Q & A with Wildlife Photographer Kevin Dietrich

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Kevin's love for the outdoors drove him from his blue-collar hometown of Buffalo, NY to the mountains of Steamboat Springs, CO. His keen eye for stunning wildlife and landscape imagery is inspiring. We got in touch to learn more about him and his creative process.

Tell us a little bit about how you got started in photography.

My initial interest in photography was in high school when I took an image of a Great Egret hunting in some wetlands in southern California with a disposable camera. The pure white of the Egret contrasted so well with the vivid green of the wetlands that it amazed me I could get that with a disposable camera. I still have the image somewhere in my desk. About 15 years after that image, I started to shoot photos again of wildlife. I purchased a small point and shoot and was impressed with the quality but the zoom was minimal. I then upgraded to a professional  camera and a landscape lens. While photographing beautiful landscape opportunities I realized how much wildlife I was encountering. This prompted me to purchase a telephoto lens and the opportunities it opened up was impressive. I began traveling around the country in search of wildlife in natural environments and was soon addicted to the rush of capturing a moment of an animal surviving in nature. The addiction drives my daily routines and travel plans. I truly enjoy sharing my images with others as so many people are unable to travel or get out in nature as much as I can. 

What is it that draws you to wildlife photography? 

Wildlife photography is truly my passion. I am often approached to shoot various types of subjects other than animals. (people, weddings, real estate, babies, products, food, etc…) I turn those proposals down because there is nothing like photographing a wild animal in its natural environment. Each animal has a particular set of skills that allows them to survive in the wild. I am truly impressed with those skill sets and enjoy being able to study and watch those skills in action. Being able to learn the habits of an animal allows me to obtain better images of the subject. Sometimes, I am able to predict a pounce, a jump or some other indicator that allows me to capture a unique image. One of the biggest draws to wildlife photography is the reward I feel when locating an animal in the wild. Taking a long sunrise hike into a remote area alone is truly therapeutic for me. I'm often accompanied by my black lab, Sawyer. He has become so accustomed to seeing wolves, moose, elk, bobcats, etc… he has become my trusted partner. When we are able to locate an animal during one of our hikes, we both feel a sense of accomplishment. Once the animal is located, the fun begins as we attempt to capture an image. 

What advice do you have for becoming a better photographer?

I'm always happy to share what I can with others about how to get better or more unique images. There is no secret to getting my images. I receive questions almost daily about how I got an image. I often sarcastically say, "Not from the couch". Then, I usually explain the story behind the image, which is what I enjoy most. Once the client or friend realizes the amount of time and effort I put into the photo, they appreciate it more.

I recently completed my fourth trip to California to obtain a bobcat image. I spent about a week each time from sunrise to sunset attempting to obtain a unique image of a bobcat. The moment finally happened on the last trip and the photo has been a client favorite ever since. I'm not able to share a lot of tips about photoshop or settings or technical stuff. Those are not my strong points as a photographer. I process my images very quickly and often send to print the same day. I certainly take the time to read up on all my gear and understand what all the settings are for, but I don't stress about the little details/settings. Just shoot!

From a technical aspect you need to learn your camera without having to look at it. When you have a subject in the frame you need to be able to change the settings such as exposure or shutter speed without looking down. This WILL create better images. If you're able to keep your eye on the subject and change your settings by feel, it increases your chances of capturing the special moment.

The only way to get incredible natural/wild images is to get outside and explore. I get up early and stay out in the field late looking for those truly amazing moments that happen in nature everyday. The more time you spend outside you more you'll see. I focus on certain subjects at certain times of the year. In Steamboat, the bears are currently enjoying a wet summer season and the berries are in full bloom. I'm conscious about where there are good berry patches and I focus my efforts on those areas which increases my chances of seeing and photographing them.

You have to be able to adapt and get out of your comfort zones often to find new species. I guess the bottom line is figuring out what animals you'd like to photograph, study where their habitat is and then be prepared to spend as much times as possible in their environment. 

Walk us through your creative process. What happens before you click the shutter?

My creative process starts long before the image is taken. It starts with reading about a subject, researching where they live, scouting areas, looking at others images of the animal and making a plan on how to obtain the image I'd like. My goal is not only to photograph wildlife but to present in a manner that others have not seen before. Displaying an image of a bobcat is fun, but displaying an image of a bobcat doing something very few - if anyone - has ever seen before, is exciting. Once the homework is done I get out in the field and start searching for the animals. This may involve looking for tracks or signs on a tree, broken limbs and sounds. If everything works out, I'm able to find the subject and get into a position to photograph.

I often snap a few shots just to have documentation. Sometimes you only get one second and one chance. If the animal accepts your presence, then you can get more creative. This is when I start to look at the sun angle, background, foreground and anything else that will enhance the image. I feel too many photographers try to get too close to animals and they lose sight of the moment. Often the best photos are those that show the whole picture, not just the close up. Not only does the image get enhanced, the impact on the animal is less. I am truly a purist when it comes to obtaining my images.

I only photograph animals in the wild and without any baiting, calling or the use of hounds to track them. This allows me to be more focused and creative when I'm with an animal and the story I share with clients is that much better. It's unfortunate the amount of publications today that print images of captive or baited animals. Most consumers think those images are wild and most likely wouldn't support the image if they knew the creative process behind the image or lack thereof. 

Do you have any upcoming workshops, books etc?

I'm currently working on a new book which will feature images and the stories behind them from Alaska to New York. I hope to have that out in 2015. We are also working on a new series of images that will focus on the other side of wildlife photography. It will be called the "Hunger Collection". These images will not be the mainstream images one usually sees in a gallery. They will be images that show how difficult nature can be. The survival of the fittest might be a good way to describe the collection. I am currently on permanent display at 509 Lincoln in Steamboat Springs, CO.

During the next 3 months, Kevin will also be traveling to Canada and California with hopes of obtaining some new species, including a spirit bear, lynx and grey fox. You can find more images and info about Kevin on his website.

Q & A with Landscape Photographer Ted Gore

Ted Gore has a keen eye for capturing dramatic landscape images. We had him talk a little about his creative process and expound on some helpful tips. Hopefully you find something worth noting to help you in your continual endeavor to perfect your craft. 

How did you come to find yourself as a photographer? 

I've dabbled with photography for many years, and use it sporadically for my job as a motion graphic designer in Los Angeles. My passion for landscape photography didn't really kick into high gear until I went on a cruise with family to Alaska. I bought some better gear for that trip because I knew I wanted to get some decent images while there. I started researching landscape photography to learn more about it, quickly became addicted, and since then, it's been full sprint mode trying to become the best photographer I can be.

What is it that draws you to landscape photography?

I've had a deep love for the outdoors since I was in college when I started backpacking with my roommates. I've been on many back country adventures, but had never been into shooting photography of these places I was going. Once I started taking photographs while in the outdoors, I was hooked because I could bring back this 'prize' from my efforts, something tangible, not just a memory. I really enjoy the 'game' of trying to find a great comp, and of course trying to best predict what the weather will do to get great light. I also really enjoy the processing aspect of landscape photography. Lastly, I love the people. There is a great community of landscape photographers scattered around the world, and I've made some pretty good friends, who I share a common interest with. 

What are three of the most important things you have learned from your experiences?

First would be avoiding tunnel vision, which I still struggle with, and may always. It can be difficult to go to a location that gets photographed often, and not get fixated on trying to shoot the same thing that others do instead of trying to see it with fresh eyes. Along the same lines, when at your location, always look where you don't really expect a shot to be. Get on the ground, get up high. Looks like there's not a shot over there? Go over there anyway. You never know. 

Second is giving myself enough time to scout the location and settle on a composition so that I can prepare all of my equipment to capture everything I need. Often times I haven't given myself enough time, and end up scrambling, running around looking for a composition while the light is at its best. I've lost several potentially great shots because of that. 

Third is to be patient when you finish processing a shot. Don't rush to throw it out to the world for all to see. I usually put a shot away for awhile after I think it's done, because usually, when I look at it again a day later, something stands out that I wasn't catching before. Sometimes I've even decided to completely start my processing over from the beginning, and it's resulted in a better final product. 

Who have you looked to for inspiration? Why?

I'm pretty caught up in the modern era of landscape photography, I love how the boundaries are being pushed, and the limitations of cameras are really becoming a thing of the past. I believe Marc Adamus is leading the charge in that respect, and has probably had the biggest impact on my own work. He is easily the most influential landscape photographer of this day and age. I learned of his work shortly after getting interested in landscape, and have had the opportunity to attend a couple of his workshops, and also shoot with him as a friend. I've really learned how to seek out the atypical and unexpected when looking at a potential shot because of his approach. His drive to get to the places he gets, as often as he does, is also really inspirational. 

Some other names whose work I really enjoy and am influenced by would be Chip Phillips, for the shear beauty he can bring out of an image, Floris Van Breugel for his genius, classical, yet modern compositional work, and Ryan Dyar for his post processing ingenuity.

Where is your favorite location to shoot?

That's hard to answer because I don't really have one place that is my favorite. I still have so many places I want to explore! Being that I live in Los Angeles, I do have easy access to the Eastern Sierra, which I really love. There aren't many places that have the amount of diverse landscape that area has, so I really enjoy going to that area, especially in the winter. The sierras are covered in snow, and the temperatures in death valley are pleasant. I've also spent a fair amount of time in the hawaiian islands, and well, I can't really complain shooting there. 

What is the most difficult aspect of landscape photography for you?

That would be dealing with the elements while trying to capture multiple exposures to compensate for the limitations of a camera. For instance, if I am shooting a seascape, and I am working a composition that requires the lens be fairly close to the foreground subject, AND I'm shooting into the sun, AND I'm trying to capture water movement… all while the light is quickly coming and going… it can get really hectic. I've been in situations where the camera is on the tripod, with the strap around my neck(to make sure I don't drop the camera in the water), I'm crouched down in the water, I have a trigger in one hand, a lens cloth in the other, while holding a lens cap in my mouth with my teeth. I'm having to capture a focus stack, continually having to wipe spray off my lens, and block the sun with my lens cap to eliminate flare, and then capture several exposures of the sky to get all the dynamic range I need for later blending… yeah, I'm exhausted just writing it! 

How To Stand Out As A Landscape Photographer

We welcome this guest post from accomplished landscape photographer and Gura Gear Pro Team member, Robert Rodriguez Jr

It’s a crowded field when it comes to landscape and nature photography, and it seems everyone is making better images with better gear every day. So how do you stand out from the crowd? What can you do to make your photography more personal and unique, and less like everything else that’s out there online?

Now you may be saying to yourself I’m not really interested in standing out, or comparing myself to others. I photograph for myself and and that’s enough to make me happy. Fair enough, but I would argue that the fact that you’re reading this blog, and probably others like it suggests you are interested in improving your photography. There must be someone you show your work to on a regular basis, whether that’s your loved ones or close friends. If it stands out, they’ll notice and let you know, and that’s sure to be a great feeling after the long hours you put in outside.

Photography, like most other art forms, is built upon what has come before, so we’re always contrasting and comparing our efforts and expectations. It’s human nature to compare your images to others—that’s how we improve.

So with that said, here are five ways to stand out as a landscape photographer, to your family, friends, or the world at large.

1. Shoot familiar landscapes- Become intimately familiar with your subject, and visit the same locations as much as possible. Even when I travel, I will often focus in on one area to the exclusion of others, so that I can really get beyond the obvious compositions and start to learn what really makes the location inspiring and worth sharing. If you’re not moved enough to return again and again (especially when it’s physically difficult), then you’ll probably have a tough time making an image that stands out.

2. Emphasize emotion and story instead of location– So often landscape photographers focus on location, location, location. Great for real estate, but no so effective for images that have something to say. The best images do not show the viewer where the image was taken, they show what the photographer felt about that location, and that will always make an image memorable. Once you adopt this approach, you’ll see creative possibilities in any location, including your own neck of the woods. After all, how often can you travel to exotic locations? Why put the camera away in the meantime?

3. Study all forms of art- It’s so easy to fall into the habit of just looking at photography for ideas and inspiration, and especially contemporary photography. But what you photograph and how you photograph it comes from your individual perspective, how you see and experience the world. That is influenced by everything you come into contact with. Study the masters of photography. Study painting. Read great novels. Find artwork that inspires you, and draw on that to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Photographing a beautiful landscape is not enough. Sharing what you thought about that landscape is much better. By exposing yourself to other art, you’ll develop a much better sense of how others did and continue to do the same, and grow your visual and artistic vocabulary.

4. Show only your very best work– Learn to ruthlessly edit your work. Quantity is not the goal, quality and value is. When the images you show truly reflect your vision, then the criticisms won’t bother you as much. This takes time and experience, but it will give you valuable confidence. It will teach you that everyone has a different way of seeing, and none is better or worse than the other. That does not exclude you from technical or compositional issues however, these are always open to improvement and we should listen to others we trust. But in the end, share the images you absolutely stand behind. Exceptional photographers stand out because they’re not afraid to take risks and be bold. You don’t need lots of images for that, just the right images.

5. Shoot less, look more– Minor White said, “We photograph something for two reasons: for what it is, and for what else it is.” Those who have taken my workshops know I stress restraint—in other words, wait until you are truly inspired before you start shooting. Wait until you see and feel that “something else” that Minor talks about, and I guarantee you it will show in your work. Instead of thinking “what can I shoot.“ think ”what can I say.”

Some may think that buying the latest gear, or learning the latest techniques in Photoshop and Lightroom can have an equally positive result on your work. That may be true on individual images in the short term, but great photographers are respected and admired for a body of work that exhibits a *personal vision.*  My own experience over the years as a landsdcape photographer and teacher has shown me that a commitment to expressing what lies inside all of us as creative human beings is the only thing that can make a difference.

“A good photograph is one that communicate a fact, touches the heart, leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective.” - Irving Penn