Here’s the forth part of our interview series celebrating our own home state, the beautiful state of Arizona.
It was an absolute pleasure to chat with amazingly talented Marcus Reinkensmeyer about his landscape photographies.
First, thanks for the opportunity to discuss my photography and for the great information shared on awayn.com.
Reflecting back, I had an idyllic childhood growing up with a loving family in Kalamazoo, a mid-sized university town in Southwest Michigan. As kids, we spent lots of time on the Lake Michigan shore and inland lakes, planting the seed for my love of the outdoors. My parents also made a point of bringing us to art shows, concerts and the like. This instilled a real appreciation for the art world.
Photography is still an avocation at this point. In my “real world” life, I’ve worked in public sector court management most of my career. We moved from Illinois to Arizona in 1991 and simply love the Southwest. I’m grateful for a happy marriage to my lovely wife, Anita, and three grown children, who live nearby in Phoenix, Arizona. In May 2015, I witnessed the birth of a wild horse in the Tonto National Forest while shooting some astro, and I would never be the same. I was completely blown away to witness them in person, in their natural state. I immediately felt the pull into that world, and over 2 years later, I’m more involved than ever. I not only photograph them, but volunteer every week with an advocacy organization for the Salt River wild horses.
As students at Michigan State University, we were to take high quality photographs of our drawing and paintings, creating a permanent portfolio of works that we might later sell or give away. When I got my hands on a high quality Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, I was immediately hooked on photography. Within a few days, I moved from the stuffy indoor studio to long photography treks in nature. I also had a chance to use the university darkroom, which turned into a crash course on image processing and printing. After graduation, I bought some used medium format camera gear for landscape and abstract photography.
Where to start? Being from the Midwest, I am still mesmerized by the clear skies and vast open spaces here in Arizona. That, along with such amazing, other-worldly geology. The Southwest color palette is so different from what we see in most other parts of the world. It took me a while to truly appreciate the muted, pastel desert colors, but now I can’t spend enough time exploring the buttes in pre-dawn and dusk light.
The diversity of Arizona’s landscape is also remarkable – all elevation based – with the lush mountain forests in Flagstaff only a few hours from the High Sonoran Desert of metropolitan Phoenix. Likewise, to the south, areas like San Rafael Valley offer a whole other world of desolate prairielands ringed with dramatic mountains.
No “hidden places” per se, but I’ve been fortunate to spend quite a bit of time in Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Staircase Escalante, which are protected national monument areas on the Arizona-Utah border. A good friend has generously brought another photographer and me on several four wheel drive photo treks in Vermilion Cliffs to places like Coyote Buttes South, White Pocket, Cotton-wood Cove and remote surrounding areas. Here, the exposed geology of Navajo Sandstone is a quite a sight to behold. Because it’s such a fragile environment, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management wisely requires day permits for some of the more popular areas.
Honestly, I’m pretty content trying to master landscape photography at this point, but am always wanting to have better equipment and to learn new techniques. Someday, perhaps when I have more time, I hope to resume painting and drawing. My collection of nature images should be helpful in choosing subject matter for paintings.
Having worked with medium format negatives in a traditional darkroom, I was generally doubtful about the prospect of digital photography for fine arts photography. Candidly, I was held back by “purist” concerns over image resolution, size and a strong connection to film. After all, I figured, film is integral to serious black and white photography, especially so for fine art work. In my conventional thinking, great emphasis was placed on film choices, paper selection, darkroom techniques and the physical nature of the printing process as whole.
With the vast improvements in digital photography, I finally made the leap to a digital camera several years ago and have not looked back since then. I use Nikon gear exclusively and currently have two full-frame DSLR bodies – the Nikon D810 and Nikon D800E – along with several Nikon lens. Recently, I splurged and bought my first Tilt-Shift lens, which allow for “perspective correction” – no more tilting trees or leaning mountains when this lens if used properly! I am on a steep learning curve with this fairly technical, manual focus lens.
Other essential gear includes my handheld Garmin GPS, tripods and backpacks.
My biggest challenge is to keep my camera gear clean and safe in the field, as I often end up shooting in adverse weather conditions. I am still trying to figure out the best ways to protect my camera – while still having ready access – from blowing sand, frost, dense fog and the like.
Two recent trips come to mind. Back in February, Anita and I spent several days at a cottage on the shore of Bandon Beach, Oregon. This was my second photo trek to the area in the off-season, hoping to capture some images of the rugged coastline in stormy conditions. In this location, the skies are constantly changing, which makes for dramatic lighting conditions. Nearby, is a vast stretch of the Oregon Dunes, which reminds me of the Lake Michigan shore, but on steroids. There’s lots of good hiking in the parks, which traverse a wonderful stretch of Pacific coast between the California-Oregon border and central Oregon.
The other photo trek this past Spring was to Canyon X, an area with two small slot canyons near Page, Arizona. These canyons are similar to the popular Antelope Canyon, but not nearly as crowded with tourists or as overrun. Canyon X offers photo ops galore and it’s also a good place for easy paced hiking. The photography is in low light, with the camera mounted on a tripod. The challenge is how to best capture the magic of reflected light on the intertwining, striated sandstone canyon walls.
A few suggestions. First, for a truly successful adventure, lots of planning and preparation are a must. Many state and local parks have restrictive day-time public hours, which makes trip planning all the more important. You also need to arrange for any required hiking permits in advance, consider best trailheads and pack lightly with just as much gear as really needed. I’ve learned the hard way to pack for ever changing weather conditions, with back-up boots, layered clothing and the like.
For navigation, I suggest bringing paper trail maps, along with two hand held GPS units. We’ve also come to like a few handy smart phone apps: 1) The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a mapping tool showing sun/moon lighting conditions by calendar date; 2) Tide Chart, and 3) Digital Depth of Field, an app showing what subject matter will be in and out of focus, based on camera lens settings.
Finally, and, this recommendation is one I really need to better follow: For any remote areas, it’s imperative to be accompanied by at least one other hiker and to let folks know your travel plans (specific location, plus planned starting and return times).
Your question has caused me to think and that’s a good thing. Photography has deeply expanded my horizons and understanding about distant lands, other cultures and the grand scale of our physical world. It has also focused (no pun intended!) my trip planning, making me think beyond basic logistics. I think a lot about how to best capture fresh images of locations less traveled. I also find myself pondering, “What do I want my photos to convey about this unique scenic location and how can we make the best use of our limited time during this whirlwind trip?” Both questions are “good problems to have.”
For me, photography also extends the “afterglow” time of any given trip. While I’ll often gripe about the long sitting time spent in photo editing, I vividly re-experience memorable moments when sorting through hundreds of travel photos/videos.
Photography is also a good way to meet other creative people with similar interests and to forge lasting friendships. Some of my best times have been spent on photo treks with my brother, Brian, and other photographers.
Most gratifying, to me, is the opportunity to share a few quality photos and the sense of wonderment in nature’s grand design with family and friends.
Thanks for this opportunity to share some thoughts with fellow travelers.