Artist Biography – Photographer Mike MacDonald

Mike MacDonald sets up a landscape photograph of rough blazing star at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois. Photo by David Jagodzinski.

Mike MacDonald sets up a landscape composition of rough blazing star at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois. Photo by David Jagodzinski.

Mike MacDonald is an internationally published photographer, a nationally acclaimed author, a professional comedian and public speaker, and a conservationist. Many words describe Mike’s unique background. But only one word is needed to describe the man: passionate. And Mike is passionate about Chicago nature.

Within just fifty miles of downtown Chicago, there is more protected natural area than most national parks and more native plant species than any national park. Every day from April through September, a wealth of wildflowers can be found blooming right down the road from home, work, or school. Unfortunately, most Chicagoans are unaware. But Mike is on a mission to change that. Playing the role of “nature matchmaker,” he introduces Chicago’s natural beauty and biodiversity to people in the hope of sparking love affairs. Through passionate public speaking, inspirational writing, and breathtaking photography, Mike conveys the marvels and magnificence of a wild Chicago that rivals any place on Earth.

For nearly three decades, Mike has been photographing Chicago’s natural wonders. His images have been nationally and internationally featured in many publications, including Outdoor Photographer, Petersen’s Photographic, Boy’s Life, and BBC’s Gardens Illustrated magazine. And Chicago nature was placed in the national spotlight when his landscape images were featured in the 2019 and 2020 editions of the Sierra Club Wilderness Wall Calendar.

In 2015, his literary coffee-table book, My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders, earned national acclaim when Publishers Weekly described the photography as “glorious” and the writing as “celebratory, soulful, and poetic.” Building upon the book, Mike then created a free website called ChicagoNatureNOW! to help Chicagoans discover the natural beauty that surrounds them. Each week, he and his volunteer scouts report on the best wildflower blooming events in the region.

Mike also uses this talent as a professional entertainer to celebrate Chicago nature on the performance stage. His show “My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago”, which inspired his book of the same name, is a heartwarming mix of art, humor, and passion.

With degrees in mathematics and physics, Mike began his career as a scientific computer programmer. Then a few years later, he turned his focus to comedy and began performing throughout the country. His unique brand of humor attracted national media attention, including television appearances on “Donahue” and CBS “Morning Program” and a story in People Magazine. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “It was absolutely side-splitting humor; it was all I could do to keep from rolling around on the floor.”

In his role as a conservationist, Mike motivates people to discover nature by sharing his emotions and experiences. Yet, to photographically convey the depth and grandeur of the flat outstretched prairie was a challenge. Unlike the spectacular geology of the western United States, where photographs of grand mountains with deep valleys intrinsically give the illusion of three-dimensions, an image of the horizontal Chicago prairie can fall as flat as Lake Michigan on a calm day.

To solve the problem, Mike created The Chicago Style of Landscape Photography, “This system allows my spacious landscape images to embody both a depth and an intimacy that give the viewer a hyper-realistic sense of being part of the scene.” Our nature matchmaker explains the practical side of this, “My photographs are part of a diabolical love plan—a magic spell to entrance you into making a date with nature. After all, once you meet, how can you not fall in love?”

Read Mike’s Artist Statement.


Watch story about Mike’s photographic style on WTTW Chicago Tonight.
Watch Mike’s interview about his book on WTTW Chicago Tonight.
Watch Mike talk about Chicago nature photography on ABC 7 Eyewitness News Sunday Morning.
Watch Mike give photography tips on FOX 32 Chicago’s Good Day Saturday.
Watch Mike share his love of nature on WGN-TV Midday News.
Watch Mike’ talk about Chicago nature on CBS 2 Chicago’s Sunday Morning News.

Listen to Mike’s interview about winter magic in Chicago nature on WBEZ’s Morning Shift – Jan. 7, 2019.
Listen to Mike’s interview about his book on WBEZ’s WorldView – Feb. 8, 2016.
Listen to Mike’s interview about ChicagoNatureNOW! on WBEZ’s Worldview – Apr. 18, 2017.
Listen to Mike talking about Chicago nature on WBEZ’s Morning Shift – Oct. 17, 2016.
Listen to Mike talking about photography on WCGO-Radio – Dec. 2, 2018.

Daily Herald – Jan. 17, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times – Mar. 26, 2016
Chicago Tribune – Jan. 17, 2016

View some of Mike’s published work:
Outdoor Photographer – March 1997
Petersen’s Photographic – October 1999
UIC Alumni Magazine – July/August 2000
Chicago Wilderness – Fall 2005
Chicago Wilderness – Winter 2006
Garden’s Illustrated cover photo – January 2009
Outdoor Photographer – November 2011