Photographer of the Month Interview: Gary Randall | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, Feb. 2013:   Gary Randall

This month, our featured guest is Gary Randall. We really appreciate that Gary shared his time, story and some personal 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?

I started when I was in first grade and got a Brownie Hawkeye for Christmas. When I joined the Navy one of the first things that I bought was a Yashica 35mm camera. I had it a short time before I bought a Canon FTB and started developing my photos, mostly Tri-X in the hobby shop photo lab. Once I married and had children and career photography went away. In time the wife left, the kids grew up and the career evaporated leaving me at a severe midlife crises... which made me just irresponsible enough to think that I could actually work for myself. I started to do graphic art work and web design which many times required photos. This was just when digital was starting to come in. Once I was able to acquire a DSLR and I started to understand post processing techniques I immediately recognized the potential for it to be used as an art form as well as a tool. Photography is my full time occupation these days. It truly is a dream come true.

:: You do a lot more than just landscape work; your portfolio and blog show a wider depth of images. Where does portrait, wedding, and commercial work fit in to your workflow?

I'll take a photo of practically anything. I consider my landscape photography my "paintings" if you will. The landscape work is really what I'm most known for and i feel that I'm the best at. As a photographer I will accept most any challenge, plus one must pay the bills. I enjoy working one on one with people in portrait sessions, especially outdoor shoots. I also enjoy some architectural photography. I photograph lodges and chalets, mostly for vacation rental property management companies and a few real estate agents. Plus even though I make a living as a photographer, it's still my hobby. I can't resist crawling around in my yard on my knees photographing flowers and bugs with a macro lens and some extension tubes.

:: Are you as passionate about the weddings as you are the landscape work? I notice you do try to mix the two when possible. Can you talk a bit about the difficulty blending the two subjects?

I have shot weddings that were crazy hectic and no fun, to weddings that were nothing but pure joy to do. As time goes on, my wedding clients already know me because of my landscape work and basically want photos with the style of my landscape photos with them incorporated into it -I love Spring weddings outdoors. As time goes by I'm a bit more selective in the weddings that I do to allow me to be more creative with the photos and to create more distinctive images.

:: The primary focus of your work seems to be in and around Mt. Hood? What is it about that mountain that draws you back so often?

I was raised around Mount Hood. My earliest memories include Mount Hood or Mount Adams on the horizon as well as the Columbia River Gorge. I've been hiking and exploring this area for almost 50 years... whoa! The last ten years, have been a challenge for me personally and financially and with the price of gas, I stick close to home. In the last year or so I have finally been able to stretch my boundaries a bit and those that follow my work will be surprised at some of the travel plans that I have for the near future. With that being said, I could never become who I am as a photographer if I lived anywhere else. The Pacific Northwest is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been.

:: Are there any particular moments or scenarios with Mt. Hood that you’ve been waiting to capture and have eluded you?

Well, if you would have asked me this question a year ago I would have said the Northern Lights over Mount Hood, but this last year gave me three nights of aurora, one in particular that was astonishingly awesome. I have shot Mount Hood at sunrise, sunset, night time under a new moon sky to a full moon illumination. I have shots of the Milky Way, perseids, gemenids, Jupiter rising, Orions Belt, star trails, lightening, the International Space Station flying over it... you name it. At this point, especially after the Northern Light shows, I have to really try to come up with another unlikely scenario to capture. I just hope it isn't an eruption.

:: When you have a subject you photograph SO often, like Mt. Hood, do you ever show up and think, “Nope…not going to be as good as (insert particular great day), I’m going home…”? I find some time familiarity with locations and number of times I’ve had good light there makes me reluctant to shoot and stifles my creativity. I was curious about your take on this.

I agree completely. My best example is Trillium Lake. I live about 20 minutes from there and so I have been there a lot. At this point if the sky isn't on fire at sunrise or sunset, I just walk around and talk to the other photographers that are there. I do try to find a comp that is unique, but it gets harder as time goes by.

:: One thing I’ve always admired about you is how often you seem to be out shooting. I think I can count on you to post something new every single day. Are you out shooting that often or do you have a backlog ready to post? That has to, at some time, be a chore to maintain that kind of dedication to constant updating.

I appreciate that. Not many people realize the dedication and commitment that it takes to be proficient as a landscape photographer. One must spend a lot of time out there hoping for the right conditions, and going home disappointed. I'm fortunate that my time is no longer controlled by a clock and if I have nothing else to do, I'm out with my dogs and my camera. I don't try to create a huge portfolio of work, it just happens. Doing so allows me to post something most every day. One must also consider that because of the beautiful place that I live, I can leave my home and be knee deep in a creek in about ten minutes. As for posting photos on social sites I see it as a part of the job, if you want to call it a job. The rewards of sharing and communicating with those that are touched by my work is beyond any explanation and is much more than I ever expected my life to bring. I am blessed to be where I am in life right now, and I owe most all of it to my camera.

:: On the topic of social media, and updating sites, do you think this push towards social media is positive or negative for the overall photography world as a whole? I’m always torn, as I think it’s great to get work out, but I always fear everything will be overkill at some point and work will not have nearly the impact it does printed, or in person…I was curious your thoughts on this?

Well, the whole social media and marketing situation is a blessing to me personally. There's no way that I could make friends and followers all around the world otherwise. My success relies on distinctive images that are shared with as many people as possible. How else to do that than the internet? As for photography as a whole the pool is a lot larger. Everyone is taking photos and sharing them online, good and bad. It just takes a bit more to be able to rise above the din of the crowd. If your work is distinctive and of a certain quality it will be noticed. I'm also finding that because so many people now have at least an entry level DSLR they are seeking out those that create images like they would like to make. This creates opportunities beyond selling one's work. I am seeing now that in the future I will need to create more of a feeling of exclusivity in my work and will move toward limited edition prints.

:: With the increase in technology over the past decade and where it seems to be headed, how do you anticipate your methods of work to change in the future? What good and what bad can you foresee on the horizon?

I think that the mirrorless technology will be the next big move as far as gear is concerned. New optics that allow for adjustment of dept of field and focus in post processing will also change much of how we work in the future, but the organic creativity of the photographer will never change. The camera is just the tool that we use to create our art, and it is said that it isn't the camera, but the photographer, that makes the photo.

:: You live in one of the areas of the US with the highest concentration of quality landscape photographers, does this add any pressure? Does the competition get a little intense or does everyone seem to get along for the most part?

I think that the Pacific Northwest group of landscape photographers is a tighter group than most any other area. There is one or two that might be a bit competitive, but for the most part we encourage each other. I don't see any competition from my point of view. I'm not competing. I'm just trying to be the best that I can be and put it out for the world to judge.

:: What is your favorite piece of NON-Photographic equipment that you can’t live without?

Does my Jeep count? Also a good set of chest waders and felt-soled shoes.

:: Give us a good tale of a time shooting when you thought it might be your last? A second part of this question would be, what scares you about photographing wild places?

Sliding down a talus slope toward a sheer drop into the Grand Canyon had me wondering for a few seconds. I grabbed a little bush to regain purchase. It's usually my clumsiness more than any kind of altercation with wild animals. I feel fairly safe in the wilderness, the cities less so. I am always cautious of wild animals, but usually see them as they run from me. I’m most cautious in places like Glacier National Park with a healthy grizzly population. I fear poison oak more than bears.

:: What plans do you have in the coming months for any photographic journeys outside of the Pacific NW?

I have gotten a bit of a bug to travel abroad more often. Besides domestic trips, the last year has taken me to Midway Atoll and France. I have my sights on a possible trip to Thailand and another to England. These possibilities are all made possible through establishing friends worldwide via social networking of my photographic work.

:: What inspires you these days with photographers, and what they are doing?

My passion is fine art landscape photography. I see it as an art form no different than if I were painting. The effort that some of my favorite landscape photographers make to be at the perfect location at the perfect time inspires me to do the same. As for processes, I love pushing my processing techniques. I always strive to get a shot that takes minimal processing, but sometimes spending time processing a shot is a peaceful way to spend my time. I love the possibilities that have been opened up to me since learning certain techniques such as Tony Kuypers luminosity blending and adjustments. They have opened my eyes to new possibilities. I love to grow as a photographer. I always have to be learning or I feel stagnant.

:: What is the best piece of advice you’ve gotten as a photographer, and that you would pass on to those looking to get a start with the medium?

Take a lot of photos. I have heard that advice over and over in different forms, but to practice is the best advice that I've been given. As in anything it takes practice to learn. There is nothing esoteric in understanding the operation of a camera. Ones work becomes special when it becomes your own through hard work and practice.

Gary Randall

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