Author Archives: Shawn Nielsen

I’m Here #5. -The final installment-

Mr. Jaeger lived through something very few of us can imagine; a Kamikaze attack on the ship he was stationed: 
USS St. Lo (CVE-63) on 25 October, 1944.  That day’s Kamikaze attack included six planes, which Robert’s ship was able to shoot down five (Robert was a gunner aboard his ship).  But it was the 6th that ultimately led to the sinking of the ship.  The battle toll was as followed:  889 men aboard, 113 were killed or missing, and approximately 30 others died of their wounds. 

As I was wrapping up my shoot of this man from “The Greatest Generation” I asked him the question, “Why are you here?”  To which he said, I am here because of the brave men he fought along side.”
Thank you Robert for your service, and for your willingness to lay down your life for your fellow man so many years ago.

Best wishes,
Shawn Nielsen
Mobile. 612.750.2593
Studio. 763.498.7375
            “Tell Your Story”              

I’m Here #4

I'm Here #4

Holly G. was very welcoming when I came to her home to do this photo.  I knew she had a determination that went beyond words.  She said through a few tears, that she never felt sorry for the hand she was dealt (breast cancer). Fighting the cancer was all she wanted to do.  The battle against cancer was for her friends (many who came to her treatments), her family, and for those yet to come (grandchildren).

The resolve cancer survivors, or those still in the battle show, is so inspiring to me.  I think each person is a warrior thrown in the midst of a battle, and they have no choice but to put up a valiant fight for the tomorrows.

I’m Here #3 (actually We’re Here)


The survivor in this entry is actally 2 survivors,  so I find myself modifying the title of the series for these precious liitle ones.  As I thought through all the different kinds of survivors there are, I came to the conclusion that sometimes a survivor is a valiant warrior, other times a cancer survivor, and then sometimes a survivor is  two tiny babies named Eve & Luke.  Eve and Luke were born 8 weeks early and spent quite a bit of time in the Special Care Nursery at Maple Grove Hospital in Maple Grove, MN.  They fought hard and are now at home in the loving arms of their parents, Scott and Sarah.

Best wishes,
Shawn Nielsen
Mobile. 612.750.2593
Studio. 763.498.7375
            “Tell Your Story”

I’m Here #2


Rita P.  is the subject of this blog post.  From the moment I met her, there was laughter in the air and a smile on her face.  It is that enduring quality that I captured in this photo.  I hope if I am faced with all the adversity that cancer brings, I will have a smile and laughter to share.

So smile big and laugh.  Someone in your world needs it!

Best wishes,
Shawn Nielsen
Mobile. 612.750.2593
Studio. 763.498.7375
            “Tell Your Story”              

I’m Here (#1)


This blog entry about Judd W. who served in the Airforce is the first in a series of five, but it may linger on as I hear the stories of people.  The idea is to photograph my subjects in a way that their face takes up much of the frame giving you the sense that you are seeing into the depth of who they are.  Maybe even getting a glimpse of what they have gone through.  My lighting will always be minimal, maybe just one or two lights.  There will be words on the photos that tell the story, and, occasionally, a bit of back story.  In the end, I want you to connect with the person, they have survived something, and I think that is a story worth telling. Don’t you?

Contrasting new & old.



Recently I had the opportunity to create the two images above for Glencoe Regional Health Services marketing materials.  These two above shots are amongst my favorites from the day long shoot.  If I dig deep into my reasoning for picking these, it is about contrast.  Contrasting a newborn and a  94 year old woman.  When I look at the baby with fresh skin, yet untouched by years of hard work, I know that there are many stories yet to be written.  In contrast, the deep creases and weather worn skin of years on the farm, reveal a reality that many stories have been lived and could be shared.  There is great beauty in the young and old, in the fresh and the worn,  and I am humbled to be given the privilege  to capture the contrast in photographs.

It is our turn as a generation to create stories to tell.  Go make some history!

Best wishes,
Shawn Nielsen
Mobile. 612.750.2593
Studio. 763.498.7375
            “Tell Your Story”   

My 15 Faces series comes to a close with this entry.  In all seriousness I am bummed.  It has been something that has pushed me as a commercial photographer, and as a person.  In some cases I have had to get to know a stranger at a very deep level in a short period of time, or share a deeper side of myself as it relates to a relationship with my friend and pastor.  So I combined a few things for this last post.  They are archery, photography, and a roadtrip with a friend who is like a brother to me.  Here enters Scott Whitman.  Scott is an accomplished marketing guy/account executive, co-owner of with me, and a person who loves people, and to tell a deeper story.

So the words that follow are his take on the day, the last installment, and whatever he saw fit to share:

I guess I didn’t know quite what to expect. Shawn and I drove up to Grand Rapids to meet Arne Moe, a retired Air National Guard wing commander and a Level 4 archery instructor. This guy was a pilot, a career military officer, and man with decades of experience as a teacher of traditional archery. He’s qualified to coach Olympic level archers. And he’s the most humble, unassuming and generous man you could hope to meet. Now retired, he devotes much of his time to coaching young archers, dispensing wisdom to anyone willing to listen and learn. 

Arne was eager to give us a tour of his house, and especially to show us his collection of traditional bows. He has long bows and recurves, factory models and hand-crafted bows. Some were made by renowned masters. A few he made himself. Some are well-known brand names. Others obscure vintage relics. In all, we guessed he had 40+ bows in his collection.

We expected we might spend some time reliving his 36-year military career, but Arne quickly summarized his experience in the Air Guard by saying, “I started flying fighters, and missed Viet Nam by a couple of years. I ended up flying air refueling tankers. The ones I flew were the last aircraft still in service that was designed with a slide rule.” Arne finished his career as a full Colonel and a wing commander. 

But the thing Arne most wanted to talk about was the art of traditional archery. That was fine with us. We brought our own bows and were anxious to get a few tips from this master of the craft. We did not bargain for a full coaching session at the local archery club. He spent nearly 4 hours with us, sharing wisdom, instructing, teaching, and revealing the art and science of shooting a bow the way it really should be done. When he talks about shooting a bow his eyes light up. “There is something truly magical about the flight of an arrow,” he said.

When Arne talks about shooting form, he sounds like a combination of sports psychologist, engineer and martial arts Sinsei. He speaks of bio-mechanics and leverage, aligning the bones of hand, wrist, arm and shoulder to balance the force of the drawn bow. He demonstrates how good balance and body alignment allow an archer to draw and hold a heavy bow with little muscle exertion. His drawing motion is consistent, fluid and appears almost effortless. His arrows fly true. Arne makes archery an art form, but like all good teachers, he makes it simple enough that anyone can learn.

We asked him why he did it – giving so much of his time. He said it was his love of the sport, and a desire to teach others – especially kids – something that has been a big part of his life. He said, “In archery there are no bench-sitters. Everyone gets to play. And everyone can succeed. To see a kid’s smile when he makes his first shot or when she makes a personal best, it’s really something special.”

Arne Moe is a special breed. Like his custom bows, he’s one of a kind.

15 Faces #14 – Pastor & Friend

15 Faces #14

Pastor Ben McEachern is the 14th installment of 15 Faces.  He is my pastor.  He is the pastor of NorthRidge Fellowship, the church that I call my home church.  I think more than just calling him my Pastor, I call him my friend.  Ben has been a person that has been there when I had a hurting heart due to the pains of losing my mom to cancer (and stuffing those feelings), and helped me navigate through other tough stuff in life.  He cried with me, put his arm on my shoulder, and prayed with me.  He was just there.  He didn’t care about my bumps or bruises, he just knew I needed a hug.  So I guess this installment has a little more personal ring to it than the others.  It is a little about me and the impact this man has had on my life, and the life of my family.

So here is a little background on Ben.

Ben is married to Teri, and he is absolutely head over heals in love with her.  He has 4 kids and one grandchild.  In his free time he is an avid sailor.

While I did these shots I had one hand on the mast of his sailboat, to provide leverage for him while he worked on a few parts in need of repair, and the other to press the shutter release.  The sailboat provides a time for him to take a deep breath, recharge.  His life is not as easy as some may think. He pours into the lives of many people at all different levels of need, whether spiritual, emotional, or physical.  He knows this is the call that God put on his life many years ago.  Pastor Ben is the kind of man whose hands are rough from the times where he has helped another in need (he has nailed a few shingles in the calm right after a storm).  You will probably see a tear on his cheek as he has cried with someone who just lost a loved one.  He just loves you where you’re at, and for who you are.

During our time Pastor Ben asked me what I have gained from my 15 Faces series.  I didn’t have to dig too deep to know I have gained a greater glimpse of humanity.  I have been able to see the complexity in a person, the trials that people have gone through, perceptions and mis-perceptions of how people are viewed, that people truly care for you, and they will be there for you.  I have also been pushed well beyond my normal crisp, clean, commercial photography world and into a story telling world.  I have been pushed to see there is beauty in the hearts of people, beauty that will not show on the surface like a Cosmopolitan or People magazine want you to believe.  Oddly enough that beauty is in the strength of a man’s hands that fought for his country, in  the prayers of a couple for their community, and the bread made within the walls of a bakery or the story behind it.

So Ben, I guess I love people a little more deeply! 

15 Faces #13 – A daughter’s perspective.

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This morning, I had the chance to get up before the sun and go with my dad on an adventure. We made our way to Elk River, he talking about how he wanted to created this thirteenth installment for 15 Faces and as for me, I was trying to stay awake. But as we walked down the stairs and into the midst of the creation of artisan bread, I was no longer wishing I was still in my bed. The smells that filled the air, the yeast, the cinnamon rolls baking in the oven, it was invigorating. This is the story:

Long before the sun has even decided to get up, Garrett Jordahl is baking bread. It is his passion. His art. I was in the presence of an artist; a bread artist. Mr. Jordahl has been baking bread since he graduated from high school. He loves it. He does it, not for the profits, but for the quality, for the beauty of it. Eight years ago, he bought a dying bakery in Elk River, Minnesota. Now, he owns a thriving business, Diamond City Bread. As my dad spoke with him, continually asking question to keep the conversation going, Mr. Jordahl continued to prepare his bread, as if by instinct. The motions are automatic: frosting cinnamon rolls, buttering croissants, shaping scones; it is all second nature. As he speaks, Mr. Jordahl often mentions Frank. A man who has no last name but an enormous impact on this business, and especially it’s owner. Frank encouraged Mr. Jordahl to buy the dying bakery. He owns the pizzeria above, and that provides a lot of business for Diamond City. Mr. Jordahl’s credentials? A two week bread-baking course at Dunwoody Institute and a driving passion to create artisan bread for a small town. There are two employees who work here for the pre-light shift. Only two. And as we watched them work, it was evident that they are artists just as much as their employer. They, too have been here for years. This business seems to draw people in, and when they are there, they simply can’t leave. The atmosphere, the art, the people; when you walk down the stairs and into the business, it is impossible to leave without taking with you one of their beautifully created loaves, their masterpieces. This is a family. Diamond City Bread does not bake to make money, that is not its mission. This fantastic bread does do some traveling; many whole foods co-ops stock it, but they bake bread for the love of it. To serve those who want quality. And there certainly is quality created here. You can feel it when you walk in, you can hear it when Mr. Jordahl speaks, you can see it in his hands. Just as much as a painter creates a masterpiece or and writer creates a best seller, Mr. Jordahl and his employees create masterpieces in each and every loaf of bread made. This is an art just a beautiful as any other.

Anna Rose Nielsen

15 Faces #12 = Honoring a veteran.

15 Faces #12

On March 26th at 1:15p.m I could be found in the home of Tom Markos Jr. shooting the next installment of 15 Faces. Number Twelve to be exact!.  Tom is the grandfather of my good friend Matt Schnell (  Mr. Markos has been weathered by the years and the battles fought in Europe during World War 2.  Tom was a bombardier in the United States Army Air Forces Eighth Air Force, stationed in Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, England.
I asked a several questions of this quick witted man.  One such question was what moved him to serve in the Armed Forces.  He said, “It was your duty, it was expected as a part of a sense of patriotism.”  He added that patriotism was only a part of the reason. An equally important reason for serving was the people (specifically the children) that were regularly seen near the airbase. The people’s lives were impacted by Hitler and the German army, and that created in Tom enough reason to muster the courage to be up in a bomber.  Tom added that he and his crew eventually became the lead plane/bomber with all other planes following their lead.  This also meant that he could be the first to get shot.  As he spoke, I saw an occasional tear form.  When asked what the tear held, he said he is a relatively emotional guy.  I wondered if the tear held memories of fallen comrades, the weight of changing the tide in war, or maybe just too many emotions to even put into words. So many times, we condemn war, even the people who serve in it because it does not fit who “we” are or what we believe.  I want to ask each of us to just sit quietly in the presence of someone who served.  There is much to glean from their lives and the freedoms we have.  Their perspective is one refined by the trying times forged in tense times of war.

I want to thank Matt Schnell for assembling the photos into the great piece of art above. It brings great honor to a man who faithfully served our country.


Best wishes for your day!




15 Faces #8-11

Well my great plan was to shoot another animal for this next installment of “15 Faces”. I did, the dog’s name is Rocket. He is a service dog for Sam & Tracy. The original connection with Sam & Tracy was provided by Helping Paws of Minnesota  As I have created images for this series I have forced myself to get out of my commercial photography zone and tell a deeper story of those around me. This story made me do just that. I had to take a few moments to relax and pet Rocket, who was grinning at me with his big teeth.  As I moved to a place to sit down and hear Tracy talk about him, I was told I could pet Rocket, as he was off duty (take note of the badge that is on his vest).  Tracy told me what a dog like Rocket means to her and Sam, and  I saw that Rocket truly has a special place in their home. Yes, Rocket is a service dog (as the vest shows), but he is also a helper in the home, a listener for the follies of Sam and Tracy’s two year old daughter named Taylor, and he is also the proverbial “best friend”.  All I can say is Rocket, you are one cool dog. But my story couldn’t end with Rocket, it had to continue with Sam & Tracy.

Sam and Tracy are people with a disability, where wheel chairs are a regular part of their lives, but that does not impede an active lifestyle. Both Sam and Tracy work for the Three Rivers Park District in the Minneapolis, MN area and are teaching adaptive programs, as well as programs for people who do not have a physical disability. They are also active marathoners, triathletes, bikers, and canoers. These wonderful people pour so much back into the world. I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to meet them, and  to take photos that give a glimpse into their lives. The more I look at the photos the less I see of the wheelchairs. Sam and Tracy are remarkable people, which is the very reason that “15 Faces”  8 became 8-11. The photos are in a slideshow because I could not edit them down to just a few. So take a break and enjoy.

(DSL friends you may have to pause the movie to allow it to load for a few moments)

In closing, I want to say that life brings us many challenges. Care for those around you, by smiling at them, saying an encouraging word, or  giving an extra tip to the waitress.  It might just change a life (yours).

15 Faces #7

15 Faces #7

15 Faces #7

This entry (15 Faces #7) is a little more fuzzy than my previous posts. Fuzzy, in the sense that it has a fuzzy goat as the subject. Why a goat? The most obvious answer is that it’s pretty hard to pass up — I have a bunch of them running around my hobby farm, and I love agriculture. But in a deeper sense, these animals mean a lot to my family. It has a lot to do with my kids. The goats provide an entry into the world of agriculture and farming where caring for animals requires kids to learn work ethic, cooperation and personal responsibility. I’ve watched as beads of sweat gather on the brow of a pretty teenage girl, as she shovels manure. I’ve seen a 6-year-old boy struggle to lift a bale of hay equal to his own weight. My children get to experience the joy of winning and the lessons of losing at a 4H goat show. All-in-all, as they learn to love a little fuzzy-faced goat, they’re learning a whole lot about life.

To see a little more of my agricultural side take a look at this site:

15 Faces #6

15 Faces #6

My next stop on this image creation tour for 15 Faces had me walking through the door of Dimagio’s Pizza in Rogers, MN.  I decided on this destination for two reasons; proximity and I really like this place.  DiMagio’s  makes pizzas one at a time, with hand tossed crust, really fresh ingredients, and maybe even a little love.  I will get back to the love part in a moment, so hang tight!  The face included in installment #6 of 15 Faces is that of Brandon James Sainio.  He might not be the dark skinned Italian pictured in pizza ads, but the guy can flat out make great pizzas.  I’ve watched him toss the dough, spread the sauce,  and add the chosen ingredients in just the right portions all with a smile on his face.  Ok so now for the love part…  I have seen how he truly cares for the customers who walks in the door.  You feel like you are good friends from way back.  That is not typical customer service these days, so it is greatly refreshing to know that a guy like Brandon exists, and truly cares.  Just wish he could take the calories out.

So if you are up in the Rogers area check out DiMagio’s Pizza  (, say hi to Brandon Sainio and Shane Lane, the owner. Heck even stay a while and chat, or write on the chalkboards of your great love for the pizza and other tasty items on the menu.

15 Faces #5 – “I Am A Bell Ringer”

15 Faces #5

The fifth Installment of 15 Faces put me in the presence of a man named Erik M.  My goal was to take a few images of a Salvation Army Bell Ringer.  I chose a bell ringer for two reasons; First, I love what they do and how they change lives by collecting money to assist others in their lives.  Second, I was curious as to why they do it.  Now, granted, I did only ask one person, but his answer was perfect.

He does it because they helped him when he needed a little help.  I don’t know his whole story, but, like all of us, he needed help and there was an organization to help him.  Now he rings a bell for the next person in need.  The loose change we put into the red kettles may seem seem insignificant, but by meeting Erik, I had the opportunity of meeting a person whose life was effected by the simple act of giving.  The eyes you look into when you see a person ringing the bell near a little red kettle may well have been a life you helped.  So enjoy the ringing as you enter a local store, it will change someone’s life!

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Shawn Nielsen
Mobile. 612.750.2593
Studio. 763.498.7375
            “Tell Your Story”

15 Faces 3 & 4

15 Faces 3 and 4

Even though my goal for this blog series was to find 15 faces and to tell 15 idividual stories, this entry does not allow that.  Fred and Karen shared one story on this morning in Walker, Minnesota.  I will consider them entry 3 and 4 because sometimes there are faces that just belong together.  This story may best be told by my wife as she saw it unfold.

A few day s ago Shawn and I got away from the usual hustle and bustle of life. Often, when we go away we like to find the little café in town and have breakfast. Shawn was recalling a “greasy spoon” in Walker, Minnesota that had just the right atmosphere. So, off we went for pancakes, eggs, sausage and coffee for breakfast. As is typical, Shawn had his camera with him. Actually, he was hoping to find just the right local character in this quaint café to add to his 15 Faces series. When we entered, Shawn was immediately disappointed. It was not as quaint as he remembered. The walls had been “updated”, maybe in the 80’s. Oh well, maybe somewhere else in town he would find his next face. As we were finishing our breakfast, we overheard the waitress approach the patrons sitting in the both behind Shawn. She quietly asked them if they would pray for her step daughter who is struggling with drugs and single parenting. At that moment, Shawn new he had his next faces for this series. As far as we could tell, the folks dining did not know the waitress; they are from out of town. She had observed them doing a Bible study and took the step to ask for prayer

While it was awkward for Shawn  to interrupt Fred & Karen’s Bible study to take a few photos, he was honored to  capture this seasoned couple and the warmth they shared  that made the photos come alive.  He shared with me that he felt for a moment that his talents were second to the greatness of these people.  The study was named Grace by Max Lucado, and the excerpt Fred shared with Shawn  was about grace and the fact that every one of us needs it.

There are a few lessons to learn from this story.  One, do not judge a café by the color of its walls.  Stories are told no matter when the paint was “updated” .  Two,  be brave and ask for prayer.  Three, take the time to find to the stories all around you.

15 Faces #2

On Thursday I photographed Lana Little for the 2nd installment of 15 Faces.  She is a deeply thoughtful person.  I asked her how she sees herself.  She responded by stating that she is loyal and that she is excited about life.  Her mother Mary Jo was in my studio as well and shared how much that “loyalty” means to her.  I could see from watching Mary Jo that there was a special definition in the word “Loyalty”.  Maybe one that a mom only fully understands, or maybe a definition that is left in a “to be determined” stage.


15 Faces – #1

Well today I find myself in my studio beginning the journey of 15 Faces.  It is an exercise in “Telling a story” with a photograph of a person and a few words (my words may not be written well, but I will try to get the story across, so you’ll have to cut me some copywriter slack.  Some might be simplistic, some may be elaborate.  The guarantee is that they all will be beautiful people.  Maybe not what the world deems as beautiful, but beautiful in the sense that they are an awesome creation. The next 14 will take place in a myriad of settings and with regularity.


The journey begins with my daughter Bethany!




Bethany is an 8 year old, creative girl.  Her relatively untrained fingers play the piano almost as therapy for the stresses of her little life.  My world is changed because of her, never to be the same, always changing and flowing.  When I look at her eyes I wonder what those eyes will see, what will she experience.  How can I help her through what ever life’s struggles may be.  This first little girl I love with a daddy’s heart and tearfilled eyes!


To be continued…

A Mother’s love!

Yep, I put an exclamation point in the title.  This one deserves it.  A recent shoot for me had two beautiful subjects.  One was a beautiful young mother; the other a little girl recovering from Leukemia.  I can truly say I was moved to tears to see the love between the two as I took several photos of the two of them in the girls pastel yellow bedroom.  To add even more emotion to the situation, I was given a hug by the little girl as I packed up my equipment.   We may not have been able to exchange many words, but that hug spoke louder than words ever could.

Whoa is about the only word I can come up with to describe what being a part of this shoot was like.
Of course there is a tear or two with that, whoa;-)

Man, I love being a part of Telling a Story…

Textures of Time (Anoka, MN)

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I think sometimes as humans we live in the middle zone.  We rush from place to place, thing to thing never really taking the time to watch the water cascade over a dam, see a shadow fall on a concrete wall, algae pool up, or count how many stairs that you just walked up.  I had the opportunity to do these things on a recent trip to Anoka , MN.  A great historic river town.  I was there with my daughter to practice parallel parking for her upcoming drivers license test (I can hear the gut wrenching moans coming from each of you as you remember having to practice the dreaded parking maneuver).  As my daughter and I strolled along the river waiting for the early evening traffic to wain I saw different textures coming to life.  I know I have seen these elements before, but rushed by them considering them to not be photo worthy.  But with time on my side, beauty was revealed.

Enjoy life, heck let a shadow fall when you do.

Have a great Fall,

Shawn Nielsen

Truly touched.



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Two recent shoots for the University of Minnesota touched me.  Actually they made me tear up!  You hear the stories that these young people have endured with the medical battles they have fought, and you are moved to tears.  You realize as a photographer that you are being included into their lives to record a moment (whether healthy or not) of their history.  To me that is a gift!  One that I accept with great honor and a humble heart.  I love being able to use my camera to Tell a Story!


Shawn Nielsen

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