Category Archives: Photographer Q&A

Photographer Q&A with Peter Essick


Peter Essick / Aurora Photos

Aurora Photos: In a project published in National Geographic and featured by NPR, you paid homage to Ansel Adams and the Sierra Nevada wilderness area that is named after him. Ansel Adams is undoubtedly the world’s most famous environmental photographer. What about his work is meaningful and interesting to you?

Peter Essick: I like the timeless quality and purity of vision in the work of Ansel Adams. I could relate to the story of how he found solace in nature when he first started photographing in the Sierra Nevada. This story on the Ansel Adams Wilderness was meant to be a tribute to someone who has influenced many photographers and also someone who was a tireless advocate for wilderness.

 A.P: In your blog, you write often about both serendipity and preparation and how they affect image making. For this project, how much did you rely on chance, and how much did you rely on prior planning?

 P.E: I planned the trips the best that I could in respect to trying to go in different seasons and hiking to places that sounded interesting in the guidebook. However, as is usually the case in landscape photography the best pictures were not planned but came as the result of either dramatic lighting conditions or weather events.

 A.P: These photos are all about nature. But you are also widely recognized for your photos of people and cultures. How is your mindset, technique and behavior different when photographing these different subjects?

P.E: I choose the equipment based on whether I am planned to photograph landscapes or people. I like to think of it as a static bag and an action bag. For landscapes it is usually all about a tripod, full frame sensor and slow exposure for great depth of field. For people I use the Canon camera that recycles faster and often shoot wide open. However, in both situations I use a documentary approach where I try to just observe as best as I can and alter the scene as little as possible.

A.P: You have followed the footsteps of photographer Ansel Adams in the Sierra Nevada wilderness and renowned anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the Trobriand Islands. What other prominent figures inspire you? Whose work would you like to profile next?

P.E: The two other great figures in respect to the American environmental movement are John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt. I don’t have any projects involving either at the moment, but would like to figure out some way to do a story about them.

Peter Essick / Aurora Photos

To view more images from Peter Essick, visit Aurora Photos.

Photographer Q&A with Ron Koeberer

Ron Koeberer / Aurora Photos

Aurora Photos: Your situation shooting on movie sets is pretty unique among our contributing photographers. Can you tell us a bit about the experience while on set and how you create images during productions?

Ron Koeberer: I am currently working on a feature film is San Francisco and yes, it is a unique experience. I am always flattered when I am hired as the unit stills photographer. But how tough can it really be . . . the film crew provides locations / sets, dresses the actors up, adds make-up and props, lights the scene and I take the photograph. I know I am over simplifying things but I really do believe I have the easiest job on set.

I got my start if you will, photographing student films.  First I asked if I can shoot some stills; promised I would not walk in front of the camera, step on any toes, or be in the shot too many times. And I hoped I would get invited back. (All this is for free mind you.) And I didn’t so I was. Slowly I started building a portfolio and then with a little luck and perseverance my images attracted some attention, and people start calling me and eventually started paying me.

I was very fortunate to have had one of the best stills photographers in the business as a mentor and friend. He was invaluable at the start (and still is); critiquing my work, answering questions, and keeping my spirits up and eventually referring me to his clients when he was unavailable. What small amount of success I have had, I owe much of it to my good friend.  It’s a tough business, far more difficult than I thought it would be to break into. While you clearly must have the technical ability, know your way around a set and the set protocol, getting a job many times comes down to relationships and who you know.

It’s a great job if you don’t mind the long hours, the difficult locations, and the seemingly endless waiting around and then not being able to get the shot you so desperately want.  But when I am on set, looking through my camera lens, there is no other place on earth I would rather be.  I remember one of first real films I worked on. It was a student film but it had very high production values.  It was 1930’s boxing movie and they had made this great boxing ring set in an old warehouse; complete with extras all dressed for that period. As I walked on set that morning they were just starting to rehearse so I quickly grabbed my camera. Then, as I looked through the lens it was like being transported back in time, the hairs on my neck literally stood up. It was a magical experience.

A. P: Your spin on image making provides moody, sometimes ethereal pictures. Do you naturally see in this way?

R. K: As somebody one said . . . “photography is knowing where to stand.” And I have always contended, and with much disagreement by others, that if any other photographer was standing where I stood and saw what I saw, they would have taken the same photograph. But a more direct answer to would be yes. I think I do intentionally look for those moments: compositions that convey powerful emotions, drama, or something that one would not normally see.

In my opinion, I think that much of that has to do with removing your “filters” and just shooting, not thinking and taking the millisecond to ask yourself the question . . . why am I taking this photograph?

Because by then it may be too late. I try to go by instinct and emotions. Then, in the editing process I ask myself that question and I try and find what was appealing, what caused me to take the photograph.  Sometimes it may take some manipulation, cropping, etc. to realize what motivated me. I’m not saying it’s always there or that I am always successful, I’m not. But I try and learn from my mistakes which are many. In most cases this is how I try and approach much of my photography. I’m also not above avoiding the obvious great “stock” shot if it is staring me in the face, the one I do not have to go looking for. And I try to avoid directing. I just don’t have the patience for that and don’t think I am particularly good at it. I think my strong suit is recognizing a shot when I see it. And what is important to remember is that when I am on a movie or TV set photographing, I have zero authority to direct or position people. I must find a way to get “the shot” without interfering with the production of it. Occasionally I do receive some prior guidance from the publicity department at the studio as to what kinds of images they need, but aside from that, I am left alone to shoot what I want.  That kind of freedom is priceless.

A.P: What subject or scenario excites you most these days when shooting?

R.K: Lately I have been shooting a lot of reality TV shows. It’s tough as there are no rehearsals, cameras are everywhere, you never know what is going to happen next, and it’s very fast paced and typically poorly lit.  But I figure if I can do a decent job in that environment, it just makes me better a better photographer, and is good training for when when I work on a feature film like I am doing now where you can have multiple opportunities to capture that great shot. It’s still not easy for me, but at least I get more chances.

I have shot my fair share of student films (and still do now and again, my way of giving back), spec. commercials, stage plays, “experimental films” and many feature length films. But if I had to pick a subject or scenario I would have to go with a feature length film, one preferably shot sometime in the past, a period piece with great acting and script, exciting and exotic locations so I can once again, be transported back in time. . .

And finally, stock photography is what I do between films.  My wife and I travel as much as we can, and I take photos when we do so. I also try and give myself assignments and keep my eyes open for photographic opportunities. The beautiful part of all this is that I have a great editor at Aurora who puts up with poorly edited submissions and succeeds in finding a few gems now and again.  At least we hope so. I am blessed with the best of both worlds.

Ron Koeberer / Aurora Photos


Ron Koeberer / Aurora Photos

To view more images from Ron Koeberer, visit Aurora Photos.

Photographer Q&A with Woods Wheatcroft

Woods Wheatcroft / Aurora Photos

Aurora Photos: Your images are playful and amusing, how do you stay creative and inspired?

Woods Wheatcroft: I consider myself a playful and amusing person…!! So basically if i just stay in touch with myself and surround myself with positive fun loving folk while i am shooting,  i usually come away with a frame or two that resonate and communicate this truth. I also keep a journal and have since i was 16.  The journals are my creative sounding board. Everything from shot ideas to colors to concepts i like are all pasted and penned into one book that i refer to often.

A.P: If you could go anywhere on assignment, where would you go?

W.W: Hmmmmm…Hold on…I’m going to go look at my atlas…Currently i am inspired to shoot big wide open spaces on this planet. Dry, arid,big planetary feel. So maybe the Aral Sea in Russian Republics, Atacama desert in Northern Chile, the Gobi…or the opposite…some bubbly warm tropical island in the remote South Pacific!!

A.P: We think your bike commuters series is great. Tell us a bit about your interest in the project.

W.W: My interest spawned in a collaboration with Peter Dennen. It has evolved into a nice personal project and one in which I am not out there amassing frames just for the sake of seeing how many people I can take pictures of that ride their bike. It’s has become a little more than that. I am searching out unique people, situations, and aiming to capture people who truly love their bicycle and the lifestyle that comes with it. And the fact that they use it as a substitute for an automobile is an added bonus…However, I do hope to continue to build the numbers and have the project increase the influence and importance of alternative transportation.  With gas prices rising again, I think the timing for pushing this idea out there is fine.  Also, National Bike to Work Week is the last week of this month…

Woods Wheatcroft / Aurora Photos
Woods Wheatcroft / Aurora Photos

To view more images from Woods Wheatcroft, visit Aurora Photos.

Photographer Q&A with Ryan Heffernan

Kenyan marathon runners run in the high desert of Santa Fe, NM

Aurora Photos: You were recently featured in PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers, can you describe briefly the steps you’ve taken to get to where you are today?

Ryan Heffernan: Building my career to date has been an adventure.

Its been a combination of constantly making images, finding mentors for constructive feedback, creating portfolios from bodies of work and trying to get that work in front of the right people in the industry.  I love it all and it certainly keeps me busy.

Being included in PDN’s 30 this year is a huge honor and has been a great opportunity for reaching a larger audience with my work.  Aurora has also been incredibly helpful in getting my work out in the world along with helping provide a marketing outlet for strong personal shoots.

A.P: Your portfolio ranges from photographing the Kenyan marathon runners to captureing a fantastic looking English Bulldog, how do you approach each shoot? Do you have any shoot that stands out among the rest?

R.H: I’ve been extremely fortunate to make a living photographing things that I love. Running and bulldogs fall right in there. I try to tell stories with my images and am constantly looking for interesting angles, using natural and artificial lighting, and utilizing post-processing when needed to push the image to create something beautiful.

A.P: In our highlighted shot of Kenyan marathon runners in the desert of Santa Fe, NM, can you describe how the project came together?

R.H: It started off as a personal project.  I was introduced to a group of Kenyan marathon runners in Santa Fe, NM through a fly fishing buddy who’s an avid runner.  The Kenyans were living in Santa Fe for 8 months out of the year, training and trying to win an income by running medium and large US marathons.  When winter came they would return Kenya to be with their families. They all were incredibly nice and excited about doing a photo shoot.  So we scouted some great locations in northern New Mexico and pulled the shoot together.  We’ve done a number of other shoots since and they’ve become good friends.

A portrait of a group of Kenyan marathon runners taking a break

To view more images from Ryan Heffernan, visit Aurora Photos.

Photographer Q&A with Robbie Shone

Panoramic view of the main chamber of Gaping Gill in flood
Panoramic view of the main chamber of Gaping Gill in flood

Aurora Photographer Robbie Shone has taken his camera to some of the most wild and remote places on the planet. With an overwhelming interest in capturing unbelievable, unique images, Robbie has photographed some of the world’s most spectacular caves.

Aurora Photos: What led you to your current focus on cave photography?

Robbie Shone: I have been very interested, to the point of obsessed with underground photography for almost ten years now, because of the many challenges it presents. To begin with the canvas is black, and it is your job to create a picture from the cave you descend. There are many challenges in simply getting down a cave, especially some of the larger and deeper systems around the world where only very experienced cave explorers can access. It is also this aspect that I get my rush out of. Knowing that not many other adventure photographers can achieve successful results in this harsh environment.

A.P: Can you walk us through the steps you take to prepare for a descent?

R.S: To begin with I make sure all my camera/lighting equipment is clean and in full working order. Then I charge up lots of AA batteries and camera batteries. I have several spare batteries for all my strobes. The last thing I want to happen is to run out of battery power whilst underground a long way from the surface.

Then I check that my waterproof Peli Case’s are still waterproof, lined with soft foam matting and each carry a clean towel to dry my hands on before I pick out my strobe or camera/lens.

If we’re on a big shoot in a vast underground chasm, I would hand pick a team of dedicated, trust-worthy, capable cavers who I know will perform underground and help me make the photograph. If we need to use PMR Radios to communicate, then I check that they all work, set to the same frequency and are clean and ready to go. Enough to go around. Failing that, I would brief everyone before we descend to check everyone is happy with the cave and happy to help.

A.P: A lot of people find caves frightening, yet you spend much of your time underground. What motivates you to explore such foreign landscapes?

R.S:Simply ‘Discovering the unknown’ and walking/climbing/abseiling(rappelling)/swimming into totally new and un-touched worlds where you know it has never seen light before. You have absolutely no idea what you are going to find, because no-one has been there before. Forget Mount Everest where hundreds summit each season; cave exploration is the final frontier of exploration on Earth

A.P: What was the most thrilling experience you’ve had while being under ground?

R.S: Hanging 300m off the floor and 200m below the roof of the second deepest pit in the world. Photographing Miao Keng, in China’s Wulong County (Chongqing) was very exposed and very challenging. We (the dedicated team) flew out for one month simply to make one photograph of this shaft looking straight down the heart of the blackness. It took us all over 2 hours to rappel down it and 4.5 hours to climb the 32 ropes to get out.

A.P: In our Highlighted Photograph of the Gaping Gill in Flood, can you tell us what it was like that day?

R.S: The day we shot Gaping Gill in Flood was a very wet day. There were half a dozen rescues out of caves in the Yorkshire Dales of people who had got trapped in flooding caves or had been caught out by the rapidly rising water levels. We ran in and rappelled down the ropes as quick as we could and made the panorama of the main chamber just as the waterfall was is total flood. I was unable to communicate with anyone around me. Forget radios, they didn’t work. Mark Richardson (the guy in the shot) had to run back to me after each shot to warm up and get out of the heavy spray that blew around him. I had to wipe my lens every six seconds and after every exposure. It was a real challenge and people soon got very cold (January this year).

To see more work from Robbie Shone, visit Aurora Photos.