Photographer of the Month Interview: Bret Edge

Featured Photographer, May 2012:   Bret Edge

This month, our featured guest is professional photographer, Bret Edge.

A big thank you to Bret for so generously sharing his time and work with us! Please visit his site links to see more of his inspiring images.

:: How did you get your start in photography?

I've been a hiker/backpacker for over 20 years. I always carried a point and shoot on my trips and was consistently disappointed with my crappy photos that didn't accurately represent what I'd seen and tried to photograph. In 1999 I attended an exhibit of photographs by Jack Dykinga, David Muench and Ansel Adams. I walked out very inspired, went down the street and bought a Canon Rebel (film camera!) and proceeded to teach myself landscape photography.

:: Was it always landscape, or did you shoot other subjects at any point?

It's always been landscape. I'm passionate about being outdoors and sharing what I see and experience through my photographs.

:: You do some adventure/lifestyle shoots, but those seem to be cleverly usable as family photos as well. Can you talk about what led you to using these shots as commercial images people could buy?

For the most part, landscape photographers are limited to making marketable images during the golden hour at sunrise and sunset. My wife and I (and now our son) spend the rest of the time during mid-day hiking, exploring and scouting for locations to photograph. At some point I realized that many of the photos I saw in magazines like Backpacker and Outside depicted not just pretty scenery, but people engaged in activities, with the scenery as a backdrop. I started photographing my wife hiking, canyoneering and mountain biking during our adventures and submitting the photos to magazines. I immediately saw an increase in stock image sales.

:: Do you ever look in a magazine and say, "Hey, there's my wife...."

Yes, all the time. It's exciting but a little bit strange, too.

:: You seem to have successfully incorporated your family into your line of work. What struggles do you still find with being an outdoor photographer and a family man?

My family comes first, photography second. We travel together more often than not, which is great because I really enjoy spending time on the road with them. And, having my wife and son along with me means I've got built-in models for impromptu adventure photography shoots. I know photographers who have children at home and they spend more time alone on the road than with their family, which I think is a terrible decision. The biggest struggle: I don't travel as much as I probably should but I'm not willing to sacrifice time with my family for a few photos of some exotic location.

:: What is your favorite piece of non-photography gear you can't leave home without?

Probably my Nalgene bottles. At a time when most people are using hydration bladders, I'm still lugging around Nalgenes covered in stickers. I guess I'm old school! Second to that would be my 12 year old Mountain Hardwear down jacket.

:: You "Tweet" quite a bit; how has the social media changed the way you tackle photography, and how much pressure do you feel to keep up the social media side of things?

Social media hasn't changed the way I tackle photography at all. It has changed the way I market myself. For the most part, I don't use social media to try to sell anything. I engage the community and try to share things I find interesting, and that I think they will enjoy or find value in. There is definitely pressure to stay active, though. Take a few days off and people start dropping like flies, unless you let them know that you're headed out on a trip and will check in when possible. It's really a strange little world!

:: Moab is a great city close to a lot of amazing landscapes. Do you find that being in a location like this forces you to get out more? I also have to ask a couple quick asides, a) Where do you go to shop when you need something other than the basics? b) What do you do during the down season in Moab when half the town shuts down?

I wouldn't say living in Moab forces me to get out more. I go through cycles: I'll spend a few weeks getting out several times a week and then I'll hardly leave the office for a few weeks. Some of that has to do with the seasons; when the wildflowers are blooming or the fall colors are popping, I'm out all the time.

As far as shopping, we do a lot of it online. We make a trip to Grand Junction, CO, about once a month and we try to make it to Salt Lake three or four times a year.

Town definitely has an off-season, but it really doesn't impact us much. We eat out less often because half the good restaurants close down for a while, and we don't have to wait in ridiculous lines at the grocery store, but for the most part our lives don't change.

:: I understand that photographers change their personal favorite image they've taken from week to week, and sometimes faster, so at the point of this questionnaire, what is your current favorite, why, and what went into making it?

My current favorite image is a photo of a false hellebore plant covered in raindrops in Glacier National Park. My wife, son and I had just spent two nights at the Granite Park Chalet and were hiking back to our car at Logan Pass when we were caught in a thunderstorm. We passed the greenest, most vibrant false hellebore I'd ever seen right alongside the trail, and it was glistening with raindrops in the diffused light. I didn't have time to set up my tripod so I made several handheld exposures, hoping that I'd held still enough to maintain sharpness. We had such a fantastic time on that trip that part of my fondness for the image lies in the memories recalled when I view it.

:: You've got a nice selection of monochrome work, and even though it's technically "color," is monochrome something you find you're drawn to? Do you prefer the black and white side of things more than color?

I am more and more drawn to black and white photography. I wouldn't say I prefer it, but I certainly enjoy working in black and white. It requires an entirely different set of skills to create dynamic monochrome images, and doing so rejuvenates my creativity.

:: Would you tell us a story from your photography adventures?

A few years ago, in Zion National Park, I hiked into a narrow canyon to photograph autumn maples. The weather was questionable at best and it had been raining on and off for the last day or so. I'm an experienced canyoneer and I knew it was stupid to enter the canyon, but I did it any way.

It began to rain heavily while I was in the canyon. Knowing that I was in a flash flood zone, I began to look for an escape. I found one after about half an hour of running at top speed through the canyon. As I climbed out I turned to look into the canyon, I saw a muddy torrent of water rushing past where I'd just been only minutes earlier. To say it was an adrenaline rush is an understatement.

:: What advice have you received that has really helped in your development?

Follow your passion. If you're passionate about photographing landscapes, photograph landscapes. If it's portraits, do portraits. Don't compromise just to make a buck.

:: How do you see the photography changing in the next few years? Do you feel that these are good changes, or where would you like to see photography moving?

Digital technology is constantly changing and I think we'll see some really exciting things happening with digital SLRs in the next few years.

The megapixel race is over. I think now the manufacturers are more focused on getting the cleanest possible file out of the camera. Less noise, better dynamic range, greater detail. All of these technologies will give photographers tools to make images that weren't possible in the past, and those who embrace it are going to do some amazing things.

In many ways I think these are good changes, but there is always the possibility that photographers, especially newer ones, will use technology as a crutch. It is still our responsibility to create dynamic compositions in the best possible light.

:: Do you have any projects or trips that you'd like to share with us?

Yes! I opened the Bret Edge Photography Gallery in downtown Moab on March 3rd. I'm excited about the gallery, but at least for the first couple of years it means I'll spend less time traveling. On the bright side, it'll force me to burn off creative energy by photographing locally more often.

:: To wrap up, what piece of advice would you give to someone just getting their start?

Spend as much time making photographs as you possibly can. I really believe the best way to learn the craft and improve your skills is to get out often with your camera. Don't be afraid to experiment. Every failure is an opportunity to learn.

Second to that, study the work of photographers you admire. Don't just look at their photos - study them. What is it about the composition, the light, the elements in the frame that combine to make the image successful?

Bret Edge

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