Landscape photographer Shawn Malone has been building a successful business in the U.P. art world for the last few years, and now is taking social media by storm with her jaw-dropping Lake Superior and night sky photos.
Lots of folks can take one or two amazing photos of the natural beauty of Lake Superior and the Upper Peninsula--you see them all over social media, travel articles, and in print.
But not everyone can make a business out of art photography in the U.P., and not everyone has that magical sensibility that allows them to create stunning photos day in and day out. Shawn Malone of Lake Superior Photography is doing both, and garnering plenty of attention for her work.
Her story with the U.P. started in 2000, when she moved here to get away from the big-city environment she was in and was looking for a job somewhere quieter and more beautiful. The U.P. fit that bill perfectly.
"I was just taken by the beauty of the area. The first time seeing Lake Superior left a huge impression on me; such an impression, I named my business after it," Malone says. "A particular detail of the allure of Lake Superior for me is in the water color that you see in varying forms around the lake, a blue-green color that leaves you speechless with a clarity that allows you to see 30 or 40 feet down in places, it's unreal!"
She worked at a few jobs locally while building her photography business, which she finally made her full-time job in 2006.
Malone made the particular offerings of the U.P. her specialty in photography, spending time with a camera pointed at the night sky, often with Northern Lights putting on a show, or watching the subtle changes of light on Lake Superior. She says she first got inspired to photograph the U.P. at night after a trek with a friend.
"Once you get away from the towns up here, the Upper Peninsula still has some very dark night skies without a lot of light pollution. I have a friend that took us out one night on a two-track dirt road. He shut the car off, turned off the lights and you couldn't see the hand in front of your face. It was a moonless night. When we got out, you could almost see your shadow from the starlight; the sky was glowing. I had never experienced that before and it made a huge impression on me," she says.
Living on the south shore of Lake Superior has been an advantage--with a photographer's eye, Malone chose an unobstructed view that would result in some of her most famous photographs. She says she first recorded an aurora or Northern Lights image in 2000, and found it fascinating. It eventually led her into learning about time-lapse photography.
"Every display is different, unpredictable, and many times mind-blowing. I got interested in time lapse to record the night skies, as that format offers the viewer an entirely different perspective and appreciation of what goes on over a longer period of time that we might not notice just standing there watching it, because it occurs so gradually in real time," she says. "With time lapse speeding up the passage of time, the viewer gets a different look at what is going on in our universe that might have not been realized otherwise."
That dedication to showing people a new side of the skies, lakes, and environments around them in the U.P. has paid off in wide exposure online and particularly on Facebook
, where Malone's photographs and video posts often reach into the thousands of views and shares. Her images of the U.P. have spread all over the world, inspiring visitors and national media attention. And she didn't even want to be on Facebook at first!
"I was hesitant at first to start a Facebook page," Malone says. "I just started sharing regularly things and places that I find interesting and beautiful in this place that is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and try to keep it unique and creative--from my mind's eye, I guess you could say... I think many have a great love for this amazing area and the Facebook page has kind of served to keep people connected through my visual interpretations of the area through photos and video."
She's now opened a gallery in downtown Marquette at 211 South Front Street, called LakeSuperiorPhoto. It was time to move production of her work out of her home and into a dedicated studio and gallery space, and it also allowed her to focus on one location, rather than spend much of her summer exhibiting at art shows. In addition to walk-in customers from downtown, she gets some visitors from far away, as well.
"With the start-up of the gallery, it has been very gratifying to have people visit the area and the gallery for the first time due to a post they saw on the LakeSuperiorPhoto page," Malone says. "The connections are far-reaching and amazing. People have driven cross-country and even gotten on a plane to visit the gallery. That is very special and humbling."
Malone also keeps in touch with customers and would-be clients through print sales online and occasional photography workshops to help others capture their dream images of the U.P. Her work can be found in homes and businesses all over the country, and she also licenses her images for web, magazine, book and calendar use. Still, she says she's always looking for new challenges.
"There's always new techniques or formats I am searching out to experiment with for new work, and I'm kind of at a crossroads as to what I am really going to jump into next," she says. "I do know that a large effort is going to be made to release a DVD and Blu-Ray before the end of the year of my timelapse and video work to date that will probably focus on the night sky and aurora filmed in this region. I am looking into different options for developing as a videographer, as the technology is changing so fast and is really opening doors in that respect."
No matter what new images or videos Malone puts her energy into next, she has no intention of going anywhere but the shores of Lake Superior.
"There are so many reasons why I stay here, it largely revolves around the quality of the natural environment we are blessed with here and the slower pace of life than what you might find in Chicago or Detroit," she says.
Kim Eggleston is a freelance writer based in Marquette, Michigan. You can find her on Twitter @magdalen13.