Brian Flaherty: Capturing a Culture One Shot at a Time

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Brian!

For more information about Brian, visit his website. All images  © Brian Flaherty.

Steven Gnam: Nature In All Its Gorgeous Beauty

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.