I´m TJ Thorne, ask me anything

If you’re not an NPN member yet, you can join our free tier to ask questions in the AMA or to get the full benefits of what we offer; you can join here.

Greetings! My name is TJ Thorne and I am a nature photographer based in Portland, Oregon.

My photography journey started back in 1997 when I started to photograph the food that I made in my job as a cook, bands at punk rock shows, and my friends skateboarding and snowboarding. I quickly fell in love with the medium and it has been a part of my life ever since, finally making the jump to making a living from it in 2015.

I grew up outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and drove off toward the sunset in 2001, ending up in Portland– a city I had never been to and a place where I knew no one. I just knew that this is where I needed to be and once I arrived I quickly took to the hiking trails and beaches with my camera. The accessibility of the natural world in the Pacific Northwest USA was the major draw to me moving here and it played a crucial role in shaping me into the photographer and person I am today.

I am not shy in talking about my past alcohol addiction, especially since both nature and photography were critical allies in my battles with the disease, aiding me in my search for serenity and gratitude for life. This is something that I still carry with me today and serves as the motivation for my work and the filter through which it is created. This September I celebrated 13 years since my last drink.

My work typically focuses on intimates and abstracts, though not by choice. That’s just the way that I see. I value finding moments of beauty and enrichment no matter the environment and I spend a lot of time (over)thinking my process and motivations in an attempt to understand my creative-self more fully. In that, I am always experimenting and exploring with my camera, often pushing it to the limits and far off corners of settings that we rarely use. This experimentation has allowed me to open doors that I never knew existed and has made me a more well-rounded photographer who is able to engage with any kind of light in any kind of setting, producing work that originates within.

I also have a very heavy focus on photographing water and earlier this year my first monograph of the subject, titled Ebb and Flow, was published. Photographing water has become a huge part of my creative identity and brings me everything that I am looking for out of my relationship with nature.

I’m open to talk about anything, though I’m not a gear nerd. I prefer to talk about the creative journey from the emotional side and I mentor numerous photographers currently on their journey who are looking to get in touch with their inner artist.

The only thing I won’t talk about is how last year the Pittsburgh Penguins missed the NHL playoffs for the first time in 16 seasons.

I’m really looking forward to answering your thoughtful questions. Thank you for being here and spending your valuable time with me.

Website: https://tjthornephotography.com/

AMA Rules:

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

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

Screenshot 2023-10-13 081554

When using ICM, do you previsualize an expected image?


Hi TJ,
I hope you dont mind me asking the dreaded NFT questions!

Now that the dust has settled it seems for the time being that NFTs, including your own images, only have a tiny fraction of the value they were sold for at their peak. As someone at the forefront of the NFT goldrush (with the second biggest sales of any landscape photographer I know of), I wonder:

How do you view your participation in retrospect?
What did you think of the hype at the time?
What is your participation now?
How do you view the market going forward? Are NFTs the future?




Hi TJ,

I was wondering if you could describe your ICM workflow. How you shoot (settings/technique) and process these images (can you use the aspen tree image as an example).

Thank you! Lauren


Hey Bill!

Thanks for the question.

Sometimes I do, but often do not and that is one of the things that I enjoy about it… the unpredictabiliy and mystery, which can be a bit invigorating to a process where I usually expect what the outcome will be.

For me it’s important to learn how to use it as a tool and how it functions so that I know which settings to use and how the tones/colors will be rendered, but usually there’s a lot of play and experimentation to drill down on an idea or combination of subjects, and slowly refining it over time.

Hi TJ,
I am a fan of your work and the stories that accompany it. I heard your podcast on fStop, and your words resonated deeply.

Abstract and ICM are things I am very drawn to.

But often, people do not understand the vision behind an ICM or an abstract image. How do you achieve storytelling in this genre, or coming up with a title - without vulnerability being seen as a negative trait?


Hi TJ,
What are your thoughts and approaches to dealing with color in your images? Especially decisions around how/if to edit for color? Could you explain a bit about how you process color for moods vs. staying true to the colors you saw? Thank you!

1 Like

Not dreaded here and I figured it would come from you. :joy:

  1. I am fine with my participation in retrospect. I have been involved with crypto for a while and just like any community it has it’s own culture, which yes, is pretty cringy. I didn’t participate in that over-the-top culture too much.

For me it was important to participate in a way that I felt was authentic to me and where I prioritized building relationships and doing my work behind the scenes/under the radar, which is my usual MO.

But I made some great friends, built a new revenue stream, expanded my business, and got my family out of a tough situation while at the same time creating some security for my future.

  1. I knew that the hype would die down. That’s just how it goes with crypto, though it’s hard to remember that when euphoria is high. Being involved in crypto for several years before NFTS, I knew that that first mover advantage and capitalizing was big, so I tried to play on that as much as possible.

I just kept my head down, worried about myself, and did what I could while I could. With the financial aspects of the pandemic still lingering, there was a lot of desperation out there and a lot of people having a hard time. So while I ‘got’ the rush to roll in and try to make some money while adopting the cringy side of the culture, I just did my own thing in my own way.

  1. I am still active, albeit quiet. That revenue stream is VERY social media heavy and social media in general for me has been very challenging on top of me thinking that it has an overall net negative on society.

Last week I met with one of my biggest collectors, send out some packages to 20 others, and if I wasn’t on the road right now I would be capitalizing on the energy that is currently flowing back into the ecosystem.

  1. I don’t think they are THE future, but part of it. How that looks in the future is all speculation. Will the goofy photos selling for millions happen again? Likely not in the way it did during that first craze. Only a handful of the thousands of projects started then will survive.

But digital ownership is not going away and the digital art collection part of it is still there. Just in the two years of the stonger NFT market existence it has already evolved nd changed in so many ways and will continue to as time goes on and things start to regulate, but I do see it as good ROI and I have my reason for doing it so I will continue to.

Thanks for the question buddy.

Hi Lauren,

ICM, for me, is just another tool in my creative toolbag that I can use to interact with the landscape. I often use it when I am wanting a little more play in my process, as a way to use midday light, and/or as a way to experiment and have fun with colors or textures.

I think it’s important to play around and find what works for you. For me, my natural movements/speed of movement tend to mix well with 1/8s. It all depends on your taste for detail and motion. And during the process I just tray different things, different blend modes, and just experiment a lot. That keeps me creatively invigorated and also helps me stumble upon new ideas or combinations. So anything that comes to mind… I try. Just combining different things, and then combining those techniques/subjects with others, and on down the rabbit hole.

For the aspen image, I hit the shutter and let it sit for a hair of a second before moving the camera. This gave it a chance to capture detail along with the motion. I don’t do anything special for processing, but if you’re asking about the image Aspin, I was pointing up and the sky was behind the trees and I wanted the image to be about the detaila nd motion without the distraction of color, so that’s why I went monochromatic with it. I do often add a tiny amount of blue to my “black and white” images as they just feel a bit better and less dingy to me when I do so.

Thanks for the question!

TJ, I love your images, and your book. Happy it’s in my collection. Thanks for hosting this AMA.

I wanted to ask you about the eye witness approach and the experimental approach. A constant struggle in my own mind about choosing one or the other or both. In some ways, I feel that the experimental work I’m doing with ICM, multi exposure blends, etc is competing against the eye witness approach.

In the eye witness approach, my goal is to elevate nature and record what I see with minor post processing. I enjoy the challenge of working with what nature gives with respect to light, color, elements, composition. I love the aspect of exploring and see what captures my eye and what speaks to me.

With the experimental approach, I feel that I am somehow cheating or robbing myself of what the eye witness approach has to offer. At the same time, the experimental approach servers as such a creative challenge for me. Do you ever struggle with these internal conflicts? Thanks TJ.


Thank you for the question Subha, and for listening to the episode. I’m glad some of the things I said struck a chord.

I don’t so much try to search for a story and my approach with ICM fulfills a specific need in my process– one where I feel more playful and experimental and interact with the landscape in a more non-literal way where I am focused more on the colors, tones, and textures of a scene and seeing what I can do with them versus pouring my deep attention into the literal subject.

So it’s less story-telling and more it playing a role in how I interact with the world around me in different ways.

And while creating work that people connect with, relate to, or understand is good for business, it plays no part in my process or motivations. I just do what I do and luckily enough people find value in that for me to make a modest living.

The vulnerability is just a part of my being and I’m not scared to be vulnerable, which some people appreciate and I’m sure it turns others off. But that’s me authentically and it is what it is.

So I just lead with love, do what I do, and if others find value in that then I accept that with gratitude.


Hi Anne!

For me, it just comes down to my personal taste. I don’t often stray too far with color in images, not because I’m opposed to doing so, but because I haven’t incorporated extreme hue shifts into my process yet, although I am interested in starting to play around with that.

For my larger scenes where there is context of the environment, I stay pretty true to the scene. For my more abstract images, I allow a little more latitude and have recently been playing around with inversions a lot, especially with my iPhone work.

Generally, my processing reflects the reasons I go to nature: peace, serenity, calm, and gratitude. It’s not something I try to do; my reasons carry over into processing, and I tend to go for higher key, lower contrast (when not in direct light), cooler white balance, and balanced/light-handed saturation.

Thank you for the question. I hope I answered it.


I love this question so much.

I’ve struggled with it in the past, and any time there is a point of friction in my process, I get super introspective (to a fault?) and try to figure out why that is.

This has led to some important realizations but also handcuffs me in a lot of ways.

The way I reconciled the two things is by asking myself what purpose each served in my process. What did I like about ICM and the more experimental route? When did I choose one approach over the other? What was my mental state? What did I get from each approach, and what did each approach want from me? What can one approach learn from the other? How are they similar, and how are they different?

The answer that I came up with is that they shouldn’t be in conflict but coexisting as different facets of my creativity. When I am in pain or in need of filling my soul, I tend to focus on the literal and pour myself in. When perhaps I’m feeling a little more playful or not in the mood to be so serious and deep, I feel the need to be a bit more experimental.

Giving each of them room and letting them coexist has been huge for me. I started asking myself those same questions around other things and realizing that all of the photographic work I do is all me, even if it’s not under the umbrella of the “brand” that I built, which is in nature photography.

So I have started to include my non-nature work and even my iPhone work on my website. Because at this point, I have so many areas of focus with photography that I want them all to have prominence in my portfolio instead of keeping most of the work hidden or segregated because it’s not nature specifically.

It’s all me, and I am trying to make myself the brand, not just TJ the nature photographer.

So I say embrace the different facets of yourself and let them coexist. Eventually, one may inform the other. Let your creativity do the driving, and just try to keep up. :blush:

Thanks for the great question and kind words about my work and book. I appreciate you.


I don’t get it. Where are all the cat pics?

1 Like

@David_Kingham @Jennifer_Renwick

Josh hereby advocates for a cat channel on NPN.

Thanks TJ! This was helpful. When you speak of different blend modes are you talking about in Photoshop or during composition? What blend mode settings do you use most often?

1 Like

Thanks TJ! Great response!

1 Like

How did you develop your creative and innovative skills when it comes to creating images and ideas surrounding your work?

1 Like

Hi TJ! Would you share a bit about how you formulate photo projects? I’m curious about where inspiration comes from (or how you generate inspiration!), how you discern which ideas are worth pursuing, what place they have in your portfolio and/or creative development, and how you know when one is complete. I really want to start a photo project and would appreciate your perspective, esp. if you have any lessons learned (creatively, organizationally, or otherwise) for a project newbie. Thanks so much!

1 Like

I’m sorry I should have clarified that I meant the in-camera setting that is part of multiple exposure, which I often combine with ICM. Some cameras have lighten and darken blend mode in addition to average and additive.

I experiment with them all, but mostly use darken and lighten, depending on what I’m photographing.