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Know Your Neighbors: Mike Caplan

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You might recognize him as a longtime television meteorologist, but these days, you’re more likely to spy this Waukegan native on the other side of the camera, capturing everything from landscapes to fashion.

Mike Caplan (Caplan Studios photo)

Mike Caplan (Caplan Studios photo)

You might recognize Mike Caplan from his years working as a Chicago television meteorologist. But away from the news set, Caplan, a Waukegan native who grew up in Gurnee, has developed another love: photography. While he takes a break from his TV work, Caplan has ramped up his photography business, Caplan Studios, which he shares with his wife, Laura.

How did you get interested in photography?

My very first job was as “The Amazing Alfredo” at Six Flags Great America amusement park. I was 16 and making $2.60 an hour by guessing people’s weights. My first major purchase was a Minolta XG-7 camera. I took it with me to work almost every day to take photos of my friends and co-workers. I enjoyed using the camera and showing off my photos. I did this off and on through college. Soon, I started pointing the lens at landscapes and wildlife as well. The sky became a popular target, too, no doubt due to my early love of weather and astronomy. When my son was born in the late 1990s, I got my first digital camera. That’s when I started to really educate myself about photography. I’m fortunate to also have the support of my wife, Laura, who works on both sides of the camera as a photographer and a model. We started our business about five years ago. Photography is something we enjoy doing together.

What are your specialties when it comes to photography?

I specialize in not specializing. I try to be competent in any field of photography. One thing I like best is people, whether it’s a family portrait or a fashion shoot. My strength in photography is working with people.

That’s completely different than, for example, photographing owls in Wisconsin, which is something we recently did. Laura and I heard about a certain type of owl called the Northern Hawk Owl, which is seldom seen in the U.S. So, in January, we went to Eau Claire, Wis., in search of an owl named Lars, because he was spotted on a street corner by that name. We drove around the town, and that afternoon we found him. Here was this owl that we drove seven hours to see, sitting up in a tree. Who else does something that crazy?

How did you get interested in a career in meteorology?

As a young boy, I was interested in being an astronomer. I was into the stars and read plenty of books on astronomy. My first television job was in Champaign, Ill., and then Raleigh, N.C., before I came home in 1994 to work for WLS-Channel 7 in Chicago, where I worked for 21 years. Being able to work in the city in which I grew up was the ideal situation. I know so many people and am familiar with the area.

No two days are alike in this business. The wonderful thing is that if you got Thursday’s forecast wrong, you can put it in the rearview mirror and focus on Friday. The opportunity to have do-overs in this business is really good. Meteorology has given me the opportunity to blend two things I really enjoy: science and performance. My hope is to work again in television and continue my passion for photography. Working in television definitely gave me a leg up in my photography. Talking with people is a huge component of being a successful photographer. Being able to make them comfortable and being able to get a natural expression from them is a skill honed from my day job.

What makes a great photo?

A great photo is determined by whether or not it can tell a story. Like a magazine article, a photograph can tell a story. When someone looks at a photo, it should get them talking; that should be the goal, whether it’s an ad or family photo. Successful photographs make the viewer think of something that was happening at the time. It’s not just about lighting and posing.

How was your recent trip to Iceland?

My wife and I went to explore many great photo opportunities. It was like the Super Bowl of photography prospects. There were volcanos, mountains, glaciers, geysers, wild horses, beautiful countryside and interesting villages. We had nearly 20 hours of available daylight, which made for wonderful shooting opportunities. This was a bucket list destination for me.

What is one thing about you that might surprise people?

Actually, my wife and I love auto racing. I’ve been a big NASCAR fan for many years, although I don’t have a favorite driver. We own a Dodge Viper, and we used to be involved with the Viper Owners Association of Illinois. I’ve even raced at the Chicagoland Speedway, in Joliet. Laura is a past autocross champion. She’s very good.

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