Get out and tune in.

Hiker at sunrise.

A lone hiker at sunrise on the Bold Coast trail in Cutler, Maine. Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land.

I recently put together a little video for AMC Books, where I give three quick photo tips for outdoor enthusiasts who might want to take a picture once in a while.  It’s pretty basic stuff (rule of thirds, shoot in good light, keep it simple, etc.), but it is appropriate for the AMC audience, who are primarily hikers, paddlers, etc., and who photograph their adventures mainly to bring back memories to friends and family. I’ve embedded it below:

This project got me thinking about what nature photographers need to do to become really good at their craft (it also made me realize that it is really weird to make a video of yourself with no one else around, but I digress.)  When I first got the nature photography bug 20+ years ago, I learned my photo skills primarily from the pages of Outdoor Photographer and a few books by John Shaw, Freeman Patterson, and Galen Rowell.  Learning the technical skills definitely improved my photography, and looking back I should have taken a workshop or two as well to accelerate my learning.  However, I don’t think it was the technical learning that took me to the next level, but the inspiration I found by reading Galen Rowell’s books and putting to use his belief in “participating in the landscape” to make better photos.  The more I became intimately involved with my subjects (mountains, forests, coastlines,) the more I understood the environment and how light affected the scenery. This is not a fast process.  For me, several years elapsed between the time I understood the technical details of photography and the time I started making photos people would be happy to hang on their walls.  Most of my best nature photos occur on extended backcountry adventures, where my mind tunes out the world of cable TV, the internet, etc., and tunes in to the sounds, smells, and life in the outdoors.  I’ll make good images in the front country as well, but inevitably these are places I’ve visited countless times before and have intimate knowledge of.

During every workshop I teach, I have students who really “get it” technically and who are looking for a way to take their photography up a notch.  Those who succeed at this are the ones that learn to “Get out and tune in,” and who give themselves the time to experience their subject matter and let their photographic style develop and grow.  It’s hard and takes commitment, especially if you have a 9 to 5 job – I know, I’ve been there – but except for a few unnaturally gifted few, this commitment is the best way to photographic success.  Of course, what’s so bad about having to go out in the mountains, spending time making pictures.  Even if they are all stinkers, you’ve had a good time!

If you’re in the Northeast or looking to shoot there, I have three upcoming workshops that may be of interest: Cape Cod (Sept 12-17), White Mountains (Oct 1-3, only one spot left), and Acadia National Park (Oct 8-11).  More info is on my website here: