September 30, 2023
By Carla Bumstead

POSTCARDS: Get Great Michigan Vacation Photos – 5 Tips and Tricks

‘Tis the season for vacations. Here are 5 tips and tricks for getting great Michigan vacation photos this year. Several of the photos shown here were taken with simply a cell phone. It’s not about your equipment, it’s how you set up your shot. Read on for some great tips.

#1 – Take Your Camera Everywhere

By far, the number-one tip I can offer for bringing home some great photos this year is to make sure you simply have your camera with you at all times. It used to be that was a hard thing to get newbie photographers to do. But no longer.

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Yes. I am in a kayak taking photos with my cell phone. A good idea? No. A good photo. Yes. This photo was taken just East of Grayling on the mainstream of the Au Sable River.
Photo by Carla Bumstead

Your Cell Phone is All You Need

Want great Michigan vacation photos? You have all you need right there next to you (your cell phone).

By Carla Bumstead

Featured Photo

This photo was taken during an unplanned stop in Eagle Harbor (famous for this lighthouse). I didn’t bring my camera, so I used my cell phone.

Today’s phones take excellent photos – especially when you consider most of the photos will end up viewed electronically anyway. You usually don’t have to worry about having them “big enough” to make large prints. But, to be honest, you can make a large print from a cell phone photo as long as your phone was not made last century.

Taking a photo is more important than anything else. How many times have you said to yourself during an unexpected moment of scenic coolness … “I wish I brought my camera.”

Use your cell phone.


I am not advocating that you take a camera in a kayak or canoe on a river in Michigan. Stumps happen. If you do such a crazy thing, slip it into some kind of waterproof pouch or bag in between shoots. Tie some kind of floaty thing to the bag so that, when you tip over, it will float to the surface.

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Sand Warning …

A camera, even a cell phone camera, can suffer a lot of damage from sand on a windy Lake Michigan beach. If the sand is flying around, you really should put your camera away and go for a swim.

#2 Clouds are Your Friends – Tips for Taking Michigan Vacation Photos

Having your camera/phone with you at all times is an obvious “tip.” This next tip is not obvious at all and could be the biggest mistake vacation photographers make.

Sun’s out – a perfect day for photography, right? Very wrong. To your eyes, everything looks gorgeous on a sunny Michigan day. But to a camera sensor, things look bad. Sun, or any kind of bright light, results in a lot of shadows and “hot spots” – where the colors appear blown out and nowhere near as vibrant as they did to your eyes.

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This is Deadman’s Hill Lookout near Elmira. It can get pretty crowded on a weekend in the fall, especially if it is a nice day. But take my advice, wait for a cloudy day. Maybe even a tiny bit rainy. It will be much less crowded and the colors will POP.
Photo by Carla Bumstead

Hazy, Colorful Days

The best light for taking many types of photos is diffused light. Clouds diffuse light. The very best kind of cloud cover for taking outdoor photos in Michigan, especially in the fall, is hazy, light clouds. Big puffy clouds in mid-summer are not as good as the soft light that comes from one of Michigan’s many hazy days. The vast majority of the especially lovely photos I have taken during the fall in Michigan were taken on a hazy (sometimes even rainy) day.

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What to do on a cloudy, slightly rainy, fall day in Michigan? Get in the car, drive around and get some beautiful fall color shots. This photo was taken on exactly such a day near Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling. Photo by Carla Bumstead

# 3 Put People in It

How many photos of Michigan sunsets do you have?

You have a lot. So many, in fact, the whole idea of driving out to the beach to get some photos at sunset now seems kind of … boring.

That’s because you haven’t put any people in the photo and then exposed the shot correctly.

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This photo brings back the most wonderful memories. That’s Andy and Kelly on top of Brockway Mountain at the very tip of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. It’s a sunset like many, many sunsets to be enjoyed in Michigan. But putting loved ones in the shot makes it special.
Photo by Carla Bumstead

Memorable Sunsets – Tips for Taking Great Michigan Vacation Photos

We see a sunset. It’s gorgeous. We pull out our camera and click.

Hold up! That sunset photo is not going to be anywhere near as cool-looking as it seemed at the time. You really need people to cement your vacation memories as captured through a lens. People give you a sense of time and place, as you can recall where you were and whom you were with when you look back on the photo years later. Just take a few minutes and put someone in front of the lens before you snap that sunset.

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You don’t have to see the details of a person to remember a special vacation moment. Find a sunset and a friend and expose for the sunset.
Photo by Carla Bumstead

Expose For the Sunset

The subject of the best exposure settings for sunset is for another time. But many cameras these days allow you to focus on one part of the frame and then your camera automatically adjusts the exposure for that part. Try clicking on different things in the image as you hold your phone up to the scene.

If you click on the sky just above the horizon, it will typically expose you to the sunset. As a bonus, it will leave the people silhouetted. That’s what you want. You don’t need to see the details of their face to know who they are. And if you expose yourself to the people, the sunset will look awful. Focus on the sky near the sun.

#4 Don’t “Look at Me and Smile” – Michigan Vacation Photos

It’s fine to have some vacation photos where the group is all looking at the camera and smiling. But often the best people photos are when the people don’t know you are taking their photo.
Do as follows:

  • Find a Michigan landmark or scenic wonder
  • Grab your camera
  • Don’t take a photo of the landmark or scenic wonder
  • Take a photo of other people enjoying the landmark or scenic wonder
  • If they turn to smile at you, tell them “ignore me!”
  • It would be helpful if you know the other people (if they are members of your family, even better)
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This is my son Andy and my daughter Kelly. They are enjoying the view from Old Mackinac Point. Oh look, there’s a bridge in the background …
Photo by Carla Bumstead

#5 Get Closer!

Do you want great Michigan vacation photos? Get right up close, especially if you are using a cell phone. Your cell phone’s zoom sucks. Don’t use it.

Even if you are using a regular camera, either get much closer or put a zoom lens on (and still get close if at all possible). Everything is better up close – whether you are trying to capture an outdoor music festival or your kids clowning around on a boat.

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This photo was taken at the Wheatland Music Festival. Even with a telephoto lens, I had to get right up in front of the stage to get this shot. It’s ok to do that, just be aware of your surroundings and don’t be annoying.
Photos by Carla Bumstead

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Do you really want to show how much your family enjoyed their vacation? Get right up there in their face. You will see only attitude – which is what vacations are all about.

Related Reading For Michigan Vacation Photos

21 Eye-Opening Things to Do In Caseville Mi (Some Much Better Than the Cheeseburger Festival)

Bad Axe Mi – 10 Top Interesting Things to See and Do

10 Michigan Hometown Foods That Scream You’re from Michigan

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Carla Bumstead

Carla Bumstead is a veteran photographer and new contributing Editor to Thumbwind Publications.

View all posts by Carla Bumstead →

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