Ian Shive - ALIVE in America's National Parks

I’ve been very fortunate to work on America’s National Parks very closely for 8 or 9 years.

More recently, I love photographing in the Channel Islands [National Park], because it’s so close to home. I live in Los Angeles now. To have a National Park only 30 miles off the coastline is incredible. It provides the best of two worlds—both underwater as well as on land. It’s great, because it’s so rugged and remote.


I grew up as the son of a photographer. I worked as my father’s assistant many times, back in the film days. I learned the appreciation of the quality of light—waiting for the light of the building to match the brightness of the sky. There are a lot of little details like that, when I think back on it, that had to play some role in my future as a photographer and working in the photo industry.

The Spark

It wasn’t really until I left New Jersey, and I went to college in Montana—briefly I’ll add—that I got my first 35mm camera. It was a film camera. You know, that’s the stuff with the little squares and celluloid [laughs].

I remember being awestruck with how different the place was from where I grew up in New Jersey. I went to school 90 miles North of Yellowstone National Park. It was a very dynamic time. Wolves had just been reintroduced. I remember wanting to capture that and share it with my friends and family back home.

The photos did not initially do [the experience] the justice I wanted them to. I felt like they captured the scene in a very literal sense, but they didn’t really capture the feeling, or the experience that I was having as an individual.

In that moment, I think the correct path of photography was generated. Not just to go out and capture something because you think this is a pretty spot or other people have done it before. But rather, to share an experience.

I set out to try and get my photos to capture what it was that I wanted to convey. And that is the journey that I’m still on to this day.


It was around 1999 or 2000 that I registered my first domain name. I started to get feedback and comments from people I didn’t know. That was really the genesis, I think, of [my professional] photographic journey.

Affect on life

I’ve been to over three dozen countries, all 50 states, and I don’t just go to places people would think of going. When I go to Louisiana, I don’t go to New Orleans; I get to go to Northern Louisiana where nobody really goes and see what life is like.

Aside from the images, what I don’t think people realize is there’s an entire story behind the photographer and their experience. I often refer to my photographs as not being simply photographs but really journal entries, thoughts or feelings or places that struck me.


When you start out, don’t think so much about the sharing or the business, but develop the craft, give yourself time, and be brutally honest. Compare yourself to those you admire and those whom you look up to. Try to figure out who you are as a photographer.

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Watch the complete interview in the video at the top.