Q&A

Question: How long have you been a photographer?

I’ve been capturing images since 2011.
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Question: What got you into photography?

Financial necessity. Ha! Just kidding, of course, but there is a financial-necessity angle to my story. When my wife gave birth to our first child, she suggested that we take pictures of the little guy once a month for the first year of his life. Great. I was all for it. The only caveat, I explained, was that I could not take the pictures. Indeed, to that point I had never captured a serious image with a camera. Outside of a Polaroid, Fuji or Kodak disposable, I had no experience capturing images. Therefore, I suggested that we hire Casey Withers, a professional photographer based in San Diego, to capture images of our son. My wife agreed. After several months, and after spending a small chunk of change, I decided that maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn how to capture some decent images — even if they were not professional. My goal from the beginning was to merely capture competent images that my son wouldn’t find objectionable later in life. And, of course, an ancillary benefit would be that I could save money if I got to the point where I was capturing decent, competent images. With that in mind, I approached Casey and asked if he’d mind giving me some basic camera instruction. He agreed to do it. After several months of capturing images, I was doing some decent work. Casey declared me ready to be set free after four months of instruction. I no longer needed his assistance, he said. And the rest is history.
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Question: Why landscape photography?

I’m sure that my arc is similar to others who have chosen to pursue photography as a hobby or as a profession. Simply put, I shot all kinds of subjects before zeroing in on landscape photography. From rocks and trees out in the yard, to people walking about the street, I have shot it. I think most photographers eventually find their favorite subjects after capturing an assortment of images. Ultimately, I found that I loved capturing landscapes more than anything else. I couldn’t imagine capturing anything else today.
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Question: What did you do before you got into photography?

I was a shepherd, working the rugged countryside of Ireland. Really! OK. OK. Seriously, I was a journalist covering business and Wall Street. I worked for both the San Francisco Chronicle and TheStreet.com. Before that, I was a producer at America Online. During college, meanwhile, I worked part time as a writing tutor and teacher’s assistant.
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Question: Where did you go to college?

I went to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where I earned a bacherlor’s degree in history. After that, I went to the University of Idaho College of Law, where I earned a Juris Doctor degree.
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Question: What kind of camera and lenses do you currently use?

I capture images with a Phase One medium format digital back and body. I use an assortment of Schneider-Kreuznach lenses. I’ve been shooting with Phase One since 2013.
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Question: Why Phase One?

First, it’s important to understand that I only do single-image (unstitched) captures. I have a finite amount of pixels available to me as a result.

That said, I have always been agnostic about gear. My primary concern has never been about the name brand or how much something costs. It has always been about whether I am using the right tool for the job. After several years of using Nikon cameras, though, I found it necessary to get a different tool that would serve me and my clients better. By this time, my work was being sold to clients around the world and my work was being displayed in a gallery. As clients demanded larger prints, it required me to reconsider the tool I was using to capture images (at that time I was shooting with the Nikon D800E). Secondarily, most of my competitors were capturing images with some kind of medium- or large-format camera as well.

After evaluating my options, the decision to move to Phase One was an easy one. It was much easier to print Phase One files at large sizes than it was to print the Nikon files. At a certain level, it seemed obvious to me that the resolution of the Nikon files just didn’t hold up very well once I got to a certain print size. A single-panel print, using a Nikon D800E as a reference, held up well all the way to about 60 inches on the long side. As long as I didn’t print any larger, I had the right tool for the job. Beyond 60 inches, though, the breakdown in resolution started to reveal itself. The breakdown in resolution was problematic for two reasons: one, the gallery director was offering images for sale that exceeded 60 inches. And, two, the image just didn’t seem to be as clean, sharp, and crisp at larger sizes.

Meanwhile, would-be clients, who went from gallery to gallery, would often comment that my images didn’t look quite as sharp at larger sizes as some of the images they had seen at other galleries in the neighborhood. I couldn’t dispute that. After all, I had seen this for myself. I knew that, especially at larger sizes, my images were not holding up well vis-à-vis other images that were being captured by my competitors. Therefore, I ultimately decided to make the jump to medium format so that my work could be judged on an apples-to-apples basis. Before making the move to Phase One, my work was being judged on two bases: first, on technology (which couldn’t withstand scrutiny when files were printed large) and, second, on image appeal (client taste). Once I removed the technological impediment, I could get back to competing against other photographers on an image-appeal basis.
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Question: What camera system did you use before the Phase One?

Prior to switching over to Phase One, I shot with Nikon. I was using an entry-level Nikon camera when I first started out because it was the right tool in light of my lack of experience. I didn’t know the first thing about photography and I didn’t have any clients. Why Nikon? Simple. My teacher used Nikon and I thought it would be easier to learn if I was using the same brand as the person teaching me. The buttons and functions would be familiar to him and I figured the learning curve would be a lot less less steep. Right before I switched to Phase One, I was using a Nikon D800E.
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Question: What software do you use for editing?

I use the latest version of Capture One Pro. Capture One, which is developed by Phase One, is an image-editing program that was originally created for Phase One photographers. Today, however, Capture One supports more than 400 cameras, including Sony, Fuji, Canon, and Nikon.

In addition to using Capture One, which is what I use for most of my editing, I also use the latest versions of Lightroom and Photoshop.
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Question: How difficult is it to get sponsorships?

I’m going to give you a law school answer: it depends. But I will say this: if you’re a well-known photographer, who puts out strong, quality work, you’ll have more success selling yourself to prospective sponsors than someone just starting out. My advice to people looking for sponsorships is pretty simple. You need to be prepared to explain why a sponsor should work with you. Because it’s not just about you (and never is), you need to convince the sponsor that you have something to offer it. Are you influential with other photographers? Do you have a lot of photographers who follow you on a large — and interactive — Instagram page? If you don’t have any influence within the demographic these sponsors are selling into, there is little chance these sponsors will work with you.

I can also offer this tip. Don’t accept every sponsorship opportunity that comes your way. Sometimes a would-be sponsor just doesn’t put out quality products. Their inferior products will make you look like an inferior photographer. What’s more, your reputation is on the line when you suggest or promote products. Don’t sell out your integrity for some swag. As I say on my sponsorship page, you are known by the company you keep. If you can’t genuinely and honestly endorse a sponsor and its products, you’d be well advised to avoid it in the first place.

Finally, always remember that sponsors are running a business. They’re going to analyze you in a number of ways but trust me when I say that they’re always concerned with their return on investment and bottom line. If you’re not able to spread their name widely, write about their products honestly, and aren’t able to market them sufficiently, you’ll have little to no chance of teaming up with these companies.
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Question: Anything you dislike about landscape photography?

Photography, especially landscape photography, is typically a singular endeavor (though there are times when photographers work together on teams). In an effort to stand out from the crowd, many photographers (but certainly not all) think it’s necessary to keep people down by trampling all over them. Collaboration and team building are anathema to the individual-centric industry we operate in, these people think. That’s sad.

Some photographers, for example, are reticent to publicly acknowledge that anyone else has a lot of talent or that another photographer puts out inspiring work. That’s why you don’t see those photographers supporting other photographers’ images in public fora. The insecure photographer can’t take a chance that others might notice his or her acknowledgment of someone else. The fear — for this kind of person — is that a new interest in someone may mean a diminished interest in his or her own work by the person who has had his or her interest diverted. It’s an illogical conclusion, but people think that mindshare and saleable work is a zero-sum proposition. It’s akin to thinking that a mother’s love for one child means that she must love one of her other children less. It’s a silly idea. And yet it’s a psychology that some people in our industry have adopted. Having said that, I am not naive. I know that we’re in a competitive industry conducting business. We all want to make a living. Perhaps I am an idealist, though, in thinking that, even though we are competing against one another, we can do it with respect, decorum, and professionalism.

But this dog-eat-dog mentality isn’t confined to the photography industry. It happens in a variety of industries. I’ve seen industries where individuals battle each other for first-place medals, sponsorships, and clients. The amount of back biting, belittlement, and tearing down seems to be a way of life. It’s dog eat dog writ large.

Meanwhile, I’m intimately familiar with this kind of behavior and thinking because I used to be just like that (when I was part of another profession). I wasn’t content with working to be the best me that I could be. Instead, I was more worried about being the best me that I could be vis-a-vis YOU. Rather than lift people up, I worked to get on top of people so that I could keep them down. A step back for you meant a step forward for me, in other words. Never mind that no progression was achieved by me. Very sad. And very pathetic. I’m glad I got beyond that.

Simply put, I wish that some landscape photographers (with whom I am more familiar) were more open to sharing, collaborating, and supporting.

In sum, I don’t dislike anything about landscape photography per se. Instead, I dislike the traits some of my colleagues have cultivated in the name of being more popular and more distinguished. Thankfully, those afflicted with this disease are in the minority. On a regular basis I am reminded that petty people in our industry do not represent the vast majority of photographers. Indeed, it’s been my experience that most photographers are genuinely good people.

In a perfect world, we’d all be approachable, helpful, and affable. Alas, there is more work to be done. I’ll continue to do my part; I hope others will do the same.
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Question: Do you do HDR?

No. My portfolio is comprised of single-image captures. I don’t do high-dynamic-range photography (HDR), I don’t stitch images together, and I don’t blend various scenes from several images into a final image. That’s not to say I have a negative opinion of those approaches. Absolutely not. In fact, many of my photographer friends employ any number of those techniques, producing some amazing, incredible images that I appreciate, respect, and thoroughly enjoy. Still, I simply find that I get more personal satisfaction from trying to get as much as possible into a single capture. That approach, of course, often means I have to return to the field over and over again until I get the conditions I want for my images.
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Question: What is a limited edition print?

A limited edition means that, regardless of size, when it was printed, or what medium it is printed on, an image will no longer be sold once a defined edition size has sold out. For example, if an image is released, and it is limited to a run to 200, it will no longer be sold once 200 prints (total) have been sold. It shouldn’t matter whether the sold prints consist of images of varying sizes, whether several were printed on giclée on canvas or when the image got printed. Once all 200 prints have been sold, the limited edition has run its course and the edition should close. Indeed, the only way a would-be collector should be able to obtain a print from a sold-out, limited-edition is if the collector purchases it through the secondary market (from a previous purchaser).

Be careful, though. Some photographers may have a limited edition of 200, for example, but that doesn’t mean the image will be capped at 200 total images. Instead, some photographers limit editions by sizes. They will sell 200 images at 24×16, 200 images at 60×40, etc. Always do your homework so that you know exactly what you’re buying into when it comes to limited editions.
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Question: Do you sell limited-edition prints?

Yes. Prior to 2016, I sold my images in a variety of edition sizes, ranging from no more than fifty to as few as three. Because some of those editions have not yet closed, I still sell prints from those limited editions. By the end of 2015, however, I began reevaluating my edition sizes. I eventually decided to reduce my edition size to one. You can read about my decision here.
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Question: What is an artist proof and do you sell them?

An artist proof is separate and aside from the limited-edition print calculation. An artist proof is a print in an edition that contains substantially the same image, and which is produced from the same master (negative) as the prints in the related limited edition. Therefore, by way of example, a particular image may have a limited edition of 50 prints with an accompanying artist proof set of 5, for a grand total of 55 prints sold (limited-edition plus artist-proof prints).

The digital age, however, has made it difficult to assure end buyers that artist proofs and limited editions in general won’t be reproduced over and over again. Indeed, because there is no film negative that can be destroyed, and because a digital file can be copied perfectly in perpetuity, the end user must trust the photographer who is making the assurance that images will never exceed the limitation restrictions of any edition that is issued. If you don’t trust the photographer, don’t buy his or her images if they’re part of a limited edition. Short of that, there is nothing you can do to guarantee you’re not buying into a bloated, open-ended edition.

I no longer sell artist proofs and haven’t since 2015.
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Question: What is an open edition?

As opposed to a limited edition, which caps the number of prints sold, an open edition doesn’t restrict the number of prints issued. In an open edition a photographer will sell as many prints of a single image as there are buyers for the image. If there are 5,837 buyers, the photographer will sell 5,837 prints, for example. In other words, the edition never closes. The photographer will continue to sell an image, without reservation, as long as someone is willing to buy.
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Question: Do you guarantee an investment return on your images?

Absolutely not. I understand that many of my collectors not only acquire my work because they love it, connect with it, and find joy in it — and I’m glad they do — but also because they hope it increases in value over time. As a result, I have, prior to 2016, generally released small, limited editions. I always believed that small editions allowed me to, with a straight face, say that images have investment potential — but nothing more. I don’t pitch investment guarantees because I’m not in the forecasting business. No one can guarantee that something will go up in value. Anyhow, I’ll leave promises and guarantees to other art galleries and photographers.

First and foremost, I hope that you’ll collect my work because you love what I’ve captured. However, I am sensitive to the realities that exist in the fine-art world, which is why I decided to ultimately sell just a single print from my captured image. As I have said before, I know that I am leaving money on the table with my single-image edition size but I do sleep better at night knowing that I will never have to defend myself when edition sizes reach bloated levels where “investment return and opportunity” become buzzwords and catchphrases aimed at separating you from your money.
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Question: What medium, substrate, and presentation do you use for your prints?

Nearly all of my images are acrylic face mounted — with a minimum thickness of six millimeters. This presentation is used almost exclusively by me and I encourage my clients to go with this choice whenever possible. The image is printed on Fujiflex crystal archive, a polyester-based silver-halide medium known for its high-gloss finish, rich color, ultra-smooth surface, and its anti-fading qualities. Fujiflex color reproduction is clear, bright and highly saturated, giving the print a heightened sense of color realism. In addition to producing rich, deep blacks, the material’s technology results in clean and brilliant highlights. When it comes to image display, it’s difficult to beat this combination.

Meanwhile, I use a Dibond substrate whenever possible. It’s lighter than other aluminum-based alternatives. It doesn’t bow. And it’s well known for its rigidity and durability.

All of my images are printed on a wide-format LightJet 430 laser printer. The LightJet differs from inkjet printers because no ink is laid on the paper with a LightJet. Instead, the Fujiflex material I use, which is light sensitive, is exposed with red, green, and blue laser light. This means that, unlike ink-based printing solutions, I don’t have to worry about banding and dot patterns on the finished image. What’s more, the LightJet is capable of producing single-image panels that are ten feet wide and more than four feet tall (using a landscape orientation). Thus, an image that is 96 inches wide by 48 inches tall, for example, can be printed on a single panel. Similarly, I can print single-panel verticals, too.

Finally, I do my own image interpolation (enlarging) prior to sending files to the printer. While the LightJet has onboard interpolation software built in, I don’t like to leave my enlarging to others. Therefore, I control the enlarging process, eliminating other commercial software alternatives.
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Question: Where is your favorite place to capture images?

I’ve been asked this question many times. It’s a tremendously difficult question to answer, frankly. Every place has its strong points. Rather than nail down one place in particular, let me point out a few places that I love shooting.

The Palouse region of the United States has to be right near the top for me. I used to live in this area, so I know the area well. The rolling hills of wheat, along with the shadows and light that hit these hills, are something special — especially in the spring. No matter how many times I capture images here, I always come away thinking that this is one of the best places in the United States to capture images. The Palouse comprises some 4,000 square miles. There are so many places to explore. During my workshops in the Palouse (which I host in June), I often put 1000s of miles on the vehicle, exploring town after town and farm after farm.

Outside of the United States, I don’t think there is any question that Patagonia tops my list. The rugged beauty and remoteness of the area are so alluring. Additionally, the weather is so unpredictable, which presents all kinds of challenges. Hiking becomes a challenge. Image capturing becomes a challenge. Sleeping becomes a challenge. The winds become a challenge. That said, I wouldn’t trade those challenges in for anything. Overcoming those challenges is what makes capturing wonderful images there so satisfying. Perhaps most of all, though, the thing I love most about being in Patagonia has little to do with photography. Instead, it has to do with how unplugged I am with the outside world. Long hikes — when I am often alone — provide for an amazing amount of quiet time. You have a lot of time to contemplate your life (what you’ve done with it, what you’re doing with it now, and what you’d like to do with it in the future). I come back from a trip like that feeling so refreshed, renewed, and ready to tackle the world. Even if you’re not interested in going all the way to Patagonia, I always urge people to visit places that remove them from every-day life. You’ll find that capturing images in places like this is just icing on the cake.