Tuesday, November 1, 2016


I've always enjoyed making portraits. It's the cornerstone of many of the stories I've covered.

Bringing life to the character held within a personal moment and revealing a peek into a personality or lifestyle engages your audience. Similarly, portraits can expose mysteries in a face refusing to tell the whole story. Those portraits possess their own strength pulling the viewer in even closer seeking answers, thus banking on intrigue.

Over the years, I've acquired buckets of experience in taking portraits. And, along the way I've made lots of mistakes. Too many that looked posed, lifeless, or uninteresting. Hopefully, those days are long behind me and I'm a little wiser in my approach, reactions and preparations. Never believe portraits are easy. They are not.

How one approaches a portrait concept is not always what you anticipated either. Things change and can change instantly. An open mind, with the goal still fresh, can push a photographer to make split-second decisions on the fly. In the below portrait of Kevin Garnett, I had only thirty minutes to make the shot. Lighting the shot was going to be crucial for the layout. The practice court was not available. I quickly scouted around and found a space under a stairwell where my assistant and I could set up the strobes. I'd use the blank wall and come in close. Of course, I had to stand on a table to be eye level with him, but it worked and I was able to make a powerful portrait of the emerging superstar.


NBA star Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves

Quite often I see fear in photographers eyes when asked to take a photo of another person. They are scared to aim their lens at someone, especially someone they don't know.

Why?  I think the easy answer is the risk of confrontation. The fear of rejection looming like a torch keeps those lenses pointed down and away. Why risk such a nasty experience? Well, truth is that rarely occurs and when it does, there's usually something else going on beyond your control.

Gaining trust. One of the great aspects of digital photography is how you can use its immediacy to
put your subject at ease. Take the photo and show it to them! Holy cow, how cool is that? Seeing how you envision the photograph gives them permission to relax. If they can't gain your trust quickly, you might be out of luck. Utilizing this trick can pave miles for those add'tl shots and patience as you work through the process of creating the image. They become part of the process and holds their interest.

Russian girl in Red Square, Moscow

I didn't know the young Russian girl in Moscow's Red Square when hundreds of soldiers were gathered for some sort of ceremony. She seemed lost and out of place clinging to her father. I kept an eye on her and wanted to snap a shot of her. I could feel her loneliness as I moved about raising my glass amidst all those military men. I think in ways we both shared common ground. I waved to her but she remained stoic. Although I caught her checking in on me as well. I think the little wave intrigued her and diverted her mind away from all the uniformed people.

I waited for the right moment and snapped off this shot. I didn't get her name, where she was from or how old she was. Normally, I have to get this information for articles. However, in this case it wasn't part of the story, it was just me assimilating into the moment. Me, the foreigner, and she the little one in a sea of soldiers. To this day, its still one of my favorite portraits taken of someone I never met.

One of things I've found over the years in making portraits is its usually, for me anyway, that the last few frames I make are the strongest photographs. I believe it's a combination of comfort levels between both the shooter and the subject.

In the image below, an arranged session set up weeks ahead of time. It was going to be all available light so location choice was a huge part of the decision making process. We got lucky it was a overcast day providing that magical light akin to a giant soft-box. Plus, the model wore a stunning blue robe and had brilliant red hair. I was giddy with delight over the range of vibrant colors on this late afternoon shoot. Talking to her the entire time put her at ease. I asked she open close the robe, look up, look left, look right and so on. After a while she moved naturally and found the pose that she was comfortable in. It's at that moment, the shooter needs to be ready to capture it. Release the shutter when she is at ease with herself, the light was right, and pose soothing. It was the third to last frame in this location I shot.

Shooting an article on Iceland for the Asian Magazine, Voyage, the famed Blue Lagoon is most always on the shoot list. A wonderful geothermal spa/pool created from the nearby Geothermal
Facility. A close-up was my choice to make the viewer feel like they were in the pool with everyone.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Making a portrait in a pool is not the easiest form of street photography. First, it's wet and you need to be careful how you move around with expensive equipment. Second, you need to find a subject willing wearing a bathing suit. Not as easy as it sounds.

I found this lovely lady with a group of German tourists who just applied the silica mud on her face. I waded over, explained my story and asked permission to make a portrait of her. She agree'd. That was the easy part. She had a wonderful, healthy look was and thankfully was at ease with the camera

The difficult part of this portrait was the background information. You cannot take this for granted just because you have a beautiful subject. This is an environmental portrait. A portrait where your subject is the main focus of the frame, but needs to be part of the environment being featured. It saves the editors the need to use two or more images to communicate what can be said in one image.

I watched the people in the background moving about while remaining attentive to my main subject.
At one point, the group behind was all bunched up and it looked odd. Then, they spread out filling the frame behind my subject. I raised up to keep her head from melting into those in back, watching the couple on the left lift a bright yellow bucket to gather silica mud, adding some snap to the left side of the frame. They spoke to each other, I spoke to my subject, Click.  I got the balanced photo I was going for. It's filled with content and beauty. An attractive gal using the famed silica mud facial rub, grown-ups having fun in the background, and steam rising from the geothermal vents. Packed with information, it was all there in one frame.

Alma in the attic

During one of my environmental nude workshops, we found an old attic space in a barn with incredible light filtering through. The room was actually quite dark. Knowing that I could use a higher ISO or my tripod, or both, I could raise the ambient light to acceptable levels to make the portrait without using strobes. I like this kind of light. I knew the light beams pushing through the walls would be blown-out.  Who cares?  It's exactly the feel in this space I wanted to get. Alma is such a natural in these situations, remaining relaxed and always in character. that mood comes across revealing a pleasing moment in a dramatic setting.

Blue-eyed Icelandic Horse
Portraits need not be only of people. For example some of portraits taken by pals Daniel J. Cox, Mary Ludington and Jim Brandenburg are of animals. They capture the essence of their subjects in ways most dream of. You feel the presence of whatever animal they are photographing in powerful and elegant fashion. Their abilities to anticipate, put in the time, and wait for that moment that visually reveals something that moves and educates us is a true gift.

I had heard of Icelandic horses with these incredible blue eyes. I made it a mission on one of my trips there to find one. I did. Now, how do I shoot what I'm trying to say with my camera?

I could shoot the entire horse....but why would I?  The blue eye is what I'm trying to convey. So, close in and search for a way to make it the most important part of the image.

In ways, it's resembles the environmental portrait of the lady in the blue lagoon seen above on this post. I need to see something other than just the blue eye. But, that is also my visual point on interest. So, using a long lens and shallow depth of field, I zero in on the eye and allow the mane to soften with the lens compression the background. We know its a horse. But the shot is showing the beauty of that blue eye. So, go there first.

Dr. L.David Mech, renowned wolf biologist, Minnesota

For over a decade I did countless stories on wolves and wolf research here in Minnesota where I live.
Most of the coverage centered around the work of Dr. L. David Mech, one of the pioneers in using radio telemetry in studying wildlife. It was an important part of the coverage in these stories.

The wolves are captured in the wild, fit with radio collars and them observed from the air in airplanes as the researchers document the animals behavior. I needed to find several ways to document this in an environmental portrait.

A little coordination with Mech and the pilot proved to be one of the ways I could combine several of the components of radio tracking wolves. It shows the aircraft, Mech and the methods used for data research from both the ground and air. The more layers of content in the image, the better it tells the story of radio telemetry and wildlife research efforts in the wilderness.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Never Underestimate The Power Of Happiness

Never underestimate the HAPPINESS a 6 year old can generate just being a kid!

The back-story: On assignment for ISLANDS Magazine on Isle Au Haut in Acadia National Park, I understood motor vehicles are not allowed on the island. Only a few residents are allowed a vehicle. So, I borrowed an old bike to circumnavigate the island for a day making photographs.

Well, the bike broke down half way on the loop. It was terribly hot outside,  I was carrying lots of camera gear and pushing the busted bike mile after mile. My production level plummeted.

My mood soured quickly.

Then, a local resident with her pick-up truck drove by. She stopped and offered a ride. I tossed the bike inside and climbed aboard. In the cab, 6 year old Dale wanted to ride in back with me. Mom gave her the thumbs up and off we went.  (Click on image to enlarge)

Every bump in the road made her giggle with joy. She loved being outside. I grabbed the camera and we had a blast with every pothole Mom could hit.

A most memorable day.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Cuba Photo Tours

Every once in a while I'll post a blog entry about photo tours and workshops. Why? Because some are so unusual and rewarding they merit mention. There are those rare opportunities that come along and in some cases, I fear won't last for long before things dramatically change. In this case, it's CUBA.

PhotoZoneTours did a CUBA workshop last year and it just rocked!  It was so rich and rewarding. We decided to do a repeat this year. And, already in one year, it was difficult to find places to stay. We had to move from the Spring time tour to Fall. You don't want to do Cuba in the summer, it's too hot. 
The hype is out there and now that's CUBA has opened up to travel to folks in the U.S. the curiosity bug has bitten. It's not so much that Cuba has changed, it hasn't. But, the extra demand for travel needs has. Advance planning is necessary.

                             Click on images to enlarge     1-800-555-5765.

We have three spots left on this tour and the registration closes on June 10th.  It's an absolute deadline because of the demand for rooms. If interested in joining us, please call the number below by June 10th. Any questions, please feel free to shoot me a call.

Below is a few photos created from our last Cuban adventure. Whether you want people, great food, landscape, color or B/W,  it's all in the mix on this luxury Cuban photo tour. Hope to see you there!


Thursday, January 14, 2016


Typical of Icelandic weather, in between periods of thick overcast skies that are moving so fast they'd scare even the most experienced kite flyer, the sun momentarily bursts out to tease you.
(Click on image to enlarge)
  Photographers need to be prepared. When that sun comes out, Iceland changes. And, changes quickly. The difference in dark gray light and light that is alive can make or break most nature photographs.

I visit Iceland as often as I can. I adore this country. The nature is raw, assorted ecosystems abound, and until recently you could go for days and not see anyone. One of the more popular and accessible stops along the coast is Skogafoss. Skogafoss is a lovely waterfall pouring over a cliff with all the rage of Niagara.

I was traveling with a small group and we made our way down towards the falls. The sun broke out and I reached for my camera as a double rainbow began to emerge. Then, out of nowhere, we heard river rocks exploding as three young men from behind us raced past screaming their way to the rainbow.

Many photographers would've been pissed having people dart into the scene. Just moments earlier it was a picture defining pristine. Let's face it, photog's love rainbows and most prefer them without the visual pollution of people cluttering the scene.

Yet, in this situation I was thrilled to see these youngsters going for it. Their excitement towards the waterfalls, playing under the rainbow, was pure joy. And, that's part of nature photography too. People fly fishing, enjoying a favorite swimming hole, climbing the hard face of a speckled granite wall, or canoeing over a glassy lake. I had time for only three frames before they were too far away and the sun faded.

On this day, they weren't the only ones savoring the joy of nature photography.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


When it comes to nature photography, the impact Ansel Adams left on Americans is undeniable. I respect how the power of his images are directly linked to preservation of so much wilderness.

(Click to enlarge)

His exquisite B/W images, through that full range of tonal values, and the magic realism portrayed in a print from an 8x10 negative can easily sweep the visually minded person off their feet.

But, early influences for me came from photographers like Edward Weston, Paul Caponigro, and Minor White to name a few.

I was devoted to the Zone System, both seeing and reacting in B/W, steering my lens towards nature in a different light. Composition often revealed itself as much through tonal values as it did with subject matter. The two were a marriage. The process was spiritually leisurely and tightly controlled. Ten images a day was a successful outing.

I used a 4x5 view camera for everything, developing each sheet of film separately, exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights. A process where previsualization was realized by carefully completing each step all the way to the print. Or, more as stated so eloquently by Adams, "The negative is the score and the print the performance."

This photograph of an ice field in Alaska caught my eye. A fresh break in the wind blown ice field created a dynamic pull and stirred my imagination. I was lucky. I'm sure within hours the scene was totally different. And, that's the way of nature. Constantly changing, evolving and challenging the artist.

It's why we keep coming back.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

EXPOSURE-Come To The Dark Side

Making proper exposures when creating photographs has always been some what of a frightening concept for many shooters. Let's face it, bad exposures make pictures like look crap. Too light and your eye is directed towards the mistake, not the content. Too dark and the image can be muddy.

What I see most in beginner shooters is many fail to realize how important exposure is as a tool for perfecting their vision. For example, fashion shooters will slightly overexpose skin tones to eliminate imperfections. Landscape artists will often underexpose to gain more saturation and keep the highlights in check.

Keeping the highlights in check and allowing the image to move towards a darker spectrum adds intrigue to the photograph.
For me, the single greatest tool of the digital revolution was the creation of the "blinkies." You know, that "flashing black" on your LED screen on back of the camera. That flashing black is alerting you that your highlights have been blown out. No data exists in those flashing areas. What a great tool. For those highlight areas where you need to secure detail, the technology tells you if you got it. If it's too hot dialing back on the exposure can retrieve those highlights. Brilliant technology for photographers.

Shooting into the sun usually produces silhouettes, like this scene in the Slate Islands on Lake Superior. The dark kayaker is best seen as he paddles away from shore and the background structures. The image darkened allows all principle aspects of the photograph to be immediately felt without lighting as the camera metering might determine.
One of the things I tell folks in my photo tours is when acquiring the "Correct Exposure" in the camera, you are now at the "starting point" in creativity. In other words, using light (or shadows) through creative exposure, making things darker or lighter, can enhance the mood in your image.

When looking at photographs, your eye either goes to the brightest or the sharpest spot in an image first. This is a useful tool when creating photographs. You can direct your audience to the subject you want them to see by being aware of these factors. For example, you are out photographing a herd of wild horses in a lovely green meadow. However, the sky is quite overcast. The light on the horses is beautiful and rich. But, when you include the sky, the sky gets blown out. When people look at that photograph, their eye goes to the sky first. We don't want them looking there! We want them to see that gorgeous light on the horses. You need to aim your camera down and eliminate as much of the sky as possible.

The graphic design of the wood in this scene in Dogpatch, Arkansas was powerful all by itself. But, the white goat was the hook for me. Drawing attention to it by underexposing the scene balanced the whimsical mood.
As a stylized habit, I always tend to go darker in my images. I adore the saturation. I like the audience going in deeper, seeking information and to feel the mood of the photograph. I use the highlights as a draw and direct the viewer to a location. The areas around the highlights bathe in the shadows. It's a creative method using exposure to steer attention where you want it.

The highlights of the railroad rails gleaming allowed me to darken the entire image and not lose out on the design the rails created in this image. The oily soil and red engine just popped, even in the darkness.
Those same images would still be nice without going dark. It's a personal choice. It's a creative choice.

Shooting directly towards the sun with the intent of clarifying the tools used in cutting the ice. Here, a dark exposure defined the ice cutting operation. The viewer gets an immediate perspective of the size of the saws and work involved.
 Zeroing out your meter in the camera is just the starting point.
Feel the light. What do you want to say with your image?