The nature and environmental photography of Peter Essick

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Torres del Paine National Park, © Peter EssickTorres del Paine National Park, © Peter Essick
This year, Patagon Journal has the tremendous honor of having as part of its panel of judges for the 2nd Patagonia Photo Contest the longtime National Geographic photographer Peter Essick.
Over the past three decades, Peter has shot photos for more than 40 stories for National Geographic magazine. His photos have also been featured in diverse other publications and exhibitions, receiving a slew of accolades. Most recently, Outdoor Photographer Magazine named him one of the 40 most influential nature photographers in the world. Some of his photos were included in the Time Magazine book Great Images of the 20th Century.
He has a masters degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri, but Peter’s specialty is nature and environmental photography, which is spotlighted in his two outstanding photo books: Our Beautiful, Fragile World and The Ansel Adams Wilderness. 
In a interview you did with National Geographic last year, you said that of all the places you have worked around the world, Patagonia was your favorite for doing photography. Why do you think it is such a great place for photography? 
For a landscape photographer it offers not only spectacular scenery, but also changing weather patterns that make for dramatic photographs. If you are a climber that opens up all sorts of other opportunities. And if you like to photograph people and cultures, the gauchos are great subjects
Wild horses, Argentina, © Peter EssickWild horses, Argentina, © Peter Essick

Your new book, Our Beautiful, Fragile World, showcases much of your nature and environmental photography for National Geographic over the past three decades. What photo assignment in the book was the most challenging?
Some were more difficult than others from a physical standpoint, but the story I did on the Canadian Oil Sands was the most difficult for me to complete. The oil companies wouldn't allow much access to their sites and the people all worked in the oil sands business and had a negative view of the media, so most didn't want to be photographed. Also, it was hard to see the landscape of the mines and realize that a beautiful forest was once there.
Glaciers receding in Switzerland, © Peter EssickGlaciers receding in Switzerland, © Peter Essick

Who are some of the major influences on your photography, and what are some of the main lessons you learned from them?
Ansel Adams was my main influence when I first started in photography. I learned a lot by looking at his photographs and from his Basic Photo series. I worked for an architectural photographer named Glen Allison as an assistant when I lived in southern California and he taught me a lot about design and natural lighting.
Stormclouds, Garnet Lake, © Peter EssickStormclouds, Garnet Lake, © Peter Essick

Much of your work has centered on environmental themes. What environmental issue affected you most in your past work, and how did you approach portraying that issue in your photos?
Environmental photojournalism is like any other journalism in that you are telling a story. However, some of the scientific issues involved can be difficult to make visual pictures for a photojournalist. However, I believe that the documentary approach is more believable than some other types of photography. The story I did on the chemical body burden called "The Pollution Within" affected me because I felt it was a very important issue that needs more attention and research.
Moonlight, Spruce trees, © Peter EssickMoonlight, Spruce trees, © Peter Essick

What advice do you have for aspiring environmental photographers? 
One needs talent, passion and a strong work ethic to have any chance to succeed in the competitive world we live in. In general, though, I think there will be a demand in the future for journalists that have a grasp of environmental issues and can illustrate them in a visual way. Multimedia and video will be much more prevalent in the coming years in my opinion.
Canadian oil sands refinery, © Peter EssickCanadian oil sands refinery, © Peter Essick

What will you be looking for when deciding the winning photos of the 2nd Patagonia Photo Contest? How will you separate the best from the rest?
There is first the technical competency, but after that I will be looking for someone who has something different to say or can illustrate a familiar theme in a unique way. It is not easy to stand out with some many images and photographers working today.

What projects you are working on right now, and what are some future projects you would like to pursue? Any plans to visit Patagonia again soon? 
I just finished two stories, one of the mountain pine beetle in the American West and one on the drought in California and a few other western states. I also have a landscape story coming out on Yoho NP in the Canadian Rockies. It has some dramatic landscapes like Patagonia. An unfortunately I don't have any plans to visit Patagonia, but my wife and son would like to go someday after seeing my photos.
- Jimmy Langman