The Four Most Influencing Photographers Since 2017

In this post, I want to identify and thank the following four photographers for influencing me in the last four years with their expertise, passion, and most of all, generosity. Sharing with me equipment, knowledge, secret locations, passion, expertise, time, and so much more.

2017: Bryan Hansel

I first met Bryan on a winter workshop along Lake Superior during February. I had been saving up to participate and my wife said I was crazy to pay money to photograph ice will being on ice and having my entire face frozen. When it comes to winter photography, a little crazy is good. Beyond the shared love for winter photography, the North Shore and Lake Superior, Bryan indirectly encouraged me through his use of a good foreground. No one does that better in Minnesota in my opinion. He really captures unique patterns and leading flows from foreground to background. I also think he is distinct from many other photographers for doing this. I am grateful he showed me to look closely and see beyond what is easily seen.

2018: Jay Rasmussen

If you have read my blog posts before, you may be familiar with Jay’s name as he has been my mentor since 2018. After reviewing my work in early 2018 and not impressed, he reviewed my work again six months later at his home. After critiquing 75 images of my images, he determined I had a chance at selling my work and he began to equip me using his experience and knowledge to start my journey. He became the catalyst ingredient to my passion and practicing and I’m so grateful to his generosity and support. Jay has taught me how to sell, market, and get my name out there and has been the largest influence in the photography journey.

2019: Chris O’Donnell

Chris would be surprised to make this list. But my “astro adventurer” friend, really produced a love for the night skies through inviting me to join him on all night excursions to capture the moon, Milky Way, and on one fortunate occasion, the Northern Lights. He was really patient with me as I learned how to focus on stars, set my iso and create long exposures. He even loaned me a lens which he eventually sold to me. Waterfalls may be my favorite subject to photograph but the night sky is the most fascinating and exhilarating subject. I am always in awe and Chris helped paved the way for me to appreciate it. He’s shown me secret spots and been generous the whole way.

2020: Ernesto Ruiz

I’d say Ernesto has no idea of his influence but the latest is the need to slow down. He has an Instagram hub and website called Slow Movement Photography that really focuses on slowing down and finding quality not quantity. Rather than doing the “run and gun” when it comes to locations, it’s rather about putting the camera down and seeing the scene. Just take it all in and let the entire place, the emotion or the essence of place determine the compositions. Being more of a run and gun type of photographer, who certainly has lots of friends who do this, too, I really want to practice this more. Ironically, the last picture I take at locations often is my best. I believe that is because I have spent the time needed to really understand what the scene is providing me. It’s a challenge for sure, but one I am trying to embrace as often as I can.

To each of you, my gratitude for your influence is matched by the excitement for the future. Thank you.

I don’t Suffer from Creative Block. But Practical Block, Yes.

Someone asked me if I suffer from creative block, like writer’s block, and how I overcome it. In photography, that might mean mental fatigue from seeing all these creative pictures from peers and competitors and being drained and feeling hopeless to produce something fresh. It might mean, there is no spark. No composition is singing to be captured during another great adventure. There are many ways to define creative block.

I don’t suffer from creative block. As someone who researches new places, imagines new compositions, always has plans and enjoys starting multiple projects every year, I just don’t lack in creativity and never have a slump by what most may assume to be a creative slump. At least not yet!

No, for me, I suffer from something else. I just call it practical block.

Sometimes, I refer to it as lazy block. I can know exactly where I want to go. The idea, composition and lighting are in mind, but wow, getting out bed is rough and maybe it will be cloudy, so I’ll stay home. For me practical block comes in when I think of the inconveniences of going out and doing photography:

  • My car doesn’t have enough gas to make the trip without stopping.
  • It’s raining, cloudy or too icy slick for my sedan to make it to the park.
  • I really don’t want to get up at 5:00am.
  • I work at 9:30am plus all the above factors so….nah. Let’s sleep more.
  • I forgot to prepare my clothing, camera gear and snacks the night before.
  • I didn’t get the coffee ready for quick start in the morning.
  • My wife doesn’t want me alarm to wake her earlier than she needs.

Does that make sense? So all these little factors come together and dissuade me from heading out. I’ve also noticed that if I prepare haphazardly, my chances for going out in the morning lower significantly and vice versa.

I will share my advice for getting out of creative block, however, as I can see myself being in that state one day and this advice should be remembered by us both, dear fellow creative.

When you feel creative block, the best thing to do is get back out in the field and practice creativity. For me as a photographer, that means getting out into the landscapes feeling the sun on my cheeks, noticing the perfectly shaped dew drops on colorful leaves, listening to the waves crash on the beach in different strengths, and more. The immersion of what once was passionate produces reminders and excitement back into the blood. Plus for me, being alone in nature has always been refreshing. That and the adventures I am on are all ways to get me excited again. Because I think it’s important when in a slump to get past the feelings in the moment and remember the highs of when we’re on location.

At least, that’s my opinion and method for me.

What’s been your experience for creative block and how you deal with it and try to overcome it?

September’s Arrival Means Autumn Planning

Today, I’m excited even as I’m still dealing with the “year-in-limbo” as it’s been harder to make concrete plans in 2020. I’m currently mapping out that sweet one month window where autumn colors blossom in the Midwest. It’s a very ambitious plan. I think this year I’m feeling bit more pressure to get out because in December, my wife and I will welcome our first child and life will change in many ways. Below are the ideas and trips I am hoping to make happen. I’ll write future blog posts on the big ones and as many as I can to share this lovely season, even though I admit I am holding onto summer by swimming at the cabin every weekend.

Badlands National Park & Spearfish Canyon

I’ve been coordinating going next weekend with a buddy for three nights which means little sleep, that probably is happening midday. We are night sky focused hoping for some Milky Way. Sleep is overrated when you’re headed out for photography in a place you haven’t visited since childhood and had no camera in your hands. Tentatively, the plan is the Badlands one day and two nights and Spearfish Canyon one night and two days. This trip may be the most exciting due to its fresh landscapes since I usually shoot in Minnesota. Don’t even get me started on the waterfalls in the area. Wow. Let’s go!

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Instead of heading to the North Shore with three friends on our third annual autumn trip, we are heading to a new location. The south shore of Lake Superior in Michigan. My wife and I did a babymoon trip there in July and while I didn’t really photograph on that occasion, I did scout for this autumn trip. We will be hightailing it east to Tahquamenon Falls and slowly make our way back west exploring Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Keenaw Peninsula and maybe the Porcupines before heading home. Our itinerary is 75% set with a boat tour and ten-mile hike included. It’s a fantastic tradition I hope continues for many more years to come.

Ely/Itasca

There is the North Shore frenzy in fall but what about other northern parts of Minnesota? I’ve photographed in both places before but it was secondary to a group event. This time, I want to do something different and have scouted some places to visit. Being 3-4 hours away, this could be as quick as an up and back or one night stay. I really want to go just to be a bit different than my photography circles.

Southeastern Minnesota

Along the Mississippi River on both Wisconsin and Minnesota are wonderful bluff views. There is a fantastic loop from Red Wing to Wabasha to Stockholm to Hager City and everything in between. It’d be great to have two nights to do this but I expect possibly two day trips, one on each side. It’d be wonderful to capture that transitional summer to fall fog that often appears.

Grand Portage & the Gunflint Trail

It’s possible I am heading north to commission a piece for a client. Since I’m up there, I will focus more on Grand Portage and going east on the Gunflint. I haven’t focused on the latter much at all and am intrigued by blue lakes surrounded by lots of color. I am not sure when this trip is happening but it might be a last minute “Oh, the leaves just changed! Let’s go!” thing.

Other Day Trips & Hopes

Jay Cooke State Park, Kinnickinnic State Park, Alexander Ramsay, Pipestone, and a seasonal series from William O’Brien State Park round out the dreams right now. Typing all of this out is very idealistic but also very promising and exciting! Stay tuned.

Without My Mentor, I’d Be…Well, Poorer!

When people ask me about photography, I usually tell them about the three major ingredients that brought me the start up success I’ve had to date:

  1. Passion
  2. Practice
  3. A mentor

I would say passion brought practice which led to more excitement but that circle hit a catalyst when a professional photographer decided to review my images for the second time and tell me that he would help me sell my work at art fairs. Even though he was adding direct competition to himself, he was willing to give me access to success.

Let me share with you what being a mentor is really like. It’s not a brief session that you pay to obtain.

What this photographer gave and continues to give is:

  • His connections, networks, the good people and professionals in his life.
  • Tips & tricks: which printers to use, what medium fails, how to price photography.
  • Honest critique: making my compositions and pictures better.
  • Advice: he spent years and dollars failing and making mistakes. He helped me avoid a lot of waste.
  • Invitations to his home.
  • Feedback on the industry.
  • Opportunities for me to share my work.
  • Encouragement and praise for excellence.
  • His equipment and the best deals for supplies.
  • Funding at times.

I am a richer professional through his assistance and commitment to my growth. While I am very new at marketing and selling, my knowledge has increased so much and I’ve saved. This is what I mean by richness, not actually calling myself a wealthy businessman.

My mentor has given so comprehensively and generously to me and shown me what a good mentor does for those under him. I hope to also mentor others as he did some day. In a future date, I hope to write a longer and more detailed post to really paint the picture.

Thank you, Jay.

 

Spring, You’re Looking Better Every Year

Seriously, though. Spring is more and more endearing to me every year. Yes, the Minnesotan winter takes a toll even on this self-proclaimed lover of ice. Obviously, there is the warm relief spring brings. But I’ve really seen my appreciation grow with greater attention to detail, slowing down and scouting for spring scenes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Blossoming Depth

Photography has really endeared spring to my heart. It’s taken that focus I apply to other photographic subjects or seasons applied to spring that’s enabled me to slow and see the beauty.

It was only last year that I started to see spring’s colors as a reflection of autumn’s colors. The diversity in glowing greens and yellows and other budding colors is very similar to the chorus of autumn color. This, too, has really captivated me this year in particular, especially since this time frame is limited before the solid summer greens take over.

I think another reason I am growing more fond of springtime is its emergence reminds me of a rising sun. I shoot in the morning hours much more than evening hours because I love that day and light are beginning, rather than ending. I think spring has a similar jolt of refreshment when I capture it. I’m seeing growth, new, freshness, color, light and more rather than a period of time’s closing door as darkness settles in the evening, for example.

How are you enjoying spring this 2020?

Photographing Trees in Winter

It’s harder than I thought.

This somewhat surprises me. They are just trees, silent and aloof, moving only when wind passes through. We see them every time we go outside. When I approach they don’t flee but pose tall and proud.

The challenge, I found, is photographing them in a way that transfers the mood I felt in their presence to the viewed photograph on screen or in print. How to transfer mood? This isn’t unique to trees as this is the essence of photography, inviting the viewer into the experience. However, the trees don’t usually have the same wow factor as a sunset, mountain, or waterfall, for example. For me, there is more of a challenge to evoke emotional reaction with an object we view as more mundane.

How to transfer the mood of trees?

Let’s briefly take a look at the following photos and see if they speak for themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASnow has recently fallen in the woods with dozens upon dozens of red pines. It blankets the ground, clothes the branches of all trees. But the quiet is striking. I pause my boot crunching steps and observe. Dark trunks contrast mightily against the white glare. The woods seem to contain a slight fog, but it’s the snowfall muting the landscape.

Fallen Tree
Fallen Giant

Nearby, a massive tree has taken over the ground, its limbs sprawling among the still standing community. In a grove with so many standing trees, a fallen giant is notable.

Winter Stream (2) (1 of 1)
Peaceful Winter

A stream curves through the woods, leading to a beautifully white-coated tree with dark, thin and young trunks. The power of the stream with the quiet woods is a powerfully peaceful spot.

Winter Pillars (2)
White Pillars

Tremendous contrast on these “white pillars” in a small, composed bunch. They withstand the winter conditions beautifully.

Winter Pillars
White Pillar Grove

A wider look at the grove of white trees, with a fallen comrade beneath them and some color splashing subtly behind.

Fallen (ig)
Fallen

In pine alley, one small oak kneels.

Through the trees

A bit more abstract, the white path weaves through the young growth.

These pictures are a result of four outings specifically photographing trees. So tell me, after viewing the pictures above, how did I do? Did you feel the mood of any place, or were they easy to scroll past?

Are People More Interested in What’s New, Rather Than What’s Better?

I recently read a business article with the title, Being Different Beats Being Better. It followed up with a quote:

“Everyone is interested in what’s new. Few people are interested in what’s better. Who cares about a marginally better product or service? That’s the problem with most businesses and even people. We compete with each other for the same market.”

In the photography world specifically, is this true? Here are some of my contemplative thoughts that are general. There are exceptions all the time that I realize.

On Social Media, I’d Say Absolutely.

My primary context is Instagram & Facebook. Posts that first captured a blizzard’s wrath, the fall of an iconic rock, the Superbowl in Minnesota, the Minnesota State Fair, the Eclipse, to name a few, have caught fire on social media and traditional media outlets. I would argue that the first picture from events are more popular than the better ones (subjective but go with me here) that follow later. People both want to be on the edge of news as well as see who’s there recording and capturing the news. I’d say people are more excited about the initial shot than follow-ups unless the latter are incredible.

Art Shows

Because I have now have an art season under my belt, with over a dozen shows to my name, I’ve seen lots of the competition. Without dragging my ego or meek sides of me into this discussion, I’ve wondered how the consumer feels about seven to ten photographers with similar images. Do they see with “new glasses” or “good, better, best glasses?” Just between these two aspects, which has a greater impact on them buying:  “Oh, I’ve never seen this (scene, location, angle, view) before” or “Her work is the best out of the lot.”

Booth Shot.jpg

I’m obviously leaving out emotional attachment which is maybe the greatest reason for buying a photograph for a wall. But I think this blog’s title is an important one that shapes marketing, releasing work, and even photographing in the field. Someone’s values may have them release shots as soon as possible because they know the market has an appetite and the shot will be picked up. Someone else may defy this to get a shot they imagine and will spend days or even years getting it right before releasing it. Does either approach bring in more sales than the other? Or drive the market’s acceptance deeper?

I’m still thinking through this for my own application and conclusions. How about you?

What are your reactions to this post’s title and other questions?

Do people care about finding top-notch work more than what’s the freshest thing?

 

 

 

When Iconic & Photogenic Locations Change

I knew the “Sea Stack”, formerly an arch in Tettegouche State Park, was popular among photographers and park visitors. But upon its collapse into Lake Superior during a storm over the weekend, I saw the impact its disappearance across the state.

All the Facebook photography groups I’m in were talking about it. My Instagram story feed was dominated by photographers sharing their shots of the stack in memory. Pioneer Press and KSTP media outlets picked up the story. Everyone fondly said:

Rest in Piece

Tettegouche

Credit to Mary Amerman

It made me remember the 24th Ave Bridge in Minneapolis and how it was destroyed before massive construction on highway 35W began. It supplied the premier, iconic view of the Minneapolis skyline.

Light Trails.jpg
View from 24th Ave Bridge

I still wonder if a location has sprung up as the newest city vantage, the newest iconic view in the Twin Cities. I can’t put a finger on it and it may take time.

In the meantime, if you asked me what iconic locations remained, the very next one would easily be the Split Rock Lighthouse.

Split Rock Lighthouse Lighting Ceremony

Credit to J. Briol Images.

It’s difficult for me to find motivation to photograph these locations due to the high volume of shots I see here and I’d rather explore other areas of the parks or city. But there is no doubt that Minnesotans have their favorites. Time erodes all things and we’ll sure see more iconic changes as well as new ones spring up.

 

Photography: “The Shot” or the Story

Do a majority of photographers place more value on finding that one shot than focusing a story?

Does “the perfect shot” tell enough of the story?

Is there room for more story telling in photography from photos that aren’t as popular?

One of the podcasts I listen to is LensWork and I find that Brooks Jensen complements a lot of thoughts I have on photography which in turn, creates posts for my blog. This is one such post.

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that I post mini-collections of locations that I photograph. I’ll post “non-sexy” photos with “sexy” photos to reveal an immersive experience to my viewers. All the shots are interesting to me so I don’t just post arbitrarily. For me, it’s about exposing beauty both apparent and subtle, loud and silent, detailed and grand. I personally have a greater connection to the environment when I slow down and take it all in. And my observations then are expressed to the public.

Here is a mini-collection of photos from bluff country in southern Minnesota.

Whether you’re a viewer or a photographer, do you tend to be attracted to or focus on finding that sexy or perfect shot? My example today could be the featured image of the silhouetted barn. Or do you take in more? The collection above really shares the beauty of the area in a way one image cannot. This collection isn’t tight enough, or focuses enough on one specific location like Whitewater State Park, to allow me to say, if I remove one photograph, the story would be incomplete. However, this is a future goal in mind when I do “series photography” again. A goal, is to intimately connect four-to-six images in a way where if I removed one, the viewer would miss out on the story.

Think of the most famous or most liked photographer you know or follow. Do you only know their popular images or can you recall any of the other images that may surround the popular images?

I’ve barely scratched the surface with this topic and will likely post again but let me leave with you with a comparison that is in my mind.

If you listened to the linked podcast called The Rest of the Story, you’ll hear Brooks mention that “we live in the age of the orgasm. That we are only interested in the dessert. Only the headline matters but not the rest of the story.”

What if photography can be like listening to a concept album? There will likely be “orgasmic” tracks or your favorite tracks that you repeat over and over. But there are also layers, interludes, outros, soft and heavy tracks, different emotional pieces as the album progresses through the playlist. If listening carefully, we began to see more than a single hit but a piece of an entire performance. What if the same can be true with photography? Yes, the brilliant sunrise may be the most powerful image. But I’d like to think that the other images make that sunrise more powerful and then put together, are greater still.

I’d appreciate your input as I process this idea and think about it more in my work.

The Secret Location(s)

Should I always share photographed locations with others?

I ask myself this question a lot. I think the answer is a ready no to always, though I often consider the reasons why.

Why share?

  1. Give others a chance to also experience beauty.
  2. To reveal excitement of a new location.
  3. Photographers should be expanding creativity, discovering new locations, and improving the art. Could become a niche.
  4. Because it’s a nice thing to do.

Why not share?

  1. More exposure, especially to a secluded spot, may lead to unacceptable disturbance of the land and nature if it grows in popularity.
  2. Simply because having a few secret places is nice to enjoy alone. I think there is a special quality about it, like a treasure I’ve personally uncovered and I don’t want intruded upon.
  3. To avoid competition in sales, fame, and fortune.

When I begin my podcast in 2019, this may be one of the initial topics I explore with fellow photographers in the area and pick their brain on what practices they hold and if they think it’s a good thing or not.

I think there is definitely a sense of pride and protectiveness that comes with secret spots and maybe some selfishness as well. But I can see others overwhelmingly willing to share to others because they want others to enjoy the same beauty they did.

What do you think?