Welcome to the Mark S. Peterson Photography blog! I'll share insights into my creative endeavors and imaging adventures. I also hope to keep you up-to-date on my diverse range of projects and share info about my photo workshops. Thanks for visiting - enjoy!

Mark S. Peterson, photographer

  • No public Twitter messages.

  • Group portrait fun! Iowa portrait photographer

    June 29th, 2014

    The past year has turned out to be immensely busy. As one can likely tell by my posting frequency (or infrequency, as it is probably more accurately described), I don’t tend to blog very frequently. This isn’t because I don’t enjoy it or don’t want to share my work. I simply have very little unscheduled time between back-to-back or even overlapping projects, and blogging falls by the wayside. I have recently told myself I need to do so more frequently, so I’m going to “catch up” by posting images I’ve meant to blog but just so far have not.

    I mention this now, because while I frequently shoot portraits for both portraiture and editorial clients, I had a group portrait session last fall that was very special to me. My oldest daughter and a number of her very best friends asked me to photograph them as part of a school homecoming-dance event, and we had a great time. Ever since that evening, I have meant to post a few of the photos from the session.

    So finally, with a short block of available time tonight and that particular shoot in mind, here are a few favorites from that session. Enjoy – and thanks for reading!

    (Oh, and for the photographers reading, these were shot with a Nikon D800E SLR, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens (which I tend to use as a “long wide-angle” on full-frame cameras), and a combination of natural light and subtle fill from an off-camera SB-800 speedlight triggered with an SC-28 remote cable).

    UPDATED: Winter Landscape Workshop Post-Mortem – What a Day!

    February 20th, 2014


    They say around here, “If you don’t like the weather in Iowa, just wait ’til tomorrow – it’ll be different!”

    We had a fine group of photographers come together Saturday for our “The Midwest Winter Landscape” photography workshop, in Des Moines, Iowa. It was a dedicated group of hardy souls, and wow, did we experience a wide array of weather. Forget waiting “’til tomorrow” as the saying goes – we experienced an entire winter season just in one day.

    20140215-_DSC2401Starting with single-digit temps in pre-dawn light, we met at 6:30am to be able to be set up before sunrise. With a group ranging from beginner to advanced photographers, we alternated  between instructional gatherings and shooting in the morning. We enjoyed a…shall I say….”fleeting”…sunrise? If 90 seconds of beautifully red-glowing clouds in the Eastern sky during a steel-grey overcast morning represents sunrise, then yes it was fleeting. But if you weren’t paying close attention, it would have been easy to miss altogether. With snow forecast for mid-morning, we were focused on contrasty landscape images of some beautiful trees in the prairie.

    Right on schedule as forecast, the sky broke and we were hit by a (beautiful!) wet, driving snow for an hour or so. While it was tempting to stay in our warm vehicles, almost all of the participants braved the driving snow to capture some beautiful wild riverfront-in-snowfall images, using slow shutter speeds to emphasize the hard-falling snow. Reviewing some participant photos later, there were some very fine images captured during this part of the workshop.

    Retreating to a warm coffeeshop – with only one photographer putting her car in the ditch on the way (thanks again to those of you who successfully pushed her out!) – we enjoyed a few hours in a meeting room, mid-morning through the lunch hour, for a few hours of discussion-style instructional content. The group asked lots of fabulous questions. While there, the snow outside stopped, the sun came out, and the temps rose by twenty or more degrees. By the time we were ready to head back out mid-afternoon, it was a warm, glorious afternoon.

    Heading to another favorite location outside town, we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon in a lovely pine forest, shooting some serene scenics and enjoying fun techniques such as camera-shake and zoom-blur action. By late-afternoon the light was a mellow golden hue, giving the group great opportunity to capture hillocks of fresh, glistening snow, prairie grasses glistening with fresh powder, and beautiful areas at the prairie’s edge.

    20140215-photo 2With ten minutes remaining until sunset, another front moved through and our hopes for a beautiful sunset images were dashed. More steel-grey sky. But everyone left with a solid collection of images, and I had a great time working with this great group of photographers. I hope you all who came out for this event had as much fun shooting as I did working with you!

    UPDATE: I have added workshop photos photos from two Peterson Photo Workshop veteran participants – Penny Adam and Tanmay Roy - below. Great work, Penny and Tanmay! Thanks for sharing these fine images with us!


    2014 Photography Workshop Calendar Announced

    January 5th, 2014

    20130615-_MSP3384I’m pleased to announce my 2014 photography workshop line-up. While I will be cutting down the overall number of workshops I offer this year, I have added some new sessions and topics and I’m enthusiastic to get into the field and the classroom with you this year!

    A few notes about the first sessions of the year…

    I’m kicking off the season with my popular Intro to Digital SLR Photography workshop, coming up right away in late-January. If you’ve been interested in this workshop but haven’t ever taken it, please note that I’ll not be repeating this one as often in 2014 as I did last year. As of now, it’s on the calendar once – January 25. I may add another session later in the year, depending on my late-year photography calendar overall, but no guarantees. So if you’re thinking about this class, I encourage you to register right away. It will likely fill soon, so don’t hesitate.

    I am also excited to be offering a new winter landscape field workshop – The Midwest Winter Landscape – coming up mid-February. We’ll do this in the Des Moines area, and it will be a slightly different format than my other field workshops. This workshop will meet pre-dawn for landscape shooting in the beautiful winter dawn light, and will continue shooting through most of the morning. But then in the middle portion of the day we’ll retreat to a warm location for small-group instruction, critique of images from the morning session, and hot chocolate or coffee. We’ll then venture back out in the afternoon to shoot in the mellow afternoon light, and sunset until dark.

    I also want to note that I’ll be offering an Advanced Lightroom class, and I have kicked up my former “Intermediate” DSLR Photography class a big notch and have re-packaged it as an all-new half-day Advanced DSLR Photography classroom workshop.

    Autumn Color Photography WorkshopThe calendar as it stands now:

    Saturday, January 25 ~ Intro to Digital SLR Photography – Des Moines, IA. Half-day – 12-4pm

    Saturday, February 15 ~ The Midwest Winter Landscape – Des Moines, IA. All-day

    Saturday, March 8 ~ Advanced Lightroom – Des Moines, IA. Half-day – 12-4pm

    Saturday, April 19 ~ Advanced DSLR Photography – Des Moines, IA. Half-day – 12-4pm

    Saturday, May 3 ~ Spring Wildflowers and Landscapes – Central IA. All-day

    Saturday, July 12 ~ The Midwest Summer Prairie – Rural Marshall County, IA. All-day

    Saturday, September 20 ~ 9th Annual Living History Farms Photography Day – Not my event, but I’ll offer instruction here! This should be on the calendar of any photographer in the Midwest!

    Saturday, October 18 ~ Midwest Autumn Color – Ledges State Park near Boone, IA. All-day

    20130511-_MSP0529Complete information and registration for all of the above can be found at my full workshop website, petersonphotoworkshops.com.

    Please note that I do generally add some mid- and late-year classes, sometime around late spring. I have already had some people asking about additional Intro to DSLR Photography classes and my Intro to Lightroom class. Please stay tuned – I’ll add sessions as my calendar for mid-year and beyond becomes more clear.

    2013 was a very fun year for Peterson Photoworkshops, and I was humbled to have so many repeat workshop participants – some photographers have returned for up to seven or eight of my workshops. I greatly appreciate your support, and I look forward to working with many fabulous photographers in this upcoming year.

    Happy New Year!

    Autumn Color Workshop Fun!

    October 28th, 2013

    Autumn Color Photography WorkshopFor the first time in a few years, the 17 photographers joining us for this year’s Midwest Autumn Color photography workshop at Ledges State Park in central Iowa had a perfect, blue-sky day. It was even warm! The past few years have been either overcast steel-grey skies – typical of autumn in this part of the country – or full-out rain like we had on both days of last year’s special “two-fer” offering of this workshop. It was really nice to be warm and dry for this year’s session!

    That said, since it’s been so dry here all year, the fall color has really been delayed in this region. Thus while mid-October is normally “peak” fall-color time here, while the day was gorgeous, the color wasn’t quite as stunning as some recent years. Still, we had some amazingly talented photographers in the group, and they produced some outstanding autumn photographs over the course of the day. And moreover, it was a very fun group that I can confidently say had a great time working together in the field.

    Autumn Color Photography WorkshopWith over half of the group consisting of returning Peterson Photo Workshops alumni – including some members who are on their sixth or seventh of my workshops, and seven participants who had even previously completed a Midwest Autumn Color workshop previously (thanks for coming back guys and gals, I appreciate your support so much!) – I tried to mix up the locations within the park that the workshop visited. This was somewhat challenging, as there are just a few spots that can’t be missed on any photographic visit to The Ledges. But it was very cool to see returning participants taking a fresh look at a couple locations I knew they’d seen before, and extremely cool to see them employing new knowledge since the last time out!

    The group met at 6:30am and basically photographed from 7:00am to 5:00pm with merely a short break for lunch. Wow, we filled a lot of cards with lovely fall color photographs.

    Here are some fantastic images created by participants Penny Adam and Joe Herriges. Thanks for letting me feature these here, Penny and Joe!

    To see some more photos from this event, please check out the Peterson Photo Workshops Flickr Group, where a number of extremely talented photographers have posted images from this and several of this year’s field workshops. So awesome to see these photographers sharing and discussing each others’ work here.

    This was the last of my 2013 Field Workshops, though I still have two classroom workshops remaining – Intro to DSLR Photography on November 2, and Intro to Lightroom on November 23. Registration for both is over at PetersonPhotoWorkshops.com. I look forward to announcing the 2014 Field Workshop calendar soon!

    Halloween Craft Decor

    October 9th, 2013


    Witch LindsayAfter a long dry summer here on the north plains of the US, autumn has suddenly arrived. The nights are all of a sudden cooler, and the days shorter. Of course this means one thing: Halloween is coming!

    Some months ago I was hired by a magazine publisher to create a variety of moody, thematic images of Halloween craft decor (i.e., make-it-yourself craft items for your Halloween decorating) for one of their North America publication’s autumn issue. But alas, the magazine for which the images were created was closed several months before the September publication date, and the photos were never used.

    The creative team styled and photographed literally dozens of craft projects – the content was the majority of what would fill a 120+ page magazine – over the two or three days of this shoot. We had a very fun time working with a wide variety of Halloween set concepts. As the photographer, I found the content to be an interesting challenge to produce, especially from a photographic lighting perspective. Due to the range of subjects and issues related to the sets in which we were to shoot, I used a variety of lighting techniques – natural light in some, studio strobes in others, and compact fluorescents in still others. With each, I made good use of my favorite diffusers and reflectors. Despite the various lighting techniques employed, it was important to maintain a consistent look between all of the photos in the collection.

    At the conclusion of the shoot, we ended up with a set of final images that were extremely on-brand for the publication, and that portrayed the “Halloween Craft Decor” theme exceedingly well. It was a shame the photos never saw the light of day. The creative team were all proud of the final photographs, and I’ve seen some of these photos in the portfolios of nearly everyone involved – even though the photos never appeared in print!

    So here is a (very) small sampling of some Halloween craft decor fun. These are just a few of my favorites from literally dozens of shots that were to fill that complete magazine issue.

    Img070531 cents




    And while I don’t have the space to go into detail about how each photo was created, here are a couple behind-the-scenes shots of the studio set and lighting set-up that may be of interest to some of the photographers and publishing industry creatives that visit this blog.











    Happy Halloween!





    Iowa State Fair Photography Salon Judging

    September 5th, 2013
    Salon under construction

    Salon under construction

    I was honored a year or so ago when my friend Charley Starnes asked me to commit to being a judge for the 2013 Iowa State Fair Photography Salon competition. Charley’s a pro photographer, friend and fellow workshop leader, and has been Superintendent of this annual salon for the past dozen years or so.

    For those readers not from around here, the Iowa State Fair is one of the largest state fairs in the US by number of visitors, with over a million visitors passing through its gates during its 10-day duration each August. And the photography salon – this year in its 74th year – has become one of the largest photography print competitions in the country, with around 3,500-4,000 11×14 matted prints entered from all over the US each year.

    So to be asked to be one of three judges to create a world-class photography exhibit from around 3,700 entrants, and to decide placewinners in what are dozens of categories, was a very intriguing challenge for me. I’ve juried lots of photography and art shows before – for local and regional galleries and online salons – but none anywhere near this sheer size. Of course I accepted the invitation, and marked out the days on my calendar that this judging would take place.

    As it unfolded, this year’s salon attracted 1,157 photographers from across the US to enter a total of 3,678 photographs. Over the course of 32 hours in three days this past summer, two fellow judges and I put the submissions through a very thorough examination and arrived at an exhibit I was very proud of. We left each day bleary-eyed (and in fact the last day went to 1:00am or so), but excited to have viewed so many truly excellent photographs each day.

    This was a very fun process. And what a process it is! Charley and his staff of a dozen or so extremely prepared volunteers – each with a highly specialized role in the organization and process management used to facilitate the judging – have created a system that, while exhausting due to the sheer numbers of photographs, is quite interesting in and of itself.

    In the end, the final exhibit consisted of 862 photographs – about 23% of those entered. Interestingly, some photos that won prizes actually had been eliminated on first pass, and were put back into the show upon second or third reviews.

    While we were in the midst of judging, IPTV (Iowa’s public television network) showed up to video a segment on the salon that ran on the network during the days of the state fair. It’s a good behind-the-scenes look at how the process runs….and you might find it to be of interest whether you are a photographer entering the Iowa State Fair, or any other large print competition. Here’s the segment:

    (yep, that’s me on the right side, making good use of my “Doh!” sign).

    In all, this was a memorable endeavor, and it’s quite rewarding to have contributed to the creation of what I thought was a really solid photo exhibit. If you are from around here and visited the fair, I hope you enjoyed the show!

    For those of you who like to plan ahead: next year, the 2014 Iowa State Fair Photography Salon will be celebrating it’s 75th year as a photography competition. To celebrate, the state fair board will hold the salon as a tribute to Ansel Adams. As such, the entire show will be <insert drum roll> black and white! Good luck with that, 2014 judges!

    The Midwest Summer Prairie workshop – a lucky beautiful June day!

    August 24th, 2013

    It’s been a crazy and busy summer, and after having been traveling most of July and booked solid most of August, I’m finally able to catch up on the blog. Here is a post-mortem on our very fun annual Midwest Summer Prairie photography workshop.

    We had a great group of photographers converge on Marietta Sand Prairie in rural Marshall County Iowa, June 15, for this. Thanks to a fabulous group of photographers for joining us for a fun day in the sun! This was a very “different” kind of day for this particular workshop, but it was a very productive day.

    Why “different?” Well, in 2012, I’d scheduled this annual workshop at its “usual” time in late-July – the same time I’ve held it most years. This is a time that the prairies of the upper Midwest are ablaze in color and there is a great variety of flora to photograph. However, in 2012 we were in the midst of a really bad drought, and late-July saw many prairie specimens past their peak and in decline. Plus, the week of this workshop in 2012 saw 100-degree-plus daily temperatures – it had been brutal out there in the prairie last year.

    So this year, largely since the drought we’ve seen here in the upper Midwest was forecast to be even worse in 2013 than 2012, I moved this workshop up to mid-June. That’s about the time prairie flora was peaking in color around here last year. But in her ever-unpredictable manner, Mother Nature had other plans: spring snow – and LOTS of it – clear into May! And an end to the drought, brought about by a very large abundance of spring and summer rains. In fact, it had been so rainy in the days leading up to this workshop, I was sure we’d be out shooting in a downpour for this workshop. As a result of the late winter and heavy early-summer rains, not only were the prairie flowers we normally photograph at this workshop not peaking by June 15 as hoped, many of the plants were just barely sprouting altogether – the prairie was several weeks behind its normal blossom timeframe.

    So while we weren’t able to photograph the oft-looked-forward-to purple coneflowers, grey-headed coneflowers, prairie blazing stars, and other favorites, we found a solid variety of other prairie flora to photograph. In fact, it was a challenge getting the group to move to different locations at times – most of the photographers in the group were thoroughly engaged. In fact, if it wasn’t for the threat of a late-morning thunderstorm (that looked ominous but ended up missing us), we may not have even broken for lunch until mid-afternoon.

    All in all, though “different” than what we expected in terms of the shots we came home with (and that is just part of “the nature of nature photography,” it was an excellent day of nature photography on the open prairie, and participant feedback has been very positive.

    Here are some behind-the-scenes images of our participants at work…

    And some of the photographs they created during the day. Congrats on some great images, everyone!

    Thanks again to everyone who participated. I’m looking forward to our next field workshop – our Autumn Color Photography workshop coming up October 12 at Ledges State Park in lovely Boone County, Iowa.

    Spring Wildflower Workshop – Follow-Up and Participant Images

    May 20th, 2013
    Woodland Ivy Vine, © Mark S. Peterson Photography

    Woodland Ivy Vine, © Mark S. Peterson Photography

    After postponing my annual Spring Wildflower and Landscape Photography workshop a week due to an unprecedented week of May snow in this region, a great group of participants came together at one of my favorite woodland wildflower locations for a productive day of learning and nature photography.

    We started the day at Berry Woods Preserve, which was the first Nature Conservancy acquisition in Iowa, and is a gorgeous forest a few miles south of Des Moines in Warren County. A lovely variety of the wildflowers native to this area can be found here. The spring wildflowers in this region tend to be woodland wildflowers (prairie wildflowers, in general, bloom later in Iowa – we’ll catch that action in my Midwest Summer Prairie workshop next month!), and lucky for our group the unusually cold and snowy May caused a slightly delayed bloom this year. We had some fabulous specimens to photograph.

    At lunch time we proceeded to nearby Warren County Conservation’s Lundy Acres, and spent the afternoon there working on landscape techniques. It was very windy, and the wind presented some challenges. The attraction of this location is that it is also a native, unspoiled forest. It presented a strong challenge to those photographers experienced with shooting manicured or man-made landscapes, and forced participants to deal with the chaos of nature – working within that chaos to create simple, meaningful compositions. Some participants rose valiently to the challenge; others struggled to find their vision for the site. We worked on this through the afternoon, and some great images resulted.

    Check out the fabulous work submitted by some of our participants below, and head on over to our Peterson Photo Workshops Flickr Group to see an even larger selection.

    And here are a few behind-the-scenes looks at our workshop participants, hard at work!

    Thanks to all of you who participated, I had a great time working with you – and congrats on creating some stellar nature photographs!

    March 2 Intro to DSLR Workshop in Des Moines

    February 17th, 2013

    SnowStreamAfter working with several great groups of photographers at my January and February photography workshops, I’m now prepping some brand new images and content for my next photography workshop – Intro to Digital SLR Photography – 12:00-4:00pm, March 2, 2013 in Des Moines, IA.

    As of now, there are still seats available for this session.

    Full information about this class can be found here: http://petersonphotoworkshops.com/calendar/intro-halfday/

    Register online at: http://petersonphotoworkshops.com/register/ (note that advance registration is required, as it is for all of my workshops)

    And while you’re on my workshop website, why not check out the full photography workshop calendar? http://petersonphotoworkshops.com/calendar/.

    I have a great season and some fabulous locations planned for the field workshops this year. Join us!

    Lightroom Workshop Update: almost full – register soon!

    February 4th, 2013

    LightroomThanks to everyone who has registered for one or more of my photography workshops since I announced the 2013 dates just a couple short weeks ago. Registration has been the most active of any workshop year to date, with some events coming within a couple seats of filling the first week they were available. Some photographers are signing up for their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th Peterson Photo Workshop this season – thank you, I greatly appreciate your interest and support!

    The upcoming February 16 Introduction to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom workshop in Des Moines is among those that is almost full. If you’ve been thinking of registering for this, I urge you to do so quickly as this workshop will almost certainly be sold out within days.

    Detailed info about the workshop can be found over on my workshop website, here:


    I’ve been using LR since version 1.0 (actually, I used a beta version even before then), and it totally changed the way I manage and edit my images. I really enjoy sharing my workflow and teaching LR to photographers, but due to my project and travel calendar this year, I’m not going to be able to repeat this workshop until November. So again, if interested, please grab one of these last remaining seats!