They always start with an idea or a map. The destination idea for a photo excursion can come from anywhere, at any time and for any reason. On a recent day, one that I’d set aside for a photo adventure, I was in the process …
The great American road trip. Epic excursions to places far-flung and unknown. Misty mountain peaks near spacious, swathes of majestic valleys. If money was no object, these would be spectacular places to travel and photograph. Money is most definitely an object though, and the places …
In the springtime, I’d photographed subjects, places and people relating to the coronavirus. Those photos were self assigned, as I wanted to visually document what I could during that time. The benefits of self assigning myself that work was that I had the convenience of photographing in the town I live, there were no deadlines and all the photographic decisions were on me. It’s been said before, but you can find amazing photographic opportunities in your own backyard, town…anywhere!
A few weeks into June, I was contacted by a photo editor at The Wall Street Journal to document COVID-19 and how it has, and continues, to impact the city of Muskegon, Michigan. It’s always excellent working with The Wall Street Journal, primarily because of their professionalism and attention to detail. Before I could go on assignment, I was to attend an online training seminar about working safely during the pandemic and how to take necessary precautions. After the training, I felt ready to safely begin the assignment.
Due to my schedule, I was able to devote an entire day to travel, photograph, edit and submit the assignment images. Muskegon is about two hours away so I left early in the morning so I could arrive during nice light. There was a loose shot list for me which provided some details on what to look for and photograph as I navigated the city. While driving, I received some requests for additional portraits, which thankfully, I was able to fit in. Time management is absolutely essential when it comes to photography assignments of any kind. Sometimes, the writer will be present, which can be nice because then the story and visuals have a harmony to them. That wasn’t the case for this trip, which can also be a benefit because it allows a lot of flexibility and freedom.
Every assignment presents challenges and this one was no different. There was construction throughout town, the light was pretty bad (a cloudless day so straight sun), it was hot (especially with an N95 mask) and care had to be taken due to the pandemic. A big part of photojournalism is to create quality content and images despite those challenges. To solve the problem of subpar light, I simply tried to photograph with the light behind me as much as possible. For portraits, I have an off-camera strobe I employ to give me control over bad-lighting scenarios.
It was strange and difficult to make portraits from a distance rather than up close. The benefit for me though was that it forced me to think of portraits in a different way. I walked away from this assignment having a new appreciation and for full-body portraits.
It’s important to include people in photographs for interest, scale, etc. My assignment was a weekday in a town not necessarily bustling so in this case, a lot of patience is involved. Fortunately, there was a mid-week farmers market taking place. Years ago, I saw National Geographic photographer Sam Abell speak. Among his many useful tips, one that stuck with me was the importance of finding an interesting scene and waiting for a person or people. I’ve never forgotten that and I used it many times on this assignment. I take in a scene, imagine how it’d look for a person to be in the frame, gauge (this is important) the probability of a person actually being in the frame, then wait.
This was an important story to work on I’m thankful The Wall Street Journal entrusted me with the story and visuals. A takeaway for you, reader, is that if you’re hoping to do this type of work, you can! No need to wait for an assignment. Make photos, learn, keep photographing!!! You’d be surprised at how a solid body of work and reaching out to professionals in the business can help you open doors, especially in photography.
They say trends of all kinds are cyclical in nature and I’d like to think this is the case with my white Trek 800 mountain bike adorned with factory applied black splatter paint. It was my first mountain bike, purchased when I was in the …
First of all, here’s to everyone staying as sane and grounded as possible, despite the shakeup of our daily lives. My hope is that for each of you, this shakeup has been as minimal as possible. We’re all doing our best and however you’re adjusting …
The Traverse City Record-Eagle newspaper recently contacted me to make images to be used without a story attached. These types of photos can be called ‘features’, ‘spec photos’ and ‘wild art’. There have been so many photos focused on coronavirus that the challenge was to find something that wasn’t the typical photos of people cleaning something while wearing masks or portraits through windows. There has been some amazing work done in these areas, it’s just not what I was looking for. There are many ways to approach feature photos; there are probably as many ways as there are photographers, or at least close to it. Driving around can obviously be a good way to canvas a large area while looking. However, my preferred method, when possible, is to move the feet on the sidewalk. Walking offers a photographer the opportunity to notice details and get into a photo mentality of slowing down a bit and observing. Being in an environment, in this case; smelling fresh spring sprouts, listening to the seemingly-labored sound of geese wings flapping as they honk and patiently waiting for an individual or people going about their lives, can aid in being in the moment for photography.
Downtown is where the majority of people are so that’s where I went in order to increase my odds of photo success. As soon as I crossed under Grandview Parkway and made my way to the marina, there were two men putting on scuba equipment—success! There are a number of steps in order to get certain photos. In this case, I wanted to get close for the pictures so I knew I’d have to receive their permission in order to make the pictures I wanted. Legally, being in a public place, it’s not a requirement to obtain permission of someone for photographic purposes if it’s for editorial reasons (for commercial purposes, I’d need not only their permission but model releases also). In this situation, the mens’ permission was important to me because it allowed me to get close to make pictures and also to talk with them in order to gather additional information about what they were doing and to get their names. All of this information is important to add to the caption. The time between I saw the men and the time they dove in was short so I was glad to have found the scene unfold as soon as I did.
After the divers were on their way, my goal was to find a solitary person walking. The governor of Michigan, after announcing the stay-at-home orders, said that although staying inside was crucial, it was ok to get outside, get exercise and walk dogs, as long as social distancing was observed. An individual was walking in the distance and I made a photograph of them showing the vast space around them without people. In this instance, permission was not needed since they were not identifiable.
Being pleased with what I’d captured so far, my goal was to find something showing spring since I knew it’d be a welcome visual treat compared to the constant barrage of COVID-19 photos. A local lake was my setting and I stepped out to walk on the path toward a small, nearby bridge. Although I do prefer people in my photographs, there’s an abundance of natural beauty in the area so I crouched down to photograph waves as they approached the shoreline. The light was nice and I wanted to capture it so the wave was frozen in time as it reached the shore.
Wave photo captured, I continued walking along the path until I heard a song sparrow singing. Not only was it singing, but as I walked past, it wasn’t flying away, it was singing more and more. This seemed like a nice spring photo so I framed the bird in a way that it would be framed by the surrounding branches. If you look at the photo, my objective was to have no branches or twigs “sticking” (pun intended) out of the bird’s head. I’m thankful for how close this bird allowed me to be.
The next day, I traveled downtown again to photograph the marquee of the State Theatre. Since social distancing is crucial and the marquee addressed that, I wanted to take a photo not because it’s the most visually interesting photo but because the content will be socially important and interesting during this world-changing time.
Here is some photo inspiration in case you’re searching for some; the International Center of Photography has been showing some really good, curated work from photographers who have been selected and are using the hashtag #ICPConcerned. Check it out here. Also check out the Instagram gallery for The New York Times here as they continue their tradition of superb visuals and storytelling.
The way that we’re all being forced to adapt has been changing daily. I took these photos a couple of weeks ago and it seems like a lifetime ago. As the cases of COVID-19 in Michigan rise, I try to limit my exposure and outings more and more. There are some excellent routes for walking in our neighborhood so taking walks, with camera, have offered some escapes in this funky time. I hope you’ve all been finding ways to stay creative and breath some fresh air when possible. It’s important to not stress too much over creative outlet though because at this point we’re all trying to get sanely through this while thinking of family, friends and the world. It’s all about balance; thinking of you all and take good care.
The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.
Before COVID-19 was an everyday topic, I made a trip to a picturesque town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula called Marquette, situated on the mighty Lake Superior. Occasionally, I need to travel outside of my all-too-familiar surroundings and immerse myself in another community. It could be …
Outside my window, as I’m typing this, is the same towering oak tree and beneath it are the same constantly-stopping-and-going squirrels continuing their daily routine of finding acorns and burying them. The normalcy of life is visually evident and that makes everything going on in …
It had been about three days of photographing in Michigan’s spectacular Upper Peninsula during a recent expedition and the extended weekend of visuals was extremely fulfilling. As dream-filled as this sounds, and it is amazing, long days , little sleep and cold weather does take a minor toll. When it’s time to return home, one of the easiest mindsets to get into is to enjoy the comforts of coffee and a pleasant radio station or podcast, to focus on the destination of home and to not embrace the possibilities of the journey. Block out this mindset, seize opportunities and make the most of your trip!
Many obstacles of photography, and life, are psychological and although it’s difficult and I’m consistently working at it, we must overcome the voices that tell us to not do something. It’s easy to tell ourselves, “The effort won’t be worth it,” or “The subject might tell me ‘no’.” We don’t know until we try though and someone may say “no thanks” to your portrait request but it’s a small price to pay for the possibility of them saying “yes.”
As I was preparing for a 5-hour trip home, the thought of driving along some desolate stretches of road through high sun had me feeling a tad zoned out and mightily uninspired for anything photographic. The prospects of listening to a photo podcast and sipping on some fresh coffee from recently-roasted beans had me zenned. However, I knew that there are some great places for ice climbing in the Upper Peninsula and one particular area happened to be on my return route. Calculations of how much time I’d have to shoot and how fast I’d have to drive to make it home in time were floating around and eventually I decided to do it no matter what.
The parking lot was packed but the cars belonged to throngs of ice fishers who were out on a section of Lake Superior. This could also have been a nice photo opportunity but I knew a prime ice climbing spot was nearby and that it’d be worth the hike. Then came my next question, “Do I bring my portable strobe with 2’x3′ softbox or not?” Most photos I’ve viewed of ice climbing have not included much evidence, if any, of an external light, and most shoot natural light so I knew that it was something I should try. Go big or go home. The fiercest gales from Lake Superior herself wouldn’t have been cold enough to match the inferno that was my core temperature while schlepping a c-stand, light, softbox, snowshoes and camera for 20 minutes, THEN, climbing up a trail to the frozen waterfalls known as the Curtains.
Once I arrived to the ice climbing location there were a few people with black, hooded sweatshirts, each one with a pink pig. After some minutes, a few more people showed up. Turns out, it was the Pink Pig Ice Climbing Team. Everyone was friendly, cool and totally on board for having me make some photos and portraits while they climbed.
It’s been a while since I’ve photographed ice climbing but some of the challenges on this shoot were maneuvering and light standing positioning. My snowshoes had spikes in all the right places so they allowed me to walk up and down the shoot zone with relative ease. The problem with the light stand was that everything was on a slope and a c-stand doesn’t have adjustable legs. The solution here was a perfectly placed hillside log that supported the stand.
After an hour of shooting, my time to depart had arrived and I was about to head home. The lesson in it all though was that I could’ve easily decided to bypass the ice climbing or to not bring the external strobe. I chose to though and I’m so glad I did because without it the photos wouldn’t have been possible and it’s all about the photos. Below, you’ll see the pink pig mascot that inspired the ice climbing team. It was made for a member of the team, many years ago, and it continues to be with the team today. It, if anything or anyone, deserves to have a proper portrait. 🙂
In previous posts, I’ve covered the importance of finding fun and beneficial events to photograph in your community, or at least, your greater surrounding community. Blizzardfest in Grayling, Michigan is exactly what I was referring to. My methods of finding local happenings is often …