manual exposure mode. I shot five vertical images from left to right and let Photoshop do the panoramic stitching.

I love the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and would return year after year, even if not leading a photography workshop! Fall color in Michigan is as good as anywhere else in the US and there are no maddening crowds to endure. The Upper Peninsula has a ton to offer photographers, hikers and anyone who enjoys the great outdoors in fall. No wonder so many great photographers hail from the great state of Michigan as there is inspiration everywhere!

You simply cannot pass up Michigan’s number-one adventure destination: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. There are miles of beaches and rocky shorelines. The shoreline can be visited by car from various beaches and pullouts, or you may want to opt for a sunset cruise along the coastline for amazing views of towering colorful cliffs, lighthouse, sea caves and waterfalls.

Be sure to bring plenty of memory cards as avid photographers will give their camera a workout. Keep an eye on the season and the weather: a mix of sunshine, clouds and even some light rain can be great for photography conditions. There are so many great landscapes that it would be easy to overlook the endless macro possibilities on the ground: leaves, lichens, mushrooms, carnivorous plants, berries and patters abound in the woods, along rivers and lake shores. Bring layers of clothing as the mornings can be chilly waiting for sunrise and the shoreline can be quite windy. Get ready for a great adventure in the great outdoors, in complete solitude!

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