John Dyess – Harbor Photographer

IN FOCUS: John Dyess

This article was originally published by the Duluth Seaway Port Authority in the North Star Port Magazine.

This is the latest in a series of profiles about the gifted photographers whose images bring the Port’s working waterfront to life.

How did you first get into photography, specifically the shipping scene?

My wife and I bought our first DSLR (digital single- lens reflex camera) for our Fine Art Photography honeymoon to Australia.

After our return to Duluth, I started photographing North Shore landscapes and wildlife. I was inspired to try my hand at capturing

ships by some of the great photography I had seen in local galleries and online. My first planned outing to capture a Great Lakes freighter was to Wisconsin Point on a -10° F. morning to shoot the arrival of the Burns Harbor. The combination of ice fog, sunrise and the frozen ship made for a stunning image. I was hooked.

What draws you to Great Lakes shipping and the working waterfront?

I am fascinated by the history of the Great Lakes shipping industry, and I enjoy seeing the shipping industry at work.

The Twin Ports provides many unique opportunities to capture maritime photographs. I also enjoy shooting frozen landscapes, northern lights, wildlife and anything in black and white.

Is photography your primary business?

No, photography is my hobby. I have a Ph.D. in structural geology from the University of Minnesota and have worked at the University of Wisconsin Superior as an academic advisor/instructor for almost three years.

How do you choose your vantage points, and are most shots planned or spontaneous?

Lighting conditions always determine my composition and the mood of the image. However, shipping schedules do not always account for lighting conditions, and sometimes I just have to do the best with what I have. I usually consider what compositions of a given ship I’ve already captured when planning my next shot. That may change when I arrive at the waterfront and see the lighting and weather conditions. Shots go as planned about half the time. It is important to be flexible.

What makes a great shipping or harbor shot? Do you know immediately when you get one?

A great shipping shot makes the viewer feel like they are actually on the harbor. These shots almost always have a good sense of place or capture a unique moment of action. I usually know right away when I capture something special.

Visit John on his Facebook Page

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