Hear It!
An Interview with Mike Norton

Mike Norton's portfolio showcases an amazing collage of the colors that Mother Earth and Nature has woven together, creating an awe-inspiring feeling that seems timeless. Forget digital cameras, old school 4x5 film is the way to go for Mike. Let's hear what Mike has to say in this edition of Hear It!

Photographer: Mike Norton
Country of Origin: United States

1. Production Equipment:
  • Camera: 4x5 inch field camera
  • Lenses: 90mm, 168mm, 270mm
  • Scanner: Epson 4990 Photo Scanner
  • Computer: iMac G5
  • Editing: Photoshop CS

2. What do you think of photography these days?
Photography is a good reason to get out of the house and go somewhere, for me I prefer a National Park or National Forest. Film or digital capture . . . it's all the same to me. I think each photographer should shoot however he or she wants to.

3. What did you want to be when you were younger?
I don't remember being younger!

4. Tell us about the time when you first got started in photography.
I took a photography course my senior year of high school. The nice thing about this course was the teacher, everyone called him Chief, would let us wonder around outside the school to shoot film. I remember taking a lot of pictures of the nice cars in the school parking lot.

5. In your opinion, what does it take to become successful in this industry?
I wish I knew! I do know that it takes more than just good images.

6. What was your biggest challenge coming into this industry?
I think the biggest challenge about photography is getting the potential client to drop his or hers preconceived notion about what is and is not a good image. I once had two gallery owners view my Crystal Mill image on the same day. One told me to throw the image away and never show it to gallery people again while the other gallery owner could not believe that such a beautiful place actually existed. Another time I received two envelopes in the mail, again on the same day. One envelope contained a letter explaining that my Mesa Arch (Panoramic) image was not selected for a gallery show while the other envelope contained a $1200.00 check for selling the very same Mesa Arch image.

(Editor: That's right, image reviewers aren't the best judges of what sells either! Really!)

7. What are the best perks as a Photographer?
I was employed by an oil company as a corporate photographer from 1984 to 1994. During those years I had a lot of perks. I traveled all over the United States, to Europe, Bermuda and New Zealand. I photographed the Indy 500, The Economic Summit of Industrial Nations, Offshore Oil Platforms, Boat Races, Truck Races, Rodeo's, 10k Fun Runs, The Colorado Special Olympics Winter Games, Terry Bradshaw, Olympic Gold Medalist Frank Shorter, Oil Refineries, Gas Plants, Oil Rigs, The International Pork Expo and more Gas Stations than I knew existed.

I photographed while being suspended by a crane, from the back seat of station-wagons, from airplanes and boats, on ski slopes, during roller-coaster rides, from the roof of sky scrapers, on a glacier and from helicopters. And yes the helicopter door was open! Since 1994 I have concentrated on landscape photography. The best perks occur during the magic hours, around sunrise and sunset. Standing on a ridge or in a field while photographing the play of light on the land and sky, knowing that it will never be exactly like this again.

8. How do you plan for your shooting sessions?
It is hard for me to do much detailed planing in advance for landscape photography. I pick out a landscape to photograph and plan a trip to coincide with the a natural event like fall colors, the full moon or the spring run-off. When I arrive I note when and where the sun rises and sets and begin scouting locations. I then decide which locations to photograph in the mornings and which locations to photograph in the evenings. Then I wait for the light and the clouds.

Rule #1 - No clouds no pictures!

One autumn in Colorado I waited 11 days for clouds. (Editor: .... That's persistence for ya!)

9. How would you describe your work to first time viewers?
Colorful landscape images photographed in National Forests and National Parks.

10. Do you shoot to what your heart tells you or do you go through a complex check list in your mind when you produce your work?
I strive to photograph when the clouds and landscape are being illuminated by extraordinary light. My eyes tell my heart that it is time to press the cable release. It is at this point where the complex mental check list comes into play.

I have to meter the scene, set the f-stop, set the shutter-speed, cock the shutter, put the film holder in the camera, pull the dark-slide, shade the lens, press the cable release to start the exposure, time the exposure, press the cable release to stop the exposure, turn the dark-slide around, replace the dark-slide, take the film holder out of the camera, and since I like to have two sheets of film exactly the same, I turn the film holder around, put the film holder back in the camera, re-cock the shutter, pull the second dark slide, shade the lens, press the cable release to start the exposure, time the exposure, press the cable release to stop the exposure, turn the dark-slide around, replace the dark-slide, take the film holder out of the camera, quickly write on a post-it note recording the date, time, location name, shutter-speed, f-stop, lens and shot number and stick the post-it note on the film holder.

Then I rotate the camera's back 90 degrees and do it all over again, hopefully before the light goes away. These steps must be followed exactly because there is no time for bracketing and each sheet of 4x5 film cost $5.00, $2.50 to purchase and $2.50 to process. That's $5.00 for every picture I take, $10.00 if I am lucky enough to shoot horizontal and vertical.

11. From your experience, what subjects gives you the greatest satisfaction?
Any landscape that is light in a unexpected way. Here are two examples. Ask any fifth grader what color is the sky? They will answer blue. Ask what color are clouds? They will answer white. Now look at my images Half Dome from Glacier Point and Devils Tower. In both of these images the sky is white, the clouds are blue and the monoliths are glowing pink because of alpenglow at sunset. These are the types of image gives me the greatest satisfaction.

12. From your experience, what subjects are the hardest to work with?
CHILDREN! and Public Relation people.

13. What is your philosophy when it comes to your work?
Shoot when the light, clouds and landscape come together to form an unforgetable scene. Also Rule#1 - No clouds no pictures!

14. Describe who/what inspires you, tell us why?
I am inspired by images that I wish I had taken.

15. What do you do when those creative juices just seems to evade you. How do you "get creative"?
I have never experienced this. Even when there are no clouds the creative juices are there, waiting for the clouds appear.

16. Tell us about a time when inspiration just hits you, and you felt the insatiable urge to create. What did you do with that energy?
Inspiration hit me one day as I was on my way home from a photographic trip to Wyoming. I was driving on Highway 287, east of Amarillo, Texas, when I saw a beautiful sunset in my rearview mirror. As I drove I keep my eye out for something to silhouette against the sunset. Luckily there was an abandoned farm about a hundred yards off the highway. I stopped my truck jumped out and photographed the farm house, tree and windmill silhouetted by the sunset. Unfortunately I had exposed all of my 4x5 film so I had to shoot this scene on 35mm.

17. What have you discovered about yourself through photography?

18. Whose work do you admire the most? Why?
I admire Ansel Adams and David Muench. Ansel Adams images are timeless and David Muench has images of everywhere, he probably has an image of your back yard!

19. Do you have any advice for those who are just getting in to stock photography?
Mammas don't let your babies grow up to be photographers Make um be doctors and lawyers and such! With apologies to E. Bruce, P. Bruce, Willie and Waylon.
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