A Penny's Worth

Nature Landscape & Travel Photographer, Alan Majchrowicz

Alan Majchrowicz (muh-CROW-vitch) is a professional photographer specializing in nature landscape and travel photography whose travels have taken him throughout North America, Scandanavia and Europe.

» Quotes by Alan Majchrowicz» Straw poll votes by Alan Majchrowicz

As a type of visual sleuth, a photographer's job is less about operating a camera and more about seeing what others miss. What makes a good photographer?
Someone who lives and breathes to photograph, will know and respect their subject matter to the point where it becomes a part of them, and can present it in new and compelling form.

Creative careers tend to trade financial stability for creative freedom. How did fate conspire in such a way that you became a professional photographer?
Photography and art in general have always been an integral part of me since first being inspired by an art class in high school. At the same time my older brother was studying photography, when he let me watch him print photos in the darkroom I became entranced by watching the blank paper develop into an image. It was at that point I became hooked on photography.

Back then I had no idea how difficult it is to earn a living through photography but as time went on I knew nothing could substitute for the joy and satisfaction earning a living creating images.
The idea of being paid to travel the world photographing breathtaking scenery sounds to many like a dream job. How much truth is there to this romanticized impression of a travel photographer's life?
It definitely is true that traveling to beautiful locations and getting paid to photograph them is a dream job, but most people don't understand that the actual traveling and photographing is only about 10-20% of the job. The rest entails many hours of solitude in the office or studio editing, marketing, advertising, delivering images to clients, networking via social media, archiving and organizing images, and a myriad of other mundane tasks.

Another part of the job most people don't think of is that it's not all fun and games when on location. I never get to sleep in motels or eat meals at regular hours. I constantly deal with foul weather and am frustrated with poor lighting, plagues of insects, and subzero temperatures and wind to name a few. Many of my images demand that I backpack or ski many miles to a remote location and be ready to go to work after arriving, or sit and wait hours or days for the right lighting conditions.

Winter photography yields some of the most beautiful images but is the most difficult and physically demanding time of the year. Of course working exclusively in the field puts lots of wear and tear on equipment and every year has a laundry list of gear that needs to be repaired or replaced.

A traveling salesman's itinerary is determined by his customers and a beggar his patrons. How does a travel landscape photographer decide where to travel and what to photograph?
I look for locations that excite my imagination and speak to me. I'm always looking for out of the way locations that provide unique images rarely photographed before. However being a successful professional photographer also means working in locations that have been photographed many times over, such as classic views in popular National Parks.

So while photographing in, say, Arches National Park I'll seek out little known spots but I also make sure to come back with great new images of the most popular viewpoints such as Delicate Arch. For better or worse many of these cliched subjects always sell.

In the original and truest sense of the idiom, the world really is the travel photographer's oyster. Which part of the world is your favorite to photograph and where do you hope to travel in the future?
Generally I am drawn to rugged mountain wilderness and coasts in colder latitudes. The Pacific Northwest including British Columbia has to be my favorite. There is such a range of subject matter available here, from rugged glacier-clad peaks to semi-arid deserts, rain forests, and wild coasts.

Having photographed in both Iceland and Scotland proved to be very exciting and I'm working on expanding my portfolios from these countries. The fabulous colors and light of the Colorado Plateau in Southern Utah and northern Arizona are also close to any photographers heart.

The locations that I've always dreamed of photographing and hope to do so some day are the Canadian Arctic of Baffin Island, Greenland, Antarctica, Patagonia, and South Georgia Islands.

With money, time, distance and weather as uncooperative accomplices, to what extent is a landscape photographer simply a slave to lady luck?
Sometimes it seems like everything involved in this business comes down to luck, whether in the field waiting for light or in the office looking for that dream client. I go to great lengths in preparation for a trip to minimize the luck factor ensuring that I'm at the right place at the right time.

I've accumulated years of watching weather patterns in various locations and I take notes for future reference on when wildflowers bloom or fall colors peak. About half of the time even with the best of planning I'll miss an outstanding display of lighting by minutes or mere seconds, sometimes I'll return many times over the years to a prime spot and never get the light I'm after.

An example of the flip side of this was last spring in the painted hills of Oregon. The weather forecast was for mostly rain with possible snow and I wasn't really expecting to get many images on the visit. However I dutifully scouted the best location for evening light and hoped for the best and was rewarded at the last minute by an unexpected break in the clouds and came away with some of the best images of the trip.
Scenic photographs are escape hatches for those anchored to reality. As a metaphorical escape artist and travel agent to the daydreamer what kind of feedback have you received from the public?
People comment that my photos enable them to see in a new light places they may never be able to visit. I've also had viewers comment that seeing my photos in a calendar or poster has brightened an otherwise dull day at the office or home. It's a great feeling to know that in my own small way I can have a such a positive affect on people.

Once protected by high financial barriers to entry, the digital age has opened up and democratized the photographic field dramatically. Can you talk about the benefits and challenges presented by technology to professional photographers and to the field as a whole?
One of the greatest benefits of the digital age is the huge amount of creativity and precision which photographers never had with film. However the digital age has not really simplified or lowered the cost of photography as much as some may think. To make a living as a professional landscape or nature photographer it's not nearly good enough to just get a handful of pretty pictures with a point and shoot and post them online. While it's true that it's much easier to produce stunning images with inexpensive digital cameras, the aspiring photographer will ultimately need to upgrade to professional level equipment and accessories to create the ever increasing quality of images needed to succeed in such a competitive business.

Then there's the complex world of processing and archiving images in various software applications and the constant upgrading that needs to be done. All of this technology is constantly changing at a rapid pace and it can be very difficult to keep up with it. While photographers no longer need to spend thousands of dollars a year on film and processing, they do face a myriad of costs from software and computer upgrades to online storage and website development and maintenance, to name a few. Not only is all of this a financial burden but it also consumes vast amounts of time both in learning and application.

In the stock arena of photography the advent of royalty free and micro-stock means that a photographer needs to produce many times the quantities of images to earn the same income he did a few years ago.

The Golden Ratio has been called nature's invisible arbiter of beauty. Is there a set of criteria which makes a photograph objectively beautiful?
I don't think so, and I don't consciously look for compositions that fit criteria such the rule of thirds and such. Over the years I've seen many great photographs by famous photographers that break all the rules.
Is attempting to do nature's beauty justice with a photograph a little like a fool's errand, or simply a challenge to be risen to?
I think that it's a little of both. When you're photographing a stunning landscape and all the elements come together it's fairly reasonable to expect to be able to translate that beauty in some way. To me it's more of a challenge to photograph the subtleties in nature, those subjects that most people wouldn't take a second glance at.

A few years ago while finishing photographing for the day in natural Bridges National Monument in Utah I was presented with a wonderful scene of the canyons in the fading evening light, I was immediately filled with a sense of peace and knew it would be impossible to put that feeling into a photo. Those are the times to put down the camera, the vision of natural beauty was presented just for you.

Because a travel landscape photographer's job is to freeze and capture fleeting moments in time, his photographs are inherently irreplaceable. Have your photographs ever been lost or deleted?
So far I've been pretty lucky and have only accidentally deleted a small number of images. Of course it's frustrating but then it gives you a new opportunity to go back and do a better job photographing that location. If it's gone it's gone, better to learn from your mistake and move on.

Interestingly, the few times it has happened I've gone back to re-shoot the location and have made better images the second time around.
The Pareto principle states that, for example, 80% of a business's profits tend to come from 20% of its customers. Does this principle apply to the photographs you sell and what are your most popular?
Since I shoot quite a large amount of photos when I'm on location my ratio would probably be more like 90% from 10%. The images that sell the best for me are generally those of well known classic locations in the National Park system, but of course a visually striking image from just about anywhere will sell.
Many people see the hand of God in the majesty of nature. What do you see when you look at the world?
I see a living planet rich with an astounding diversity of landscapes, all of them magnificent in their own special way. A planet that is continually recycling itself and creating new and wondrous surprises. I only wish that I could live long enough to photograph them all!

Straw Polls at strawpolling.com
Alan Majchrowicz's responses to straw polls at strawpolling.com / See how they compare to the consensus.
Would you rather a double portion of luck or a double portion of courage?
a double portion of courage
Would you rather a time machine or a teleporting machine?
a time machine
Which do you prefer? Raindrops on roses,  whiskers on kittens,  bright copper kettles,  warm woolen mittens or  brown paper packages tied up with strings.
brown paper packages tied up with strings
Would you rather have a flower, an insect or a library named after you?
a flower
If you were a professional athlete, would you rather be bad enough to be famous or average enough to be anonymous?
average enough to be anonymous
Would you rather be stuck in a booby trapped elevator with MacGyver or Batman?
If Superman and the Incredible Hulk were to arm wrestle, who would win?
the Incredible Hulk