How would you describe your artistic style?
If I had to define my style in one word, it would be ‘atmospheric’. My criteria for what makes a portfolio-worthy image is equal parts: composition, dynamic light and emotion. I become emotionally invested during the process of capture and I want that to show through the finished product. All of that to say, I am a designer and a cloud-junkie – symmetry, balance, perspective and unique clouds are what make or break my work.
Living in the Midwest, which isn’t exactly known for its beautiful landscapes, I try to scout new locations as often as I can, bookmark them and revisit when I feel the light is going to work in my favor. Switching to a camera system that allows me to carry my gear, unobtrusively, wherever I go, has had a direct benefit on all that I do.
How did you get started as a pro photographer?
I fell in love with photography in the darkroom, processing black and white film initially and only got into digital in order to supplement my design work. Over time, that grew into a freelance career, consisting of weddings, families, events and senior portraits. I did that for a long time, but my heart was always with landscape photography. In late 2014, after a bout of seasonal depression, I decided to finally go all-in on my passion. Between then and now, everything has been about me finally focusing on what I enjoy the most.
Why did you switch to Fujifilm?
Making the full-on switch to Fujifilm signified a major shift in my career. It all started with the original X100 in 2012 and grew to the point that I only really saw my DSLRs as my 'work cameras'. They were reliable, but too heavy to carry with me on a regular basis – and no fun to use. By contrast, the X Series was fully capable, exponentially smaller and had the analog feel that made me fall in love with photography in the first place. When I made the decision to fully pursue landscape photography, Fujifilm cameras were the obvious choice to mark the end of one career and the beginning of the next. Being the Star Wars nerd that I am, I like to say that I 'joined the Dark Side'.
Is there a noticeable difference in your workflow (field and post) using the Fujifilm system?
There are many differences for me, coming from the DSLR world. In the field, the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) allows me to fully visualize the picture before I click the shutter, which has been a wonderful experience. I shoot so much with ND filters in my work, that the ability to do in-camera long exposures, up to fifteen minutes, without having to use bulb mode, has made my life so much easier. When it comes to post-processing, the dynamic range of the X-Trans sensor has upped my game in the best of ways. I love to straddle the line of surrealism in my work and, the ability to rescue so much detail in the highlights and shadows, pushes into that territory. But my goal is to always maintain the integrity of the picture.
What is the one thing you love most about the gear?
There are so many things that make these cameras the perfect system for what I do. Between the huge EVF, the absolutely insane sharpness and contrast out of the XF lenses, to the perfection of the colors off the sensor. But, if I had to narrow it down to just one, it would be the overall design and attention to detail that contributed to the 'feel' of the cameras. I love being able to look at my camera and see that I’m shooting at f/8 at 1/250th of a second at ISO 200 without even having to turn the camera on. I know that everything in technology is moving at the speed of light and that race seems to be about eliminating buttons. I get that to a certain extent, but, as a photographer, I want the camera to be an extension of myself. I don’t want to have to turn it on and dig through a menu to find and activate or change a mode. These cameras are fun and they beg to be shot with. For me, they make the connection to a previous generation of photography that I absolutely adore.
What is the most difficult thing about being a pro photographer in 2017?
How accessible photography is to everyone. As technology advances and gives consumers digital access to features only previously available on high-end cameras, it’s going to be harder and harder to stay relevant. It is up to us to evolve with the times, to break out of the mould and push forward to elevate what we do to the next level. I always encourage beginners to emulate photographers that inspire them as they are getting started, but also look to grow soon and evolve often. While everyone is following the 'trends' on social media, find ways to stand out amongst the crowd.
What is your most memorable and difficult field experience and how did you overcome it?
It took place this past August, while shooting the solar eclipse. Some friends and I decided to drive down to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, because several nearby areas were in the direct path of totality. After days of scouting to find a spot that was going to meet all of our criteria for shooting, we arrived early. In the middle of nowhere with no cell service, we baked in the sun for six hours, waiting for the event. About one hour before totality was supposed to occur, clouds appeared on the horizon. I started taking photos to reference which direction the clouds were moving and, unfortunately, they were coming straight at us. We immediately went into damage control and a decision had to be made. Would we uproot and try to find a new spot in the limited time we had left, or wait it out? Having never shot an eclipse before, I was worried that we wouldn’t even be able to see through as the clouds passed overhead. We ended up deciding to stay it out and witness a marvellous scene unfold in front of us, as a thin layer of clouds passed over the eclipse. I shot a wide angle time lapse on my X-Pro2 with the XF10-24mm f/4 R OIS, so I could extract a still from that, while keeping my focus on shooting a pair of X-T2s: one with the XF50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR and XF2x Teleconverter, the other with the XF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR and XF1.4x Teleconverter for the more traditional images. Overkill? Maybe, but like I said, it was my first time shooting an eclipse and I wasn’t taking any chances. Everything ended up going completely in our favor though, as our images stood out against the ensuing sea of eclipse images that hit social media.
Where will your next adventure take you?
My group of friends that I travel with are currently talking about taking a train across the US, from San Francisco to New York, stopping at multiple cities along the way. I am most excited about the possibility of shooting throughout Utah and exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. The trip would be a little different than what I am used to as, instead of focusing on a particular area, the trouble will be making the most of the limited time we have in any given spot.
If you could go back to your early days as a pro and do something different, what would it be?
I knew I had a passion for landscape photography early on in my career, but I never really pursued it. I always heard people saying that artists needed personal work, but I never gave it the time or effort. In my mind, I was a working creatively, so why did I need to make time for something that wasn’t going to contribute to my income? My perspective has made a complete 180-degree turn since then, who knows how many opportunities I missed because I didn’t start sooner than I did. Always make time for the things that you are most passionate about, even if it seemingly cuts into your profits.