Peter Scheirer is a Bay Area based photographer.While mostly a hobby, Peter is uniquely passionate about photography for both its artistic and technical aspects. He is mainly self-taught but possesses the skill and know-how of a long-time professional photographer who has a keen eye for composition and light. We previously featured an array of Peter’s street photography from his Taiwan adventure. This week Peter speaks to atlas about his creative approach to capturing nature, what he loves the most about photography, and his post-processing work on one of his proudest images. (Editor’s Note: We hope you will enjoy one of our favorite features on Peter Scheirer from the past year!)
Can you broadly describe this group of images to us?
Peter Scheirer: The overall theme for these images is natural life and death. Plants look menacing to keep predators away. Seeds from some other plants exist to further its species. Trees stand tall while in their prime, annually shedding leaves and slowly working their way through human-made walls until they are cut down to be used as material for other purposes.
What was your creative approach to making these images?
These images of the leaves, cut trees, fruit, and standing trees follow the idea that anything, no matter how mundane, can be made interesting by looking at it differently than normally viewed. However some views are impressive by themselves, the trick is to find them. The cut trees in Northern California are one example, being a rather large pile of trees perhaps 30 m high and 400 m long. Also impressive by itself is the banyan tree in Tainan, slowly snaking past a wall, suggesting something mystical akin to Angkor Wat but without the religious aspect of it.
What do you like the most about these making these nature images versus the city images you recently captured in Taiwan featured in our previous post about your work?
Nature offers these infinite levels of complexity — from the very small to the very big — and at each level there is a myriad number of angles to explore. Even an ordinary flower can show its stigma and filament in such a way to resemble a miniature Kraken. What surprises me is that although I already know this feature about nature, I still get surprised when I see something deeper. I should not be surprised anymore, but I still am.
Which image do you like the best and why?
Images are like children so I like all of them equally. Like children, they have different strengths and weaknesses that become pertinent in different situations. For example, people who hike would enjoy the leaves and the standing trees the most while people who garden may lean towards the fruit and the agave. For me, I have the banyan tree on my phone to show to interested people.
How much post-processing, if any, did you do on these images?
Since I prefer to spend my time carefully and thoughtfully capturing images with a camera rather than editing them on a computer at home, I usually leave images unadulterated. Five images here are shown unaltered, but the magic and impact of the scene with the banyan tree got muted too much. To restore that magic I ended up using Google Nik Software to pull out some details from the stems and across the entire image increased the contrast, reduced noise, sharpened the edges, and converted to a sepia tone. That last step was to lay emphasis on the lines in the image of which there are many: the linear ones from the window casing and the two sets of bricks (one set in the wall and the other inside the window) and the nonlinear ones from the banyan tree itself. The fact that all the linear ones come from humans and all the others from nature makes this image more captivating.
What do you love about photography?
There are many benefits to being a photographer even an amateur. There are the physics, electrical engineering and the computer science aspects of the experience as well as the artistic aspects such as being able to give shape to a person’s face by letting light exist on some parts and darkness on other parts. Of course, there are also the social aspects. Photography offers the opportunity to freeze a moment in time giving our brains ample time to fully take in everything in view.
If you had one piece of advice for a novice nature photographer, what would it be?
Be patient. Look at the small stuff. Have a good macro lens. Tripods are nice, but also have some skateboarding elbow and knee pads handy as you may find yourself holding your camera mere centimeters from the dirt. Flashes may help at times but it is nice to rely on the sun for illumination which can make an ordinary scene extra special if the light angles just right.
Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Peter!
Craig Hayman is an architect and photographer based in Sydney, Australia. A South Africa native, Craig has a very diverse background. He spent years in the bush as a safari guide and a conservationist, experiences which he calls the most satisfying in his life. In addition, he also worked as a guide trainer for the Smithsonian Institute. Last year, “Wildlife in Pictures,” Craig’s 320-page book of his stunning and awe-inspiring photography of wildlife and landscape images shot in Gabon, Africa, and India was published. Aside from photography, Craig is also passionate about architecture. He currently works as an architect in Sydney in sustainable design. This week Craig talks to atlas about how his experiences as a safari guide and conservationist influenced him as a person and a photographer and shares his unique perspective on what we can do more to protect the wild for future generations. (Editor’s Note: We are showcasing again one of our favorite features on wildlife photography. Enjoy this gorgeous series from Craig Hayman!)
When did you know you wanted to become a photographer?
Craig Hayman: While I am primarily an architect, I took a serious interest in photography only in my early twenties on a journey through Tanzania. From a young age, I had been exposed to art, photography, and an appreciation of nature by my parents. I started drawing and writing long before I picked up a camera.
How long have you been photographing wildlife? What else do you photograph?
I began photographing wildlife more seriously when I moved to the bush at age 24 to work as a safari guide. Until then I had an interest, but I had never had the time to develop it fully although many years of observing animal behavior proved to be invaluable when I did pick up a camera in earnest.
Now that I live in Australia, I have been focusing on landscapes, architecture, and some portraiture. I live close enough to the ocean to hear the surf at night when the wind blows the right way, which makes me happy. Sydney is a very photogenic city. I have also taken on several architectural photography projects, including some commercial and some for my own interest.
Can you describe a little bit about these magnificent wildlife images you took?
The opening image: Subtly backlit and set against a gilded Serengeti horizon, a pair of giraffes arrange themselves in a harmonious composition. I did not think much of this shot at the time, being too consumed in enjoying the moment, but it has become one of my favorites for its simplicity and softness.
For the image above, I spent two voyeuristic days with this pair of mating lions through rain and shine. When a lioness enters peak fertility, she will push a male to mate multiple time per hour, every hour, for several days. They will typically go without eating, pausing only to drink and nap. This image was taken moments after the pair had finished mating for the umpteenth time, and the male is warning the female to give him space. When the male eventually fatigues, the lioness may mate with another male within this male’s coalition.
You published a photo book of your work entitled “Wildlife in Pictures.” The images in are stunning and powerful. What inspired you to put this book together?
The opportunity to publish a book came quite by accident. I never sought out a publishing deal, but I am very glad that “Wildlife in Pictures: has been so successful. The book has provided a great platform through which to connect with people. Once I began work on “Wildlife in Pictures,” I wanted the narrative of the book to be as authentic as possible, including the gritty, the unglamorous, and the uncensored. The publishing house was a little more conservative and guided the book’s image selection towards mass appeal, which I can understand. I am looking for a little more leeway in my follow-up project
You had the unique opportunity to work as a conservationist and a safari guide. What was your experience like?
Without doubt, living and working in wilderness areas as a safari guide has been the most satisfying experience of my life. Living so close to nature, knowing a wild place so intimately, learning from people who have been ancestrally connected to the land for centuries shifted my world view dramatically.
To achieve this above shot, I lay on my belly on a salt pan using a 500m lens. The gemsbok (also known as Oryx) were alert and tightly clustered. They were watching me carefully, unaccustomed to seeing humans on foot. In the background, in soft focus, a cluster of baobab trees is visible. This specific copse of baobabs is known as Baines’ Baobabs. The trees are many centuries old and are visually unchanged since they made famous by European explorer and painter Thomas Baines in 1862.
How has your experience influenced you as a person and as a photographer?
As a person: As a safari guide, you learn to become an expert in human behavior as well as animal behavior. I had a number of important role models who influenced my ideas on the kind of man I want to become. Nature teaches you to understand complexity and to look for inter-connectivity. I think that I am more patient, more observant, and more appreciative than I would have been without those years in the bush. I am also less impressed by bravado.
As a photographer: Without my time as a safari guide, I do not think I would have taken photography seriously at all. Time is vital in wildlife photography, and living in wilderness areas for three years provided time to grow, to make mistakes, and to develop my own style.
To capture this leopard, I recall frantically scrambling for my camera the moment I spotted this leopard, terrified that she would slink off before I had the opportunity to photograph her. This image was taken before I began guiding professionally, and leopard sightings like this had been few and far between. I only had a few minutes with her before she moved off to chase a squirrel. Timing is everything in the bush. In my mind, I have a wish list of photographs I would love to take. The list grows and changes, but a moment like this had been near the top of the list.
Do you think we are doing enough to protect the wild? If not, what more can we do?
There is a tremendous amount of good work being done to preserve wild places and wild species and there is much to be celebrated. There are also many reasons to feel concerned for the future. The greatest challenge will be in addressing the underlying pressures that threaten wilderness. These are interconnected issues that center around population growth, climate change, habitat loss, corruption, and an economy married to fossil fuels and non-renewable resources.
Are there any photographers whose work inspire you?
I am a big fan of the work of Peter Beard. His images are raw, fearless, imperfect, and transcend the space between art and photography, which is a difficult thing to do in nature photography. I also have man crushes on Nick Nichols, Sebastião Salgado, and Steve McCurry. Outside of photography, I am also strongly influenced by the composition of J.H.Pierneef, a South African landscape artist. One of his prints hangs over my desk.
I love this image above for its ability to tell a story in a single image. In an unusual standoff, a female waterbuck shields her offspring from African wild dogs. After an exhausting hunt, predator and prey are at a stalemate: the waterbuck reluctant to enter the water where other dangers wait, and the dogs unable to chase the waterbuck any further. In the end, the two waterbuck swam over 100m to safety and the dogs moved on. In situations like this, onlookers often want to see a successful kill, but I was very happy to see the young waterbuck live another day.
Aside from a photographer, you also work as an architect in sustainable design in Sydney. How has one influenced the other?
Architecture and photography are at opposite ends of the creative spectrum. Designing as an architect is a slow, laborious discipline. You have a client, a budget, a timeline, and so many rules. It can be challenging to find the creativity. Photography is quite the opposite. There are few constraints and the challenge is to introduce structure, restraint, and narrative.
An education as an architect is a great foundation for photography. Composition, light, structure, color and pattern are key elements in both architecture and photography. Learning to ‘see,’ and to be objectively self-critical are probably the most valuable skills both an architect and a photographer must develop.
Are you working on any new projects?
Short term – In June I will be in Botswana for three weeks assisting with a rhino conservation project. It is for an important cause with some inspiring people and I am excited to be a part of it.
Longer term – I am planning an exhibition in Sydney for 2016. I am also in conversation with my publishing house about a second book project. The subject would likely not be wildlife photography. I’m interested in storytelling, in landscape, and in the stories of indigenous people and their relationship with the land.
If you had one piece of advice for aspiring photographers, what would it be?
My advice would be to focus on enjoying the process of making images. I enjoy photography most when I am up early to ensure I am in the right place when the light is perfect or out in a beautiful location trying to perfect a shot of the stars. I enjoy making images of subjects that challenge me. I relish the storytelling aspect of photography. Find the thing you love doing, bring a camera, and tell a story with it.
Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Craig!
Brian Flaherty is a San Francisco-based photographer. A former architect, Brian enjoys portraiture, landscape, and street photography. His works have been featured in the Daily Mail, Feature Shoot, and My Modern Met among others. Brian is also an experienced commercial photographer — his clients include Another Escape, Everlane, Marriott Hotels, San Francisco Magazine, and Taylor Stitch. This week Brian talks to atlas about how he got started in photography, how he turned it into a full time career, and how he captured these beautiful images from his three week trip to Peru last fall. (Editor’s Note: Enjoy one of our favorite features — a stunning photography series on Peru — from Brian Flaherty!)
How did you first get interested in photography?
Brian Flaherty: I can recall being interested in taking photos from a pretty early age first with disposable cameras and early digital point and shoots. But it was not until I took my first black & white darkroom class in college that I started really getting into it. It was such a great experience to shoot, develop, and make prints in the darkroom. I really fell in love with that process and I think it it what really got me hooked on photography.
Are you self-taught or do you have a formal education in photography?
Aside from that darkroom class and another digital photo class in college, I’m self-taught.
Do you do photography full-time? If so, how did you turn it into a full time career?
I have been shooting full-time since late last year. I still feel like I am in the process of turning photography into a career. Things are headed in the right direction, but there is still lots of work to do. As far as how I am doing it, there really is not a straightforward answer as it is different for everyone. But I think the best thing to focus on is making beautiful photos. That is always my top priority and it happens to be what I love to do. Consistently making good work slowly builds the confidence you need to put your work out there and in front of the people you want to work for. It is a long haul and takes patience but if the work is good, it will pay off.
Your photos from Peru – from the landscapes to the portraits — are beautiful and striking. What inspired you to travel to Peru? When did you go and for how long?
My wife and I made a three week trip to Peru last fall. it was a place we had been wanting to go — the food, the culture, the landscapes, all of it was drawing us in. I knew there would be lots of great people and landscapes to shoot, but also lots of interesting things in between that you can not really plan for. I did not have a very clear idea of what I was hoping to bring back. I guess my plan was to shoot whatever caught my eye and then watch the story emerge in the editing process.
Did you encounter any challenges while shooting in Peru?
It was pretty easy shooting there. Most of the people we encountered were open to being photographed. I think the most difficult thing for me was just adjusting to the high altitude.
How do you see your work evolving over the next 2-3 years?
My hope is for a consistent aesthetic over a variety of subject matter. That said, the people and places you shoot can often influence how you shoot so I want to be open to new ways of seeing, however they come.
If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (dead or alive), who would it be and why?
This is a tough one. I think I would like to watch Avedon shoot portraits, specifically how he directs his subjects. I have heard some interesting stories about that.
If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?
Keep shooting as much as you can, take lots and lots of photos. Trust your instincts and allow your own unique style to emerge slowly over time.
Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Brian!