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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Off The Beaten Path


Third-generation landscape photographer Marc Muench talks about his career, his latest book and what drives him

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The driving force behind Marc Muench’s photographs is always the landscape. Having explored countless locations across the United States and around the globe, the Santa Barbara, Calif., native still finds himself mostly drawn to Santa Barbara County and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. His love of places was instilled in him at a very young age when his father, acclaimed photographer David Muench, would take him on trips to discover unknown areas and document landscapes that had been rarely, if ever, seen before. Above: Bristlecone tree stump, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest, California. Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Nikkor 16mm ƒ/2.8, Slik Pro 614 CF tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-30 ballhead

When Marc Muench was a kid, he and his family spent their summers on the road. But instead of visiting a touristy amusement park, they ended up in places like an ancient bristlecone forest where he would watch his father do something he saw countless times throughout his childhood. After stopping the car, they would meander off some country road. Eventually, his dad would put down his camera bag, set up the tripod, pull out his field camera, choose a lens and begin taking pictures. While he didn’t know it at the time, watching his father work would have a lasting impact, as years later Marc would decide to pick up a camera and make his own living as a photographer.
Going on camping or photo trips for months at a time to hike and look for places with his father was INSTRUMENTAL IN MARC'S DEVELOPMENT AS A PHOTOGRAPHER because it led to him becoming very comfortable in the outdoors. In the book, he says those experiences gave him “opportunities for unconscious observation.”

Sailor Lake, John Muir Wilderness, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California. Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Canon TS-E 24mm ƒ/3.5 L, Slik Pro 614 CF tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-30 ballhead
Marc is a third-generation landscape photographer. Along with his father, David Muench, and grandfather, Josef Muench, their last name has become synonymous with color landscape photography. The eldest Muench was a photographer for Arizona Highways, a job he picked up after his photographs of Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the world’s largest known natural bridge in Utah, were published in the magazine. He worked there for more than 50 years. David Muench, also an OP columnist, became known for his use of prominent foreground elements that lead the viewer’s eye through the frame to the background in the distance. With a 4x5 film collection that at one point consisted of a million individual transparencies, David’s work is everywhere in the world of nature photography.

So it’s quite a legacy that the youngest Muench was born into and has managed to emerge from as one of the top landscape photographers working today with a style all his own. His latest book, Exploring North American Landscapes: Visions and Lessons in Digital Photography, puts some of the stunning photographs he has taken over the years on display. From his much-loved Sierra Nevada Mountains in California to the red rock country in southern Utah, the first part of the book is inspirational, with Marc telling stories from his life on the road and capturing different places, as well as those of his father and grandfather.


Sunrise over Dick Smith Wilderness, Santa Barbara County, California. Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, Slik Pro 614 CF tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-30 ballhead
For the Muenches, traveling around the country to discover and photograph little-known locations is very much in keeping with family tradition. Going on camping or photo trips for months at a time to hike and look for places with his father was instrumental in Marc’s development as a photographer because it led to him becoming very comfortable in the outdoors. In the book, he says those experiences gave him “opportunities for unconscious observation.” He was included in his father’s pursuit of photography, just as his father had been before him by his grandfather.

Stopping the car to wander off the side of the road often resulted in stumbling upon some unfamiliar majestic place like Tear Drop Arch in Monument Valley, Utah. Now iconic and one of his father’s most published photographs, when they came across the teardrop-shaped sandstone formation that frames a view of distant buttes, they just sort of found it.

“He had an itinerary of places he wanted to photograph,” Marc recalls. “During breaks we went looking for things that might be interesting, and we just kind of stumbled upon it. He always liked arches so we looked for those. We just walked up to it. It really was a subtle experience. I didn’t know how subtle it was until later.”

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