Bones of the Land-Reception Today!

Do you like art? Do you like science? Do you like when the two meet and at first it's kind of like an awkward middle school promenade where the boys and girls stand against opposite walls of the gym, but then the music builds and Art and Science come together in a magically beautiful breath-taking dance? Yeah, me too. I like it when that happens, too.

So, great. We'll see you this afternoon at 4 p.m. in the Dexter Library for the opening reception of Bones of the Land.

** PLEASE NOTE: There will not actually be any dancing. That was a metaphor. I'm sorry if it was misleading. There will probably be some cookies though. And you can stand by one of the walls and not talk to anyone if you want to. Totally your call. See you there.

Nature film? Yeah. I'm workin' on it.

Do you ever ask yourself: gee, what happened to that nature film Bob was working on? Probably not. But if you did, the answer would be this: "LAY OFF ME! I'm working on it, OKAY? God, some peoples kids..." Or something like that. As last year got busier and busier with paid work, this personal project got pushed to the back burner, but it certainly didn't disappear. As items on the back burner tend to do it's been percolating softly. Just plugging along in the background. Now that I've gone through a full cycle of seasons, I'm going back and getting more footage of things I missed the first time around. Filling in the blanks, as it were. More ice, more fish, maybe a couple birds if we're lucky, better light, better sound. Not to mention a bunch of new help from friend, photo aficionado, and wildlife biologist Travis D. Bartnick. Ha, I said it. Now you're really committed, Travis. It's public. That means all 6 regular readers of this blog now know that you agreed to help. Can't back out now, amigo. Just kidding...I only have 5 regular readers.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Stay warm.

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.


More Farms.

I made it out to a couple more farms at the end of last week and the beginning of this week to get the a few more images in the series I'm shooting for Northland College on local food producers (see a couple posts down for some of the earlier shoots in the series). Above are Steve and Landis at Hermit Creek Farm and below are two shots of their beautiful produce. Below that are the McCutchens at Angle Acres Farm and some of their heritage breed livestock. Thanks again to all the farmers who have taken time out of their busy schedules during a critical part of the growing season to help me get these photos. You folks are all amazing. Keep up the great work.


And now, back by popular demand, actual photography.


The staff at Sun Printing isn't just any old staff, so theyre not getting just any old staff photos. I love companies that have the stones to do something a little different. Here's a little peek at a couple of the portraits coming out of the photo-shoot today in beautiful Wausau, Wisconsin. These are for their new website, which let me tell you is going to be sweet (they showed me the top secret files, I can't say more or they'd have to kill me). Needless to say, it's going to be a little more light hearted than the previous version. It's been awesome to work with the folks in their creative department to plan and pull off this shoot. Lots of great ideas bouncing around the room. Watch for more in the next couple days.



 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.



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.


Busy week.

Wow. It has been a busy frickin' week. Awesome, but busy. I was all over the map, thematically and literally, and next week shows no signs of slowing down. Plus, summer is now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, in full swing. I can tell because my forearms and the tops of my feet are a deep, swarthy tan. My legs, however, are still the delicate lily white of a man who wears long pants to work every day. If I wear shorts right now it looks like I'm still sporting a snug pair of freshly bleached thermals. The contrast is astounding, maybe even appalling. In photographic terms, I'd estimate the variation to be somewhere in the range of 8 full stops. Yikes. I need to find a little time to get some daylight on those puppies. Now that I've over-shared, here is a random smattering of this weeks photographic highlights. Rock the weekend. You've earned it, people.



Airplane? Yes, please. And some aerial photo tips.

Yesterday afternoon, local pilot Bob Breunig took Julie Buckles and I up over Chequamegon Bay to get some photos of the sediment cloud coming from Fish Creek in the wake of last week's epic storms. The photos are going to be used to promote restoration projects along the Fish Creek basin to prevent future erosion of this kind. Great cause, and I always love getting up in a plane. Thanks for a great flight, Bob.

Several times in the last few years people have come to me out of the blue (pun not originally intended, but now I sort of like it) and asked if I want to shoot photos of something from an airplane. Does a platypus lay eggs? And just in case you don't know the answer to that question, it's "Hells Yeah!" I wish I could say that these aerial shoots are carefully planned, that I make them happen by working through my extensive network of contacts to arrange an airplane and pilot and all that, but that would be...well, pretty much flat out lying. To be honest, these chances just keep sort of falling in my lap. I love my job.

That said, I've had enough random cracks at it to figure out a few things that I do every time that seem to be good advice for airborne imagery. So here we go, the Hired Lens Photography Guide to Not Royally Failing at Aerial Photography:

1.) Ask if you can take the door off. Crazy, right? But some small planes and helicopters that don't have pressurized cabins can fly without a door on the side where you intend to be shooting. Nothing messes with a photo like shooting through a dirty, hazy or glared window. Best solution get the window out of the way. Obviously, this isn't possible on all planes and not all pilots want to do it. There are still some tricks to shooting through glass that can make for a better photo (yesterday, I was shooting through a window and you can see some reflections from the glass, but I was able to minimize them and get them into areas of the photo that don't matter, watch for a blog about how to do this in the next week or so). If you can take the door off, be prepared for the fact that this will make take-off and landing a little scarier as you watch the run way whizzing past next to you. Also be aware that communication in the air will be much harder due to the noise, even with the airplane headsets on. It's not a bad idea to come up with a few basic hand signals to alert the pilot when you want them to turn, when you want to make another pass over something, and when you're done shooting.

2.) Ask if the windows are polarized. Normally, I use a polarizing filter just about any time I'm shooting outside. But if the plane has polarized windows (which some do), and the answer to the above question is no, you'll have to take your filter off. Two polarized surfaces in combination create a trippy mess of colored lines and waves to rival any Pink Floyd laser-light show. Unless your project is a visual ode to Timothy Leary you're going to want to remove the polarizer.

3.) Pack an obscene amount of film. And by film, I mean memory cards. And by pack, I mean make sure that when you take your seat in the plane you can easily switch them without digging through a bag that will be strapped in a seat just out of arms reach behind you. Particularly in helicopters and especially when the door is off/open, everything in the aircraft needs to be secured to keep it from exiting through afore mentioned open door or bashing around in the cabin. This means that if you fill a card and your extras are out of reach, you're done shooting (insert sad trombone sound here). A card case in a shirt pocket is a good way to avoid this problem. I use one made by Pelican, the eyelet on top makes it pretty easy to teather to some other part of yourself to prevent unintentional ejection and its big enough to not be fumbly.

4.) Use a wide lens. Tips four and five sort of go hand in hand. The real key here is to limit the impact of camera vibration as much as possible. The longer the lens, the more even minute camera shake will appear in the images. A wide lens will be able to create sharper images even while moving fast and shaking quite a bit which small planes do.

5.) Choose what seems like a ridiculously high shutter speed, then go two stops faster. Besides focal length the other major factor for reducing the evidence of motion in the camera is shutter speed. Choose a shutter speed that should freeze the motion your experiencing and then over shoot it by a couple stops just to be safe. It's a real shame to get back on the ground and find out that your images were almost sharp. Almost...

6.) Eat lunch after the flight. A few years ago, I got to the airport and the first thing the pilot asked me was "how strong of a stomach do you think you have?" Great question. I've flown a lot and done a lot of stupid things on my own that have given me a pretty iron clad stomach, but I have to admit that on one particularly rough flight in Northern Minnesota I came way closer to booting in my camera bag than I ever expected. The flight patterns that make great aerial images easier are not always conventional and looking through the viewfinder the whole time doesn't help. If you do have a weak stomach consider one of two options: stay out of aerial photography all together or plan ahead. Pretty much any pilot would greatly prefer that you pull a plastic bag from your pocket instead of redecorating their instrument cluster.

And there you have it. Now get out there and try not to hurt anyone.

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.

Nature Film-Sneak Peek.

I've been in a big debate with myself about whether I'm ready to announce this or not, but at this point I'm too excited to keep it to myself. So here's a quick sneak peek at a scene from the new nature film centered around the Souix River currently in production at Hired Lens Photography. This is just a rough cut of some recent footage that will be part of one scene. But don't expect to see a final cut any time soon. If this project is a marathon, we're still not even to the first mile marker. There's hours of footage still to be shot and logged, narration to write and record, and, of course, the most tedious bit of all: the editing. Right now, I'm tentatively looking at Spring 2013 for an actual release of the full film, but that could (and probably will) get pushed back even farther. I'm just trying to be honest with myself, these projects take some serious time. Not to mention, I still need to get footage from three more seasons. I'm also looking for a few more sponsors. That's part of why I'm sharing a little preview right now. I have a couple partners/sponsors on this project already, but I'd love to get a couple more. Any one interested? Drop me a line.

Little Ones.

 Just a couple of my favorites from a photo shoot I had a couple days ago with little Abigail and her big brother "Batman." This is hands-down the happiest baby I have ever seen. She did nothing, but smile and laugh the whole time. Even when she started getting cold laying in the lawn, she just furrowed her brow a little bit. She never cried, never whined. I wish more of the adults I work with were like that. And look at those eyes. For anyone questioning that blue, these are not touched up. That's true, straight from the camera color.

And where would a little sister be without a big brother, always at the ready to defend her with a stick.

Oh yeah, and Marvin showed up too, just to take a quick crack at baby photos. Not too shabby for his first try. Way to go Marvin.

Sun Printing Stop-Motion.

The good people at Sun Printing in Wausau finished up the final editing on this stop-motion video we started working on together last month. This started as more than 3,000 still frames and got pieced together into this little film. I shot most of the stills and put them together into raw footage and then the creative department at Sun did the heavy lifting of trimming those clips into a great little story. I love it. Well done, team. Well done.

New Assistant.

As Hired Lens Photography has grown and expanded into new markets during the first part of 2012, we've found the need to bring on more staff. I'm proud to announce the addition of Tallulah Tarkington to our creative department. Though she brings limited experience to the job, she seems eager to learn. As a first step, I need her to stop trying to piddle on the camera bag, but once that's ironed out, I think we should be good to go. A special thanks to Animal Allies in Duluth, MN for helping us find our new helper.

Like photos...only they MOVE!


Here's a little sampling of the first couple film clips out of the new camera, the Canon 5D MkII. To be honest, I've been pretty hesitant to start working in video. It's a whole different animal. Different software, different files, different problems. And frankly, I still have a lot of things I want to try with still photography. But after playing with this feature on the new body with some really good lenses in front of it. I'm starting to see the potential to do some really cool things. No solid plans yet, just inklings of ideas. But watch for more of this stuff coming up soon.


I had a great day yesterday working on a photo project with the good people at Sun Printing in Wausau, Wisconsin. Completely separate from the main project, I grabbed these images of some of their letterpress equipment while I was there. I'll be honest, I only have a vague clue what half these things are or what they actually do, but they look really cool. I'm not going to kid myself and pretend that I'm going to start letterpressing anything, but in another life I think I could have been way into this stuff. It's got all kinds of great little parts and widgets and gears and stuff. It's probably also tedious, so I suspect that I'm way better off leaving it as a romantic, artistic notion than a real life dissappointment. Either way, it makes for some cool photos. Thanks to Craig Bieri for being the human lightstand for these images; you, sir, can hold an umbrella with the best of them, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Craig Bieri-artist, designer, human lightstand