Steven Gnam is a professional landscape, wildlife, and adventure photographer in the Pacific Northwest. Steven has a gift for capturing stunning and striking images which have been published all across the country. His works have been featured by a long list of commercial, editorial, and non-profit clients, including Patagonia, National Geographic, and Sierra Magazine. Steven is also the author of “Crown of the Continent: The Wildest Rockies,” a beautiful large-format photography book on the majestic Rocky Mountains. Steven talks to atlas about how he first got into photography and what goes into his creative process when he is making these breathtaking images. (Editor’s Note: We are showcasing one of our previous features from one of our favorite photographers, Steven Gnam. Enjoy!)
How did you first get started in photography?
Steven Gnam: I have some early memories of playing around with cameras when I was in middle school. My earliest photo may have been of a rabbit in the woods. I continued to experiment with cameras all throughout high school and began to imagine doing it as a profession. I would set up wildlife blinds (or hides) and sit in them for hours watching animals and photographing them. During this time I was also painting and drawing but realized photography gave me the freedom to move around and be a participant in the scenes/situations I was photographing over those art forms. I started selling photos to magazines in high school and continued to get work into college. In college, I was mostly photographing (using slide film still) as I climbed in the mountains, rafted, and explored within a half days drive of Missoula, Montana.
You shoot across many genres of photography and you shoot well in all of them. How would you characterize your work? Do you have a favorite genre?
Thank you. In today’s world it often seems best to specialize in one genre, but I really enjoy the different kinds of photography, learning about various issues and people, and using the best tools/skill sets to tell their stories. I think it is possible to be very competent in many disciplines of photography without sacrificing quality –- it just takes time. I have the privilege of doing this full time so I can devote time to learning new skills and experimenting.
I do shoot outdoor adventures but I don’t think of my self as an “outdoor adventure” photographer. I make photographs of landscapes, people, architecture, underwater scenes, wildlife, etc. but I don’t identify with only one kind of subject matter or style of shooting. I guess much of my creative process comes from being fluid and willing to be interested in new things and to be open to shoot new subjects. I will always gravitate towards wildlife and nature stories but would like to work on some cultural stories too.
What do you look for in terms of composition? What is a typical day like for you on a shoot?
It really depends if I am on an assignment and have a story, an angle, or a subject to cover or if I am just out on a nature walk with no agenda. Anytime I have an assignment I will do my best to read up on the subject, pour over maps, and assess what I need to do to make good images. Often when I work outside, I have to deal with whatever the conditions are like and not have the ability to reschedule. I like this as weather — from bluebird skies to below-zero blizzard conditions — all have something unique to offer you as an artist.
Given the amazing images you have captured, you obviously shoot in conditions that are unpredictable. What it the craziest thing you have had to do on a shoot?
Well, there are a bunch of crazy stories, but recently I was on a 600 mile run, the Crown Traverse, photographing two friends who are North Face ultra-running athletes. During the expedition, we were traveling largely off trail through the mountains using ridge lines to move quickly through the terrain. On a section of ridge in Canada it became very steep and rocky so we had to rock climb in our running shoes. In the shade it was snow and ice so it required a unique blend of alpine and rock climbing to get through it. While focusing on the terrain and being careful not to dislodge rocks or fall, I was also making photographs of my friends as they climbed the knife ridge. It was a situation I (we) did not plan on getting into but one where I felt comfortable enough to take photographs during it.
Are you working on any new projects?
I have been working on a project for the past 5 years that I am close to wrapping up which I can not disclose yet! It is a very exciting and important story. One can check my updates about it on my website/Instagram. After this project, I will begin work on another multi-year story and fill in the gaps with editorial and commercial assignments.
For more information about Steven and to order his beautiful photography book, “Crown of the Continent: The Wildest Rockies,” visit his website. All images © Steven Gnam.