a photograph of feet on the edge of a view point in joshua tree national park during sunset

In Focus: People in Beautiful Landscapes

In Travel by DustinWong

Recently I got asked by Media Drum, a UK based editorial photo agency, to feature images with people in beautiful places on their site where they market to publications around the world. To go along with this they asked me a series of questions that I’m sharing with you here. (This post was also picked up by the UK’s Daily Mail and can be viewed here)

How did you become involved in photography? Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

My interest in photography grew when I started traveling to places like the Dominican Republic, Central America, Vietnam, Fiji, and Australia. I would also take a camera with me on backpacking trips in Hawai’i, where I grew up, to capture natural scenery and the beauty of the islands. I currently live in Seattle, WA and do photography full time. Last year I traveled all over the west coast of the US living out of a van for 5 months, visiting as many national parks as I could. This year I will be focusing on the Pacific Northwest.

Photo of couple riding a kayak on bowman lake. Glacier National Park, Montana

Can you tell me how you first got the idea to incorporate people into your images?

I had been traveling to places to photograph nature landscapes, and for those photos, the worse thing one could have is a person or a man-made creation in the frame because the goal is to create a sense of the pristine natural world without human interaction. I then started to see images featuring a single person in a beautiful landscape. It help provide a sense of scale and also helped the viewer relate to the landscape in a visceral way. It was then that I started experimenting with using people in my landscapes. When I’m all alone, I use myself in the photo. I still take photos without people in them too.

Photo of man and the Aurora Borealis on a beach in Lofoten, Norway

Please describe what we see in your images in your own words?

The images depict people interacting with the environment and enjoying themselves in the outdoors.

Photo of girl doing yoga by a stream

How were you able to find these places and place people perfectly in them – can you tell me your method?

I am always searching for amazing scenery. I particularly pay attention to places that have a special quality to them, a place where nature has come together to form something very appealing and pleasant. I will often wander through a space, keeping an opening mind, that way I can sense when something interesting is going on. I also make sure I’m out photographing when the light is good. With regards to placing people in them, some of the shots are posed–where the person and I were working to create images, some are candid and spontaneous.

Underwater photo of girl

Were there any problems you had to overcome?

It’s difficult to point to a specific event or issue that I came across. From a traveling perspective, I had car maintenance issues which had to be dealt with whenever they came up. This can be a drain financially and quite frustrating when the same thing breaks that was just fixed. From a photography perspective, it has been a process of trial an error. Reviewing my work and making steps to improve the quality of the images. I feel like every time I go out and shoot or edit a new set of images I learn something new. That’s a good feeling.

Underwater photo of man standing in wave

What do you love about this type of photography?

I really enjoy being able to travel to incredible places. This world has so many locations where the scenery is majestic. Every now and then the light will get really good, sometimes there are people there to witness it, sometimes there won’t be. It’s very similar to the question, “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around, does it make a sound?” I often visualize places having epic conditions—”going off” is what I like to call it, and I figure if I’m out in the field enough I will encounter something spectacular.

Photo of Star Trails and selfie at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

Is there a particular message you want to convey?

I have a desire to experience the natural world and to let those feelings inspire me. I find the idea of nature evolving and thriving on this planet for millennia, incredibly humbling and satisfying. Life on this planet is older than any of us can comprehend, and there is a beauty in that history and power. However, these days our natural spaces are being encroached upon by human development. Through my images I try to convey a sense of awe of the incredibly intricate and diverse world we share. I want to encourage people to interact and experience nature for themselves. I think this way more people will care about protecting and preserving natural environments.

Photo of man sitting on rock in Lofoten, Norway

What do people say when they see this with their own eyes? What’s the reaction?

Many times people are at a loss for words. Truly majestic scenery takes people’s breath away. They often stare wide-eyed and stumble to find a way to express how they are feeling. On the other hand, people who get outside a lot, can’t stop talking about how this and that is so amazing. I like to be around that too.

Photo of couple shooting fireworks at night in a winter forest

Please feel free to include any other information:

My favorite environments to photograph involve water and the night sky. I love to surf so my relationship with the ocean is very powerful. Water is incredibly dynamic and also rejuvenating. The stars and the night sky help me contemplate our place in the universe on a grand scale. So many provocative thoughts are instigated by wondering about the cosmos.

Underwater photo of a couple

A few quick facts:
Please list the countries you visited: Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Italy, Norway, China, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Fiji, & Australia (18)
How many air miles was this: I would guess around 60,000
How many months/years did this take: I’ve been traveling internationally for 15 years.

Thanks Media Drum for the thoughtful questions!

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Photo of sunset from water on the North Shore of O'ahu