Photographer of the Month Interview: Ian Plant

Featured Photographer, May 2011:   Ian Plant

This month, our featured guest is Ian Plant.

We want to thank Ian for taking his time to chat with us and answer our questions! Please visit his site links to see more of his wonderful work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: How did you get your start in photography? Were you always a landscape guy or did you start with other subjects? Did you take any photography in school?

I started photography in law school, of all places. After buying my first camera, I was instantly hooked, and I quickly realized that I had made the wrong career choice. After practicing law for eight years, I finally was in a position to make the transition to photography full time. That was about six years ago, and it has been a wild ride ever since! I have always been primarily interested in nature photography, mostly landscape at first but now I often shoot wildlife as well.

:: How many days a year do you spend in the field? Do you have any set way you go about setting your yearly personal shoots?

I try to spend about 50% of my time in the field. I plan my yearly shooting schedule based on two things: my field workshop schedule, and my personal goals for photography. I try to plan workshops in areas that I am interested in shooting, so that after each workshop I can build in some extra "me time" and get the shots I want. Whenever I have a gap in my schedule, I plan personal travel to locations that interest or inspire me — sometimes it is on a whim, other times I head to places about which I have long been dreaming.

:: You're located on the East Coast; which places in your locale are your favorites to shoot?

Although I live on the East Coast, I probably spend most of my time shooting in places away from my home base, such as the western U.S., and increasingly these past two years, internationally. When home, I enjoy shooting around the Chesapeake Bay, which was the subject of one of my books and is still one of my favorite places to photograph.

:: What was the scariest thing that has happened to you while out on a shoot?

A few winters back I was photographing seals off the coast of Cape Cod in a small inflatable Zodiac-type boat. My motor failed and the current sucked me into some wicked offshore breakers. Ten and twenty foot waves crashed over me in rapid succession for almost an hour, and all I could do was use a paddle to keep the boat pointed towards the incoming waves to avoid capsizing. It started to get dark and I was beginning to get concerned that I was done for, but luckily someone spotted me from shore and called the Coast Guard. I was rescued by some of the bravest and most professional people I have ever met in my life. Unfortunately, I lost $13,000 worth of camera equipment, but things could have been much worse!

:: Would you shoot a wedding if someone asked? Why or why not?

I live by one simple motto regarding weddings: Death First! They're just not my thing. Nature photography and weddings don't mix.

:: What has been the best piece of advice another photographer has given you?

My good friend and mentor George Stocking once told me that in order to fully explore my art I needed to immerse myself in it completely. This philosophy influenced my decision to commit to a full-time photography career, and continues to influence my style of shooting. There's only one way to find out how deep the rabbit-hole goes: plunge right in!

:: What piece of advice would you pass on to a beginning photographer that you think would help them the most?

Shoot as much as you can. Nothing will improve your craft and artistic vision more than practice. The more you shoot, the more your own personal style will evolve. There is simply no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and getting down to work.

:: Which National Park or wilderness area is your favorite to photograph?

I get asked this question a lot, and I never have an answer. Every natural place has its own unique beauty. I enjoy shooting a scrubby piece of marsh on the Chesapeake Bay as much as I enjoy shooting grand scenic landscapes in a place like Patagonia.

:: How did you come up with the name "Dreamscapes" and what does an image have to have in order to be put in this category for you? Which dreamscape image of yours is your favorite and why?

The name, Dreamscapes, came about somewhat randomly. I liked the sound of the word, and decided to lend the name to one of my online portfolios. It has in time evolved to become my "brand" identity, and somewhat of a mission statement. To me, Dreamscapes are photographs that move beyond the literal, transforming subjects into something unexpected by rendering the familiar in an unfamiliar way. I use a combination of pre-capture techniques to create Dreamscapes, including long exposures, light painting, low light photography, and non-traditional compositions. To me, the best photographs are what I like to call "transformative" — they take a subject and present it in new light, showing it in a unique, non-literal way. The photographer transforms the subject into something else, imposing his or her own personal vision on the subject, and hopefully revealing through this process something of its essence.

:: Which places do you want to photograph the most? Any plans to get to some of those spots this year?

I'll be returning to Patagonia in Argentina and Chile this March (I'm leading a workshop there), and I can't wait to get back to this beautiful land. I'm also looking forward to Alaska in August, where I'll be leading a workshop and then spending some time (hopefully) sea kayaking in Glacier Bay. Two other places I really want to go are Iceland and the Himalayas — hopefully within the next two years I'll go to both!

:: What type of location do you find the most challenging to photograph and why?

Every location presents its own challenges, both technical and artistic. I don't care where you are, it is always a challenge to find the best way to present your subject, and to discover its essence and unique beauty.

:: What was the worst thing you've done to a piece of your camera equipment in the field?

I've smashed lenses, dunked cameras in salt water, dropped expensive filters in streams and watched helplessly as they have floated away, and all sorts of other nasty stuff. But the worse thing I've ever done to a piece of camera equipment in the field is this: not used it. Cameras, lenses, and other pieces of equipment are our tools as artists, and each tool has its own use. By not using the equipment you have, you are limiting your artistic choices and failing to explore all of the possibilities.

Ian Plant

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