These days, it’s rare to work in one industry your entire career. Typically, one job leads to the next, your interests shift and you pivot in new directions, each time moving closer to more fulfilling work that makes you feel alive. Maybe over the years, you’ve realized that your photography hobby really lights you up—and you want to dedicate your time and energy towards making it a career. Or perhaps you just got your first camera as a graduation gift and you can’t wait to get started!
Luckily, it’s never too late—or too early—to begin moving in this direction, as all of your life experiences, as well as any formal work positions you’ve held, can add to your offerings as a photographer. Viktoria Haak, Adam Mowery and Josh Snow, the judges from our Fall Adventures contest, admit that their time as firefighters, conservationists and engineers prepared them for their photography careers in a number of ways. Each of their paths looks different—as will yours—and if you’re brave enough to float with life’s current, you’ll end up where you belong.
Here, our judges open up about creativity, responsibility and how they continue to walk their unique paths in this ever-evolving industry.
“Keeping the Door Open to Creativity”
British Columbia-based photographer Viktoria Haak earned her first commissioned piece while working for The National Trust, the UK’s largest conservation organization. For 10 years, she lived on Brownsea Island (population: 30), and photographed endangered wildlife and landscapes as a hobby outside of her conservation work. The untouched land was prime material for her growth as a photographer, and just months before she moved to Canada, the National Trust hired her to contribute her images to the island’s tourism efforts. “When you’re in a tiny space, you have to work hard to get different compositions—but you also have a year round view of nature’s dramatic changes,” Haak says. “It really trains you on patience and observation.”
At the time, she was shooting with an SLR camera that she received as a gift for her 18th birthday. Today, Haak has upgraded and accumulated more equipment—and a much larger area of exploration—but she still believes that human traits like curiosity and passion make a skilled photographer. “I’ve been on shoots with people who have all the best and most expensive gadgets, but they don’t notice the steam rising off the fungi in the morning light,” says Haak. “The human behind the camera still has to have the eye.”
Over the years, Haak has regarded her intuition as another important tool for her work, agreeing to projects that feel aligned with her interests and values while allowing her to keep the door open to creativity and change. “I really try to avoid pigeonholing myself into specific genres because I want to remain open to new possibilities,” Haak says. “First and foremost, I want to support my evolution as an artist and as a person.”
“Navigating client work”
Adam Mowery, on the other hand, specializes in outdoor adventure photography for commercial clients such as Big Agnes, Hero Clip and Eagles Nest Outfitters—and in this industry, he believes that determining a focus is key for landing projects. “If a client is looking for the best mountaineering photographer, they’re not going to choose someone who dabbles in mountaineering on the side of weddings and portraits,” Mowery says, a lesson he learned from first-hand experience.
Mowery navigated through several genres—studio furniture, wedding and portrait—and worked as a firefighter for 13 years before following his passion to full-time outdoor photography. And each of those positions paid off: “I’m able to bring all of my accumulated skills to the present—my ability to remain calm while hanging off the side of a mountain for a brand shoot, for example, is a direct reflection of my time as a firefighter,” says Mowery. “Everything I learned about light in the studio transfers to the fieldwork I do now.”
Especially with on-location outdoor shoots, Mowery advises photographers to be conscious of their responsibilities—both to the client and to the land. “Professionalism, to me, means using all of your skills and resources to get the shot, despite the weather conditions, the time frame, everything,” Mowery says. “And at the same time, being aware of how your presence affects the land that you’re shooting. Your work could increase the foot traffic to a particular location, so you have to be mindful of where and how you’re working—and always treat the earth with respect.”
“Surrender to the power of nature”
Josh Snow, a Utah-based photographer, is not one to underestimate the powerful connection that we humans have with our natural environment. Snow dedicates his time and energy to teaching young photographers through private and group workshops in some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, a niche that allows him to remain focused on his art, without the pressures of deadlines and client goals.
His time in the mountains and canyons of Utah and surrounding regions has taught him to surrender to presence, a practice that inevitably leads to more profound art. “My best work comes when I’ve shaken off the self-induced pressure of ‘getting an image’—usually a day or two into a trip,” Snow says. “I start listening to nature, seeing more clearly, feeling the intense connection to the location. When your mind is right, the conditions are right, and your heart is right—amazing things happen.”
As a former engineer, Snow has a knack for the technical side of the craft, techniques that he passes on to students hoping to learn composition, consideration of light, and pre-visualization of a scene. Yet, his most lasting lessons are visceral: “At the end of the day, the most important thing is how you feel about your creative choices,” Snow says. “If you feel doubt or worry creeping in, focus on yourself, your growth and what means the most to you. Your mindset and how you harness your passion can make or break your work.”
An educator through-and-through, Snow advises photographers to stay humble and never consider themselves to be ‘above’ learning— no matter where they are in their careers. “I’m always searching for my own balance, examining things around me when I fall into a rut, and finding my way back,” Snow says. “Never give up, but be prepared to put in the hard work in order to improve.”
Take your shot and Submit to Annual $10K Award Today!
We are thrilled to announce our new partner, Peak Design, for our Open “Fall Adventures” Photo Call. Peak Design makes products that keep your gear organized, protected, and accessible, so you are free to adventure, commute, and create. They pride themselves in creating true utility through elegant, thoughtful design. With over 100 products with lifetime guarantees, Peak Design truly has something for every photographer and every adventure.
Built from the ground up as a Kickstarter campaign, Peak Design employs the philosophy of crowdfunding in a way that has brought them “the most passionate, loyal, straight-up stoked customers in the world. The funds we raise in our campaigns allow us to focus on our customers and products, and not on achieving growth goals that traditional investors often demand.” Their work in the photography community goes hand in hand with what we are doing here at Pursue Pictures : creating an environment to enable and support emerging artists.
Now what you’ve all been waiting for: the giveaway.
Thanks to our friends at Peak Design, we are pleased to offer a random drawing for two pieces of gear to all Fall Adventures submitters. Winners will receive either the Everyday Pack – 20L or The Bread N Butter Carry Pack.
So don’t delay! “Fall Adventures” is open to submissions through December 6 at midnight PST. We can’t wait to see your work!
Pursue Pictures. Pursue Peak Design.
Eric Davidove has won our Photo of the Week competition twice, once in June and a second time in September. His winning photo from September, titled Robin Williams (seen here), is part of a new series Eric has started this year, titled “Dog People.” We look forward to seeing more in the series!
Eric bought a camera and roamed around the streets of San Francisco making photos after an unexpected layoff from his job. He was looking for a healthy and creative distraction from the challenging and anxious job searching experience. Street photography quickly became his default style as he wanted to focus on people and their life moments while putting his unemployment challenge in a broader context. Making street photos helped Eric be present in the moment while helping him see and better understand the irony, humor, sadness, and challenges of living and connect with people whom he may previously have ignored.
Many of Eric’s photos have fared well in juried competitions as well as being featured in magazines. Below are some of his 2018 accomplishments:018 juried competition accomplishments are:
- First place, Production Paradise Spotlight Awards, Shot on Mobile Competition
- Third place, San Francisco International Street Photography Festival, Streets of San Francisco Competition
- Third Place, International Photography Awards, Social Cause Competition
- Honorable Mention, New York Center for Photographic Art, Summer Exhibition
- Finalist in the Urban 2018 Exhibition, Camera USA Exhibition, Mnemonic International Photo Exhibition, Annual Street Shooting Around the World Exhibition, Americana Exhibition, and Portrait International Photography Exhibition
Eric looks forward to becoming a member of a respected photography collective while showing his work in galleries and continuing to shoot editorial assignments.
In our first “Winner Profile” we are pleased to introduce you to Alexandra Bochkareva. She won our Photo of the Week competition in September with her stunning portrait seen here titled, “For Now I’m Autumn.”
Alexandra is an multi award winning photographer currently living in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Among her list of accomplishments are:
- Winner of Best in Russia
- Winner of Adme Awards
- Finalist of HIPA
- Honorable mention IPA Awards
Alexandra focuses her work on redheads and individuals with freckles, saying that she is, “really addicted to their unique beauty.” She says that this passion “came from my family and friends, so this love to gingers used to be a part of my life from the very beginning.” She began her ongoing project “Redheads’ Stories” a couple of years back and you can see more of her project on her Instagram page.
Alexandra prefers to work almost exclusively with natural light. In addition, she states that most of the models are natural-without makeup and that all of the animals she incorporates into her work are real and not Photoshopped.
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.