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. 🙂
Freedom lies in being bold.Robert Frost
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 …
The temperature is just under 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind isn’t even stopping for a “hello” as it rudely attacks and moves on at 25-30 m.p.h. As if that’s not enough to sway even the most shutter-happy photographer, it’s winter in northern Michigan and when your day job is finished, the only time to photograph is around 5:00 p.m.; closing time for most businesses, especially when downtown Traverse City is best chance for including people in your photo since it’s the largest city nearby.
These are the challenges of street photography in a small town and the weather is full winter. With the details of the evenings shooting environment established, let’s talk about the good things. All that weather can actually be a great benefit to street photography. There’s a saying that “bad weather makes good photos,” and this is true. A lot of my photos are taken in the daylight hours, especially on a cloudy day because that’s my preferred light since it’s so softly diffused. Getting out into bad weather though, and when the sun is setting, can be a good change of pace and anything that changes a photo routine is bound to improve our photographic skill set.
The number one most important factor of winter photography of any kind is to dress warmly enough. Lots of layers, hat, gloves, etc. It might sound like common sense but think to yourself that it’ll be better to be too warm than too cold. Some of my favorite winter photography essentials are flip-top mittens. They allow for a shutter finger out and the rest of the fingers are kept warm. Now, on to the photography.
When the sun begins to set, you’ll notice an array of lighting conditions. Pay attention to this because the conditions in that array can be everything from ‘ok’ to ‘magnificent’ and everything in between. What’s referred to as the ‘blue hour’ will begin once the sun sets and this can be an incredible lighting scenario.
My goal when I went to downtown Traverse City was to capture some of this blue hour and to also include people. It was windy and cold but what was nice about that was that the people I photographed seemed to concerned about the weather and getting to their cars or next destinations in order to pay any attention to me.
Being familiar with the city allowed me to have a good plan to photograph. I would try to include the big bank building downtown, make my way to Brady’s Bar since they have some great neon for signage and then travel to Horizon Books to photograph that in the evening. The owners will be selling the book store after about 60 years so it’s future is undetermined at this point. Which reminds me, taking pictures can serve as a valuable historic record. As the business-scape and buildings change in the environments I photograph, the photos seem to become more important from a historical point of view.
Eventually I my fingers were too cold for more photos. But, after a few hours outside, I was happy with my results and will look forward to more winter photography in the future.
Island Street Photography in Winter Mackinac Island is well-known for many things: horses everywhere; numerous fudge shops and the Grand Hotel, just to name a few. In the summer, tourists by the many travel there by ferry to take in the sights and sites. Cars …
Self Assignments Can Result in Amazing Photos It’s easy to see photographers shooting cool stories and thinking, “How do I get those assignments?” The best way is to simply photograph what you want; the benefits of this are numerous. I can’t emphasize enough how vital …
The Diminutive, Inexpensive and Beautiful Wonder Camera
Camera reviews seem like a dime a thousand these days on the web. So after this post I guess we could make it a thousand and one. The difference here though is that I’m going to shy away from too many technical specifics, since there are already so many that already cover them, and get to point of why this is a great camera; it’s actually an amazing camera. Let’s begin.
My journey with this small block of light-gathering magic began when I came across a classified ad for some film cameras and developing equipment in a small burg about 35 minutes away. With $30-40 in pocket I made the trip, thinking about what images I’d capture with my hopefully, soon-to-be-mine gear. The address lead me to a trailer with a tidy appearance. I met the seller, who was selling it for a friend, and he brought me a box of the advertised photo gear.
There were tanks and rolls for developing as well as small leather pouches for filters and lens cleaning cloths. Everything was aged and hadn’t been used recently judging by the dust and old-camera grime that some of us have seen. My eye caught a small silver camera and as soon as I picked it up my interest was piqued; it was the Canonet Ql17 Giii rangefinder. While looking through the viewfinder, I was immediately smitten. There was a warm, nostalgic glow as I focused the tab back and forth, matching the small image patch in the viewfinder’s center. The aperture and shutter speed are on the lens, making it quick and efficient. The camera would be my passenger on the way home.
After arriving home and playing with the camera a bit more, the shutter stuck. Upon further inspection, there were some light seals in poor condition as well. After maybe a couple years—yeah, it’s sad that it was that long—on my shelf, I sent it in for repair. Some weeks went by and it was finally returned after the $100 repair and the shutter clicked beautifully now, almost silently. The light seals were replaced and the shutter speeds and aperture were smooth. As if I wasn’t excited enough to start using it, the camera has a Quick Load system which simply makes loading the film super fast and easy. Needless to say, I was out the door in minutes.
There’s a fixed 40mm f/1.7 lens to let the light in and it’s sharp. You’re using 35mm film so it’s not like you’re going to be blowing images up to 24×36 with Deardorff-like sharpness but forget Deardorff-like sharpness! Appreciate the 35mm format, appreciate what it does well and leave it at that. Make pictures. The shutter speeds go to 1/500 of a second and one my favorite characteristics about this camera, especially in Michigan where the weather delivers extreme unpredictability, is that it can operate without a battery.
It’s been a few years now with the Canonet and as much as I’d like to keep it a secret, I’m ready to share with others about what a pleasure this camera is to use. It’s small, light, fast and the optics have been incredible in my experience. The lens is scratched and there are some dents on the side but this fine piece of photographic equipment delivers without being flashy—which, in street photography especially, can make all the difference. One of, if not THE best feature of this camera, is that it is pure fun to use. It’s small and quiet and doesn’t impede on the photographic process.
Wine Country Workers in Winter When the temperatures reach a balmy 15-18 degrees Fahrenheit for 24-48 hours, it’s time to harvest grapes for ice wine. Chateau Chantal is a winery on Old Mission Peninsula and they do wines extremely well, in fact, they’re one of …