So, where do I start? It has been a while since I’ve written about my photography. Hell, it’s been a while since I’ve picked up a real camera to take a photograph–my last actual big photo trip was in 2013. Many issues, personal and financial, influenced my decision to step away from it back then. It didn’t help that we photographers were all still feeling the effects of the 2008 Great Recession that changed our industry forever, but the main issue was that I’d become bitter with the industry because it had seemed to have come to care more about a photographer’s social media rankings than their experience and actual images. While I don’t think things in that regard have changed that much, the break helped me clear out the cobwebs and work through my bitterness. Change is unavoidable and I’m at peace with it all now.
Deep down I never really lost the desire to be a nature photographer and during my time away I was still publishing my calendar, up until its retirement in 2018, and had continued my work as a print broker and consultant. It’s been good to still be working in the natural history publishing industry and I’ve been happy to help many nature photographers bring their photos to life in print. But I’ve missed being in the field, behind the camera, and working my creative instead of analytical side. (my print brokering and consulting will continue so contact me if you’re in need of these services)
This past winter, while working on multiple publishing projects, I was driven into searching through thousands of my digital files from past assignments, shoots, and workshops / tours and I came across a file that made me laugh out loud. It was a photo of my good friend, former co-workshop/tour leader and business partner, Richard Bernabe, hanging onto a pond cypress at Cathedral Bay Heritage Wildlife Preserve. I remember it like yesterday. It was on the last day of our South Carolina Photo Tour. My years in the field, co-leading tours and workshops, working on book projects and just hanging out with Bern was always a 100% great time, full of laughs and hard work. He has been a big influence on me and is one of the hardest working professional photographers I know. Finding that file made me realize how much I missed doing what I used to do. When I got back in touch with Bern in March, he said “I hope you’re considering getting back into photography again,” to which I replied “I’m really thinking about it…”
With a little more digging, I found the RAW files from one of the most beautiful and enduring sunsets I’d ever witnessed. I shared that moment with my longtime friend Dr. Nye Simmons. We’ve traveled thousands of miles together in the “big red van” shooting for books that we have co-authored, or just hanging out in the high country with our cameras. When I met Nye, I’d spent the morning shooting at the base of Linville Falls down in the Gorge. As I was slowly making my way back up the trail hauling a huge backpack full of large-format gear, I met him hauling his own huge backpack of large-format gear down into the Gorge. I joked “you might as well turn around because I’ve already taken all the good ones”. But as photographers generally do, we talked about the shoot and technical aspects of the location. We swapped business cards and became great friends and colleagues. Nye has been instrumental in getting me back out shooting this spring. I’ll be writing about my first shoot back with Nye soon.
Probably my biggest and longest-standing push to get back behind the camera has been from my six foot red haired twin brother from another mother, Todd “Cloudman” Caudle. Man, what can I say about one of the most inspirational photographers and supportive friends in my life? He’s pushed me to come back from the early days of my hiatus until I called him and told him I had, and he has always pushed me to be the best photographer that I can be. Todd and I have been through so many life changing events over our twenty-year friendship, personal and professional. Photo trips to the Colorado high country with TC is always a blast. From him scaring the hell out of me driving to Porphyry Basin and crossing the very tight section of road with horrifying exposure we aptly named Pucker Point, to the time we spent the evening in Cascade Creek trying to keep Marmots from eating our gear. I’ll never forget a butt-kicker hike we did down a near vertical rock wall to the lake below New York Mountain and then coming to the realization that we had to climb back out. What else can I say other than I can’t wait to get back to the Colorado backcountry with my brother.
With a little soul searching and numerous discussions with my wife, we decided that I should do what I love and start taking photographs again. So, where do I go from here? For over a decade, I’ve photographed almost exclusively in the Blue Ridge Mountains. My focus was in conservation and taking photographs for my books and calendars. The only time I ventured away from the Blue Ridge was for an assignment or a photo tour that I was co-leading. But from today forward, my focus as a nature photographer will be one without boundaries. Maybe I’ll meet you out in the wild!