Kory Lidstrom of Fine Image Photography is a professional nature photographer with a passion for capturing grand scenic landscapes, particularly in his favorite shooting location – Hawaii. Kory travels the world pursuing his art and teaches others the art of photography through his annual workshops. We’re pleased to welcome him as a new contributor to Outdoor Photography Guide.
Outdoor Photography Guide: How did you get started in photography? Specifically how did you make the leap into doing it for a living?
Kory Lidstrom: I just picked up my mom’s 35mm point-and-shoot when I was a teenager and just started shooting. For a long time in the 90s, I just used disposable film cameras, mainly focusing on composition. In 2001, I bought my first digital camera and really got into it. A few years later I decided to make it a business. There wasn’t much to it. I just created a website and started networking and refining my work.
OPG: Do you have any formal training in photography?
KL: Nope. While I’m sure formal training can be useful, I don’t think it’s necessary. I personally know some of the best nature photographers in the world, and not one of them had any formal training. I started by scouring the internet and learning everything I could about all aspects of the craft. I did that for several hours a night for a couple years. Simultaneously, I just got my butt out in the field and applied everything I’d read. I also learned a lot by simply visiting lots of different photography forums and viewing other photographers’ work.
The single most important thing that furthered my photography skills was having a mentor. In 2008, I struck up a friendship via an online photography forum with a very accomplished nature photographer and began going on trips with him all across the western US over the course of several years. He was very gracious and helped me become a much better photographer. I learned more from working with him in the field in a week than I would’ve learned in six months in a classroom.
OPG: You’ve traveled to some amazing places – do you have a favorite location?
KL: The Big Island of Hawaii, hands down. It’s the most diverse piece of land on Earth, with all types of terrain, ranging from snowcapped mountains to rainforests, to molten lava to sandy beaches. Plus, it’s Hawaii! It’s just an awesome place to visit, photography notwithstanding.
OPG: What subjects do you enjoy shooting most?
KL: Grand scenic landscapes. You know: big, dynamic, wide-angled scenes with close foregrounds leading to big skies. I really like a sense of place and depth in my images, and nothing captures that quite like a grand, sweeping landscape image.
OPG: What’s in your camera bag?
KL: I try to keep it simple and use a minimum of lenses to conserve weight in my pack. For example, I’d rather sacrifice a wee bit of image quality and use a 2x extender with my 200mm lens rather than carry a big, bulky 400mm lens. I currently have: Canon 5D Mark IV camera, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens, Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens, Canon 1.4x extender, Canon 2x extender, Gitzo carbon fiber tripod, various ND and GND filters, polarizers, and a remote release cable.
OPG: What’s your favorite lens and why?
KL: I don’t have a favorite – they all perform admirably when called upon. I do use some lenses more than others, though. In that case, I’d say my 16-35mm gets the most use because it gives me that extra wide focal length for capturing grand scenic landscapes.
OPG: How important is post-processing to your photography?
KL: Honestly, it’s far more important than I wish it was. It used to be that you could do basic editing in post-processing and your work was considered exceptional as long as you had a great composition with great light and strong subject matter. But nowadays, especially in landscape photography, what you do behind the computer is just as important as what you do in the field. And frankly, I hate it. I much prefer being in the field and actually shooting to sitting in my office post-processing images. But, if you want to stay on top and keep up with your peers, you pretty much NEED to become an adept post-processor. It’s just the way the industry has gone and the public pretty much expects it now.
The tools available in today’s digital darkroom are incredibly powerful and blow away what you could do even ten short years ago. In 20 minutes using Photoshop you can do things that Ansel Adams could only have dreamed of. Just look at the work of some of today’s top landscape photographers – Marc Adamus, Ryan Dyar, Ted Gore, Alex Noriega, etc. Their work is incredibly beautiful, but it is also heavily manipulated in post-processing. Many of my images are no different. That’s how you get “the look” of that glowy, ethereal light that’s so popular now.
OPG: What is it about photography that drew you to it as a creative medium?
KL: I’ve been a nature and travel lover ever since I can remember. Nature photography was a natural fit for me, because it allows me to combine the two and make some money doing it. Plus, I’ve met some great like-minded friends along the way. Can’t complain about that.
OPG: What is the goal of your work? What do you aim to convey with your images?
KL: It’s pretty simple: I want to elicit an emotional response with my images. When someone looks at one of my images and their eyes go wide and they say “wow” or something similar, I know I’ve done my job. Same goes for myself: If I’m not wowed by it, it doesn’t make the cut.
OPG: Why nature photography?
KL: Because that’s where my passion lies. I’ve been passionate about nature since the day I was born, and that passion drives my photography. If you’re not shooting something that you’re passionate about, it will show in your work.
OPG: What motivates you to teach others about photography?
KL: Well, I just love teaching in general. Anytime I can help someone learn something, it makes me feel good and gives me purpose. So, teaching others about photography is just an extension of that.
OPG: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in photography, or just starting to develop their eye?
KL: DON’T WORRY ABOUT GEAR. This is by far the number one problem I see with beginners. They’re constantly obsessing over and worrying about their equipment. They think they “need” a certain lens or other piece of gear to get started or to “do it right”. “Once I finally have ‘X’ then I’ll finally be able to shoot.” Nonsense! Just get out there and start shooting with whatever equipment you have.
Also, find pro photographers who shoot the types of images you like and study their work. You can learn a great deal from what your predecessors have done.
OPG: Where are you planning to go next?
KL: The Big Island of Hawaii, of course! The lava is flowing into the sea again for the first time in nearly four years, and I can’t wait to get back out there. I’m conducting a workshop there in February and am beyond excited to be able to show my workshop participants such a rare phenomenon.
To see more of Kory’s work and view his upcoming workshop schedule, visit his website at www.FineImagePhotography.com.
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