Photographer of the Month Interview: Jesse Estes

Featured Photographer, April 2010:   Jesse Estes

This month, our featured guest is accomplished landscape photographer, Jesse Estes. Jesse grew up, and currently lives and shoots in, the beautiful Pacific Northwest. He describes his photography as depicting "a serene, intimate style" with a goal to "deliver strong compositions, enticing colours, and haunting atmospheres."

We want to thank Jesse for taking the time to answer our questions, and share some of his insights with us! Please visit his site links to see more of his incredible work, and to let him know you enjoyed his interview.

:: How did you get started with photography? ::

I got started in photography in the summer of 2005 when I inherited my father's Nikon 5700. While it wasn't a real digital SLR, it had full manual controls and allowed me to learn the basics. The next year, my son was born and we were scheduled for a trip to Tanzania for his uncle's wedding; both good excuses to "upgrade" my camera. I bought my first DSLR (Nikon D200) in 2006.

:: You have a little one at home, has that been challenging with your work to get out and continue shooting landscapes? How do you juggle family and photography? ::

Having a little one indeed makes things challenging when it comes to getting out and shooting. When you are very passionate about something like photography, it's really easy to become selfish in regards to the time spent on it. It's a balancing act for sure, but living in Troutdale [Oregon] at the edge of the Columbia River Gorge has its advantages when it comes to photography; I can shoot the waterfalls in the gorge, the wild flowers in the Dalles, or Mount Hood and Mount Adams, or the coast, all within a couple of hours drive from my home. I usually try to get out early and get back early, which means I lose a lot of sleep in order to photograph as much as I do.

:: The Pacific Northwest is probably one of the most competitive areas for landscape photography. How do you keep yourself fresh and different from the other photographers in your area? ::

There are indeed several great landscape photographers in the Pacific Northwest, but I don't get too mixed up with the competition aspect of it, to be honest. I make photographs for myself first and foremost, and I always try and push myself to get better technically, compositionally, etc. I'm always on the lookout for unique locations that haven't been photographed by everyone else; and for the heavily photographed areas, I sometimes take 20 or more trips there to get the best conditions possible.

:: What has been the one tool or piece of advice that you feel has really benefitted you most in photography? ::

I would have to say in the beginning it was the use of Graduated Neutral Density filters to help balance exposure in the landscapes that I prefer to photograph. Nowadays, I don't rely on them as much as before, and with a little practice, you can get the same results or better by blending exposures. As for advice, I never really had much direct advice from other photographers, but I read everything I can about photography; either from the Internet or books I have purchased.

:: What was the scariest or worst day you've had as a photographer? ::

This one is easy. Just this last fall, my friend and I, Ryan Dyar, were doing the Iceberg Lake hike in the Saint Mary area of Glacier National Park. This is a really heavily populated Grizzly area, and while it was my first time in the park, we really wanted to get a sunset shot of the lake which required hiking back 5 miles in the dark. About 20 minutes into the trail, we ran into a ranger and asked him if he had seen any bears on the trail. Sure enough, he had spotted two bears on the trail in separate areas. On the hike in, we passed several people coming out of the lake, but we were the only ones hiking in. We got to the lake just as the sun was setting and noticed the grassy area around the lake looked like someone had just ploughed it up to plant a new garden; not a good sign.

We didn't get a good sunset, and about 10 minutes into the hike back, a big bull moose crossed the trail about 30 yards in front of us. Then about 40 minutes later, in a section of the trail that was very narrow, and full of huckleberries, we saw a pair of eyes looking at us from about 50 yards down in this canyon. Whatever it was, it seemed huge, and it continued to watch us for about 30 seconds before we lost site of its eyes. On the hike in, we noticed big wide spots that cut through the sides of the trail where the bears come in and out. We were constantly making noise and yelling for bears so that we wouldn't surprise one on a corner in the trail. Now, this may not sound like a big deal for some people, and while I do a lot of hiking in the dark, this was by far the most nerve racking five miles I have ever hiked. I have never been happier to be back at the car from a hike....

:: You have a lot of wonderful shots of your son; looks like you might have plans to do more portrait work. What about getting into wedding photography? ::

Thank you, he's my only model at the moment, and he only lasts about 20 minutes before he's ready to go jump some monster trucks or play with something else. I'm really wanting to focus more on travel photography, including both portraiture and landscape work. I have been experimenting with the strobist stuff (small off camera flashes) for awhile now, because I like the versatility and the results you can get with such small flashes. I'm planning on heading to the Khumbu region of Nepal for five weeks this fall, and the small flashes will allow me to get some great portraits without packing a ton of heavy gear.

As for the wedding photography, I have thought about it, and while you can surely make some good money doing weddings, it's just not for me. I'm sure if I put my mind to it, I could do a decent job at it, but I doubt I would have fun doing it. I would rather work with children and may pursue that avenue in the future, as well.

:: If someone were moving to the Pacific Northwest and wanting to start up as a landscape photographer, what advice would you offer them? ::

First of all, you moved to the right area for landscape photography. The best thing you can do is just get out and shoot a lot, even if it's just somewhere close to work or in your neighborhood. When I was learning how to use my GND filters, I photographed the river down by my work or a small man made lake by my house, almost every night for a whole summer. Sure I got tired of the same old spots, but when I finally did get to some other locations and the light was getting really good, I knew how to use my filters. Try to get out early in the morning and late in the evening when the light is good. Link up with others in the area, and constantly push yourself technically and creatively to be the best photographer you can be.

Jesse Estes

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