Category Archives: Photographer Q&A

Tips for Summer Adventures from Top Outdoor Photographers

  Summertime is almost here, and with it comes the chance to have great adventures. Unfortunately, the season is rife with pitfalls: biting mosquitoes, sunburns, huge crowds, and even animal attacks. Luckily, Aurora Photos has some of the best outdoor, adventure, and travel photographers in the world, and we turned to them to give some tips on how to have the most fun this summer.

CLICK HERE FOR SUMMERTIME FUN IMAGES

Two young adults canoeing at sunset on a camping trip along the shores of a lake in Idaho.

1.  To preserve memories of summer adventures, keep your camera handy. The best camera is the one you have with you. You don’t need the newest gear either; work with what you have until you’ve outgrown it. –Ethan Welty

2.  Think twice about taking a super expensive camera or lens to the beach that is not sand proof. Sand WILL find the inside of your lens and camera body, and cause damage – Scott Goldsmith

3.  Sleep in beautiful places. That way you are already in position when sunset and sunrise roll around to capture beautiful photos. –Ethan Welty

The Milky Way sparkles in the night sky over an illuminated tent and the Never Summer Mountains of Colorado.

4.  Coffee shops (NOT Starbucks) always have local event guides with upcoming shows/concerts/cool things for the locals. It’s a great way to get into the local vibe with ease! –Tim Martin

5.  Just a few simple words in the local language helps exponentially and makes people much more receptive to you as a tourist! –Tim Martin

6. One of my favorite places to go in the entire world during the summer is Door County, Wisconsin.  Shopping, theatre, great Lake Michigan Beaches, canoeing, awesome fishing, parasailing, horseback riding… awesome choice of activities.  Also, traditional fish boils are a must and Door County has the best cherry pie you’ll ever have in your entire life. –Marc Sirinsky

Jemaa al Fna square with crowds and food stalls at sunset. Marrakesh, Morocco.

7.  Always pay in local currency – even if you are paying by credit card. Most hotels, shops and high end restaurants will give you the option to pay in US Dollars but the rate they charge is usually 10-15% more than the actual exchange rate. Select the local currency option and eat the 1% fee your credit card company might charge. –Tim Martin

8. When wrestling a fifteen-foot female anaconda, DO NOT let go of her throat! The males are only about three feet long — much easier to deal with. –Robert Caputo

caputo_anaconda

9. I leave a bottle of sunscreen, bug spray, a basket or bag and a sharp pocket knife in the car in the summer so I’m always prepared for spur of the moment walks on the beach or in the woods that might yield wild edibles. –Stacey Cramp

10. Three things to always bring on a hike: layers, a pocketknife and snacks. The bottom of a mountain will often be much warmer than the top, so make sure your top layer is waterproof.  Dry fit shirts are invaluable…even for just walking around and shopping in hot, humid weather!   –Marc Sirinsky

White water rafters on the Snake River, Wyoming.

11. White water rafting with kids can be an amazing experience, but don’t expect the first time to go without a hitch. But with the right preparation and planning,  fun whitewater is on the horizon. The number one priority when rafting in general is to come prepared for the rapids and different weather conditions that mother nature can throw at you. Make sure kids have a strong swimming foundation, always wear a life jacket even when swimming, even in gentle rapids. Bring extra food, snacks and water for the kids so their comfortable and make sure to take fun breaks and engage in on and off river activities to break the trip up. A good water fight, swimming, inflatable kayaks or inner tubes allow the children to engage in river activities beyond the whitewater. Greg von Doersten

12. As an added bonus, here are some videos from Corey Rich that will get you amazing nighttime and campfire photography AND keep you from getting burnt in the process!

http://news.coreyrich.com/2014/09/tech-tip-getting-the-shot-with-corey-rich-glowing-tent-under-a-night-sky/

http://news.coreyrich.com/2014/07/tech-tip-getting-the-shot-with-corey-rich-firelight-photography/

https://vimeo.com/100157409

Staying Adventurous with Kids with Kennan Harvey

You get married, you have kids, you stop going out, you watch lots of cartoons, you memorize all the words to the Frozen soundtrack. Your life becomes about your children, rather than your passions and interests.  Is it possible to do both?

Click here to see our gallery of adventurous kids

We recently asked those questions of adventure photographer and outdoorsman Kennan Harvey, who seems to be able to do it all. We emailed Kennan and waited for his answers and a headshot.  His response? “Will look for a good headshot, but first I need to cut some firewood for next season.”

A young girl camping in Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Colorado.

Aurora: You’re an avid outdoorsman and climber – you were once named one of America’s top 10 best climbers by Climbing Magazine. What inspired you to become an adventure photographer, and who or what inspired your love of the outdoors?

Kennan Harvey: My love for the outdoors matured in the deep woods of western North Carolina while home schooled and living simply without electricity – our family even went car-less for several years. My mother worked for Outward Bound and introduced me to climbing. During the 70’s backpacking was almost a national pass time. We walked a lot. Ambling along a trail, with unknown corners ahead lined with green Appalachian lushness helped me develop the keen observation skills necessary for striking images. My transition to photography was initiated through a mentorship with landscape photographer Pat O’Hara, who helped satiate my wanderlust after college in exchange for help hauling his large format gear far into the wilderness. During the late 80’s there were a handful of adventure photographers such as Galen Rowell, Chris Noble and Greg Epperson who showed me the possibility of turning my climbing passion into income. At the time there were no media crews or sponsored athletes so personally combining the two gave me an early edge.

A young girl standing next to al[pine lake with wildflowers,  San Juan National Forest,  Silverton, Colorado.

Prevailing wisdom tells us that youthful adventuresome ways are over once you have kids. That might go double for an outdoor adventure photographers. Has that been true for you?

Having a child only extended my photo career. First, kids are endlessly creative which forced me away from my set routines. I was 40 when Roan was born, suddenly I had more dominating youthful energy in the house. Having children is first about creating a safe and predictable environment for them to thrive, a wise parent then needs to encourage exploration in all things social, academic and physical. My wife and I both believe outdoor education is even more important than classroom learning. Adventures are fun ways to set obtainable goals and build success. They don’t have to be dangerous. But learning about risk management at an early age will be valuable for her teenage years and beyond. Breathing high mountain air may become her addiction or just a memory of youth. Until that point we are very similar to any soccer family – midweek practice followed by a weekend road trip – only to remote and quiet wilderness.

A young girl rock climbing on Grassy Ridge, Bakersville, North Carolina.

Your daughter currently goes camping and hiking with you and has started to rock climb as well. Are there any sports or activities you DON’T want her to attempt?

She really likes backcountry skiing and so we have a small beacon for her to carry. However, we are pretty nervous about steep terrain and avalanche hazard. I would certainly be nervous if she ended up in a ski movie at 18, but if she does she will have way more experience by then than I did at the time. Any sport with objective hazards is a parenting challenge for anyone, but it is important for kids to learn how to make good decisions. Luckily, she likes fun over danger and so far has shown good judgment managing risk.

Young girl walking on Appalachian Trail past rhime ice, Roan Mountain, Tennessee/North Carolina border

Many photographers use their children as free models. Your images of your daughter have an authenticity to them, they’re in the moment, and there’s a bit of wildness there. Has your daughter gotten sick of you taking photos yet?

There is a saying, “Kids don’t come with instructions!” So right at the beginning, we just went family adventuring and now Roan seems to have the bug. When a good photo materializes mid adventure, often with serendipity, fleeting and authentic, it only takes a moment to capture. Any grumpiness is easily dispelled when she hears, “A few photos now and we can start planning our next adventure!” Bringing a friends adds magic. Jumping off a rock into the water a couple times first, for example, keeps the activity organic and sometimes Roan even makes the photo suggestion.

Many might think your work isn’t really work — you get to spend so much time outdoors in nature — but the life of a photographer is often grueling, with long days and heavy equipment.  How do you maintain a good work / life balance and keep the outdoors fun? 

I recently finished climbing a granite ridgeline in a windstorm, in the winter, with skis strapped to full packs. It was way more than anticipated and we wondered about the worth. But then, after an exhausting day we topped out into 5 minutes of glorious light. Above us were dark clouds with the rays of the setting sun bouncing off of their undersides and painting a sea of alpine rock with gold. My life does have more work, but in these moments, there is balance. Parenting is no different. There are days where the work of parenting is exhausting, but then just 5 minutes of glorious light, and it makes it all worth it.

 

Young girl standing below redwoods in California.

In this age of technology, surely even your child wants to be on the computer, cell phone or watching TV.  Do you have advice for other parents who want to get their children to spend more time in nature?

In my view, technological obsession with kids is a sign of boredom. I realize all situations are different, but with 300 days of sun a year in Durango, kids around here would much rather ride a bike or the zip line, even planting peas is more fun than screen time. It also helps that we live in a solar powered house with a hard wired computer and no wireless. Photographer Ace Kvale once told me that the best way to become a photographer is to just start. My advice for parents wanting to get their kids into nature is the same, just pack the car and find a campsite.

Click here to see more photos from Kennan Harvey in the great outdoors

Getting inspired with Michael Hanson

 

A portrait of a young girl holding a sea urchin on the inner reef at low tide. Tobou, Lakeba. Photography by Michael Hanson
A portrait of a young girl holding a sea urchin on the inner reef at low tide. Tobou, Lakeba. Photograph by Michael Hanson.

There’s an immediate connection forged in a Michael Hanson image, between the viewer and the subject.  Whether it’s a gaucho in Patagonia, or a child with big dreams in the suburbs of California, you always feel as if you’re there, drawn into the moment as a participant rather than an outsider.  Michael’s versatility is on display with his award-winning work at Aurora, which spans the gamut from documentary to humorous moments caught while exploring the great outdoors in his adopted Pacific Northwest.

Click here to see a curated gallery of Michael’s images

Click here to see all of Michael’s work at Aurora

We caught up with Michael in between his travels and personal projects to ask what inspires him to tell these stories, and how he got his start.

A young boy holding a baseball bat points to the sky while standing in front of his two-story house.
A young boy holding a baseball bat points like Babe Ruth while standing in front of his two-story house, Redding, California. Photograph by Michael Hanson.

Aurora: You were a scrappy minor league baseball player in the Atlanta Braves organization and now you’re a well known documentary photographer. What inspired that change? What lessons did you learn as an athlete that have helped you your photography career?

Michael Hanson: A ‘scrappy minor league player’ is often a synonym for a ‘not-so-talented but boy, do you work hard’ player (which is pretty accurate for me, so good intro question). I hope I have a little more talent with the camera but maybe not. The transition was easy for me. Dayton Moore, the director of player development, told me I should think of my next career. That and every time I saw my batting average on the jumbo-tron, I knew the end was near. I like to think I worked hard for a decade or more to be able to compete on the field with some really good players and maybe the same can be said about photography. Both are pretty difficult industries to really make it. Luckily, I love both. I was obsessed with baseball while playing and now I seem to be consumed by photography. When I was in the minors I was exposed to a really interesting culture and it was a conscious decision to start shooting it. That’s how I started my photography career.

Au: There’s a sense of connection to the subject in all of your images, which are candid, open and honest. How are you able to immerse yourself in a culture and be accepted by people, so that the perspective you show viewers is no longer one of an outsider?

MH: Curiosity, I guess. It looks authentic because it is. It’s more fun and fulfilling if my interaction is genuine. Some photographers might be able to get good photographs without that interaction but I like the interaction as much as I like having a good set of images. And, I know the images will be better if I can get access to the subject’s lives and they don’t look at me as an outsider with a camera.

A young man holds his kalashnikov rifle while overlooking the Omo river in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia. Photograph by Michael Hanson.
A young man holds his kalashnikov rifle while overlooking the Omo river in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia. Photograph by Michael Hanson.

Au: Where do you find inspiration on a daily basis to tell your subjects’ stories?

MH: It’s hard to answer. I just don’t want to list photographers I like and magazines I read and say it’s that simple. I get inspiration from my friends, other photographers, editors, people who aren’t in the art world at all.  There are a handful of photographers I really like and are working on subjects or with certain styles that inspire me. Jonas Bendikson has always been a favorite of mine. Aurora’s own David McLain is another. And, lately Erika Larsen is a pleasure to see.  So much of the inspiration that we find comes from the people doing what they do, whether that’s teaching or starting an urban farm or whatever it is they do. That’s the inspiration, and we just have to figure out how to tell it simply and not let production get in the way of the story. When I’m shooting in a remote location, there’s not a ton of room for inspiration. The subject is doing what they do, with or without me there, and if I set myself up correctly with good light and don’t drop the camera, all I have to do is figure out how to make a clean frame that accurately describes the subject. Of course, my research has given me an idea of what to expect in that situation.

Part of the inspiration comes from the fear of failure. I like being a photographer and I want to keep being one. I want to tell an accurate story so I better be inspired to put the work in. I’m inspired by people who are trying to use their images or work for good. That’s a wide net but I think we all admire those individuals and they inspire us.

A woman holds a collection of prayer dolls she made in her house with the support of a local co-op.
A woman holds a collection of prayer dolls she made in her house with the support of a local co-op, Nahuala, Guatemala. Photograph by Michael Hanson.

Au: You’ve been able to get great access to the Amish community, a religion that, in your words, “shuns photography,” and capture some deeply personal and candid imagery. What was the inspiration behind shooting them, and what drives you to keep trying to get access?

MH: At first it was simply the challenge of getting images from inside a small community. After spending a few days with them, I realized how unique their lifestyle was, and it was smack right in the middle of our country. Again, the curiosity of a unique culture might be enough to drive me to get to know them more and document something that isn’t often accessible. I’ll still visit them and have developed some good relationships.

A young man harvests leaks at an organic field, Sequim, Washington. Photograph by Michael Hanson.
A young man harvests leaks at an organic field, Sequim, Washington. Photograph by Michael Hanson.

Au: You have a brother who is also a photographer. Do you find yourself competing with him or do you bounce ideas off each other?

MH: We still wrestle daily for assignments just like we did after I beat him in Tecmo Bowl in 1989-1993. We haven’t had too many clients that overlap. Occasionally, we do and are supportive of each other. We have different styles I think. I’m more documentary and he has a little more fine art in his work. We definitely bounce ideas off each other. And, we work together often on the video projects with our good friend Brett Schwager on ModocStories.com. Working together is a nice way to not compete.

A gaucho, a Chilean cowboy, on his horse in an open field as he rounds up his sheep, Patagonia, Chile. Photograph by Michael Hanson.
A gaucho, a Chilean cowboy, on his horse in an open field as he rounds up his sheep, Patagonia, Chile. Photograph by Michael Hanson.

Au: If you weren’t making pictures, what would you be doing?

MH: Well, damn, I would say playing in the big leagues, but I already went down that road and it was a dead end. Maybe some sort of research biology. I tend to like science-y work. My friend is a hydrologist, and I think that’d be cool. But probably just an A-list movie star on the side to be safe, like Eric Estrada or something. Ya know, gotta pay the bills.

Staying Creative with Woods Wheatcroft

For the past ten years, Woods Wheatcroft has been delivering unique images with a singular vision and heartfelt creativity to Aurora Photos. Woods’ work blends humor, sentiment, spirit, and spontaneity in a style that stands out from the pack. Recently Woods passed the 3000 image mark in the highly curated Aurora Collection — a testament to both his longevity and the quality of his photography. We took the occasion to ask Woods about his style and the methodology that brought him from 0 to 3000.

Click here to see a selection of the “Best Of” Woods Wheatcroft OR browse all of Woods’ 3000 images.

Aurora Photos: Your body of work is an interesting balance between candid found moments and situations that you create, and yet your style is consistent through and through. How do you maintain that consistent style when shooting with these different methods?

Woods Wheatcroft: The consistency of style and the blending of the methods is a result of trusting my eye and plaicng myself in situtations that ring true to me. For example, I stopped shooting sporting events because there is no reflective truth in the subject matter for me any longer… Candid moments are about being prepared and sometimes lucky and trusting that the moment that happens is front of me is the one intended for me to capture. The candid moments find me like they find anyone else. Being ready, having your camera with you and timing are all crucial ingredients. In the situations that I create, I work with close friends and willing creative people to create a controlled environment then allow it to come apart. As the controlled arena dissolves, there are inherently candid moments. Those are the ones I’m after.

[Au]: In addition to humor, there is a heartfelt sentimentality to much of your work. What other messages or meaning do you try to convey through your pictures?

WW: I like to generate an element of comfort in my pictures, trust if you will. I like the subject to be comfortable, open, free, trusting. I consider myself an affable person. Make people feel comfortable in front of the camera and that translates to how the photo, the moment, the image feels in the end. You can always spot discomfort and stiffness… I believe as photographers we can break that down. We have our tools. So when you ask about other messages and meaning in my photography words that come to mind include: lighthearted, openness, free spirited, fun and genuine.

Little boy, age 5 flying a paper airplane in a big wide open field.

[Au]: Can you talk a little bit about your process — when you are coming up with a concept for a set of images, how much of the shoot is scripted or really planned out for a given situation. How much improvisation happens in the course of shooting? Are you ever surprised by the results?

WW: I create a controlled creative space at first and then bust out from there. So it is scripted in some sense, in that i provide the scenarios, but really truly I am after the in between moments as it either comes together or breaks apart. Thee is always lots of improvisation. Tons. I’m after the surprise, so yes, I am always surprised by the results.

[Au]: Your photographic style is distinctive. I feel like when I’m looking through the Aurora archive, I can spot a Woods Wheatcroft photo almost immediately among other images. What advice would you have for other photographers on developing and nurturing their own style?

WW: Do your best to create the most honest reflection of how you see the world through how you live your life. Share this truth and intimacy. Many of my photos look very genuine…that’s because they are…and that’s because what i am doing or what someone very close to me is doing at that time is really what is happening!! And of course, the advice I was given a long time ago… Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot. One of the only ways I see to hone your style is to practice and for photographers that means shooting. A lot. A style will eventually rise to the top of the pile.

A couple on a tandem bike.

[Au]: You did a great portrait project of people and their bikes. Do you have a favorite bike story?

WW: There’s no one favorite bike story other than the fact that the longer I worked on the bike project, the longer it took to get a portrait. I really started to get to know the people and it was an awesome feeling to dive in and befriend total strangers on their bikes and celebrate a mutual love of the freedom of two wheels.

[Au]: If you weren’t making pictures, what would you be doing?

WW: If I weren’t making pictures I would be making something else: food, art, shelter, friends, memories, and more experiences that take me down this precious road of life.

Click here to see a selection of the “Best Of” Woods Wheatcroft

Click here to browse all of Woods’ 3000 images

Q+A with Nature Photographer Chris Schmid

Chris Schmid spent the month of June in the wild forests of Finland, capturing the “King of the Nordic Forests”: The Brown Bear. This short video is a result of the time Chris spent tracking and shooting in the forest:

Aurora Photos: Can you tell us a little bit about how this project came to life?

Chris: I have had this idea to create a short movie project for a long time. I really wanted to push the limit of the cameras in low light conditions because it’s such an improvement during the last couple of years that it allows us to produce and capture images that weren’t possible before. So I needed to search something to shoot that would be exciting in video but as well in photography. So the wild brown bears came to be my first choice, as they’re located in Finland, and in June we have the possibility to shoot in very low light conditions, but with a small light thanks to the midnight sun.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 3.29.45 PM

Aurora Photos: How is this motion project different from your other work?

Chris: Well, it’s quite challenging to photograph and record video at the same time. You’re always at risk to miss a moment so you need to choose what you really want to do, either photography or video. During this shooting for “The King of the Nordic Forests,” I made the priority on video, hoping I would be able to create an interesting short movie. Nikon Switzerland was kind enough to let me borrow the brand new 800mm so I had my Nikon 500mm fixed on the D800 and the Nikon 800mm fixed on my D4s. With this configuration, I was sometimes able to start recording with the D4s while at the same time taking some shots with the D800. I think when you want to create a still + motion project, you really need to give priority to one  before starting the project. You also have to create a quick storyboard with your ideas and what you want to share with your viewers.

schmid test

Aurora Photos: What draws you to nature photography? Especially shooting wild animals?

Chris: My job is around 50% Sports and Outdoor photography and 50% Nature and Wildlife. I have always been fascinated by wildlife photography. It requires more time on site, you need to take the time to know the animal, its environment and more than anything, you need to respect them. When you’re doing wildlife photography you need to be patient, really patient. This is the opposite of sport and outdoor where you are always in action. So shooting sports and outdoor helps me catch the action of the wildlife, and shooting animals and nature helps me to control the stress and pressure during a sports or outdoor shooting. They merge really well together.

When I’m on site, I would prefer to stay far away from the animal and use a telephoto lens to have a natural comportment. If it wants to get closer, that’s great, but I would never force the contact. My priority is also to place the animal in its environment; it’s very important for me to show the link between the animal and its habitat.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 3.34.40 PM

Aurora Photos: What challenges did you face during this project?

Chris: As I said before, you need to be really patient. For the wild brown bears, we were starting the stakeout at 5pm and going until 6am in the morning. During all this time you need to stay calm, try to minimize your movement, your sound, etc. With wildlife photography you never know what will happen. During the first night I didn’t see anything, and it was a long night waiting for nothing. But that’s the rule of wildlife photograph: One night you can see incredible things happening and the night after, you can see nothing. For me it’s always exciting because every day, every hour, every minute is different from the one before! So you need to always be ready to fire!

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 3.33.48 PM

Aurora Photos: What is your favorite animal to capture on screen beside bears? Why?

Chris: I have a huge preference for discreet and mysterious animals; the one that appears in one second and then disappears as fast as a bullet shot from a gun. But for me, the environment where they live is as important as the animal itself. But if I had to choose one, it would be the leopard. They’re quite mysterious and they have fabulous eyes, killing your viewfinder when you’re looking at them.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 3.49.30 PMAurora Photos: What is next for you?

Chris: I have some sailing shooting scheduled during this summer, and a trip to Iceland may come in September. After that I need to choose a new destination for the thousand personal projects that I have in my head. My dream would be to be contacted by a magazine for a wildlife assignment!

To see more work by Chris Schmid, visit the Aurora Photos website here.