Arizona Highways contributing photographer Dawn Kish was once again tasked with photographing our June 2014 issue (last year’s cover was another beauty, thanks to “DKish,” as she’s known around here). Below, Kish talks about shooting the cover and what it takes to get the right photograph.
It really feels like you were in your element when you shot the June cover. What were you trying to convey with your images?
I wanted it to look like someone was having fun in nature. Very natural moments are important to me. Even though we had it planned out, I really tried hard to make it seem documentary-style. Plus, I like rock-hopping myself. Rocks are fun, so I had the talent hiking around on the rocks. I feel like my work reflects me sometimes and how I feel about the natural world.
Did you do much scouting beforehand? Describe your process as you prepared for the big shoot.
I have been up in that park many times because I live at the base of it. I had seen these rocks before and wanted to make landscapes with them. So when [Photo Editor] Jeff Kida asked me to do photos of hikers in Buffalo Park, this is one of the places I wanted to go back to. I feel like the rocks broke up the photo nicely … not your same ol’ “hiker on a trail” photo. Plus, I did go up there to scout the sunrise and sunset to make sure I knew what I could expect from either that time of year.
What challenges did you encounter on this shoot, and how did you overcome them?
Well, when Jeff called about the June cover for 2013, it was shot in September 2012. This time of year is our big monsoon season, so getting the San Francisco Peaks in the background is a bit difficult when they are covered up by the rain clouds. In fact, we did get rained on that afternoon, so I had to fill in light with portable strobes. When he called me in August 2013 for the June 2014 issue, I knew we would possibly be in the same predicament. One thing that helped us was getting out early, before the rain. We got up there when the sun rose at 6 a.m. The models were not so stoked about that wake-up call — they were at my house by 5:30 a.m. Jeff, who was coming from Phoenix, got up at 3 a.m. to be here. Now, that is dedication. To make great photos you need great light, and sometimes that happens really early in the morning.
If I remember correctly, you did your own styling, besides working as the photographer. Are you often a one-man band?
I am usually working a bunch of angles to get shoots done. Usually there is no budget to hire a stylist, assistant, etc. I have done so many shoots and have learned that it is always good to think ahead. Like, what if your model comes to the shoot wearing a bikini, but the shoot is for a winter issue? OK, that is an extreme example, but it is always good to make sure the model knows exactly what you want or need to get the shot. Reshoots are heartbreaking, and I don’t want to waste other people’s time. Props are always important for authenticity, and I tend to use the talent’s gear as much as possible. When I have a shoot, I usually send out an email list to the talent so they can come prepared with all kinds of things, “just in case” we might need something. Plus, I bring extra stuff too.
Did any image stand out as a favorite?
I definitely like the cover shot because it looks natural, but there was this one moment when one of the other models saw a flower called Indian paintbrush. She was amazed at the beauty and took her iPhone out to take a shot. So I took a photo of her taking a photo because it was her normal reaction to nature. This is exactly what I would do hiking down the trail. I have tons of photos of flowers, lichen, rocks, leaves, etc. This is not the best photo ever but tells a little story about what happens when you go outside for a hike. Oh, and it was muddy too, so I took some shots of the hiking boots looking muddy, and I like that photo, too.
You’re an outdoors/adventure photographer … how did that experience help you nail the shot?
After many years, you learn how to hold ‘em, learn how to fold ‘em, learn how to walk away and learn how to run. Being observant is key to working with the outside elements. So, learning about different environments is a major part of that success. With photography you are always learning how to do things better or different or more creative with your eye. Plus, I picked “real” hikers. They love to do this stuff, and they are comfortable outside. In fact, Sheree, the cover girl, worked with Grand Canyon Youth (GCY). She was one of the lucky kids who took a Grand Canyon trip when she was a teen. Sheree was so inspired by nature, she became a GCY river guide. She is an outdoors gal now, rowing boats and hiking through the Canyon.
What three tips would you give to a novice adventure photographer?
1) Learn about light. Light is the most important thing in photography.
2) Know what you’re passionate about.
3) Have fun. Photography is fun, so this is what you should be having.
What camera(s) did you use?
I used a Nikon D700 with a 17-35mm Nikkor lens.