Photographer of the Month Interview: Peyton Hale | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, May 2014:   Peyton Hale

We want to sincerely thank Peyton Hale, this month's featured guest photographer! We appreciate his time and willingness to share some of his thoughts, experiences and stunning fine art photography with all of us! Please visit his links to see more of his inspiring work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: How did you get started in photography?

I really took an interest in photography while in college, picking up a film camera while doing my undergraduate research on the life history characteristics of two protected snake species. I met a wildlife photographer named Todd Pusser who let me carry some of his photo gear into a swamp and that sparked the idea of wanting to learn more about photography. I soon purchased my first digital SLR, a Canon 40D and was strongly focused on macro photography and some dabbling with wildlife photography. After a while I shifted my focus to landscapes, wanting to get out and enjoy a bit more solitude and I haven't looked back. Some day I'd like to pick up another macro setup and revisit my beginnings, but I can't get enough of landscapes right now.

:: What is it about this medium that you find suits your creativity?

Photography is and always has been a means for me to get out and experience more of the outdoors and visit new places. I come from a wildlife biology background and as a kid I truly loved spending as much time outside as I could. I never really had the chance to travel and see much growing up, so over the past five years photography has opened up endless doors and opportunity. Because of photography I have become a bit of a wanderlust and I am now beginning to check off some of those bucket list locations from across the United States and as of this year, a few global destinations.

:: You recently moved from North Carolina to Eastern Washington. Was this strictly a creative move, or were other factors in play?

My fiance is an equine veterinarian and she took an academic internship position at Washington State University. In searching for internships we weighed our options based on what would benefit both of us - job experience for her and photographic opportunity for me. I had seen very little of the Pacific Northwest so I figured given the opportunity this was my best chance to visit some of the quintessential locales in Washington, Oregon and so forth. Her job is finishing up this July and we'll be on the move again, so we'll see where fate takes us next!

:: How has the change in scenery caused changes in the way you photograph? You've gone from a place that isn't a hotbed of landscape photography for the most part to one that is quite popular; has that changed your approach any or what you look for?

Living in central North Carolina there wasn't a lot locally for someone focused on landscape photography. Many times I would either plan my days off for a blitz 36 hour photo opportunity in Great Smoky Mountains National Park or drive 5 hours through the night to Botany Bay to photograph sunrise. Living on the edge of the Palouse has allowed me time to scout out locations and witness the changing conditions over the seasons. I can now easily spend a morning out scouting, marking locations and planning for optimal conditions. In a way I can be more selective in the scenes I'm after, allowing me to create better photographs.

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

Hmm, this is kind of a tough question for me and hard to pick just one! It would probably be a pair of polarized sunglasses. If you see me out in the field I almost always have my glasses with me to see what polarization will do for a scene.

:: What was the best piece of advice or bit of philosophy you've picked up in your growth as a photographer?

Two things have always been key for me through this journey. First and foremost photography is about your vision and telling the story your way - always keep true to that. Second would be don't ever stop learning - continuing education is just as important in photography as it is in other walk of life. I'm always trying to build my knowledge of processing and challenge myself and that has made me a better photographer. I still have much to learn and work on, but looking back over the past year compared to when I started pursuing landscape photography is like night and day.

:: What challenges you now as opposed to when you were beginning?

There are times when I hit slumps in processing when I'm trying to reach my end goal or vision for a photograph. I just have to take a break from it and move on to something else and start fresh. Often little frustrations lead to big headaches and if I try to force a final product, it doesn't end up being something I'm happy with.

:: You're heading to Peru in May to be part of The Giving Lens humanitarian project, what about that project intrigues you and what are you looking forward to shooting most?

I have had the opportunity to watch The Giving Lens go from an idea to the remarkable organization it is today. The concept of merging the love of travel with photography all while making a sustainable influence and giving back is just amazing. The trips have been a huge success and I see so much potential for growth and expansion with the organization. I love teaching others and sharing in my passion of photography, and TGL allows me to do that while also making a difference with the NGO's we're working with. The Peru trip is going to be really amazing because participants and staff are working with a great NGO, the Picaflor House, to offer opportunities to the disadvantaged children of Cusco.

As far as what I look forward to shooting the most, it definitely will be Machu Picchu. If I had more time I would really want to fit a few opportunities to photograph some of the Andes, but hopefully that will be on the agenda for 2015.

:: What is the scariest thing that has happened to you while out shooting?

I've been rather fortunate while out shooting landscapes to not have any truly scary moments, but the one thing that comes to mind was during my visit to Panama in 2009. Some friends and I spent 10 days in central and western Panama trekking around in search of various reptile and amphibian biodiversity . On a particular night hike near Changuinola we were out in search of bushmasters (Lachesis stenophrys) with one of the locals and our guide. While hiking on the trail I noticed in front of me just before I stepped down the colors red, black, and yellow. A 1 meter long Central American coral snake was crossing the trail and the three people in front of me had walked right over it. Fortunately it would have been near impossible to receive a bite from a coral snake through thick pants and boots, but if it had been a fer-de-lance or juvenile bushmaster the night would have ended much differently....

:: You obviously are primarily landscape photography driven, but do you ever shoot any portraits, weddings, or other types of work?

I've done some macro photography, but I've never shot any portraits or weddings. My macro work hasn't been transferred over to my Smugmug site yet, but I spent 2 weeks on board a NOAA research vessel in 2010 documenting specimens from cold water coral communities. Nature is the reason I picked up a camera, for the most part its an escape from the crowds and the fast paced hustle of society today. I've been asked to photograph weddings and portraits, but I don't think I could find enjoyment in that style of photography.

:: How has social media and this age of "everyone is a photographer" helped you? Can you think of any ways it might hinder or hurt the development of photographers?

Ah, such a great topic that has led to many debates...most of them on social media. I embrace social media for the fact of getting my own work out there and networking with photographers and entities. Overall it has been very good to me. I have been recruited to teach workshops and give presentations just merely from sharing and interacting across multiple social platforms. Social media has been awesome for interactions with other photographers when traveling to new locations and also in my relocation to the Pacific Northwest.

I think social media could be perceived as a hinderance or have a negative impact for photographers if abused or common sense isn't used. I try to interact but not go overboard with it, be helpful to others that ask or inquire about gear/locations/processing and I've received a lot of help from others I've met over the years, which has really been invaluable. I guess one of my biggest pet peeves with social media is that you will encounter people that build up this online persona that differs greatly from who they really are. For me, my social media 'identity' is the same guy you'll get if you meet me in person.

:: Do you have a favorite type of landscape subject to photograph? Why?

I have a special place in my soul for the desert southwest. I've had the chance to travel and see some of it over the past couple of years, but there is something that leaves me wanting more and planning more trips. Its hard to even make a list of places I want to visit or return to without it becoming multiple pages.

:: You're getting out a lot recently shooting, what has been the biggest challenge of shooting on a regular basis?

Paying for the gas! Seriously though, I think the biggest challenge is getting everything backed up, organized, and keeping up on processing. Shooting on a regular basis is such a luxury for me compared to year's past, I love it!

:: How do you approach a scene to photograph it? What pre-visualization techniques do you use that help you make the best of the limited light situations that often are a regular part of landscape photography?

I like having time to scout out an area as much as I can, so I can figure out perspective, try to find some composition options for changing light, and so forth. My approach really varies depending on what I'm shooting. One thing I love to do is walk around with my camera and lens of choice for the potential comp and check out angles and compositions via Live View.

:: What influences you these days in terms of imagery?

There's so much content out there in social media feeds and websites like and now more than ever so many people with quality cameras traveling around the globe. I constantly find new photographers, both professional and aspiring, that make me go 'wow' everyday. It really is a great moment in time to be a photographer - inspiration is everywhere!

:: What piece of advice would you offer up to someone just getting started with photography?

Stay hungry - always want to learn and be better every day. You will hit bumps along the way and you may question yourself many times, but don't let that stop you in reaching your goals. In the words of Jimmy Valvano, 'Don't give up, don't ever give up.'

Peyton Hale

" is about your vision and telling the story your way - always keep true to that."

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