Interview with Fine Art Photographer, Chris Kayler

exposure-guide-interview

As an emotionally driven photographer, do you find it difficult to create when confronted by emotionally arid episodes in your life?

Much like emotions themselves, it’s a complex topic. Both emotional droughts and emotional floods come with their own advantages and disadvantages. During the most difficult and trying times of my life, I’ve had to dig deeply to find motivation to get out into nature. When I do, however, I often create some of my best images. During these moments I am able to immerse myself in the experience more than at any other time. It’s my way of escaping the rest of world. I give it everything I’ve got. I feel the deepest connections, and I believe that the art I create shows that. During emotionally arid times, the motivation comes much more easily. I yearn to be out in nature. I yearn to feel something deeper. Different images come out of times like these. Images of simplicity and beauty. In the end, nature inspires me no matter what is going on in my life. In that way, I suppose there is never a time that would be so arid as to block my creativity.

"Dragon Fire" - Backlit mist on the Potomac River during Sunrise, Great Falls National Park, Virginia.
“Dragon Fire” – Backlit mist on the Potomac River during Sunrise,
Great Falls National Park, Virginia.
"Island in the Sky" - Sunset after an afternoon thunderstorm in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
“Island in the Sky” – Sunset after an afternoon thunderstorm
in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
"Canyon Glow" - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado.
“Canyon Glow” – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado.

Your work has a drama to them that looks as if you created natural scenery yourself, almost like a painting or a sculpted piece. How do you achieve that effect so consistently?

Well, thank you! To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. The generic answer is that my images look the way they do because of my own unique vision and personal style. It’s so hard for me to say what exactly contributes to that vision and style. Certainly I have compositional preferences. Much like a painting that has had everything placed within the composition purposefully, I pay careful attention to the placement of every line and shape within my photographic frame. I also like to leave plenty of breathing room near the edges of the photograph for important elements. My post processing may have something to do with it as well. I approach the digital darkroom with a light hand. Like brush strokes on a canvas, I sculpt and transform colors and contrast with many layers. I change very little per pass, but go over the image many times until things are just right without taking it too far. Ultimately, my vision and style consists of much more than can be put into words. It is the culmination of all of my previous successes and failures in photography. It is the culmination of my entire life experiences. It is my love of nature and the way I view the world.

"Cotton Candy" - A beautiful pink sunset, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia.
“Cotton Candy” – A beautiful pink sunset, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia.
"Summer at the Beach" - Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware.
“Summer at the Beach” – Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware.
"Pipeline by Moonlight" - Pipeline by Moonlight, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii.
“Pipeline by Moonlight” – Pipeline by Moonlight, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii.

Who are the other artists/photographers you look to for inspiration?

My best friend and fellow photographer, Alex Mody, is my biggest inspiration. We met many years ago as much younger artists who were still growing and developing. We formed a strong connection right away and have traveled to many amazing locations such as the Colorado Rockies for a month, the deserts of Utah and Arizona, and the forests of the Northeast to photograph fall color. He is a hard worker, a great businessman, and an incredibly talented photographer. I feel lucky to have been able to grow together as artists.

"Fawn Kisses" - Two White-tailed Deer fawns sniffing each other, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
“Fawn Kisses” – Two White-tailed Deer fawns sniffing each other,
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
"Potomac Guardsman" - A Great Blue Heron standing on a rock next to a large waterfall, Great Falls National Park, Virginia.
“Potomac Guardsman” – A Great Blue Heron standing on a rock next to a large waterfall, Great Falls National Park, Virginia.
"Among the Flowers" - A large Mule Deer buck walking among colorful summer flowers, Colorado.
“Among the Flowers” – A large Mule Deer buck walking among colorful summer flowers, Colorado.

Do you find the technology available today more than adequate for your creative expression, or do you find yourself wanting more from what the equipment can deliver?

I think that the technology available today is completely adequate for expressing my creative vision. Never once have I felt that my creativity has been limited by my gear. I think that we photographers can get a bit obsessed with gear. With proper technique, my relatively antiquated gear can create stunningly detailed prints. Do I plan on upgrading my gear eventually to create slightly more detailed and cleaner prints? Sure, but I’m not in a rush. Art can be created with very modest gear, especially with the quality of today’s cameras and lenses.

"Silence in Chaos" - A Great Blue Heron standing among whitewater rapids, Great Falls National Park, Virginia.
“Silence in Chaos” – A Great Blue Heron standing among whitewater rapids,
Great Falls National Park, Virginia.
"Cedar Waxwing on Mossy Branch" - A Cedar Waxwing perched on a mossy branch, Upstate New York.
“Cedar Waxwing on Mossy Branch” –
A Cedar Waxwing perched on a mossy branch, Upstate New York.
"Gnatcatcher in Redbud" - A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher perched in an Eastern Redbud tree, Virginia.
“Gnatcatcher in Redbud” –
A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher perched in an Eastern Redbud tree, Virginia.

Besides nature and landscape photography, can you see yourself tackling urban jungles?

I do enjoy studying architecture as somewhat of a side hobby, so I’d never say never. With that said, my love of photography stems from a love of nature. Without nature, I would feel that something is missing. Yeah, I guess I’ve got a bit of a one track mind!

"Vision Quest" - A submerged yellow maple leaf under water with autumn reflections. Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia.
“Vision Quest” – A submerged yellow maple leaf under water with autumn reflections. Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia.

Can you give a brief bucket list of destinations you would love to photograph?

I want to get away to some areas that are less photographed. I would love to explore the deserts of Mexico, despite barely knowing any Spanish and fearing that travel might be a bit dangerous. I would absolutely love to spend a long, long time exploring Russia. From Siberia to the mountains to the ocean coast. It seems to have so much to offer. I would also enjoy visiting the Middle East and exploring the dunes, deserts, and canyons located there.

"Great Falls Sunrise" - An intense sunrise over the Potomac River, Great Falls National Park, Virginia.
“Great Falls Sunrise” – An intense sunrise over the Potomac River,
Great Falls National Park, Virginia.
"The Grotto" - Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pennsylvania.
“The Grotto” – Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pennsylvania.
"Out of the Mist" - The Potomac River in fog, Great Falls National Park, Virginia.
“Out of the Mist” – The Potomac River in fog, Great Falls National Park, Virginia.

Have you ever placed yourself in harm’s way just to get the ‘perfect” shot?

I don’t get any sort of high from placing myself in harms way, but I’ve done some dangerous things in pursuit of the “perfect” shot. Walking out onto a frozen lake, climbing through a slippery gorge, navigating down a steep 1,000 foot tall sandstone slope, getting lost at 3 a.m. in a cypress swamp. These are all things that most sane people would consider potentially harmful, and I agree. It’s all part of the job!

"The Vortex" - Sandstone swirls in Zebra Slot Canyon, Utah.
“The Vortex” – Sandstone swirls in Zebra Slot Canyon, Utah.
"Hard Candy" - Colorful desert varnish on a large canyon wall, Utah.
“Hard Candy” – Colorful desert varnish on a large canyon wall, Utah.
"Sands of Time" - Ripples in dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.
“Sands of Time” – Ripples in dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

Any plans to tackle night time nature photography?

I have to say something. I hate all of the gimmicky images of the Milky Way over (insert random icon location here). Something really bugs me about taking a photograph of a foreground, two hours later tilting your camera up to capture the Milky Way, blending them together, and calling it a photograph. I’m kind of old school like that. I’m fine with people creating composite images, but I do think they should be labelled that way. A lot of the power of photography as an art form lies in its ability to show the viewer something that actually occurred. Okay, rant over. I can see myself exploring night time photography a bit more, but I want to keep the images realistic. If I can find a way to do that and make them interesting and beautiful, I’ll head in that direction. For now, I’m taking my time.

What’s in your camera bag?

I use a Canon 7D, Canon 10-22, Canon 70-200 f/4, Canon 400 f/5.6, polarizing filters of various sizes, a 6-stop neutral density filter, a Canon 500D close-up filter, a 580EX flash, cotton balls to wipe down my lenses in the rain, extra batteries, extra memory cards, and a cable release. This modest set of gear does everything I ask of it, though I do plan on upgrading to the newly announced Canon 5DsR and 16-35 f/4 IS lens at some point.

Where do you see your work evolving 5 years from now?

Lately I’ve been utilizing a somewhat slow-paced and contemplative approach to my photography. I often walk around for hours in a location that I think has potential. Sometimes I listen to my favorite music while doing this. Sometimes I just listen to the sounds of nature. I wait for an idea to strike, and when it does, I dutifully get out my camera and make the most of it. In the past, I was much more finicky about what I would photograph. I wanted everything to be perfectly arranged. I wanted the images to come easily. Looking back, I don’t think this is the way to go about creating art. The art is in the process. By working hard, staying patient, and keeping my mind open I think my images have started to show a greater depth and connection to the subject. I look forward to seeing how this approach will evolve and change my images over the coming years.

Chris Kayler photographing deep within a slot canyon in Utah.
Chris Kayler photographing deep within a slot canyon in Utah.

Biography

As a young boy growing up in rural Upstate New York, I turned to the seemingly endless expanse of forest behind my home to occupy my time. Walking through thick old growth hemlock forests with the strong scent of pine permeating the air, I began to form a strong sense of appreciation and amazement for all things natural. Wanting to share the beauty, awe, and emotion that I felt while surrounded by nature, I turned to photography in the summer of 2004. Photography allows me to create works of art that simultaneously display the beautiful reality of nature while also allowing me to showcase my own vision and personal style.

Chris Kayler photographing atop 14,000 ft. tall Mt. Evans during a chilly summer's evening, Colorado.
Chris Kayler photographing atop 14,000 ft. tall Mt. Evans during a chilly summer’s evening, Colorado.

Now living on the outskirts of our nation’s capital, I continue to escape the emotional drain of the city by spending time within local natural areas as well as traveling across the country. One of my goals as an artist is to instill a sense of awe and appreciation for nature within those who view my work. Within our culture today, we live our lives too far removed from real natural experiences and have lost our appreciation and connection with the natural world. Nature itself has become an alien concept. I take pride in knowing that my work helps to begin changing that. If my art has inspired even a small bit of natural appreciation where it may not have existed before, then I feel that I have succeeded.

Chris Kayler photographing in the Rocky Mountains near Aspen, Colorado.
Chris Kayler photographing in the Rocky Mountains near Aspen, Colorado.

Additional Information

Website: www.chriskayler.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/chriskaylerphotography

500px: www.500px.com/chriskayler

 

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Attila Kun

Attila Kun

Attila is the founder and editor-in-chief of Exposure Guide. He is an avid photographer, graphic designer, bedroom DJ and devoted Mac addict. Attila got his first DSLR camera, a Canon 10D, back in 2003 and he has been hooked on photography ever since.