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Photo Portfolio: The Idyllic Imagery of Mike Petrizzo

From Cape Cod Life Magazine

It’s easy – very easy – to get lost in thought while staring at one of photographer Michael Petrizzo’s breathtakingly beautiful Cape Cod landscapes. One image, in particular, captures the imagination, and demons trates the lengths to which Petrizzo will go to capture “the perfect shot.”

This postcard-perfect picture, of a fiery Yarmouth Port sunset, boasts a baby-blue boat leaning lazily off an exposed sandbar at low tide, a magical scene magnified by its remarkable reflection on the glass-calm salt water.  

“Most people take out their iPhones at sunset, and shoot into the sun,” says Petrizzo, owner of Fine Art Photography in Falmouth. “But the real magic takes place just after the sun sets below the horizon, and the hidden sun illuminates the clouds in brilliant oranges, reds and yellows.”

Ironically, while making art for viewers to get lost in – “eye candy,” as Petrizzo playfully calls it – this adventurous photographer nearly lost a rubber boot, and was lucky not to lose a lot more.

“That day, back in October, I figured we’d have a reasonable chance of having a nice sunset, so I went out to shoot that evening,” says Petrizzo, who retired early to the Cape after a successful career as a building contractor in Connecticut. “When I found this location, I parked the car, put on my white rubber fishing boots and I trudged through the marsh and muck for about a quarter mile so I could get just the right shot.

“I had been to this location before, but it was muckier than usual,” recalls Petrizzo. “It got so bad that – although I could lift my feet – my boots stayed stuck in the mud. At one point, I could see the high-tide line, and I realized that if I got stuck there, the water would eventually be over my head. It just goes to show you what can happen when you visit locations like this; it was a little hairy there for a while.”

Long accustomed to the occupational hazards of landscape photography, Petrizzo wisely carries a cellphone in case he needs to be bailed out of such a sticky jam. While the odds of getting stuck in mud are slim, other dangers like slips and falls are all too real.

Nobska Light

“I’ve slipped and almost broken an ankle a number of times, so you always have to be mindful of where you are and your footing,” notes Petrizzo, 63, who works out five days a week. “I have to hike up and down steep hills and climb big rocks, so staying in shape is an important part of being a successful landscape photographer.”

When asked if he’d work out even if he wasn’t passionate about his art, he admitted that yes, he would. “I’m too vain not to work out,” Petrizzo says, laughing. Although he tends not to take himself too seriously, Petrizzo’s pursuit of beautiful images is no laughing matter, especially to customers like Julie Fougere, a Falmouth resident and amateur photographer who understands the difficulty of capturing what the human eye sees in nature.

“I’ve seen some of the photos he’s taken of Nobska Light, Bourne Farm, and certain rocks on coastlines of beaches that I recognized,” says Fougere. “I’ve tried to take pictures of these locations so many times over the years, but could never capture what I saw. So when I saw how beautiful his landscape photography was, I literally started crying.”

Petrizzo understands Fougere’s photo frustration. When he first began to dabble in photography as a young man, he didn’t have a dark room and relied on photo labs to process his film. “I was so frustrated because the photos I got back from the labs weren’t depicting what I saw in the field,” says Petrizzo. “Then I discovered [Adobe] Photoshop, and I learned that you could control the image’s appearance, from A to Z. It opened up an entirely new world for me. It’s the greatest time in the world to be a photographer – because your computer is your darkroom.”

Now armed with a suite of photo-editing software tools, Petrizzo is better able to recreate what he sees in nature. When shooting a sunrise or a sunset, the camera automatically compensates for the brightness of the sun by underexposing everything else in the scene, which leads to a dark, murky reproduction. One of the ways that Petrizzo more accurately captures the glory of such scenes is by shooting multiple images and then engaging in post-production work.

“I always shoot on a tripod, so I shoot three images of every scene,” says Petrizzo. “I shoot the correct exposure, two stops darker and two stops lighter. I then import the images in different layers in Photoshop, combine them and then keep the best of the lights, darks and mid-tones.  . . .  For me, it’s about doing my best to capture the glory of God’s creation.”

Often, Petrizzo will utilize Photoshop and other image-editing tools to add painterly effects to his imagery, and when printed on certain types of high-quality canvas, the images look more like paintings than photos. 

“Mike is creating works of art that compare very favorably with artists who work in traditional acrylic paint,” says John Miller, owner of J Miller Framing and Art in Mashpee. “We feature Mike’s work on a wall in my shop, and when customers see his landscapes they stop in their tracks and stare at the intensity of his art. 

“They start asking questions, and are typically under the impression that they’re paintings,” adds Miller. “I’m always amazed by the emotions and moods that the colors create for viewers.”

When the occasional purist criticizes this form of digital artistry, Petrizzo quickly points to Ansel Adams, the legendary landscape photographer who produced hauntingly beautiful black-and-white images.

“Most people think that what you saw in an Ansel Adams landscape photo is what he shot,” says Petrizzo. “But his images were the result of a lot of ‘burning and dodging’ in the darkroom. Adams was a great manipulator of his images. There was no way he could get those lights and darks in those landscapes without manipulation. If he was alive today, I’m convinced that he’d embrace this technology.”

Sandwich sunset.

Although a gifted portrait and commercial photographer as well, if pushed into a corner, Petrizzo picks landscape photography as his true professional love. “I love the solitude and serenity that I experience when shooting landscapes,” says Petrizzo. “When I’m shooting near sunrise or sunset, it’s calming and peaceful, which I think is reflected in my work.”

Melissa Woringer, a Barnstable-based art consultant who works with health-care organizations, appreciates the tranquil vibe that’s often conveyed by Petrizzo’s landscapes and seascapes. While Woringer recognizes the beauty of his art, she also notes that that beauty provides a potential healing benefit for many of her clients. 

“People who stay in health-care environments that utilize calming, tranquil art have shorter stays and require less medicine than their counterparts in other environments,” says Woringer. “So I love to use Mike’s Cape Cod work for my clients. His colors are very harmonious and calming, which give the landscapes and seascapes a lovely, dreamy quality. Mike has a passion and a love for the Cape that is clearly conveyed through his work.”