Ah yes, the difference a year makes.  A well worn cliché, to be sure, but, as with all cliché’s, it remains for a reason.  In my case, the difference a year made has been significant.  As many of you know, photography is a passion of mine that went from lifelong hobby to something a bit more in the fall of 2010.  While I harbored no intentions—or illusions—of striking it rich in the super saturated photography market, I definitely had an agenda to bring my photography to the next level, so to speak.  In other words, I made a conscious effort not to just take better pictures, but to be “better than the photographer I was the day before”, to quote an often used phrase.  I think that, for the most part, I have succeeded in my endeavor to this point, but, as they say (just who are ‘they’ by the way???), more work is to be done. 

The previous year was not without some struggle, however.  Near the end of 2011, as things began to really get rolling with the photography gig, I was unexpectedly and quite painfully sidelined with a back injury that, for whatever reason, took about a year to surface following a rather serious car accident.  I chalk it up to ‘one of the great mysteries of life’, regardless, my photography career—and walking normally, for that matter—took an immediate back seat to my physical recovery.



Slowly, and surely, the months passed and the recovery came and before I knew it I could hold a camera for more than five minutes without agonizing pain and discomfort getting in the way.  Finally!  Not long after, the Super Storm of March 2012 paid a visit and while removing tree limbs from my car so as to get inside of it and get warm after three days without power I…broke my damn wrist. 

Another great mystery of life, perhaps, or just some guy in the middle of nowhere trying to get warm. Regardless, I knew that I had six weeks of wearing a cast and about a month of rehab to look forward to once it came off ahead of me.  Undaunted, I quickly learned how to adjust to the cast and in no time at all I found myself taking pictures again.  Pure joy, that.  Even sweeter, as luck would have it, one crisp April night I found myself in the right place at the right time for one of the most intense Aurora Borealis displays of the year.  I must have been a sight to see, middle of the night, jumping up and down with glee like a small child with a new toy, trying not to bang my still healing wrist on anything important, such as, oh, the camera and tripod, for example.  As they say…anything for the shot.


Soon enough, the rehab was finished and it was time to get down to business, in this case, that business involved making some decisions as to which direction I wanted to go in terms of photographic genres.  After some long and careful thought it was clear to me that my true love was in landscape photography.  It doesn’t hurt that I live in one of the most beautiful locations in the entire country, if not the world, and honing the fine art of landscapes, I felt, could not happen in a better place.  Besides, thanks to the Creative Housing Market of 2007, I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.



Zooming in…

Having made the decision to work on landscape photography—for the most part—I felt a sense of relief as I no longer felt that I was pressuring myself to learn every genre. On the other hand, it wasn’t long after this decision that I noticed something that troubled me. I realized that instead of capturing images I was going to locations and filling memory cards. In other words, instead of concentrating on acquiring an image worthy of a portfolio I was under the mistaken impression that more is better.

Now, for some photographers, this may be the case, but, regrettably, I am not that photographer and no matter how much I would like every single image to be a show stopping keeper, the fact was that the more images I acquired, the less I liked any of them. Soon after this realization, discouragement set in, and I found myself going to new locations not because I wanted to, but because I felt that I had to. And this, in my opinion, is not the best mindset when it comes to photography, or, for that matter, anything else. We’ve all heard it said many times, “Quality, not quantity”. But we don’t always listen to that sage advice.




Discouragement quickly led to a sense of loss, for lack of a better word. I thought that I had at least a little bit of talent but soon began to doubt that very much. I suppose, were I a professional athlete or race car driver, what I was feeling might be described as being in a slump. I wasn’t at the point of giving up, but I was at the point of thinking that maybe I was better off doing this as a hobby.

I couldn’t accept that—my conscience wouldn’t allow it, and my passion, though tempered, was not gone altogether. In response to this uncertainty, I did what many people do in similar situations and sought outside consultation. I signed up for an hour consultation with Patrick DiFruscia, an amazing landscape photographer who I feel is one of the best in the world. The consultation went great and the honesty and knowledge expressed by Patrick was refreshing to me, a breath of fresh air, and exactly what I needed to hear. I felt rejuvenated and committed to my original goal—being better than I was the day before.


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I began to carefully plan not only the location of the next session, but what it was, exactly, that I wanted to obtain from that session. I knew what I didn’t want—a thousand shots of ‘blah’, I knew what I did want—the possibility of a shot of a lifetime. I was more focused and found myself taking less photographs and, to my surprise, ending up with more keepers. Not necessarily the once in a lifetime images, or even more for the portfolio, but images that filled me with excitement, renewed my passion for the craft, and encouraged me to leave comfort zones that until recently had been cast in stone.

Sometimes, less really is more.

Gear Up

In terms of gear, 2012 brought with it a substantial change. I traded in the venerable and much loved Canon 5D Mark II for the brand new and unproven Nikon D800. The truth is, the very second the Nikon was announced, my ears perked up and I kept a very close eye on just what in the Sam Hill Nikon was up to with this one. With a stated resolution and image quality approaching that of medium format cameras, this was some serious kit. On paper. It all looks good on paper…but how does it look in reality? Slowly, the reports began to trickle out as well as some rather stunning images. Yes, the 36+ megapixel sensor made by Sony was for real and, with the right glass, image quality was astonishing, to say the least. The dynamic range was reported to be a full three stops wider than the 5D Mark II.

A bold claim indeed.

Now, as far as a Canon vs. Nikon ‘war’, you’ll find none of that here—I’ve shot with Olympus, Sony, Kodak, Canon, and Nikon, to name a few, and in all cases have achieved excellent results. When you hear it said or read that “It’s not the camera”, you can believe it. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t show up to the big wedding session with only a cell phone camera and some KooL-A-Gram filters, no matter who I was. Sometimes, the equipment does matter. With that being said, a great camera will not make you a great photographer; a bad camera will not make you a bad photographer.



But all was not unicorns and sunshine for Nikon as some very troubling reports began to make their way to the masses soon after units began to ship. Left side focus points that were all but useless, and, even more troubling, tiny white dots all over the image when long exposures were acquired. Given that the Nikon D800 and D800E were new beasts, I did not find these reports surprising. In the case of the bad focus point (not all cameras suffered from this), unfortunately, the camera had to be sent back to Nikon for focus point recalibration, in the other case the user was all but forced to enable the Long Exposure Noise Reduction function to deal with spots on the image for long exposures, effectively doubling the time required to acquire a long exposure image, and, possibly, preventing one from a second try at that perfect lighting.




And there was something else…oh yeah—I couldn’t afford it. But that all changed in October when I walked into the local Camera Shop and was offered a tremendous trade in offer for my 5D Mark II, lenses, and gear. I made the switch and never looked back. I won’t go into the details as I am trying very hard to keep this first—and longest—blog entry of the year of reasonable word count, but suffice it to say that I was pleasantly surprised and extremely happy with my decision. Does the D800 make me a better photographer? Nope, not a bit—but the expanded dynamic range, low light, and high ISO performance improvements give me tools that I did not have before and welcome whole heartedly. At the end of the day it was a personal choice and it doesn’t change my opinion that the Canon 5D Mark II is one of the greatest cameras ever brought to market in the history of photography.




More Comfort in the Comfort Zones

One of the most comfortable places for me to be is in front of my editing station. Ironically, I don’t like editing photographs as much as I like taking them, but that is probably a common thing. Nevertheless, if you are shooting in RAW mode exclusively, well, you’re most likely going to be editing at some point—the camera is going to give you the full, 14-bit uncompressed sensor image and you’ll get none of the in camera brightness\contrast\sharpness\saturation\color\etc. adjustments that are done automatically if shooting in JPEG mode. So…plan on a bit of sharpening, maybe an adjustment to the white balance, perhaps some contrast and saturation changes if you shoot in RAW mode.


I try my best to get everything ‘right’ in camera, but it is often the case that a touchup here and there is not only a necessity, but a requirement to complete the vision. From color calibrated monitors to carefully controlled lighting conditions, the editing station is critical to the digital image development workflow and the more comfortable you are here, the better your images will be. At least I keep telling myself that.



Lately, I find myself working on long exposure images using high stop neutral density filters, and I am taking small steps while tackling the beginning stages of learning the luminosity blending technique.   In addition,  I now have, for the first time, a piece of art hanging on a wall, for sale.  Thanks to the Grand Traverse Art Bomb Show, running January through March and displayed on the walls of the Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City, Michigan.  The piece is one of my favorite photographs, the southernmost beacon at Portage Point in Onekama, Michigan.  If you find yourself in or near the Traverse City area, stop on by the brewery and have a look at all of the fantastic art on display.  In the coming year I will be working hard to have my work on display in more local settings. 




Wrapping Up

To wrap this all up, neat and tidy, it goes without saying that I am very grateful and extremely appreciative of the support I have received this past couple of years from friends, family, and, last but not least, my wonderful clients. That you find enjoyment in the images I share means more to me than I can say and I look forward to sharing more with all of you as the year unfolds.


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Thank you.