Minnesota Photographer Christian Dalbec Captures Unique Views of Superior

Story by Bonnie Schiedel, Photos by Christian Dalbec

Christian Dalbec got into photography while wearing a court-ordered ankle bracelet. After many years of alcoholism, he knew it was time to change his life. “I needed something to do with my brain. […] I had an ankle bracelet on because of the trouble I was in [but] I was able to go out and walk every day with the dog.” He lived near Minnesota’s Two Harbors point, so that 20-minute outing became his focus. “I always wanted to try to capture something each day where you couldn’t tell that I was in the same area, and try to get creative and get different angles.” Soon, he says, “The camera became my new addiction.”

Rock Bottom

That turning point came in 2012. “In the beginning, I was wondering: what is my subject going to be if I’m gonna be a photographer? And there it was, right there: Lake Superior. I grew up next to it my entire life, but never [had seen] it the way that I saw it once I started capturing it.” Self-taught, with some mentoring by fellow professional photographer John Gregor, Dalbec began posting his pictures on social media and selling them through his website, with his wife Kara handling the business end of things. In 2015, one of his Facebook followers suggested that he try to take pictures of waves in the manner of Australian photographer Ray Collins. Dalbec was initially hesitant, wanting to protect his expensive camera gear, but was also intrigued by the idea of a niche no one else in the area was yet covering. He had learned how to scuba dive as a teenager and had even worked in a scuba shop, so decided to get a wetsuit and give it a try. 

Photographer Christian Dalbec

Dalbec’s first in-water attempts included using GoPro at Park Point Beach in Duluth, where he captured the iconic lift bridge framed by a wave. “I thought, ‘Man, this is epic, I have got to order the housing.’” He added a waterproof plastic surround called a water housing to his camera, and started trying to shoot images of waves in mid-curl while swimming in Lake Superior. After a close call with big waves, he learned how to duck dive like surfers do: “The wave is like a tire coming in. It’s wheeling in, and when you dive under at the right time it shoots you right out the back of it and you’re safe.” 

Little Spirit Tree

Recently Dalbec has started doing more video work, and was an underwater videographer for the 2023 documentary A Sea Change for Superior, filming beneath the swimmers who did the 80-kilometre relay swim between Split Rock and Duluth. On land, Dalbec also loves landscape and wildlife photography, especially owls and the northern lights.

Hook and Curl

A dozen years into his new life, Dalbec is still going strong. “[My photography grew] out of a bad situation that turned into a good situation and turned my life around completely.”

To see more of Christian Dalbec’s work or learn about gallery exhibits and studio tours, visit christiandalbec.com or @christiandalbecphoto_gallery on Instagram.