Looking for a beautiful natural light location for your photography session in GR but want to avoid oversaturated areas like the Blue Bridge and Riverside Park? I got you. Born and raised in Grand Rapids, I've gone through the location scouting trials and errors so you don't have to.
Here are five places that don't disappoint:
1. The Many Murals of GR | Various locations
While this suggestion is a conglomerate and not a single location, you can't go wrong choosing one of Grand Rapids' many murals for your session's backdrop. Now, the city hasn't come close to touching Philadelphia, PA's United States record of 3,600+ pieces, but the beauty and significance of GR murals is - in my humble opinion - unrivaled.
In 2021, The Diatribe commissioned seven murals for the launch of The 49507 Project. Located on the city's South side, the project's foundation is set in teaching high school students about gentrification and redlining through spoken word poetry. Calculated development and planning jumpstarted a flow into community listening sessions between residents of the 49507 and project muralists, collaboration with area business owners who offered exterior wall space for mural placement, QR-code placards from CARNEVALE that outline how divestment has affected the area; I could go on. However, to give you the answers I promised with this list in a manner that doesn't cue comparisons of online recipes the length of The Subspace Emissary's Worlds Conquest, I'll stop there. For more information on The 49507 Project and its partners, how The Diatribe plans to expand the project in 2022, and each individual mural's address, visit its landing page here.
If you'd like to explore other options, look no further than the @MuralsOfGrandRapids Instagram account. You'll find a collection of creations paired with captions that include information on location, muralist, and the artist’s statement or a description. Additionally, GRKids.com has a wonderful article you can use to find murals in your area.
Last thing before we move on: If you do use a mural for a backdrop and post your masterpiece on socials, make sure to shout out the folks who made it happen by tagging them in your post(s)! Not only is it a best practice to credit artists and orgs who make art possible, their next commission or project could come from someone on your followers list!
2. Lookout Park | 801 Fairview NE, Grand Rapids 49505
Before I boast about this location, I have a disclaimer. Lookout Park isn’t what it used to be, what with the park’s access restrictions being enforced post-sunset as luxury living is built in the neighborhood. These nighttime restrictions mean you may no longer be able to create images with the skyline lit up like a Christmas tree (unless you trespass; not something I can legally endorse), but the daytime view is still an exquisite asset.
There are two separate spaces that make up this location, and I won't lie, I don't know if they go by different names. However, they're just a short walk away from one another and are fun to explore. The address above will take you to the official Lookout Park recognized by the city of Grand Rapids - feel free to click the address above to learn more about the space. This area has beautiful tall grass during the warmer months and a slowly decaying staircase that is incredible to look at but can also prove dangerous if not maneuvered correctly. The second park, easily identified by large yellow gates that get locked at nightfall, may very much be the outskirts of Belknap Park and boasts a slightly different view of the city.
3. Provin Trails | 2900 4 Mile Rd NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525
Although Provin Trails is nearing oversaturation levels the likes have seen with images created at the Blue Bridge, the possibilities at this location are endless. Here's why:
It has land cover biodiversity in that it’s a forested trail and a sand dune (yes, both).
The trail system is sensitive to seasonal changes, so it renews its look every three or four months.
It's spacious, so you're not likely to bother or be bothered by folks who are hiking the trails.
Short story even shorter, it's a natural light photographer's dream. There is even ample (and free) parking most days and a port-a-potty on the West side of the lot.
If you're keeping accessibility in mind for your session and hoping to create your photos at a park, check out the Kent County Parks and Recreation Department's guide to accessible park trails and facilities. The information provided may help determine if the location you have in mind is the right fit.
4. Rosa Parks Circle | 135 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
With this location's grassy knoll and access to the beautiful façade and concrete lounging area of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Rosa Parks Circle's uses are expansive. The city sprawls out from the space in every direction, and beautiful reflective surfaces and backdrops can be found just a short walk away. If you're looking t0 have a photo adventure with a friend, this is a great place to start.
In the event you use Rosa Parks Circle for your session and want to integrate murals into your shoot, you can discover what pieces are within walking/short driving distance via the GRKids.com resource mentioned earlier. This link connects to that landing page, too!
5. Pickerel Lake Park | 6001 Ramsdell Rd NE, Cannonsburg, MI 49317
I have a lot of warm memories at Pickerel Lake Park. I think I realized I wanted to be a photographer here. I had joined my family for a walk, my dad handed me his phone, I took a picture of him and my mom together, and it just... clicked. Pun intended.
Pickerel Lake Park is a bit out of the way for most Grand Rapids residents, but absolutely worth the trek. The location has beautiful scenery and 80 acres of wilderness to explore for folks who want to venture out into the great unknown... Well, as much "unknown" as a public park can contain.
I will say, this park isn't great about rest stops. There's one about a half mile into the trail, and that's about it for official bathrooms. Use the resource early, if you can sense you'll need it.
Let me know if this has inspired you to try a new location or revisit one like it's an old friend by tagging me in your final images or behind-the-scenes videos!
I'm @QuinnKPhoto on all platforms, and you can find me directly by clicking the links below.
Warmth and well-wishes,