Photographer of the Month Interview: Aaron Reed | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, January 2017:   Aaron Reed

We are happy to have Aaron Reed as our featured guest photographer this month. We appreciate that he gave us some of his time and generously shared his beautiful photography with us! Please visit his links to see more of his work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: What made you want to pick up the photography profession?

Ever since my childhood, I have valued and appreciated artistic expression, both my own and that of others. In school I always had a pen or pencil in my hand doodling away the visions in my head. With enough time and inspiration, I can draw just about anything though it has been a very long time since I have exercised that ability. When I stumbled across photography, the longing for personal artistic expression was reawakened and I was immediately hooked.

:: Specifically, what put you in the position to work more towards fine art print sales than let's say, workshops and education? What challenges did you have in the beginning pursuing that route?

My membership in the Illuminati. Seriously though, nothing to see here folks…My grandfather was a traveling salesman who peddled anything and everything he could to turn a profit and he was very good at it. I remember one weekend he held a garage sale and I was hanging out with him for the day. I sat back and paid close attention to the items visitors were interested in. One item in particular was a croquet set with a price of 25 cents. I asked my grandfather if I could have it and after a period of negotiation he agreed to give it to me. I sold it to the next person who asked about it for a dollar. Needless to say he was very proud. I spent the rest of the day removing price stickers off various items so I could sell them for double and pocket the profits. I have always been a businessman, a people person and an artist.

Early on, I did a little bit of everything in an attempt to monetize my new found hobby including wedding photography, workshops and education etc., but always dreamed of success in selling my work directly to customers. I truly believe that a photograph cannot be appreciated to its full potential until it has been viewed as a large print. I personally find it sad that there are so many amazing photographers out there who have never viewed their own work larger than their 27" computer monitor and that most of our work is regularly viewed and judged by a 3" image on an iPhone. Also, praise or admiration from those who view your work online, which is often empty and given in an attempt to receive reciprocation, does not compare to the pride and sense of accomplishment you feel when someone truly appreciates and places real value on your work.

The biggest challenge every aspiring photographer faces when looking to sell prints of their work is how to find and market to non-photographers. I see people all the time who make the mistake of spending their time and energy in an attempt to sell themselves and their work to another person trying to do the same thing to them in return. In the world of fine art, photographers are not and never will be your customers.

After finding an avenue to market your work, you need to regularly take risks that sometimes prove to be costly. You need to believe in yourself and be patient. To create real value for your art you need to believe in that value yourself and be prepared to defend it regularly. I see it all the time, where photographers attempt to sell their "fine art photography" at extreme sale prices. Every time I see someone hold a 50% off sale I shake my head, knowing that they will never have a high level of success with that marketing strategy and will only further devalue their work over time.

My personal success selling fine art photographic prints can be attributed to the dedication and time I spend to develop both my art and business concurrently. I have a deep understanding of the type of photographic art people want and I tirelessly dream up new creative marketing strategies to reach new customers. I also provide a high level of service and connect with my customers on a deep level. As a result, my customers often return to purchase additional pieces and share my work with friends and family regularly. It is critical to sell yourself as much as you do your art. When someone looks to purchase a piece of your work, they are also buying a piece of you and your personal story. They want to connect with both the art and the artist.

:: You've been in this for a while now…and seen a lot of the different trends develop with landscape and nature photography. Which trends do you like the most, and think are the best for the medium? Which do you find to be the most disturbing, and potentially damaging to the medium?

I don't do trendy. I produce work that makes me happy first and what my collectors appreciate second and almost never pay attention to or participate in trends. I solemnly swear to never photograph myself shining a flashlight into the milky way. Ever.

The one negative trend that comes to mind immediately is the "tagging" of our natural areas by those seeking to build an online following. Graffiti in any form is far from anything I consider art due to the damage it usually inflicts upon others. Damage to our priceless natural areas that often take thousands of years to develop is one of the most disturbing forms of graffiti I can think of. I could easily point to a number of negative trends to discuss derived mostly in my opinion from the popularity of Instagram but without offering any solutions I would just sound like I was complaining. Being a relatively new parent, how do you juggle the task of being parent and photographer? What major changes has your career path taken as a result? Where do you make sacrifices in how you used to do things? A: As you most certainly know, juggling the two can be difficult at best. I have significantly reduced my time in the field because the time I get to spend with my family is far more important to me. Having a young family definitely reorganizes your priorities in every area of your life. Photography workshops were the first thing to go because of the time involved in organizing and holding them. Before, I would hold ten or more per year. Today, that free time is far too valuable to me and time with my family first and time to produce new work myself second, is priceless.

:: You've been pretty outspoken and a big help for others when it comes to copyright and images…how did you end up on this path, and is there any horror story that stands out to you as being a major eye opener on the importance of protecting your images?

I never put much thought into copyright infringement until the day I first heard of Google Image Reverse and out of curiosity I searched a few of my images. At that time, I did not watermark my work and the sheer volume of infringement I found both private and professional was astounding. I found it difficult not to take it personally and spent far too much time seeking out and bitterly fighting for my work. Honestly, it began to weigh very heavily on me personally because of the degree that others would go to avoid paying a simple licensing fee or even apologizing for their use of my imagery. When called out, most people follow the same path. First they will try to praise you and your artistic ability, like you should be proud and even grateful they stole your intellectual property. When flattery doesn't work for them they will turn to trying to shame, degrade and make you out to be a villain. I have enough stories to fill a book but I'm trying to make it through this interview. Today, I have a team of lawyers who take care of these issues for me and find that a far better recourse.

:: Social Media how do you use it, and are there any avenues that you don't use as much, and why?

Today, I use social media to share my work and view the work of others. I also use it as a way to stay in touch with friends and family not in my immediate circle. I used to use it to heavily market my workshops but no longer need to go that route and that has been refreshing for me and others I'm sure. Over the years I have grown to understand the frustration of constant bombardment of "services" when sharing images. I often block, hide or unfriend those who use every single post as an advertisement. I tend to follow those who share more of their excitement and sense of adventure with their imagery.

:: When it comes to iconic images from often-photographed locations, there always seems to be backlash directed at photographers for shooting these places, but how do you view them? From a business perspective does it make sense to keep shooting them?

I benefit greatly from the fact that I regularly photograph well known locations as these areas appeal most to my customers. The moodier, more dramatic and less traveled a particular location is, the less it will appeal to the general public. Well known locations are popular for a reason and often easily accessible for more people. Those who look to buy your art need to connect with it on some level or they will not purchase it, no matter how beautiful they find it. I do get quite a bit of backlash for photographing these types of locations so frequently and honestly I think it's pretty funny. So funny that I am laughing all the way to the bank. Most people know of me for my Japanese Maple tree images if nothing else and I find myself on the receiving end of tons of jokes because I shoot and share so many images of it. People usually stop laughing when they find out that I have sold more than 600 large format fine art prints of just the tree alone in the last 3 years.

Photographers on the other hand will flock to moody, dramatic and unique locations because we are connecting with the hard work it took to capture them and can appreciate the struggle. This type of photography, when done well, can potentially lead to a large base of photographic fans online. I mean…YOU too can be FAMOUS. ;) Unfortunately for most, this type of following rarely brings the monetary rewards they would hope to see outside of workshop and processing revenue, a market that becomes more and more saturated every day. I am in no way trying to encourage or discourage anyone from photograph anything more or less than they want to. Photographing what brings YOU personal satisfaction is far more important than how well those images can be marketed and certainly more important than what other people think about them. I do feel a lot of photographers mistakenly think high quality imagery and a large social media following will automatically equal success or that one day they will magically "make it". I hate to break it to you all, but there is no American Idol for landscape photography. The most important path to follow is your heart and personal artistic vision. If you do that, set goals and work hard, everything else will fall into place. Without the hard work, risk and dedication you will most likely struggle. That easy button you purchased at Staples won't work here.

I am fortunate because I just happen to enjoy photographing icons close to home. It allows me to get out and scratch my photographic itch when I have time, while spending the majority of time with my family. When I am old and gray, I personally feel I will care much more deeply about my loved ones than I do the photographs hanging on my wall or on my hard drive. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love and long for the adventure and being out in the field, but personally find just as much happiness photographing a small stream in a local mountain as I do flying thousands of miles away. I have never lost my simple love of photography and for that I am grateful. My number one goal as the years go on is to blend the adventures and time with my family together, scheduling trips that bring about opportunities for both at the same time. If I had one wish, it would be to spend a year on the road with my wife Lisa, showing our daughter as much of this world as we could. Maybe one day this dream will come to reality.

:: What was one early mistake you made while getting started you wish you hadn't... and how would you do things differently today?

When I first started I had absolutely no vision of the future and did not see a need to keep my images organized or protected. I kept all my edited images in one folder on my desktop and all my raw files on a single external hard drive. As both the folder and number of hard drives I needed grew, it became more complicated and harder to keep track of it all. Three years ago I sat down and tried to make sense of the mess and get organized. It wasn't an easy task. We moved to a new home during this time and because I was not careful I lost an entire year of raw files. It was a very painful lesson.

Today, I have a much cleaner organization of my completed images, a 32TB hot swappable backup of all my files and offsite backups as well. I plan to never lose images again.

:: Looking ahead, are we on the right path for photography as an artistic medium, or is it going to get to a point where photography is simply too easy to get good results, and nobody really accepts it as an art form?

I believe that artistic expression must remain as unbound as possible and only time will tell what effect that freedom will have on the medium as a whole. The percentage of people who do accept it purely as an art form is already relatively low in my opinion. The perception of a large portion of the general public is that capturing an image is an easy as the push of a button. You know… you must have a REALLY nice camera. I do believe that no matter how advanced technology becomes or how "easy" it is to capture quality imagery, there will always be artists and appreciation of those artists.

:: What is your favorite piece of non-photographic gear and why?

My favorite piece of non-photographic gear would have to be the cleaning cloths I keep stuffed into my bag. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I find myself shooting in wet conditions often and having a way to keep my lens dry is critical.

:: What is the scariest thing that has happened to you on a shoot?

I have thought I was lost a few times, have almost fallen off a waterfall at least once and was pretty sure we were tracked by a cougar near eagle creek one day. Those things pale in comparison though to the time I slipped into an ice covered bowl shaped rock and got high centered on my belly and couldn't get out. My buddy Vinny had to save me. I could have starved to death! Or froze to death! Or even froze and starved to death at the same time. I'm blessed to be alive. Having read many of your previous interviews, I now realize I suck and so do my scary stories. I'm sorry to let you down Brian.

:: If you could invent one piece of photographic gear or gadgetry what would it be?

Easy… a filter that repels water and dust.

:: When your photographic career is over, how do you want to be remembered?

I honestly do not care about this much. If people enjoy my work (now or later) that makes me happy but I have always done this simply because I love it. I have already been given what I hoped to get from it. That being said, it is important to me that my daughter knows how important photography is/was to me and I hope she appreciates some of the photographs I have created and the excitement of the natural world I hope to share with her.

:: What provides you these days with the biggest challenges creatively, and how do you deal with them?

My only challenge these days is available free time and lack of that can certainly challenge you creatively. While I do shoot fast on my feet, I find that my photographs of a particular area do get better creatively the more time I spend on location. I often end up choosing one of the first and one of the last images I capture of any place that I photograph as my favorites for the day.

Thank you for taking the time and putting thought into these interviews Brian. I am still impressed that you have done them all yourself all these years. Happy Holidays!

Aaron Reed

"Follow your heart, create images in any way that you see fit, to appreciate the joy of artistic expression and to never take it for granted."

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