Hello, I'm Guy Tal, ask me anything!

Greetings, everyone! My name is Guy, and I am a photographer and writer. Other than my books, I’ve been publishing articles about photography for many years and am a regular contributor to LensWork Magazine, On Landscape, NPN, and other fine publications. I’ve been teaching photography workshops since 2003. I’ve also been a moderator and active member of the original NPN for several years. I live in rural Utah and work primarily in the Colorado Plateau and Mojave deserts.

If you’re not familiar with my work and background, here’s a quick intro: https://guytal.blog/read-first/ And if you wish to see more of my work, read my blog, or get in touch with me, please visit my website: http://guytal.com

Please ask me anything related to creativity, art, science, wilderness, and living a creative life. Admittedly, the technical aspects of photography are less interesting to me.

I’m very grateful to David, Jennifer, and the NPN community for giving me this opportunity. In the words of Minor White, “By offering here something of my understanding of photography, I can continue to earn the images that I have been given.”

AMA Rules

  • Please only ask one question by replying to this topic a single time, using the yellow Reply button at the bottom. image It’s also helpful to scroll to the bottom while :ok_hand: reading the topic to make sure nobody else has asked the same question first, before you ask. :ok_hand:
  • Please don’t ask more than one question, so everyone gets a chance :wink:
  • Please do not reply to anyone else’s post. The only purpose of replies here in this topic is to ask the author one question. If you’d like to discuss a related topic in more detail, create a new topic.

Posts not following these guidelines may be removed by moderators to keep the Q&A flowing smoothly. Thank you!


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How is the next book coming and when do you expect it to be out?

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Guy, your work inspires me. Thanks for sharing with us all your writings and these images. I would like to know, what inspires you? Or perhaps to put it more bluntly, how do your images come about? Do you start with a concept/idea that drives/focuses you to make a certain image?

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Hi Guy - Thank you for your willingness to participate in this discussion, and for sharing your knowledge in generous ways with nature photographers for many years. Recently, I have been trying to read more about creativity and am finding that most of what I have selected doesn’t resonate with my personal experience or feels too distant from nature photography to be highly relevant. So, since you have been studying this topic for so long, which two or three books (or other resources) would you recommend as being most useful on topics related to creativity?

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Thanks, Michael! I’m committed to having it published later this year. I’ve had some personal setbacks in the last couple of years that have slowed me down a bit and threw me off track, but the manuscript is finished and I’m now working on a final round of edits before sending it to the publisher.

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Hi Guy, what are your thoughts about including political opinions/discussions along with your photography/writing? This is something I struggle with, as I (like many) have strong views (particularly involving environmental issues) and sometimes feel I should be using my website platform more to express them, but on the other hand I prefer to think of my photography and website as a sanctuary from all that crap. Southern Utah in particular is a hotbed of political controversy regarding land use, monuments, etc. so I’m interested in your opinion on this.

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Hi Guy,
I’ve been following your work for about ten years and attended one of your Death Valley workshops a while back. I’m the idiot who mounted my camera on the tripod using the lens plate and then dropped my body (sans lens) in the dirt at Ube Hebe Crater. All’s well that ended well, but that might be what’s most memorable about me!

Anyway, on to the question: Can you talk about the relationship between writing and photography in your creative process? To some extent, photography is an escape from my work as an English Professor, but I think I’m missing opportunities (creative ones, not financial ones) by not remarrying these parts of my life. What is their relationship to each other in your creative process?
Marylynne

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Hi Guy, Thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom here. I am wondering, how would one get started making money as a professional photographer? Other than making great shots, what would you say is the first step in monetizing work?

Hi Guy - thank you for doing this AMA!

As you are clearly someone who is introspective and thinks a lot about photography, I’m wondering what was your last strongly held view that you changed upon further reflection and experience.

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Hello Guy, thank you for your time for this AMA. What would you recommend for someone seeking to find the why of their photography and developing their vision in photographing what resonates personally?

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Thank you for the kind words, Adhika! My images are always responses to experiences, which is to say they are never planned or preconceived (the only exception perhaps is if I visualize an image and need to return later to capture it in different conditions). The concept for an image is always born out of some encounter or epiphany, and only after that I go about considering such things as composition, processing, etc.
That said, I don’t mean to imply that my photographs are random reactions. Ultimately whatever my reaction to a scene or an event may be arises from the person that I am, from things I’ve learned and experienced throughout my life, from my personal philosophy, etc. I’m an avid learner and reader and have diverse interests that inform my perceptions even when they seem to be intuitive or instinctive. I would very much urge anyone who wishes to get the most form any creative endeavor to, in the words of Jay Maisel, “become a more interesting person,” not necessarily for the sake of other people but to enrich the content of your own living experience and to give you a broader foundation for creative ideas.

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Thank you, Sarah! Your experience is not surprising. Although creativity has been a hot topic of research in recent years, there is still a lot about it we don’t know, and new research sometimes contradicts previous notions. When it comes to topics where some ambiguity exists, I like to turn whatever science is available and try to distill useful information from it. Two great science-based resources I can recommend are The Cambridge Handbook of the Neuroscience of Creativity and The Science of Creativity. They are not specific to photography or art, but they will give you good coverage of recent research and are very readable even if you’re not a scientist.

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Hello Guy. I’ve been following your work and blog via email, Facebook, Patreon, and OnLandscape. You embody the mix of authentic (complex) person, thinker, and artist that I feel most connected to and inspired by. My question has to do with this mix. As I progress in my photography, I find myself less happy with/inspired by my images. Is there anything you can add to what you wrote about creative blocks in your last blog post as advice?

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Thanks, Jack! Admittedly, I struggle with it too. I see the ravages of certain policies on the places and experiences that are indispensable to my life, and it’s often tempting to share my views. That said, I have so far refrained from being very outspoken for several reasons. For starters, there is no shortage of advocates, information, and activists who often do a much better job than I do and have bigger audiences. More relevant to me, though, is how I see my role as an artist (and granted, there is no consensus among artists about what the “right way” is), and how I could make the most valuable contribution. Being politically outspoken has the effect of being polarizing, and of binding the value of art with subjects that may sometimes be petty and short-lived. Instead, I decided that it would be more effective to lead by example, to explain my reasons for living and thinking as I do, and to leave it to people to consider their own views. Outright challenging someone’s view very rarely will get them to change their mind. Giving them an example of (what I hope is) a better way to think about things and to engage with the world will hopefully prompt at least some people to question their own views.

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Thank you, Marylynne! Don’t be too hard on yourself. In my years photographing I’ve done much worse (including spending two days backpacking to a remote summit only to realize when I had my tripod set up that I had my entire kit with me… except the camera.

Photography and writing play complementary roles to me. My brain is in perpetual chaos, and these two means of expression and self-examination help me put my own thoughts in order. Photography to me works best to distill some useful essence from reaction to external stimulus, and writing for me is the best way I know to organize and put in context my inner world: thoughts, emotions, inner conflicts, etc. It may seem apocryphal to admit in a photography forum, but if for whatever reason I had to give up one or the other, I likely would keep writing.

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Dear Guy, I can only echo the others and say what a huge inspiration you have been over the years, not just with your images, but your writing and importantly your attitude to the landscape and the intimacy of the relationship. Do you feel that social media has forever condemned landscape photographers to a treadmill of competitive judgement? Is there hope that the status quo will once again focus on the experience and preservation of the land?

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Thanks, Alyssa! I wish I had an easy answer to that. I fully admit that in my case, luck played a big role. At the time I began to sell my work, the media landscape was very different, there was much less competition, and I was able to impress a magazine editor to publish my work in an odd way: he rejected my original submission but liked the quality of the prints I sent and asked me to write about printing instead. After getting my foot in the door and establishing some good working relationships, it was easier to get more pieces published. Also, I doubt I would have been able to make do on photographs alone, and certainly not on my marketing skills. My love of writing dovetailed into photography and I was able to find a niche that was not too crowded at the time. My best advice is to think about what unique combination of photography and (insert other strength) you have that can differentiate you as a creator of useful content, and not just as a “good photographer.”

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Thanks, Ron! What a great question. Although it has been a few years since it happened, one of my most profound realizations was to consider the difference between the experience of photographs and the experience of photography. I think that most photographers by default place great emphasis on the former and very little on the latter. Producing appealing photographs, whether by skill or by serendipitous encounters with beautiful things, only got me so far. The abundance of such photographs we see every day should tell you that it really doesn’t take much. We have entire industries dedicated to producing trophy images with little investment of effort and creativity. The experience of photography, on the other hand, is not something that can be reduced to guidelines, templates, tips, or GPS coordinates. The quality of the experience is entirely dependent on how serious, mindful, and engaged the photographer is: the quality of the connection the photographer makes with the medium, with subjects, with elevating themselves in emotional and intellectual ways, with taking their work seriously, etc. To me, investing in my experiences has proven far more satisfying than any photograph I might make, to a point where I realized I now have enough “good” photographs in my archive and can afford to wait for true inspiration and meaningful experiences in order to make photographs, and that has been my (very satisfying) mode of work for the last decade or so.

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Hi Sarah, If I may add to Guy’s suggestions - The Act of Creation by Arthur Koestler (if you can find a copy) and, especially, The Courage to Create by Rollo May

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