The New Year.

Wow. I blinked for a second and it was 2013. Right before I blinked it was Thanksgiving 2012. I was eating turkey and little carrot tarts and sweet potatoe pie and then BAM! It was 2013. And it's not like it's January second or something. We're well into it. It's the eighteenth. Damn it, now it's the twenty-first. How does that keep happening? Well, a much belated Happy New Year to everyone. (P.S. Pretty glad that Mayan-Calendar-End-of-the-World deal panned out for the best. Congrats on that one, everybody. We handled that one really well...for the most part.)

Every year, that little patch of days after New Years and before the year gets into full swing is my time to reflect. It's introspective and centering and it puts my whole next year into perspective. I look back and figure out what went well, what didn't, what I intend to differently this time around. That sort of thing. Turns out 2012 was a kind of a big one. My business grew (maybe more than I was ready for, but that's another story); I expanded my offerings to include graphic design, logo development, and illustration; my truck passed the 200K milestone and kept rumbling along, I became an uncle. And, oh yeah, I got engaged (see above). That was kind of a big one. Snuck that in right at the end of the year. For any one that knows us: yes, it was about time. I know. **Sidenote: Not bad for a self-engagement portrait, right? Do you think I can shoot the whole wedding myself? I think I can do it. Sarah is dubious.

Already, 2013 is shaping up to be no slouch of a year either. For one thing, we bought a house. Okay, we're buying a house. Turns out that's sort of a long process, but we're into it now; accepted offers and inspections and insurance quotes and everything. All the crazy things that come with being a home owner. I'm going to be a home owner. I am alternately ecstatic and terrified. For the most part, I still feel like a little kid and I can't believe that people are letting me do all these things that real grown ups do. For example: I still can't believe that they let me drive a car. And I've been doing that for well over a decade. I have these sneaky little moments where I think I better not mention it to anyone because for some reason I'm getting away with it. I don;t want to ruin it. And then I remember that I'm almost 30. THIRTY. 3...0. And that sounds like the age that a real grown up would be. So I guess I must be a real grown up now. Weird. Who saw that coming? To those that know me: yes, it's about time. I know.

Well, I'm mostly rambling at this point and frankly I'm even losing the coordinates a little. I guess that's what happens when you get to be my age. My real point is this: 2012 was Awesome. 2013 will be Awesomer. I can't wait. Stay tuned for some great new stuff coming up in the next couple weeks. More design, more photos, more awesome.



Just a quick photo from last week before we head off to New Mexico (where, apparently, there is no water) for Thanksgiving with my brother, sister-in-law, and new nephew, Simon. This photo was taken in the little building around the artesian on the west side of Ashland, where clean potable water flows out of the ground twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Incredible. A few years back, when we lived in a little house with no running water, this is where our water came from. No need to boil or filter or anything. Just fill a jug and take it home. Shooting this photo reminded me that I am thankful for many things: for family and friends that love and care for me, for being a working photographer in a tough economy, and for living in a place where clean drinking water just flows out of the ground. Not everyone has that. Not by a long shot. So, to whom it may concern: thank you.


P.S. Lots of people have asked how I got this photo to turn out the way it did, so watch for a tutorial on how it was done (a.k.a. how to freeze motion with flash), sometime later this month. In the mean time, have a happy holiday, everyone.

Did you get my good side?

I've been doing a lot of portrait work in the last couple months and I've been noticing a common thread that runs through almost every session. This is certainly not new, but I've just been paying closer attention. And I've found that almost every shoot seems to contain a conversation that goes something like this:

Subject: Okay, make sure to get my good side.

Me: Okay, no problem...which one is your good side?


Subject: Okay, just don't get my scar in this.

Me: Yeah, of course, where exactly is your scar?


Subject: You can photo-shop this, right?

Me: Sure...but what would you like me to change?

And let me follow that up by saying that I haven't been out documenting a herd of Ug-o's. It's been normal, attractive, real people. To my eyes none of them have had anything to be embarrassed about. It's all an issue of confidence.

As a photographer, it's also interesting that everyone has entrusted to me, a relative stranger, their insecurity; the part of themselves about which they feel the most self conscious. They obviously feel the need to bring it up, as if I have clearly seen their hideous deformity, but am too polite to mention it. To them it's the elephant in the room. I take this as a compliment; that my subjects feel comfortable enough to divulge these nagging self doubts. But I am often left wondering why they feel this way in the first place. In almost all of these situations, I have not noticed what they perceive to be their biggest flaw until they point it out. And even then, it has never stood out to me as an issue. It's not as if anyone has come in and said "Okay, let's do these photos, just don't get this third hairy, ear growing out of the middle of my forehead."

Ultimately, I feel a little bad for everyone, knowing that they have this thing about themselves that is always hanging around in the background, undercutting their confidence. And the great irony is that, for the most part, it doesn't even register for the other people around them.

All cards on the table, I will admit to not being fond of having my own photo taken. I have a weird tendency to let my left eye lid sag, and I often adopt an awkward grin that makes me look slightly creepy and dim-witted. It's hard to describe, but let's just say that it's not all together flattering. It is my great and sincere hope that I only make this face for photos, because if I'm walking around like that all the time...I don't even want to think about it. I am also not impressed by images that in anyway capture the back of my head, where apparently the ratio of hair coverage to vacant scalp is rapidly becoming 1:1. I do not like this. So to my subjects, let me say this: I'm with you. You're not alone. I get it.

But I would like to propose that we start to change the way we think about ourselves, taking comfort in the fact that, for the most part, others don't even see the flaws that we each obsess over. What if we started to see ourselves as others do? What if our scars and wrinkles could be marks of a life well lived instead of blemishes to hide from the world? What if we flaunted what we were most proud of or rather than trying to conceal our insecurities? What if we loved ourselves?

Let's do that instead.



 Last Friday's post was an intriguing view into the actual interests of you, the devoted readership of the Hired Lens Blog. The post, containing a photo of me with a black eye and a bloody nose (both of which were produced in a little program called Photoshop, sorry to disappoint), was far and away the most visited page in the history of this site. I always thought the "most popular" title would fall to some other page, but no. It is clear that cute babies and striking portraits and photography tips (or just great life advice) are not what you come here to find. Not at all. I've discovered that what you, my beloved readers, truly want to see is photographic evidence that I have indeed received the savage beating so many of you apparently think I deserve. I also found it enlightening that no one (including my loving partner, Sarah) cried "photoshop!" but instead assumed that yes, of course Bob got mercilessly pummelled by someone. That just makes sense, when you think about it. Thanks, everybody. Your confidence is overwhelming.

While surprising, this new information is ultimately very useful in plotting the course of this blog into the foreseeable future. Give the people what they want, right? Therefore, when I'm in Wausau later this week for a photo shoot with Sun Printing, I'll tell the man pictured below (creative director/rugby aficionado Craig Bieri) that his massive and intricate tattoo makes him look like a little pansie. Should be interesting.

Wish me luck. Please keep reading, I'll post photos. I swear.




Do you ever have one of those weeks that feels like you've been punching yourself in the face for the last 5 days? Man, something about this week has felt epically long. And I can't even put my finger on the exact reason why. Whatever the cause, time has been creeping past. C R E E P I N G. It's not even that it's been particularly bad. Just the usual ups and downs of working for a living (which, P.S., I would really rather not do anymore; how exactly does one become a member of the 1%?). But today is Friday. Making this afternoon officially, as R&B sensation Robert Sylvester Kelly puts it, "the freakin' weekend." And I am, in fact and with due haste, 'bout to have me some fun. So, have a good two days of not-working, people. And enjoy these randomly selected photos, that in no special order show the story of nothing in particular. Weekend. Bam.

The Classic 50mm.

The 50mm prime lens (meaning a fixed focal length of 50mm rather than a zoom) has been an unparalleled photographic work horse since the invention of 35mm film. It's often referred to as a normal or standard lens and it used to be the regular kit lens included with most camera bodies. A 50mm offers a happy medium between wide-angle and telephoto and, usually, a fast aperture (typically 1.8 or 1.4) that gives you the option to shoot in low light or isolate the subject with a sliver of sharp focus. It's simplicity encourages good technique, it's price is approachable ($100 to $500 depending on features and brand), and its versatility makes it potentially the only lens you'll ever need.

Now, before I get too high and mighty about this let me say that I am terrible at taking my own advice. This post is supposed to be about simplifying, about using your equipment to its fullest rather than buying something else. It's about truly mastering the basics rather than just upgrading your gear. I, on the other hand, have often done the opposite.

Over the past decade, I've bought and sold more photographic equipment than most small camera shops. At one point I even sold one 50mm lens and then promptly bought a different one. Out of desperation and nagging insecurity, I have several times attempted to buy my way out of photographic slumps and creative dead ends. It almost never works. I tend to travel with more camera equipment than clothing. I have been known to take multiple cameras for a "relaxing" afternoon at the beach. The back seat of my car is like a drifting dune of photo equipment, ebbing and flowing from driver to passenger side and back again. This is partly because I'm an idiot, but also because I fear that with out lots of fancy equipment on hand at all times I will miss a great photo. This is almost never the case. When I look back through my archive, I find that most of my favorite images were taken with minimal (and often cheap) equipment at times and in places where a huge camera case would have only held me back.

That in mind, here is my resolution: I'm going back to shooting with a 50mm...most of the time. Now, I have to hedge my bet a little because I know I will have clients and shoots for whom the 50mm just won't be quite enough. I'm not going all Kung Fu Master and leaving my worldly possessions behind to simply walk the earth. But I am going to try to get back to basics as much as I can. And shooting with a simpler rig is a great way to do that.

I find that bare bones equipment forces you to be more intentional about composition. It forces you to zoom with your feet rather than your fingertips, to look carefully, to think about angles, and to pay attention. PAY ATTENTION. It creates challenges that you have to think through rather than skirt around. In short, it makes you work a little harder, but it makes you better. And it rewards you with images that you wouldn't get any other way.

 So here's to the classic 50mm, long may it reign.


Departures and Arrivals.

A couple weeks ago, we had a couple strange weeks and I'm finally getting caught up enough to write about it. As stories go, this one tends toward the long and convoluted end of the spectrum, including more than 1,300 miles in the car, two funerals, the birth of my first nephew Simon Gregory Gross, and a one-eyed dove named Blind Pete. If you want to know more, buy me a beer and I'll explain the whole thing. But for the purposes of this post the abridged version is fine.

Above is a photo of the orchids that were blooming in my Grandmother's house when she passed away. We were already in Michigan at Sarah's grandfather's funeral when she died. Doc had passed away the weekend before, Memorial Day Weekend, and we had gone to be with family there. So after the services in Alpena and several meals that included kielbasa (both smoked and boiled) we said our goodbyes, loaded up the car, and went straight to Southern Wisconsin. Do not pass home, do not collect clean laundry. At least we already had our dress clothes.

For me, the photo above says more about my Grandma than many of the photos of her. Maybe because Grandma always seemed more absorbed in the things she was caring for than herself. Constance spent a great deal of time shuffling her orchids around the house, moving them from light to shade, from the warm sun room on the back of her condo down to the cool dark of the basement. She cared for them and in turn they bloomed for her. They kept her busy. Before the orchids, it was finches. Sometimes more than a dozen at a time chirping and hopping around their cages. I remember a tiny nest once with two impossibly small eggs. Grandma joked about omelets.

Before the finches filled the empty nest, there were her children. Seven of them. My Grandfather passed away young. He was 51 years old. Grandma Constance raised the family on her own, going back to work after years as a stay at home mother. She did a variety of things in her career, but the only one I really know much about was her work as a chemist at Rayovac. I remember visiting her at the lab when I was little and thinking that it was her job to be a mad scientist. Probably not far off. All seven of her children went to college. All seven earned degrees. And all seven were in Madison two weeks ago for her funeral, each of them incredible people in their own right.

Grandma passed away on the first Friday in June, and the following Friday, my brother and his wife had their first child: Simon Gregory Gross. Simon is Constance's first great grandchild. Despite his early arrival (by almost 2 months), Simon and Grandma stilled missed each other by a few days. So it goes. Simon is small: 3 pounds 8 ounces at birth. But as it turns out, he's also a tough little guy and, despite some struggles, he's steadily improving. I can't even describe how excited I am to be an uncle, and to know that Simon and my sister-in-law are doing well. We're anxious to meet him.

Looking back at the last few weeks, I'm reminded of the words of my favorite philosopher, the Big Lebowski: "Ah, you know, strikes and gutters, ups and downs." I've spent a lot of time thinking about these recent arrivals and departures, the cycles of everything. The strikes and gutters, if you will. I've been thinking about what's actually important, instead of what seems important at the moment. About all sorts of things that I don't usually think about. And really, for all my thinking, I don't know that I've come up with anything new. No answers, per say. But I want there to be something bigger. Some take away message. So far, the lessons all sound like the motivational quotes in Hallmark cards: cherish your loved ones, rejoice in your health, live life to its fullest. Well of course. Didn't we know all those things already?

So, I guess the most important thing I learned is that maybe life is random, but at least the happy and the sad seem to average each other out. There's at least some comfort in that. I also learned this: one-eyed doves, lacking the binocular vision required for depth perception, have an unfortunate tendency of flying directly into hard, immovable objects. But that's really a different story all together. I think there's a metaphor in there somewhere...I'll keep thinking about it.

Being a Photographer.

Two weeks ago our wonderful incredible friends Megan and Robert had a beautful little baby girl and we got to meet her this past weekend. As you may have guessed I took a photo...or two. We also went to my brother's baby shower, he and his wife are due later this summer. It's pretty incredible to meet a little person like this, or think about my brothers son who we'll get to meet soon, and know that I will be taking pictures of these people for a very long time. May be that sounds like a silly way to think about it, but that's what it means for me to be a photographer. I can't really separate that part of me from the rest of my life, they're one in the same. It means I'll take their pictures the first time we meet. And it means I'll be there to see them toddling around in diapers, maybe when they're riding their first bike. I might take their senior portraits, get a photo of them at college graduation, maybe even shoot their weddings. I might take photos of each of their first children. Pretty crazy.

I love being a photographer, but I struggle with the business end of it. I don't like the invoices, and the e-mails, and the spreadsheets. Taxes don't necessarily come naturally to me. And really, I could take or leave some of the more mundane marketing photographs that I take. But all those other things pay the bills. They keep lenses in my bag and a camera on the table. And for that I'm grateful. They make it possible for me to be a photographer, and be there with a camera for moments like this. So, they're worth it.

More from Marvin.


I've really been getting into this new technique over the last week or so. Here are a few more images from Marvin, the 1949 Kodak Dualflex II. I've been honing this style a little, figuring out which configurations of equipment and settings seem to be working the best. I've even been making some custom pieces for the camera to block out unwanted light. I'm sure I look relatively insane trying to use this two camera contraption, but I don't care. The results are worth it.  There's still more tweaking to be done, but, for the most part, I think I have it figured out. Now I just need some people for a few photos; models if you will. But not the prima-donna "I simply won't work without a bowl of peeled grapes and bottle of san pellegrino" kind. I need the northwoodsy, down to earth kind. Potentially, the kind that come with their own massive beard and shotgun accessory package. I have a couple ideas. Also, anyone have a classic three piece suit? Send me an e-mail and we'll set up a time. ((**WARNING: If no one volunteers, I will be forced to continue posting random images of myself and other inanimate objects. And nobody wants that, people. No body.**))


It's 2012. And that means it's time for some changes. Especially here on Like shaving off the itchy, frazzled whiskers of an overgrown beard, we've trimmed down to a cleaner, more streamlined, and, I dare say, more handsome version of the same, good-old site. Wielding HTML like a fresh razor and Adobe Flash like warm shaving cream, we've managed to scrape away the superfluous chaff to get down to what really matters. But much like shaving off an unsettling large amount of facial hair, you're bound to miss a little here and there, so bear with us as we find and remove those last few scraggly wisps of the old design. And keep checking back to see what's new in 2012. In the mean time, keep it real out there, people.

FROST? Are you kidding me?

Yesterday morning was a particularly rough episode in my ongoing struggle to accept the end of summer. Frost. Really, Mother Nature? Was that entirely necessary. I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job, but that seemed a little over the top. Just because you can cause the untimely end of our garden doesn't mean you should. That's just mean. After we harvested everything that was even remotely ripe the other night in the freezing drizzle (thanks for that also) I took a few photos of this spicy thai pepper. Our neighbors Mike and Tonia, grew these in the garden this year. Pretty? Yes. Incredibly hot? Also, yes. About a week ago, Mike double-dog dared me to eat one, and of course if someone double-dog dares you to do something you pretty much have to. So I did. Let me just say that I didn't realize that the human tongue could sweat, but I'm pretty sure that's what was happening. I will now be using this little guy as a heat source.


This post could also be called Breaking Sh*t...and then learning how to fix it. Okay, let me start by saying that I had two shoots scheduled yesterday. The first one early in the morning got rained out, which is fortunate because while I was setting up for it (pre-cancellation), I totally smoked an important piece of equipment on the ground and busticated the power switch. Bummer. This is where being a little handy pays off. (P.S. the top photo is from the second shoot yesterday, that's Nori, keep reading to find out more about her.)

So, this thing is the battery pack for a portable mono block light that I use pretty much all the time for outdoor portraits. It's not super expensive, but it's expensive enough that I don't really want to buy another one. Not to mention, I couldn't buy another one in to time for the evening shoot; It's not exactly a regularly stocked item. Case in point, when I brought it in to Radio Shack I had to first explain what it was before they could help me out. Explanation complete, there was some chin scratching and some rifling through drawers before they hooked me up with the switch that I needed and I started playing mad scientist for a little while.

Now, the new switch wasn't exactly the same size, shape, or orientation as the old one. In fact nothing about it was the same except the voltage/amperage something rating, but I set about fanoogling it all into working order. After a few blue flashes, some quiet cussing, and a little bit of quality time with a screwdriver, I managed to install the new switch. Is it pretty? No. Does it work? Yes. Did I need to cancel my second shoot for the day? No. Mission: Successful. Now I just need to remember not to drop it again. Here are the extra/broken parts I had left after I put it back together: (I don't even know what the zip tie was doing in there before I took it apart. Hopefully nothing important, cause it's not doing it anymore. Weird. But not bad considering I had no idea what I was doing.) I'll say it, I'm proud of me.

Okay, so Nori. Nori is a totally rockin' fiddle player from Ashland, Wisconsin. She's just starting to hit the regional music scene and she was needing a few head-shots. She's also working on a new album which will also need some photos and judging from what she was playing during the shoot, it's going to be awesome. So, we put together a little shoot down by the lake that gave us several different settings in one little area. Combined with a perfect evening it worked out great. Here are a few more:

Ochre Ghost Gallery, Duluth.

The {Body} series is getting hauled out of storage and polished up this week to make another public appearance (Thanks to Noah at StageNorth for some behind the scenes help). This time the show is going to hang at Ochre Ghost Gallery in Duluth, Minnnesota. I'll be there getting it all up ont he walls Thursday evening this week and the show will be up pretty much through the end of June (the 29th, I think). Everyone should stop in for the opening reception on Saturday, June 18 from 7-10 p.m. I'll be there and I might even get cleaned up for the occassion. We'll see, no promises. I'm pretty excited to get it in front of some more new eyes and see what people think. Duluth, here we come.

Just a reminder the whole show is also available as a print magazine here:

Exhibit 1

{Body} Issue 1: Exhibit 1

A collection of black & white photographs by Bob Gross.

Find out more on MagCloud


Related Posts: {Body} Photoshoot




Friend and fly-fishing guru Dave Gellatly took me out for an afternoon of fishing on the upper section of the Brule River yesterday. Let me be clear here: I am not what you would call a fly-fisherman. But Dave is. As I fed several flies to the bushes, he kept patiently setting me up with new ones and pointing me towards where there might actually be a fish if I could manage to get the line out of the trees and onto the water. By the end of the day I think was executing something close to fly-fishing and managed to bring in a nice sized rainbow (not picture here). Kudos to Dave on being an excellent teacher. It was an absolutely amazing float, the last section to the landing completed by moonlight as bats swooped around the canoe feeding on the hatch. It was a good day to be in the North Woods. Hurray Summer.

The Old Man.

That, my friends and dedicated readers, is the old man. My dad. He's a wily old rascal. And today is his last day of work. Ever. After careers as a teacher, a tech guy, and eventually as a tech guy for teachers, he's on to the next great adventure: retirement. Totally. Awesome. I must admit, I'm more than a little jealous. In between some serious uninterrupted swathes of tinkering time and pursuing his life-long hobby of attempting to sail literally anything that floats, he and Mom already have several trips planned. That's the big thing I suppose: it's not just the old man, they're both retired now. My mom retired a few years ago...sort of. She got antsy though and went back to work again part time, but this time I think they're both going to take it a little more seriously, really buckle down and be retired. And they ought to, they've earned it. Congratulations Mom and Dad.




Spring. Again.


I was processing some photos this morning and it struck me when I came across this one from a couple days ago of blossoms on the apple tree in the yard that I took a similar set of images earlier this spring in Washington DC (see below). Sure different types of trees, but the point is that things were blossoming there in March and here they're just getting going. That was more than three months ago. Three months. That's a long time. It's crazy how far behind things are here. Anyway, just a quick thought this morning, before I take off for another round of wedding photos this afternoon and tomorrow. Watch for more.

Random photos, random thoughts.

To all my regular readers (by which I mean my mother, Hey Mom, how's it going?), my apologies for the long gaps between posts lately. I've been shooting a ton of new work, but I haven't really had any time to show anyone. And what's the fun in that. So here's a random smattering of new photos with little to no explanation of who, what, or where. Take them as they are, just some pretty, new blotches of color to peep at.

But it hasn't been all work this week. I also had a birthday. 28. Jesus, I'm not ready to be 28. That's just 730 days (now 725.5 days) shy of the dirty thirty. And as anyone who's anyone knows, 30 is old. I'm not ready to be old. I really need to pack a lot into these next two years. "Make 'em count," as they say, before I begin the long, slow downward creep towards the grave.

Okay, to any of the post-30 crowd that's currently winding up for an epic rant in the comments section-- fingers twitching above the keys with early mid-lifed rage-- I'm just kidding. Not about the "making it count" part, that still seems like sort of a good idea. But I am kidding about the "30 is the end youth" part. Frankly, I think a lot of the 30-something crowd are still rockin' it harder than I am at this point, but I have been thinking a lot about the things I want to check off the list in the next few years. I'm not going to reveal my plan here. I don't want to jinx it. But I am going to start actively pursuing some of my whacker ideas. Why not, right? In the event that any of them pan out, you, my dedicated readers, will be the first to know (I'll also give you call, Mom). Check back for updates from the field. In the mean time, enjoy the weekend.