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Welcome to my world

Mike Hall 2012 Lightning 138 small.jpg

Welcome to what I hope is a long series of weekly blog posts about the world of photography and my journey through it. For this first post, I wanted to give you a better understanding of how I got into photography. For the record, I don't call myself a "pro", nor will I ever. Regardless of how much or how little success I end up achieving, I will always view photography through the eyes of a student. It keeps me open to new ideas.

I earned a BFA from Western Kentucky University with a focus in graphic design, but drawing and photography have always been what I love most. Before transferring to WKU from Owensboro Community and Technical College in 2003, I bought my first digital camera, a Canon PowerShot A20 point and shoot. A whopping 2.1 megapixels back then. The shutter delay was maddening and it ate batteries faster than I can eat a bowl of M&Ms, but for $175, it was a good deal at the time. Let's face it, a non traditional student, whose parents were in no financial sitiuation to help with college expenses, is looking for any deal he can get.

Two years later, I took a trip to Europe. This trip turned out to be the biggest life changing event for me as far as photography is concerned. The scenery throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France was beyond breathtaking. The image below, shot from atop Mt. Pilatus near Lucerne, Switzerland, is the one image I credit with helping me decide to really start taking my photography seriously.

Mike Hall - Mt Pilatus 02 2014 edit small.jpg

Immediately after my trip, I looked into taking a photography class. The art department at WKU had no photography classes, so I managed to get into an intro class in WKU's School of Journalism. The class helped me in many ways. It helped improve my compositional skills which helped my drawing. It taught me to look deeper into my subject matter and to try to tell a story with my photos and not just take a snapshot. It also taught me how to develop B&W film and make prints in a darkroom. No digital work was allowed. These are not skills I use often now, but having that connection to old school photography made me start to love it even more.

Upon gradiating from WKU and not being able to find work, I started to fall into a deep depression. I pretty much cut myself off from the rest of the world and buried myself in my drawing and photography. I lost touch with a lot of friends during this time, which is one of my biggest regrets. During this solitary period, I began to combine my love of photography with another subject I have been fascinated with since I was a small child, severe weather.

For two years as a teenager, I had lived in Kansas. There, I saw my first tornado and was hooked. When I moved back to Kentucky, I began to spot & chase storms as often as I could. Back then, I just had a Sony 8mm HandiCam. I still have hours of video I need to convert to digital. I wasn't as concerned about the footage as much as I was about simply experiencing nature in its most extreme. After college though, having more skill as a photographer, severe weather, a camera, and I were a perfect match.

Since we don't get as many visible tornadoes here in Kentucky, partly because of the terrain and because we get a lot of night time events here, I started to focus on an aspect of severe weather we get no shortage of, lightning. In the 7 years since I began focusing on lightning, I've captured well over 1500 lightning strikes. One of my early images is below. It is still one of my favorites and it is the image I still use to measure the quality of all my others.

Mike Hall - Lightning Re-Edit 53 small.jpg

My weather photos started making the local news on a regular basis. This eventually grew into having a few images on the national news such as The Weather Channel, WeatherNation, and even Good Morning America. As I grew as a photographer, I realized that I slowly started to come out of my isolation and connect with people again. This first happened on social media with my Facebook page, then in real life with other weather spotters & chasers. I even occasionally chase with a team now.

As my confidence behind a camera grew, I began to look for subjects that I had not focused on before, either because I wasn't interested or because I was too afraid to try. This led me to shooting indie film screenings at a local library which in turn led to actually shooting behind the scenes on the sets of indie films. I've grown to enjoy that just as much as photographing storms.

Mike Hall Web 44.jpg

Both are types of documentary photography, which is where I want to concentrate my focus. Combining documentary photography with travel is my number one goal. I want to see as much of the world as possible and make a living with my camera. As far as dreams go, I don't think that is asking too much. I am still working on that however.

Well, there you go. I'm sure I'll go in depth into different parts of my story in future posts, as well as some of the places and people who have helped me get to where I am today. But that pretty well sums most things up. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. Until next time.

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