Outdoor Photography Guide is pleased to welcome a new photographer to our team of talented contributors: Kurt Budliger. A passionate conservationist and former science teacher, Kurt now leads workshops through Green Mountain Photographic Workshops in his home state of Vermont as well as throughout the US. Read on to learn more about Kurt and his approach to photography.
Outdoor Photography Guide: How did you get started in photography? Specifically how did you make the leap into doing it for a living?
Kurt Budliger: Like a lot of people, photography was a gift from a relative, specifically my dad. When I graduated from college my parents gave me a 35mm camera system as a gift. I spent a lot of time outdoors hiking, backpacking, canoeing, biking, etc. and they thought it would be great for me to document my adventures.
After college I spent a summer working as a naturalist guide in a backcountry lodge near Denali National Park. I dragged the camera and a sack of film up to Alaska with me. I shot everything that summer from wildflowers to mountains to wildlife. I was hooked! The problem was that when I got back to the lower 48 and got my film developed it was all crap – I mean totally awful. At that point I was on a mission to get better.
For the next couple of years I shot as much as time would allow. I became a middle school science teacher and moved to Vermont after completing a master’s degree in education. I knew pretty quickly that my tenure as a school teacher would be short lived and that at some point I would give the professional photographer dream a go. About 11 years ago I left teaching to pursue a career in photography.
OPG: Do you have any formal training in photography?
KB: I have no formal training in photography beyond a workshop I took early in my development, way back in the days of film. In fact, I began my career while film was still the medium of choice as digital cameras were in their infancy. I made the transition to digital photography while at the same time trying to build a career.
OPG: You’ve traveled to some amazing places – do you have a favorite location?
KB: Well, like most of the photographers I know the list of destinations I’d like to visit seems to grow faster than my ability to cross them off the list. I’ve been fortunate to travel to the Patagonia region of South America twice and find the landscape and light there absolutely amazing. I’ve also really enjoyed my time exploring and shooting in Iceland. Of course the Rocky Mountains and Desert Southwest here in the US are also favorites.But honestly, as much as I like to visit new and exotic locales, I really love shooting my home turf of Vermont and New England. There is something special about getting to know a place over a long period of time; an intimacy develops that comes through in the photographs. Except during autumn, my home state of Vermont isn’t known as a photographic hotspot, so most of the year I have the place to myself.
OPG: What subjects do you enjoy shooting most?
KB: If I had to choose just one subject to photograph for the rest of my life it would be a toss up between forests and streams or coastal environments. I love the intimate landscape because it requires us to hone our vision and really spend time “seeing” the landscape. I also love shooting big, wide-angle landscapes and in my opinion there’s no better location for that than on the coast. Coastal environments are so dynamic, constantly changing moods with the weather and tides. The same location can yield so many different photographs throughout the year.
OPG: What’s in your camera bag?
KB: I’ve been a Canon shooter for a long time (most recently 5D III). However, I’ve added the Sony A7RII to the kit, specifically for my landscape work. I have an adaptor (Metabones IV) that allows me to use all my Canon lenses on the Sony body. The main reason I purchased the Sony was because of the extended dynamic range it’s able to capture, easily 2-3 stops more than my 5D III. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a 42mp sensor. As for lenses I use L series zooms from 16mm up to 400mm.
OPG: What’s your favorite lens and why?
KB: Right now I’d have to say my Canon EF 16-35mm f4 L for wide-angle landscapes. It’s nice and sharp, very light and easy to combine with filters. Although, by the time this post is published I will have likely added the new Canon EF 11-24mm f4 L to the kit. The perspective and possibilities afforded at 11mm are truly mind-boggling.
OPG: How important is post-processing to your photography?
KB: Post processing is very important in my digital photography. In one sense I’m very much a purist, preferring to get the image as right in camera as possible. But having said that, raw files always fall flat and need a little TLC in camera raw and/or Photoshop to look their best. And of course when shooting really high dynamic range scenes it’s often impossible to get the full range of tones from highlights to shadows in one frame. This requires the photographer to bracket several exposures, which will be blended in Photoshop during post production.
I will say that I’m not a fan of adding elements like skies and foregrounds from different locations or days, or warping elements like mountains in order to create a more pleasing or “epic” version of the scene. While the result may be pretty, in my mind these types of images are more in the category of digital art than photography.
OPG: What is it about photography that drew you to it as a creative medium?
KB: I’ve always been sort of a combo right brain, left brain kind of guy. When I was a kid in school my favorite classes were math and science as well as anything in the visual arts. Photography is the perfect blend of both worlds. I really like gizmos and gadgets and cameras are just so cool. I like how they feel in my hand and I like the buttons and sounds they make. I also love the creative aspect of using a camera to compose and capture an image that translates my vision and experience of a place. For me, it’s the perfect tool for expressing my experiences in this amazing world.
OPG: What is the goal of your work? What do you aim to convey with your images?
KB: My background and education are firmly grounded in the principles of conservation and preservation of natural resources. I studied natural resources as an undergrad and spent the better part of 10 years working as an environmental educator before becoming a science teacher. I receive no greater satisfaction than when my images are used by non-profit organizations or groups doing the hard work of preserving or rehabilitating ecosystems and wildlife.
The act of traveling and photographing the world is very much a consumptive pursuit. I think it’s important to give back to the environment, which is why I joined 1% for the Planet back in 2015 when I started my business. 1% for the Planet is a growing collective of likeminded businesses that all pledge 1% of their gross profits to conservation groups working for the environment.
OPG: If you could describe your photographic style in one sentence, what would that be?
KB: Dynamic, clean, and compelling. At least that’s my goal for every image.
OPG: What motivates you to teach others about photography?
KB: I’ve always been an educator of some kind. I really enjoy meeting and working with other likeminded folks who are interested in photography. For the most part photographers are really cool people. I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from helping people grow and improve as photographers. It’s just a lot of fun!
OPG: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in photography, or just starting to develop their eye?
KB: Get outside and shoot as much as you can. There’s only so much you can learn online. There’s no substitute for time on task, actually out taking photographs. Don’t be afraid to fail, we all have to take a lot of really bad photographs along the path to making great ones. Find a photo buddy or mentor that you can shoot with, join a camera club or meet up group, and/or take a workshop. Also, don’t blow all your money on gear. Start out with some used equipment, get the basics, and save the rest of your cash to spend on traveling to cool places you’re inspired to explore and photograph.
You can see more of Kurt’s photography here: Kurt Budliger Photography
To view Kurt’s photo workshop offerings, check out this link: Green Mountain Photographic Workshops
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