Josh Cripps - Expectations or Reality?

>>> Click image below to see Josh's video interview.


I think a lot of people struggle with exploring a vision of their own. I struggled with that when I first got started.  You come to photography with this huge set of expectations and you see photos, for example of Tunnel View. You’ve seen a million photos of Tunnel View and when you finally get to it, you have all of these expectations.  If your expectation of the classic wide angle shot doesn't mesh with reality, then it’s easy to get really frustrated and disappointed.

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That is a huge hurdle you have to get over as a photographer—the expectations. When you do, the scene starts to speak to you and it tells you what there is to photograph rather than you telling it.

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A few years ago, I did a backpacking trip from Tuolumne Meadows to Mammoth Lakes. I specifically did the trip in early July because that’s when the High Sierra get these great monsoon thunder storms. I’m telling people about this trip and of course my mom is like, “why on Earth are you going into the mountains during thunderstorm weather?” 

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I got really fortunate with the conditions because every day, like clock work, around 1 PM you would see these puffy clouds begin to build up in the sky and then you would hear the thunder start to crash and boom. Around 2 PM, the first little drops would start to fall and around 2:30 it's pouring, it's hailing, the thunder is just crashing and booming…

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One day I was hiking towards Thousand Island Lake, and I stopped at Island Pass. The afternoon thunderstorms started to roll in so I pitched my tent and crawled inside right as the first hail stones started to fall. I actually went to sleep, and when I woke up around 5 o’clock in the evening the thunderstorm had stopped. I unzipped the tent and looked out and RIGHT THERE in front of me was just one of the most incredible, beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. 

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This tarn was completely glassed over with massive cumulous clouds streaming over the crest of Banner Peak and Mount Davis was reflected just perfectly in this tarn. 

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I thought back to my mom asking why I was doing this…that’s the reason RIGHT there. That’s the reason you do anything: why you suffer through the horrendous mosquitoes, brutal ascents, and thigh-shaking descents. In that minute you sit there and think, “This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life and it's just for me.”

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The first country I ever visited outside of the U.S. was New Zealand and it really grabbed hold of me. In fact, I visited three times just for fun even before I was seriously into nature photography. Prior to a dedicated photo excursion there in 2012 I had seen some pictures of a particular tree which is now very famous, but at that time wasn't really on the international landscape map. And I wanted to photograph it. I decided to plan this trip to go in their autumn so that I could capture a golden Wanaka Willow growing out of the lake. I had completely pre-visualized this image how I wanted it 

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I booked my plane tickets thinking if I’m even a couple days late the leaves will be gone, and if i’m a couple days early the leaves will all be green. When I finally found the tree at Lake Wanaka it’s just perfect—the leaves are as golden as they could possibly be. The only problem was that the sky was pure blue and there was nothing interesting going on. After I set up and put my 10-stop neutral density filter on, I take a couple of snaps and they look pretty good. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it was close enough so I started packing up my kit. 

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I chatted with a couple of tourists for about 15 minutes, and went to pick up my backpack and noticed some slow-moving white clouds in the distance. I waited about 10 minutes and sure enough these huge puffy white clouds are filling the sky and flowing overhead above the tree.

I quickly set up everything again and take the photo. Right there on the back of my camera after the first 60-second exposure pops up is THE image. It was the picture I had in my mind for the past two years and it just appeared right there on the back of my camera! Well that’s never going to happen again, and to date, that is one of my most favorite photos I've ever taken.

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Every photo starts with one question. Standing here right now, what do you see about this scene and what about it speaks to you? You may have come to Tunnel View thinking, “I’m going take a picture of El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks with Half Dome in the background.” But, in the moment they're covered up in fog and you can’t see anything but Bridal Veil Falls snaking down through some clouds…if that’s what you see and that’s what speaks to you, that’s what your photo should be about. 

It’s not about trying to take some “photography shoehorn” and leverage it into your preset expectations.


For more of Josh's work, see

Watch the complete interview in the video at the top of this page.

Bill Lea - A friend of Bears

>>> Click image below to see Bill's video interview.

When I was in high school we never had enough money to buy a 35 mm camera, so I never really got into photography until after college when I moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi. I grew up enjoying fishing but couldn't get used to the muddy Mississippi water so I put down my fishing pole and picked up a camera.  That’s when I fell in love with photography. 


For me, it’s all about light.  I love chasing light.  There’s not a subject out there that hasn't been photographed, so my philosophy is that the only thing that’s going to make your subject different is the light and the weather conditions in which you photograph. To me, it’s chasing the weather and light and capturing those landscapes that really have emotions and feeling. When you photograph for many, many years, you start to look for those things that are different than just recording a subject.



For me, photography was a way to learn about animals that I love and then try to share with the general public the truth.  And hopefully attach people to these subjects to the point where they’ll take action on the subject’s behalf. 


I’ve just spent the last six years working on a book about the Florida Everglades.  As I’ve gotten older, the more I've wanted my photography to mean something, to hopefully make a difference. That was the whole purpose of doing the Everglades book. I feel like the National Park doesn't often get the recognition it deserves. There’s a lot of beauty there that a lot of photographers don’t even recognize. 


I want people to see what’s there, to appreciate the natural resources and realize that we need to do something to save this place. That was a big driving force for me.



I always say I’ve never met a bear I didn’t like, but I can’t say the same about people.  I feel a lot more comfortable in the woods with bears than I do in social situations.


So, I’m with this mother bear and her three cubs, who I’ve been with the last five days.  We were pretty used to each other and they were comfortable to where I wasn’t causing them any stress.  They had worked their way up a ridge where the underbrush was really thick.  She—and I—had lost track of one of her cubs while she was way ahead of me on the ridge.  Unbeknownst to either of us, her cub was behind me and all of a sudden her cub lets out a distress call. 

Immediately the mother bear turns around and stares me down…and she starts running. I held my hands up saying, “I don't have her!” Then, she stopped dead in her tracks as if she was listening to me.


I could tell she was trying to process everything and then the cub let out another distress call behind me.  She immediately pinpointed it and went running past me, probably within 30 feet, and I just stood there and she went and retrieved her cub. 



I always advise people, don’t do what I did. I got so hooked on wildlife that I didn't photograph anything else—if it didn't have antlers i didn't photograph it, and that was a huge mistake. I had such a narrow perspective but now I consider myself more of landscape photographer.  


I try to encourage people to go out and pick a subject,  and try to make a difference with your photography. Then you're not only enjoying the photography end of it, but you’ve got a goal and an objective to try to make a difference on behalf of the natural subjects that we love.


If you photograph what you love, your passion will come through in your photography.

For more of Bill's work, see

Watch the complete interview in the video at the top of this page.

Jack Graham - I am very fortunate to live this life

>>> Click image below to see Jack's video interview.


I’ve worked with a lot of really great singers, who have some really bad bands. Conversely some really bad singers, that have really great bands. The singer is the subject, the orchestra is the back ground. When they both work as one it sounds really good. When you have a good subject and good light is when great things happen.



We all have left brains and right brains. When I have a workshop and I have eight engineers I know that it’s going to take me a day to just get those guys creative. 

When I have artists, I know they need to be a little more analytical. Being able to use both sides at the same time is extremely important. I always tell folks that they need to know how their camera works, inherently whether to compensate, what to do here, what to do there, so that the creative process can flow. That’s where I’ve seen people needing the most help, is seeing images and being creative. 



I think you can learn to see a photograph; I think you can develop your own vision. It’s not going to happen overnight—it might be tomorrow, might be a year from now, but you'll figure it out, and you can learn to see. You have to appreciate some of the nuances.



I was in Iceland last summer, and we were walking through some of the Icelandic horses. They came up to me like trained, well-behaved dogs.  They began to run toward me, and I totally forgot that I had a wide-angle lens on, I think it was about 35mm. I just started shooting these guys.  When I took a few frames, I put the camera down and they were about ten feet away. My heart was going, and I was hoping I got a good shot. I did get a decent shot, and it was the most exciting moment of the year.

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There are three things I stress on my workshops. One is slowing down. The other is slowing down. And the other one is slowing down. 


I really enjoy the experience of being out, if I get some photographs, so be it. But, ya know, the hunt is more fun than the kill. 


I love being with groups of people and communicating, and giving back a little bit, I’m just very fortunate to live this life.


For more of Jack's work, see

Watch the complete interview in the video at the top of this page.

Kevin Adams - North Carolina Waterfalls and the Night Sky

>>> Click image below to see Kevin's video interview.

The first thing I did was come up to the mountains and hunt waterfalls and take pictures of the waterfalls. It stuck with me.


I started subscribing to Outdoor Photographer the first year it came out. Like so many people my age, I started out learning from the greats, Galen Rowell, John Shaw, Larry West, people like that, reading everything that I could get me hands on. 

Turning point

The big turning point for me was when I realized that it was okay to not believe what I was reading—that I could make my own decisions. If I witnessed something, if I saw or experienced something that was counter to what I was reading, it didn't mean that I was making a mistake. When I realized that, I felt like I really started to be able to make photos.

Affect on life

Photography is an excuse, a reason if you will, to get out of bed in the morning and see that sunrise, and to stay out for that sunset, when maybe you'd rather go in and have dinner. And to hike that trail that maybe you wouldn’t hike because your knees aren't feeling good, but you do it anyway. Photography is the mechanism that keeps you on course to do that.

As photographers, we see and experience the natural world in a way that others don’t. For instance, if it wasn't for my waterfall books, I wouldn't have seen a thousand waterfalls in North Carolina. There’s no way I would have gone to a lot of them. I just wouldn’t have. But because I'm working on this project, I have to get this photo, I have to do this research for this waterfall, and it forces me to go. In the process, I'm seeing and experiencing things, and I'm happy when I get back.


I discovered a waterfall that I suspected was there but had to hike in to find out. There was no trail whatsoever. When I got to the base of it, it was an absolutely gorgeous waterfall with no sign that any other human had ever been there. I’m sure hunters and fishers had been there, but it was not something that the photo crowd had gotten to, or that the hiking crowd even knew existed. 

I’m standing there and the conditions were just perfect.

Favorite places

I have travelled abroad, I have been to other countries, and I’d like to do a lot more of that, but when I talk about favorite places, it’s where I’m living right now in Western North Carolina. The mountains of Western North Carolina, and the waterfalls... gosh I just love it!

Image over your mantle

It's a shot that I took of fireflies, in a jar, set up a few years ago, and I’ve never seen another shot like it, it’s one of those night photography things that I create in my mind before I shoot it.

I had to shoot the jar part of it first and focus on that. Then, when I was shooting the Milky Way layer, as I was exposing, the biggest meteor I have ever seen in my life went right through the perfect spot in the frame.


The turning point for me was when I realized that it was okay to use my own mind and think for myself, and I would encourage others to do the same. I have noticed that young people already are doing that; they don’t know who John Shaw is, they don't know what the rule of thirds is, they don't know not to center their subjects.

They’re just out there doing their thing, and they are making some really cool photos along the way. Yeah, they’re making some horrible ones too, but so do I.

They are not bound by any sort of rigid rules like old people like me tend to be. Don't let anybody tell you that it has to be done this way, just do what you like, and if you do that eventually you’re going to come upon some course that you can follow.

For more of Kevin's work, see

Watch the complete interview in the video at the top.

Look for Kevin's "Best Of" teaching coming to the ALIVE Photo online classroom early June 2016.

In the meantime, we'll send you this free mini-course with landscape photographer David Muench. (Click below)