My family took a short vacation to northern Michigan over the weekend to visit family. On the way back, as I usually do, I made it a point to stop at the little towns along the way and grab a few photographs.
Capturing small towns in Michigan is long, ongoing project of mine. I find the sights of these little communities so fascinating. And it highlights the benefit of getting off the interstate highway system and travel the two-lane highways all across the countryside. It’s on these little side trips that you see the memorable stuff. There’s space, time, and a lack of traffic that makes pulling over easier, too.
Making photos of these small towns is almost an archeological exercise for me. I feel like I need to capture the quirks and personalities of these towns and villages before they disappear. Or in case I never come back.
There’s value in returning to the same places or subjects over and over again. In time, you watch the place change, grow, or deteriorate as your own skills develop.
The Irish Hills of Michigan has become my go-to spot, over and over again, for years now. My fascination with the place comes from childhood: I grew up and around the area, and visited the local amusement parks often. It’s also a gorgeous place, full of rolling hills and secluded lakes, and located along the US-12 corridor west of Detroit.
Lately, I’ve driven US-12 on my work commute, which is much more my style – no freeway, no stop-and-go-traffic, etc. And each day I drive the route, I think, “This is the place I want to focus my creative attention.”
There are plenty of project opportunities in a diversity of settings in the Irish Hills. It already has been my focus for a few years now. But lately, I find that I keep coming back to the place. I did just that this past weekend, revisiting some old haunts and scoping out some new ones.
My commute was 30 minutes, but if I left early I could stop and take a landscape, or catch a beautiful sunrise. And sometimes, I’d have enough time to explore an abandoned building or home. Beautiful country roads, lovely scenery, and no rush.
Not so much anymore. My commute is now an hour long, at minimum, and it’s mostly interstate driving. This cuts back on the time I have to get out and explore.
One of the casualties of this new setup is my abandoned photography. My commute is longer and busier, I work on a big-time college campus in a mid-sized city, and I just don’t have the time like I used to. It’s a bummer.
Part of me also feels like I’m moving on from urbexing, creatively. I want to do new things, and make different kinds of photographs.
Except when I take a new way into work, like I did last week. Instead of busy I-94 East, I ventured down US-12. It added 20-30 minutes to my drive. It was so worth it. For one, it felt like my old commute: moseying at a nice pace, lots of scenery to check out, and the fog helped make the landscape extra interesting.
The itch still gets me when I see an abandoned property. It used to be a big part of who I was, creatively, and I’ve had to let some of that go. But it’s okay. I’ll try to make time for adventure when I have the time and inclination.
Taking a vacation is a good excuse to make some photos. You’re in a new place, with new sights and people to see. Everything is fresh and wonderful (especially when they have lobster rolls along the Atlantic Ocean, as above).
But most of us can’t take a vacation all the time.
So what if you took little trips, around your hometown, or to the cities you’re next to?
I started a little project based on small towns around Michigan a few summers back – little towns that I had never visited, or had only traveled through. I’d take a lunch hour and prowl around main street, and shoot what I see.
You don’t have to go far to see a new place. Chances are, there’s something to see within a few miles of where you are right now. This idea is not new.
August is travel season for a lot of people. Now, challenge yourself to travel a little more local for a new perspective.
After starting my new job in March, I did what I always do: got out and explored.
I’ve been to Ann Arbor, Michigan, many times, and done a lot of shooting here. Now that it’s my jobby-job town, there are a lot more opportunities to get out and see the city. Lunch hours, in between meetings, after work – all good excuses to get out and make photos.
This is, at its most basic, the best reason to make photography a hobby. You get to really learn about and know a place through the viewfinder.
A new place also provides that little spark of freshness you might need to practice your craft.
Do your everyday surroundings get stale? Go somewhere new, and – bam – instant inspiration.