Outdoor Photography Passions
Text Copyright James H. Egbert and Rebecca Harrah
The world of a photographer can be an interesting one. The world of an outdoor and nature photographer can be a dangerous and thrilling one as well. Take all of the "stuff" that makes a photographer do what they do and add in mountain climbing, rock hopping and river rafting and you have only scratched the surface.
There is something about nature that reaches out to these people in a way even the most avid "tree hugger" might not understand. Photographers tend to be more intimate with their passion and craft. There are very few obstacles that would deter a truly dedicated and not very medicated outdoor photographer from stretching the fear envelope just to get a shot of a simple flower.
One of the things most outdoor photographers hear when they finally display their images with price tags is, "Oh that's a fine image, but I would not pay that much for it when I can go out and photograph that myself." Inside, the photographer may want to choke the person to death, but on the other hand there's the satisfaction of knowing that the person who just made that statement has no idea of the efforts that go into taking these photographs and will most likely never be able to come close to what they are wanting.
The outdoor photographer is part artist, part mad scientist and part mountain man. They need to have the artist's eye for seeing beyond the apparent, the scientists knowledge of wavelength mechanics and the mountain man's ability to surpass almost everything nature throws at them. One almost over looked facet of the photographer is their dedication to their equipment. A photographer will protect their equipment as if it were their first born. They even are very steadfast in brands and equipment formats.
So what makes these people the breed that they are? Like any other person who is passionate about something, there is something within them that is uniquely bent towards totally immersing themselves into whatever it is that they do. These people are not in it for the money or fame. They do this because of some inner force that drives them to excel on a more personal level of satisfaction. If it were not for the pressure from friends and family, they would probably never show their work to others outside their little circles. They tend to reveal little parts of themselves through their work like most artists do, thus making their work a bit too personal for others to really get it.
As a group, outdoor and nature photographers tend to share the basic insights, but each has their own style of presentation. Each can identify what another did on the technical front, but rarely ever see exactly what the other was really after. Once a photographer goes commercial or professional, their work will tend to reflect less of their inner self and more of the purist view of the subject. Their images will maintain the punch and technical perfection, but a personal preference will often be put aside to appeal to publication editors and the masses. The artist is thus caged deeply within the rules of composition. On their own they may bend or twist a rule here and there just so they can push the limitations of their talents and expression.
So the question is,"Where do the rules take over the passion and artistic freedom of expression?" or "What makes a great photograph?" The answer is simply this, " Beauty is in the eye of the beholder . . . " Each editor or viewer of an image will interpret what is right and wrong about an image. They will see things the photographer may have dismissed. They will reject things the photographer found important to the shot. Each photograph is a canvass of many levels. Remember the next time you view any photographer's work that you are viewing a piece of them as well. You don't have to understand it to appreciate it, just understand that the photographer went to great lengths to capture this scene and bring to you a moment in time and places you were not able to witness first hand.
From Colorado's mountain country to the South's Bayou regions, or the forests of Maine, whatever you love, whatever you fancy, nature photography can be a unique way to enjoy the great outdoors at a different level. A level that includes the photographer surely, but others as well. Though at times an artistic loner, the nature photographer is often accompanied by one or more companions drawn by the same appreciation of the natural world and a desire to experience it more deeply than before. This is when nature photography becomes a hobby that envelopes everyone along for the ride, whether they are behind the camera or not. In fact, it could be compared to a team sport in many ways, with the photographer and his companions collaborating towards the end result of a perfect shot and a perfect day out on the trail, with great memories of laughter and trials shared in the years to come.
Most often, the photographers' companions are family members or friends, though they are often students as well. Whoever they are, they are as passionate as the photographer about getting outside, whether it is a love of hiking and camping, or birding and wildflower identification. Often they carry the poet's soul within them, feeling a deep connection with the wilderness. Regardless of the draw for this diverse group of people, they share a true sense and spirit of adventure with the photographer. They have discovered that looking through the viewfinder at what the photographer sees before he takes the shot adds a dimension to their experience they could not have gotten otherwise. Just as the lens brings the scenic beauty before them into focus, so it brings into focus their emotional response to all they are immersed in. The sharing of adventure and perceptions can be a real bonding force between photographer and companion as they interact with the wild and with each other. The nature photographer's desire to have impact on others through his work is first felt at the response of his companions as they are the first to see his work, and to truly appreciate all that was required to produce those incredible shots. There is a love affair with the subject being shot that both have at different, but complementary levels.
Nature photography can be physically demanding and risky at times, but no one knows this better than his companions. Hiking at high elevation for hours to find the ultimate wildflower shot or watching the photographer perch precariously on slick boulders near a sheer drop off to capture that waterfall, can also be emotionally taxing. But this intensity is part of the attraction for those who choose to go out with him in the field. The photographer also can end up in some often humorous circumstances and reveal his whimsical side unexpectedly, as he goes with the flow downstream or runs uninhibited through fields of flowers on the other side of the hill, making him as interesting a study as the subjects he is shooting for his companions, often devoted people watchers. And what better place to do that than by observing HIM out in the field while he is completely preoccupied? The mixture of challenge and entertainment are another part of the draw for companions to be there in the first place.
Companions also typically are the photographer's cheerleaders, offering up encouragement and support for his desire to pursue this art. Their enthusiasm to him and his work can be contagious and give fuel to the photographer, as they climb that extra mile or two to see that hidden lake or to just check out what is around the next bend in the trail. That desire to explore the unknown can go hand in hand with the photographer's desire to document it on film, and they play off of each other creating a whole new set of possibilities. Family and friends tend to be honest as opposed to flattering when asked about a composition and as iron sharpens iron, these conversations offer at least the potential for better shots, and relationships.
Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, but beauty shared is beauty possessed forever. That is the joy and reward of the bond between the photographer and his companions and the whole point.Editor's Note - See more of James Egbert's work and learn about his workshops at www.beholderphotography.com.