Photographer Profile: Daniel Frei

Hey guys!! It's time for another 'Photographer Profile' and this time around the talented Dan Frei has been kind enough to answer some questions! So read on and ENJOY!

How long have been photographing Michigan? I’ve been photographing Michigan professionally for the past four years. Prior to that, I just had a camera while on trips with family and friends, but most of those trips were out of state. Growing up in mostly big city areas of Michigan, I had no idea such beautiful landscapes existed in Michigan. It wasn’t until just over four years ago when I took a camping trip with friends to the UP that I realized how beautiful and dynamic the landscape was. I fell in love with every part of Michigan I’ve visited since.

How did you first end up behind the camera? This is kind of a long story. I first enjoyed taking pictures when I was in the 6th grade on a class camping trip. I’ve owned a camera ever since and took it on every trip I went on. However, that wasn’t where my passion for photography began. Prior to being where I am now, I was a highly technical IT Engineer. I was known by some as “Freibot” because of my robotic, heavily-weighted left brain mindset. Anyways, I loved gadgets and technical gear, so I bought a DSLR and I thought it was fun. In 2010, my wife and I had twin girls and we made the decision to have me be the stay at home dad. Since being surrounded by nature was therapeutic to me, I would go there when I needed to get out of the house and I would bring my camera with me. I began taking pictures and exploring the right side of my brain. Doing this, along with entertaining toddlers, made me realized I actually had a functional “right brain”, and I wanted to explore it more. This is how I ultimately ended up behind the camera. 

Why do you love photographing Michigan? It has everything. Hundreds of waterfalls, vast forests, endless trails, thousands of miles of diverse shoreline, caves, towering dunes, cliffs, mountain tops, more than 100 lighthouses, and all with four seasons to view them in! To top it off, there is significant history behind almost all of it. If the land could talk, oh the stories it would tell. 

Where is your favorite place in Michigan to shoot? I can’t narrow it down to any one specific location, but all of the Upper Peninsula is my favorite place by far. It has everything and it has four full seasons of it. It has mountains, waterfalls, rocky shores, dense woods and sandy beaches. It even features grand overlooks, winding roads and cozy caves. The UP is a photographer’s wonderland.   

We were dehydrated and frozen, stopping many times on the way back because we were cramping up. A few of us even needed help walking by the end of the hike.
— Dan Frei

What is the most dangerous situation you've been in while creating images? This is easy. Last winter I went out with a few others to Port Austin to capture something we hadn’t seen before: Turnip Rock at night. The night we went ended up being downright cold. The hike out wasn’t bad because of the anticipation and excitement we had of photographing Turnip Rock. Once we got there it was a frenzy of picture taking, but once the excitement wore off and we were done firing off a few compositions, we got cold and the single digit temps started to his us hard. We planned to stay and catch a sunrise but we started to wonder if we were going to make it. All of our water bottles froze so we had nothing to drink. Multiple handwarmers weren’t enough to keep our hands and feet warm. We found ourselves pacing back and forth across a frozen Lake Huron trying to stay warm, waiting for the sun to come up. Once it did, we snagged our sunrise shot and headed back. We were dehydrated and frozen, stopping many times on the way back because we were cramping up. A few of us even needed help walking by the end of the hike. I had joked prior to leaving that we should bring a sled just in case. Little did I know we would actually end up needing it. 

 

Do you like the effect social media has had on photography? I think social media is great for photography. It gives anyone the platform to be seen and shared. Without it, I wouldn’t be answering these questions here today. When I shot the northern lights over the Mackinac Bridge this past March, I got home at four o’clock in the morning, posted one photo to Facebook and went to bed. I woke up to hundreds of comments the next morning and by the end of the day that photo had been seen by millions of people with newspapers, TV stations and random people contacting me about the photo. That would never have been possible without social media. It has also connected me with so many other photographers who have helped me or I’ve been able to help, all from the privacy of my own home, which is important to me, being a stay at home dad.
It comes with its downsides though. Aside from anyone and everyone taking pictures and trying to be seen in the crowd, it can be time consuming. From Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, 500px, the list goes on and on. It can be real tough to keep up. 

Everyone will certainly want to see an equipment list. I’ve recently made the switch from a Canon DSLR to the Sony A7r mirrorless system so my equipment list is pretty sparse currently. My list is as follows:

Camera: Sony a7r
Lens: Sony 16-35 f/4, Sony 28-70 f/3.5-5.6, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
Tripod: Feisol CT-3441 Carbon Fiber Tripod
Flash: Yongnuo 560iv
Filters: Marumi Circular Polarizer, Marumi 3 and 16 stop ND filters, Singh-ray 2 stop reverse ND grad, Lee 2 stop ND grad
Accessories: Extra batteries, intervalometer/cable release, wireless remote, lens cloth, sensor swabs, flashlights, hand warmers and first aid supplies

If you had to shoot somewhere in the U.S. other than Michigan(or the Great Lakes Region) where would it be? It would have to be the Big Sky Country in Montana. I love being in the woods and exploring them, and Montana has so much of it. It has mountains, waterfalls, forests and very little population to mess with it or me.

 

My top memories from photography have happened in the bitter cold of the last two Michigan winters.
— Dan Frei

What photographers have influenced or inspired you the most?  There are a few. We’ll start with Ian Plant. I found him by reading his articles on Outdoor Photographer and later his blog. On his blog I was introduced to Richard Bernabe, Kurt Budliger and Joseph Rossbach. These guys all shared the same idea in everything they wrote. It was your composition of the scene, not necessarily the settings, that made the shot. It was through these guys that my photography moved from my left brain to my right brain, and that was where my photography really started to take off in my opinion. From there I was inspired by local photographers Karl Wertenan and Neil Weaver.  Karl not only introduced me to night and long exposure photography but also inspired me to take my time, setup, compose and calculate my shots before I take them. And Neil Weaver because of the way he sees a scene. Not only can he shoot the icons, but he can take an average scene and create something amazing with it. Seeing him do that inspires me to try to do the same. 

.....whenever I would get outside of the city I was always enamored with how many stars were in the sky.
— Dan Frei

All of your work is great, but I’m really drawn to your night time photography. What inspires your creativity when making these images? Ah yes! Night Photography, how long do you want this profile to be? Well, there are really a lot of things that inspire me about night photography. For one, just getting to a dark location and looking up at the stars; it’s amazing. I mentioned earlier I’ve mostly grown up around city areas, and whenever I would get outside of the city I was always enamored with how many stars were in the sky. Then I started hitting even more remote locations in search for darker skies and the view of the stars is just incredible. Who knew you could see the Milky Way with your own eyes? Who knew you could see so much with less light? And who knew you could see farther by making it darker. It seems kind of backwards. But that’s just it. The night sky, and all its mysteries adds thought and wonder to the images. It gives them a whole other dimension, and it’s a dimension I really enjoy. Aside from the night sky, the lighting is just entirely different. It’s not like the daytime where you have the good couple hours at sunrise and sundown. And it’s not like bright daylight with the harsh light from the sun. At night, you pick up the light you cannot really see and you can capture it in a way your eyes cannot. It allows me to create images that distort reality. Whether the light is already there, or I’m the one doing the light painting, the lighting isn’t natural and therefore makes more thought provoking images. I could go on and on about the different types of light in the night and taking advantage of it photographically, but we’ll leave it at those two. They get the point across. LOL

 

What photography books/blog/videos are you currently referencing? Aside from the Fine Michigan Photography website at outdoorimaging.net, not really referencing anything currently. If I could choose something else, I would say I’m referencing people. My recent focus has been connecting more with the photography community. Reaching out to actual people. I have people contact me all the time asking questions regarding how to take certain shots, what kind of gear I recommend, and where some of the locations of my shots are. Some just want a little encouragement. With me starting up photography workshops, this has been great learning material for me. As well, I’ve been reaching out to others and learning from the things they are doing well. I’ve been able to learn more about the business and marketing side of the photography business than I otherwise would have. 


What is your favorite season to shoot? Although I truly love the fall season and the colorful splendor it brings, the last two winter seasons have me leaning in that direction. My top memories from photography have happened in the bitter cold of the last two Michigan winters. Everything turns to a winter wonderland. Most people won’t go out when it’s really cold, and that’s when you can find no footprints in the snow, no external modification of a scene, no people in your shots, and you can hear the sounds of the season and immerse yourself in what you are doing. There is nothing to contend with except the elements, you just have to dress accordingly.

 

That wraps up another 'Photographer Profile'! I hope you enjoyed reading about Dan and viewing his beautiful photographs!! Please take a moment and follow Dan on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - you certainly won't regret it!!

 

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