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Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Dream Chaser

Michael Routh finds inspiration in the solitude of the less-explored backcountry

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Using a 4x4 that has been heavily modified to handle the most rugged of fire roads and trails, Michael Routh delves deep into the backcountry. When he gets to the point where the road ends, his legs take over and he hikes to remote, distant and seldom seen landscapes. Having left a successful business career behind, Routh has done what many of us wish we could. He has traded it in to be a full-time nature photographer. Above: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Calif.

In Native American cultures, a dream catcher—a handmade decorated hoop with a net—is used to filter nightmares and snare dreams. Based along the dramatic Pacific Coast of California south of San Francisco, Michael Routh uses his camera to chase dreams. The resulting images make it obvious that he has enjoyed much success in catching them. Understanding that, in many ways, the journey itself is the destination, he has no desire for the chase to end.

Merced National Wildlife Refuge, Calif.
In 2010, Routh created Dream Chaser Media—a photography, video and film production company integrating HD technologies and Hollywood filmmaking techniques with years of marketing savvy gleaned from his 25 years in the computer industry. When he's not on an official project, he spends his time exploring off-the-beaten-path areas of the western United States, camera in hand.

Outdoor Photographer: How has your previous career in the computer industry shown itself in your photographic work?

Michael Routh: When you own your own company, commitment to quality is everything; it's your only differentiation. There's something in business called TQM—Total Quality Management; it's the American interpretation of how to get great quality. The Japanese version of that concept is Continuous Improvement, which I really like. For 25 years, I kept perfecting this type of marketing. Excellence is what you want to provide the customer. That's absolutely what I'm about with my photography. I'm always trying to get better. For me, it's not to be the best; it's to be the best that I can be—continuous improvement regardless of how good or not good I presently am.

OP: One of the most compelling aspects of your landscape photography isn't the terra firma, but the skies above it. It's obvious that you see part of your frame as a very integral part of the overall composition.

Routh: Oh, to give me one cloud. Skies are clearly an important part of landscapes. The winter storms come in, and if it's 100 percent chance of rain, I probably won't drive two hours to Big Sur. But if it's a 95 percent chance of rain, then I say there's a five percent chance of amazing light, and I'll make that investment of time. I did a photograph from the Santa Cruz Mountains that doesn't have the epic geographical features, it does have the Pacific Ocean and beautiful trees, but I went out in one of those winter storms, got into position and waited. All of a sudden, the sky opened up and five "God beams" came down. I often break rules, including shooting into the sun, which can yield dramatic results.


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