Photographer Profile: Kristina Lishawa

Photographer Kristina Lishawa has been kind enough to share her amazing photographs and insights for the latest 'Photographer Profile' on the Fine Michigan Photography Blog. Take your time browsing through these incredible images, they do not disappoint! 

Dance Of The Trumpeter Swan

How long have you been photographing Michigan?

I moved to Traverse City in 2009, and have been photographing Michigan for the past 6 years.

Where is your favorite place in Michigan to shoot?

That’s a tough one!  I would have to say anywhere along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Like many others, I feel a deep and unexplainable connection to that part of Lake Michigan’s shoreline.

Deep Calls To Deep

Deep Calls To Deep

Many people are aware but some may not be, you’re also a physician! Do you feel one skill helps(or influences) the other? 

I think art and medicine complement each other very well.  A big part of medicine is art, and a big part of photography is science.  They both require attention to detail, passion, and patience.  I believe that being a photographer makes me a better doctor.  The quiet hours I spend capturing nature’s beauty give me energy to listen well to my patients.  Finding balance is essential no matter what your career or calling.  

How did you first end up behind the camera?

My grandparents gave me my first camera when I was 8 or 9.  It was a point-and-shoot 35 mm Vivitar film camera that turned on via a plastic sliding door in front of the lens.  It didn’t produce the most stellar images, but I was hooked on the idea of capturing a moment in time.  I went on to learn photography basics on a Minolta SLR film camera, and began to develop my own film and print from negatives in high school.  I did study photography in college, but as I grew more interested in medicine, my camera was often left in the case.  During the eight busy years of medical school and residency training, I took very few pictures.  Starting my first job as a full time physician also left little time for art.  I transitioned to part time work when my first son was born in 2010.  Naturally, I began to photograph his sweet face, and my love for photography was rekindled at that time.  I haven’t put the camera down since!   I’m fairly hopeless with a pencil or paintbrush, so I embrace photography as my artistic outlet.

Friendly Grasshopper

Friendly Grasshopper

What is your favorite season to shoot?

Winter!  Fewer things make me happier than sitting on a snow bank and photographing snowy owls.  I also love the way ice forms as the winds blow off Lake Michigan, creating other worldly landscapes in familiar places.

What photographers have influenced or inspired you the most?

I am very active with the Traverse Area Camera Club and am constantly encouraged and inspired by this body of incredibly talented photographers.  To name just one is very difficult, although I will never forget a pearl that was taught to me by nature and wildlife photographer Charles St. Charles: the human eye and the camera do not see light in the same way.  Although I am not primarily a photojournalist, I adore the documentary work of Dorothea Lange, and have always been deeply moved by her Depression-era portraits of migrant laborers and impoverished individuals.

Frankfort Fireworks

Frankfort Fireworks

Social media has had a huge impact on photography. Some say it's good and others say it's not so good. What do you think?

It’s a mixed bag, I think.  Social media is a powerful way to share your images (and what’s the point of taking the pictures if they aren’t enjoyed by others as well?).  Like many other photographers, I have unfortunately had images stolen, altered, or used without permission.  That’s a definite downside of social media.  It can also be tempting to fall into the trap of trying to produce images that are “popular” rather than creating art that speaks from one’s own heart.   

Ghost Tree in Moonlight

Ghost Tree in Moonlight

What is the most dangerous situation you've been in while creating images?

Well, there’s perceived danger and then there’s actual danger.  I usually manage to convince myself I’m going to die at some point or another in the middle of the night when I’m out photographing the night sky.  One dark winter midnight, I was walking the lakeshore alone when I saw the outline of huge beast skulking a few yards in front of me.  My heart in my throat, I turned my headlamp on to discover a large piece of driftwood laughing at me.  I have seen several large cats at night, but have never had any approach me.  The situation with the most real potential for disaster probably involves skirting the steep icy apron of frozen Point Betsie in my spikes.

Golden Reflection

Why do you love photographing Michigan?

My husband is a Traverse City native, and although I am a transplant, I tease him that I love it here more than he does because of the tremendous photographic potential!  There are incredible scenes that unfold in every season.  My years are not marked by months but by patterns of nature, by the unfolding of incredible constellations of spring wildflowers, by vast dark night skies, by hypnotizing turquoise waters and sandy dunes, by scarcely traveled roads winding forever through golden leaves, by snowy owls and hummingbirds and all the other migrating birds that call Michigan home for a while.  Michigan is a photographer’s treasure trove.

Little Zippy

Little Zippy

If you had to shoot somewhere in the U.S. other than Michigan(or the Great Lakes Region) where would it be? 

The answer depends on whether I have a landscape or a birding lens on that day!  I’ve always been intrigued by southwest landscapes, especially the red rocks and slot canyons of Arizona.  I have also wanted to delve into some serious birding in the wetlands of Florida.

Overlook #9 at Sunset

Did you go to school for photography or are you self-taught?

A little bit of both.  I learned the basics of the exposure triangle, composition, and depth of field through photography courses.  As I transitioned from film to digital photography, I taught myself to use Lightroom and Photoshop as editing tools. There are numerous video tutorials available that are great for learning digital retouching.

Star Trails Over D.H. Day Barn

Star Trails Over D.H. Day Barn

Is there anywhere in Michigan you haven’t been and would like to shoot?

In this season of having small children, I haven’t traveled much.  I have never been to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula, and I hope to explore and photograph the U.P. more in the years ahead.  I have been to Seney National Wildlife Refuge, and could easily spend months photographing birds there!

The Lights Beyond

The Lights Beyond

Do you have a personal favorite image and what draws you to it?

The image that means the most to me is “The Lights Beyond” which is ironic since I rarely put people into my captures, least of all pictures of myself.  This picture is a self portrait taken on November 3rd, 2015.  I was out at Glen Haven watching an incredible display of Northern Lights in silent reverence. It was a bittersweet moment to remember the man who taught me to love the night skies as a child. My Grandpa, a pilot who loved adventure, used to say it had been a good day if you'd cheated death and won. He lost his life on November 3rd, fourteen years ago, when his airplane crashed in a tragic accident. I feel his smile when I go on crazy aurora hunts, and I feel this picture connects me to him again across the boundaries of space and time.

I understand you have quite a few awards and recognitions under your belt! We'd love to hear what some of those are!

One of my images (A Walk Under the Aurora) was featured in the National Geographic Editors’ Spotlight as a Top Shot photo in the summer of 2015.  My images have been promoted by LensCulture, Pure Michigan, Traverse City Tourism, and Michigan in Pictures.  I have won several photography contests sponsored by the Light, Space, & Time Online Art Gallery and the World Photography Network.  The latter also featured me in a Photographer Spotlight interview.  My image “Golden Reflection” received first place in a photography contest sponsored by the Watershed Center of Grand Traverse Bay in 2014, and “Friendly Grasshopper” took second place in the same contest this year.  The printing company AdoramaPix featured my fireworks images and focus-pulling technique in a blog.  The Traverse City Record Eagle wrote an article about my photography this spring (link: and I have had month-long exhibitions at the City Opera House and at the Botanic Gardens at Historic Barns Park in Traverse City. 

Dark And Stormy Betsie

Folks always like a list of gear - so here is what Kristina takes to the field.


Camera: Canon 1D X

Lenses: Canon EF 11-24 mm f/4L

             Canon EF 16-35 mm f/2.8L II

             Canon EF 24-70 mm f/2.8L IS II

             Canon EF 70-200 mm f/2.8L IS II

             Canon EF 100 mm f/2.8L IS macro

             Canon EF 500 mm f/4L IS II

             Canon Extenders 1.4x III and 2x III

             Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8 (my favorite night sky lens!)

Tripod: Really Right Stuff TVC-34L

Ballhead: BH-55 PCLR

Gimbal head: Wimberley WH-200

Filters: Lucroit Firecrest ND and graduated ND 165 mm filters

That's it for the latest Photographer Profile! Thank you very much for taking the time to read the post and view the gorgeous photos from Kristina! Be sure to take some extra time and checkout her website and be sure to follow her on Facebook. She also sells her work at Ugly Tomato Farm Market in Glen Arbor.

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