How I Got the Shot | The Gull and the Ship

This is one of my favorite shots from my recent trip to Panama City FL. More specifically, this shot was captured on the peninsula on the south side of the Saint Andrew Bay. I launched my kayak from the ramp in the Saint Andrew State Park, paddled roughly a mile to the peninsula, and proceeded to sit through an hour of severely heavy rain without any rain gear (I'll post a How I Got the Shot on one of the rain photos as well).

After the rain passed I mounted my 105mm macro lens (the longest lens I brought on this trip) onto my D810 and made my way up the beach towards the gulls. I noticed one gull in particular had only one foot. I laid on the beach near her, talked to her, and snapped a few photos. A few minutes went by and I noticed a huge cargo ship coming in from the Gulf. I knew it would pass right in front of me very soon, so I made the decision to position myself where I could see the one-footed gull between myself and the ship. I carefully moved into position, trying to not scare the gull and make her fly away, laid down totally flat, checked my exposure, and after about 30 seconds the ship came into view and I fired off this shot.

I was very conscious of my composition here so I could tell the story effectively. I needed there to be beach in the foreground, the gull in focus, the bay to be visible, the cargo ship to be out of focus but still be able to tell what it was, and to take the shot before the ship was intersecting with the gull. I was very fortunate that the gull happened to be looking in the direction of the ship, and that the wind was blowing enough to ruffle her feathers. All of this would take a lot of time to think out in the moment, but for me it all comes to me instantly as one fully developed feeling. I can't dissect it in the moment or I'd miss the shot. My intuition and experience work together in the moment to make me see the final image in my mind and know almost instantly what I need to do to achieve it. 

I think all of the elements came together to make a very interesting image. 

How I Got the Shot | Kayak Sunset

Rend Lake in Southern Illinois is typically a pretty busy and heavily used lake when the weather is nice. I decided to go out on an unusually hot summer day when most people would decide to stay at home in the air conditioning. As a result I was able to paddle 2-3 miles on my kayak and not come anywhere near another boat. 

As sunset approached I began heading back to the launch point. The water was calm, fish were occasionally snagging a bug from the surface, water fowl were settling in for the evening, swallows were gliding across the top of the water near my craft; everything felt very serene and balanced. My intention when I captured this image was to capture that feeling. Using my trusty Nikon D810 and 24-70mm lens I zoomed out to 24mm, made sure the bow of the kayak wasn't intersecting with the horizon, adjusted my exposure to capture how the lighting looked in person, set my aperture to f2.8 to keep an narrow depth of field, and pressed the shutter. 

It was all pretty simple, but I feel there was a bit of elegance that went into this. The colors are natural, the lighting is soft and vibrant, and the symmetry helps reinforce the feeling of balance and harmony. After capturing this shot I sat back in my kayak and soaked it all in until it was dark. 

How I Got the Shot | Cicada Transformation

Until the moments before capturing this photo I had never seen a cicada in mid-transformation. I've always seen the shells left behind and the cicadas themselves, but never in this state. And funnily enough I found this cicada by chance. 

I bought my Nikon 105mm Macro lens in the summer of 2016 and every day for about 2 weeks after getting it I would walk around my yard searching for bugs to shoot. On this particular day I had been out for about an hour and had no luck finding anything other than ants and a few beetles. I was about to give up for the day and put the camera away when I saw a neat-looking fly at the base of a tree stump. I laid on the ground and took a few photos of it, then decided it was time to call it a day when I looked up to the top of the tree stump and saw the cicada vibrating and coming out of its shell. I was stoked.

The cicada was positioned at the top edge of the stump, on the side, facing up to the sky. My approach to photography is to capture what it feels like, so that's what I went for here. The moment felt intense and dramatic. Next was setting up my equipment to capture it as such.

When I shoot macro I generally use a flash in a beauty dish, and this day was no different. I set the beauty dish up to where the light would be behind and to the right of the cicada to add some dimension and drama to the shot. I shot this from a few angles, but I felt this was the strongest--straight above my subject facing down towards the ground. I had my Nikon D810 ready and fired off 2 or 3 shots just to be sure my focus was spot on since the depth of field is so narrow that any bit of movement the second before hitting the shutter button can cause the photo to be out of focus. 

The result is one of my favorite macro shots I've captured so far. 

Available NOW--Limited Edition Metal Prints

My first run of fine art metal prints is officially up for sale.

This print run is limited to 1 of each photo. I will never print these photos in these sizes on metal ever again, so now is the time to grab your very own one-of-a-kind print while they last. On the back of each will be the edition number (1 of 1), my signature, description, date and location of capture. San Jose Sunset, Desert Flower, Ascend, and Dead Wood were all captured around San Jose New Mexico, and Patio Peach Blooms was captured at my home in Southern Illinois. 

To see more detailed photos of each print just click or tap on the listing.

If you have any questions about shipping or local delivery before you place your order, please contact me here

How I Got the Shot | Brown Shoe Factory Fire

The Brown Shoe factory in Salem Illinois had a long history. Almost everyone from the Salem and surrounding area, myself included, had relatives who worked there in the past when it was still used as a shoe factory. The factory stopped production many years ago and up until the fire in September 2015 it had been used for storage. The cause of the fire is still unknown. 

I heard the news of the fire the morning after it had happened. It was all over my social media feeds from friends who all grew up around Salem. The Brown Shoe factory was a landmark. It was an enormous, cool, old brick building, two blocks long, and was probably the site of a lot of local band photos. But once I heard the news my first thought was to grab my camera and make the hour drive up. This was not an opportunity I was going to pass up.

I arrived around 10am and the remains were still smoking. I snapped around 60 photos when I got there, and while I thought most of them were good, they lacked the drama I was going for due to the mid morning light overhead. So I decided to spend the day visiting family and go back when the sun was starting to set. I knew about where the sun would be in relation to the building, and where I needed to be to get what I was trying to achieve. 

I arrived back at the factory later in the evening and went to the east side of the property so I could shoot west into the sun. I found a large chunk of bricks, completely charred on one side, and normal on the other. This was the story-telling piece I was hoping for. At that time I shot Canon, so I had my Canon 6D and decided to use a wide angle lens to help get enough to the background in the frame to help tell the story, so I used the Canon 24mm f1.4 lens. Then I simply positioned myself low enough to the ground to capture the image.

This was not an opportunity that would likely present itself again anytime soon, so I am happy that I took it. 

How I Got the Shot | Snowy Sprint

This is one of the more difficult images I've ever captured and also one of my favorites. After many many attempts to get this shot, all of the elements finally came together to create this image. 

Flapjack is our 7 year old terrier mix. One of his favorite things to do is run in the snow, so on this particular morning when I saw the snow beginning to cover the ground I got the idea to try to get a shot of him running towards me in the falling snow. 

The things I tried to keep in mind to get the feeling I was going for were to freeze the falling snow, freeze the running action, and to show enough of the background to see the trees in our back yard. I felt those elements together would create a strong image that would capture the feeling of the actual moment; Flapjack running through a very cold, snowy, wooded area.

With those things in mind I made a plan. First was the location. We have a 2.5 acre yard, but this smaller section at the back was perfect since there were trees farther in the background I could compress, as well as a flat, open area for Flapjack to run. Next were my camera settings on my Nikon D810. I needed a fast shutter speed to freeze the snow and Flapjack, so I chose 1/2500th of a second (he runs extremely fast). I also wanted a narrow depth of field, so I chose the widest aperture of f2.8 on the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 lens. Then I adjusted the focus settings in the camera to focus continuously as I held the AF-ON button, and changed the focus point to Group AF to give myself a bigger area to catch my target. Then I pre-visualized the shot in my head before I even went outside and set my Group AF points in the frame where I wanted Flapjack to be.

Next was execution. I took Flapjack outside, carried him to the back of the yard, and then I ran back to my position and laid flat on the ground and started calling his name so he would run towards me as I held the shutter button and fired off 10-15 frames. We repeated this process 4 or 5 times since he would run in slightly different paths each time, and I was generally just not satisfied with what I saw in the viewfinder. 

On the last run I saw the frame above through my viewfinder and knew I got the one. I reviewed it on the screen and that confirmed my suspicion. Everything finally came together. Flapjack was in just the right path, just the right distance from me to be the right size in the frame, was looking directly at me (which is the only shot out of them all where he was), his face was sharp and in focus, the position of his legs was perfect to illustrate the running action, and everything in the background was perfectly out of focus. I was ecstatic.  


How I Got the Shot | Dead Wood in New Mexico

Of the 1800+ shots I captured in my 10 days in New Mexico, this is one of my favorites. This was part of a juniper stump near the house we were staying at along the Pecos River.

Sunset was approaching and I had beautifully warm light coming in from the west, and cool light from the darker growing sky in the east. While I sat and looked at the stump I let it speak to me. Outside in that moment it was dry, the sun was very warm, the breeze cool, and the birds were beginning to quiet down for the evening. The wood had a lovely balance of warm and cold light with differing textures on each side, like each side had its own life yet it was connected. The right side was rough and had strong grain patterns, and the left was softer and had a more fragmented pattern. I chose to use a narrow depth of field to keep the rough grain in focus and soften the already softer looking parts.

Using my Nikon D810 and the Nikon 105mm f2.8 Macro lens, I started to go to work. My goal was to capture the harmony between the two sides. I took several shots from different angles, but this is the one that struck the right balance. 

How I Got the Shot | Ferne Clyffe Waterfall

When I first started shooting on film SLRs back in 2003 I would have feelings about the objects I was shooting. So instead of just capturing what I saw like I thought I was supposed to do, I would try to capture what I felt. That's been my approach to almost everything in life; following my feelings. 

Ferne Clyffe State Park outside of Goreville Illinois is a widely visited spot, especially by photographers. No matter what trail you take there's obvious natural beauty everywhere you look. On this particularly chilly and wet trip to Ferne Clyffe I captured some of the obvious shots of the trail, the rocks, and the falls. But my next move was to sit and get a sense of how the falls felt

It was cold, damp, quiet (aside from the movement of water), beautifully bright overcast, and very still. I noticed this really interesting log about 10 meters from the base of the falls, laid belly-down on the wet rocks to get the angle I felt captured the elements I was feeling, got my exposure, and took a small handful of slightly varying shots. I used my trusty Nikon D810 and the lovely wide angle Sigma 20mm f1.4 Art. This capture was the strongest of the variations. I based everything in this shot on my feelings in that moment and not what I saw.