Photographer Profile Series
The Man Behind Duluth Harbor Cam
From his home on Caribou Lake, located about ten miles north of Duluth, photographer/videographer Dennis O’Hara wields a lot of power.
Utilizing a remotely-operated collection of 14 commercial-grade, Axis brand live-streaming video cameras - which are situated atop buildings ranging from the North Shore to the Twin Ports - the unassuming O’Hara controls what many people see of Lake Superior's ship traffic.
You see, O’Hara is the founder and sole operator of the Duluth Harbor Cam, consisting of a webpage and a YouTube site; both of which he created in 2002. O’Hara works in conjunction with the Great Lakes Maritime Museum and many other associations and business owners to strategically place cameras in the best places to view harbor activity. Without their generous help and cooperation, these cameras wouldn’t exist.
The cameras’ main objective is to capture all activity in our region’s shipping canals. O’Hara dutifully posts images and videos of shipping activity to his sites on a daily basis. All the video cameras are streaming live 24/365. At any given moment there are hundreds of viewers from anywhere in the world watching the live streams.
But he also captures some amazing, ancillary footage of weather, sunrises/sunsets, activity in Canal Park, local wildlife, and the well-loved Duluth attraction, Bentleyville. O’Hara controls the direction of the cameras through a variety of mobile devices, including his iPad, PC, and phone.
While this work is enjoyable for him personally, O’Hara perhaps receives the most enjoyment through sharing Duluth with the world. “People can view the Lake Superior region when they couldn’t otherwise,” he shared. “For people all around the world, the Harbor Cam has become their window to our part of the world.”
Military Service and Career
O’Hara graduated from Duluth Denfeld High School, and later earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology from the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD). He joined the Minnesota Air National Guard, and served with the 148th Fighter Wing - in the RF-4 Reconnaissance aircraft - from 1971 – 1992.
It was during his military service that O’Hara started his photography career. “I was a camera operator in the back seat of an F4 Phantom jet,” he noted. “I used large, sophisticated, military-grade cameras. This was my first experience in photography.”
O’Hara also had a long career with Minnesota Power. He worked in System Operations for the company from 1977 until his retirement in 2006.
A Pioneer in Website Photography
After catching the photography bug during his military service, O’Hara began taking nature-themed photos of our region in the 1990s. “After I was done with the military, I began taking scenic photos,” he shared. “I couldn’t help myself.”
O’Hara started his website, northernimages.com, in 1992, just 3 years after the World Wide Web was launched by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Today, 30 years later, he has accumulated over 100,000 images, and the Harbor Cam YouTube channel boasts over 60,000 subscribers with an astounding 50.5 million views.
Over the years, O’Hara has packaged his photographs into a couple of books: Glensheen: The Official Guide to Duluth’s Historic Congdon Estate (featuring text by Tony Dierckens); and Picture Duluth: Photographs of the Zenith City. He has also been featured in multiple calendars and local magazines. All of O’Hara’s images can be viewed and purchased through northernimages.com.
Dennis O’Hara was the first photographer to be featured on Destination Duluth’s Facebook Page when it launched in May, 2013. Since then his photos and Duluth Harbor Cam videos have been featured hundreds of times with over 20 million views!
This video of the arrival of the James Oberstar garnered over 4 million views on Destination Duluth - Video by Duluth Harbor Cam - Dennis O'Hara.
While a good chunk of his retired life has been dedicated to photography, O’Hara is also a devoted family man. He and his wife, Deb, have been married for 48 years. They have three adult kids, eight grandkids, a Goldendoodle named Emmy, and five chickens.
“She’s my number one supporter,” O’Hara said of his wife. “She lets me get away with all of this stuff.”
In his spare time, O’Hara also enjoys tumbling and polishing Lake Superior agates. An entire category dedicated to his stunning agate photos is featured on northernimages.com.
Today, approaching age 70, O’Hara is as happy enjoying and promoting other upcoming photographers as he is capturing his own images. He notes local photographers (and fellow Destination Duluth contributors!) David Schauer,
Paul Scinocca, and Jeff Doty, to name a few.
When it comes to advice for other photographers, O’Hara had plenty of tips to offer, starting with the technical. “Focus on the basics: shutter speed, f-stops, and ISO settings,” he said. “Don’t worry about the business part of things as much, but enjoy the blessings of our area. That should be the focus.
“Also, learn the capabilities of your phone’s camera,” he added. “They’re incredible.”
But more often than not, good photography can be summed up in one simple word: timing. “Being in the right place at the right time is more important than the equipment you have,” O’Hara noted.
Speaking of equipment, O’Hara started taking pictures in the ‘90s with a 35mm. He transitioned to a medium-format Pentax camera, and later to a Canon. Today, he uses a Sony A7R digital camera, and a DJI brand drone.
Lastly, O’Hara encourages all adventurous photographers to be safe out there. “No photo is ever worth risking your life for,” he said. “But, as I always tell my wife, ‘If I ever fall off a cliff, make sure you get that last picture.’”