Interview With Darwin Wiggett

Darwin Wiggett is a landscape and nature photographer best known for his images of the Canadian Rockies and the Canadian prairie. He has been photographing the Canadian Landscape for more than 25 years

You seem to be in love with the Canadian outdoors and especially the Rockies; how did this all start?

As a six-year old I spent time one summer with my grandparents in the Canadian Rockies in an area known as the Kootenay Plains. That time was a huge influence on me and stamped me with a love of nature and the outdoors ever since.

Some photographers have a moment where they know that photography will be their future job and love affair. Have you had such a moment and how did it affect your life?

That moment came in the early 90’s when I captured this image. For me this image of a busted up fence in the prairies told me that, if I could make such a plain subject look beautiful, given the right light and photographic techniques, maybe I could do this hobby as my living.

Working as a professional photographer, what are the pros and cons you come up against on a daily basis?

The biggest con working as a professional is that I shoot only about 25% of the time; the rest of my time is spent on the business of photography. In the past, in the glory days of stock photography, I was able to shoot 50% of the time and the stock agencies did all the work of marketing my photos. Today, photographers need to be everything; marketers, web designers, writers, software gurus, social media experts, accountants and videographers. This leaves little time for actual photography. But, in the end, having your own business and doing creative stuff as your job still makes it all worth the while.

To what degree are your own emotions reflected in your pictures?

I always consider myself a documentary photographer of my emotions. My photographs are not a document of nature but of my head and heart space.

I noticed that you have used a “Gold and Blue” polarising filter on some of your pictures. Can you tell me a few things about this filter, the pros and cons perhaps?

The Gold-n-Blue polariser can make scenes with ‘mundane’ light, e.g. grey overcast, look colourful and inviting. The Gold-n-Blue polariser colours reflective highlights in hues of blue and gold and really makes the image pop. But quite easily it can be a filter that gives garish results; it needs to be used with restraint.

Many of your pictures portray Abraham Lake. Can you tell me what the special attraction is?

This is the area of the Canadian Rockies that I was first exposed to as a six-year old. This is the least developed section of the Canadian Rockies and there are no crowds, little in the way of tourist facilities, and the nature is raw and beautiful here. This area of vast grassy plains in the mountains was once a huge refuge for ungulate and their predators, but now the man-made Abraham Lake has flooded the majority of the plains. This area needs to be protected from further development and deserves our special attention.

Besides your main interest, landscape photography, I see that you experiment with other genres of photography, portrait, animals, nudes and so on. Please tell me about your philosophy on this; is it just for financial gain, or maybe for fun?

The images I made of kids, dogs, frogs, nudes, still life, etc., were spurred by the need for financial return from stock agencies, but in the end I find I rarely can shoot anything well if I am only doing it for money. If I love the subject first and foremost, I can make images with feeling and creativity, and that will translate into the photographs. My kids’ and dogs’ photographs were best sellers in stock, and I believe it was because I had so much fun making the images. The nudes were a creative, personal challenge, to combine the beauty of the landscape with the human form, both male and female.

Can you tell me why you chose the gear you own currently?

That changes frequently, but my landscape kit for the last three or four years is made up of five lenses, Canon TSE-17mm, TS-E 24mm, TS-E 45mm and TS-E 90mm, along with a Sigma 120-400mm lens and a Canon EOS1Ds Mark III camera, with a Rebel t2I as a back-up body. I love the four tilt-shift lenses for the creative versatility that they offer landscape and nature photographers.

Like almost every photographer, you must have a favourite image. Tell me a little bit about it, all the details and especially the why.

Actually, I do not have a favourite image. I have a body of about 100 images I consider my ‘best’, but from those I could not pick a favourite. This one (below) I return to over and over because it is an image that not only has drama and graphic appeal, which I strive for in my photographs, but really tells a story. For me the combination of visual appeal and story is the ultimate goal to achieve in photography.

What post processing do your images undergo? Can you give some details of your basic workflow?

I am pretty old school. Digitally I was raised on Photoshop, starting with version 2.5, and so I still use Photoshop and Adobe Bridge to edit and process my raw images. Mostly I just bring my images up in Bridge, delete about 90% of the stuff and just process and keep the remaining 10%. I do small tweaks in Adobe Camera RAW in Bridge to get the image from a flat raw capture to something a bit more graphic. I then bring the image into Photoshop for any local ‘dodging and burning’ or finishing that might be necessary. Because I use filters on almost every picture, I have good colour saturation and contrast control in camera and so very little tweaking needs to be done in Photoshop. I am of the ‘get it right in the camera’ camp of photography.

Everyone has certain photographers who have been of influence and inspiration. Who are these photographers for you?

The biggest influences are Freeman Patterson, for his ability to see beyond the obvious and for his amazing sense of design; Daryl Benson, for his amazing creativity and unique way of seeing and portraying the world; Galen Rowell, for his use of filters and understanding of dramatic light and story; and finally, my partner Samantha Chrysanthou, for her genius at pushing composition far beyond what I thought possible within the frame of a photo.

Are you a self-taught photographer?

100% self-taught, for better or worse. The best way to learn is through mistakes; I have made many.

How do you come up with ideas, and what do you use as inspiration for your images?

Inspiration comes from nature itself or from taking time away from photography just to observe and think. This time away is what Sam and I call ‘processing’ time and it is vital in order to come up with fresh creative ideas. We try to give ourselves a one-month sabbatical from photography and business each year. This time rejuvenates our creativity.

Is your love for photography passion or obsession?

It once was an obsession, and that cost me a lot in terms of relationships. It is now a controlled passion that is balanced in a healthy way with more important aspects of life.

Can you explain a few things about your photographic workshops?

In the past, I mostly did tours designed to get knowledgeable photographers to the best places given the light that nature bestowed on us. In reality, my tours were for trophy hunters looking to bag grand landscapes in dramatic light. But the idea of tours for me now is a bit stale. I find the most talented photographers can make images of any subject in any light and the best photographers can see pictures anywhere and at any time. Now, Samantha and I are only doing workshops as a way to bring out this skill in our students, and ourselves: we see photographers make the leap to the next level after one of our workshops. The accolades and the repeat attendees speak volumes for our teaching methods. To see our offerings please go here:

I notice that you have produced a good number of eBooks and books in the past few years. Can you tell me what is next in the pipe line?

The eBooks are our way of passing quality photography instruction to a broader audience. Again, all of our eBooks have had very good reviews. Next up are eBooks on Painting with Time – The Creative Effects of Shutter Speed; an eBook on how to make your own eBook; another eBook on Natural Light Portraits; and, finally, one on the Fundamentals of Composition.

When on the lookout for an image in the field, you must have a certain way or process in order to find the subject; can you share it with me?

In the past a location would be scouted at mid-day, to determine where sunrise and sunset would be, and then a guess made on the best time to go back for dramatic light. Lately, I am letting the place and the light speak to me. I take pictures at any time of the day but try to capture the place with fresh eyes rather than relying on big light for easy drama.

Did you ever have an awe inspiring experience that will stay with you for the rest of your photographic life?

Many times. That is why photography is so awesome. I love the connections I get with nature, people, and animals through photography.

Do you have a favourite location, besides Abraham Lake, and why is it your favourite? Would you share it please?

My favourite location list is simple. It is where ever I am currently. Great images can be made anywhere. I prefer locations that are un-crowded or where I am alone with nature. You are unlikely to find me at any landscape icon fighting the crowds for a photograph.

We all have a dream location that we want to visit before we are too old. What is your dream location?

For some reason Scotland and New Zealand have big appeal to me, but I am happy to be anywhere with my camera.

If you could turn back time, what advice would you give to a younger you about photography?

Take art history courses; learn to paint and draw; learn a musical instrument sooner; dabble in poetry; hang out in the world’s greatest art museums; and take more time just to sit.

If you had to choose a different genre of photography besides landscapes, what would you choose?

Probably pets, or kids or fine art portraits.

How do you see your photographic future?

Growth as an artist; more video; more multimedia; and more project based work.

What advice would you give to our readers?

Be true to yourself: do not do things because you are supposed to, do it because you love it.

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    Daryl-Hunter on

    If you are planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies fill your iPad with Darwin Wigget’s photography guides. I had one heck of a good portfolio filling 6 days there because I know just where to go because of Darwin’s help.

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