Photographer of the Month Interview: Justin Reznick | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, November 2012:   Justin Reznick

This month, our featured guest is Justin Reznick.

We want say a big thank you to Justin sharing his time with us, and giving us this interview! Please visit his Web links to learn more about him and his work, and to show him you enjoyed this interview.

:: How did you get your start in photography? Was it digital beginnings or film?

My start in photography began in the digital age. I have a background in international travel and hiking and in the age of digital creating lighter bodies with no need for film, I began to take more advanced photo gear with manual controls on my travels. Tapping into the artistic side of photography, and not just documenting the scene, was instantly addicting and my career in photography took off from there.

:: Has it always been landscape/nature photography or have you branched out into other genres of photography? Like weddings or portrait work...

I was an amateur travel photographer for many years as well as a serious wildlife photographer. However, in order to run a business, I realized that I needed to be more focused and now my photography centers almost exclusively on landscapes. I have never attempted weddings or portrait work because I have no passion for those genres of photography. I am fortunate to be able to make a living photographing what I love.

:: How has your approach changed over the course of your career thus far? What are a couple of little things you've learned that for you really made a difference in your photography?

I sell my work at fine art shows, and I've learned a great deal about what sells and what doesn't. Now when I'm in the field, I can typically gage what an image can be used for, either for commercial purposes, or for my own personal collection. There can be a large disconnect between the images that win awards and receive critical acclaim and the images with broader public appeal that sell in fine art shows.

As for the art form itself, I aim to become a better photographer every day and hope I can continue improving my craft.

:: According to your website, you've visited 66 different countries. I know it's probably hard to pick a favorite spot, but could you give us a top five of some of your favorites, and a bit about why each is so appealing for landscape photography.

My favorite location for landscape photography is Zion National Park for fall colors. Red rock combined with incredible yellows, reds and oranges is such a rare and beautiful sight. I'm also a huge fan of the Columbia River Gorge, the greatest stretch of accessible waterfalls in the world, as well as the Palouse, a place that feels as though it was designed exclusively for landscape photographers. These locations are concentrated in the Western US, the most beautiful region of the world I have ever seen. Now that my business has grown, I am going to unite my international travel with photography, and have many overseas trips planned, including Tanzania this winter, Nepal next fall, and an around the world journey in 2014. A few places from my previous travels that I look forward to photographing are India, Morocco, Bostwana, Namibia, and New Zealand.

:: Best piece or pieces of advice you've gotten while getting started with your career?

The best advise I ever received was to accept your success and believe in yourself. My livelihood is dependent on filling workshops. It seems that every year I stress about whether or not I can fill them up, and then I take a deep breath, remember the advise I was given, and realize that I've done it before and I will do it again.

:: What advice would you pass on to a college or high school photographer looking to make their mark in this field?

Work harder than your competition and find a niche within your genre of photography that you do exceptionally well (for example - teaching, selling at shows, stock, etc.), and focus the majority of your energy in that direction.

:: Favorite piece of non-photographic gear you couldn't live without?

That's a great question. I am gear head and not just with photography but with all my hiking and travel related gear as well. I'll go with waders. The level of access to streams, rivers, lake, etc., that you can achieve with waders takes your photography to another level. My backup answer is Granite Gear backpacks, the best in the business and what I take into the backcountry.

:: Of all the places you've travelled, I'm sure you've had a few harrowing tales, can you give us a couple brief scary stories from the road.

Sure! I almost died of Malaria in Africa, by far the scariest moment of my life. I've had some close calls when it comes to scuba diving and have since retired:). But honestly, most sketchy situations are of my own doing as I'm an adventure junky.

:: How do you strike a balance between the business side of photography, the teaching, e-books, social media side, and the actual getting out for personal shooting? What has been the most difficult transition with moving into a world that is driven by social media?

I love to teach: workshops are my passion. So in a sense, I don't really consider them to be outside the realm of balancing the business side of photography. The business side for me includes marketing, social media and art shows and it is a constant struggle to find balance. Social media has been a bitter sweet tool for marketing. I have received business from different outlets, but I also have felt like a hostage to the idea of constant attention to social media. My tendency is too shy away from social media and focus on clients face to face. Time for photographing on my own can be hard to come by, and it is crucial that I make the best use of it whenever it is available.

:: Living in Seattle you're in a hub of great photography, but also in one of the more competitive markets in the US...what are some of the advantages or disadvantages you've found with living here?

It's been all advantage! Living in one of the most beautiful regions in the world allows me to photograph incredible locations without traveling far. There are people from all over the world that want to photograph the Palouse, for example. Being a Washington State resident makes it a natural fit for me to lead tours and workshops there. As for competition, I feel as though I'm competing on a world wide stage, so I'm not concerned with professionals in close proximity to me.

:: Where is landscape photography headed? Are we hitting a critical mass with too many photographers and not enough locations to fit us all? What other problems do you see occurring in the next 3-5 years?

Photography is definitely growing at an incredible rate, and more and more people are trying to monetize their work. However, I am still optimistic that the passion, skill, and persistence needed to be successful in this business will be shared by only a few. An issue I see happening is the growth of social media. I think social media's growth can actually hurt a person's ability to become a better photographer. There are great resources online, but it's becoming such a crowded space that it can be difficult to navigate to quality information and to seek out quality instruction. As tools like the iPhone become everyday cameras, there is the idea that anyone can take a great picture. I think to a large extent, fine art landscape photography and wildlife photography are exempt from this argument, at least for now. I feel fortunate to work in a field where it takes as great deal of technical and artistic know-how to create a great image.

:: Of all the places you have planned in the next couple years to visit where are you most excited to see?

I will get to climb Kilimanjaro and trek to Everest Base Camp in 2013, two hikes that are high on my list. But there is another trip coming in 2014, a 6 month journey around the world. I have a major book project planned and I hope the trip will take my career in an exciting direction. As for workshops, I will be doing my first of what I hope to be many international workshops, with two workshops scheduled in 2013 in Iceland.

:: How is life with the art-fairs? Do you find it worthwhile as much now, or is it becoming too competitive and over saturated with photographers? How many art fairs do you do in a typical year?

Now that I've been doing art shows for a little while I've learned to navigate the difficult aspects of the business. I only do the shows where I know I can make a profit, and I sell work that I know appeals to the public. It takes time to get to that point, but it's now a viable revenue stream for me. There are certainly too many photographers in the art show world, and too many juries that are not effective at weeding through the applicants. It can be a crapshoot whether or not you get into a show, regardless of your talent. Last year I did 14 shows, this year I did 9 shows, and next year I will do 5 shows. The reality is, my passion is teaching photography in the field and next year is becoming incredibly packed, leaving little time for art shows.

:: Discuss the following thought; If I could start over from the beginning of my career I would do what differently based on what I know now...

I would probably have bypassed the art show route. I can see now a career that would have evolved without it. Having said that, being engrained in the art show community, I've made some friends, met clients, and I have the honor to have thousands of my images in homes around the Pacific Northwest. All in all, I feel as though my career has taken off faster than I had hoped, and I'm in a great position moving forward.

Justin Reznick

Justin Reznick's Links

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