F Stop Collaborate and Listen Podcast Interview
A few weeks back I had the opportunity to be on Matt Payne’s Podcast (you can listen to it here), which if you don’t know about already, has had some really insightful interviews with lots of talented and inspiring photographers. After so many heavy hitters being on there before me, I was a little intimidated and worried I wouldn’t be able to offer any unique insight. Listening to the interview again now that it’s live, I am happy to say we did touch on some different subjects and I was able to go into some strong, personal beliefs that I hold about our wilderness and what drives me to photograph the places I visit. However, an hour isn’t nearly enough time to share everything I have on my mind so I thought I would expound a bit on some of Matt’s questions in this article in case anyone would like to go into the topics a bit further.
1. Could you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself and share about how you got into landscape photography?
As I mentioned in the podcast, both my parents being artists allowed for a really supportive environment for me while growing up. My mother, Lea, has always been a full time professional harpist and my father, Doug, was once a performing magician and now no longer performs but still constantly creates magic tricks and provides consulting and script writing for other performing magicians. For anyone familiar with the magic world, he worked as a consultant for David Copperfield for many years to help create his tv specials and shows in Las Vegas and he still reaches out to my father today. He has also worked with Penn and Teller and has had many of his other magician clients on their TV show, "Fool Us." Although he stays behind the scenes, any magician you can think of has either worked with my Dad before or knows who he is.
This kind of support I received from my parents allowed me to try lots of new things and took away my fear of failure. Early on I learned that it was important to choose my career based on what made me happy, and I was given the tools and opportunities to try many different things which allowed me to discover that. My parents enjoy traveling and they took me to Europe, Hawaii, Mexico, Canada, and many places within the US when I was younger. I got the itch to see more of the world early on because of that and I was always appointed as the designated photographer, which I feel helped me to start learning my way with a camera very early on.
I really see my photography career beginning when I started to get paid for filming skateboarding videos. Luckily I had friends that were skilled enough to get noticed and sponsored so that their footage would have value (Riley Hawk, Stephen Lawyer, Taylor Kirby, Taylor Smith, Dakota Servold, Brendan Keaveny, just to name a few, who are all full time, professional skateboarders today). We started to travel around the Southwest together searching for unique locations to shoot tricks for our own skate video we were working on and growing up in San Diego which is ground zero for the skateboarding scene, it wasn’t easy to get noticed, so we were always pushing ourselves to come up with original ideas.
The video camera I used to film skateboarding, which was the SICKEST camera back then, was a Sony VX1000. It used Mini DV tapes which allowed 60 min of filming, and if you ever tried to write over them instead of using a brand new tape every time, the footage was almost always ruined. I would have to sit and go through entire tapes to “capture” the footage which is a process where you playback the tapes and you can record sections of them with your computer to create digital files. I also had a ultra wide angle lens which was THE lens to use back then which was dominantly known as “The Death Lens,” which I was able to afford through the footage I was selling to companies like Foundation, Independant, Stereo, Toy Machine, Birdhouse, Lakai and some websites that posted my videos regularly. Early on I learned the value of investing my earnings back into my art so I could use better equipment as well as travel to places to produce better content. Through these connections I was able to meet lots of awesome people who I still keep in touch with today, including Riley’s dad, Tony Hawk, who has helped promote my photography, reached out to me for Iceland traveling advice, and has one of my photos displayed in his own home.
Growing up in an LDS family, when I was 19 years old I decided I would serve a full time mission for our church. I was assigned to live in Panama for two years where I learned to speak Spanish fluently and was able to live all over the country and serve people 24/7. It was an amazing lesson for me to learn at such a young age and helped me to shift my focus on other things besides myself. When I came home, I had a desire to inspire people all over the world and share the true meaning of life. I worked for a little bit as a videographer for my brother’s marketing company, 97th Floor, and saved up enough money to travel around the world for an entire year, which I did in 2014. From there the fire was lit to go full time into landscape photography, so I could share the beauty of the Earth and express the importance of preserving the little wilderness we have left.
2. Could you talk a little bit about what it takes to become a full time photographer and how that journey has been for yourself?
My whole motivation for dedicating myself full time to photography was the love I have for doing it. Being in the wilderness and creating photographs is just my favorite way to spend time, so naturally it was how I wanted to be spending ALL of my time. Not having to make a living from anything else allows me to dedicate my entire life to this art and hopefully wilderness preservation as well through my photographs.
Like I stated in our interview, I think if you focus on making your art the best you can, you will have a good chance at making a decent living with it. I see people making money these days for literally almost everything, so I think something as moving and relatable as photography still stands a good chance. When you focus on anything else besides the art, then the product is going to suffer. If you are creating photos with the cause being to make a profit, the quality is going to decline. Whenever you shift your focus on anything besides actually taking photos, then the images are going to suffer.
I spend a lot of time reading books and one that I especially liked was “The Purple Cow” by Seth Godin. Basically the whole point he stresses throughout the book is that you are either remarkable or invisible. I think as a photographer you can be remarkable in many ways. You can be a remarkable businessman, have remarkable marketing, a remarkable personality, remarkable locations, but what I strive to be remarkable at is the photography itself that I produce. I am confident that if anyone is a remarkable photographer, then their work and skillset will be noticed and desired. It just makes sense to me, and I have seen several photographers become successful in this way. However, I know I am a very optimistic idealist and maybe I’m totally wrong, but it’s not enjoyable or worth it to me to focus on anything else so it’s something I hold onto firmly. While I still don't consider myself remarkable, it has been working out great for me so far! Being able to make a living without having to sacrifice why I take photos in the first place is really a great position to be in.
3. What are some other variables you have to deal with doing landscape photography full time?
I think a huge thing people struggle with when living the freelance lifestyle is idleness. A lot of times I feel the urge to spend ALL of my time trying to be out shooting, editing images, and constantly creating things. Like everything, it is always good to take a break and recharge, or else you can get worn out and run out of ideas. When you don’t have any urgent projects to work on, I think it is extremely important to turn the computer off, go outside, spend time with family, read, study, relax, or indulge in some other hobbies so you can come back again at 100%.
It can be difficult to be self disciplined enough to not be tempted to sit on the computer and try to find something to work on or waste time doing something you can convince yourself is photography related. A trick I have learned is to always have my computer off when I am not using it. I have found that just having to power it back on in order to use it, deters me enough that I only tend to get on when I really have something important and urgent to do. I also like to leave my phone in my car, or in my office, and not always have it with me so I am not constantly checking social media to see comments on my photos I post. I prefer to just designate 15 or 20 min a day to go through and respond to messages and comments all at once instead of checking it every 5 minutes and breaking my focus on whatever I am working on. It’s very easy to feel productive when we really aren’t actually doing anything important. This extra free time will allow for more focus and creativity to flow which will improve your work.
4. How do you feel that photography can help preserve our wilderness?
I think it’s very hard for anyone to have an opinion on or care about anything that they haven’t been exposed to. A lot of people in our society today don’t get to spend much time in the wilderness so they don't get to see and experience its value firsthand. Photography is a great way to expose people the the sacredness and incomparable beauty of our wilderness in its natural, unaltered state. I think that deep, moving photography can be very powerful in convincing people that there is more to these places than just how they look, that being amongst them and experiencing their stillness, silence, and grandeur, can be a powerful healing experience for the human soul. This cannot be experienced through any other activity or man made place, which is why it is so important that we fight to protect these lands, before human beings have become too far detached to care.
5. How can having a personal connection with the subject you are photographing improve your experience?
I think that powerful, moving art comes from a personal belief or idea. It is the expression of one’s own thoughts or feelings. If you are photographing places that you have no relationship with or personal love for, I don’t know what it is that will be conveyed in the image. When you love something deeply that you photograph, that love can also be felt by the viewer, which to me is the miracle and value of artwork in our world today. Forming a personal relationship and connection with the places and subjects that you photograph will also influence the way you create. I have seen that the places I am most familiar with are the ones where I receive the most inspiration and creative ideas to photograph them. When you are familiar with a place you can also get around easier and you can know where the best spot is for whatever light happens to be there at any given moment. This will undoubtedly result in more quality photographs.
6. What are some of the pros and cons of traveling for long amounts of time / I know you do a lot of backpacking; how did you get into backpacking and how is it important for your photography?
For me these two questions can be answered together since the way I am able to travel for long amounts of time, is by backpacking. I think one of the biggest challenges with backpacking for long amounts of time is all of the gear, food, and equipment you need to take with you in order to be self reliant and completely free to roam and explore for several weeks without needing to return to civilization. This allows me to connect with places on a deeper level as I begin to feel like a resident of the area and I get more familiar with my surroundings. I think this is a super important part of creating moving imagery, loving and knowing your subject.
All of the camera gear alone can be quite heavy and take up a lot of room in the pack, so I try to simplify that as much as I can. On a typical weeklong or more backpacking trip I will pack my Sony a7r, 12 batteries, a goal zero Sherpa 100 charger (which allows me to charge 8 Sony batteries or so before it runs out), four 32GB and four 64GB SD cards, my Canon 16-35mm f/4L lens, my Canon 70-300mm f/4 L lens, and my RRS TQC-14 tripod. The Sony mirrorless cameras are small and very lightweight as well as their batteries, which is the main reason I use them. The image quality they produce is excellent for what I do with my own work as well. Ideally I would like to have a more weather protected camera but I have put my Sony cameras through a beating and have only had to replace 1 in the last 2 years so far. Sometimes I do have minor issues or glitches due to water damage but that downside has always been worth it in order to have more room and less weight in my pack.
In order to fit all of my camera gear in my pack and not be carrying above 50lbs which is where I try to limit myself, I found a way to decrease the amount of food I need while I am out. In 2015 I decided I would try out a diet that my brothers had been doing which is referred to as “Intermittent Fasting,” “The Warrior Diet,” or “ The Caveman Diet,” since it is based on those ancient lifestyles and how humans used to eat before the most recent agricultural revolution. I wont get into the health side of it too much since there is lots of material available online to how it can actually cure diseases, help you lose and maintain weight, allow your metabolism to run more efficiently, and improve your entire system overall. The main allure for me was that you can have even more strength, energy, and focus while only eating 1 meal a day. This allows me to carry only ⅓ of the food that most people need to bring along, which allows me to be out for 3x longer. I was able to easily pack food for 3 weeks in the backcountry on my trip to Patagonia in 2017 without needing to leave the wilderness the entire time to restock. Of course if you are used to eating 3 meals a day this is something you need to get accustomed to and takes a few weeks at least to adjust to where you begin to feel your energy levels rise and you don't feel the need or urge to eat until dinner time. People will argue that they cant get sufficient strength from just eating 1 meal a day, but last summer in the Wind River Range I trekked 26 miles in under 12 hours with a 50lb pack without eating a single meal. That was farther and more intense than I had ever trekked before and I felt great compared to back when I used to hike while eating 3 meals a day.
It isn’t something you can just turn off and on so I eat this way all the time, and like I already mentioned, it actually benefits me in many ways than just being able to backpack for longer amounts of time. This is why I always say if you want to do photography full time, make sure it is something you really want to dedicate your life too. Even when I am “off the clock” so to speak, my life is still heavily influenced by my passion for this art form.