Tim Gasperak is a freelance photographer based in San Francisco, specializing in expedition photography, adventure racing, cycling, climbing, mountaineering and other adventure sports images. Some of his recent recognitions include collective awards from the Society of Environmental Journalists for excellence in reporting on the environment, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, and the Society of News Design. His clients include the New York Times, Cycling News, and the Icelandic Tourist Board.
We’ve been enamored of Gasperak’s nature photography for some time. He snags rare subtleties, and a recent trip to Iceland (where he lived for two years) brought home more evidence as shown in the gallery and in the interview below. (Being terrible photographers ourselves, we also quizzed him on little tricks for shooting nature pictures and bugged him with amateurs’ questions; we’ll probably still be just as terrible, but now we can be smug about it.)
Have you ever slapped anyone with your camera?
Actually, traveling with friends, I think sometimes they’d rather slap me with my camera. I don’t imagine traveling with a photographer is any fun—we’re always holding things up, standing around waiting, shooting the same thing over and over again compulsively.
What took you to Iceland this time? Are there aspects of the country that make shooting Icelandic landscapes more difficult than other areas?
I went to Iceland for love: of a landscape, of a people, of old friends. A few years back I spent nearly two years living and working in Iceland and it affected me very deeply. This most recent visit was specifically put together as a photography project to try to recapture some of those feelings.
Shooting landscapes in Iceland is actually quite easy because there are virtually no access restrictions and the environment is unbelievably beautiful to begin with. That said, the weather is wildly unpredictable, and often the light is grey and flat, and that can present certain challenges.
What are your personal quirks for shooting nature—what do you look for? What surprises you in the shots you get?
Increasingly I’m less interested in what could be considered the more formal depictions of landscape that our culture seems to have inherited from historical oil paintings—the perfect sunset, grand expanses of mountains, gleaming cataracts tumbling over verdant cliffs. My background is in design, and I tend to see the world as a certain gestalt of points, lines, symmetries, tangents and the like, and I think that surfaces in my photography. It’s just the way I see the world. I find it easier and more satisfying to see those compositions in the world and document them, rather than create them, as I might have in design.
I’m also particularly interested in representing a place the way it actually exists, and in Iceland that often means inclement weather and flat light. I’m surprised at the subtleties that exist in conditions that many photographers wouldn’t consider ideal.
Do you ever shoot one setting repeatedly; if so, how do you choose your favorite image in the end?
Often I’ll shoot something repeatedly if I’m obsessed about it in some way. The obsession could come from trying to capture a certain feeling or vision that just isn’t coming out in the images, or it could be that I get hung up on a particular subject matter because of what it means to me. For this reason, many times my favorite image isn’t necessarily the best image. To cull the best image from a set, I often have to step away from the exercise for awhile—sometimes for weeks—and come back to it with a fresh outlook.
Wildlife photography can be terrifically sentimental and boring—how do you keep your nature shots from looking dull?
I have a little routine I go through every time I get behind the camera where I ask myself, “What are you trying to communicate?” I think an understanding of that intention is really important, and it’s the difference between simply taking a picture and crafting an image. Once I have some idea of what I’m trying to communicate (and sometimes it’s just a feeling), I try to challenge myself to do it in a way that isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Sometimes it takes a few tries to purge the stock, dull attempts, and in that struggle I think is where the magic lies.
With holiday season coming up, and lots of cards with family photographs stuck on the front, any tips for rookies trying to take a decent outdoors picture?
Photography can be mind-bendingly complex sometimes, and rather than get hung up on techniques, focus on making whatever you shoot personal and reflective of your own outlook. There are loads of examples of wonderfully evocative, yet technically imperfect photos. Try to avoid photographing something a certain way just because you saw someone else photograph it that way. The best photos are those that are somehow an extension of your involvement with the subject matter, so don’t be afraid to be affected by the subject and put your personal vision into the image.