Greetings from Yosemite. During the next 24 hours, I will be answering your questions, and I am looking forward to it. I have been photographing nature and the landscape professionally for 40 years and love sharing my ideas and images. Since 1986 I’ve written for Outdoor Photographer magazine, including my “On Landscape” column since 1997. I’ve lived in or just outside of Yosemite since I graduated from college. My growth as an artist has evolved and been nurtured by the beauty and peacefulness of this sanctuary in stone.
My photography has been published in nine books featuring my work including my new book Light on the Landscape, as well as magazines, calendars, posters, and my limited-edition prints have been collected and exhibited in museums and galleries nationally. I earned a degree in Environmental Conservation at the University of Colorado and am honored to have received the Sierra Club’s Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography. To read my full bio and learn more about my online mentoring, 1-1 Yosemite workshops, and my books, please visit my web site at https://portfolios.williamneill.com/about. I hope you will follow my social media on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Flickr.
Although I was interviewed on NPN many years ago, I am delighted to see what David Kingham and Jennifer Renwick are doing with this forum offering excellent discussion forums, with articles that are both technically educational but also stretching our creative directions. I recently contributed an article here: Thinking in Themes.
Come on y’all, Ask Me Anything!
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I often like to go to your website and look at the images. You have quite a few from Antarctica. Can you tell me what ‘outfit’ you went there with. Are all those pictures of icebergs in water taken from the deck of a ship? If so then I suppose that means that they were all shot handheld. These trips seem to be quite pricey.
So, when have been shooting as an amateur for while and you reach a point where you believe you have something to offer to the world, how do you get started down the road to becoming a fine art photographer that actually sells something?
Hello William, I’m coming to the realization that mentorship is incredibly important in the maturity and development of a landscape photographer and their vision; how would you suggest seeking out mentors, particularly for female landscape photographers? Thank you
Please tell us about your thought process for the gorgeous rock, tree and waterfall image. I’m interested in your thought process while taking the shot, and then during post-processing. What did you do to emphasize the flow of white in the shot?
There always seems like a lot of thought goes into your images. When you see something that entices you to photograph it, how much time does it typically take for you to work a scene before you get something that you are happy with?
Big fan of your work Bill. I was just wondering if you would mind sharing what percentage of your business comes from gallery sales vs teaching? From looking at your site it seems like your print sales are exclusively through the handful of galleries you work with.
Hi Igor, Thanks for your question. I was co-instructor on photographer’s tour with Luminous Landscapes. Those tours are now run through Rockhopper Workshops. Many of my photographs were taken from our Zodiac raft or the ship while either was in motion. Yes, all photographs were made handheld. Most of my penguin images were made during our daily excursions to visit various colonies along our journey.
For our tour, we flew into Antarctica rather than crossing the Drake Passage. We were there for only five days but the opportunities were bountiful! See: https://portfolios.williamneill.com/portfolio/G0000rxVHkISS_lo. Tours that cross the Drake Passge are generally longer and cheaper due to the lack of an airline flight there and back.
Thanks for your question. Although I photographed using 35mm and 4x5 film cameras for 30 years, I have been shooting with digital cameras since 2005. I currently use the Sony A7R4 and love it.
I began my “digital” career printing digitally in the early 1990s, and learned to use Photoshop. When Lightroom came along, it became my primary tool to begin my post-processing. Since I was already using Photoshop especially in making local adjustments, I now use a combination of Lightroom for many of my global adjustments, and Photoshop for local adjustments. I also regularly use Tony Kuyper’s Luminosity Masks.
Thanks for joining us here at NPN’s Ask Me Anything!
When using my digital camera, I use both the internal viewfinder and Live View. My Sony has an auto setting that turns off the back screen when I put my eye to the viewfinder which makes it simple to switch back and forth. Hope this helps!
Hi Bill - Thank you so much for your willingness to answer questions here (and for your recent NPN article on seeing in themes, which was fantastic). What advice do you have for photographers who are thinking about publishing a physical book? For example, what is your experience in working with publishers versus self-publishing? Have you done any sort of market testing before committing to a topic? And how might one get started on a first book project? I know that answers to these questions could fill up a week-long seminar but if you have any highlights you wish to share related to these topics, I would appreciate your insights. Thank you!
That is an excellent and very tough question. First, I recommend “keeping your day job” while developing your skills and vision. Many new photogs jump onto social media right away and are heavily influenced by Likes and Follower’s feedback that their unique point of view isn’t allowed to mature yet. But eventually, you’ll want to put your work out there and see what the response is from those you want to see your art. If you share your photographs with galleries, or magazine editors (online or in print), you’ll begin to see if you are offering something new or fresh. Entering contests can get your career started sometimes. This type of exposure helped me greatly in getting started back in 1988 when I entered photographs in the Communication Arts Photography Annual and received several awards, which led to a feature spread that many editors and art directors viewed. This publication led to commercial projects such as a line of posters and high-end stock sales.
Taking workshops is excellent for learning new skills and exploring new landscapes but also gives you a sense of where your body of work stands with other photographers.
It is important to realize that creating portfolios that explore a subject/theme deeply and are of the highest quality, takes time.
Even after considering all these practical approaches to starting a career, what really counts is that you dive deep into finding where your photographic passions lie and being true to your unique POV. Mostly likely, if you forge your own path, others will see you and appreciate that uniqueness. People, including those who might further your budding career, will value you being true to yourself as an artist.
Forty years into your career, what keeps you motivated and interested in photography? I assume it’s not simply the need for a payday. I’m only ten years in (as a full time pro) and think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever reach a point where I’ll actually want to retire and stop taking photos, but I don’t yet know what will keep me in the game down the road.
Is the big draw for you the fact that there are still places that you wish to explore—either physically in terms of visiting new locales, or thematically/stylistically through your work—which push you to get into the field? Or is it simply the enjoyment of exploration and discovery in the creative process (“let’s just see what happens today!”) that gets you out there after all this time?
Hi Beth, thanks for your question. I recognize the value of having a mentor, but I don’t have that experience myself. I never had a mentor in a formal sense. However, at age 26, I began working at The Ansel Adams Gallery, getting to know Ansel and many other exceptional photographers. So, being in a location like Yosemite and being around other photographers, I was able to soak up many ideas and approaches to having a career as an artist. I consider these connections as influences but not so much as mentorships.
So I see a couple of approaches to elevating one’s photography. My example illustrates that being in a place that inspires you to photograph, has the potential as a daily source of inspiration, and where you can commune with others of similar interests. Suggestion: become involved in your local photo community.
As for the mentorship with a female landscape photographer, I suggest writing emails to and attending workshops or conferences where your favorite women photogs are teaching.
Another idea would be to develop an online source where women nature/landscape/wildlife can connect and share images and ideas. Perhaps you can start a Women’s group here on NPN? There might be options like this already that I am not aware of, so if you know of such a source, please let us know.
I hope this is helpful, and let me know where it all leads for you!
Do you mean like forgetting to pack my tripod for trip to Death Valley! In my defense, I was packing for a camping trip when my kids were young and chaos ruled the day and my mind! BUT, I managed to turn this egregious error into a creative coup. I was just beginning to try out intentional camera motion imagery and so I explored that style in depth while on that trip. In fact, the ICM technique lent itself to more flexibility for light and location while exploring DV with the family. I found photographs in mid-day light as we explored the dunes, Zabriskie Point, Artist’s Drive and Badwater! See below.
On another family vacation, I forgot my battery charger. Well, B&H eventually saved the day but meanwhile I had to severally conserve my batteries and limit the frames I took. It was like having a 4x5 camera and limited funds to process film all over again like my early “starving artist” days.
Thanks for your question and the chance to embarrass myself here on NPN!
Thanks for these questions. I was not thinking. I was reacting. It was a morning with clearing clouds and when I saw fog hovering on the cliffs right on top of the falls, I knew they would soon be gone. I had photographed here many times before and did not have to contemplate on how to compose what I saw. So instincts kicked in just fast enough to get off a few frames before the mist lifted. Every trip into the field is practice for making your next important image. The more internalized your craft, the more your technique is instinctual, the better your odds!
I have attached my adjustments in LR, and also my layers in PS. As per my norm, I lifted the shadows, and toned down highlights for smoother tonal transition and texture in the whites and light greys. Then I lifted the whites overall to brighten the glow of the water which I often do especially in soft light.
Although you probably can’t see the layer masks very well here, above the background layer you can see three small local adjustments. Above those layers, you can see my use of Tony Kuyper’s Triple Play action with which I refined further refined highlight and shadow detail.
As for emphasizing the white flow, my main goal was to convey what entranced me here which was the way the water disappeared into the fog on the left-hand side of the image. This water-into-mist effect was handled with the aforementioned adjustments in the whites.
Camera: Sony 7RM2
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
Settings: 2 sec at f/19, ISO 100