Geoff Piper

Landscape, night sky, cityscape and wildlife photographer (Denver, Colorado)

The Full Story

My discovery of photography is intertwined with my love for travel. I began this journey while living in San Francisco and expanded each time I took a trip. While I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, and lived in many different places in the United States over the years (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, Arizona and California), it was not until I traveled to Tokyo in the Fall of 2006 that I bought my first digital camera. I bought that camera solely for that trip to capture keepsakes. However, Japan’s rich history and amazing architecture opened my eyes to even broader artistic applications for the tool. During that trip, one of my friends said: “Hey, you have an eye for this...but you should get a real camera.” Thereafter, I pursued photography more seriously and wanted to learn as much as possible to improve. 

After purchasing several other point-and-shoot cameras (a few Canon Digital Elphs and a Lumix LX100), each one purchased in advance of an upcoming trip, I took thousands of photos but by in large they sat in the digital vacuum of my hard drives. I did post some on social media unedited and merely to share moments from trips and events. During this time, my family asked me to make a photo book for them so they could appreciate my travels, see far off destinations they had never seen, and share those experiences.

I began organizing the photos, editing, and preparing photo books: one of my travels to Asia (Taiwan, China, Korea and Japan) from October 2014 and another of my travels in Europe (London, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris and Prague) in the Summer of 2015. I realized the world of print and producing physical media was a whole other universe and  art forms themselves. In order to produce a high quality book, I had to learn even more! And of course, I had to gear up!

In September 2015, I bought a dedicated workstation computer with a specific photography focused build for editing photos, a high quality monitor, calibrated it, and began advanced training in Lightroom and Photoshop. This process proved very difficult and time-consuming, but incredibly fulfilling. While the results were ok, they were amateur and I knew I could do a lot better. I realized  point-and-shoot cameras could not give me the desired results and were far too limiting. Once again, I had to gear up!

In March of 2016, I finally dove into the world of the DSLR. I bought a Canon 70D that came with a basic 16-135mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. I absolutely LOVED this rig! Within a few minutes of getting the camera powered, setup, and an understanding of basic controls, I took my first picture with it, a still life of my "liquor cabinet" practicing the use of aperture and bokeh, which represents my foray into my DSLR era (yes, I do love bourbon and whiskey do not judge!):

First DSLR Image Aperture & Still Life Practice

I practiced whenever I had free time, shooting just about anything (animals, plants, landscape, architecture, sports, friends and portraits, events, musicians, and some night scenes), but results were only so so. I learned the importance of good glass and bought more lenses (a Sigma 24-70 f/4 and the classic Canon EFS 70-200mm f/2.8 telefoto) in hopes this alone would improve my results. My images did improve, but I knew there was a lot more to this art form than gear itself. I wondered how photographers capture these amazingly cool images (those I see all over the web specifically those of light trails, images of cities when it is dark outside, or incredible landscapes of far off destinations where I wanted to go). I knew they were using long exposure techniques, but had no clue really how to accomplish the right capture. Determined, I set out to learn by doing and hit the field.

In May 2016, my first adventure to capture traffic and its light trails happened on I-280 North near Mariposa Street in San Francisco. I knew only the basic techniques and to be expected the images were not great. I captured this image:

San Francisco Rush Hour on I-280N at Dusk

San Francisco Rush Hour on I-280N at Dusk

I loved shooting at night and saw the potential for this type of photography. I wanted to pursue this every day! I wanted to learn everything I could about long exposures and how to get better results so I turned to the masters and consumed everything on this topic I could find. They taught me to know my gear inside and out, how to use it under all conditions no matter what happened (and trust anything can happen in the field), how to adapt under unpredictable situations or less than ideal circumstances, how to seek out, find and capture good light, how to choose and present the subject, how to find razor sharp focus, how to edit photos to maximize their potential, and generally that the pursuit of photography is a journey and will take years to learn, hone and perfect. I was in!

I remember in my first class in front of about 15 people, the instructor put each person on the spot and asked “what do you want to shoot?” While this may seem like an easy question to answer, each students' answer was predictably too broad and all over the place. I kept it simple: night photography and landscapes. My teacher complimented for understanding that narrowing your pursuit will help you achieve your goal quickly as each type of photography takes years to master and each have their unique needs. Not to say that breadth of knowledge and interests is bad, and I do have other interests beyond these, focusing pays dividends in the areas you love the most.

His second question may have been the most important one of all for a photographer: “What is the story you are trying to tell?” He explained every image has a subject with a story behind it. The story of each image can be summarized in just a few words. Keep the story succinct and err on the side of more simple than complex. This taught me how to better compose images, to narrow focus, and to not overly complicate the scene as your viewer likely will become confused. This lesson drives every photo I take.

My basic skills but eagerness to learn revealed limitations in my setup and techniques. I took my growing knowledge to the field and applied it to each photo shoot and editing sessions thereafter. I went on a gear purchasing rampage, took many types of more advanced photography classes in all sorts of fora, read even more, watched hundreds of YouTube videos, met photographers, attended seminars and much more. At this time, most of my work was done on weekends since my day job was working as a lawyer in Silicon Valley. My desire to improve and learn drove me to expand my dedicated time from weekends to daily.

In July of 2016, I stumbled upon a club of fire dancers in San Francisco who were holding their annual photo contest that month. I had seen images of fire dancers during my reading and wanted to try my skills at capturing them. This was difficult but such a fun event. Amazingly, I won the contest with this image of their fire dancers performing one evening at The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

Fire Dancer Contest Award Winning Photo

Winning this contest was a big moment for me, quite an accomplishment at the time in my opinion, gave me a new found confidence and encouraged me to pursue my art even more seriously. Thank you Temple of Poi and Nova!

During July, I began planning a trip to Italy (i.e., Rome, Florence and Tuscany, Naples, Sorrento, Capri and The Amalfi Coast) for August 2016. I practiced endlessly in preparation of this trip and the higher quality photo book that I wanted to make. During the trip, I took over 7,000 pictures with my Canon 70D and my first mirrorless camera (a lighter and smaller more portable body for moments when I did not want to carry my full set of gear) a Sony A6000. I organized these pictures and made another photo book, this time much better in my opinion than the last two. Yet still, I knew I could do better. And guess what? You guessed it---I had to gear up again!

From September 2016 to July 2017, I continued practicing, learning, and producing images. But, my research and training led me to switch from Canon to Nikon (in my view and many of my mentors, teachers, colleagues and friends all agreed Nikon has the edge when it comes to landscapes, cityscapes and night photography) in advance of another trip this time to Australia and New Zealand in November of 2017. I bought my first Nikon (a D810) in May 2017 to capture the brilliance of these countries and make an even higher quality coffee table book for my family.

I bought the D810, which came with a Nikon 24-120mm kit lens, and added a Tamron 24-70 f/2.8, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8, and Nikon 16-35 f/4, plus a host of accessories including a Think Tank Streetwalker 2.0, the Lee Filter system (with 3 graduated filters (3/6/9) and both the Little and Big Stoppers. This trip was an incredible experience all around, eye opening, and full of experiences that became the foundation for my next phase in photography. The photo book results were noticeably improved.

The most important moment and learning experience during this trip came while shooting at Lake Pukaki, New Zealand on an incredibly hot day in November 2017. I had my first in-field disaster but I still look upon it as a great experience and educational. I wandered down to the shore of the lake because the conditions caused an immaculate reflection of Mount Cook and its range displayed on Lake Pukaki like a mirror. The heat by the edge of the lake was sweltering (nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit). During the shoot, after placing my camera on my tripod and what I thought was securely wedged within the jagged rocks of the lake’s shore, I reached for a filter to balance the sky with the foreground, and suddenly......BOOM! My camera tipped over and fell into the water!

My camera submerged for about 3 seconds, but that was enough to completely fry its sensor (as I later learned). My D810 was lost. Luckily, this was the second to last day of the trip, the card was not damaged at all and all data was saved. Also, I had wisely purchased a special insurance policy from Samy’s Camera in San Francisco dedicated to landscape photographers going into difficult and harsh conditions (which depending on the terms offered I highly recommend for those serious about difficult location shooting to always buy) and was able to get a FULL refund for the D810. I applied the refund to the purchase of my next camera--my current Nikon D850. I LOVE it! After this trip, I knew my future involved getting more serious about landscape photography and to build a career in this amazing art form!


A VERY SPECIAL THANKS!

Thanks for reading my photography journey and learning more about the background to my work. Since writing this and posting, I have traveled extensively and been to so many places, taken thousands of pictures, met so many interesting people, and well there is just a ton to catch you up on.

I will use my Blog going forward to update my photography journey, tell my stories from the road and in the studio, and share my work--please check back from time to time, sign up for my mailing list (see the left menu or click here), and follow my blog.

Feel free to drop me a line via e-mail (click the mail button above or visit the Contact page) anytime stay in touch!

~Geoff Piper


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