Michigan is a photographer’s dream. There are so many great opportunities for truly stunning photos, from Great Lakes sunsets to vibrant fall colors to the Upper Peninsula ice caves and spring wildflowers.
There are the iconic shots that scream Michigan: Mackinac Bridge, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the city of Detroit skyline. And there are hidden gems just waiting to be captured by a discerning eye and an iPhone.
Professionals and amateurs alike can have great fun making memorable photos across the state. Here are some of our favorite spots.
Is there a better place in Michigan to take stunning nature photographs? This remote island in Lake Superior is the second-least visited national park in the country. Its beauty is rugged, raw and expansive. It will take effort to get to the island, accessible by ferry or plane, but you’re guaranteed to make great photos and memories.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
There are so many great shots to be captured at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. A favorite spot is from the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. The gradients of both the sand and water will give your photos both depth and texture. The other iconic shot is your loved ones hurtling downhill after an exhausting Dune Hill climb.
The bridge is an architectural and engineering masterpiece. The bridge’s expanse — about five miles — can make it difficult to photograph. That means photographers have to be creative while acknowledging they aren’t going to get the whole bridge in the frame. Let nature help you frame your shot. Sunrise and sunset are prime times to photograph the bridge. Placid Lakes Michigan and Huron provide a serene anchor for your frame-worthy shot.
Lake Michigan coastline
With over 3,200 miles of shoreline in Michigan, there are countless places from which to take breathtaking photos of the Great Lakes. Try to get up high on a sand dune, cliffs or lookout areas to get a panoramic shot. This photo captures where Lake Michigan and Duke Lake come together in Muskegon County.
Port Huron to Mackinac Boat Race
The sailboats are absolutely stunning. The best photos of this annual race are taken from the water. So that excludes most of us. But there are still great photos to be made. The parade of boats down the Black River before heading up the St. Clair River to the start in Lake Huron can be dramatic, minus the colorful sails. If you happen to be at Mackinac Island at the end of the race, you might be able to get some shots there.
Bond Falls, Ontonagon River
Tahquamenon Falls may be the most familiar in the Upper Peninsula, but there are plenty of other photo-worthy falls. Check out the Bond Falls Scenic Site, where a short hike from the parking area provides vantage points to make beautiful images. Fall is an ideal time to shoot there, but wear shoes that can navigate wet rocks because you might encounter a wet trail.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Some of the best shots of these iconic sandstone cliffs come from the water. You can take a boat ride or brave a kayak. Either is worth the investment. The colors are caused by layers and seepage of copper, iron and manganese in the ancient rock. At sunset, the cliff takes on an orange color.
View from Crystal Mountain
Because Michigan has some of the most vibrant falls colors, it’s not hard to find good photography spots. If you want to capture a wide view of the changing landscape, head to Crystal Mountain. And if you’re lucky, you’ll encounter a bright blue sky and white clouds to add depth and contrast to your shot.
Lake Superior sunset
The Big Lake is a wonderful place to make photographs. Superior has a diverse personality, at times big and bold, at others times peaceful and awe-inspiring. The beach at Au Train is a popular spot to watch the sunset. If you want to try to capture it with your camera or phone, go for it. Or, you could just bask in the glow of Pure Michigan beauty.
Eben Ice Caves
The mere words “ice cave” conjure images of intrigue and grandeur. And maybe even convince us that Michigan winters aren’t that bad. It’s true. The Eben Ice Caves outside Marquette are a sight to behold – and photograph. You’ll have to hike less than a mile to get there. It’s worth the effort.
Tulips in Holland
You have to plan ahead for this one because the tulips are in full bloom for only a few weeks in the spring. But when they are, it’s a sight to behold. So. Many. Tulips. Find the colors that resonate with you and they play with your camera angles. Get low and shoot long. Focus on the detail of a single tulip. Or frame your flowers with Holland’s iconic windmill as a backdrop.
The Ledges in Grand Ledge near Lansing are beautiful in any season. It’s an easy hike along the trail to the sandstone formations believed to be about 3 million years old. Photographers will see different colors and textures depending on the sunlight and season. You might see some climbers through your viewfinder depending on the day.
Cranbrook Japanese Garden
You don’t have to travel Up North to make stunning photographs. There are stellar gardens across Michigan, including Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills. Check it out when the Japanese cherry blossoms are in bloom.
Don’t sleep on this beautiful park in the city of Detroit. At nearly 1,000 acres, the park has an aquarium and a conservatory. There are hiking trails, too. Scott Memorial Fountain is a great backdrop for a photo that captures the relaxation that descends on people when they find refuge from the fast pace of the city.
You’ll have to leave the country to get this iconic photo. The Detroit skyline is inspiring at all times of day, but the night sky provides a special dimension. Head to the roof of the Windsor, Ontario, Hilton to try to replicate this beauty.
Basic tips for taking beautiful scenic photos
Choose the right time of day. Usually, photos look better when taken in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower on the horizon. When the sun is overhead, the light tends to be pretty harsh and contrasty but when the sun is low on the horizon like in the early morning or late afternoon, a warm, golden glow can light up the scene for a more pleasing photo.
Don’t limit yourself into only shooting on bright sunny days. Overcast, or even stormy-looking weather, can make for some dramatic photos.
Use a tripod. Even if you are using a smart phone, a tripod will help steady and line up the shot so that the camera movement will be kept to a minimum as well as maximizing depth of field by using a smaller f-stop like f11 or f16.
Look for a different point of view. It’s easy to pull out a wide-angle lens and get the entire scene into view and that can be a good establishing shot, but don’t be afraid to use a telephoto to make a composition from that same view to bring the scene closer and to fill the frame.
Do some research on the area first. Not only will this be helpful in determining where to photograph, but also the best time of day, when it may be less crowded, and maybe even restrictions on when and where you can photograph like in some national parks.