Michigan’s Upper Peninsula —the U.P.—is a wilderness playground that is as vast and varied as the rocks on its beaches. Every year, we make it a point to find a destination there and stay for a week with family. It’s a fun-filled time filled with games, rock hunting, swimming and relaxing.
As a photographer, the pull to create can be constant. There isn’t a vacation from that need to document the world in an interesting way. So, finding yourself in a new location and feeling the urge to create, but not abandoning quality time with family, presents challenges. To find the time—I should say, MAKE the time—to photograph while on a vacation requires work, planning and compromise.
Most recently, we stayed in Dollar Bay, Michigan. It’s a really small town about a few miles east of less-smaller town,Hancock, Michigan, in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. A fun fact: photographer Edward Steichen grew up in Hancock.
Everyone’s vacation habits are different, so I’m going to write about what works for me, in regards to taking pictures while on vacation, and hopefully some of these tips will work for you as well.
1) Use Time Wisely
The first obstacle to photography that I was encountering was when to photograph. During our trips the majority of people we’re with take their time waking up in the morning. I soon realized that if I wake up early and head out before most in our party have risen from slumber, it’s a perfect time to photograph.
Getting an early-morning start with your camera is a good practice anyway. The reason for this is that the light can be wonderful. Not that light can’t be nice at other points during the day, but your chances of exquisite light when the sun is lower are much, much higher.
This couldn’t have been more true than on this trip. I’d way up early and although the desire to sleep in was strong, I’d look peek out the window and see a most diffused and moody fog blanketing the outside. That type of light isn’t common, for me at least, so that was all the motivation I needed to rise up and head out for pictures.
2) Plan Your Photo Locations
Coming off the topic of using time wisely, it’s really important to have an idea of where you’re going to photograph so that you make the most of your time. I used to just drive around and explore the surrounding areas where we’d be staying. This does work, but I wasn’t maximizing my time and being very efficient. “Work smarter, not harder”, as the saying goes, is important to remember.
Sometimes, just walking around the property you’re on can be the only place you need to take pictures. And, one morning, that’s what I did.
It was the foggy morning. Initially, I was going to drive about 10 miles into a small town nearby and see what I could find to photograph. After looking at the historic farmstead we were staying at though, I realized I could make compelling images right there. It was not only convenient, but it was almost meditative as I found myself walking slowly, with tons of time, and contemplating simple pictures I could make on site.
What often helped me, and continues to help, before heading out on a morning’s shoot, was to preplan. It sounds simple and it is. Having an idea of what types of pictures you’d like to take, and figuring out where you’ll have the best chances of taking those pictures, will let you be prepared for when you head out to make those pictures.
3) Choose Simple Gear
There was a time when I’d obsess over which cameras to bring on a trip. Yes, more than two cameras would be with me. It became ridiculous. I’d have my film camera and my digital camera and my phone and it was crazy. It became quickly obvious to me that I was only making things more difficult.
If you can make the carrying of multiple cameras on a trip work, that’s fantastic. Do what works for you, of course. When time is limited, for me, I’m realizing that minimal gear is key.
My phone camera is what I used most on this trip. Although I did bring a film camera, I knew my usage of it would be limited since it’s film.
Having the iPhone with me allowed me to be fast and to concentrate only on the bare essentials of what it was I wanted to photograph.
Hopefully these tips will be helpful and inspiring to you. Photography is a journey and there are unlimited approaches to it. The most important aspects of it are to do what works for you and allows you to create images in the most fulfilling way possible, for you.