“Your job as a photographer is to show the world what you see” said Ian Plant during a recent day-long photography seminar I was lucky enough to attend in Minnesota. Ian Plant is world renown for his incredible landscape, wildlife and street photography that often delves on the edge of the extreme perspective. Ian uses a unique combination of light, composition, mood and the magic of the moment to captivate his audience and tell us a story. Whether it be the gorillas in Rwanda, the polar bears in the Arctic, the Maasai in Africa or the sea caves off the shore of Lake Superior, Ian’s incredible artistic gift for photography will never disappoint and keep his audience longing for more.
I left Ian’s seminar feeling so inspired by his incredible ability to show the beauty of the world through his lens that I knew I had to do an interview and share his sensational work with my own audience on my blog. Welcome to the magical world of Ian Plant and his jaw-dropping photography. Once you see his work, you won’t be able to let it go.
Tell me a little about your background. Where are you originally from? What did you study in school and where? When did you learn photography?
I’m originally from upstate New York. After college, I went to law school and then practiced antitrust law for eight years with a large firm in Washington, D.C. After my first year in law school, I worked for a law firm in New York City, and it was then when I bought my first camera. I was instantly hooked on photography, and soon I realized I had made a huge, $100,000 mistake on my legal education!
Why did you decide to leave your job as a lawyer and pursue photography?
After eight years of practice, I had finally paid of my school debt, and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I quit. That was thirteen years ago. I’ve been a full-time professional photographer since then, and I’ve never looked back.
What were some of the challenges starting out as a professional photographer? When did you get your first big break as a pro photographer?
Making a living as a pro nature photographer has always been challenging, but when I started, it was an especially challenging time. The digital camera revolution was completely upending the photo industry, and a lot of the film pros had a tough time adapting. Before the explosion in popularity of digital photography, most pro nature photographers made a living from their photos. Now, most pros make a living selling educational services and running workshops and tours. The other big change was the rise of the Internet, which has become a vital marketing tool for pros today.
You mostly specialize in landscape photography however also do street photography and wildlife. What makes you unique as a photographer in this field?
Most pro photographers are very specialized, and there are not that many like me who successfully cross over into different genres. I used to only shoot landscapes, but I learned a long time ago that great photography isn’t about a place or a subject – it’s about your vision as an artist, and the magic of the moment when the random forces of our world spontaneously converge to produce something incredible. Once I realized this, I started to recognize and appreciate photogenic moments no matter where I am or what I am shooting.
Your love the quote by Ansel Adams, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it”. Tell me more about your artistic vision and how you compose your magical shots.
I fully believe that every photographer should strive to show his or her artistic vision. I don’t just want to take snapshots, which only show what your camera sees. Instead, I want to show people what I see as an artist. I’m always on the lookout for those special moments when light, composition, mood, and the magic of the moment all come together.
What are some of your favorite artistic techniques to create your photographs? (i.e. “Extreme perspective” and “edge of light, silhouette”).
I love shooting on the edge of light, such as at night, twilight, and sunrise and sunset. I want to make photos in conditions that most photographers view as being too extreme. I find that I make my favorite photos when I am pushing the boundaries of my equipment.
You talk about the importance of a photograph to tell a story and to “show the world what you see”. What techniques do you use to make the picture worth a thousand words?
It’s all about waiting for the magical moment. I call these “convergences,” when the random forces of nature come together for a fleeting moment to create something unique and powerful. That’s the moment when the best stories emerge, and that’s when the photographer needs to trigger the shutter, to capture the moment before it is gone.
You have traveled all over the world to some pretty amazing places and have photographed some incredible things. Where has been some of your favorite assignments and what photographs are your favorites?
I love everywhere I go, as every place has its own unique beauty. But some of my favorite trips have been trekking with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, visiting the volcanic landscapes of Vanuatu, and photographing polar bears in the Arctic.
Where would you like to go shoot? What is your dream?
I keep an Excel spreadsheet that I call “The Bucket List” which has all of the places I want to go. The list never seems to get shorter, no matter how much I travel. There are so many interesting places in the world!
What is “Dreamscapes”?
This is my personal artistic philosophy. “Dreamscapes” are photographs that move beyond the literal and transforms subjects into something unexpected, bridging the line between the real and surreal. To that end, I seek out the hidden spaces in between the familiar, relying on long exposures, unique lighting conditions, non-traditional perspectives, and special natural events to show my subjects in a new light.
Any advice to those who are seeking to improve their photography?
I always tell people that there are three “Ps” to successful photography: planning, patience, and persistence. Great photos don’t just happen; a photographer must do research and plan ahead to learn as much about the subject as possible, put in the time with the subject to attune to its rhythms, and then keep trying over and over again to make great photos until the vision in the photographer’s head becomes a reality. But there is a final “P”, which is passion. Ultimately, the best photos are made when you have passion for your subject, your craft, and for bringing your artistic vision to life. Only by totally immersing yourself in the art of photography can you completely plumb the depths of your talent. So, basically, get out there and make as many photos as you can!
Whether hanging over the rim of an active volcano, braving the elements to photograph critically endangered species, or trekking deep into the wilderness to places most people will never see, world-renowned professional photographer Ian Plant travels the globe seeking out amazing places and subjects in his never-ending quest to capture the beauty of our world with his camera. Known for his inspiring images and single-minded dedication to creating the perfect photo, Ian has reached hundreds of thousands of people around the world in his mission to inspire and educate others in the art of photography. Ian is a frequent contributor to many leading photo magazines, Managing Editor of Outdoor Photography Guide, a Tamron Image Master, and the author of numerous books and instructional videos.
His personal photographic project, Dreamscapes, moves beyond the literal and transforms subjects into something unexpected, bridging the line between the real and surreal. Ian seeks out the hidden spaces in between the familiar, relying on long exposures, unique lighting conditions, non-traditional perspectives, and special natural events to show his subjects in a new light.
Want to learn more?
Visual Flow: Mastering the Art of Composition – Ian’s book/video set that discusses photo composition in great length.
Focusing for Landscape Photography – Teaches you everything you need to know about hyperfocal distance, depth of field, and focus stacking.
Unseeing: Taking Photos with Attitude – Ian’s latest course which discusses many of the techniques he talked about during the seminar.