This year marks 25 years that I have been passionately practicing photography. 25 years! Right now you’re probably thinking, “Really, and he’s not any better than this?!” On the wall in my home office is the first photo I made that was worthy of framing, a sunset over Lake Murray (no relation) in South Carolina. It’s actually not a bad photo. Good job, Mr. Murray. But, I digress. The first twelve years of picture making for me was a very on/of venture. Due to the limited vacation that comes with entering the corporate world and living in a place that was less than inspiring (save for two months of the year) weeks and often months would pass without the click of the shutter. My camera was very lonely then. Still, I thought about photography often. I subscribed to the major outdoor photography magazines of the day, gazed longingly at the beautiful photos wishing they were mine, and practiced when time allowed. Each spring as the wildflowers were blooming in the rolling ranch lands an hour outside of Houston I would mysteriously become ill with “bluebonnet fever”. After calling in sick to work (cough, cough) I would head out the door with camera in hand to spend the day in photographic bliss. I cut my teeth photographing the wildflowers those few years. I was not, however, a model corporate employee.

It wasn’t until my wife and I moved back to our home state of New York in 2007 that I began to make images in earnest. Two years prior I had quit my corporate job (I could maintain the charade for only so long) and began to work part-time as a consultant, an important step on my path to eventually becoming a full-time artist. It was also when I switched from film to digital (I was a late bloomer). My photos began to look better, a consequence of practice and digital technology. Still, after a few years I felt I was stagnating. Four years ago Guy Tal swept me off my feet and my photography changed forever. I haven’t looked back. 

I have now been a full-time photographer for almost three years, a culmination of a dream that began 25 years ago. And to think, it only took me 22 years! (Let that be a lesson for all you kids out there!). The past three years have seen many challenges, some expected, others not. Fortunately, I can say with all honesty that those challenges have been surpassed by the rewards. I am interested in seeing what the months and years ahead will bring. Will my photography continue to evolve as it has these last few years? Will the Dolphins ever win another Super Bowl? Will my cats grow up to become upstanding members of society? Time will tell.


Autumn Thoughts

Today I returned from a few days of personal photography in the Adirondacks following a series of workshops. It was interesting to return to the same places I visited less than two weeks ago, witnessing the rapid change that occurs this time of year. Most of the maples had shed their leaves, while the beeches were just now reaching their peak, setting the forest understory ablaze in shades of deep orange and gold. Soon time will usher in autumn’s second act. The trees will have been laid bare, their naked limbs seemingly stretching upward as if awaiting the first dusting of snow. 

I am always struck by a feeling of deep melancholy when I say goodbye to the woods this time of year, knowing what is soon to come. The reason is obvious I suppose, a reminder of another year soon reaching its end. And while I am more than ready to bid adieu to this year of personal tragedy and difficulty, I find the speed at which time is moving to be unsettling. Walking with the fallen leaves crunching underfoot I can’t help but realize that I too am well into this life’s second act. What will the next few years bring?

Only two days ago I leisurely strolled along an old backwoods road in the bright sunshine, reveling in the sights, sounds, and smells of this most magical time of year. It had been a few years since I last visited this place, and I made a vow to return annually at this time. Every now and then I stopped to make a photo, but that wasn’t my objective. All that mattered that afternoon was the experience of being alone with nature, to see beyond myself and my problems, to see a world much larger than me. Soon the woods will be transformed once again, and I hope I will be as well. 


The Eyes of a Child

“…innocence of eye has a quality of its own. It means to see as a child sees, with freshness and acknowledgment of the wonder; it also means to see as an adult sees who has gone full circle and once again sees as a child – with freshness and an even deeper sense of wonder.” – Minor White

This past week I taught a kids photography camp, my latest entry into the “What was I thinking?!” file of actions. Once I got over the shell shock of dealing with adolescent girls (mind you, I have no children of my own), there were a few interesting observations. Not unexpectedly they had little difficulty learning the technical side of photography. Unlike so many of the adults I teach they didn’t regard their camera as something that might actually hurt them. Processing their images in Lightroom was also a breeze. If there is one thing that doesn’t intimidate a child it is a computer. But the biggest and most important difference from adults was in their photos.

They were fearless when it came to making pictures. With no concern for failure, they shot everything and anything. Buildings, flowers, the sidewalk, benches, desks in a classroom. And they did it from every possible perspective. Lying on their stomach, on their back shooting upward, from this angle and that angle. Sure, many if not most of the images didn’t work, but that’s not the point. They did exactly what one should do when learning to make photos: experiment. And they had zero concern as to whether or not the images would be good, all they cared about was the act. Results didn’t matter, it was all about the experience for them. And every now and then some of them made truly wonderful images, a couple that I even wanted to claim as my own (fortunately they’re too young to know about copyright. Just kidding). 

One of the biggest barriers to seeing is bias. For adults a lifetime of experiences brings about good things, but it also causes us to have judgments, prejudices, and biases. We worry if this image has been done before, either by us or by another photographer. We ask ourselves if anyone will like it, or what use it may ultimately have. Children have no such concerns. At this age they are blessedly unaware or unconcerned with the likes and shares BS of social media. They haven’t seen a lifetime of photos with which to judge against their own and they have no body of work to compare the next image they make to. It is ignorance in perhaps its most positive form. As adult photographers it is a lesson for all of us. We need to strive to see with the eyes of a child, to regard the world without judgment and fear, but rather with wonder and joy.


Who Are Our Peers?

I recently shared a podcast on social media in which the author discusses validation and challenges the listener to determine which form of validation is meaningful to them. For me it’s a very simple question to answer. I want my work to connect with people. I want them to be moved by it, to see it as something inspirational and special. But, it goes beyond that. I ultimately want the respect of my peers. The question that raises, however, is who exactly are my peers?

Like most artists I am prone to feelings of insecurity. Far from suffering delusions of grandeur, it could be argued I go too far in the other direction, believing myself not worthy to be considered a peer of those photographers that inspire me. They have a much greater following and have accomplished far more than I have, certainly I can’t consider myself an equal. It caused me to look up the formal definition of the word peer, and it’s this: one that is of equal standing with another. It means being the equal of someone, being on par with them. Having the same abilities as other people in a group.

I will never have the same abilities as a William Neill or a Guy Tal. My body of work will never be considered as meaningful or influential as John Sexton’s. They are simply working at another level that I don’t believe I will ever reach. That is not false modesty or self-doubt, just a healthy realization of my limits. They are that smart, that talented. How can my name even be whispered in the same breath? I most certainly do not have the same abilities that they do, how can I consider myself their peer?

A fellow photographer and friend ever so gently chided me for my way of thinking, saying that is exactly how I need to think of them: as peers and not superior beings to be put on a pedestal. It’s not a question of who is “better”. Another friend echoed that sentiment. While I agree that they should not be idolized, I still have a hard time seeing myself as their peer. It could be argued I’m placing too much emphasis on achievement. But, it’s what that achievement reflects: a body of work that stands above the rest.

The mistake in my way of thinking is in choosing to compare myself to the few photographers that have reached a level of which most of us can only dream. The vast majority are like me, talented individuals working to produce a body of work that is authentic and resonates with people. Some connect with more people than others, but that matters little. Whether or not we make a living at it is also irrelevant, money is not a factor. Most of us will never be a household name, even within the nature/landscape photography community. We toil anonymously, working hard at pushing the boundaries of our limitations, seeing just how good we can be and exploring our potential. No, I can’t consider myself a peer of Charles Cramer or Bruce Barnbaum. But, I do consider myself the peer of many other photographers whom I hold in high regard. Their respect is all the validation I need.

But an attaboy from Guy sure would be nice.



The Role of Music

On the days when I’m not outside making photos or traveling I can be found working from home on the more mundane tasks of photography. Yesterday I was revamping the galleries on my website. When I get bored of that (usually after about five minutes) I’ll surf YouTube for interesting videos of any of my favorite bands (I can procrastinate with the best of them). As much as I enjoy photography, I would give anything to play an instrument well.

I didn’t discover my passion for landscape photography until my mid-twenties, and I’ve wondered if there were indications early on of where my life would eventually lead. Interestingly, the signs came from music rather than photography. Music has always played an important role in my life, even though my knowledge of it is rudimentary and I don’t play an instrument. Throughout adolescence and my teen years it was my escape, my solace. I would spend hours each week lying on my bed listening, usually intently, to my favorite bands. It was also a shared bond between my best friend ( me that exists to this day. We were not casual listeners. We would (and still do) discuss the finer details of the songs, the nuances, their meaning, etc. We both wish we had a formal education in music so we could more fully appreciate the complexities.

What we listened to was not typical of boys our age. It took time to learn to appreciate the bands and musicians we came to love. The music was usually complex, sometimes overtly and other times in more subtle ways. And almost always rich in emotion and feeling. It was intelligent, creative, and original. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was an early indication of who I was becoming as a person, my sensibilities. It was a sign of the qualities I valued in life and would later seek to express in my own creative endeavors.

I’m certain I am not the first to notice a connection between creative mediums. Prior to dedicating his life to photography Ansel Adams was a very talented pianist. It has been said that his musical training deeply colored and influenced his photography. Parallels were drawn between the subtle tones in his prints and the phrasing of notes played on the piano. Paul Caponigro is another example, having enrolled at Boston university’s College of Music. While I am in no way equating my experience with theirs, I can say that my tastes in music and the qualities I look for are reflected in my own creative work. Even though music moves me in a way no photograph ever has, photography is the medium for which I am best suited to express and learn about myself.


Art For Whose Sake?

In a recent post on social media I admitted to at times feeling discomfort with the routine of posting images and the drawing of attention to myself. A couple of replies stated that I should look at it more as a showcase of nature rather than a showcase of Chris Murray. I understand what they’re saying and agree that for many photographers that is how they view their work, as a celebration of the beauty of nature and a vehicle for sharing it with others. I look at it in an entirely different way.

A question I sometimes pose to myself is, why do I do this? It’s a seemingly easy question to answer, which is why it’s surprising that I struggle with finding the words to express why. I do love nature, so that has something to do with it. I also love the act of creating something that hadn’t existed before, and wouldn’t were it not for my own unique (twisted?) mind. With the creative process comes a focus and mindfulness that is not present in my life otherwise. Ultimately, however, I view it as an act of personal expression, a way of communicating how I see the world. In the end I do it for me. First and foremost my images represent my thoughts and feelings, with nature serving as the inspiration. I am not interested in literally documenting the natural scene, there are countless other photographers doing that beautifully. Providing the same types of images would add nothing to the conversation. My hope is that my photos say as much if not more about me rather than what’s in front of the lens.

I am not a believer in art for art’s sake, I do think art can have a meaning or purpose. If my images can be used for conservation purposes (and some of them are) then all the better. Just as important to me is that they connect with the viewer and evoke the same emotions as they do in me. Even better is that my images serve to inspire others. My art exists to enrich not only my life, but hopefully the lives of those willing to appreciate it.



This fall I’ve made a few too many “pretty” images. Well executed, yet creatively lacking.

For the past few years I have been striving to make more creative and personally expressive images, those that say as much (and ideally more) about me, my thoughts and way of seeing than the subject or scene itself. While pulling together images recently for a presentation I was working on I noticed that the season in which I had the fewest creative photos was fall. I didn’t give it much thought at the time. Then, a colleague and fellow photographer mentioned that in some ways fall is the most difficult season for him to make more creative images. I knew exactly what he meant and was interested to find I was not alone. But, why is that? What is it about fall that makes us struggle with making creative photos?

Making creative images that go beyond a literal, objective recording of the scene requires looking deeper and seeing beyond the obvious. As Albert Szent-Gyorgyi is quoted as saying, “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” I think more than any season fall presents an overabundance of photographic opportunities, all of them so beautiful that it becomes very difficult to ignore. They’re almost like a siren song, they can’t be denied. The scenes are low-hanging fruit, there for the plucking. However, in falling prey to capturing the easy and obvious shot I forgo looking deeper and fail to make images of greater meaning and personal expression. I think it’s precisely for this reason that winter is the season from which I have created many of my most favorite and creative images. Winter is often stark and not particularly beautiful, finding interesting and creative images requires effort and time, there is little low-hanging fruit to distract and tempt me.

As with all temptation the answer, of course, is discipline. I must remind myself of the reasons why I make photos and what is important to me. Making images that are literal recreations of the scene as observed are what I hope to avoid. It sounds easy, but knowing that that beautiful scene would make an excellent calendar image or magazine cover it becomes much harder to pass up. Even simpler than that, those types of scenes almost beg to be captured as a memento of their beauty. Many would say (and have said to me) why not do both? Some do, I choose not to. But, that’s a discussion for another time. In the meantime I will strive to make the most honest images I can and not be tempted by the obvious. For me, creative images should not be made in the absence of obvious scenes, but rather in spite of them.


Has Everything Been Done Before?

“Most expressive discoveries are made in old familiar subject matter.” ~ A. Hyatt Mayor

I came upon this quote while reading Robert Adams’ Beauty in Photography. Adams goes on to say that “Photography is by nature on intimate terms with old familiar subject matter; all that remains now is for us to create new illusions in the service of truth”. It set me to thinking about originality in photography and the subject matter we choose. In a way these quotes reinforce the old mantra that “everything has been done before.” It doesn’t take someone with a keen eye to observe that most landscape and nature photographs we see today are from tried and true subjects, be it a place, an object, weather phenomena, you name it. Can you name the last landscape photo you saw with truly original subject matter? I know I can’t. I look at my own body of work and see little if any truly unique subjects. But, is that a problem? I think not.

I am in agreement with the belief that most landscape photographs fall into either one of two categories. There are those that are objective, meaning that the image is a literal recreation of the scene as observed by the photographer. Fidelity to actual appearances is the goal with these types of images and very little if any of the photographer’s personality has been projected into the image. Think of a grand landscape scene. Then there are subjective images, those that go beyond mere appearances and reflect the photographer’s thoughts, feelings, and personality. These are creative, personally expressive images in which the object in the photo is not the subject. Granted, rarely is it as black and white as I have described it here, for most objective landscapes have a subjective element to them and vice versa. Still, there are differences between the two, not only in appearance but also in approach and intent.

When it comes to landscape photography it is entirely possible that everything has been done before. But, what do we mean by “everything”? Do we mean all subject matter? Or could it mean all the ways of seeing, which is in reality infinite. It doesn’t take original subject matter to make an original, unique image. In a creative, personally expressive image the subject really only matters to the photographer, serving as a catalyst for inspiration and perhaps even a metaphor what what the photographer is trying to express. The real subject is the photographer’s response to the literal object or subject in the scene and what she/he is trying to say. The challenge for the landscape photographer is not to find new subject matter, but rather to discover new and original ways of expression.


The Confident Artist

“Photography is the easiest medium with which to be merely competent. Almost anybody can be competent. It’s the hardest medium in which to have some sort of personal vision and to have a signature style.” ~ Chuck Close

Critical in the growth of every artist is developing the confidence and courage to follow one’s own creative path. A confidence not only in our abilities, but also the manner in which we practice our art. We must find the courage to lead a creative life that is often contradictory to current popular trends and practices. Together, confidence and courage enable an artist to practice their work honestly and without regard for popularity or marketability. Without this confidence and courage we will not be able to create a unique body of work that is true to our convictions and the ways in which we see the world.

Insecurity in artists is a common affliction, even in those who have “made it”. Bouts of self-doubt are normal and it may not be possible to banish them completely. At its worst insecurity is that feeling of being a phony, an impostor. Compounding matters, we are in the age of social media where it is easier than ever to compare and rank ourselves among a seemingly infinite number of other photographers. Speaking as someone who has never suffered from an abundance of self-confidence, it has been a years-long journey to believe in myself enough to practice my work with conviction. A recent experience provided a litmus test of how far I have come.

This past autumn I was one of three leaders on a photo tour in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. The final evening found the group on the summit of a mountain to photograph the sunset, a unique opportunity since the toll road leading to the summit closes well before that time (we had been granted special permission). It is an iconic location that has been photographed countless times, including by one of the leaders of the tour, the most accomplished and well-known photographer in the region. Despite the beautiful sunset I declined to make any photos myself, content to watch the beauty unfold and be of service to the participants. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and relished the opportunity to simply watch the splendor unfold without feeling the need to photograph it.

Later over dinner the other leader asked if I had captured any good photos. When I told him I hadn’t even take my camera out of the bag he looked at me utterly bewildered. A rare opportunity squandered! I proceeded to list my reasons for such unusual behavior. I explained that I avoid iconic locations, figuring there is little of myself that I can add to a place that has seen thousands of other photographers. On this particular evening I shared the summit with 20+ other photographers; was I really going to make an image substantially different from the rest? His retort was that we all see something differently, a common belief that I find more true in theory than reality.

I am not inspired by such popular locales. I find the experience of making a meaningful photograph in an ordinary location far more fulfilling. More than that, however, I strongly prefer to photograph alone. I find the presence of even one other person incredibly distracting, let alone twenty people as was the case this evening. I do my best creative work when my attention is completely focused on the subject in front of me. But, it also has to do with the ways in which I prefer to interact with nature. Having other people around spoils the experience, and I am a firm believer that meaningful experiences count more than results. I have not become a landscape photographer to simply accumulate pretty photos, I love the experience of one-on-one communion with nature and the inspiration it provides. Despite my explanation the look of puzzlement never left his face and it was clear he was unable to understand my reasoning.

As recently as a couple years ago I would have been racked with self doubt had my methods and practices been questioned by a more accomplished and respected photographer. Not anymore. Instead, my question for him, one I did not ask, was how he could find something truly novel in a place with which he was so familiar and had photographed many times before? This is not to imply that his methods are wrong, simply that our approaches are very different. In a way, my confidence was buoyed by his lack of understanding. If everyone “gets” you then most likely you’re not being true to yourself.

So what had changed for me? In my former career I was a geologist. Growing up I was good in math and science and thought that was my path. I have no formal education in the arts and believed that I had no natural aptitude. As a photographer I am completely self-taught, which I believe is a big reason why I have struggled with confidence. Who am I to call myself an artist? I realize of course that a formal education is not a prerequisite for becoming an artist and that many iconic photographers were and are self-taught. Nonetheless, for me it created doubt and the feeling that I was not qualified. With time and practice I became technically competent enough to routinely produce quality images similar to what I was seeing in the landscape photography magazines of the day. Back then it was having my work accepted by magazine editors, calendar publishers, and stock agencies that began to build my confidence. Still, over time I gradually came to the disturbing realization that while my work was good enough it was not not exceptional. Worse, it was not unique. Any photographer of similar skill could have produced the same images. The majority of the photographs weren’t creative or personal. They weren’t me.

I admit to being somewhat old-fashioned in terms of my subject matter and the way I approach it. I have little interest in astrophotography or video. I will never own a drone. I prefer simpler photos that rely on creative expression rather than those that require almost herculean feats of technical wizardry. I favor subtlety and prefer quiet and intimate images over grand landscapes. I avoid iconic locations. I don’t view photography as a social endeavor and I strongly prefer to shoot alone. I am certain I am far from alone in my preferences, but still, I often feel alone in thinking this way.

A turning point in my development as a photographer was becoming a student of the medium. This is what built my confidence. I am ashamed to admit this, but for too long I trudged through photography with little or no sense of its rich history.  My work suffered for it. I was technically competent, yet creatively adrift. Once I began to learn about the work and philosophies of the photographers who paved the way it was like an awakening. Much has obviously changed over the years, but the core principles of photography as an art form have not. In particular, the work of contemporary artists such as Guy Tal and Chuck Kimmerle have had a tremendous impact on my confidence. It is as if they have given me permission to pursue my work on my own terms, however different they may be. I believe anyone familiar with Guy and Chuck would agree that they are a breath of fresh air in this environment that seemingly favors technical solutions and stunning landscapes to improving one’s photography over the refinement and development of expressive skills. The answer lies within.

I’ve quoted Chuck Close at the head of this article because there is no more succinct and accurate description of photography. Creating a body of work that is original and consistent in vision or voice (or whatever you call it) is the most difficult challenge facing any photographer. The only way to do that is to produce honest work, work that truly is a reflection of your own sensibilities and relationship with your subject. That ability to be completely honest is derived solely from inner confidence. Confidence begets honesty because we are free from outside influences and pressures. It used to frustrate me terribly to miss photographing a stunning sunrise, regarding it as a missed opportunity to make an image that would prove popular and marketable. I realize now that such images, as beautiful as they may be, are, for me, a dime a dozen and creatively bereft. I have been there and done that. I now have the confidence and courage to seek something greater, something more personal and infinitely more rewarding. I am seeking myself.

Droning on About Drones

I recently had my first encounter with a drone. I was traipsing across a snowy field looking for where to plant my tripod when I noticed a car pull up behind mine. Minutes later I heard a strange buzzing sound overhead; it didn’t take long to realize what it was. It was not a pleasant experience. Aside from the obvious intrusive noise was the fact that I couldn’t help but feel as if I was being watched, even though I knew the person was there to photograph the same scene and certainly had no interest in me. Regardless, the entire experience was disquieting. The presence of a drone buzzing overhead was a distraction I could not overcome.

My position on drones and photography has been evolving over the past year. Initial indignation has given way to a tempered acceptance. That they are intrusive due to their noise is an obvious and significant problem and one that I believe is beyond debate. It is clearly noise pollution. Noise notwithstanding, I can see the allure, and yet I know I will never own one.

A recent magazine article on drones and nature photography offered much food for thought. A photographer interviewed for the article stated that one of the reasons he purchased a drone was that it was the future and he feared he would be left behind had he not. Okay, fair enough, I understand his fear, even though I don’t agree with his supposition of being left behind. However, another reason was that he became “frustrated with the paucity of perspectives on the ground.” The quote floored me. Mind you, he always photographs in extremely beautiful places, how in the world could he feel limited? I can’t help but liken his view to that of the photographer who, having grown tired of easy and obvious compositions in a given place, goes somewhere else to find new and obvious compositions rather than explore more deeply and creatively where he already is. When the low-hanging fruit has been picked from one tree you go on to the next one. Drones, like any new gadget or technology, can be the easy yet ultimately misguided answer to the question of how to advance one’s photography.

It would be easy and unfair to dismiss drones based on the perspective of one photographer. My decision to never own a drone is based more on the types of images that inspire me than the noise factor, though that alone is damning enough. Ultimately it comes down to the art produced. That beautiful photographs can be made with drones is without question. But can images be made with drones that go beyond pretty and are subjective, creative expressions of the photographer rather than objective representations of a place? Is there more to drone photography than the cool factor? This is the question with which I struggle. Ansel Adams once stated that means and methods often hold an unbalanced dominance over creativity. Could drones be an example of the means and methods of which he spoke?