A New Boat.

"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
From The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

A few photos from the launching of new boat by JW Swan Boatworks. Josh and I went down to one of the growing gaps in the ice to give this craft its first taste of the lake. This 14 ft. row boat, built for a customer in Chicago, is based on a classic design for small working boats in Norway. To conserve weight the hull is planked with special mahogany marine plywood rather than solid wood, but sealed with a traditional and non-toxic combination of pine tar and linseed oil, also affectionately known as "boat sauce." Pretty cool to see it slip into the water for the first time. This got me excited for boating season. Now all I need is a boat...


This man makes bad choices. And not just about ties.


This is Phil Baker. Phil makes bad choices, and not just about which tie to wear. Phil was one of the attendees at Governor Walkers dinner at the Steak Pit in Washburn, Wisconsin on Saturday, March 12. The invitation only event, as I understand it, brought Phil and about 100 other significant local GOP financial backers together to hear the Governor and Sean Duffy speak. This is how I know Phil makes bad decisions. His dollars (and presumably his vote) are supporting an agenda that will destroy Wisconsin's future. He's undercutting education, local government, health care and a myriad of other efforts Wisconsinites have worked hard to put in place. So if you see Phil, or any of the other folks shown below, calmly and politely tell them you don't like what they're doing. Tell them to support the people of Wisconsin, not the corporate agenda. Tell them education is the key to a prosperous future for the people of Wisconsin, and that includes them. Don't swear, don't argue, don't threaten. Just tell them you don't like what they're doing and walk away.

Rick Fraatz

Diane Morrison

Unknown (If you know who this is, let me know)



It's finally starting to feel like a new year. I know, I know, it's officially been 2011 for more than two months now, but it's finally starting to feel like it, at least for me. As the days get longer and the sun starts shining brighter, I'm actually starting to believe that the promise of spring really is just around the corner; it seemed so unlikely. It's been a hard winter here. We're ready for spring, for something new and green and alive.

I'm also ready for a new direction in my work, a new kind of focus. Last year was incredible in a lot of ways. I was busy all the time. I travelled all over the country for photos. I shot jobs on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts, not to mention the beautiful shores of Lake Superior. I don't even know how many thousand miles I covered to do it, but, simply put, it was a lot. Maybe too much. I want this year to be different.

This year I want to work more in this community. And not because I don't want to travel. I love traveling. I want to do more work here because this is the community where I live. I want to see this area be successful. I'll admit that's partly for selfish reasons, but I'm not sure that's bad. I want the businesses here to flourish, I want the people here to have good jobs and make a decent living. I want this to be a place that rises up from an economic downturn to find a new, more stable economy based on a local market, not distant Wall Street. And I see ways that I can help to make that happen.

I'm not saying that a few good pictures and some graphic design will make this area into a bustling metropolis. In fact, even if they could, I'd rather they didn't. But I am saying that I want to focus more of my energy here. I want my work to have an impact on the people and businesses I see everyday, not just cities and people somewhere else. I'm not sure what that all means yet, but I'm figuring it out. And for starters it means meeting more people here. If you own a business in this area, send me an e-mail, call me, meet me for coffee. Let's talk about what we can do together. It couldn't hurt.


A Good Day at Work.

As a photographer, most days are pretty good. I routinely get to go interesting places, meet cool people, and of course get some great images along the way. But let's be honest, in any job, some days are better than others. For example Saturday was well above average. For me anyday that you get to hang out the open door of a moving helicopter to take photos is a good day at work. Now, if that helicopter also happens to be flying over autumn wildfires in Yosemite National Park, well that's pretty dang hard to beat. Here's a couple of my favorites, stay tuned for more:

Inside for a Change.


After lots of shooting out in the cold lately, it was nice to shoot some indoor portraits late last week. I haven't worked with any children's photography in a couple months and Finn, the model for this particular shoot, reminded me of two very important things: (1) toddlers are way faster than you think and not predisposed to staying exactly where you put them and (2) kids can look good in a photo regardless of what they're doing. Smiling is cute. Crying is cute. Drooling is fantastically cute. Kids can't lose. Pretty much anything is free game. This is not true in all types of photography, like bridal photography for example. While a sobbing bride may be heartwarming in some specific contexts, drooling is almost always a no go.

Anyway, this was my second shoot with Finn and both times we've gotten some really good stuff. Here are a few more of my favotires from the most recent shoot:





Yep. It's definitley winter. Today is the first day in about a week that the mercury climbed out of the single digits. The snow has been beautiful and I've still been getting out to make a few photos. This kind of cold makes everything a little harder, but I think that's what I love about winter. I like the challenge. Even little accmplishments in the winter seem to have more weight. Everything feels a little more like an adventure (see above). Here are a few of my recent wintery favorites:


Okay, try not to look cold. Ready...Go.

Had my last Senior Portait session of 2009 this past weekend. Stephanie and her mother, Penny, drove up from Drummond for a shoot on Sunday afternoon. It was a clear, beautiful day here in Ashalnd. It was also about 8 degrees. That, if you're not aware, is cold. Real winter weather makes photo shoots a lot harder. Things freeze up, parts break in the cold, fingers get too cold to push the shutter button. Winter shoots are hard on the camera, they're hard on the lights, they run batteries dead in no time flat, but, most of all, winter shoots are hard on the subject. Stephanie was a trooper. 

Now, keep in mind, I was wearing long underwear and about 42 layers of polyethelene and fleece for this shoot. Stephanie on the other hand was wearing a long sleeve shirt and jeans. Afterall who wants to look like they're on an arctic expedition in their yearbook photo (Okay, okay. I would have loved to look like I was on an arctic expedition in my yearbook, but I've always been a little ...abnormal, shall we say.). She would sit in her car while we got a shot set up and then hustle out, peel off her winter coat, and try to look warm for a few minutes while I snapped away. Then back to the car to warm up for a little bit. Not a perfect system, but we got some pretty cool photos. After about an hour and half outside, we went inside for a couple studio portraits. Here are a few of my favorites:


Smote by the Technology Gods.

Apparently, I have done something to anger the technology Gods. The nature of my indiscretion is unclear. Perhaps my preference for hand written notes has enraged them, or they are terribly vexed by my faith in the telephone system over their clearly superior e-mail. Maybe my lack of participation in Facebook has aroused their contempt. Whatever the cause, they are greatly peeved and as punishment for my sins they have chosen to smite me. Well, not me exactly, but instead my innocent external hard drive. Some great deity of Data storage reached down from the heavens and, pressing it's great glowing finger against the drive, wiped from existence every image I've made in the last three years. And so a great sadness descended upon the land.

Okay, maybe that's a little over dramatic. To be fair, almost everything is backed up elsewhere, squirreled away on DVDs or hidden on the remote corners of my computer. None of my professional work is lost, but my personal photos are mostly gone. Go figure, I protect everyone else's photos, but not my own. Smart move. Trips to Ecuador and El Salvador, Colorado, Wyoming, Madison, the family farm, all lost into the ethers. Bummer. Worst part: I know better.

I know hard drives fail. It happens. They break, get lost, get stolen, whatever. That's why you always have a backup. About a month ago I had my mouse arrow poised over the "add to cart" button on a set of three identical drives. The perfect redundant system. One for travelling and working from the road, one as an at home backup and the another for occasional archiving in a fire-proof safety deposit box. Now that's a good system. So why didn't I do it? Because I'm cheap.

As we speak some friends in IT are frantically performing the equivalent of harddrive CPR on the little fella, but it doesn't sound too good. We're basically looking at a total flat line.


"Shock him again."

"It's no use doctor...he's gone. Call it."

"No, damn it! We have to at least try. Give me 60 joules this time. When I look his mother in the eye, I need to tell her we did everything we could."

ZAP! Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep

Quiet sobs emanate from the corner where I'm curled into the fetal position slowly rocking myself.

"He was so young. Why God? Why?"

I should find out Monday what if anything can be recovered. Wish me luck.

Eat. Eat. Eat. Take Photo. Eat.

We're back from almost a week in Alpena, MI for Thanksgiving. I swear if I lived there, I'd be right around 800 lbs. We ate constantly for six days. Steaks, turkey, chicken, pie, potatoes, more pie, another potato, pasta, ice cream, another half of a potato. I think I even ate a paper clip that was sitting on the table next to my plate at one point during the feeding frenzy, but it didn't phase me. Amazing food. In between rampant boughts of stuffing my face, I did managed to snap a few photos.

Above is one of the outtakes from a shoot for our friend Heather. Her yearly Christmas Card features a photo of her and her dog, Tucker. I think Heather and I were pretty much on the same page about what we were going for, but Tucker had a widely divergent concept of how the photo should look. We were thinking a nice little shot of them sitting on the rocks looking at the camera. Tucker seemed to think that an action shot of him catching a goose and tearing it to tiny little goosey pieces would make a far better Christmas Card. While I agree it may have been a striking image, it's not quite holiday greeting material. Eventually, a small change of location and reason (by which I mean a squeek toy held above the camera) prevailed and we got a few good frames. Here's the best:

Small World.


Here's another shot from this summer that I just got around to archiving. I don't have much to say about it, I just love the colors in this image. This was taken with a tilt-shift lens from the roof of a parking structure in Wausau, Wisconsin. Origininally designed for architectural photography tilt-shift lenses can be used to correct for converging verticals and other perspective related distortions. They can also be used to create this effect commonly referred to as miniature faking. Kind of cool. This was part of a project I did with an old friend from college. Craig's a designer with a firm down that way. Always a blast to work with him.

Art Slides.


Wednesday evening, I got together with a local ceramics artist to shoot some slides of her recent work. As you can see, she has some really great stuff. A bunch of it is wood fired, which does some really cool things to the texture of the glaze. Pretty impressive. She's documenting it all before pieces go off to be sold or shown other places.

As a concept, shooting art slides of three dimensional work is relatively simple. I use a big roll of white seamless paper and two lights. One soft light from the front/side and one hard light from behind for some rim light. I sometimes add a reflector opposite the front light as well. Pretty basic. The tricky part is managing the glare. For matte finished pieces that's not an issue and you can get a good slide in one or two frames. But glossy pieces can be a bear.

The glossier the piece the more time it takes to get things just right. You have to fiddle with the angle of the lights, move the piece around; you have to find that spot where the glare is as small as it can possibly be with out disappearring completely. I still like to have that little spot of glare (we call that a specular highlight in photograpy) to show the true texture of the piece. Without it, you can't tell if it's actually shiny or not. In combination, that highlight, the halo of rim light and the soft , wrapping light from the side do a really nice job of revealing the shape and texture of the piece. That's the whole idea.

Faces in the Crowd.

Here's a frame from a senior portrait shoot in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Kind of a strange looking kid, but, hey, who am I to judge...Okay, sorry, that was lame, I know. This really is from La Crosse though. It's on top of Granddad's Bluff. Everyone else is up there looking at the Mighty Mississippi, taking in the spectacular view, snapping a family photo, and I'm wandering around taking pictures of the coin operated binoculars. Seriously, what's wrong with me?

Making Bad Weather Look Good.

When Vicki (Allyson's mom) and I scheduled Allyson's senior portrait shoot, weather.com was projecting sun for Thursday afternoon. Sounds good. A sunny fall day, yeah, let's do that. Weather.com was wrong. Thursday afternoon was cold and grey. I mean really grey. And really cold, for that matter. The sky in the image above was not photoshopped to look that way, that's really how bad it was. And yes that's full color, grey just happened to be the only color around.

So what do you do when you get bad weather? Well, you could postpone the shoot, reschedule for another day, wait for better weather. I try give people that option if that's what they want to do. Or you could do what I like to do, which is work with what you've got and get some really good photos anyway. Personally, I think an ominous cloud-laden sky can be far more striking than a happy sunny day, but maybe that's just me.

Bad weather does take a little more planning though. You've got to have a dry place to leave extra equipment, a warm place for the subject to hang out while you get things set up, more lighting equipment, and someone to keep the lightstands from blowing over in the wind (Thanks Vicki, you were an awesome assistant.) That aside, the final images can still be pretty sweet. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a photogenic subject either.

Here are a few more frames from Thursday afternoon: