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Longtime Photojournalist Mike Eliason Releases Santa Barbara Photography Book | Local news

In photography jargon, this is called capturing the “decisive moment,” the fraction of a second where composition, emotion and technical elements come together in a perfectly synchronized image.

You know it when you see it.

Photographer Mike Eliason, 54, has captured defining moments over the past 30 years as a photojournalist, public information officer and amateur, forging a reputation as a leading photojournalist.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Chaucer’s in Loreto Plaza, Eliason, an endless introvert with a big smile and a cheerful disposition, is going to experience another special moment, but this time he will be in front of the camera, with all eyes looking looking up at him. .

Eliason will be signing copies of his first photography book, published by Shoreline Publishing Group. The book – “Santa Barbara and Beyond: The Photography of Mike Eliason” – costs $ 40.

“It’s very humbling,” Eliason said. “I have always felt very touched by the reactions of people when they say, ‘Hey, I have this picture that you took 20 years ago.'”

The photos in the book are divided into sections, Nature, Ocean, Valley, People and Places, United States, and International Sites.

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One of Mike Eliason’s most compelling images in his book was a time lapse shot of a thunderstorm. (Photo by Mike Eliason)

Eliason, like his photography, has had an eclectic career.

He is a former reserve firefighter for the Carpinteria Fire Protection District, a photojournalist with the Santa Barbara News-Press for more than two decades, an instructor at Santa Barbara City College, and is now a public information officer for the Department of Santa Barbara County fire.

He is also a freelance writer for a number of publications, including Noozhawk, and his work has appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country.

To Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, he’s legendary for his years of news and background photos, capturing fires and public safety rescues, as well as environmental portraits and wild art of community living.

His photos appeared regularly on the front page, spanning several columns, some of which won awards. But for millennials and millennials, it has gained an audience on Instagram, where photos of sunsets, birds or thunderstorms regularly garner several hundred likes.

With perfect timing, Eliason captured waves hitting the breakwater in Santa Barbara harbor.
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With perfect timing, Eliason captured waves hitting the breakwater in Santa Barbara harbor. (Photo by Mike Eliason)

At a time when everyone is a photographer, Eliason’s work dazzles.

“I know there is a lot to watch on the internet so I appreciate that people can spend a few seconds of distraction that I give them to hopefully make their day a little brighter,” said Eliason.

So how did Eliason get so good? It wasn’t sitting in an office all day looking at pictures studying the rule of thirds. Eliason is a man of action, and he credits the pressure of the daily newspaper deadlines for propelling him to premiere status.

“It’s the learned behavior of being conditioned to have to provide images for so many years,” Eliason said. “A big part is that I’ll pass and see something, and I’ll stop. But a big part, too, is that if you know when the weather is going to be bad, you sort of settle down where the people are. “

Her photos are more than just a feast for the eyes.

Eliason captured a crowd on the beach at sunset during an extremely low tide.
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Eliason photographed a crowd on the beach at sunset during an extremely low tide. (Photo by Mike Eliason)

“I try not to just take beauty photos for them,” Eliason said. “I try to have the human element in there to make it big and I try to show where it is for people.”

With so many photos readily available on the web, Eliason works hard every day to find something that only his eye can see.

“I’m just trying to approach mine the same way I’ve always done it, just trying to create some sort of compelling image that people will react to, of something we’ve all seen before, but trying to make it look different. “

These photos are taken with various equipment.

The book features photos taken with his digital single-lens reflex, or DSLR, camera, a drone, and his iPhone.

It also tends not to stick out. He shoots just enough, in large part because he learned in the movie days, when there was a limit to the capacity of the rolls, and he had to develop each of those photos.

“I don’t take a lot of pictures,” he said. “I just choose when I shoot. Even now, in the digital age, when you have a card with 50,000 images on it, you have to edit them afterwards.”

The only exception, he said, is sports or subjects where there is a lot of movement.

One of the most compelling images of Eliason in the book is of the recent thunderstorm.

Eliason, recalling his days of photojournalism, knew the storm was coming, so he headed for Stearns Wharf.

There he was, standing in a puddle, holding a tripod, on a wooden dock, with lightning on three sides of him.

He shot the spider-shaped lightning bolts using 60-second exposure and a remote shutter release. The stunning image was featured in newspapers across the country and captured the novelty of a relentless thunderstorm electrifying Santa Barbara.

The book also contains photos of the summer solstice, festivals and parades.

On Tuesday night at Chaucer, Eliason will take on the role of the book’s author, enjoying a moment of recognition for decades of journalistic service.

Journalist Jerry Roberts wrote the book’s introduction and TV journalist John Palminteri wrote the front.

All the attention paid to the book is still a little uncomfortable for Eliason. It is true that he is not the type to sign books, and much prefers to choose his subjects rather than to be one.

“Believe it or not, I’m the most introverted and shy person you can know,” Eliason said.

He took drama classes in high school, with roles in Annie, violin on the roof and West Side Story, to help it come out of its shell.

“It was a role,” Eliason said. “That’s how I take the job of photography. I play a role.”

Acting has helped her photography in other ways. This cultivated his ability to adapt and react quickly, skills needed in photography.

If anyone forgot a line on stage, Eliason said, he had to improvise and adapt. An actor needs to know about directing, a skill he has used when taking environmental portraits of people.

“If you have to stand in a boardroom in front of CEOs and say, ‘I need you all to listen to me,’ and ‘stay here and stay there and look over here,’ and straightforward, that really has. helped with the photography, Eliason said.

“You learned to lead, you learned to use your voice, to take control of a situation, to overcome adversity, to overcome something that you hadn’t planned, then to play the part that you need to. play as a photographer. “

Eliason’s life, they say, is a little simpler, working four days a week and 10 hours a day. He is up around 5:30 a.m. and ready to find the photo of the day. He’s in bed at 9 p.m.

He told Noozhawk he was eager to travel and was likely to retire at 55, a year from now in December.

“I’ve been working since I was 16, at times I had three jobs at a time, seven days a week,” Eliason said.

He said the county fire community has been incredibly supportive of him. Eliason said he wanted to try new things and travel.

“It’s probably going to last six months, and I’m going to get bored and ask if I can come back part-time to take pictures or something,” Eliason said.

– Noozhawk editor-in-chief Joshua Molina can be reached at . (JavaScript must be enabled to display this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.