Photographer Captures Lake Scenes Wrapped in Memories

The sun sets on the horizon over a lake.
Fifty years of shooting has given Mike Maki the ability to find interesting scenes anywhere.

After professional photographer Mike Maki and his wife, Linda, moved to Tonka Bay in 1997, Maki would sometimes get stuck in lake-area traffic on the way to and from work—which could elevate his stress level. Then one day “Linda said to me, ‘Just think how beautiful this drive is,’” Maki says. Rather than sitting and fuming, Maki started noticing the area’s beauty, which led to pulling over and lowering his window to photograph visually striking scenes on the lake most commuters might miss.
Maki, who is semi-retired and closed his commercial studio in 2015, started selling his beautifully composed lake photos at local gift shops. He calls it the Water Series, a constantly changing collection of images.
Maki, who grew up in North Minneapolis, discovered photography about 50 years ago, when his parents gave him a camera for his 18th birthday. His first photography job was an inauspicious start: going door-to-door selling baby pictures “all over town,” he says. Before long, Anthony Lane Studios, one of the largest commercial photo studios in town, gave him a job shooting for multiple accounts.

In 1982, Maki opened his own studio in Golden Valley and started doing advertising photography for corporate clients like Target (a client for 28 years) and Room & Board.

Even though much of his career predated digital photography, Maki is no analog purist. “I love digital photography because so much of it is automatic,” he says. But some things haven’t changed; lighting is still key to great photography. That’s why so many of his lake photos, of both natural and manmade objects, are taken during the so-called “golden hour,” just before sunrise and just after sunset, when the natural light most enhances the visual effect.

One day, after spotting a pile of old dock wood his neighbor had set out for the garbage man, Maki started using weathered dock wood to make frames and rustic clocks. “The frames hold the history of the lake; the photos present it as it is today,” he says. There’s a lot of history in that naturally weathered wood, and old docks hold a lot of memories. So, the frames and clocks tend to grab people, perfectly complementing Maki’s carefully composed digital photos.

He still gets up early to get good shots, and says he’s learned to keep a camera ready 24/7, after one shot that “got away.” A few years ago, he was having early-morning coffee in his yard when something that looked like the Loch Ness monster swam by. It was a moose. “There was a whole family of them living out there,” he says.

It’s obvious from his work that Maki appreciates the power of simplicity. His most striking photos seem to be the simplest ones. One of his favorites shows a loon swimming by, framed by two Adirondack lawn chairs. “I’m certain I break a lot of rules” as a photographer, he says. But “simplicity in whatever you are taking a picture of is important. Concentrate on something and bring it to the forefront, with a background to support it.” He also uses technology to add value. When Maki makes a photo, he records the latitude and longitude, so customers can use a GPS to see the exact location in person.

Danielle Riley sells Maki’s photos, frames and clocks at her shop, Lake Effect Nautical Gifts in Excelsior. “People love to have a little touch of Lake Minnetonka. His photos capture some of the scenes people don’t see, at night and early in the morning,” Riley says.

Fifty years of shooting has given Maki the ability to find interesting scenes anywhere and to make our familiar lake even more beautiful through his lens.

Find Mike Maki’s photography at Lake Effect Nautical Gifts, 219 Water St., Excelsior. Visit the website here to learn more.