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.

 

Thanksgiving.

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?

-OR-

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

Me: Yeah, of course not...so, where exactly is your scar?

-OR-

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.

 

Okay, One More Farm.

I was up at Spirit Creek Farm near Cornucopia, Wisconsin, this morning for what will probably be the last farm photo expedition of the fall. The main part of the growing season is fairly well behind us now and the possible snow fall this evening seems like a good end-cap for the year. This has been a great fall of learning about our local food producers and how they're working to feed our community. Thanks to the Sauter-Sargent's and everyone who found the time to make these photos possible.

Like every farm visit, this morning was educational. I learned about what it takes to grow cabbage, and what it takes to turn that cabbage into sauerkraut, and what it takes to build a certified kitchen. But the real stand out lesson of the day was this: the personal habits of male goats are appalling. Appalling. I'll just leave it at that.

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.

 

Farms.

These are the first in a series of photos I'm shooting for Northland College of the local farms and farmers who are providing sustainable foods for the campus cafeteria. This project has been amazing. Great people, beautiful places, and, of course, amazing food. Before I get too far, I want to give a special thanks to all the farmers who have a made time during a really busy season to help with this. You guys are a amazing. Above are Todd and Kelsey from River Road Farm. And below is the lettuce they're growing.

This is Chris Duke of Great Oak Farm with his laying hens, and below are his bees.

And then, the two photos below are a soy bean field I passed along the way. I'll probably get sued by Cargill or Monsanto for even photographing these genetic mutants. In fact, there's probably a man in a Monsanto cap slashing the tires on my car right now.

While it still makes for an interesting photo, this is text book monoculture: massive fields of the same subsidized crop devoid of ecological balance and nutritional value. It's crazy that we call all three of these things farms. They are not the same. Not even remotely. After walking around at River Road Farm and Great Oak Farm constantly surrounded by a diversity of life, this field of soy feels like the surface of the moon. Even stranger is the fact that we as a society have decided to aid and abed this version of agriculture that serves us least while we place nearly insurmountable road blocks in the path of the others. Agribusiness has played us all for fools. And, sadly, it worked. Time to open your eyes, everyone. Time to change.

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.

 

Interesting...

 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.

 

 

Friday.

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.

Jake & Bridget.

I don't shoot a lot of weddings anymore. There are a lot of reasons for that, not the least of which is the amount of time it takes to do it really well. The actual wedding, while still a lot of work, is really kind of the easy part. Then comes hours in front of a computer processing and sorting images, doing touch ups, ordering prints. It's a lot.

But every once in a while a wedding comes along that's just too interesting to pass up. That's how I ended up in the parking lot at Anglers All at 4:30 a.m. last Friday morning standing next to a man named "Big Jim" when he looked out at the lake and said, "It's a little lumpy out there."

That was accurate; it was lumpy out there. And at 5:10 a.m. we were scooting around the break wall at Second Landing and bashing our way through those exact lumps out to the light at the tip of Long Island for Jake & Bridget's wedding.

It was still cloudy when we left the landing and there was a pretty stiff breeze, but at the island, with the anchor down, and the bride and groom standing on the front deck, the sun poked through the clouds for a perfect dawn wedding followed by a little champagne on the beach. Congratulations, Jake and Bridget, not only on your recent nuptials, but also on having one of the most memorable weddings I've ever shot. Well done.

Special thanks also go out to Katie and Dave Gellatly of Solstice Outdoors for the use of their boat, which, for the record, I have re-christened the H.M.S. Awesome. You'd have been proud of me, Dave; I didn't even crash it into anything. Nothing big, anyway.

 

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.