It’s been a couple of years since Shoot the Frame rolled out with its photo contests. Suffice to say dozens of talented photographers and amazing photographs have since passed through its hallowed digital walls. Thus we feel it’s the perfect time to delve deeper into the works of art we feature and look at the other side of the lens. This time, instead of looking out onto stunning images, we’re going to look behind the lens at the artists who were able to capture and translate their visions into photographic masterpieces.
First off, Max Seigal. Max Seigal hasn’t only won and been a finalist in Shoot the Frame, but is also lauded by numerous other prestigious organisations and companies. And rightly so. His landscapes are so brilliantly executed, so awe-inspiring, and simply so majestic that it just makes you feel so small, despite the fact that you’re looking at a picture only a couple of inches big.
With such works and skill, naturally we couldn’t help but want to pry into the past winner’s brain, so we asked him about his photography, his philosophy, and his future plans (something to watch out for!). Without further ado, we present Max Seigal.
Do you remember the exact moment when you decided that photography is something you wanted to pursue? Can you tell us more about that moment? Photography is something that has always interested me… ever since I was young I was playing around with film cameras, and moving my way up to digital when I reached high school. Although photography is something that I’ve always loved, I’ve seen an evolution in my shooting style. It’s gone from portraits to wildlife to landscape to night photography and everything in between, so the subject matter I am most fond of shooting continues to evolve.
What is it about nature that captivated you and inspired you to become a landscape and wildlife photographer? I love getting outdoors, and finding the most remote and beautiful locations imaginable. I grew up skiing, climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and was a very active and outdoorsy kid, and my passion for exploring has never died. In fact, this is what fuels my love for photography.
What is your most favourite part about shooting landscape and wildlife? I love it when those hours of patience pay off and the scene is unfolding in front of my eyes just the way I imagined it… or in some cases, even better than I ever could have imagined! Nine times out of ten I go home empty handed because the conditions weren’t favourable… but every once in a while I know that everything is coming together, and those moments are the ones I live for.
You take a lot of stunning landscapes which usually require a lot of set-up and preparation. What has been your most difficult shoot to date and what have you learned from it? Most difficult shot to date has to be the the image titled ‘Thunderstorm at False Kiva’ Here is the description I’ve typed up for that shot:
It was the most difficult shot I’d ever created.
I sat, huddled in the cave, wondering if the stars would ever creep out on that cloudy night. It was the Milky Way, after all, that I was hoping to photograph at the kiva.. Midnight: no stars. 1 a.m., then 2 a.m. … nothing but clouds. I heard a low rumble in the distance. Thunder? I looked out, hoping my ears had deceived me, and there it was: a bright flash of lightning, miles away, illuminating distant canyons.
I panicked. Here I was, alone in the dark in a very remote location in Canyonlands National Park, with a massive thunderstorm rolling my direction. Did I have enough time to pack up my gear and run to the car? I waited for the next bolt of lightning, which flashed only moments after the first but seemed much, much closer. The storm was moving fast, and there was no way I could outrun it. I had to stand my ground and wait it out.
The raindrops started trickling around the edge of the cave, and then, with almost no warning, rain and hail came smashing down. Lightning began crackling almost directly overhead. The wind picked up and started howling, blowing sand, dust, rain, and hail all over the place. My camera was already on the tripod, so I figured I would open the shutter just to see what would happen.
I knew the intensity of the lightning would require a much lower ISO than usual for my night shots, so I dropped the camera all the way down to ISO-400 (usually I stay around 6,400 for night shots), and stopped the lens to F5 (usually I’m at 2.8). I had no idea if these settings were appropriate, as I’d never tried taking photos from within the middle of a lightning storm before.
Suddenly there was a massive crack of lightning a few miles out, so bright that it lit up the canyon as if it was the middle of the afternoon. If I had any chance to make this photo work, it was now.
I grabbed my flashlight and began light painting the cave, “painting” the beam of light along the surfaces I wanted illuminated in my shot. Usually just a few seconds of light is enough, but with my camera all the way down to ISO-400, I quickly calculated that I would need several times the average amount of light to properly expose the kiva. I ran left and right in the cave, and tried to remember how much light I had applied to the different areas so that the exposure would come out evenly. I had no idea if this would work. I had never tried anything like this before.
Finally, I turned off my flashlight, crossed my fingers, and clicked the shutter closed. I held my breath and clicked the review button on the camera. Unbelievable! The shot was more amazing than I ever could have imagined. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was one of the greatest and most challenging captures I’d ever made.
This photograph won second place in the 2013 National Geographic Traveler photo contest, which received over 15,000 entries.
What has been your favourite shoot ever and why? My favourite shot is always the current image that I am working on… I continue to try to push the envelope and capture new and unique shots, and while I love many of my older pieces, I am fixated on the next shot in a series. But if I had to pick just one, it would be one from this summer titled ‘Dreaming of Alaska’. In this image, a killer whale popped his head out of the water at sunset, and it was one of the most beautiful sights and captures I’ve ever made.
You’ve won numerous awards over the years and practice wildlife photography full-time now. How has your shooting style evolved over the years, and how have they been affected by your experiences? I find that every year, my visions and my goals as a photographer continue to evolve. I try to incorporate everything I’ve learned (and I never stop learning), and culminate those skills in the next shot. This is especially true of night photography. Every evening I step outside to shoot, I learn something new and try to apply this to the next night. My visions of the next shot become increasingly more complex and challenging, but much more fun to try to achieve!
Your winning shot on Shoot the Frame features these rock formations with the night sky peeking out. Can you tell us more about the elements of the photo? Like where it is and what exactly it is we’re looking at, etc.. This shot was very difficult, and required a lot of improvisation on the spot to achieve the correct lighting. It was taken at the entrance of Antelope Canyon, one of the most photographed locations in the US, however nobody had ever photographed the canyon at night before. The challenge here was to get evenly illuminated canyon walls all the way from ground level to sixty feet up! I was shooting 30 second exposures, during which I would be running around the canyon with a flashlight, shining in numerous places to get the proper lighting. It was a lot of fun, but definitely a tough image to capture!
What is your process for taking photos of landscapes? Do you hunt for spots, plan your shots, then come back to make the actual photo, or is it more spontaneous and impromptu? While I used to be much more spontaneous, I find that nowadays my landscape shots require much more planning. If I don’t have a specific scene in mind, I definitely have a location in mind, and will typically scout the area for a day or more to find my favourite spots.
What’s in the future of Max Seigal? I’ve been getting much more involved in film these past few months… and I’d love to start making short films in addition to my photography!
As a multi-awarded photographer and staff of National Geographic, it can be said that you’re pretty much the cream of the crop! Do you have any words of wisdom about photography (or life) to share with photographers who aspire to be just like you? As long as you continue to love what you’re doing, you’re in the right place at the right time. Every time I go out shooting, I have a smile on my face. Once photography becomes a job and no longer a passion, that’s when it’s time to sell my camera gear…
Any last words you’d like to share? Never doubt your skills as a photographer. Everyone is unique, and no two people see a scene the same way. Follow your eye, hone in on your skills, and never stop pushing your limits!
Interview by Julia Escano – Shoot The Frame
Max Seigal: www.maxwilderness.com