Details From The Witness: The Photography of Michael DeYoung
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 Michael DeYoung. Read on to learn how Michael approaches his craft and gain a few skill-building tips and nuggets of wisdom in the process.
Words and Photos from Michael DeYoung
Name: Michael DeYoung. Michael DeYoung Photography, DeYoung Active Photo Tours
Residence: Taos, New Mexico
Years Shooting: 32
Favorite Location(s) to Shoot: Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska/ Denali, Kenai Fjords, Zion National Parks
Camera Setup: Commercial: Canon 5D, Mark IV (2) all Canon L lenses: 16-35/F4, 24-70/F2.8, 70-200/F4, 24mm/F3.5 T-S, 400mm/F4 DO, Canon 600RT speedlights. Trail and Packrafting: (anywhere where weight and space is a concern) Sony a6600, Tamron 11-20/Ff.8, Sony-Zeiss 16-70mm/F4, Zeiss Batis 85mm/F1.8, Sigma 16mm/F1.4, (for wildlife rich areas: Sony 100-400/F4.5-5.6)
What got you into photography, and what keeps you at it?
Passion for the outdoors got me into photography. It's something I can seamlessly include in hiking, backpacking, paddling, skiing, and just romping around outside. What keeps me at it is an insatiable desire for wild and beautiful places. As an introvert, like most artists, motivation comes from within, and there really is no need for outside motivation (carrot and stick, chasing money, etc.) to keep me interested in photography and image creation. Staying physically active definitely promotes creative thinking. I believe there is solid science behind that. This becomes even more important as I am getting closer to retirement age. There will never be a "retirement" from image-making.
Out in the wild, what are the elements in a setting that will stop you in your tracks and make you grab your camera?
Good light is the foundation for any successful image. A good photograph isn't just about the subject but the light falling on the subject. As a former meteorologist, I try to forecast and go after ideal and dramatic light as much as possible. If I can't do that, I at least try to position myself in a target-rich area just in case the light gets good in the evening or morning. On backpack or river trips, I usually try to camp someplace high or open and exposed with sweeping views where I get the earliest and latest light possible. The best light is usually up high.
Working in Alaska for over 30 years has taught me how to make compelling images in any lighting or conditions. You have to survive. This means matching your subject matter to the given light. I may want to photograph majestic mountain peaks, but if it's overcast and flat, I turn my focus to things that work in that light, such as forests, flowers, and waterfalls. As far as action goes, again, I look for magical light that allows me to showcase a person or people in their element, and that gives me good design separation. In flat light working with action subjects, I focus on intentional motion and color separation to impact the image. If necessary, I add artificial light to make my subject pop from the background. You can get some amazing landscapes and even action/lifestyle images in stormy weather!
What elements will you wait or hunt for? Where and why?
Assuming you have a good idea and subject, a good image has three elements: Good conditions (peak fall colors, new snow, calm winds with reflection, etc.), good design (strong diagonal lines, good color, focus or contrast separation, and composition), and good light (usually at the beginning and ends of the day but not always.) I chase light. I will drop what I'm doing at home and go on quick sojourns if I see the potential for great light on either an approaching storm system or an exiting one. This is where the best light usually is. My motto is bad weather equals great images. I love mountains and water and action photography. For backgrounds, I look for strong diagonal lines and captivating colors and textures. Over the years, I've learned that the biggest peaks, the gnarliest rapid, or the steepest ski run don't necessarily equate to the most impactful imagery. It is about light and design. In Alaska, for example, there are nameless mountains that are far more interesting and photogenic than Denali, North America's highest peak. Denali is beautiful when photographed in the right light, but it doesn't make the best mountain image simply because it's the highest peak. I get better images of rapids at places other than Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon, the biggest rapid on the river.
Here's an example. On a 230-mile section hike on the PCT through the Sierra, I had never seen Banner Peak, but I knew it was an iconic photo from the rather large Banner Lake. I came across it at a pass north of Banner Lake near a little pond in midafternoon when the light was harsh and uninteresting. The peak has nice diagonal lines in its pyramid shape, and I knew the little pond I was at was probably a less crowded place than the larger and more popular Banner Lake. Studying the terrain and where the sun would be at sunrise, I concluded this would be a place worth staying and going after a photo the next day. So that's what we did, and it paid off. I ended up getting a Backpacker Magazine cover from that shoot.
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 shot represents everything I love about photography-being outdoors, paddling, camping and being with the one you love or cherished friends. The more you know about a subject and a location the better odds you have of capturing a decent image. Before the fact we were not sure if the aurora would develop or turn into a photogenic display but if it did we were prepared to capture this moment. The location and concept were pre scouted and thought about. So was the styling. I knew the aurora would most likely be green and that Lauri in a purple jacket would be a great contrasting complementary color. Careful placement of off camera lighting to supplement the natural light was necessary for both separation and detail on the tent and person viewing the aurora. It took several tries to get the right intensity and placement from my flashes for the right lighting. We were hoping for calm winds and a perfect reflection but we didn’t get that and I’m not complaining. Even in ideal conditions there is always some unforeseen element in outdoor photography.
*Note: All the images in this feature were made in the past 12 months except for the example above. I want to convey that I still actively practice what I'm preaching!
You can pass five short tips on to aspiring shooters. Go.
Have the right mentality and keep an open mind. Good and compelling photography is about impact, not effort. Impact comes from thoughtful and creative subject choice, light, and design, NOT from megapixels, specific camera brands, and superlative subjects. There is a big difference between a photo of a superlative subject and a superlative photo of a superlative subject. Traveling long distances to exotic places, enduring hardship or danger, paying lots of money, photographing icons (Everest, Denali), and having the latest and greatest gear are all irrelevant. Your photos stand on their creative merits alone.
Keep camera operation simple and make it second nature. Be able to perform all exposure and focus functions to achieve technical excellence and good composition without ever taking your eye from your viewfinder. I see too many shooters miss shots, especially fast-breaking action shots, because they are looking at their LCD trying to change the focus point, ISO setting, etc., or just chimping when they should be focusing on what's happening in front of them.
On long-distance trips it’s easy to get caught up in the making miles mentality. One of the hardest skills for an adventure or travel photographer to develop is maintaining flexibility and recognizing when you should stay in place and go after a photo that is not readily apparent when you first arrive on location. Many photographers get FOMO or just impatient. Such is the case here at Banner Peak at this small pond on the PCT/JMT through the Sierra. When we arrived here in late afternoon the day before the light was harsh and cold with a stiff wind across the pond. Looking at my sunrise/sunset app, a compass, where the light would be at sunrise and the forecast for a clear mooring we decided to camp early, give up on our mileage goals and go after a shot at sunrise. This is what we found. I didn’t care if there was “something better” down the trail. I was confident there was something real good right here! Another angle from this same shoot became a Backpacker Magazine cover.
Keep your camera outfit light, top quality, and easy to access. Like gear for other outdoor pursuits, be it backpacking, paddling, ski touring, climbing, etc., choosing photo gear is a balancing act between weight, performance, and price. Generally, you have to pick two. The balance is different for each person and each activity. There is no one-size-fits-all camera outfit. For most adventure trips, I pare my kit down to a body (Sony a6600), 1-2 lenses, critical filters (circular polarizer and 3-stop, hard step, graduated neutral density filter). If I'm working more with people, action, and lifestyle, I will add a light. Often, less is more. I don't skimp on quality lenses. I bite the bullet and pay the price for performance optics. I have easy-to-access carrying systems for hiking and ski outings and for around water. The general concept is: Carry less, shoot more.
Shoot what the light dictates, and don't leave fish to find fish. These are very critical and difficult skills for many photographers to develop and master. I had to learn to shoot warm and inviting tourism photos in a place (Alaska) where the weather sucks 80% of the time. Shoot what the light calls for. You may have expectations for capturing Rainier in blazing morning alpenglow, but if it's foggy and misty, photograph forest details and flowing water instead. Look for ways to capture the energy and mood of what you are given. I've seen too many shooters inflicted with FOMO-fear of missing out. They spend five minutes working a scene then move on not to miss "something better" somewhere else. Learn to recognize a good photo situation and work it until you get it. Don't leave fish to find fish. Good things will come to those who are patient. (See example in item 3.)
Do everything you can on location to capture the best image and avoid the "I'll fix it in the post" mentality. Good post-processing merely brings out and showcases what you captured on your sensor. It does not add something that was not there to begin with. Even with spectacular advances in post-processing tools, the old adage still applies–"Garbage in, garbage out." The best processing tools can't fix bad light or design.
Where can we see more of your work? www.michaeldeyoung.com, www.mdphoto.com, www.activephototours.com