Nationally renowned landscape photographer Todd Reed has been taking pictures of Michigan’s natural splendor for 50 years. With more than 1 million photos in his library, here is what inspired him to share Michigan’s outdoor, natural beauty through his lens.

A Ludington resident, Todd grew up spending time outdoors, and his 33 years in the U.S. Coast Guard only enhanced his appreciation of (and ability to withstand) harsh weather. A journalist, Coastie, instructor, business owner, husband and dad, Todd perpetually chases the light and sees the world in pictures. To celebrate this milestone, Todd released a retrospective photography book in June, “Todd Reed: 50 Years Seeing Michigan Through a Lens,” which includes images from his 23 years as a photojournalist at the Ludington Daily News, best-selling images with new stories behind them and more than 60 never-before-seen images shot in 2020. Find the book online at toddandbradreed.com.
Endless Autumn by Todd Reed

Related Read: Searching for more outdoor photography, tips and adventures? View our Northern Michigan outdoors page.

We recently caught up with Todd as he reflects on 50 years in the field…

Q. What makes photographing Up North unique compared to other areas of the state?
A. No matter what direction you look or go, it is easy to find rugged, unspoiled, picturesque views in Northern Michigan. From the Great Lakes to great rivers and inland lakes, from beaches and dunes to farms and forests, Northern Michigan abounds with unblemished beauty.

Q. What specific places or moments out in the field are you most thankful for?
A. I am grateful to have spent much of my life on Lake Michigan and its shoreline. As a photographer, as a recreational boater and—for more than three decades—as a Coast Guard rescue boat driver, I became at home on Lake Michigan, in tune with its many moods and looks. I am never happier than when photographing in the teeth of a Great Lakes November gale for as long as it takes, until what we call “magic light” breaks out and makes an extraordinary storm scene look out of this world.

Q. What’s the story behind one of your all-time favorite images?
A. As I look back at my first 50 years as a photographer, “God’s Light” is the best photograph I have ever made. That lightning bolt still explodes in my mind’s eye nearly a quarter-century after it lit up the night sky on Sept. 19, 1997. I was as charged as the air about me as an enormous storm cloud fired lightning bolts while the thunderhead steamed end-over-end toward my vantage on the Ludington shoreline. Boom! I jumped from the concussion. The light was blinding. My camera was recording it on Fuji Velvia color transparency film. But how well? Quite well, it turned out, when my developed slides came back a few anxious days later. The moment I captured appeared heaven sent. “God’s Light” was an obvious choice for the title.

Gods Light by Todd Reed
Q. What motivates you to continue taking photos?
A. I am a visual person. I have been fixated on seeing the world around me since I was a child. That will not change. Seeing the world in pictures, consciously and subconsciously building images in my mind, whether I am looking through a viewfinder or not, is as natural for me as breathing. I plan to keep photographing until my last breath.

Q. What tips do you have for budding photographers?
A. Beginning photographers have greater vision than they know; they just have to believe in themselves and develop it. Home runs don’t come as easily at first, but the batting average goes up with practice, especially if you follow your heart with your camera. Ask yourself, “What is exciting me enough to take/make this picture?” Answer that question and then set out to emphasize it with your camera position and technique.

Q. Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
A. I am proud to be part of the brotherhood and sisterhood of Michigan outdoor photographers—a rapidly growing avocation and occupation. My son Brad and I, and Todd & Brad Reed Photography Manager Rachel Gaudette, are passionate about teaching photography, and we are just as passionate about promoting the enjoyment and respect of Michigan’s outdoors. We emphasize the need to tread lightly, bring out more than you brought in and treat others kindly along the way. Also, be safe out there; no photograph is worth your life.

Winter Spark by Todd Reed

Visit Todd’s Gallery in Ludington

Todd opened a gallery in his home in 1990 before moving it to downtown Ludington 10 years later. In 2005, he teamed up with his son, Brad Reed, to open Todd & Brad Reed Photography, still at the downtown Ludington location: 114 W. Ludington Ave. Artists, authors, teachers and naturalists, Todd and Brad are devoted to showing and sharing the power and beauty of Michigan.

Photo(s) by Todd Reed

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