Hey guys! It's time for another 'Photographer Profile' on the Fine Michigan Photography blog. This time around the very talented Craig Sterken was kind enough to answer some questions and share some beautiful photos from the Mitten State. If you aren't familiar with his work, I think you will be truly impressed with the beauty and vision in Craig's images! Enjoy!
How did you first end up behind the camera?
CS: I used to Scuba dive as a hobby as well as for a part time job and I wanted to capture some underwater photos. This was the mid to late seventies and I bought a Kodak 110 camera and an underwater housing. Unfortunately, my underwater Michigan photos didn’t compare to the photos I was seeing in Skin Diver magazine! But I had a great time messing around with it. After that, I bought a 35mm Minolta and I used that until 2000 when I bought a Canon Rebel DSLR.
Where is your favorite place in Michigan to shoot?
CS: My wife and I have been visiting Ludington for over 30 years and have taken at least one family vacation a year there, every summer. We’ve done the Disney thing with the kids a couple times, but they still insist on a Ludington vacation as well. We all consider it a second home and for that reason, Ludington is a favorite. But really, anywhere along Lake Michigan is a joy to shoot. Sleeping Bear Dunes, Leelanau, and the Upper Peninsula are among my other favorites. With those locations there is just so much variety. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the UP the last two years and the more I visit, the more I want to return. Michigan is hard to beat when it comes to photography.
What is your favorite season to shoot?
CS: Autumn is hands down my favorite time to be in the field. The colors are vibrant, sunsets really put on a show, morning and evening light are at their best, and it’s just a great time to be outdoors. My wife and I love the outdoors and although summer is my favorite season to be out, autumn just has so much more to offer a photographer.
Why do you love photographing Michigan?
CS: The variety of subjects available. A great example is the Porcupine Wilderness Area. In one day, you can shoot the sun rising over Lake of the Clouds, drive over to Presque Isle River and shoot the various waterfalls that run along the western edge of the mountain and then get down to Lake Superior for a sunset shot. It’s amazing what you can do in one day in Michigan! The same is true along Lake Michigan. You can shoot numerous lighthouses with a one day trip. This past winter, I shot frozen lighthouses at Grand Haven, South Haven and St. Joseph, all in one day!
What photographers have influenced or inspired you the most?
CS: That’s an easy one. I can tell you flat out that I would not be doing this if it were not for the influence of Todd Reed. For years when our family would visit Ludington, I would admire Todd’s work and think it was something I’d like to try. Todd just has a very artful eye with a lot of thought put into his work. It was amazing to me how his images could inspire the same feelings I had when I was actually watching a sunset, or another landscape scene. I wanted to be able to express myself that way as well. As interest in my work grew, I knew I wasn’t at the level I wanted to be. So I took a class with Todd and Brad and things really improved from there. I used to spend a lot of time on Flickr and other photo sharing sites. Over time, I think you just get a feel for what you want your style to be from shooting a lot and looking at other work. Beyond the Reeds, there are quite a few people out there whose work I admire - Neil Weaver, John McCormick, & Richard Thompson, immediately come to mind.
Did you go to school for photography or are you self taught?
CS: Other than the one day class that I took with Todd and Brad Reed, I’ve never had any formal training. I’m constantly learning though. I’m always seeing new techniques and reading blogs, etc. Every time I go on a long shoot, of several days, I pick up something new. Just the act of all that shooting and then evaluating your work when you return helps you learn new things. It may just be something small with composition or learning a limitation with your gear. I don’t think any photographer ever stops learning new things. I tend to shoot alone a lot but I’ve picked up something new every time I shoot with another photographer. You can’t help but talk shop when you’re out shooting with someone else and it’s a very helpful way to learn.
What is the most dangerous situation you've been in while creating images?
CS: I did a remarkably stupid thing several years ago. I was out at Ludington State Park in the winter and shelf ice extended way out onto the lake. I have been one to preach about the dangers of shelf ice and am cautious by nature. I saw about a dozen people out there on the shelf ice. I got caught up in the moment and figured it was okay since all the other people were out there. I ended up on the edge and was about 25 feet above the surface of Lake Michigan. I got a couple really great shots but after the adrenalin died down, I realized I had to make my way back off the ice. I was nervous the entire way back, realizing just how stupid it was. The photo was popular and was broadcast on a news station but it was not worth the risk. No photo is worth that kind of risk and I’ve promised myself not to get into that kind of situation again, at least not with intent. Although the photo has been popular, I tend not look at it often as it annoys me that I did something so incredibly stupid.
Do you like the effect social media has had on photography and do you feel the effect has been better or worse for photography?
CS: I think it has had a huge effect on photography. I think it’s a mixed bag for whether it’s is better or worse. With social media we have instant feedback on what is going on in the field. I traveled with another photographer to the UP for the Grand Island ice curtains this past winter. Without social media, it would have been difficult to know when the conditions were right for the trip. Also, many of the photographers whose work I follow, I would not be aware of were it not for social media. Because of Facebook, specifically, I have met and gone shooting with several other photographers or recognized them in the field. Some, I have become good friends with and look forward to future photo treks with them. So, it has connected me with some great people. Also, a lot of my sales are driven in one fashion, or another, from social media. I would estimate half of my business comes from there.
One of the downsides is that I see people shooting for what they think will be popular, rather than what they like themselves. If you look at what’s popular on 500px or Flickr, you begin to see oversaturated, fake looking photos and they all look the same. Even magazines like Outdoor Photographer are pushing a certain type of look. I’m not knocking anyone if that’s what they want to do, I just don’t think it’s helpful to chase a style or to create work in anticipation of what others may think. The other downside to social media is that it has become a necessity and it requires a fair amount of time to manage it well. I’ve begun to scale back the amount of time that I interact on social media. It’s easy to get hung up on spending every spare moment looking at others work and commenting. I’d rather be in the field shooting or processing images I’ve already shot. There’s only so much time in a day and I don’t want 20% of it to be taken up with Facebook. I’m sure that it has an effect on my sales when I bow out for a few days, but that’s okay.
What do you currently have in the gear bag?
CS: My current gear consists of:
-Canon 5D MK III
-Canon “L” series lenses – 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-105mm f/4, 16-35mm f/2.8, 400mm f5.6, Canon macro 100mm f/2.8, and a cheap Canon 50mm f f/1.8(nifty-fifty).
-Canon 1.4 Extender
-Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod
-Induro Carbon Fiber Monopod
-Canon Speedlite for fill-flash
-Various filters i.e. CPL, ND, Vari-ND. The ND’s are Singh-Ray and the others are B+W.
-My wife, to help me carry everything!
Well, I hope you enjoyed the latest 'Photographer Profile'! I would like to thank to Craig for sharing his amazing work with the Fine Michigan Photography blog and if you're not already following Craig on the social media sites why not go ahead and follow him on Facebook, 500px, Flickr and Instagram?! We love interacting with people on social media but we also like selling our work! So I would like to encourage you to check out www.CraigSterken.com and order a beautiful print to hang on your wall. Thanks guys and feel free to leave comments below and add your email to the subscription list to receive future newsletters and blog updates!