Jason Christensen: Photographing Nature in All Her Beauty

An Interview with the Nature Photographer

Autumn in Kolob, Kolob Finger Canyons, Zion National Park, Utah, Photography by Jason Christensen

For nearly two decades Jason Christensen is capering about the glens and crevices of Utah and beyond with a 4×5 film camera in hand; for nearly twenty years he is scanning the reflections on the sparkling water of Snake River, lolling under the glowing moon in Stansbury or gauging the tide at the Pacific coast of El Matador.

Jason Christensen has soaked in the natural grandeur around him and with the help of his trusted camera preserved those cherished moments as much as he could. He gathered all his experiences into a neatly showcased gallery with the enthusiasm of a child who never forgets his scrapbook.

Through his photography, he proved his faithfulness to art and the natural wealth around him. His paragon has been to reveal the pristine side of nature. That is why whenever anyone scrutinises his photograph one is sure to smell the earth.

‘There is a pleasure in the pathless woods / There is a rapture on the lonely shore’ — How Jason Christensen feels touched by the beauty of planet earth that defines his love affair with nature?

I would have to say that I was ‘touched by the beauty of planet earth’ when I began my photographic journey almost 20 years ago. I love to be out in our natural environment hiking in the wilderness and taking in the beautiful scenery while experiencing the magic of the moment. I can only define this feeling by letting my photographs speak for themselves and sharing this spiritual experience through the lens of a camera. Capturing this ‘moment in time’ onto a sheet of film and turning it into a finished piece of art is very rewarding. Words just can’t describe the emotional feeling of being able to photograph nature in all her beauty.

Desert Symphony, Photography by Jason Christensen
Desert Symphony

Tell us of the childhood influences that shaped the artist and human being in you?

Growing up, I showed an early interest in art with doing pencil drawings. I believe this was the foundation that led to my dream of becoming a photographer. Doing pencil drawings gave me a sense of perspective, composition, and design that later became influential when I first picked up a camera. I gained a love and appreciation for the outdoors when my father would take the family out camping, fishing and hiking. I would frequently break away from the group and go off exploring on my own, where I would seek out wildlife and search for the unknown. This gave me the independence I needed to develop my ‘artist eye’. By setting out on my own I was able to discover my own unique artistic style and technique.

Your background is in the illustration that deals heavily with form and composition. How does your skill and experience in illustration help in composing photographic essays?

Throughout my education, photography was always in the back of my mind. But at the time, I needed something more stable as far as a career choice goes. So I studied and trained in not only illustration but also architecture. This gave me an appreciation for the field of art as a whole, supplying me with a balanced set of skills that I would eventually integrate into my life’s work, nature and landscape photography. My illustration and architectural background combined has created an eye for natural design, both traditional & abstract.

You utilise film camera and darkroom techniques for photographing many hues of nature. Why this conscious choice of using such tools that are normally shunned nowadays? How does it complement your vision?

As long as the final outcome is what the photographer has intended to make in his or her mind, whether it be the film or digital, it should not be shunned. In my case, if it’s not broke, then don’t fix it. I use a large format 4×5 film camera for my choice of capturing awe-inspiring images. Film photography is an art of its own. An art I have studied and learned to trust over my photography career. I have experienced thousands of different lighting conditions that create situations requiring me to know the strengths and limitations of my film that enable me to capture the emotion of the moment. The question of using film or digital is really for the artist to determine. This has been a hot issue in the past, and my opinion is that film is still a fantastic medium, which influences me to slow down in today’s digital madness. This allows me to study my subject matter in full detail by being more selective and patient in capturing that serendipity moment we all strive for and by focusing more on the art of photography. I feel that our natural world needs no digital enhancements and that nature provides its own magnificent colour palette needing no manipulation to look better.

How do you prepare yourself for a photographic excursion? Is there any place that you love visiting and revisiting?

It all depends on where my next photo excursion is going to be. I’ve learned over the years to not only come prepared gear wise but to emotionally prepare myself by opening up my mind and intuitively knowing where and what I want to photograph. I must confess that the majority of my best shots were taken on the spur of the moment, where I’ve needed to divert from my original plans and go with what Mother Nature is dealing me. When selecting a photo destination, I always factor in the weather, seasonal changes, and do a good deal of research on my subject matter. When travelling somewhere new, I will usually scout out or familiarize myself with the terrain, studying not only the plant or wildlife I will encounter but also the angle of the Sun rays rising and setting along the landscape.

There are quite a few photo destinations I love to revisit when I get the chance. Places like the backcountry of Zion National Park, or the lush green forests of Washington State, and not to forget the hundreds of trails that are local to my area. But I believe heading out on new adventures and exploring new places to shoot is the most rewarding of experiences. The possibilities are endless.

You travel a lot to not–so–frequented–places closer to home. How does this help in knowing the ‘known’ better?

Whenever I travel to a new photo destination I forge a way off the beaten path with one goal in mind, and that’s to produce a unique image in time. Even if it’s a popular national park or forest, I will make an effort to get a different view or angle. I’m always looking for ways to separate myself from the norm of the crowd by going the extra mile, climbing over the next hill, setting up my tripod in the middle of a creek, and getting that different viewpoint that is not known. The shot that has been taken a billion times over and over does not interest me. My stubborn attitude and competitive spirit is what gives me a creative vision in my photography. Living here in the state of Utah I have an endless supply of beautiful locations bursting with scenic lakes, vibrant colours of autumn foliage, alluring mountain wildflowers, and the surrealism of the red rock canyons that will always satisfy my curiosity for adventure.

Autumn at Sundail, Photography by Jason Christensen
Autumn at Sundail

Over the years has there been shift in your focus in regards to the facets of your photographic pursuits? From and beyond the world of photography whom do you consider your greatest sources of inspiration and learning?

When I began my photographic journey back in 1995, I set a list of goals for myself to accomplish throughout my career, which in turn gave me a solid foundation to build upon. I am continuously challenging myself and striving to become a better photographer. My focus has really never shifted in my photographic pursuits. From the beginning to the present, passion and inspiration in photography are the driving force behind my artistic work.

I would have to say my greatest sources of inspiration and learning are my school instructors that knew how to challenge, motivate, and influence me in the right direction by giving me the confidence to pursue my dreams of becoming a photographer. I don’t have any artists in particular that I admire, but there are a select few professional outdoor photographers that I have studied and considered ‘the masters’. I learned a great deal from this select group and feel that this was a pivotal moment in creating my own photographic style.

If you are requested to summarise your artistic journey thus far what would that reveal?

My artistic journey up until now would definitely reveal that I am a painter with light. As us photographers define it, photography means ‘painting with light’. Nobody picks up a camera and automatically becomes a photographer. It takes years of hard work, persistence, dedication and above all, sacrifice. Photography has been a part of the best years of my life and I’ve met a lot of good friends and made some great connections along the way. I would feel guilty by not mentioning the backbone of my work, my beautiful wife who has stood by my side for 17 years and my son of almost 2 years of age. They are who truly motivate me in my photographic endeavour. My family has encompassed me with the support I need to fulfil my dream of becoming a photographer.

Portrait of Jason Christensen

Jason enjoys…

Jason Christensen has profound admiration and respect for nature and our environment. He seeks to capture a unique image in time wherein viewers can feel like they are experiencing the emotion of the moment. Of his top holiday destinations, Jason ranks the Pacific Northwest among one of his favourites. Cosmos by Carl Sagan is an enjoyable read to Jason, but he loves any good nature and landscape photo book. A lot of his inspiration comes from Rock, New Age, and Alternative music, depending on the situation. Jason describes his favourite foods as being a good steak served with a chocolate dessert.

Find more of his work at his website.

Image Courtesy: Jason Christensen