On Discomfort

On Discomfort

Will I ever get over the awkwardness of asking people to take portraits, or for their help in starting a documentary project?

Probably not, which is why I try to do it often.

It’s kind of weird, to go up to someone, or send someone a note, and ask to make their portrait. How well do they know you? How well do they know your work? Do they know you at all?

I like to think it’s flattering to ask someone to take their portrait. It kind of says that I think the person is interesting enough to inquire. It also says that I want to spend a bit of time with the person – to get to know them better.

But I’m also a guy, and sometimes it feels like the bad guy stereotypes come through when I ask someone to join me in making photos.

For documentaries, it’s really weird, because here’s someone who does a cool thing but doesn’t know who I am, or what I’ve done. That was the case with my Albion Anagama documentary. I learned after the project was done that Ken and Anne had no idea what to expect. Thankfully, they were pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

But what if they weren’t?

That’s the risk of making something: you don’t know what the participant will think. You only hope that they’ll be pleased enough to continue a relationship and work with you again.

Getting over the hump of asking in the first place? I have no idea how to solve it. I’m going to keep trying, though, no matter how much discomfort it causes me.

My Two Wedding Photography Rules

Jolly Pumpkin - Ann Arbor, Michigan

This weekend I’m shooting my once-per-year wedding gig.

I have two rules for photographing someone’s wedding:

  1. I have to know you.
  2. I have to like you.

Those stipulations help me to be super picky about the gigs I agree to take.

I don’t need the income. I don’t need the images for my portfolio. I see it as a way to use my skills for someone I know and like.

It’s also fun as hell.

While There’s Still Time

Go make something beautiful.

There’s so much ugliness on display in the world lately.

Our oceans are dying. Our neighbors and protectors are dying. Political compromise is dying. Common sense seems to be dying.

It’s enough to make you think about building that bunker out in the backyard and waiting the whole thing out.

Artists, musicians, religious leaders, and poets will help us try to make sense of it all, over time. In the meantime, there are photographers on the front lines of these terrible events, witnessing first-hand the terrible things that humans do to each other.

As they’re doing that, try to get out and capture something beautiful, while there’s still time. While it’s still there.

Just Another Asshole

Just Another Asshole

A year or two ago, I thought about doing a book called “So You Bought a Fancy Camera.” It would be for friends who had just bought a DSLR or mirrorless camera and needed to get started with the basics.

Instead, I spent my time making another book (and another after that), covering something other than how-to material, and I feel like that was time better spent.

Who needs another asshole talking about focal length?

Cameras Are Like Pets

Ann Arbor, Michigan

For a long time, I used disposable cameras and point and shoots to do my photography. It wasn’t quite a hobby yet, but I used those two tools to do a lot of shooting – particularly on cross-country road trips.

But then something flipped, and I wanted to take photography seriously. I had the drive, and the intent, so I saved up money and bought my first DSLR in 2010. I saw it as an investment in a new hobby.

I get the sense that many people buying entry-level DSLRs are buying the “fancy” camera to take “better” photos.

Don’t buy a fancy camera unless you have the patience and time to do it right.

For most people, a smartphone camera is all they ever need. Point and shoots are great, and affordable.

Buying a DSLR or mirrorless camera is like buying a pet: it needs feeding, care, to be taken for a walk, etc.

On Black and White


On Monochrome

Black and white rarely appeals to me.

But if I’m going to make this daily blogging stuff a thing, why not try another experiment? Something I rarely do?

We’re going all monochrome.

Call it another challenge. Color photography appeals to me. I respect black and white photography, especially using the magic of film. But I see the world in color, literally and artistically.

So let’s switch it up, just for fun. Nothing but monochrome.

Whitefish Point, Michigan

It’s one of those rare places on Earth: the point of something, as far in as you can go, surrounded by water and stories and wreckage.

Whitefish Point, in the upper peninsula of Michigan, is just such a place. The home of shipwrecks (and a museum) on ol’ Lake Superior, it’s only bested by Copper Harbor to the west.

Whitefish Point: Little Details

Imagine a beautiful white sandy beach bordering a lake far too cold for swimming, with driftwood everywhere – like the bleached bones of some mammoth sea creature. From the beach, you can look north and see Canada, just gentle bumps on the horizon, with Superior everywhere else.

Whitefish Point: Wrinkles in Time

Whitefish Point is one of those places that make Michigan Michigan.

A few months back, I landed on a monograph by Edward Weston, one of the greats. I appreciated his landscape work (even more so than Ansel Adams), and especially his detail work of the seascape in California. The textures, the tones, the detail. He had a knack for capturing objects like they were organic, or even human.

Whitefish Point: Wave Crest

So I gave that mindset a try with the driftwood at Whitefish Point, along with a few photos of the scenery.

I didn’t try to match Weston’s color so much as his attention to detail: the little grooves and bends of the driftwood, the feel of the sand, the man-made desolation.

Whitefish Point: Smoothed

Using the Fuji X-E1’s black and white film emulation mode, specifically with the red filter, I was looking to grab the sky in a dramatic way, too. It was a warm day that day, but there was a breeze, and it felt like some storm could ruin everyone’s beach day at any moment, sweeping south from Superior.

But no storm came. Just gulls and the wind from the lake.

Whitefish Point: Water V