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.

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.

 

From Hobby to Business: Photography Style

“If I were in your shoes, I’d go for it.”

These were the encouraging words from my photography mentor in late November of 2018. He had just wrapped up an hour’s worth of reviewing my top fifty or so images in his home. The question lingering in the air was “Are my photos professional and quality enough to start selling and entering art shows?” He isn’t the sort to pander or tickle my ears. I’ve received plenty of blunt assessments in the past to know he wouldn’t get my hopes up if he didn’t think I was ready.

After asking him multiple times if he was sure, diving into projections he best could offer through five years of experience, I left his home feeling both ecstatic and nervous.


I devoted 2018 to learning photography and shooting as much as I could. I haven’t yet totaled the state parks I visited but it’s around twenty. I definitely got around and photographed one to three times a week. In the back of my mind, I held onto the possibility of marketing and selling my work in early 2019, but I resisted doing anything besides having fun for a while. I didn’t want work and money to steal my joy for photography. But my mentor’s combined encouragement pushed me over the edge into the business side. It’s very early but I’ve found this new side of photography to be a challenge that is both exciting and one I can embrace. That’s also due to learning. I love gaining new skills and education.


My photography has a long way to go. But look how far it has come. This image below is what I was pleased with in December of 2017.

Compare that with this beauty:

And if you’ve been following my work on Facebook or Instagram then you’ve seen improvement.


Now it’s exciting news time:

  • Josh Driver Photography, LLC is my official new and first business name.
  • My best images can be found on my website: joshdriverphotography.com and are for sale there and directly through me.
  • I primarily focus on selling metal prints using ChromaLux and it’s the best aluminum anywhere.
  • I will be applying for a dozen summer and autumn shows in the Midwest in February.
  • My metal prints will be on display at Dunn Bros from February 4th to March 4th.
  • I’m starting a photography podcast.

Contact me if interested in any of my metal prints as it is currently cheaper to avoid the middle man online and order through me. All funds go back into the business and paying off student loans!

I appreciate you taking the time the read my updates. I never thought becoming a professional photographer would be a serious venture for me. Stay tuned!

 

Photography competitions

I didn’t devote 2018 to entering photography competitions by any means. However, I did enter five competitions locally in Minnesota, submitting between two and eight each photos each time. While I didn’t earn Grand Prize status, I did receive shared first place in three of the five competitions.

A win is a win!

Three Rivers Park District

I live a block away from Silverwood Park, one of many in the Three Rivers Park District, and started my 2018 photography journey here. I didn’t visit another location so frequently due to it’s proximity to me. The winning photograph actually was the first I had ever taken with my new full frame Sony A7ii. It’s a favorite bending tree during a soft sunset. It was voted as Top Landscape Photo. Check it out.

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Silverwood Park in Early Autumn

Nine Mile Creek Watershed District

What’s particularly rewarding about winning each of these three contests is that every location has an emotional and memorable place in my life. This second contest is held by the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District. The district ranges from Hopkins to Bloomington and it’s in the south part of the Twin Cities where I often took my dogs on walks, explored the creek nearby 35W and the Minnesota River, sighting owls and snakes, and where I biked the mud and dirt trails.

I was really surprised that out of the eight photos I submitted, the one below was chosen as the winner. And to be honest, I was a little uncertain and borderline embarrassed because I took that photo as I was getting started and certainly had better submissions. Perhaps that was the best January photo submitted! But I’ll take it, and the $10 gift card!

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Nine Mile Winter Sunrise

 

Blue Fin Bay

Finally, the third win was the sweetest. Not only because the winning prize was large, and the photo chosen is the second most popular among my family, friends, and fans, but also due to waiting a long time to find out the results. Staying at Blue Fin Bay Resorts has been a family tradition for three years and we’re going back for a multiple night stay next month. The resort is between Tofte and Lutsen along the North Shore. It’s been a treat to stay there because it’s a tradition to look forward to once the holidays are over.


I will also add that I am selling this photo as a metal print starting with the 8×10 size. Please message me or comment for prices and inquiries. I just sold a 16×20 to a friend and it’s been super pleasing to see it hang on the wall.


This photo is also special because it was the best sunset I’d ever seen. And I earned it. It was -20 degrees or so in Grand Marais and I was doing jumping jacks and all sorts of dances trying to stay warm. The sunset reflect all over the ice and was just a glorious moment in 2018.

Enjoy!

Icy Sunset

In case you were wondering about the other two competitions in which I entered, they were TruStone Financial’s annual calendar contest and National Camera Exchange’s travel contest.

Two Takes: A Pair of Photographers’ Constructive Critiques.

In a world of social media platforms, most concentrating on popularity and achieving likes, comments, and followers, receiving and offering healthy or constructive criticism is not common. Specifically, critiquing photography. But it is very useful and when given in the right way, it helps both the critiquer and the artist.

I am going to share critiques of four of my images below, separated into my own critique and then what my professional photographer friend Daniel shared about the same image afterwards.

The Dock

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Silence

My take: There aren’t many elements in this picture so it simplifies focus quickly. I could have used dehaze and revealed a bridge in the upper right corner as an echo to the dock. Perhaps I could have gone wider with the shot to see the dock even more lost or swallowed by the fog. I love the simple power of this image and it does invoke a silent atmosphere when I look at it.

Daniel’s take: The image works because it tells a story, has a compelling composition, good contrast, clear subject and interesting lighting with the fog. The edges are good. One thing I would be curious about is how to go with even a wider angle, to make the effect of the dock disappearing into the fog even more dramatic, and do the shot from the dock. I see a couple of minor black dots on the dock that are somewhat distracting, but can’t tell what they are. Overall, I love this image, and it is very compelling.

The Path

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Moody Path

My take: This was a color shot that I converted after seeing the contrast between the yellow leaves and dark tree trunks. I like how the path leads you into eerie trees and is framed by the white leaves. Perhaps I could darken the leaves and brighten the path to help the eye flow from foreground to background without being distracted too much by the right side of the photograph. I could crop in from the right side as well to aid that goal. There is also a light trap in middle left that I could darken. A friend of mine said it reminded him of Ansel Adams. True or not, I”ll take that compliment!

Daniel’s take: The image works again well because it has a clear subject and a very compelling story. The lighting is great as my eyes are drawn from the initial high contrast leaves back to the path and back and also onto the path. The edges are good although I might have cropped that little light area on the left so that the left edge is purely dark and the eyes really wonder to that mysterious end of the path. I think an issue might be one of balance. The leaves to the right, while initially drawing us into the picture, might be too much/high contrast. Another detail that does bother me a little bit is that some of the brighter leaves go into the path and left side of the image, although in a way, they are also leading us towards the path. 

The Cascade

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Gooseberry Falls

My take: I love the giant flows in the three main sections of the waterflow as well as the small flow in the lower right, as that is more intimate with great contrast with the large boulder. I wish that very lower right rock wasn’t there and I could have stood higher to shoot downwards. The left side of the waterfall is cut off a bit. Perhaps I could have added more contrast in the upper left and popped the small trickle of water. I do enjoy the middle where you can see details of the rocks quite well.

Daniel’s take: The image works because it has a clear subject. The story is also clear. The lighting seems also fine, although it seems we are losing some of the shadow detail in the bottom right dominant rock (perhaps this bigger rock in the waterfall could be dodged some more while retaining some of the contrast within the rock). I think the issues are the edges of this image: with falls cut off at top, and also I don’t feel drawn into the image. I would also like to see more of the image to the left, and maybe we don’t need to see the big rock to the right (bottom right edge of image). I think that rock with the little water is really interesting, maybe going really close to that with a wide angle lens could draw the viewer more into the image?

The Tree

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The Tree and the Cloud

My take:  I love a good isolated tree. I waited for a cloud to pass over it (albeit small) and clicked. The tree itself is not terribly interesting. I could have added more contrast in the grasses to pop the yellow and increase shadows. I like the scale from dark to bright though maybe I would dark the foreground more to get the eye to go to the cloud even quicker.

Daniel’s take: This image works again due to a clear subject and a story. The lighting also seems good. The composition is very clean and this is a successful image. Two things distract me: the shape of the tree which is very rectangular and also the clouds around the tree (although one could argue that this little cloud broke away from the other clouds as part of the story). One minor detail is the right edge with the top right little cloud being cut off which causes a minor imbalance.

Look for critiquing opportunities.

I absoluely believe when done gently and honestly, especially with practiced experience, critiquing is a benefit to both parties involved in the process.  Find a trusted peer or ask a professional photographer to critique your photos. You have my welcome permission to critique any photo you see of mine on any social media platform where you may encounter my work.

My goal is to grow with you.

Finally, a large thank you to Daniel Siggs for his kind and thorough critique of my images. Please check out his website!

 

Autumn Bursts in St. Croix State Park

While I made plans to capture autumn colors this year, I made note of fire towers in state parks and St Croix State Park made the list. It’s about two hours from the Twin Cities, including a slow drive on a dirt road. At the time, the roads were bursting with every fall color.

Autumn Roads in St. Croix

I arrived at the fire tower at 6:45 a.m. after leaving the house two hours earlier.

I climbed slowly.

After climbing a more rickety tower in Grand Portage, Minnesota, this one’s stability helped with my fear of heights. I ended up staying on the top platform for an hour watching and waiting for color. I’ll tell you three tips that really helped me become absolutely (well, mostly) comfortable with fire towers:

  1. Go slowly, and make several stops. Take in the all scenes, bend your knees, and pause, allowing your mind to grow comfortable with the heights.
  2. Stay awhile. This, too, seems counter intuitive, but the more time passes, the more I relaxed. I found my mind went overboard with every creak in the boards, every wind gust, and several movie scenes. I quickly realized how much of my physical responses were from my irrational mind. The more I relaxed and took in deep breaths, the more I felt fine. After an hour at top, I nearly felt as  secure as being on the solid ground.
  3. Climb several towers within a short time of each other. Climbing one in Grand Portage two weeks prior really helped me with the one in St. Croix.

While the clouds didn’t allow much of a sunrise, the trees beneath me were nicely represented in the low, even light.

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Fire tower view

After climbing down, I started driving back and in the immediate 200 feet or so, stopped my car, got out, and took pictures five times of the wrapping color around the road. Just stunning. I recommend St. Croix State Park for the scenic drives on these dirt roads if nothing else. I even got to see my first wild porcupine cross the road.

Porcupine Crossing

When I entered the park at 6:00am, I couldn’t see any colors but upon exiting, it was red everywhere and colors layered and filled in everywhere. Below is an example of the color burst.

Color burst

I was so enamored with color, I returned with my wife less than twenty-fours later. Shockingly, in that brief time, much color was lost and now lay on the roads and paths. I couldn’t believe how it changed so dramatically after one night. There remained enough color to enjoy the park, but it was a different experience for me and a bit of a letdown since I brought Sarah to enjoy it.

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But we did enjoy all of it.