Jack's Sparrow

September 21, 2014  •  3 Comments

I can't believe as of today summer is officially over. What a summer it has been though. This was best summer our young family has had to date thanks to 20 feet of fiberglass we acquired in the spring. Our Sea Ray, which we named Jack's Sparrow after my wife Jacqueline, unlocked the key to enjoying the nearly 30 islands scattered about the Detroit River where we live. The river links Lake Erie to the south and Lake St. Clair to the north. It's amazing to think we could travel anywhere in the world from here just like the big freighters we routinely cross paths with. 

 As a shipwreck diver I have developed a fascination with freighters. I never tire of seeing them. And our little Sparrow has given us plenty of opportunity to see and photograph them this summer. Freighters must sail the Detroit River's Livingstone Channel to head upbound from lakes Ontario and Erie, or downbound from lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron. Fortunately for us we live right next door. 

_AM_8344Livingstone ChannelA boat passes the Great Republic in the Livingstone Channel.

It gets quite busy in the river, and especially the narrow Livingstone Channel, making photography difficult. But if it was easy it wouldn't be fun now would it? 

And not far from the south end of the channel is the Detroit River Light. Built in 1885, the lighthouse resides in Lake Erie and served as a rendezvous site for rum runners during prohibition. It is quite beautiful and only visible by boat or aircraft. I've really fallen in love with this lighthouse, the sound of its' fog signal and the sight of freighters passing. 

Detroit River LightDetroit River LightThe freighter Algocanada passes the Detroit River Light. Built in 1885, the light resides in Lake Erie south of the mouth of the Detroit River and is visible by boat or aircraft.

Detroit River LightDetroit River LightA storm brews over the Detroit River Light. Built in 1885, the light resides in Lake Erie south of the mouth of the Detroit River and is visible by boat or aircraft.

But as much as I love seeing the freighters and lighthouses around here, it's the islands our kids love. Beaching the boat, jumping off the back for a swim and having a cookout is their favorite thing to do. So we usually head straight to Sugar Island before it gets crowded.

_AM_6860Sugar IslandHaving fun on Sugar Island.

Once it starts to get a little crazy we shove off and go for a cruise. By then the kids are tired and ready to watch a movie or have a nap in the cuddy cabin, leaving us free to visit the lighthouse, chase freighters, cruise around the islands or just randomly sightsee. 

 I have a feeling the fun we had this summer is only going to make winter seem longer. Our boat has given me the opportunity to combine three things I dearly love - my family, photography, and the water. Maybe we'll try to sneak in one more trip to the lighthouse and Sugar Island before we put away Jack's Sparrow. 


The Mighty Point and Shoot

August 30, 2014  •  5 Comments

It's been too long since my last blog post. I'm blaming that fact on a busy summer, working, boating, diving and shooting. But my recent vacation has me thinking about how much I love using a point and shoot camera. For the first time I went on vacation without a DSLR or laptop, replacing both with my Canon G12 and Samsung tablet computer. With three young children I wanted to save some space in the car, and frankly, wanted a break from "serious" shooting.

It's easier to carry a point and shoot.

But make no mistake, you can do some serious shooting with a point and shoot. There is an old saying that the best camera made is the one you have with you. And with a smaller point and shoot camera one can have a capable camera anywhere. They are easy to slip in a pocket, purse, almost anywhere.

There are often times I wish for my DSLR and full frame sensor, but when I'm with my family I try hard not to turn the event into a photo shoot. At the same time I do want to record the event. Because to me, there are few pictures more important than family photos.


Let's face it, that incredible sunset photo you have is likely to get tossed in the bin when you're kids and grand children are sorting through your belongings after you've passed away. But the photo you took of your child catching his first fish Finn with his first fish. will be treasured. A good point and shoot is really the Swiss Army knife of cameras, capable of most everything, just not always the best tool for the moment.  

But most do have some great tools. I shot the pano of the Surf Ballroom, the site of Buddy Holly's last performance, using the built in pano settings on my G12 to help me line everything up. Granted I could have shot this easily with my Canon 5D MKIII and a wide lens, but I didn't have it. 

Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa. Site of Buddy Holly's last performance. Four image stitch.

Finn comes down the long slide. The girls on the wave runner. Shot from another wave runner. I put my G12 in a waterproof bag and stored it on the PWC, ready to use when needed.


It's harder to shoot quickly with a point and shoot as most do have a delay while the camera takes its' time to focus and shoot. But with some foresight one can still capture spontaneous moments. It's important to pre-focus to help speed up the shutter release delay. It's also important to be able to shoot in manual mode or quickly be able to use the exposure compensation so you can get the desired exposure. 


I do carry a small external flash for my G12, but use the built-in flash quite often. I also shoot lots of video with this camera. It's easy and simple. I take it with me everywhere and with an SD card such as an Eye-Fi or Toshiba Flashair card I can pictures on my phone and post to social media sites quickly. Many point and shoots now have wi-fi built in which is a huge plus.

My G12 is getting long in the tooth and has me thinking about an upgrade. I'm tempted to go with a mirror-less system with interchangable lenses but those are more expensive and again, not as easy to carry. And what I like most about shooting with my G12, or any point and shoot, is how unassuming it is to use. Watching a storm pass, Lake Okoboji, Iowa.

People pay less attention when you are using it. It's small and quiet. I can still enjoy family time without it feeling like a photo shoot. But it is fully capable when I want it. And more importantly, it allows me to blend in with the background and capture special moments just like a pro. Because being a pro photographer is not about your gear or how you look, it's about how you think, see and shoot.

First Charter of the Season

May 29, 2014  •  3 Comments

Thanks to a rare open Sunday this year I was able to kick off the dive charter season May 25th with a pair of dives from Rec and Tec Scuba Dive Charter's Sylvia Anne in Lake Huron's Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve. Coincidentally my first charter last year was also May 25th but up in the Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve. And while these two preserves are quite different in many ways, I'm discovering May 25th is becoming a very good day for me to dive.

In the Straits my first two dives were on the iconic wrecks Eber Ward and Sandusky. The Eber Ward, a wooden steamer, sank in 1909 and sits at 140 feet deep while the schooner Sandusky was lost in 1856 and sits 85 feet from the surface. Yes the water was cold, but the Straits were glass flat and the visibility was stunning, over 60 feet. Both wrecks are must do dives for a Great Lakes diver.

Sitting in 85 feet of water is the brig Sandusky which sank in a storm in 1856. The Sandusky features a unique figurehead. The present figurehead is a replica attached after the original was damaged in a theft attempt.

The Eber Ward sank in 1909 in the Straits of Mackinac.

My two dives this year were with with a group of divers from Aquatic Adventures of Michigan on lesser known wrecks but were every bit as epic. Our first dive was on the New York, a steam barge that sank in 117 feet of water in 1876. It's somewhat broken up but there is a really neat oscillating steam engine and part of the hogging arch is still standing. Our second dive was the Col. A.B. Williams, a schooner that sank in 1864 in about 80 feet of water. The mast and cabin are gone but the classic bowsprit makes this a must see. And while the Sandusky is a "sexy" looking schooner with curved lines and a figurehead, the Williams is a great example of a Great Lakes work schooner- simple, tough, straight lines and no figurehead.

What made these two dives this year especially epic though was the visibility. I've been on the New York a couple other times and it sits in a spot of Lake Huron that can be especially dark and turbid. And the Williams is sometimes not much better. But we easily had 60-80 feet of visibility on both dives and there was plenty of light. So I wasn't too bummed when my strobes refused to fire on the New York. It was a great chance to shoot available light. We really got to see these two wrecks in all of their glory, though only divers would call a ship sitting on the bottom glorious. Still, I'm ready to start planning dives for May 25, 2015.


A rebreather diver explores the wreck of the New York in Lake Huron's Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve. _MG_0731The Col. A.B. Williams in Lake Huron's Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve.











By The Numbers
Wreck Runtime Bottom Temp Maximum Depth Year Built Year Sank How Sank
2013-Eber Ward   38 min.       43.7 F           124.1 fsw      1888      1909   Holed by Ice
2013-Sandusky   35 min.       43.7 F            71.8 fsw      1848      1856        Storm
2014-New York   30 min.       39.2 F           115.5 fsw      1856      1876        Storm
2014-Col. A.B. Williams   31 min.       41.5 F            81.8 fsw        ?      1864           ?


Contest Season

April 13, 2014  •  2 Comments

Award of Excellence-PictorialCowboys watch the action as they wait their turn in the steer wrestling competition at the Sandusky County Fair. The Blade/Andy Morrison

Spring is always a welcome season for photographers. The snow melts away revealing blooming flowers waiting for a lens to be pointed their direction. And after this especially harsh winter, spring has brought a sigh of relief to those of us living in the more northern climates. It's warmer and makes getting outside more inviting.

Spring is also contest season for photographers. There are thousands of them each year ranging from local calendar contests sponsored by park districts, on up to international wildlife and photojournalism contests. Photographers of all levels have spent the past year honing their craft and documenting their subjects.

Around late November photographers began prepping their images according to the standards of each particular contest. It's tedious and time consuming. It's also a challenge narrowing down the best images and putting a portfolio together. Entries are then sent off to make the deadlines, most of which are in January and February. Then the waiting begins. Will I win anything, and if so, which images have the best chance of winning?

Statewide contests are always of importance to photojournalists. It's a way of directly measuring ourselves against our peers, many of whom are also friends and acquaintances.  These contests are competitive, fun, depressing, rewarding, motivating and the results sometimes confounding, all at the same time. They are also educational allowing us to spot trends and see what judges are looking for.

I don't think expectations were very high at my newspaper entering this season. They certainly weren't for myself. The last few years have been challenging while raising toddlers. And it's been challenging for all newspaper staffs which have been systematically cut over the last six to seven years. We just don't have as much time per assignment let alone for extended projects.

fea_jamto_gooseattackThird Place-Feature CategoryTom Deckelman, Sylvania, ducks as a Canada goose attacks him while he jogs in the rain at Olander Park, Wednesday, April 24, 2013. Mr. Deckelman was out for a run when the goose went after him defending the nearby nest its' mate was building. The Blade/Andy Morrison

So it's with bated breath we waited for the results of the Ohio News Photographer's Association Still Picture Contest, which was judged Friday and Saturday at Kent State University.

Turns out there was little reason for the low expectations. Our staff did incredibly well. One of the better results I've seen in a long time. Our newest staffer, Katie Rousch, won News Photographer of the Year for the Large Market Category. Katie also won second place in General News. Katie works very hard so it's awesome to see that hard work pay off.

Amy Voigt also had a great year it turns out. Amy won first place in both General News and News Picture Story, along with an Award of Excellence in Spot News-Large Market. Amy is one of my favorite people to work with. She is always up, never complains and always manages to make me smile no matter how grumpy I am. 

Lori King won third place in Spot News-Large Market Category for a photo she shot while on a camping trip with her wonderful family. Lori saw smoke, and as a photojournalist, decided to check it out. She shot an incredible photo, transmitted it back to the paper and returned to her vacation. A perfect example of why it's important to always have a camera.

Our former intern Jeffrey Smith, now at the Times-Herald in Port Huron, Mi., won first place in Portrait Personality. Jeff was one of our best interns in some time and has a great future ahead of him.

I won a third place in Feature and an Award of Excellence in Pictorial. Not my best effort but certainly better than I expected.

We also won as a staff for Team Picture Story for our excellent coverage of the "Search for Baby Elaina". That win was especially nice since the whole staff contributed to covering this heartbreaking story that consumed much of our time last summer and fall.

Our staff at The Blade finished in Third Place for Photography Staff of the Year- Large Market, behind the Columbus Dispatch and Cleveland Plain-Dealer. This is really spectacular considering our expectations.

The complete list of winners can be found at the ONPA website.

While it's great to celebrate this accomplishment, and we will, I also think it's important to focus on what these results really mean. It means we are providing our readers and our community with the best coverage possible. I think it's also important to keep the wins in perspective. Winning, or not winning, is in the eyes of a set of judges and does not define a photographer or body of work for that matter.

The Associated Press Society of Ohio judging is coming up and many of the same images are entered in that contest. It's always great to see how the two similar contests are judged differently.

So while it's fun to win, it should not define us. You're only as good as your last picture as the saying goes. So I'm sure we'll have a few slices of pizza and a couple cold beers to celebrate and then get right back to work giving our readers the coverage they deserve, and more importantly, pay for.

Treasure Diving

March 23, 2014  •  2 Comments

There is a small band of winter warriors who comb the bottom of the local rivers looking for antique bottles up here in the Great Lakes. Many of these locations are known - a few are not. Finding a good spot that hasn't been picked over is akin to a fisherman and his honey hole - you don't publicize it. The first rule of river dive club - you don't talk about river dive club, to steal a line from Brad Pitt.

But today we went to a well known location to eat breakfast and freeze our butts off in the South Channel of the St. Clair River. Harsen's Island is a neat little island where the St. Clair River dumps into Lake St. Clair. We dove in about 30 feet of not-too-fast current. The visibility was great at around 20 - 25 feet. But it was cold. I recorded about 34 or 35 degrees during my 32 minute dive. And I didn't find anything special, which is why I don't mind telling you about today's river dive club dive. But a few folks from our unofficial, ever-changing group had some nice finds. Led by Rich Synowiec, owner of Diver's Incorporated in Ann Arbor, we had a great time as usual.



January February March (2) April (1) May (1) June July August (1) September (1) October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December