I'm Carl Battreall, Ask Me Anything!

Greetings Everyone,

I am excited to be participating in NPN’s Ask Me Anything feature. I have been involved, on and off, with NPN for many years. I have been working in the outdoor photography field for 30 years. I can honestly say that I have explored all aspects of the outdoor photography discipline including natural history, environmental photojournalism, outdoor adventure and sports, travel, and fine art. I have done and still do commercial photography, workshop instruction, custom printing and guiding to help fill in the pieces of the photography puzzle. I have had plenty of success, but it has been my failures, and they far out number my successes, that I have learned the most from.

If you have ever taken a workshop with me, you know I prefer the informal Question and Answer format, so this is great. Please ask any questions you want about photography, Alaska (or travel in general, I have been lucky enough to have photographed in 18 countries). I also enjoy discussing philosophy, tea drinking, backcountry travel, parenting, bicycles…Ask Me Anything!

Carl

About Carl

In 2021, Carl celebrated his 30th year as a professional photographer. Carl is best known for his long-term photography projects of Alaska’s remote wilderness. He is the recipient of many awards and grants including the Daniel Housberg Wilderness Image Award, Rasmuson Artist Fellowship, Alaska State Council on the Arts 1% Percent for the Arts commission and was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His photographs have been published throughout the world and he is the author of two monograms: Chugach State Park: Alaska’s Backyard Wilderness (Greatland Graphics, 2011) and The Alaska Range: Exploring Alaska’s Last Great Wild (Mountaineers Books, 2016). In 2020, Carl returned to his minimalist, black and white roots, he is currently using a single monochrome digital camera, one prime lens and is only making one print that is for sale.

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Carl, thanks for participating in this.

With your current “single lens” approach, do you have a plan in mind that directs you to subjects that may be more conducive to photography with that particular lens (macros, abstracts, and landscapes… I see a lot of those in your more recent black and white series), or are you approaching your wanderings in the field with a more open attitude? That is, you’re happy to accept whatever comes in front of the lens and looks interesting (including wildlife). I guess I’m curious if you’re focusing on specific themes that consciously narrow your choice of subject matter during this exploration.

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How often doyou use the Sunny 16 rule in bright light?

Hi Carl. Great to see you here.
As someone who has made images for 30 years, I’d love to know about how your approach to photography and the creative side of things has evolved in that time-frame? What keeps you engaged in artform for so long?

Thanks!

Max,
I am trying to be as open minded as possible when out photographing. It is more difficult to do when we are familiar with a location, we tend to get stuck , imagining images before even arriving at the scene and then searching out our imagined photograph. It is not the lens that directs me to subjects, but using only one lens does narrow my vision, I know what will and will not work, without even pulling the camera out of its bag.

When it comes to themes or projects, they just spring out of my imagination, usually when I am laying around in the field, not photographing, just thinking and enjoying my surroundings. My whole career has been based on projects. When I started my current direction, I wanted to avoid projects and themes, just photograph whatever caught me attention, but it appears, working on specifics concepts is just what I do, it is part of my creative process. It is also how I approach other artistic disciplines. Like it or not, I just can’t seem to work in any other way.

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Never. I tend to be lazy these days and generally use my spot meter or in camera meter. I will say that learning to expose a photograph without a light meter is a great skill, a great way to understand how light works. The thing is our modern cameras can’t take photographs without power, so we always have a light meter with us, and we also have a histogram to look at.

Brett Weston said that he only used a light meter when he was hung over. When I was in my youth, Brett was my idol, I loved his work and his rebellious attitude. On one trip I had forgotten my light meter, I was hours and hours from home. Instead of turning back I decided to try and just expose my film (I was using a view camera) by using all my experience with light and all my knowledge of exposure. It worked, I made some nice negatives. I felt like a rock star like Brett. I also made sure I didn’t forget my light meter ever again!

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Carl,

I like the single lens concept. As a beginner photographer it makes sense to me to learn what I have first however the photo instructor whose classes I have signed up for require different lenses. Is it rude just to show up with the lens I have and take the pictures I can and then decide I may need another?

Can you imagine being Brett Weston and having the courage to follow his dad in photography? Rhetorical question. I know I only get one

I will be honest Matt, I have tried to quit photography. I have dabbled in other artforms, but I just keep getting drawn back into photography. Also, it has been my career, my primary income source. So it is a job. I know that doesn’t sound very romantic, but that is the truth.

The way I have kept it creative and fresh is to dive into different aspects of the medium. I will be honest again and let you know that that isn’t the best business plan. The most successful photographers out there are very focused, imbedded in one or two genres. Heck, I have done it all! I am not sure if there is a subject I haven’t photographed. Sure, there are many subjects, like weddings, I have done once and will never do again.

Most of my work is outdoor photography. Within that genre I tend to work on projects. Most of the projects are ones that I develop and then hustle. I make sure that the projects I imagine are a creative challenge . Sometimes they are a physical or logistic challenges too.

My current direction is a personal challenge also. It is a test of whether the philosophy that I preach is truly what I believe, that the path I have chosen is what brings me the most pleasure, the most creativity. It is a return to my roots as a photographer, the whole reason I fell in love with the medium. If you look at me current work, you will see projects, creative challenges, within the current “project”. I hate to call my new direction a “project”., its more of a path. My icicle series is an example.

Wow, I just rambled on.

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Hi Carl,
Thanks so much for participating here. You indicate that your career has allowed you to use your camera to serve several photographic disciplines, such as “natural history, environmental photojournalism, outdoor adventure and sports, travel, and fine art” It appears that currently your emphasis is on B&W fine art, or so it appears to me. Personally, I always pick up a camera with a black and white rendering in mind. I find you work very appealing and truly enjoy viewing it. My crass question is, how do you find the audience /clientele for your fine art prints. It may be that you are established to the extent that your clients find you, not the other way around. But for those of us who started later in life and thus have a more limited market, what suggestions/ advice could you offer, please?

Many Thanks,
Mark Anderson

HI Carl,

Which camera and lens do you use for your single lens project?

PS I enjoyed your artist statement on your single lens site. Very honest. Sorry to hear about your health issues in the past few years. I hope things get better soon for you.

Alain Briot

Chris,
Rude, not at all. A good instructor will adapt their instruction to their students skills and tools.

I spent the first eight years of my career with one prime lens. It wasn’t because of a certain philosophy (it is a philosophy for me now) it was because I couldn’t really afford a different lens. I was using an 8x10 camera and doing fine art prints. Honestly, I didn’t really care, it was what I had and I dealt with it. It didn’t affect my image making, I was creating photographs I enjoyed. It was when I downsized cameras and began doing commercial and editorial work that I began acquiring more equipment. It was purely based on demand by the clients.

This day and age we are pressured heavily to constantly upgrade, buy new equipment. Do your best to ignore the marketing. If your lens is of good quality and your happy with its output, no need to upgrade.

Another great resource we have these days is rentals. If I get an editorial gig, I rent the gear needed to complete the job. If I was contemplating a new lens purchase, I would rent the lens first, many times.

I think we all get sucked into the “just in case” idea. We think we “need” that big telephoto just in case I see an animal while out photographing. Or I “need” that macro lens just in case I see a bug I think is interesting. That is a terrible idea. We must photograph with purpose and chose the equipment appropriate to our vision, not “just in case.” That is often what separates a beginner from a professional, photographing with intent and purpose, using the minimal amount of equipment so we can focus on creation and not on gear.

I think Brett really didn’t like being the son of Edward. He fought hard to separate his work from his Dad’s. With that said, they were very close. Brett influenced his dad too. He is the one who convinced Edward (and even Ansel) to move away from matte, Platinum prints and into glossy fiber prints. He just did his own thing, but I think part of his rebellious ways were because he wanted to be separate from his father.

Hi Mark,
Yes, it is true, I do have a decent following from over the years. But as I said in an earlier post, I am a pretty lousy business man and switching it up, especially moving back to my black and white roots, has probably turned more people away from my work then to it. And since I don’t participate in social media, I really have isolated myself.

With that said, I am no longer concerned about making money through my personal photography. In order for me to continue doing photography, loving photography, I needed a change, I needed to do the work I wanted, even if it was the final nail in my career! I still accept editorial gigs and commercial gigs and I make money from other outlets related to both photography and the outdoors.

Now, If I was going to give an aspiring fine art photographer a tip, It would be to approach interior decorators and designers, not galleries. If you can build a relationship with a good interior decorator and designer, that could be a great print sales opportunity.

The reality is that know one buys photography for collectible reasons (if they do, it is a bad investment). They purchase a photograph because it appeals to them in someway. Interior decorators are really great at matching art with their clients (or at least convincing their clients that your photography would be “perfect” in their living room.

Hi Alan,
Good to hear from you. Hope things are well.

I had a Sony A7R II converted to monochrome only. I love it. It is a great feeling having a black and white only camera, like having backpack filled with film holders loaded with black and white film, which I know you can understand.

The lens is just a Sony 50mm macro.

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Thanks for your great answer. If I may (please don’t shoot me @David_Kingham ) -
I was curious about this: “It is a test of whether the philosophy that I preach is truly what I believe”

How would you describe that philosophy? Thanks again!

Its okay with me, we will call it a conversation instead of a question!

It is a philosophy based on simplicity. I like to compare it to the haiku, it’s power and beauty comes from its simple, strict precepts. Some would call it minimalism, and it is, though that is such a trendy, loaded term.

To dive deeper, if you care. The philosophy was born from my study of impermanence. A concept I first discovered during my brief study of Buddhism. It is the idea that nothing is permanent and in order to find peace and fulfillment in life, we must fully embrace the undeniable fact that nothing in life last, nothing. To dwell in the past, to overly concern ourselves with what “could” happen in the future is futile and unproductive.

You will see in my work that I am drawn to examples of impermanence: ice, decay, erosion, etc… These subjects remind me that life is in a constant state of change, evolving from and to nothingness.

I wrote more about impermanence on my blog, under another trendy and loaded topic Wabi Sabi.

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Lovely - thank you Carl. I love the explanation you gave here.

Great images!

You say you are a “one lens” guy - what lens for nikon will take both the sweet macro image of the ? robberfly, as well as the distance grizz? This would be great.