We sat down (virtually) with our judge for the Great Outdoors contest as he was packing up to head to Scotland for a shoot this week. Hope you enjoy this glimpse into his path to pro and what drives him as much as we did!
Adam Mowery is an accomplished photographer, specializing in adventure lifestyle photos and has worked with a number of brands including The Boy Scouts of America, Dickies, ENO, Heroclip, and more. Hailing from Winston Salem, North Carolina, Adam has grown up surrounded by photographers and got his start shooting weddings with his father, but we’ll let you hear it from him.
Read on for Adam’s insights and advice for photographers in every stage.
Adam, How did you get your start? Where did you grow-up, where do you live, and does that have an impact on your photography?
I grew up and currently live in Winston Salem, NC. I’ve been shooting for 20 years now, which is hard to believe. I’m only 35 but I started shooting weddings with my dad with I was 15. I actually hated photography for the longest time because when I was a kid my dad would make me and my sister pose for him so he could practice. I was around 14 or 15 when I fell in love with the outdoors and from that my love for photography was born. It started off as just a way to remember my hiking trips and I quickly grew to a point where snapshots weren’t good enough anymore and I started really pursuing becoming a great photographer.
My first true job was working in the lab of a large commercial photography studio in High Point, NC. The studio predominantly shot furniture and after a year of being in the lab I worked my way up to becoming a shooter for the studio. I had no studio experience at all and their idea of training was “here’s a set and the deadline is Thursday”. I was like, “oh crap what do I do?” Luckily all the photographers working there at the time were amazing and really took me under their wing and gave me the best hands on education I could have ever received. Once you learn to light a room scene well you can light anything.
So what made you take the leap into photography?
After shooting for the studio for about two years, I realized I hated being stuck in a studio. So I actually quit and become a fulltime firefighter. I spent 13 years juggling being a fireman and running a successful portrait and wedding business. Again I found myself creatively frustrated. I wanted to be in the mountains shooting what I loved, but I just kept making excuses. Like, “I don’t live out west or even in the mountains!” or “It’s just really hard to make a living shooting nature.” Which that is true, haha, but nothing is impossible if your determined enough and work hard. STOP MAKING EXCUSES AND GET TO WORK!
After an unfortunate divorce I decided I was going to give nature photography a go with the safety net of my fire department salary. After years of hard work I was finally able to leave the Fire Department and pursue my dream job.
Did you have what you consider a “big break?” What was it?
There was no big break. Just refusing to give up and work hard and be kind. Kindness always matters. When your pleasant to work with and follow that up excellent work you will get business eventually. The photography, which is not easy, is the easy part of running a successful business. It’s everything else, networking, marketing, emails, phone calls, researching, etc.; that’s the hard part.
That makes sense, and always good to remember. Who are your major influences? Anybody who helped you get your start? Whose work inspires you now?
My dad probably played the biggest role in sparking my interest in photography. Without him I would have never been introduced to the camera. He has also helped me so many time when business was tight and I had no money to even buy a camera. He would let me use his, which a lot of time unofficially became mine- haha.
As far as professionals go, early on and still today I was very much inspired by Art Wolfe and Galen Rowell. The way both of those guys composed their photos really helped me develop my eye for composition.
What was the hardest part of making photography a career? Anything that surprised you about the photo industry?
The hardest part of making a living at this is the hustle. It first takes time to develop your craft to the point where the quality of your work is worth someone paying for it. Then you have to go out and get the business. Very rarely does it just fall in your lap. Social media makes it look so glamorous but it doesn’t show the endless hours emailing and on phone conferences or hiking the 3-day brutal uphill hike to get to the location just to shoot.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
Pursue what you love from the beginning! I learned a lot shooting furniture and portraits and weddings but my career in the outdoor world would probably be further along had I just went for it to begin with instead of making excuses.
How do you continue to educate yourself to take better pictures?
The best way to get better is honestly to get out there and shoot more. I used to say I learned how to shoot through books, magazines, and taking a lot of really bad pictures. Now there are so many ways to learn and the resources are unlimited. “Creative Live” is a great option for learning from some top tier shooters, but nothing replaces just getting out there and shooting and trying things.
What drives you (professionally and as an artist—is there a difference?)?
I believe in excellence both in my craft and business. To many people settle for being “good enough” and don’t push themselves to become great. And no matter how good you get at something you can always become better. And for crying out loud, stay humble! There is always someone else out there better than you- don’t get too full of yourself.
What excites you? What can you not wait to photograph?
I actually really enjoy seeing how many people are getting into photography now. I’ve heard some other pro’s talk about how hard it is now to stay in business because the market is saturated. Which I guess is true to an extent, but there is more need for photos now than ever. And competition forces you to step your game up. The reality is there are a million amazing photographers in the world but most of them will never put in the work required to make it a career.
As far as something I hope to shoot one day goes, I’d love to make to Everest one day and possibly even try to climb it.
That sounds amazing! Anything else we should know?
Yep, you guys are awesome!
Thanks Adam! We think you’re pretty awesome too. You can see a gallery of Adam’s work here. Do you have questions for Adam? Let us know! And most importantly don’t forget to submit YOUR best photos for The Great Outdoors Contest, closing September 30th.
We are beyond excited to announce Adam Mowery as the judge for The Great Outdoors.
Adam is an adventurer, creative thinker, and constantly pushes life to the limits. He will never be caught “status quo”. To Adam, creativity is a lifestyle not just a means to an end. Adam believes there is good to be found in everything and that belief is constantly reflected in his work. For Adam, it’s not what we have, it’s what we do with it that matters. To him light, whether natural or artificial is a language to portray an emotion or statement in a way words never could. From staged to spontaneous, his photography evokes genuine beauty from every angle.
We will be posting an interview with Adam and sharing some of his favorite photos later this week, stay tuned!
We can’t wait to see your best images–Submit by Sunday, September 30th!
Rushing into the final two weeks of our call for “The Great Outdoors” we thought you might want a little inspiration as you head out to photograph, or even as you simply look through your photo archive. Keep in mind that there are photographs to be made everywhere. Sometimes we simply need to open ourselves up to really seeing what is around us. While we may look forward (or dream) of a far off destination, sometimes the photo is right in front of us, or right outside our window.
Below are some resources to inspire us all.
Robert Adams has been provocatively photographing peoples’ interactions with the landscape for decades. His work focuses on the “underlying tension in … the contradiction between landscapes visibly transformed or scarred by human presence and the inherent beauty of light and land rendered by the camera.”
This video on Christopher Burkett shows the artist’s process as he rushes to complete his large format film work. Burkett only prints his incredibly detailed images on discontinued Cibachrome (you can read more about his process here), so when the material is gone, it is gone forever.
Charcoal Book Club curates, often hard to find, photographic books to encourage exploration through print. Find artists you may never have heard of, but who inspire you to look deeper at word around you. In this age of pixels, instant sharing, and “likes” this is valuable resource to provide a tangible, ongoing inspiration.
Looking for a little more adventure in your outdoor photography, well Ben Moon will provide you not only with adventure, but his photos are also filled with emotion.
NANPA “provides information, education, inspiration and opportunity for all persons interested in nature photography.” Organizations like this are a great resource to meet other photographers and learn, not only the techniques to photograph nature, but also ethical considerations as we pursue our craft.
Hopefully this small but incredibly diverse list will give you a little inspiration as you observe and photograph the world around you.
Congratulations to the winners and honorable mentions of our People and Places call. The winner is Mark Levitin for his stunning photography of “Pacu Jawi,” an Indonesian bull race. Mark’s winning photograph was awarded $2500 and can be featured in our People and Places winners gallery alongside three runners up and twelve honorable mentions. All of our acknowledgements go to stunning work capturing the spirit of our “People and Places” call. Thank you to everyone who submitted and congratulations again to our winners and finalists. We’re thrilled to present such stunning photography — we couldn’t have done it without you.
“Any landscape is a condition of the spirit.” — Henri Frederic Amiel
Landscape photography is a popular category among professional and amateur photographers alike. It might be because the beauty of a landscape — its large views, open skies, and gorgeous vistas — tugs at even the coldest of heart strings. The difficulty comes in capturing what is special about seeing a landscape, into a stunning photograph. In our online landscapes gallery we’ve curated a few pictures that were truly successful in capturing the emotional impact, the visual grandeur, and that very special quality of landscape photography. And below, we’ve listed a few tricks of the trade and helpful tips on taking a memorable landscape photograph.
In this wonderful piece by National Geographic photographer, Robert Caputo, he discusses the phenomenon of experiencing a beautiful landscape and the disappointing (and yet all too familiar) result of returning home to develop a flat photograph. So what gives? Caputo writes: “When we look at a landscape, our eyes travel over it and selectively focus on the elements that we find appealing. Our field of vision encompasses a great deal of the scene, but our eyes and brains have the ability to ignore all except the most alluring details. Lenses and sensors or film cannot do this by themselves. They need help.”
Spending time and studying the location you are photographing is the biggest asset you have as a photographer, aside from expertise (and maybe a little gear). Understanding directional focus, where the sun will be rising and setting, and how that affects your landscape will do wonders for the results of your picture. While your eye may settle on the uneven light of a deep canyon without calling out the big difference in light balance, it will be glaring in a photograph. So know your light sources and study your location for the best composition, angles, and times of day.
The Subjects of Landscape Photography
This may seem obvious, but think about what elements you are photographing and focus on those. For example, the personality of a rushing trout stream versus a slow-moving river. The reflections that take place, and the mood it generates in a picture. Whether it is a forest, a plain, or a prairie, think about the mood of the photo — the personality of the landscape — and how to best translate that visually. Landscape photography “subjects” generate points of interest and make photos interesting and with a clear focus.
Points of Interest
If a river represents an easy or obvious point of interest, a plain or prairie will be more difficult because the wide open space in the picture lacks a singular point to focus on, or work a composition around. In forests, think about a trail winding through a thicket, an opening in the tree canopy, or a mangled or dead stump and if you can generate interest there. Deserts, like prairies can be difficult, but they are moody environments: sometimes tranquil, other times harsh. Think about incorporating the sun, heat, or colors that enhance what people associate about a desert and lean into that notion. Similarly, whether you are photographing a coast line, a mountain peak, or the trailhead in your small town, think about what elements embody the character of the landscape and try to photograph those. Caputo’s article goes into great detail on this idea, but for the everyday photographer, think about points of interest and personality and send the viewer’s (and your own) focus there.
The techniques, gear, and technical tricks of photography are seemingly endless, so rather than list them all here, we’ve found this wonderful article which has 85 technical tricks regarding landscape photography. Lenses, light, tripods, shooting modes, camera settings: everything you need to know about how to photograph a landscape from the technical side is here.
Troves have been written on the techniques of photography and what makes a good picture. Composition, light, editing, the right camera — all of these factor into what makes a photograph successful. And while there are technical benchmarks that qualify a photo as “good” or “bad,” we often see pictures that are technically strong, but just don’t feel special. We’re talking about the emotional impact of a photo; the story a picture communicates, its staying power, the mood it evokes, and what that picture makes you think of. The emotional elements of photography are those special qualities that make some pictures stand out, and render others forgettable. Like any art form, photography is subjective, but here we examine the emotional elements behind pictures and how to capture, in your own work. photography that is special, powerful, and unforgettable.
We’ve spoken about the emotional core of a photo before and how important it is, but lets revisit the subject. In school we learn that good books are memorable and generate emotion because there is an element of “why do we care” behind the story. There’s something at play in the novel that speaks to our inner lives, that tells us this is something worth paying attention to. If pictures are worth a thousand words, then photography must also evoke emotion. Good pictures communicate value, send a message, and generate feeling. Naturally, some subject matters contain a clearer “why do we care” message than others, but any good picture can communicate value: about a moment, a subject, or person.
So how do you generate pictures with emotional value? And how do you know when yours has that special something.
Consider a common scenario: you’re on vacation. The setting is unique and special. The breeze is warm and the sunset is striking, and you’ve just finished an outdoor meal with friends and family at a wonderful restaurant. You leave feeling uplifted, renewed, and connected, and upon leaving you spot a beautiful flower growing near the beachy exit. You flip open your phone, position the flower in the middle of the frame, and click, you’ve taken a picture that reminds you of just how special you felt — how truly special the moment was — when you took the picture.
We see a lot of pictures submitted alongside a story that communicates this same scenario. It was taken during a moment of importance or significance for the photographer. The problem is, too often, these pictures — while incredibly special as a memento — aren’t communicating an emotional message. The photo isn’t very memorable, even though your experience was. So how do you produce pictures that capture emotional value?
You must think about what your image portrays as a stand alone picture. What it evokes separate from the story behind why you took it. It needs to be the story itself. It needs to communicate value. An easy way to do this, to use the example from above, is to incorporate context. Don’t put so much pressure on the flower. Include background, foreground, or other elements to the picture that allow the viewer to understand why the context of the picture is significant. Show us why the moment was special. That’s very hard for a flower to do by itself.
Conversely, sometimes there is too much happening in a photo and the image needs focus, or simplification. While these notions are opposites, they go hand in hand with the idea of understanding what is significant about what you are trying to capture and limiting or expanding your picture to include only those important essentials.
Composition and Technique
Even if you are a beginner, you must think about basic elements of composition and technique and how they help to produce a striking image. An easy way to play with composition is to move the subject of your picture around to see if there are any interesting visual effects that can be made with a composition change. Take the image we chose for this post, for example. Taken at a different angle, this picture would lack impact. However, by working the composition of the photo to situate the man’s head directly in the center of the woman’s glasses, and to capture the gaze of the woman meeting the gaze of her viewers generates a playful, and also powerful, image. There are many rules to effective composition, but it is perhaps one of the easiest elements to change in your photography and can sometimes yield great effects.
What Makes This Photo Special?
Is it color? Pattern? Mood? Lighting? Whatever the reason you are taking the picture, think about this question and ask yourself: what makes this photo special? Then, lean into the answer. Photograph that. You might think first, what makes this moment special? And then explore and play around with how you can capture that visually. This is where talent and practice come into play, but it is exactly what you need to think about every time you take a photo. When you do, you’ll find your work has more life, energy, and impact — it becomes memorable — in a way that it wasn’t before.
Once your work starts to generate emotion, you will notice a style and personality starts to present itself in your work. This is the notion of developing your own point of view as a photographer — that special something you bring to every picture. In writing we call it voice. In photography it is a visual style or emotional significance that can be expected from each image. Think about how your work will elevate into real, visual storytelling when you start to consider what you are trying to capture behind each picture, and how that meaning translates via your own style. In this way, you will become a truly memorable and talented photographer.
Call for submissions! We’re currently looking for photography of People and Places. This free category awards $2500 to the winner as well as a gallery feature. From our submissions page: “We want pictures that capture the most mysterious, beautiful, and powerful subjects of all: people and places. Submissions to this category can be any interpretation on the subject, but we are looking for photography that has people or places at its center. Children, families, strangers, a self-portrait: we want to see it. Send us your best photography for a chance to win $2500 and a Pursue Pictures gallery feature. Second and third place runners up receive $300 and $200, respectively.”
Send us your best by July 31.
Maria Svarbova studied restoration and archaeology but found her voice as an artist when, six years ago, she took up photography. Her most recent series focuses on swimmers and swimming pools, capturing a cool detachment with an emphasis on space, composition, and color. Her models are expressionless mannequins, often wearing brightly colored suits and caps or situated against bright palettes. Svarbova’s photography explores how people occupy space: “People fascinate me. Space, to me, has no meaning without humans. It becomes empty, and something is missing. The same goes the other way around. Humans have no meaning without the space, as if they didn’t fit anywhere. The main focus of my series was to harmonize the humans and space.” As a contemporary artist her work has been featured in Vogue, The Guardian, and in numerous galleries, and she was most recently listed as a Forbes best 30 under 30. Her precociousness and distinct voice and style set her apart in the world of contemporary photography and reflect how attention to pattern, details, and shapes can create interesting narratives. Each picture is a haunting extension of the last, and all of them are memorable, powerful, and beautiful.
For more on Maria’s work, check out her website, here.
Similarly, World Photo Org also did a recent write up on her work and features many of her images in the interview they posted here.
Lastly, gratefully, Maria’s Instagram is active and stunning.
If your’e interested, Maria’s work is certainly an examination on pattern and symmetry. Check out our post on using shapes to enhance your photography and check out our pattern and symmetry gallery for inspiration.
The saying goes, there are two types of photography when taking pictures of people: candids and portraits. Portraiture is a classic photography genre and in the most general sense is a staged photograph of the subject’s face. Sometimes portraits encompass groups, sometimes the subject isn’t looking directly at the camera, and sometimes the picture is full body. There are a number of riffs and tangents on the category, but it is one of the most recognizable and widely used methods of photography. Self-portraits, family photos, pictures of friends, professional head shots: we’ve all taken a stab at portraits at one point or another. So what makes a good portrait stand out? In our portrait gallery, we’ve curated a group of technically and emotionally strong pictures that are excellent indicators of what makes a portrait special. Here, we’ll discuss the subject in a bit more detail.
The Human Element
Before we get technical, lets talk about the human element behind portraits. Steve McCurry says a good portrait says something about the human condition. That each picture of a person is capturing their humanity and we connect to portraits because the viewer sees something in the picture he sees in himself. He’s talking about connectivity, or the emotional core behind the picture. And this isn’t specific to portraiture. Capturing any picture that has true longevity and power means not only capturing the image, but the emotional moment behind the image. In this case, the “human factor” behind the portrait. People are such interesting individuals, with specific tastes, styles, and personalities. A good portrait should of course be technically strong, but above that it should aim to connect the viewer with the core elements of the person being photographed. This is that unteachable element of photography that comes with talent and time. A great portrait communicates volumes, and should aim to expose something special, but universal, about its subject. As Minor White once said: “All photographs are self-portraits.” Food for thought.
Related to connectivity is thinking about who your subject is and how comfortable they are being photographed. The word photogenic comes to mind and references the likelihood a person will appear attractive on film. Many photographers don’t believe in a person being photogenic, but rather, that the person feels a certain degree of comfort during a shoot and it is the photographer’s job to tease out a good photo. To make or encourage being photogenic. Whatever your take, it is important to consider the environment you are cultivating as the photographer and to do your best to encourage your subject’s willingness to reveal themselves to the camera. As world-famous photographer Brian Smith says: “Success at portrait photography is similar to being a good guest at a cocktail party—it helps to know a little bit about everything. You don’t have to be an expert; you just need to know enough to engage your subject.”
Craft and Technique
Entire technical articles have been written about how to take good portraits, but for the sake of ease, we’ve compiled a few favorite craft tips that serve as helpful reminders to anyone embarking on portrait photography.
Giving your photograph a sense of place offers a “where” to the “who” of your picture. Not only does it provide valuable context to the person, but it also can offer an interesting background and narrative to the portrait.
Light and Color
Technical elements aside, lighting and color drastically affect the mood of your picture, and thus, how it is interpreted by the viewer. Think about time of day, and the color exposure during editing and utilize these elements to enhance or support the goal of your portrait. Think also, about clothing choice and location. All of these supportive elements are important to a strong picture.
Black and White
Contrary to focusing on color, moving your portrait into black and white can provide interesting results. Volumes have been written on the use of black and white, but developing in black and white does generate a mood and climate to the photo that can help enhance what you are trying to capture.
Do not forget to check your white balance. The eye is amazing at spotting bad color balance, especially when it comes to skin tone. If your portrait is calling out yellow or blue in the skin of your subject, check that your white balance is accurate and immediately watch the quality of your portrait improve.
If eyes are the window to the soul, then as sure as your white balance needs to be correct, so should your photo capture and have clear eyes. No matter how wonderful the picture a portrait will suffer if the eyes aren’t clear or serving as the focal point to the picture. Experiment with this and be creative, but if the mood of your portraiture is suffering, think about eyes.
When shooting someone’s face, you’re translating a three dimensional image into two. As a result your image will flatten and some features will be called out more than others. It’s important to think about how camera lens, angle, and focal length will translate your subject’s features. Large chins, heavy brows, long and short noses: the combinations are endless, so you must adapt to feature your subject in the way that produces the most interesting portrait. Longer lenses cause facial elements to look more compressed, or flatter, making the face in the picture fuller and longer and dynamic features shorter and less pronounced. Also, an important rule of thumb to remember is that whatever is closest to the camera will be the largest. Think about this when asking your subject to angle his or her face. If you’re looking for specific camera tips for portrait photography, follow the link for tips on aperture, ISO, shutter speeds, and more.
It’s easy to get caught up photographing subjects that are classically beautiful. Colorful sunsets, a brand-new baby, the dew on a fresh spring flower — everyone loves pictures that capture or enhance attractive qualities, but there’s something to be said for photographs that might be described as ugly, desolate, or even scary. Pictures of trash heaps, a burned up forest — subjects that aren’t classically beautiful can be just as moving and poignant as a crystal clear ocean, and often, elicit more emotion. As famed photographer William Eggelsston said, “I am at war with the obvious.” In this series we examine the value, and subtle beauty, behind what most people would describe as ugly or mundane.
First, a bit of history: there might not be any photographer more well known for capturing the banal, the boring, and the ugly, as William Eggleston. His New York gallery show in 1976 was “the most hated show of the year,” as it featured work that viewers saw as having little to no value. But what Eggleston became known for (and what he was initially ostracized over) was capturing beauty and interest in pictures that others overlooked.
It’s difficult to extract meaning or significance from a bottle of ketchup on a diner counter, or a freezer stuffed to the gills with ice cream and old meats, but Eggleston’s revolutionary use of color and his eye for composition sparked a phenomenon in photography that forced viewers to look a little deeper. Eggleston’s work is uneasy, and could easily be described as dark, but what he brought to the field of photography was an invitation to see the significance — the beauty — behind the ugliness in our everyday lives. Suddenly, the ketchup bottle on the diner counter had a Ansel Adams like greatness, and it became obvious that the objects of our everyday lives — the food in our freezers — was filled with a richness and a significance that shouldn’t be ignored. He is the perfect example of taking an ugly image, and through composition, color, and context, giving it value and significance.
Whether your preference is to capture the gritty reality of a dirty city street or the undeniable grandeur of a beachside sunset, think about the emotional core of what you’re seeing and aim to capture that in your picture. It is in this way that Eggleston was able to elevate boring everyday subjects into the objects of our affection. Photography isn’t about seeing what is beautiful, but about capturing what is valuable about the subject. Think about the idea of an emotional core and the next time you see a plastic bag caught on tree branch or chewing gum stuck to your shoe, try to capture the power behind that moment, even if it is something that you’d initially describe as ugly or useless. There might be a powerful photo behind the moment.
For more inspiration, check out our gallery on the lost and the forgotten, an inspirational series of pictures on subjects that you might otherwise overlook.