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Featured Photographer, March 2011: Miles Morgan
This month, our featured guest is Miles Morgan.
We want to thank Miles for taking the time to answer our questions, and share some of his wit, work, thoughts and insights with us! Please visit his site links to see more of his incredible work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.
:: How did you get your start in photography?
Why do you want to know? Are you from the IRS? Because if you are, I assure you that I have never written anything off that wasn't totally legitimate.
My father made his living as a freelance photojournalist, so I've always been around cameras, but the desire to shoot seriously didn't come until about a year and a half ago. I saw a few beautiful landscape images and decided I wanted to try to create something that would stir inside me the same emotional response that I had when I was looking at those pictures. I signed up for a couple of workshops, and within an hour of starting the first one, I was hooked.
:: What is your favorite place for photography?
It used to be in my back yard of Oregon, but a few trips to the desert Southwest has moved that squarely to the top of the list. The sandstone formations, canyons, and colors are absolutely otherworldly down there.
:: Give us a story of the scariest time you've had out photographing.
That is an easy one. Shooting in Glacier National Park with friends this summer. On the way out to Glacier, I was really REALLY excited to see a bear. Actually, I wanted to hug a bear if I could to see if they are really as cuddly as they look. By the time my friend Ryan Dyar was through describing gruesome bear attacks to me, I came damned close to bearspraying myself in the eye, I was so jumpy. I've since gotten into the habit of talking loudly to myself to scare away any potential bears, which is usually confusing to people getting on the elevator with me in my Condo building.
So put yourself in my shoes. You are in bear country and it's getting dark, but you really want to have a go at star photography, something you haven't done much of, but that you are keen to get better at. You are feeling alternately brave and annoyed, as you are joined by a guy named Steve Turner, who is much more experienced with wildlife than you are, but also has a D3s, and is looking forward to using it to blow whatever image you can come up with with your measly 5D Mark II out of the water. Steve doesn't seem a bit fussed about the bear situation, which gives you confidence, so you wander around until you find your respective comps in the fading light. You end up about 100 yards away from Steve and fire off some twilight shots of the foreground before it gets too dark to see. Then there is nothing to do but wait a couple of hours for total darkness so you can include the stars.
This is when things start to go downhill. Even as evening descends into pitch black, its not time to shoot yet, as the stars aren't at their peak. You've done an outstanding job of picking a moonless time to shoot, which now worries you greatly. You literally can't see ANYTHING; including the camera in front of you. What's worse, you can't HEAR anything except a babbling brook, so any approaching bear could tap you on the shoulder before you knew it was there. You curse Ryan under your breath. Turning your headlamp on seems logical, so you try that but quickly fear that you are ruining Steve's shot, as he is further below you shooting upstream. Wait... that actually is ideal, as it will be perfect payback for Steve's constant crowing about how much better his Nikon is at low light photography. You snicker and blaze your small lamp into the night. But what if some beady eyes reflect back? Light off.
Finally, you can't take it any more, so you stumble your way back downstream to Steve for some companionship. You pretend that you are there to talk photography. What settings do you think you are going to use, Steve? Finally, it's time to shoot.
Leaving the safety of conversation, I started to make my way back upstream. Headlamp on, I pick my way up and around the rocks until returning to the stream. Wading back into my water, I reach to remove the lens cap of the camera that isn't there anymore..... I knew it. Eaten by a freaking bear. Which means he's around here somewhere. Wait..... That stream doesn't look familiar. My bag isn't here. I'm in the wrong spot. Hahahah. Ok cool, I'll just keep going further. Yeah, that isn't as easy as it looks. Turns out I had already passed my gear, but of course, I didn't know that for a good long while. Our reunion was pretty sweet, and I promised my Canon I would never disparage it for a Nikon again, regardless of its low light prowess.
So now its time to shoot, and the headlamp goes off again. Click the shutter.... and wait. In the dark. Not able to hear or see what's coming up behind you in what amounts to Las Vegas for bears. On a scale of 1 to terrified, I was at a pooping my pants. I fired off enough frames to be fully surprised to see the Milky Way rising above Reynolds Peak, and then packed up my gear and scrambled down the slope to meet my friend, bearspray clutched with a death grip.
:: What do you find as the biggest challenge to photography?
Nature photography is almost exactly like golf. You check the weather obsessively. You get all the latest gear to give yourself that extra edge. When everything looks just right you load up the car and head off to your destination, spending copious amounts of money along the way. You entertain yourself with thoughts of all the tips you've read, and allow visions of glory to tickle your brain cells. You hike several miles carrying an increasingly heavy load until you get to just the right spot. And then you wait for conditions to be just perfect before you take aim......fire..... and...... shank it. You come home with nothing. Nada. Skunked. Whiffed. After you've done that 10 times in a row with nothing to show for it, teetering on the brink of lighting your gear on fire, you inevitably get that one sublime shot. And somehow that one moment keeps you going back out there to the middle of nowhere in all sorts of weather at all hours of the day and night.
:: What piece of advice has had the biggest influence on your photography and caused you the most improvement?
I've been fortunate to have received lots of help from some pretty incredible photographers, so it's tough to narrow it down to one "most helpful" tip. Probably the concept that has launched the most improvement for me is not to allow the limitations of the camera to keep you from making a good image. Since cameras have a pretty narrow range of light and dark tones that they can capture compared to the naked eye, using either graduated neutral density filters or blending exposures in photoshop allows you to keep detail in every area of the image, no matter how dark, or how light.
:: What piece of advice would you pass on to someone trying to get a start in photography?
I'm a huge proponent of workshops, though I know many fine photographers who are self taught. But don't just attend a workshop, PARTICIPATE in a workshop. Go in with a laundry list of questions you want answered. Do some research and reading so that you know what you don't know. Less expensive, but equally as valuable; look at a LOT of images. Review images of photographers whose particular style you admire, and also images that don't work as well for you. Don't just passively look at pictures. Actively try to determine what about certain images appeal to you, and why. If you don't like a particular image, what is missing? What could have been done better? Lastly, get out there and practice. I find my eye needs to warm up just as much as my body does before I exercise.
:: Do you stick to landscapes only or is there any other subject matter you find yourself photographing? Any wedding photography in your future?
You are kidding right? Do you have any idea what I would do if I blew a wedding and ruined some poor couple's perfect day? Well, I'm a crier, so I'm sure you can figure it out. I suppose when I have kids I'll have to put the little suckers under the lights. I had to put up with a photographer as a father, why shouldn't my kids have to do the same?
:: Ocean or forest or desert? Which would you rather photograph and why?
I'm particularly enamored with the ocean in the desert floor on the edge of the forest. Those are some tough shots to get. Probably the desert, as I am lucky enough to have easy access to the ocean and forest. The variety of desert image opportunities is so boundless that it really gets my rather feeble creative juices going.
:: What is your goal with your photography, what are you trying to accomplish in the end when the camera is put away forever?
Obviously I want it to make me dirty, stinking, filthy rich! Oh.... landscape photography isn't the best way to make money?? If I can have a few images on the wall that I enjoy looking at, which take me back to the time and place of some epic adventure, then I'll be perfectly content.
:: What are a few places on your bucket list this year for photography?
I'm hoping to head to Hawaii in a couple of weeks, then Death Valley in February. Wildflowers in California, spring in the Palouse. I definitely want to spend some more time in the desert southwest, and hop up to Yellowstone. A return to Glacier National Park is in order, followed by some summer flowers in the Pacific Northwest. Finally, fall in New England and hopefully an early winter trip to Banff should round out 2011. Clearly, I'm going to need a lot more vacation time.
:: Having read a lot of your tales and seen your work, I think it's obvious you're very good at this whole thing...but you like to avoid any kind of praise....where does this come from?
Ummm....look around. Have you SEEN the talent that is out there? My work looks like a 4 year old grabbed his dad's camera compared to some of the incredible images that are being produced by the real professionals.
:: As a pilot, you have threatened to put contrails in people's photographs on numerous occasions as a joke...is this actually possible and have you ever done it knowing someone you knew was in the area photographing?
Ha! Don't be silly! I would never do that on purpose. Although a close examination of my flight schedule will turn up a surprising number of routes that cross over the Aperture Academy workshops at sunrise and sunset. What a strange coincidence.
:: Are there any projects you have planned for the year to come that you'd like to let us in on?
I could tell you what they are, but first I'd need to smash your cameras and take your memory cards. I've been thinking of working on an eBook incorporating some beginner tips that I've picked up along the way with some adventures that I've had. When you are a big doofus, a lot tends to happen on rather routine trips.
:: What place do you find most frustrating to photograph due to consistently bad weather, or difficulty of getting that perfect shot?
Definitely the coast. I love the dynamic wave action, the constantly changing environmental conditions, and the incredible variety of topography. However, the salt spray, marine layer, rogue waves, wicked wind, and slippery rocks seem to enjoy ruining my best attempts at making good images there.
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