There are so many incredible images on 500px but we want to know more about the photographers, and stories, behind them. Our Portrait series interviews a talented photographer each week, allowing us to discover more about living life through a lens. This week's interview is with landscape photographer and visual storyteller Miles Morgan.
When and how did you fall in love with photography?
My father, Hank Morgan, is a successful photojournalist, so I’ve always been around cameras. I took a few classes in high school, but quickly forgot the difference between aperture and shutter speed until 2009 when I was looking for a hobby. My neighbor and I decided to try shooting, so I bought a couple of flashes and an umbrella. I set up, had him walk into the frame, and waited for him to do something. He blinked, looked at me, and waited for me to tell him to do something. Getting nervous, I went to check my gear and accidentally flashed a strobe in my face. This ended my portrait career. I decided to try landscapes and signed up for a local workshop in the Pacific Northwest. 15 minutes in, I was hooked.
Have you had any formal training?
I took a couple of workshops when I started shooting landscapes in 2009, and this helped me greatly with the basics of how the camera works and compositional rules. From there, I’ve looked at a lot of images, read a lot of information, and asked a lot of questions.
How would you describe your photography style?
As I continue to evolve in photography, I seem to be gravitating more towards a painterly style of processing. I love shooting directly into the light and bringing a light, airy sense of luminosity into my images. I started out with wildly saturated colors, and I find I’ve been muting them more lately; although many people would still consider them to be “boosted”.
You’re actually a pilot. Can you see yourself leaving planes to pursue a career in photography?
Thankfully, for the safety of the skies across America, I’m a much better pilot than I am photographer. Although I enjoy photography immensely, it is way too competitive of a field for me to consider becoming a full time professional. Quite frankly, I’m not nearly talented enough.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Luckily for us you still want to tell us the story behind the shot. Could you share a shot, any shot, and the story behind it please?
As a matter of fact, I recently uploaded a story here on 500px which pretty much sums up my shooting issues...
I really, REALLY wanted a dunes image from Death Valley. Especially after my travel buddy Steve ran over the tarantula that I was going to use as my foreground composition. Ok... in fairness I took us on a road that was so bad, 3 off-road motorcycles in front of us turned around. Well thanks to my navigational failures, we missed The Racetrack, so I guess we are even. I just knew that without getting a sunrise shot of a dune, I would go away from Death Valley empty handed.
So we selected our respective dunes and waited for sunrise. When dawn broke, it became obvious that this was going to be a special morning in the desert. An EPIC sunrise unfolded; pinks, oranges, reds, and purples were just ripping across the sky. I settled into my shot... and realized I was facing completely the wrong way. I scurried forward about 50 yards to find a composition where the lines went into the sun, and quickly realized that it was worse, so I went back to my camera. It then dawned on me that I had just stomped footprints through my composition. Sigh. So I began to run. Up dunes, down dunes, through dunes, trying desperately to find a good comp that faced the exploding sky and was devoid of foot prints. Steve Turner was perched high atop some dune, completely unmoving. I knew I was in trouble. Finally as the sun was rising, I just turned and started shooting a worthless series of shots that I knew I would trash.
Absolutely devastated and exhausted, with lenses, bags, and my water bottle all in varies sections of Death Valley, I retreated in defeat. Then I happened to turn around and saw this. I grabbed my camera and scrambled up a ridge... realized I had the wrong lens and scrambled down the ridge. Got my 24-70 and scrambled back up the ridge. Gasped for breath and fired off a few frames. I don't know who this guy was, but I appreciate him climbing that dune for me.
As for Steve, I thoroughly ruined every single image he shot, which made me quite pleased. Of the 100+ images he captured, I was in a different spot in the frame for every single one of them. You're welcome.
What camera/s do you shoot with?
Since I recently sank my Canon 5D Mark II in a Norwegian fjord, I have procured a hideously overpriced Canon 5D Mark III.
And your favourite lenses?
Without a doubt, my Canon 16-35L II. It’s wonderful for being able to open up to f2.8 for star/night images, but most importantly, it generates the best sunstar in the business. The Nikon 14-24 is quite a bit sharper, and I’ve thought about getting one with the Canon converter, but losing the sunstar and not being able to easily use filters is discouraging.
How about other equipment: lighting, tripod, filters etc.?
I have already summed up for you how my lighting experiment went, so it’s not worth mentioning the few bits of gear I have there. I use the standard landscape kit of a Gitzo tripod, polarizer, and a couple of different ND filters. I don’t use grads at all, as I like the results of blending exposures much better.
How important is post-processing to the final piece?
Equally important as the actual shooting to me is rendering my final images in post processing. Personally, I really love the digital darkroom because I have no artistic talent whatsoever. Photoshop allows me to create things, so keeping the scene faithful to reality takes second place to that.
Your work focuses on landscapes. Any desire to change direction?
Not at all. It’s been a HUGE blessing to be able to go out and see so many amazing locations over the past couple of years. I’ve seen more in 3 years than I did in the previous 20.
What advice would you give to amateur photographers wanting to capture landscapes?
It certainly helps one’s photography to be obsessive compulsive. For the last few years, landscapes have been a huge focus and priority in my life, and I have spent an alarming amount of time working on, studying, and thinking about photography.
Every day I look through the works of photographers I admire, culling those images that I like most and trying to figure out why. Tinkering with Photoshop has allowed me to improve my post-processing skills, which is something I enjoy. Like any skill, practice is vital. There is no substitute for actually getting out and shooting. Finally, I am ruthless when critiquing my own work. This keeps me constantly striving to improve.
How do you get your work out there?
It’s going to sound like you paid me to say this, but the only place I post my images (besides my website) is 500px. I’m not sure exactly how I’ve gotten so much exposure there, but I’m certainly grateful.
Who or what inspires your work?
One of the great fortunes of my life has been getting the opportunity to meet and become friends with some of my photographic idols. My good friend Ryan Dyar has mentored me since the fledgling stages, and I owe any minor success I have had to his tutoring. I consider him to be one of the finest landscape photographers in the world. I also take great inspiration from my friend Steve Turner, who manages to make incredible landscape images despite being mostly colorblind; which makes a great subject for constant ridicule. More importantly, he is the nicest person I’ve ever met.
Bruce Omori continues to amaze me. After shooting an active volcano with him, I marvel at his ability to create masterpieces under some of the most stressful, difficult shooting conditions in the world. There are many incredible landscape photographers working in the world today, but a few stand out in my mind, and I study their images relentlessly: Marc Adamus, Ian Plant, Chip Phillips, Antony Spencer, David Clapp, etc. The list gets quite long.
What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
My father told me recently that my landscape images are getting really, really good. It was far more satisfying than any publication or contest win that I’ve experienced.
Out of all the photographs you have ever taken, which is your favourite and why?
Apocalypse Now. The memories of that morning exemplify everything I love about photography. It was an incredibly exciting morning in an unbelievable place with some of the best friends a guy could ask for.
If you could capture anybody or anything on camera what would it be?
I’m really, really keen to go back to Hawaii and capture a truly epic image of the lava flowing into the ocean. If I’m being really picky, I’d probably love to capture a pink unicorn flying through the scene just to make sure that nobody can top it :)
What’s next for you in the world of photography? Any planned projects, or iconic landmarks you want to capture?
There are still plenty of areas that I want to explore and subjects that I want to shoot, so hopefully I will be knocking a few of those off the bucket list in coming years. Shooting the landscapes of Iceland is probably at the top right now. Family commitments will undoubtedly slow me down before too long, so I’m hoping to get enough of a portfolio built to have images to play with during those times that I cannot fully commit myself to photography. I enjoy writing, and have a long term goal of producing a book on photography with a few twists to differentiate it from the large body of excellent work that has already been produced. I also enjoy teaching, so if I ever feel I’ve learned enough to be qualified to pass some knowledge along, I might pursue a branch of that path. I have a long way to go, but I’m certainly enjoying the walk.
Just so we can find out a bit more about the person behind the lens, could you tell us 5 things about you that are completely unrelated to photography?
What are your aspirations for the future, in photography or otherwise?
The trajectory of my life feels really solid, so my biggest hope is to just continue on the path I’m on. I’ve got a great family, wonderful friends, a relatively stable job, and a wonderful hobby, so it would feel greedy to wish for too much more.
Thanks to Miles for being interviewed and to you for reading! Feel free to leave a comment below, feedback is awesome.