Inside this issue
Chris Byrne – Portrait of a Photographer
Nature Photography as Risk versus Reward
Matt Payne is a landscape photographer and mountain climber from Durango, Colorado. He’s the host of the weekly landscape photography podcast, “F-Stop Collaborate and Listen,” co-founder of the Nature First Photography Alliance, and co-founder of the Natural Landscape Photography Awards. He lives with his wife, Angela, his son Quinn, and his two cats, Juju and Chara.
One of the universal truths about nature photography I’ve come to find through getting to know photographers both in these articles and on my podcast is that at the core of every photographer with superb images is a value-driven motivation. Of course, these values vary widely between every photographer, ranging from a love of natural history, the desire to express challenging emotions or process grief, etc.; however, in the case of Chris Byrne, this value is what he refers to as “the payoff.” While at first glance this choice of words may seem transactional, upon further examination of both Chris as a person and his photographs, one can begin to understand and appreciate them more fully. Chris worked in the stock market for seventeen years and found the life being sucked out of him day by day. There was one glimmer of hope though – he loved being outside with a camera as it brought him peace and joy as well as a much-needed distraction from the busy fast-paced life in the stock market. Through the lens of a stock market worker, Chris began to see his life, and later photography, as an analysis of risk versus reward, with the result being “the payoff” when that calculation was done correctly and with a little bit of luck. As someone who has also spent countless time pursuing big scenes in the mountains with a great deal of personal risk involved, I appreciate Chris’ perspective on nature photography as I believe it provides an interesting framework to operate within.
In Chris’ own words in a well-produced video on his website, the root of risk, when we boil it down, is answered by a simple question: “what are you willing to risk to get what you want?” This includes friends, jobs, family, and of course, time. As we move through life, it can be painful to make an honest assessment of this risk and make excuses as to why we can’t do the things in life that we truly want to do – in Chris’ case, become a full-time photographer instead of a stock market employee. Chris could see his very life slipping through his fingertips like grains of sand. Chris made the plunge into full-time photography in 2015 by moving his family from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Portland, Oregon to get closer to a part of the country that he knew would enrich his life from a photography perspective.
More specifically, the idea of risk and reward being a central component of Chris’ approach to the craft of photography is greatly appealing to me – as it requires one to understand and accept that not every outing will result in portfolio-quality images and that nature might not live up to the expectations that social media has driven us to expect from it. A focus on the reward, as opposed to the risk, is needed. I’m sure many readers can appreciate going to a location with expectations only to be completely skunked by the clouds. Conversely, I think we have all felt the elation when all of the hard work to reach a spot results in an incredible experience that surpasses all expectations. As such, Chris, like me, has embraced a more natural presentation of his images and goes to great lengths to keep his editing as natural as possible by forgoing sky replacements or other forms of additive editing. In his own words, Chris’ embracing of risk and reward results in much more failure than success when it comes to high-quality images; however, when everything lines up, the payoff is a huge rush of emotions and all the hard work that went into all of those “failures” pays dividends.
Like most of us, Chris is not immune to the traps that social media sets before us – scrolling through Instagram and seeing one incredible photo after another can be quite demoralising as opposed to providing inspiration.
Chris used to spend a lot of time as a child outside, exploring the forests with his brother all day until the sun went down. Nature photography has brought him back to those childhood roots and has allowed him to slow down and truly appreciate what life has to offer.
Chris resides in Portland, Oregon with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. He teaches workshops across the United States and in some international locations, where he enjoys instilling his ideals of getting back to nature and enjoying the process afforded by risk and reward.
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Do you know someone you feel has yet to be discovered and should be featured here? Send me an e-mail – I look forward to hearing from you.