Residents share Northwest Michigan beauty with the world on Instagram

What is it like to live near the Sleeping Bear Dunes, which in 2011 Good Morning America viewers voted "Most Beautiful Place in America"? It's easy to tell that residents in Northwest Michigan embrace their surroundings just by looking at their Instagram accounts. Sharing pictures with the world, local residents are posting some of stunning sights that are, for some, just down the street.

One whole website is dedicated to celebrating and exploring this beauty. Northern Swag is a blog which features posts by a number of contributors with pictures of some aspect of the region. The site's Instagram account is just as full of such images, and they are easily accessible to any of its followers.

"We're biased but we think we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. So to portray that visually on Instagram is very important to us in terms of showing people why it's so amazing here," says Traverse City's Brian Beckwith, co-founder of Northern Swag.

Swag's pictures come from the contributors' interest in shooting unique angles and lines of seemingly ordinary things, Beckwith says. They also play with the focus tool and filters on Instagram. And Beckwith says response to Northern Swag's Instagram account has been really encouraging.

"We also love the positive attitude Instagram users have of encouraging each other's work," he says.

Support might mean creating a community of similar Instagram accounts. Many individuals post pictures, like Northern Swag, of the beautiful environment in Northwest Michigan and are connected through hashtags like #nwmi. Such individuals include Kimberly Ciesla of Old Mission Peninsula and Lisa Jenkins from Rapid City.

The opportunity to connect with people with similar interests and to show how beautiful the area is throughout the four seasons is part of the reason why Ciesla is on Instagram.

"I love Instagram because I am able to connect and share photos of my family adventures from all around our beautiful area with other like-minded outdoors people," Ciesla says. "As the seasons change in Northern Michigan, so do our activities which are reflected via Instagram. Spring gardens and flowers flow into beach landscapes and sunsets … Fall foliage and rich sunsets quickly change over to snowy, icy landscapes and skiing and snowshoeing."

And eventually, Ciesla hopes that these connections she makes through social media, with hashtags such as #hikerchat, will go beyond just cyber friendships to outdoors "meet ups."

"Through my social media networks, I have discovered and connected with a community of outdoors enthusiasts and brands who share my passions," Ciesla says.

Jenkins also likes to check out the pictures of people who have similar interests to her, but she often finds herself connecting with people from other parts of the world.

"I just love to seeing the environment of their countries, work places and homes, as well as their varying traditions and customs."

This range of pictures, from the beautiful environment to pictures of families and traditions, is something that Jenkins, who is working on growing her own photography business, understands. Many of her pictures depict the beautiful environment around her and show her photography skill, but sometimes she shows pictures of her family.

"I like the more purposeful shots that I've thought out, but my life is real and I enjoy sharing those moments too," Jenkins says.

For many people, this is a part of what makes Instagram so effective and appealing: It's possible to share one's surroundings but also the special moments in one's life. But the accounts of people in Northwest Michigan are exceptionally beautiful, mirroring the beauty of the area. For Northern Swag, Instagram is supplementary, but as Beckwith says, it's possibly even better because of the connections with so many people in the world.

"Since the purpose of our site is to show people why Northern Michigan is so amazing, we can do that through Instagram as well as the blog, if not even more effectively," he says.

Lucy Hough is an English master's student at Northern Michigan University. She can be found on Instagram here.
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