Photographer Interview: Candace Bartlett

We are excited to be featuring landscape and nature photographer Candace Bartlett on our blog today.  I really enjoy and find inspiration in Candace's photography and wanted to learn more about her and her work, so Candace has been kind enough to pull together some really thoughtful answers to my questions. We hope you enjoy the interview and Candace's wonderful selection of photographs below.

You can learn more about Candace and her photography at her website and you can also find her on Facebook and 500px.  

 Hidden Place.  Image (c) Candace Bartlett

Hidden Place.  Image (c) Candace Bartlett

In reading about your background, it seems like a love of nature came well before photography for you. How do you think this influences your approach to photography and your portfolio of work?

One of my very first memories is trying to escape from my playpen in a campground site somewhere in Pennsylvania. Growing up, my family frequently spent time in the wilderness. We would go camping a lot in the Allegheny National Forest, climb massive boulders at Jakes Rocks, explore the unique formations in the Ohio Caverns and go hiking all around Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the North Chagrin Reservation. Both my grandfather and dad taught me how to fish at a young age and I grew a fondness for catfish and bass fishing. I ended up developing a lot of patience and also a deep respect and love for nature at a young age and I'm very thankful for that. I think that definitely influences my approach to photography in the sense that I appreciate the moment and everything around me when I'm shooting. 

It's not just about having an end goal in mind, getting epic conditions or the “winning” shot for me. Of course, those things are a bonus. But, the most important thing overall is to take in my surroundings…the scenery, wildlife and flora around me. Breathe it in, listen to it and be in that moment. I think that when you really start feeling and appreciating what is around you more, you can gain a greater depth and sense of that within your own art as well. That is really a goal for me with my own photography and I hope that it shows within my portfolio.

I always find it interesting to learn how others who are in a relationship with another landscape photographer interact with each other with regard to photography (in the field, exchanging feedback, helping motivate one another, etc). I have had quite a few other photographers tell me they wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with another photographer because it would feel like a constant competition or it would be difficult to maintain one’s own identity as a photographer.

While Ron has undoubtedly influenced my photography, I have never experienced the negatives that others question me about at times. I am curious about how you think about these dynamics in terms of your own photography since you are engaged to a full-time landscape photographer. 

It's kind of silly but I attribute Ryan and I being together today because of our mutual love of painter Albert Bierstadt. A few years ago I saw this incredible photo of his with dramatic light and commented that it reminded me of a Bierstadt painting. Ryan then mentioned something about finding great inspiration from Bierstadt's work and this lead to a deeper discussion and just went on from there. I have a background in Art History and he appreciated that and we could have conversations about it. A couple of weeks later we met in person and there was this instant connection that we both felt, but it had little to do with our photography to start out with. Our personalities just synced perfectly. Additionally, we both have a deep appreciation for Glacier National Park that existed before we ever knew each other. 

We exchange a lot of feedback in regards to photography and Ryan has taught me a lot over the past few years with processing. I like to think that my “style” is different and distinguishable from Ryan's though both with regards to content and processing. For example, while he focuses more on grand landscapes, I tend to gravitate more towards scenes that he might not find as appealing, specifically more intimate compositions or wildlife photography. I've never really worried about it being competitive between us, or being able to maintain my own identity as a photographer and I don't dwell on what others think about me. I have learned that spending time worrying about that sort of thing accomplishes absolutely nothing. Instead, I get out there and shoot, and I do what makes me happy. If people see an image of mine and like it, awesome. If they associate everything I do with Ryan or view it as a competition, then that is their choice, but we're quite different when it comes to our approach and style with photography. Just because we're a couple, doesn't mean that everything we do artistically blends together. 

Our experiences out in the field are also very different. As a full-time landscape photographer, Ryan feels more pressured when we're out shooting together to have a productive trip and be able to come out with something stellar for his portfolio, whereas I'm generally out there “smelling the roses” you could say. When you're making your entire living off of it though, every single trip out shooting becomes more magnified and you're constantly trying to use your time and money as wisely as possible. While we do interact quite a bit when we're out shooting, we also both typically go off and do our own thing for a while at some point. We have a sort of unspoken mutual understanding that is how it is and that we'll meet up afterwards. I think we both just need that personal alone time and we respect that about each other. 

With regards to helping motivate one another, I think we both do that without even realizing it sometimes.  One evening a few years ago we had a discussion and at the core of it was an idea I threw out that Ryan should go full time again with his photography. I knew that if anyone had the talent, drive and personality to successfully grow a photography business, it was him. He's now preparing his sixth video tutorial and off to Norway for a few weeks co-leading a workshop. I'd say that the full-time photographer gig is going very well for him so far. We do plan on working together in the future as well, and he is currently paving the road in that direction for both of us. 

 Tribute. Image (c) Candace Bartlett. 

Tribute. Image (c) Candace Bartlett. 

You have a full-time career outside of landscape photography. Do you hope to be able to make a living through photography at some point? 

As of right now I feel very conflicted about making a living being a full-time photographer. This is primarily because I know very well (being engaged to a full-time photographer) what all is involved with that and it's definitely not as carefree and easy as a some people might think. I'm a very selfish person when it comes to spending time out in nature. That is to say, generally when I'm out shooting I think of it as my time (often alone) and that is very special to me. It's my place where I can be completely myself and let everything go. I call it “therapy” because the stresses of everyday life vanish and I'm there in my happy place, content with being somewhat distant from civilization.

Having stated that, there is a great deal of stress that goes along with being a full-time landscape photographer. Marketing takes up a lot of the time not shooting in the field, via social media, etc. With that comes a lot of outside pressure, especially nowadays on sites such as 500px, to go above and beyond the previous work that you posted and constantly outdo yourself. There is a lot of pressure now to go to an unknown or rarely photographed location, shoot it in a completely unique way and then process to perfection. Additionally, if you are making a living through photography, it is likely that a good chunk of your time is spent leading workshops at various locations, often with multiple clients. 

If you're a photographer leading a workshop, then you are likely spending a good majority of that time making sure that every individual participant feels like their money is being well spent and tending to all of their questions, ensuring that you are helping their skills develop. Of course, there are those that just shoot a majority of the time and ignore their participants, but I'm referring to photographers who are well-respected when it comes to leading workshops. 

I think that it's critical to maintain that balance where I can have that alone time as well with photography and being out in nature or else it's overall value to me will become lost. There are plenty of other reasons I could list out, but this is the tip of the iceberg regarding why I feel conflicted about going full-time with it. Approaching photography as a business part-time is the best option for me and seeing where it goes from there. I do plan on making an announcement later this year where I will be co-leading a workshop with Ryan in 2016. We're really excited about it and it will be our first time working together out in the field.

One of the things I appreciate about your photography is that you are able to simultaneously convey a strong sense of mood and a dream-like quality in many of your images but also keep them tied to reality. When you are in the field and processing your images afterward, what are the visual qualities that you are seeking to express with your photography? And, do you feel like you have found the style that expresses your vision for your photography or are you still refining your approach? 

I'm never really truly happy with any of my photography and constantly refining my approach with regards to both my field technique and processing. I feel like there can always be room for improvement in those areas and if I settle on something, that will just hold me back. With regards to visual qualities in my photography, my goal is to portray more of a painterly type of style, while also making the scene look as realistic as possible. I do try my best to convey a sort of dream-like quality and strong sense of mood as well. Similarly to Ryan, I find great inspiration from artists like Bierstadt and the Hudson River School when it comes to landscape photography. Additionally, I'm especially drawn to more surreal atmospheres and landscapes such as the Alabama Hills, and I attribute that in part to my love of Surrealism in Art History. 

I think that having an art background definitely influences how I view scenes compositionally and also with how I express myself artistically in post-processing. I often find myself thinking about certain paintings when I'm out shooting and begin visualizing the scene in front of me as a painting in my mind. It's all very organic and just sort of happens naturally.

Aside from expressing certain visual qualities, I'm also really trying to reach out on deeper level, if at all possible. It is a goal of mine to strike an emotional response in the viewer and bring them into the image. If they can even remotely feel what I felt while looking through the lens, then I will have succeeded in that attempt. I realize that is a big stretch, but I remain hopeful to achieve that someday.

 Seal Rocks Sunset. Image (c) Candace Bartlett.

Seal Rocks Sunset. Image (c) Candace Bartlett.

The Pacific Northwest undoubtedly has one of the strongest communities (and densest concentration) of landscape photographers in the United States. Since most of your portfolio represents the Pacific Northwest, how do you think about things like seeking inspiration, originality, and expressing your own voice? 

One thing I'm heavily focusing on right now is diversifying my portfolio in terms of representing certain areas. Over the next year or so I plan on exploring many areas in the Southwest of the United States, the Canadian Rockies and hopefully traveling to Norway and Iceland as well. Representing more of the Midwest, Allegheny Mountains and around where I grew up over the next couple of years is also a primary goal. I realize that much of my work is more localized and I plan on traveling farther and seeing more of the world. Thankfully, I should have more adequate means to do so now. 

When I travel to locations within the Pacific Northwest, I make it a point to try and find new areas and compositions that aren't photographed as frequently, if at all. I like to try and find something unique within a location if it is well known and make it my own original take from there. To achieve that, I attempt to wipe my mind clean of other images that I have seen, or just make it a point to not copy the same exact thing. For me, it kind of defeats the purpose if I'm shooting the same composition as a hundred other people. I want to come away with something that I can call my own.

Aside from that, I am attempting (like many others out there) to develop more of my own signature style. That's by no means an easy feat, but I like to think that part of what makes my work unique is that I don't focus solely on landscapes or abstracts of landscapes. I also enjoy macro photography and shooting wildlife, among other things. Some might argue that you should focus on one particular area, and develop a certain style or “signature” from there to be well known or successful, but I think that is only limiting myself in my own artistic expression. I shoot what interests me at any given time, not just landscapes. I don't plan on playing by any particular rules and I think that might highlight the individual voice that I'm attempting to express.

 Private Paradise. Image (c) Candace Bartlett. 

Private Paradise. Image (c) Candace Bartlett. 

Can you choose a favorite image and tell us a little about the process of creating it?

“Private Paradise” stands out as one of my favorite images to date. It was taken last Summer at Cracker Lake out in the backcountry of Glacier National Park. I had wanted to see this area with my own eyes for years since the first time I read about it and it ended up being so much more than what I was anticipating. The moment of awe when turning around the last bend and encountering the pristine vibrant turquoise waters, seemingly endless fields of wildflowers and 4,000 foot massive cliffs is really indescribable. I wanted to successfully bring back something that would remind me of my overall experience at this place. It's difficult to do Cracker Lake justice in a single photograph because the basin is quite enormous in scale, but I tried my best to capture some of the magnificent beauty.

With this image, I attempted convey the grandness of the basin area with Indian paintbrush and waters while the sun was setting behind the cliffs. To achieve this, I inverted the center column of my tripod and laid down on my stomach close to the ground to compose the image. I took this using the Sony A7 and shot wide at 17mm. My goal with processing was to make it look as accurate to the scene as possible, while also adding more of a painterly, dream-like sort of feel to it using Photoshop CC and Camera Raw.

I primarily used luminosity masks to control the levels, blending and some dodging and burning. The title refers to the fact that aside from myself and the small group I was with, there was no one else to be found the entire time. We had the whole place to ourselves that evening. The only sounds around us were that of the light breeze and the many waterfalls flowing down from the giant cliffs surrounding at a distance. “Private Paradise” is special to me because it was not only an unforgettable experience, but we also had great conditions that evening to top it off. Had we chosen any other day to head out there on that long hike, things could've been much different. It's a 12.2 mile hike roundtrip and was a bit sketchy heading back in the dark in prime grizzly country, but we made the most of it by telling stories and singing songs along the way. As of now, it is definitely my favorite place that I have encountered out of all of my travels and one of the best journeys that I've had with some good people. 

What advice do you give to landscape photographers who are just getting started? 

There's a wealth of information available for free out there about the most effective camera settings to use in certain conditions and how to use Photoshop or Lightroom effectively. Start out by just getting out in the field experimenting on your own and get your feet wet. From there, I think it's definitely a good idea to take a few Skype and in field workshops (if you can afford it) and learn more about composition and improving your processing techniques. 

Probably the best advice that I can throw out there overall, is to try visiting and photographing locations with a fresh perspective in mind. It might be more difficult to do with regards to many popular locations that have been shot to death, but I think that it's important to try and clear your head of what other photographers have shared via social media and instead focus on what your eye draws you to. Work on creating your own artistic vision from that. I do think it helps if you visit a location without seeing other images from there period or make it a point to look for a different spot/composition in that general area. No matter what advice anyone gives you, do what you want to do and what makes you happy. Unless you are seeking constructive feedback or taking a workshop, it's probably not worth taking most criticism too close to heart. 

 All Eyes on You.  Image (c) Candace Bartlett. 

All Eyes on You.  Image (c) Candace Bartlett. 

Like the rest of our world, things are changing fast in landscape photography. Do these changes excite you, frustrate you, or a little bit of both?

A little bit of both, for sure. I think that it's exciting getting to be able to try out new gear and witness the latest advancements that have been made in photography. Technology evolves's the nature of things. I think I've upgraded my iPhone three times just over the past couple of years. I recently transitioned to using the Sony A7R over the past year and I can't help but feel like it's going to be outdated before I can really get used to working with it. It is a wonderful camera though and I don't regret switching from my older Canon at all. It was a huge step up for me and it was interesting for me to see just far technology has come over the past few years. 

It can certainly be frustrating as well. I recently had to replace my iMac and I felt like the one I was replacing was still relatively new, but in reality I had owned it for a few years and it was running incredibly slow to the point where it was becoming impossible to even process on it or handle my large files. Maybe it's just part of getting older (I'm in my 30s), but it seems like I'm increasingly having a more difficult time keeping up with that sort of thing. 

Things also change fast with regards to processing and techniques. I know that I'm constantly changing my work flow and that it's a lot different from what I was doing a few years ago. It's always interesting though for me when I take a different route or try something new and the outcome ends up being a little bit better than I imagined it might be.

I think that it's an exciting thing to witness your own progression as an artist. 

To see more of Candace's beautiful photography, you can visit her website.  Thanks for reading and thank you, Candace, for taking the time to share such thoughtful and insightful responses!