Monday, December 31, 2012

SIX SHOTS-The Making of Six Photographs

One question that never loses momentum in photography workshops "what were your settings?" Folks always want to know the camera settings. This question has always amazed me. Its not the settings that made the photograph, it was the photographer.

(Click on images to enlarge)

Has today's photography become too automated? Has its simplicity stymied people into less creative decissions? People adjust the dials to AUTO and cross their fingers their vision will be enough to make a great photograph. Yes, it can happen. But remember to fulfill your vision the odds increase substantially when one knows how to use their instrument. Experienced photographers instinctively select settings on their cameras to create the visual music they hear in their head. They don't shoot by chance, but utilize a methodology choosing particular apertures and shutter speeds to achieve a pre-visualized goal.

I guess I've never paid much attention to the settings after the shutter has been released because all those choices were made prior to capturing the moment. Choices were deliberate. In fact, I cannot recall the last time I simply fired off frames not knowing what the settings were. Yet, virtually every popular photo magazine on the planet lists the meta data for every image it features. So, certainly there is interest in this information. I think the better question is "why those settings?"

Do music lovers walk up to a musician and ask, "Why that cord progression?" Musicians play notes to create a song, take the listener someplace that evokes emotion, a beat we tap our foot to, a melody pleasing to the ears.  Making a photograph is no different. Photographers have something to say in their captured moments. The settings that they choose are not accidental. They are purposeful akin to the musician choosing a note to string along a melody.

If you picked any photograph I made twenty years ago, back in the days of Kodachrome and Plus-X, long before meta data was saved with each and every image taken, and asked what my settings were.....I could probably tell you..... and be dead on. Its not because I have a great memory. Its that I  recall how I wanted to interpret that situation. I understood that a shallow depth of field was necessary to drop out the background and let my subject pop, or that 1/15th of second gave just the right amount of movement to sell the visual point desired.

Asking "what were your settings" is a good thing. Interested shooters are looking for answers and understanding the process and results teaches how to communicate more effectively. Keep asking those questions. I want nothing more than to see that grin across your mug when you nail it. As I venture into video with the Nikon D800, I find myself constantly looking at Hollywood film productions and asking myself, "how'd they do that." Being inquisitive sparks action.

In this post are six photographs randomly selected from my files. Let's run through the process of making these images. Don't be alarmed at the clanking sounds. Its just the ideas bouncing around inside my head searching for a way out.

SPRING VALLEY CAVE, the photograph above, shot for (Jan. 2013) SMITHSONIAN Magazine on an article featuring Larry Edwards, a geochemist at the University of Minnesota. Edwards studies cave stalagmites to better understand climate change over the last 3,000 years. Its fascinating work. Yet, you can imagine anytime a photographer is assigned to work in caves, problems quickly magnify.

First, caves are usually wet and muddy, an environment most camera equipment views as hostile. Secondly, and more importantly, how does one light a cave? Caves are pitch black. Photography is all about light. The situation here is the photog has to create light.

There are a myriad of questions to be answered long before a image is ever snapped. How much space will I need to light? How long will we be down there? How far do we go? Is there ample space to carry equipment and how much gear can I bring? Are dangerous gases present? Do we need walkie-talkie's?

Once these questions are answered, photographic plans are made. We were told our time inside the cave was short. Only an hour or so to get the cave photos I needed to illustrate the story was permitted. This meant you had to pick and choose the most important visuals to spend precious time on. Other significant laboratory related images could be done on the surface at the University. But, the heart of the story comes from underground. Using only headlamps, carrying three Nikon SB-900's inside a drybag, a Nikon SU-800 wireless speedlight commander and Brinkmann Q/Beam 2 Million Candle Power spotlight, my assistant and I followed the team of six deep down inside the cave. I brought two Nikon D3's with me in case one failed in the conditions.

The cave travel was tight quarters. Not even enough room to move around one another. Lighting one person, like Edwards wold not be difficult. A flash in front and my assistant holding a second behind him would do the job. In places like a cave, that backlight is very important to give that third dimensionIt was imperative to get photos of the stalagmites and those were within feet of us along the cave walls in several places. But, these confined spaces gave no feel for the scale of how large the caves passages traveled. There were miles and miles of dark tunnels several hundred feet below the surface. Most too small to crawl through with equipment. We came upon a very large "Cave Room"
that exposed the geological formations of the Spring Valley Cave. I gave me the chance to show the team, the cave and some sense of the geology.

To get this photo, my assistant can be seen (click on the photo to enlarge) down in front of the scientist standing in the foreground. The cave is black, black, black. Only headlamps are seen until the spotlight my assistant is holding is turned on to illuminate the scientist. To show the size of the large room, I had the others wait at the opening of the big room in the distance and handed one of them a SB-900 flash. It was too far for the wireless remote to trigger so I had to yell to them when to manually trigger the flash during the expoure. I instructed them to point the flash at the wall in front of them so they would be silhouetted against it. To ensure they didn't bunch together, potentially making the distant scene confusing, I instructed each person to move a body width away from each other to allow the light to pass through them. This provided a sense of space with people lining the opening.

On the count of three, I open the shutter for a twenty second exposure, while my assistant splashed the spotlight around the cave walls and ceiling then directly at the subject for a five-count. While the shutter was open, I hollered to the person in the distance holding the flash to trigger it, and boom, we had the shot. A lot of planning for a twenty seconds.

LIGHTNING is one of those natural gifts that are so exciting to photograph. And, on occasion a shooter is presented with the perfect situation to document its splendor. Namely, the storm is way in the distance over the prairie or as in this case, over Lake Superior. You don't have to deal with the winds, rain, or even risk of a super-charged bolt climbing down your metal tripod.

But, there are a few tricks to photographing lightning. The big difference is shooting a storm during the day or at night. Photographing lightening during the day is tough. Unlike shooting lightening at night when you can leave the shutter open for multiple strikes, during the day you can only expose as long as the light allows you.

I have found that shooting lightening during the day means you are going to shoot a lot a frames to catch a bolt.

You have to catch the bolt right as it happens because during the daylight hours, your shutter speeds are fast and capturing it as it happens....well you can imagine the odds of catching a flash of light on your frame. There are devices now for triggering the shutter with a lightning bolt flash, like this one device;

I have not personally tried it so I'm unaware of its effectiveness. But, if it works its a fabulous idea. I tend to stumble onto storms and put in my time getting storm pix. If its a thunderstorm all the better. When shooting lightning during the day I have found that lightening often has a "follow-up" flash in exactlyt he same spot. I keep my hands on the cable release, and every time a I sense a flash, wham, I hit the shutter. If I catch the main bolt, great. However, the lightning sometimes pulsates and I catch the second one. The key to to keep trying. Lightning shots during the day are special and offer editors a new look at nature's fury. The above photo was a 15 second exposure at f/7.1 at 200 ISO in the Apostle Islands looking east over Lake Superior. Be careful not to stop down to say, f/22 as it will darken the lightning too much leaving the surrounding ambient light very dark. Have something in your frame that lends a sense of perspective in the photograph.

ICELAND is a photographers dream location. The land of fire and ice offers the photographic mind a plethora of visual material around every corner. Its one of those places that calls you back over and over again. I love these kind of locations and let's face it, if you are not being rewarded on each adventure you have no cause to return. Iceland always has something to give.

Summer is Iceland is a great time to go since the daylight hours are pushing twenty plus hours. In late summer and early Fall, the light is still wonderful but loss is upwards to ten minutes a day. As you can imagine, the time of year you visit Iceland, it has its plus's and minus's.

During one of the Mentor Series Ultimate Photo Workshops ( shooter Lucas Gilman ( and I decided to venture out one evening and photograph a Church near our hotel along the coast. With a handful of eager participants from the workshop, we set out to photograph the church just before dark.

Now, just before dark is the key word here. If you wait until darkness, then everything in the area will be black and only the brightest lights will show up. You want some ambient light to exist to add that third dimension to your scene. Otherwise, its just black with light swimming around the sea of darkness. Its boring.

To make the photograph above required some thinking in the field to make it an interesting image. The church had no lights either inside or outside. So, to add some splash to the image, we needed to add some light. We sent Lucas inside with a SB-900 Nikon Speedlight to manually trigger the flash when we yelled out to him from outside. As the photog's were lined up with the cameras on tripods, the cadence was; 1-2-3-  HIT IT!

Shutters flew opened, Lucas popped the flash around the inside of the church several times while I turned my red headlamp on, light painted the church door for a few seconds and quickly ran through  the darkness along the path holding the headlamp towards the cameras as I ran through the scene. What we accomplished was an image with some life in it. Without the light painting inside and out, we had a white church with no highlights making a fairly bland scene. Adding the smallest amount of light with inexpensive gear elevated interest in the photograph. Scene exposed at 30 seconds, f/9.0 at ISO 400.

LAUGHING GULLS are a common sight around the Gulf coast in Fulton, Texas. Like most species of gulls they hang around parking lots waiting for dropped french fries or pieces of popcorn to supplement their diet of potato chips and the occasional fish from the sea.

It was an awful photographic day of gray skies and rain. In these situations photographers work hard to avoid showing sky in their frames because it offers no color and tends to look washed out or dreadfully flat. I spotted someone in the parking lot tossing up raisins or something feeding the gulls and saw a photo op.

To add some punch to this flat scene a flash was required. Other problems existed as well. The gulls would swoop in and out of the frame with amazing speed so a fast shutter speed was also required.

With my Nikon D3 I can set the flash sync to high speed sync allowing me to shoot at shutter speeds over 1/6000th of a second. Using fill light with the flash I stopped the action and illuminated the gulls enough that even with their black and white coloration, they popped off the flat light in the background.

One additional obstacle remained. Shooting in a urban parking lot promises your background being polluted with street lights, cars, telephone wires, ect.  It can be a simple resolve. Move closer to your subject, get down low and eliminate the distracting clutter by framing your subject against a clean, albiet gray sky. Let the magic begin!

WIND POWER was another article I was assigned to cover for SMITHSONIAN Magazine. I wanted to  be sure I made the visual connection with the commerce of alternative energy resources and the origins of its source. After all, this is the battle of alternative energy exploration.

The concept was easy and required just a few preparations to pull it off.

Dan Juhl, one of the leading developers of wind farms was my subject. I had the idea of showing Juhl holding a lite lightbulb in a farm field, where they are typically located, with the giant wind turbines in the background.

One important point was essential that the turbines, or at least most of them in the frames were moving.

We had to show wind, right! This helped the concept too. I needed the light of dusk to show the light-bulb shining. The dim light allowed for a longer exposure assuring me, if there was any wind, the turbine blades to show movement.

To light the bulb and offer the illusion of harnessing energy via wind power, I had a 200 foot extension cord running across the corn field to a tiny sub-station where my assistant ran a smaller extension cord up the back of Juhl's jacket, up his sleeves to a receptacle to light the bulb. A simple idea was effective in promoting the usage of alternative energy resources made an interesting photograph.

ICE CRYSTALS that formed inside a bucket left on my back porch caught my eye one morning while taking out the trash to the alley. The sun hit the bucket, warming the icy seal, and I turned the bucket over and slid the ice chunk out of the container.

I grabbed the camera and tripod, tossed on a 105mm macro lens and moved in over the ice crystals.  Traveling into the world of macro now and then is exciting stuff. And ice, being one of my favorite subjects just had me giddy. The design of ice crystals, like snowflakes, are individually unique and a simple marvel of living in the northland.

But, the ice itself was pretty bland. The ice was a dreary pale white and had no depth. It needed something. I went inside and grabbed a few colorful towels in the house and set them next to the ice. Next thing you know, that bland, pale ice now had some color. I could move the towels around to fill areas that needed color without overwhelming the icy crystals. Bathroom towels proved to be the perfect solution to shooting ice dropped from the bucket!

Remember, always take out the trash. You never know what cool photos you might find.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I've never been one to make New Year's resolutions. I just don't see it that way. In fact, I'm more interested in moving past the lull in the holiday season and getting back to shooting. 

This time period at year's end, most magazine stories have gone to bed. New features have yet to be assigned, and I find myself thinking about what new projects I want to undertake, the time necessary to complete them, funding them, and ultimately, how they will be shared.

(Above: 54' Crown Victoria spotted in farmers field while shooting assignment for Smithsonian Magazine Below: 60,000 year old fossil turtle exposed in the White River Badlands for Audubon article)


End of the year thinking equally allows time for reflection on what's been accomplished. That's a good thing. Its important to look back and see if the goals you set were met, the challenges in your path averted, and if those advancements motivated you to greater depths. 

It's natural set-up for peeking around the corner into the future. So, if you've got ideas floating around your head, the key to creating memorable photographs is to follow through with them.

(Above: Abandoned Herring factory in Iceland on personal trip experimenting with HDR)

Look at the majority of your favorite iconic photographs seen in print. Chances are those images were taken when the photographer was on assignment. Those photographs came from a self assigned theme, a feature or news story, advertising campaign, ect. The point is, the photographer was out shooting.

Human's are meant to explore. Getting out there discovering is the path to creating important photographs. I have always found in each assignment I find numerous assignments within that assignment. Being out there shooting opens the door to visual moments. And they don't have to be world changing moments, they need only be significant captures. And, that can happen in your own neck of the woods. The key again is to be out there shooting.

Look to the new year as an opportunity to take risks with your work. 

MOST IMPORTANTLY.....Don't talk yourself out of a personal assignment before it even begins. 

You will amaze yourself how well you can swim when diving in the deep end with a purpose. Tying those images together into a theme, certain single moments will rise to the top and stand alone. Those images are often greater than the sum of the parts.....but this is how you get them.

You are out there, thinking, polishing, discovering new ways to photograph the world around you. 

(Above: Ice Field, Alaska on personal photo shoot. Below: Nude taken during one of my
workshops at the MPC-Minneapolis Photo Center)

Follow your own instincts, don't pass by moments that speak to you. After all, this is what separates you from other shooters. Its defines your vision, you input, your style. You need not travel across the globe. Often, these projects can be acquired in your own town. Pinpoint what is of interest to you. Grab your camera and start investigating everything about it. The visual discoveries that you make become tools for the future. Exploring new ways to make an impact, light, lenses, angle, technique, are all at your disposal.

And once again, don't get lost in the process. If you aren't successful on a days shoot, examine why. Rethink the approach and get back out there. 

Food for thought.....Most feature stories see thousands of images made during the course of the assignment. Yet, come publication time, a mere handful are used in the final presentation. Only the strongest photographs make the cut. Less is more. 

The great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson said, "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst."

I teach an Environmental Nude Workshop at the Minneapolis Photo Center. I have little experience in shooting nudes. I view the nude as one of the most difficult subjects to undertake. That said, I approach the nude subject as I do all others. Using light, shadow, composition and mood, to stir the imagination.

Take the time to find new ways to communicate. Put your audience in the image. Don't be frustrated that eight hours of time to create a 1/30th of a second wasn't worth it. Organization and preparation are huge but necessary ingredients in a photographers job. Nothing is ever gaurunteed. You can only anticipate and be ready to receive the visual gifts you've put yourself in position to receive.

(Below: Sea kayaking at sunset, five second exposure for 
Jewels On The Water-Lake Superior's Apostle Islands book project)

Looking ahead now, I have numerous projects that are beating a drum loudly in my brain 
even I write this note. Camera is loaded, mind is open. 

Let the games begin.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Photographing China

Join me on a exciting photographic journey to CHINA in 2013 with the MPC (Minneapolis PHOTO CENTER) for two weeks. We will be aiming our lenses at one of the world's most secretive and unique countries.

Contact MPC:

Monday, November 19, 2012

Vintage Flashback

I wanted to share something that happened recently while photographing these rare Key Deer in Florida that I found quite moving.

In the darkness, wading in the mangrove swamp waiting for the deer to emerge after dusk, the quality of the light was, in film days, awful. Today, still using Nikons but trusting the capture with SanDisk Extreme IV Compact Flash Cards, I had this flashback of being a kid looking at the old wildlife photographs in National Geographic Magazines and how powerful those images were to an adventurous young kid. I wanted to be there too.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Those amazing photos captured on safari or in a swamp, in a jungle, wherever, the photogs created images of wildlife in dark conditions, often times relegated to using a huge flash, getting only one shot because the blast of light spooked the animals back into the dense darkness. You cross your fingers and pray you nailed it.

I felt that moment in the mangrove swamp. I was back, thumbing through the pages of old Nat Geo's as a youth, dreaming, wanting to explore the world this way. I felt reconnected to the medium in a whole new way, primitive, fortunate, excited. 

Once again the magic of the medium is the reason I adore this job. Coupled with the adventure and the adrenaline rush of seeing these deer at night, but also the excitement of walking away with successful photographs of them at night. Its no wonder how this simply fuels future motivations. Its the reward of why photographers do this.

It was a cool sensation. Glad to see I still enjoy this medium after all these years. As usual, its f/8 and be there!

To present the old time look, I used a vintage app to recreate the image I remember seeing with such fascination 45 years ago in the pages of a magazine.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Nikon D800 Video

Shoot video, or not shoot video..........that is the question!

I'll be the first to say I'm one of the last to jump on board in the current video craze that has become common practice with DSLR cameras. The ease and availability of creating high resolution videos with the same camera you use to shoot editorial assignments offers compelling reasons to give it shot.

The magic happened for me when I better understood the blending of sound and visuals. The addition of audio, tight editing, and powerful video stimulates more of the senses and can add a tremendous value to the story-telling component.

Here's the trailer to the first video I shot for the North House Folk School, located in Grand Marais, Minnesota. The full length version will come out at the end of the year. I had a balst shooting the clips and quickly realized its a different machine than shooting stills. However, I see the value in both and plan on numerous additional experiments in video to better gauge my future in this medium.

I'll pen more after the full version comes out and revisit some of the joys and issues I see in this medium.

You can see the trailer here;

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Magic Of Chance

If you live in the northern latitudes, 47ยบ North or higher, spotting an occasional Aurora is not uncommon. And, with the aide of online alerts from websites like, your chances increase substantially.

As a newspaper delivery boy growing up in Anchorage, Alaska I frequently witnessed the northern lights. My papers had to be delivered before 6:00 a.m. and in the constant state of darkness in the winter months, conditions were ideal for aurora spotting.

Two things I remembered most about those days; One, I relished the idea of being the first one making fresh tracks in the new snowfalls, and second, how many people were up watching the aurora. It amazed me how they knew they were out. How did they know? This was usually 4:00-5:00 a.m.. What in the world were these people doing up that early?  I never figured that out. Now, I just assume they were all nutty photographers!

That magic chance of being able to witness stunning natural phenomena like the aurora borealis have never been lost on me. Each and every time they impress the mind. I can only imagine, before technology explained the reasons, how early humans in the North must have hypothesized about the glowing night skies. I can easily see the stream of stories, gods, spirits, being created as the night explodes into color and movement.

Earlier this month, while teaching a photography workshop with the Mentor Series Ultimate Photo Adventure ( along with Lucas Gilman ( in ICELAND, a huge solar flare from the sun had occurred and alerts from reached my inbox.

I was stoked. YES..........everyone on the Trek would have the experience to witness and photograph the Northern Lights in Iceland. What a thrill, right?  WRONG!

Each night we painstakingly watched weather patterns push thick cloud cover over our giant movie screen in the sky. When it did clear, Lucas, Michelle Cast and I set our clocks on the hour, every hour, to check the skies for a glimmer of dancing colorful curtains only to awake tired and after a few days exhausted. It just wasn't mean to be. Geez, we got everything else Iceland has to offer, glaciers, puffins, lava, wind, sheep, vodka, and a great trip. But, no aurora.

I stayed on an extra week with friends from Minneapolis who joined me after the workshop. We too, had great hopes the aurora would dance. Same situation repeated itself. Clouds, rain, sleep, ect., prevented us from photographing one of nature's most thrilling displays.

On our very last night in Iceland we were celebrating with shots of that famous Iceland Vodka, Reyka, in the hotel lobby in Selfoss. About midnight we wandered off to our rooms. One last peek out the window I said to myself. "You can't win if you don't enter" right?

The smile across my face almost hurt it came on so fast. I raced down the hall to knock on the door, "get your tripods, cameras and warm jacket....the aurora is out!"

Off we went.

As is common with the aurora, you never know what you'll get. This night, the northern lights started out dim then built to a dancing show of glimmering colors and light all around us.

In the darkness, all I could hear was "holy cow," friggin eh," "holy shit," "OMG," and so on. The excitement set off a hilarious audio track screaming out in the blackness.

Once everyone settled down and captured something, I suggested as long as they are out, let's try a different location. After all, power lines, and roads could be seen in the first shooting spree. Well, this set off a whole new round of panic. I got such a chuckle outta these guys so excited, like kids in a candy store, to get more images.

Just south of Selfoss towards Reykjavik, we found a good dark landscape filled with blackness, no light pollution to speak of, and one small farm house that actually added to the scene. We leaped outta the van, jammed the tripods into the soft dirt road and aimed our lenses skyward. Just as our shutters begin to open and our eyes adjusted to the ambient light around us, we heard some sounds. As our eyes continued to adjust, we realized there were seven horses only 15 yards away watching us....and laughing at us I'm sure.

As we quickly searched for areas of darkness and something in the foreground to use in our pictures, I spotted a series of giant crosses off the Ring Road. I had no idea what it was but the concept of creating something very different with the glowing skies pounded my brain.

"OK, after this, let's go back to that spot. It's only a quarter mile or so back towards Selfoss" I begged.

We went back and found the crosses. We were at first, slightly disturbed by the scene. We grabbed a few images and then chased off to yet another potential location. The next morning we learned what the crosses were all about. It was a memorial set up to remember those who had died in car accidents on the Ring Road between Selfoss and Reykjavik.

We continued to photograph until 2:00 a.m. in the morning. We got aurora photos. We were pleased. Perhaps we didn't end up in the ideal place we had dreamed of.....with a lake or volcano in the foreground, but we got it.

That magical chance of taking one last look before bedtime and then beating the pavement to get out there and capture the northern lights.

In photography, more often than not, its "f/8 and be there."


More Iceland images from this trip; 

Above, a wonderful example of columnar geology 
along the North Atlantic coast.

Below, an aerial example of the great floodplains flowing towards
the sea from Iceland's largest glacier, Vatnajokull.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


The visual tug photographers feel on where to travel next for a shoot is a good place to be. I'd much rather be in this position than wondering where and what I explore next. We all have favorite places to go. Those locations that consistently produce memorable moments, visual rewards that motivate us to return. Let's face it, if we are not gifted images that mean something to us, its tough to return to them.

I had such a wonderful time covering Burning Man in the Nevada desert that I really wanted to make it an annual event. It is a remarkable and challenging place to make photographs. It is rapidly becoming one of the nation's most iconic alternative adventures anywhere. And, the beauty of Burning Man is how it is so different each year. Its tough not to make powerful photographs on the playa.

But, the call of the wild also possesses a powerful pull to photograph Iceland......for the sixth time, so I'll miss Burning Man this year. I have always been moved by the landscape of Iceland. The ecosystem seems to change dramatically every 50 kilometers. Iceland is a landscape that is alive. The land of fire & ice energizes the shooter. The weather is always challenging and the winds can simply piss you off after a while. But, its worth it.

So, off to Iceland we go. Stay tuned for a visual report in a few weeks of this marvelous island in the
North Atlantic.

Monday, August 6, 2012

More iPhone Chatter.....

I am constantly amazed with the rise of the iPhone imagery being created today. This was sent to me by a good friend, a fellow shooter, and thought I'd pass it along.


Most of story from Wired link. 

For a lot of professional photographers, iPhone photography is kind of like masturbating. They do it all the time, but they’re too embarrassed to talk about it.
And that’s a shame because the debate over whether iPhone and/or Instagram photos are real photography is stale and pointless. As pointless as whether one needs to use a certain type of camera or lens to make a photo worth looking at.
We’ve moved beyond the argument about slapping a filter on something and calling it art. Everyone knows that if it’s piss-poor, it’s gonna stay that way with or without a filter. Before that there were doomsayers about toning and Photoshop. Instagram is no different. At Raw File we’ve always respected a good photo, regardless of what it’s shot on.
Last week, however, there was some movement towards openness and professional pride in these unique tools.
Sports Illustrated decided to run six — yes SIX — pages of iPhone photos by the famed sports photographer Brad Mangin (most of us would kill for one).
Meanwhile Ben Lowy, a photographer we have great respect for, started publishing his iPhone photos from Libya (shot with his very own Hipstamatic lens) on Storyboard.
Photo: Ben Lowy
iPhone photography is here to stay. And not only

that. Photographers like Mangin and Lowy are proving, in real time, that this kind of photography has value and contributes to the richness of the contemporary photographic world.
If you don’t want to use these tools (the haters call them “gimmicks”), that’s fine. But when great photographers are producing interesting work, we should all be cheering that they’re out there, using their cameras, recording the world and contributing to the visual narrative that enriches everyone who sees it.
Just like that zoom lens in your bag, or just like that tripod in your car, photographers are using the iPhone as a new way to tell stories, capture moments and make compelling photos.
But enough from me. Here’s what Mangin and Lowy have to say about using the iPhone and Instagram.
“I started looking at everything with a fresh set of eyes from the moment I walked onto the fields in Oakland and San Francisco about three hours before each game,” writes Mangin on his blog about his iPhone and SI‘s decision to publish the photos. “It was like I was a newborn photographer seeing things for the first time.”

Photo: Ben Lowy
How many of you have had points in your careers where you’ve desperately needed a new way to see things? A new angle to approach the story? For many people that’s a daily battle, and if the iPhone pushes you to make better pictures because you’re seeing things differently, that’s great.
Here’s Lowy from the Tumblr blog:
What can you capture on an iPhone that you can’t on a regular camera?
The tool itself is a lot smaller and inconspicuous and can be a bit more subtle. I think it engenders a greater sense of intimacy with subjects because you’re not putting a big camera in their face.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer."
                                                                      Ansel Adams

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

iPhone Photography-Cracking The Code

I witnessed something this last week that confirmed all along what I've been feeling about iPhone Photography, but wasn't able to wrap the right words around it.

There's been discussion after discussion on the merits of iPhone shooting, whether its real or not,
or even a capable device for this medium. With thousands of app's available for the iPhone, crossing the line of reality, similar to those conversations about the truth in HDR effects on images, is a constant source of debate.

As a camera device, the iPhone is rock solid and indeed a camera. The usage of app's and image altering techniques is as old as the hills. Quite simply, its no different than glass plate printing in the 1800's or platinum printing at the turn of the century or making contact prints directly from negatives in 1980's.

The variety of techniques available allows the millions of photo minded people now out there to embrace a visual voice of their own. Whether it's real or not depends of the end result of how images are used. In the editorial world, manipulations are unacceptable. In the art world, commercial field, or the vein of personal artistic expression, it's natural and acceptable to push the medium as far as it can go. I love this about photography. The endless methods of how to see the world with fresh eyes is wonderfully exciting.

Teaching a one-day workshop through the MPLS PHOTO CENTER on iPhone Photography with fifteen talented folks was pure photography. Our group brought a wide range of photographic skills and interests. Some own ten's of thousands of dollars of gear while others just own the iPhone. What was so cool was everyone was a photographer that day. And that's cracking the code. We were using a real camera. It's just called the iPhone Camera and everyone was out treasure hunting for visuals.

At one point, we found an interesting brick wall & shadows in an alley. Passerby's would see fifteen people pointing iPhones up in the air as they looked down the alley. Nervous to venture down the alley, they stood there and watched. Once enough of them gathered (strength in numbers I guess) they inched their way towards us.....only to be told we lied the shadows on the wall! It was hilarious. I think they thought we had seen a grizzly bear or something.

What became evident very quickly was the absence of all the camera bags, lenses & tripods. We could walk anywhere and snap away without the label of being "photographers" which in many instances granted us access to people, places and locations. In many of these locations, permission, permits and questions would have greeted the photographer. The iPhone camera allowed to shoot instinctively and without restriction. This was a treat. And, folks felt like Bresson out there with one camera, making visual observations on the street, seeking poetry with these simple cameras. The code was intact. Indeed they were photographers.

Some of the app's being used in the Workshop include:


Some addt'l info you all may find useful:

- three lenses in one small package:
- tripod mount:
- case battery:
- learn more about my favorite app:
- fun place for iPhone and other photography accessories:
- get inspired, learn how to use some photo apps and get to know some iPhone photo artists: The Art of     iPhoneography by Stephanie C.Roberts
- blog reviewing apps and accessories:

A wonderful opportunity for these Workshop shooter is to have their works included in the NORTHERN SPARKS event for this summer. Their images will be projected on the sides of four giant grain silo's in downtown Minneapolis on the evening of June 10th, 2012 from dark to 2:00 a.m.

Theresa Link, one of the talented shooters with us this weekend created a collection of images with her iPhone. Here's a sampling of some of her images taken last weekend in the Twin Cities. Wonderful work Theresa! 

These will be projected on to the side of these giant silo's during the Northern Spark along with all others in the MPC Workshop.

Here's the link to Northern Spark 2012

It is the ease and instinctive approach from our iPhone camera's that has allowed a new breed of images to emerge in the mainstream. Aurora Photos recently opened myPhone Collection of stock images to their stock inventory. On my last submission to CORBIS, one of my agencies, they accepted several images captured with the iPhone camera. I was thrilled to see this.

There's no question that images created with these cameras are part of current cultural trends worldwide. It would be a mistake to disregard this influence. FACEBOOK must have agree'd when they recently purchased Instagram for a billion dollars. It makes sense. I asked my kids what they like most about FACEBOOK and they say, "the photos."

The code is cracked.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Wireless Adventure Photography

Let's face it, being a photographer is a great gig.  The opportunity to "walk in the shoes of others," learn about life while making pictures, getting up before dawn reaching locations before anyone else, experiencing that glorious light all to ourselves is our bonus check.

How great photographers approach their craft usually includes a few common denominators. The most typical? Problem solving. How do I get that shot? Sounds simple enough, right? More often than not it is. The idea that is. But, where most fail, is they decide not to execute the necessary efforts to get there. They leave it in the idea phase. There's millions of great ideas. Taking the time to carry it out is the most crucial step. And, its work.

How can I capture a moment like no-one else? What do I need to make this happen, what special equipment, trips to the hardware store, assistants, waterproofing, shock resistant material, auto or manual, duck tape, helicopter, so on and so on. These are good questions and investigating how you accomplish this elevates your vision to photographic reality.

The key for young shooters is to think big. Don't let your goal be dampened by saying "I don't have this or know how to do that." FIND A WAY! Your vision gave you an idea, so follow it up. What you learn from this will be another vise-grip in your visual tool bag. And, I promise you'll revisit it time after time solving other photographic problems.

One of my favorite techniques is the use of remote triggering. Mounting a camera on top of kayak and triggering from a bridge or shoreline to capture action, clamping my camera on the wings of an airplane and firing remotely as the pilot banks a turn, digging a hole in the ground and placing a camera in the path of stampeding buffalo. All these options give me the chance to create something new, a different perspective that places the viewer in places they have not experienced before. Plus, its damn fun trying this stuff.

The challenges as you can imagine are plentiful. But remember, this is problem solving and a big part of your job. Don't let the fact that its tough at times to figure out the what, when, where & how deter you. Once the solution is found, its easy........and rewarding.

One of the most beautiful examples of problem solving I've seen recently are the images of Minneapolis Photographer Paul Nelson and his bird images. (  and the underwater dog photography of Seth Casteel ( Both shooters have approached their subjects using different techniques but the end results are simply off the charts cool as hell.

There are a number of ways to use remote triggering devices to achieve the desired photographic results. I've mounted cameras on the back of backboards in basketball games, wings of aircraft, the bumpers of cars, bridges, kayaks, tree's, and am currently working on remote set-ups in the forest to capture wildlife on popular game trails at night.

 Some devices use infared beams to trigger the shutter, others use wire connections (although these are mostly obsolete) and the more common is the wireless trigger. Other options include using a intervalometer that is a separate unit or even built into some higher end cameras. These are popular with time-lapse photography (see previous blog post here).

Take a internet trip into You Tube and you'll find all kinds of homemade recipes for creating remote triggers that work quite well, but also companies like Pocket Wizard make exceptionally engineered products that are trustworthy ( Also, popular with bird watchers and outdoorsman is the Reconyx brand ( These mount to tree's or rocks and can be used to capture wildlife in the field. Another one, I believe this is one used by photog Paul Nelson is THE TIME MACHINE (

You've done your job when you hear the accolades and comments like "you've got the greatest job in the world." No need to tell them how tough it was to get it. It comes with hard work and the conclusion to an idea. On a side bar thought.....For you young shooters, this is important too..........get a dayrate that is fair when taking on such assignments. Your time is money, just like the client. You use resources, time and energy to capture that split-second. Don't back down on getting paid for it.

In the end, finding a way to best capture what you are trying to say visually isn't always easy.
But, its always worth it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

HDR-Is It Real Or Not?

MICKEY'S DINER, above,  in downtown St. Paul, was manipulated on purpose to help define its unique positioning among the skyscrapers. The renowned diner has a storied history and the combination of color and b/w seemed to aid in visually describing its presence.  (Click on images to enlarge)

Pick up any newspaper, photo magazine, or dive into a feisty photography forum, and most likely you will see a discussion about HDR Photography.

The expanse of stories will range from its appropriateness in editorial publications to the incredible creative vision shooters bring to their imagery. What I've noticed over the last few years is how the definition of HDR has kinda morphed into something other than was it was originally introduced.

HDR, or High Dynamic Range, was a great tool allowing photog's the ability to extend the range of tonal values through a series of exposures combined into one. Bracketing several exposures to keep the highlights in check and bring out shadow areas, using HDR software gave the opportunity in difficult lighting situations the advantage of having all the desired tonal values in our photograph. Always a frustration to photog's to see it with our eyes, but full well knowing the limits of our medium were problematic. Wonderful software programs like Photomatix Pro provided a valuable tool. I have seen amazing HDR images particularly in architecture and landscape photography.

Holy smokes, a shooter can stroll into a fabulous hotel lobby in Morocco, see all those gorgeous mosaics and polished marble floors with windows running 20 feet high and be able to capture all the tonal values using HDR. In some ways, I guess it's the modern day equivalent to Ansel Adams Zone System using exposure & development to master complete tonality in a pre-visualized scene.

But, it seems when folks discuss HDR today, it less about the bracketing of exposures and more about the usage of colorful presets to manipulate and create super-duper dynamic images. It's so tempting to rev up the colors, contrasts, grain, vintage looks, whatever on some of your photographs. Chances are if you want it, a special effect is there waiting for you to click a button and see how your image reacts.

 The photograph of the Fulton Harbor Bait Stand in Fulton, Texas did not need any HDR ramping. It was a stormy scene in the twilight hours with bright neons and rain. Perfect for a natural shot. Yet, a slight boost in vibrancy using HDR Efex Pro gave it a bit more punch.

Superb programs like HDR Efex Pro, from Nik Software, make the process of creating fun. With all the presets available, you simply click on each effect, find the one to your liking, tweak it if you wish, and your altered image is banging at the door to be shared.

Therein lies the biggest controversy under the umbrella of HDR. Not that an image has been altered or gone too far in appearance, but ultimately where its being presented. Its my opinion that any image taken for documentary, news, or journalistic purposes cannot be altered. If an image is altered and used in an editorial publication, it needs to be captioned as such.

The biggest abuse of this seems to be in landscape photography. Why? Because an image can be made more dynamic and interesting than it was in real time. After the debacle last year over the News coverage of Iceland's volcanic eruptions, images were juiced up in saturation to accentuate the glow of the spewing lava, but in reality the scene was flat and tame in comparison. This is misleading to a audience seeking truth in coverage. Its a line that can't be crossed in this type of photographic coverage, no matter how cool it looks. Its place is to be real. And, its time to go old-school in the most traditional of approaches and just be there at the right time. Be a photographer, not a technician in post-processing.

Some publications today will even ask the photog for RAW files if an image appears to be over-manipulated for verification. Let's face it, the credibility of the publication. Its not a bad idea.
However, let's say an editorial magazine hires you to do a photo essay on State Parks. It allows you the freedom to create images any way you choose. You might choose to shoot the entire essay in over-the-top HDR imagery as a visual style. Its how you wanted to shoot the essay. Even though this is in an editorial publication, this approach is a personal vision and totally acceptable. Where the line might be crossed is if the photographer's work included within the collection of "straight" images of some of the State Park's natural gifts, images that are enhanced through software. When this happens, what can the viewer believe is real or not real.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I still cherish the hunt of making real photographs. Doing my homework, being at the right place at the right time, allowing instincts and purpose dictate what I'm trying to say visually. Its what I still do professionally and I never mix the real with the experimental in the magazine work I do.

That said, I'm also a visual artist. Experimentation has from the very start been part of my interest in this medium. From the days of darkroom work, creating multiple images in what master photographer Jerry Uelsmann did in his painstaking "Saving Silver" process, to sepia tones warming a photograph, to today with the multitude of iPhone app's allowing us to create images on the fly with numerous image flavors to choose from. Its exciting and creative.

We have more options for visual expression than ever before. While the economic model of being a photographer has changed forever, its also a very exciting time to be a photographer. Experiment away, make the boldest, most outrageously creative images your imagination allows. I know I will.

But, I think a line has been drawn in the sand on what's real and what's not real. Its up to us shooters to understand where that line exists.


And, my favorite way of shooting. The natural gifts of light, movement of the swirling currents along the shores of Lake Superior make a beautiful, natural photographic capture.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Minnesota Twins Fans at Home Opener in Time-Lapse

Thanks for all the emails about this quick TIME-LAPSE sequence created of baseball fans streaming into Target Field for the Home Opener of the Minnesota Twins in downtown Minneapolis.

I enjoy photographing crowds and this was a good opportunity in a festive environment (even if they did lose the game!) to observe the river of people flowing towards the ballpark.

I won't go into deep detail on this process since there's no substitute for experience, but here's a few tips to get you going. Once you create your first time-lapse sequence, your brain quickly fills with ideas that will take you out shooting feeding that creative energy.

For the one created here, I shot 500 frames at 3 second intervals. I'm using my Nikon D3 and in the Shooting Menu I scrolled down to Interval Timer Shooting. Check your owners manual for this camera and the camera you have for add'tl detailed info. To capture this many images it took 25 minutes. 60 seconds divided by 3 fps (frames per second) = 20 x 500 = 25 minutes.

Once the images are captured, I load them into Lightroom, and for the purposes of speed and efficiency, I converted them all to 72 dpi. Once converted, I placed them in a folder on my desktop and opened Quick Time Pro, a $30 software program that turns the images into a Quicktime Movie. To see how this is done, there are several wonderful videos on You Tube with good lessons on creating Time Lapse movies.

As an alternative to Quick Time Pro, you can also use Lightroom. While Lightroom does not have a 24 fps preset (which is the most desired fps) you can get one free from Sean McCormack at and download the presets in a Zip file and load into LR. Thanks Sean for creating this. Follow his simple instructions and your on your way.

I tried several different fps and as expected, the 24 fps were the best for this. When I dropped down to 10 fps the time-lapse appeared choppy and too slow. While I could see more of what people were doing, the flow was off and not pleasing. I jumped to 50 fps and I got tired just watching all the people run so fast. So, settling into 24 fps worked well. There is enough time to see the flow, watch what people were doing and not lose interest.

If you have time-lapse settings on your camera, take the camera out for a walk and give this a try. You could even train the lens on the birdhouse in your backyard and shoot 500 frames per second as they feed their babies this Spring. Of course, with time-lapse you will need a tripod, and turn off the auto-focus. I've done exposure both ways, on manual and auto. Both worked fine. I'd prefer manual, but in the case of clouds moving back-n-forth over the sun, exposures changed 3-4 stops. That's too much of an exposure swing. Keeping the camera on auto allowed for good exposures of my main subject through-out the 500 frames.

Go out and have fun. Think stars, storms and streets. You'll be amazed at the world seen in a time-lapse sequence.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Nikon SB-900 Speedlight

Creating photographs in winter brings its own set of challenges. Its a good thing photographers are capable problem solvers or this season could easily get the best of you.

The first obstacle, the most common one, can be overcome with desire and proper clothing. Let's face it, when its really biting cold it takes a compelling reason to get out and shoot. I see this more than anything else in winter months with shooters. They resist pulling the camera out of the bag and shooting. Its easy to stay bundled up and warm. Yet, the moment you activate your imagination and start creating, you overcome the chill and walk away with images only a handful of people are willing to capture.

The second winter hurdle?  Light.

All photographers understand that light is everything. A bright, sunny winter day can be a tough working situation with contrast and exposure. Yet, capturing good winter light can really make a photograph electric and lively. And, the quality of light in the high arctic, with its pink hues and soft texture is some of the most gorgeous light found anywhere on the planet. Seeing deep blues against a snowy scene is a marriage akin to peanut butter & jelly. It just works.

And technology has made some fancy advances to making our lives pleasant and more productive. Personally, I think the greatest innovation in the digtial age are those wonderful "blinkies" that instantly provide information about overexposed areas. I never use a histogram, but adore that flashing black light indicating I've lost data in the bright areas. What a great tool.

The flip side to sunny conditions is that limp light, dark and heavy that provides no contrast, miniscule inspiration, and its own nasty method of defiance. This really pushed the best shooters to a mode of creative options that while limited, can be very rewarding. The best way to think of this is bad light can be good light...........for some visual techniques.

I like implementing two techniques as soon as I see light go limp. That dark overcast light is actually quite good to use with panning for motion and also close-ups. The light is even, though dark, and along with a good exposure subjects come to life.

Panning is one of my favorite types of images to create. They are a nice break to the frozen still shot and offer the viewer a new way of seeing a moment in time. And, don't be afraid to break out that flash and use it with your long panning expsoures. This technique, which we used to define as "flash & slash" is a great way to add motion and sharp focus in a photograph.

Last week while dogsledding in Northern Minnesota, the weather pattern could be ID'd in the dictionary under the word GLOOMY. Holy darkness Batman, it was dark all day and did not fluctuate one f/stop the entire day until darkness set in. We missed shots like fresh wolf prints in the new snow because of the flat light to name one. But, when we broke out the Nikon SB 900's and kicked in Rear-Curtain Sync, we started having fun.

There is a secret to using the flash & slash technique that will dramatically improve your adventure
photography. This same skill set is popular in outdoor portraits as well so the technique has numerous valuable contributions to your personalized vision. Using dark conditions with digital is not something you should shy away from or put your camera away for the day. Use the darkness to experiment with new and exciting ways of shooting.

In the photo below, the light was already too dark capture action, even at very high ISO's. So, I put on the Nikon SB 900 Speedlight on my D3 and took a normal ambient exposure. My fastest reading was 1/6th of a second. Way too slow to stop action. But, I knew if I set my camera on Rear Curtain Sync (your camera by default is set to Front Curtain Sync) and flashed the dogs, I get get some movement and also some sharpness. The perfect combo in this conditions.

                                  CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE

The key here is the ambient exposure.

Here's another photo taken just moments later using a faster shutter speed with the Rear Curtain Sync still set. You can see the difference. The ambient light has gone dark, like those terrible christmas party photos you've seen thousands of times. The subjects are brightly lite by the flash and the light fall off is extreme and your subject swims in a sea of blackness.

This is the reason for using the REAR CURTAIN SYNC. The flash fires at the end of the exposure as opposed to the beginning of the exposure. This technique "pops" the flash at the end freezing the action giving you a sharp split-second at the end of a long exposure. If you were set for front-curtain sync, the flash fires at the beginning and the remaining exposures washes over flash creating a blurring result.

In this photo, as dogs are returned to the dog yard after a day of running lakes and forests, the light has usually gone. But, its important to see the dog yard. A automatic photograph flashed with blackness wrapping the scene gives your audience little or no information about what's happening. They want to see what's going on. The dogs are so strong that its easier to lift their front feet off the ground to get them safely to their doghouse. Its part of the story and capturing it is integral to understanding the dynamics of the dog yard. This technique allows you to do that!

So, on the next nasty, dark day go out and give it a go. Practice with moving subjects, and your camera set at rear-curtain sync.

In this photo, a straight pan with no flash is another effective way to capture action with movement.
Just keep that thought in the back of your head when shooting in poor light;

Bad light is good light!