Frequently Asked Questions
Hi everyone! I get a lot of e-mails and have trouble keeping up with all of them so here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
One of the best ways to find a host of great locations to photograph is via my website. I have the photos categorized by location so that you can see some of the photographic possibilities in each area. I also have photos categorized by season and also by month so if you know when you will be visiting you can see some of the places that I typically shoot at that time of year. Another great option is to purchase my book "Photographing Rocky Mountain National Park". It covers most of the best places to photograph together with information as to when to be there and links to Google Maps showing you where to stand. Alternatively, here is a short list of a few of the most easily accessible and photogenic locations in Rocky. For sunrise: Sprague Lake, Moraine Park, Dream Lake, Lake Bierstadt, Chasm Lake. For Sunset: Bear Lake, Rock Cut, Ute Trail.
All year long there are great possibilities for photography; however most people who ask this question are primarily interested in flowers or fall colors. The wildflowers really start to come out in the lower meadows during the first two weeks of June and then slowly make their way up into the higher elevations. The best wildflowers in the tundra can usually be found during the second and third week of July and many of the remote alpine lakes will peak around the first few days of August. One thing to keep in mind is that although we have beautiful wildflowers, they are rarely as prolific as you will find in some areas of southern Colorado. As for fall colors, they typically begin in the tundra during the first week of September and make their way down, hitting the aspen around Bear Lake by about the third week of September. They then continue slowly down to lower elevations finishing around Estes Park at about the second week of October. The months of the year when I find photography the hardest is in November and April when everything is brown. I typically take my trips out of state during these months. Regardless, if you are creative, you can find opportunities all year long.
First, I don't believe that gear is the most important thing. In my mind, an alarm clock is almost more important than the camera. For me, which camera I use mostly comes down to how large I need to print. Photography is all about light and composition. You can take great photos with almost any camera that has some form of manual control if you understand these two things. With that said, I currently use the following equipment:
- Nikon D850
- Nikon Z 7
- 24-70 F2.8 (Nikon)
- 14-24mm F2.8 (Nikon)
- 70-200 F4 (Nikon)
- 150-600 F5.6 (Tamron)
Tripod: Really Right Stuff: TVC-24L
Ballhead: Achratech GV2
Filters: These days I blend in Lightroom rather than using GNDs, circular polarizer
Software: Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop
This is not your normal story and so it is not necessarily the recommended route for entering the world of photography. I spent many years living in the Balkans and, upon moving back to the USA in January of 2004, I realized that I had the opportunity to do whatever I wanted. I thought about what I enjoy most in the world: hiking in the mountains enjoying beauty and solitude. I then spent some time thinking about how I could make a job out of it. After a bit of research I decided that I would become a professional nature photographer even though I knew very little about photography and was told very clearly that it was almost impossible to make a living this way. My stubbornness combined with my entrepreneurial blood to send me off in this direction. I began by spending hours studying the work of other photographers. I wasn't focused on the equipment they used but on which photos excited me and understanding why they did. I tried to understand how the lighting and composition contributed to creating emotions. At the same time I began to practice with a small point-and-shoot. I would solicit honest feedback from professional and advanced amateur photographers and then go back out to apply their advice. I worked very hard to incorporate all that I was learning and tried to be very critical of my work. Within 18 months of my decision to become a photographer I began selling my work at art shows. I then moved into selling in various galleries and within three years of that decision I opened my own gallery. During this time I used whatever equipment I could afford and, as I've seen a valid need, I've slowly upgraded. I still have a long way to go, but I'm continuing to learn. The biggest obstacle I see in other beginning photographers is that they don't like criticism whereas I welcome it as a window allowing me to see where I need to improve.
At present I do not do any teaching. The main reason for this is that most people want instruction during the busy summer and autumn months which is also when I do all of my photography and sales in the gallery. Life gets too busy during those four months and so I've had to cut back to stay healthy and have not renewed my guiding insurance or park guiding permits. What I do offer is an eBook called "Getting Started in Landscape Photography". It is exactly what I would teach you if you hired me for a workshop, but instead of costing $350 it is just $14.00! You also avoid the pain of putting up with me. :-)
If you do prefer a workshop to a book, I have two friends in the area that I highly recommend for photography instruction: Thomas Mangan who knows and shoots the park about as much as I do and Jared Gricoskie who's an exceptional wildlife guy and a great teacher. Both of these guys can help you take your photography to the next level and both know Rocky Mountain National Park very well. Book early because their services are very popular.
This is one of the questions I am asked most frequently and unfortunately I'm really not the right person to ask. I only keep an eye on what's happening with equipment that will meet my specific needs and I don't pay any attention at all to the developments in the arena of consumer cameras. You'd actually do better reading the online reviews on Amazon or B&H Photo than asking me.
One of the things I've noticed though is that many people mistakenly think that more expensive cameras will enable the photographer to get better looking images. Generally what they do is they enable you to print larger images and may have a few other benefits such as a wider dynamic range, longer battery life, faster shutter speeds or better video. Most people however don't need these and would be fine with a lower end camera. I generally encourage people to choose their camera based on how large they would like to print. I've created beautiful 2'x3' prints that hang in my gallery using cameras with just 8 or 12 megapixels. If you intend to print larger than this, then the additional megapixels will be helpful, but they are really not necessary for smaller prints. Most people will never print larger than 12" so spending thousands on the latest and greatest camera will not really benefit you.
If you are wanting to improve your photography, then I recommend getting a camera with manual controls such as a DSLR rather than a point and shoot camera. If you are shooting with your phone you can download apps which can give you manual controls on your phone.
These are just a few basic things to think about. I talk more about what to look for in a camera in my e-book, Getting Started in Landscape Photography.
As for me, I use high-end cameras because I am often printing very large. I regularly print images 6 feet or larger and so the more expensive cameras help me get the resolution that I need. I'm not loyal to Canon or Nikon, but simply see the camera as a tool to get the job done. I'll switch to any gear that will help me create the best prints possible. Here's a link to my current equipment.
The short answer is "no". The primary reason that I took up photography was to find a way to carve out more time in my life for solitude. I spend most of my week engaged with people and because of my personality I need time to be alone in order to be whole. In the solitude I am restored. It is the place where I can finally connect with what is happening deep inside of me. Times of silence can move us from living superficial lives to deeper and more meaningful lives. In solitude I can finally be quiet enough to begin to hear God's still quiet voice pulling me beyond myself. In solitude I am also at my most creative and can see things that I would otherwise have missed.
For those not wanting to hike alone, consider hiring a local guide to accompany you on your journey. I recommend my friend and experienced photographer Thomas Mangan.
How can I improve my photography?
I suggest that you begin by not taking so many photos. Slow down and spend some time looking through your view finder before you push the shutter button. Make sure that you have just one clear subject and that you have chosen the optimal angle to photograph it. Look at the subject from a number of different angles before you take even a single photo. A tripod can help you slow down and think more carefully about how you compose an image. Secondly, pay attention to the light. I do most of my photography during the 15 minutes before and after sunrise and sunset when the light is warm, gentle and full of color. I rarely take my camera out during the rest of the day. Thirdly, after you have taken your photos spend some time analyzing each one carefully. Try to figure out what you like about each one and what would have made it better. Fourth, spend a great deal of time looking at good photography. Try to understand how the photographer composed the subject and what type of light they used. I spent many months doing this when I was learning to photograph. There is so much we can learn from simply spending time trying to understand the photos that move us emotionally. Finally, take the leap and begin sharing your photos on a nature photography forum such as:www.naturephotographers.net. You need to not only be open to helpful critiques but to actually seek them. Welcome criticism as it will enable you to grow and become the photographer you want to be.
Here are three very good books to help you get started: The first is my own book, "Getting Started in Landscape Photography". This book is exactly what you would hear from me if you were to take one of my introductory workshops. Another good book is, "Nature Photography Photo Workshop" by Nat Coalson walks you through just about every step of becoming a nature photographer. In "The Ultimate Guide to Digital Nature Photography" the authors provide a broad background to getting started in nature photography while wowing you with amazing images. All three of these books are great resources if you are serious about growing in this area. I also have put together a few videos about my process which you may find helpful.
I shoot all of my images in RAW format. If you are wondering why, simply do an online search for RAW vs. Jpeg and you will find many articles that explain the reasoning in great detail. To organize and process my images I use Adobe Lightroom. In my mind there is no better program out there. I highly recommend it and so do almost all of my friends who are professional photographers. A good book to help you get started or to take your Lightroom skills to the next level is Nat Coalson's "Lightroom 4: Streamlining your digital photography process." Nat is a good friend and has taught me almost everything I know about Lightroom. You can also find some great tutorials to digital processing by Sean Bagshaw. I've really appreciated the great videos he's put together. Finally, I did a short video showing my normal approach to image processing.
My first advice is to make sure you have a real job to provide an income. It is extremely difficult to make a living with landscape photography. There is a lot of it out there and the demand is limited. Making a living at nature photography can be done but realize that you don't make your income actually doing photography but in selling photography. Many of my friends who have normal jobs spend more time doing photography than I do since so much of my time is spent running the business. In my view the most important thing needed to become a professional nature photographer are business skills. Knowing how to market and run a business over the long-haul is in many ways more important than your photography skills. The next thing I would say is that you need to have something unique to market. You should have a unique niche that no one else in the world has. In my mind, this is the main key to building a business out of your photography. A good way to get started is to get your work out in front of potential customers and then listen to what they have to say. The art show circuits are a good way to get started and to begin to get customer feedback. The key is to listen and apply what you hear from them and to learn to identify their needs. This is true whether your focus is on print sales or stock photography. Listening and growing through feedback is essential.
Unfortunately, I don't shoot weddings or portraits and very rarely do I photograph wildlife or architecture. The reason for this is primarily due to personal passion. I love landscapes, I always have. When I was a child I loved looking out at the mountains, plains, ocean or any beautiful natural scene. These speak to me in a very deep way. They also seem to fit with my longing for silence and solitude. I'm much more of a hermit as are many landscape photographers. I find that the best portrait/wedding photographers are often those who just love getting to know new people. They can bring out expressions in ways that I never could. Another component of this is that each of these types of photography is quite different, requiring very different skills and often different equipment. People often think that since they all use a camera that if you are good at one of these that you will be good at all of them, but that is a bit like comparing a children's author with a science fiction writer and a poet. They all use words, but each requires a very different approach and passion. I've found my passion in the wild landscapes of the world and so this is where I've chosen to put my energy.
If you are looking for a wedding or portrait photographer, why don't you consider Joe Pyle a local photographer who is very gifted in both portrait and wedding photography.
As a professional photographer, how much time do you actually spend doing photography?
This is one issue that I was warned about upfront, but didn't fully believe. Many of my friends who have full-time jobs do more photography than I do. One would think that my day would be free to go out and shoot, but the reality is that as a photographer I am the owner of a small business. The business doesn't actually make its income by taking photos, but rather through the marketing and sale of photos that have already been taken. I find that I tend to spend 8-10 hours a day behind a computer answering emails, working on finances, corresponding on social networks, creating new projects whether books, calendars, cds, etc., process and key-wording photos, maintaining websites and a host of other things. Most of my photography is squeezed in before the work day starts or after it ends. In the summer, I try to push myself out of the office more and may spend a couple of days a week in the mountains and a few mornings. Being out is the very best part of the job, but in truth it is only about 10-15% of what I do.
Are you willing to license your images for use in magazines, brochures, websites and on products?
Yes, I actually created a separate website that automates the process of licensing and downloading images for your personal or business use. This is an entirely different collection of images from the ones you'll see on this website. This ImagesofRMNP.com website is reserved for my fine art prints and images available for stock licensing can be found at my website: http://stock.morninglight.us.
Why don't you share the locations of all your photos?
In the summer of 2015 I was deeply saddened to find several places that I love in Rocky Mountain National Park had been badly damaged, possibly as the result of photographs that I've taken. A wonderful area of wildflowers in Wild Basin is now trampled so badly that in much of the area instead of moss and abundant wildflowers there is now just gravel. At Lake Helene the little islands of grass near the outlet are now trampled dirt and the area near the Loch where I shot the cover for my new book is getting more and more traffic which may soon badly damage that area as well. This is terribly disturbing to me as I want to celebrate the untouched beauty of these areas, not destroy them.
What is happening is that people see a pretty photo and want to visit the exact same location, some just to see it and others to try and make their own photo of it. While the thinking may be innocent, previously untouched areas soon become heavily traveled and trampled. I've found that some photographers will carefully examine photos and go to great lengths to find the exact location so that they can take the same image. Soon they share the location with others and the same things happen. We are destroying these places in our desire to see the exact same view as we saw in a photograph. This doesn't need to happen as there is so much to see and enjoy. Rocky Mountain National Park has 415 sq miles of beauty and tens of thousands of gorgeous perspectives that have yet to be photographed.
Because of the increased damage to places that I've photographed, I've had numerous conversations with friends in the National Park Service who have encouraged me to only share locations that are directly photographed from an established trail. I agreed with them and made the decision to no longer share any off-trail location. Some people really don't like this at all and feel like I am being selfish. I on the other hand am becoming more and more worried any time I take a photo of a new location. I wonder, will this area be damaged too? I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Another thing I've done is that I've worked with many other photographers from around the globe to start a new initiative to address this and other damage caused by landscape photography. You can learn more about it and join us at: http://NatureFirstPhotography.org.
I hope you will understand why I don't share off-trail locations and that you will join me in preserving this place. If we spread out and find our own places, we greatly limit the damage. There are thousands of new views to be found and photographed. Be creative and find these new views rather than trying to do what has already been done. You'll come away with better photos that are truly your own and in the process you will be helping to preserve the wilderness for future generations.
Here's a good little video about this issue: