How I Got The Shots: The Tridge


I primarily photograph portraits and weddings. Every now and then I get hired to do work outside of my traditional wheelhouse. A woman who worked in Midland was moving to a better job in another state. She would get a photograph of a landmark from each of the cities she had lived. Her co-workers commissioned me to photograph the tridge in Midland, Michigan for her.

I parked behind the H Hotel and started scouting out the location. I had photographed portraits and wedding group shots at the tridge before but never and image of just the tridge by itself. I walked around and found some angles that looked pleasing. The tridge is a popular location.  At first I thought I’d have to photoshop out many of the people walking across. Luckily as the sun started to set the people cleared out making the post processing much easier.

I put my Nikon D600 with a wide 18-35mm lens on my Feisol Carbon Fiber tripod and started shooting. There were several reasons I used a tripod. First of all the sun was setting so I needed a longer exposure. Second I wanted detail in the entire scene so I knew I needed a narrower aperture. Lastly because the scene was so high contrast I knew I’d have to create a high dynamic range image. High dynamic range, commonly abbreviated HDR, combines several images of the same scene at different exposures. Using a process called tone mapping it makes it so there are details in the lightest and darkest parts of the photo. Due to the scene being very high contrast, bright sky and dark tridge, I knew a single exposure wouldn’t hold all of the detail I wanted. I shot three images bracketing the shutter speed but keeping the focus, focal length, aperture, and ISO the same. This gave me images with details in every part of the image.

When I got home I imported the images into Lightroom. I did the same basic global adjustments to all three images. Next I chose merge to HDR in Lightroom creating an image with detail in all tonal ranges in the image. After some further tweaking in Lightroom the image was ready to be printed. The clients ordered a 16×24 inch metal print which I got made thru White House Custom Color.

How I Got The Shots: Reception Sparklers


Grand Rapids is one of my favorite towns. Tons of great breweries. Tons of reformed churches. What more could you want?

In 2018 I photographed a wedding in Grand Rapids at a little Missouri Synod Lutheran church just down the road from Calvin College. The getting ready and ceremony went great. Next we went to the golf course where the reception was held. We drove around on golf carts to various locations the bride and groom had picked out. This was the only wedding I had photographed in 2018 that the clients had book me for more than eight hours of wedding coverage. Eight hours ends up being enough for almost everyone. This couple had a very specific photo they wanted at the end of the night. They wanted a shot of them running out of the reception hall with sparklers at the end of their reception. To get this shot I had to use to flash. While shooting dancing photos I used bounce flash. I kept my flash on camera and pointed it towards the ceiling. The light bounces off the ceiling making for a very flattering light. These shots would be outside though. No ceiling to bounce off of. So I had to use direct flash. I set my flash to a lower level so I could shoot quicker. As the bride and groom ran out of the reception hall with there sparklers I was able to grab several shots. They ran to there car and drove off to start there honeymoon. Usually I check with the bride and groom before leaving a wedding reception to make sure there aren’t any other shots they want. This time they had left before I did. I somewhat awkwardly packed up my gear and started my 2.5 hour drive back to Clare.

How I Got The Shots: Bridal Party Lightsaber Battle


When I tell people I am a wedding photographer, I usually get asked what crazy wedding stories I have. Luckily, I have had a lot of great clients and don’t have to many horror stories. One of the best weddings I have went to was way back in 2012 in Mt Pleasant.

I had just graduated high school. I still didn’t have my drivers license and hated driving back then. I had a friend and assistant Brandon drive me to Mt Pleasant for the wedding. It started with a reverent ceremony at a Catholic church in Mt Pleasant. Then we went to one of the couple’s parent’s homes outside Mt Pleasant. We did some conventional group shots. Then the groom came over to me and said “just document what is about to happen.” The bride and groom and rest of the bridal party all wiped out toy lightsabers. The bridal party started attacking the bride and groom with there lightsabers. I ran around with my wide angle lens as the battle continued. It was super fun! Next we headed to the reception near CMU where the bride and groom walked in to the imperial march with the lightsabers held over their heads by the bridal party. Each table was named after locations in various fantasy and sci fi fandoms. My assistant and I were seated at the Shire. It was the nerdiest thing ever and it was awesome. Hands down one of the best weddings I’ve been to.

How I Got The Shots: Amish In the Tree Tunnel


As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown to love my hometown of Clare, Michigan. Of the things which makes this area unique is the high population of Amish. The Amish are a religious sect with their roots in Anabaptist theology dating back to the radical reformation in Europe. The Amish choose to live simple agrarian lifestyles. They have large families, and many abstain from either some or all use of modern technology, including electricity.

When I first took interest in photography I photographed a lot of wildlife and landscape work. As time went on I shifted to portraiture and later weddings. In fall 2016 I decided to get back to my roots and photograph fall colors. I would drive around the various backroads, mostly in Clare county, and photograph the foliage.

On this particular day I ended in “the tree tunnel,” as us locals call it, on Oak Road between Clare and Coleman, Michigan. The tree tunnel always makes for beautiful images especially during the fall. This time an Amish buggy was heading through the tunnel at just the right time to catch him in the middle of the tree tunnel.

Technique wise this image is very simplistic. I pulled off to the side of the road. Got my Nikon D600 and 80-200mm f/2.8 lens out. Yes 80-200mm not 70-200mm. It is cheaper and super sharp. I had my camera in aperture priority set to f/2.8. The shallow depth of field allowed the foreground and background to drift out of focus, bringing more attention to the buggy. I had very little to do in post. I simply added a preset I had made a few years prior, and the image was set.

The reason I love this image is it represents Clare. A place near and dear to me. The fall colors. The amish buggy. The scenic back roads in the woods. This image screams “home.”

How I Got the Shot: Frigid Gesture

 

Since I first got started in photography I loved wildlife and nature photography. I even got some of my bird photography published in Audubon, Nature’s Best Photography, and a few other publications back when I was in high school. Due to using primarily shorter telephoto and standard lenses (which are a bit short for wildlife photography) I don’t shoot a ton of wildlife work anymore.

In early December 2016 I woke up early Sunday morning to head to church. I put the key in the ignition of my car and it didn’t start. I messed around with it trying to get it to start until it got to the time that I would be late for church anyway. I went back in and noticed the beautiful light streaming down on the frigid trees in my backyard. I grabbed my Nikon D600 with my go to Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. When I got out there were several chickadees out their as well eating from our bird feeders. This chickadee had just landed on the barbed wire fence causing some snow to fall off of the fence. The golden light streaming thru the trees lit this falling snow making the image. This little bit of movement and gesture is what makes the shot one of my better wildlife images.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. ISO 800 200mm f/2.8 1/4000 of a second shutter speed.

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How I Got the Shot: Bird Butt

Because I primarily shoot portraiture and weddings my gear choices reflect that. I have a great deal of respect for those who shoot wildlife but I don’t get to do it much myself anymore due to other priorities. The longest lens I currently own is my Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 (yes 80-200mm not 70-200mm; the 80 is cheaper and I don’t need the bells and whistles of the 70) which is great for portraiture but can be a bit short for wildlife. Due to this I’m limited to shooting wildlife I can get close to.

For years I’ve wanted to get a good cardinal image (especially when I was younger and my aunt who loved cardinals was still alive). The first time I had gotten a cardinal image I was happy with was a year prior in 2016 (that image would later get used as the cover of the Phone Guide Isabella – Gratiot County January 2017-2018). These birds are very skittish. I was worried that my camera’s shutter noise would scare off the cardinal (one of my few gripes with the Nikon system is how loud their camera shutters are and the quite mode’s uselessness). The cardinal stayed put long enough for me to get right up into the window. As the cardinal flew away it kicked up some snow off the railing. Later in post I would crop in quite heavily to emphasis the snow being kicked up. Little bits of gesture like this in any photograph greatly improve their quality. This ended up being one of my most liked images on Instagram in 2017 and an image people have mentioned they liked to me in person several times over the year.

Shot using a Nikon D600 and a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens handheld. ISO 800 200mm f/4 I/4000 of a second shutter speed.

 

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How I Got the Shot: The Accidental Homage to Kinkade

 

I enjoy shooting commercial photography, but due to my area (rural mid-Michigan) I seldom get to shoot much which would fall under that category. A few years ago in late 2013 and early 2014 I was commissioned to shoot images of the exteriors of various churches which were part of the Church of Daniel’s Band (a non-denominational church with its roots in Methodism which I grew up attending). I knew shooting these images at midday would result in boring images. Instead I opted to shoot them during the “blue hour” (as us photographers call it) shortly after sunset when everything has a bluer tint to it. This would create contrast between the warm tungsten bulbs lighting the interior of the church and cool evening light hitting the exterior. I also wanted the church to have some shape and dimension to it as well. To achieve that look I used my Alienbee B1600 flash to light the part of the church with the entrance door. I placed the flash far enough back that the light would spread and light that entire side of the church. This made that side of the church slightly lighter giving the church some dimension (making it look more three dimensional). The light put off by my strobe is daylight balanced (which means it looks white to my camera) so I had to adjust the colors in post making the strobes match the ambient blue light. Looking back now I could have also attached a CTB (color temperature blue) gel to the light to minimize my time in Photoshop correcting the colors. I also added a moon to the sky in the background in post to add to the night time look. After showing this image to various people many have commented that it reminds them of Thomas Kinkade’s paintings. People have made similar comments about other night (images taken shortly after sunset during the “blue hour”) images of mine that they remind them of Kinkade’s work. I’ve been aware of Kinkade’s work for years but none of my “blue hour” shots have been intended as an intentional homage to his work (even though I’ve always liked his work). He and I use a similar technique to make our images shot (or in his case painted at this time of day) look dramatic. The natural color contrast between the warn interior light and the cold exterior light always makes for dynamic engaging images regardless of medium.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 Lens on a Feisol Carbon Fiber CT-3371 Tripod with a Kirk B3 Ball Head with an L bracket. Lit with an Alienbee B1600 triggered with Radio Poppers and powered with a Vagabond Mini. As I’ve stated before I quit using Radio Poppers in 2016 and switched to the cheaper and more reliable Yongnuo triggers. ISO 100 28mm f/10 0.8 of a second shutter speed.

 

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How I Got the Shot(s): The Ents and The Omelettes

In early 2017 I spent a good amount of time reading business books and shooting winter landscapes around (primarily) Clare, Michigan. Since I first got started in photography I have loved photographing nature. As I’ve grown older I’ve learned to love the small town community I grew up in as well. It seems like a natural fit to shoot the countryside around Clare.

 

During my travels thru the rural roads near Clare I eventually found places I would return to frequently. One of those was the historic Dover School. Many places near the Dover School proved to be beautiful locations for both the fall colors and the winter landscapes. If you take a right leaving the Dover School parking lot and take a right at the first road you see and keep going you will eventually run into the tree featured above. I have always loved this old craggily tree. These have some much texture and character which makes them great photographic subjects. I had photographed this tree several times but had yet to come across it when the conditions were right to make a good lasting photograph. With trees on property I have access to I can easily get out my artificial lighting and make the tree look really cool. Since this tree is on private property (and I have a very high view of private property rights) I’m restrained to what images I can get of this tree from parking lots and the road. Usually when I would come to visit this tree there was little separating it from the trees behind it making it blend in with them resulting in a busy cluttered photograph. When I was out shooting on this particularly blustery winter day the high winds were kicking up snow between the ent like tree and those behind it. These snowy wind gusts made a white background separating the tree I liked from those behind it. This image is actually a small panoramic composite of two images. Because I knew I would want to print this image large I shot two images right next to each other and combined them later in Lightroom creating one large file which can be printed at even larger sizes. One of the reasons I like this image is the tree seems reminiscent of the ents from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I had read the books multiple times back in middle and high school and hope to again sometime sooner than later.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm lens handheld. ISO 800 80mm f/4 1/4000 of a second shutter speed.

While training my second shooter for weddings, Nikki Robinson, I found out that she always calls the Amish omelettes. I have no idea why this is now this is but  I find myself accidentally referring to the Amish as omelettes now to. I’ve heard people say you become like the people your around the most and I guess this proves that theory true.

 

On that same day that I shot the ent like tree I also came across these cold omelettes raveling home in the fog. I slowed down and grabbed a few images of them before passing them and traveling to other locations to photograph. As I’ve grown older I’d grown to love this local community here in Clare, Michigan and I think this image of these Amish traveling in the snow is a beautiful representation of Clare, Mi.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. ISO 800 170mm f/4 1/4000 of a second shutter speed.

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How I Got the Shot(s): The Change of Seasons

2016 marked a return to photographing fine art nature and landscape work for me. I had loved this type of photography when I was in high school, and had even had some of the images in this genre of photography published in magazines back then. As I grew older and photography became a profession instead of a hobby I’ve ended up putting more emphasis portraiture and weddings.

One of the big projects I worked on in 2016 was photographing the local fall foliage (primarily) around Clare County. After a few days of shooting I found a handful of places I liked and returned to. I regrettably didn’t keep a close track of some of the more hard to find places that I came across. A place I ended up coming back to several times was the Dover school just outside Clare, Michigan. This place usually has beautiful fall colors during the entire fall season.

While shooting these fall colors it started to unexpectedly snow allowing me to capture images with both snow and the fall leaves. These images remain some of my favorite fine art nature images that I’ve taken in recent years. At no other time have I been able to capture both the fall colors and snow in the same images.

Capturing (most of) these images was pretty simplistic. I would drive around the rural roads pull my car over and walk up and down the roads capturing the best leaves. When you point your camera at a subject your camera thinks it needs to make the subject 18% grey. Regardless of if you are photographing a black bear in a cave or a polar bear in the snow your camera thinks the photo needs to be 18% grey. Due to this when shooting in the snow your camera will usually make the images slighting to dark (or underexposed). If you are using an automatic or semiautomatic mode (like aperture priority or shutter priority) you can easily correct this by slighting increasing your exposure compensation to +⅓ or + ⅔ of a stop. Take some test shots to make sure your aren’t making the image to bright (overexposing). Many cameras have a function I usually refer to as the “blinky” which will alert you if their are pixels so bright in your images that they can’t be saved in post production. The pixels will flash red. Turing this feature on is very helpful when shooting in the snow.

The image at the top of this post was captured just down the road from the Dover School. I have photographed these trees numerous times. A few months later I would get images of these trees during a snowstorm which would become one of my most liked images for the year of 2017. Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens handheld. ISO 400 105mm f/2.8 1/1600 of a second shutter speed.

This next image was shot on the same road near the Dover School but I had to use a different technique to capture it. I moved my camera from left to right shooting several images with the same exposure intending to later merge the images in one large panoramic image later in Lightroom. To make the panoramic stitching easier I made sure to shoot in manual exposure mode the brightness of the images wouldn’t vary. Also using a long lens at a shallow depth of field allows for a look most people aren’t used to seeing in landscape photography. Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 lens handheld. All images which were later stitched together were shot at ISO 400 80mm f/2.8 1/1600 of a second shutter speed. (panoramic)

This image was shot in the parking lot right next to the Dover School. This is another tree I have returned to and photographed many times in many different seasons. Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens handheld. ISO 400 100mm f/8 1/320 of a second shutter speed. (Dover school snow on tree)

This last image was shot on Maple Road right off of Tobacco Drive outside Clare, Michigan somewhat near Loomis, Michigan. I used a wider lens to capture more of the scene and stopped down to a narrower aperture (larger f number) to ensure the entire scene would be in focus. From using my Sigma 28-70mm for years I’ve learnt where the lens is most sharp and has the least vignetting which was another factor into why I shot using f/8). Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 lens handheld since I was standing in a road. ISO 1600 28mm f/8 1/250 of a second shutter speed. (maple road)

After photographing Maple Road my windshield wiper motor died. My car is constantly having bizarre yet minor issues with it (this case being the perfect example). I drove to Coleman to get it fixed. I wasn’t able to get it fixed that day so I had to drive in the snow to Midland than evening to a Bible study without windshield wipers. I’m incredibly thankful that I was providentially kept safe during that experience.

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How I Got the Shot: The Peak In Field

Way back in 2011 my parents and I made a trip out to the Canadian Rockies in Alberta and British Columbia Canada. In 2017 I revisited many of my old nature images and have done new retouching in Lightroom and Photoshop. This image was one of the few which needed no new or improved retouching applied to it.

Most of the days of my parents and I’s trip in the Canadian Rockies thus far had been cloudy. This lead to me mostly photographing wildlife such as black bear, elk, moose, and grizzly bear. I had yet to get many landscape shots I was very happy with (with the exception of a shot of the well known Peyto Lake). On this day as sunset approached, my parents and I crossed over into British Columbia near the small town of Field (an ironic name if you think about it). Most of the rest of the trip was spent in Alberta. We drove across some very curvy mountainous roads and eventually came to a very large waterfall that my parents were trying to find (I no longer remember the name of the waterfall). After viewing the waterfall for a while we started our trip back to our hotel (which was in Canmore, Alberta). A beaver ran out in front of us (how Canadian). My dad tried to stop the car in time for me to get a shot of the beaver, but we were to late. Shortly after the missed beaver, the sun started to break out of the usually overcast clouds. The light streamed thru lighting this one lone peak. We were able to pull off on a scenic turnout on one of the thin twisty mountainous roads, where I was able to get out of the car with my massive Velbon metal tripod (upgrading to a carbon fiber Feisol about a year later was quite the relief). I stood in the middle of the road and grabbed as many frames of this mountain peak as I could before that lonely light bean was removed by the passing clouds. I’m incredibly thankful for how my parents and I were able to providentially come across this beautiful scene. Many landscape photographers prefer images of lesser known areas (such as this nameless mountain peak in Field, British Columbia) than well known icons (think Mt Rundle for the Canadian Rockies or Tunnel View in Yellowstone). In Photoshop I increase the contrast and cropped the image in tighter. This image would later be published in Outdoor Photographer Magazine in their March 2012 issue. More images from that trip are available to view and purchase thru my fine art website.

Shot using a Nikon D200 with a Nikon 70-300mm AF-S VR f/4.5-5.6 Lens on a Velbon Metal Tripod. ISO 100 140mm f/8 1/20 of a second shutter speed.

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