September 22, 2021
Details from the Witness: The Photography of Brian Threlkeld
Words & Photos from Brian Threlkeld
Any time spent on the Hyperlite Mountain Gear blog or website will quickly reveal that we have some very talented photographers from all over the globe in our family. There are a million ways to document a place or people and a moment in time, but a great photographer captures it all while telling you a little bit about themselves, too. We’re pleased to introduce you to Brian Threlkeld. Read on to find out how Brian approaches his craft and gain a few skill-building tips and nuggets of wisdom in the process.
Name: Brian Threlkeld
Residence: Portland, Maine
Years Shooting: 25
Favorite Location(s) to Shoot: Above tree line and anywhere with the sweet light
Camera Setup: Sony a7iii w/ Zeiss glass
What got you into photography, and what keeps you at it?
My dad’s nickname in college was “Focus.” He was an amateur photographer and gave me my first camera for my freshman year of high school–an old Canon AE-1. I shot loads of black and white film rolls on that, developing them myself and making prints in the darkroom (remember those things?) at my high school. My early inspiration was Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter. I’ve always been a fan of documentary and landscape photography. Once I discovered Galen Rowell, the hook was set. I started shooting Fuji Velvia slide film, road-tripped to climbing areas around the country, smoked cheap, shitty hand-rolled cigarettes (for all of three and a half weeks), and pretended to be a badass. I’ve certainly used photography to document my life, capture moments worth remembering and find compositions and lighting that really put the viewer right into the scene.
One of my close friends recently asked me if I see in rectangles, and the simple answer is yes, I totally do. I constantly find myself creating compositions in my mind regardless of whether I have a camera in hand or not. I think that mental/visual practice is so fun and alluring. It certainly keeps me thinking creatively, looking for new perspectives, and visualizing images to replicate or elaborate on when the time allows.
Now that I’m not shooting full-time, I find myself taking a month or two at a time away from a “real” camera, but once I pick it back up, that rush of creative energy flows readily again, and I have a hard time putting the camera down. That feeling definitely keeps me going.
Out in the wild, what are the elements in a setting that will stop you in your tracks and make you grab your camera?
It really boils down to what captures my attention, but it usually has to do with how light is cast on an object, a person, or a landscape. I’m equally intrigued by macro photography (highlighting the tiny details of a patch of moss with fresh dew or the intricacies of flower petals) and vast panoramas. If I’m up in the mountains and the clouds roll in, I’m always a sucker for those little windows that open up for a second or two, revealing the peak, sunlight down in the valley, or some other striking feature. Photography is truly designed to capture those fleeting moments, and as a photographer, I strive to bring those experiences home to share with others.
What elements will you wait or hunt for? Where and why?
I love to be above tree line, anywhere, for golden hour (around just before and after sunrise/sunset). It’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel. When the light is right, it makes everything else so much easier. The excitement becomes palpable, and you just have to make sure you’ve got juice in the tank, fresh batteries in the camera, and plenty of space on the memory cards!
Of course, the sweet light is enticing and enjoyable for everyone, but I also love going on longer missions where the reality of trips set in--the fatigue, the grind, the type 2 fun. You have a harder time capturing those experiences without putting yourself in them as well. I don’t know if Galen Rowell coined it, but the idea of the “participatory photographer” has always stuck with me.
If you couldn’t use words to describe what kind of photographer you are–you could only share one of your photos–does one come to mind? Why? Where was it taken? Describe the scenario.
This image was taken in Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness on a weekend trip to AMC’s Gorman-Chairback Lodge. I’d been invited to give a talk and presentation about a winter trip the prior year through the 100-Mile, and after the show & dinner, we walked back to our cabin when I noticed the Milky Way was prominent above the lake. I asked my friend to walk to the end of the dock, hold still with his headlamp pointed skyward, propped my camera on a chair with my jacket helping to stabilize it, and set the timer for 20 seconds with the aperture open at f/4. I used my flashlight to set focus on my friend and pushed the shutter button. One take, and this is what we got. A lot of my work is all about being in the right place at the right time, pulling from a few decades of shooting experience, and adding a bit of luck!
You can pass five short tips on to aspiring shooters. Go.
- Always have a camera with you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve joked that I’m not a real photographer because I didn’t have a camera with me. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s accessible!
- Isolate your subject. Compose in a way that avoids distracting backgrounds.
- Have fun.
- Don’t just shoot from eye level. Lay on the ground, stand on a rock, swing from a tree, find new perspectives.
- Get your friends to wear bright colors! It makes them pop from landscapes much better.
Where can we see more of your work?