1. Could you introduce yourself?
“My name is Randall J. Hodges. I own Randall J. Hodges Photography, which includes the Randall J. Hodges Photography Gallery in downtown Edmonds, Washington, and the Images of the West Gallery, by Randall J. Hodges in beautiful Cannon Beach, Oregon. My work has been published over 4,800 times worldwide. I teach photography lessons and adventures all around the west. I have a book out called Images of the West, and I do talks and webinars on my old-school all-in-camera style of shooting, and that is what I am known for. I do all the work in the camera with no Photoshop or post processing.”
2. How did you get started in photography?
“I wanted to get paid to hike!”
3. Could you tell me about the gallery and how it got started?
“I was a traveling artist doing 26 shows a year around the Northwest, but the dream was to open a gallery. Over seven years ago I opened the Randall J. Hodges Photography Gallery in Edmonds. Three years ago, I opened the Images of the West Gallery in Cannon Beach.”
4. Could you tell me about the photography classes you offer and some teaching highlights?
“I teach locally at Edmonds Beach in the summer, at Wallace Falls in the winter, and [Skagit Valley for] the Tulips in the spring. I also teach adventures at places like Grand Teton National Park, Death Valley National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Palouse Hills and Palouse Falls, Mount Shuksan, fall color classes at Lake Wenatchee and Tumwater Canyon, and many other locations. Every year my lessons schedule changes a bit, but you can always get an updated list on my lessons tab on my website at www.randalljhodges.com. I help students set up and run their cameras, to shoot like a pro right in the camera without the need for post processing. My classes are very hands on, and 100% out in the field.”
5. How do you decide on the best location to teach students?
“From years of exploring, and deciding which is the right time of year to be in each location. Before I teach a class in a certain area, I would have visited it and explored that area at least five times.”
6. For a beginning photographer, which class would you recommend they take?
“Any of my classes, but lots of people start with Edmonds Beach or Wallace Falls.”
7. What do you love about landscape photography?
“Everything. I love the hiking, exploring and the light. I like being in nature, and trying to connect with Mother Earth.”
8. What’s the inspiration behind your photos?
“I try to share my spiritual connection with nature through my images.”
9. What are your favorite places, times of day and types of weather to photograph?
“All. I like to be in certain areas at certain times of the year for the best results. In winter, my favorite [places] are beaches in the San Juan Islands and snowshoeing in the mountains. February it’s Death Valley National Park. Spring its daffodils, then cherry blossoms, then tulips. May is time for the desert Southwest. Then right into shooting Northwest streams, waterfalls, rivers and forest trails until mid-June. In fall, I start up high in the mountains, chasing mountain wildflowers and lakes, then work my way down with the snowfall, until I finish in the Columbia River Gorge.”
10. What are some challenges to entering into the photography business?
“Too much competition. Everyone who gets a camera and learns Photoshop wants to be a full-time photographer. Best advice is to find your own niche. Be different. Mine is doing it all-in-camera.”
11. Do you have a favorite photograph?
“No, I have hundreds or thousands of them.”
12. What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer?
“Take a lesson out in the field and master the technique for whatever it is you want to shoot. You must be technically sound. Then train your eye, and build a professional portfolio of images in your specialty.”
13. What kind of lenses do you use and for which purposes?
“I shoot a Cannon 5 DSR and my number one lens is the Cannon 24-105 Mark 2 lens. My second favorite is my Canon 16-35 wide angle [lens]. My third favorite is my 100 macro, and my fourth favorite is my 100 to 400, which is my least-used lens. Before deciding on a lens, you must explore the area and find some compositions, then you will know which lens to use.”
14. For photographs of water with a feathery affect, what settings do you use on your camera?
“Aperture Priority f/20 or f/22 with a low ISO. This small aperture will create a long exposure which creates the soft effect. Best on overcast days for lower and balanced light.”
15. What type of photographs do you take when using an ND filter?
“I do not use a lot of ND filters, but I do use graduated split neutral density filters to balance light at sunrise and sunset. Otherwise, during the days there is always a circular polarizer on my camera.”
16. Do you alter your camera settings when taking photos different times of day and light such as sunset, afternoon, sunny or rainy?
“Yes. Different apertures, ISOs, shutter speeds, white balances, and/or filters. Every light and scene require its own adjustments.”
17. Do you have a favorite memory from one of your classes in the field?
“One of the great things about my classes is not only do my students learn all the photography techniques at the right place and time over and over again, they build lifelong friendships. I had a couple of older students that met during class. During day three or four at Thor’s Well on the Oregon Coast, these couple of gals chose to stay up higher and shoot the Spouting Horn instead. As I was coming up the hill to check on them, they were sitting together looking at each other’s cameras and photos. One said, ‘Look! I caught a photo of a heart in the mist!’ The next thing you know, they’re hugging and got teary eyed. They all still go out shooting today from three years ago when they met.”
18. What is one mistake most amateur photographers make?
“The first mistake young photographers make is they do not shoot from a tripod. Compositionally, they put way too much empty sky in their photographs, and they do not think about their foreground. Often when I have new students, I say to them, ‘You have too much sky, point your camera down.’”
19. Besides teaching your field classes and adventures, do you personally mentor aspiring photographers one-on-one in your free time?
“I mentor all my students whenever they call and ask questions. I don’t have the time to just mentor one person on a more rigorous basis. At any given time, I’m helping a couple dozen photographers, whether it’s printing questions or after lessons questions. I’m constantly always available to my students.”
20. What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a photographer?
“The miles I get to hike and the sites I get to see. It’s the whole reason I do it. I’ve always wanted to get paid to hike.”
21. Was there a time when you didn’t have access to a vital piece of equipment, and had to use creative ways to supplement them?
“I would say no. The only time I don’t have a piece of gear is because I broke it out in the field. Since I do this full time, I always have more than one lens, camera body and everything. The worst thing that can happen is I break something out in the wilderness. Knock on wood! That has not happened. The items I’ve broken, I was still able to get back to the car and get more stuff.”
22. What methods or tools do you regularly use to see how your photo will turn out? For example, the camera’s histogram or a light exposure app.
“No, since I don’t do Photoshop, I don’t look at the histogram ever. I actually ask my students to turn it off because that is a Photoshop technique and I want my students to use their eyeballs to determine if they’re taking a good photo or not. However, there is a device that you can use out in the field that makes you twice as good. It’s called a loop, which shades and magnifies the back of your camera. You can clearly see much better what you’re doing. The other tool I use quite often is the zoom tool to check foreground, background and check on your work. Every single student who got one, says he or she got twice as good.”
23. What is your necessary non-photography equipment you always bring with you?
“Because I’m a hiker, in my bag there is always one full set of clothes. Even if it goes from 80 degrees to snowing, I even have winter gear in the summer. Two headlamps in case one fails because I’m often hiking at night. I could not live without my hiking poles. There is always a stash of water and snacks that I replenish every time I use it. Your bag should always be ready even if you’re not going [anywhere]. You never want to be caught unprepared. Also of course a first aid kit.”
24. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“Even if it’s not with me, the best thing a photographer can do to get better at their craft is to take an actual out-in-the field lesson with a professional photographer. That’s where most want-to-be photographers fail. They read stuff online, they buy a camera, they go shooting, but they never learn actual technical techniques. One five-hour class with me, I’ll get you technically sound so that every photo you shoot after that is professional grade. The sooner you can get technically correct, your portfolio is better for it. Rather than buying another lens, take a class first. You’d be better spent taking a class.”