In the latest addition to MIOPS interview series, we talk to Jason Mihalick, an expert landscape photographer and wilderness therapy guide based in Central Utah, USA. Jason ’s joint passions of hiking and photography have led him to continually seek out new perspectives on some of the natural world’s most breathtaking views, and capture them with his faultless technical skill and a superior eye for composition and creativity. Here he shares his journey, influences and advice for those thinking of heading out on their own adventures…
Can you explain the kind of photography you do for anyone unfamiliar with your work?
I specialize in landscape and astrophotography, but I am a firm believer in being the best that I can possibly be at my craft, so I also try to incorporate a few events into my schedule from time to time too.
How did you first get started in photography and where has the journey taken you to?
When in high school, I took photos for the yearbook club using the school’s Nikon F4. That thing never left my neck the entire school year. After high school, while in the U.S. Army, I took a lot of weekend trips while stationed in Germany. We did a lot of backpacking and road tripping while in Europe, so I never had a problem finding a beautiful landscape somewhere across the pond. Since then, I’ve been working on capturing some of my favourite spots from Colorado to California.
When you’re not working as a photographer, you’re also a wilderness guide, where did your passion for the great outdoors develop from?
I began years ago working with Veterans while living in Texas. As a Veteran myself, I can relate to the hardships of reintegration. I have dealt with a lot of mixed emotions as a Veteran and some of them forced me into a bad place at times. One day, I realized that there is too much beauty in the world to allow life to beat me. Since then, I made it my lifelong goal to help others get out of their comfort zones. It wasn’t easy stepping out of mine, but I chose that rather than the later. It is important to me to help others grow because it helps me grow. Watching someone crawl out from the darkest places in their life to the top of a mountain peak is so rewarding. I’ve been fortunate to travel and hike all over the world, so my love for the outdoors is second nature to me. I’d rather be in the backcountry around a small campfire than under the neon lights of any city.
What do you feel your broader knowledge of the wild helps you to bring to your images?
I don’t think it’s so much of the knowledge I have of the backcountry, as it is attempting to bring emotion and feeling into my shots. Knowing how to navigate the backcountry definitely plays a vital role in the places I am able to get to and shoot. All photographers have those few standardized shots that can be easily found perusing social media, but being able to see things from a different perspective really helps. I’ve been able to harness that ability just by simply exploring where many don’t usually go and by spending a great deal of time doing it.
How do you research potential locations and plan shoots before heading out?
I have learned that some of my best work has been captured on unplanned adventures or just from driving down the road and stopping at a random place. For the work that I do plan on doing, I take a lot into consideration. Weather can either be my biggest friend or foe, depending on what I am looking forward to capturing. I study weather and its movement if I’m chasing a monsoon. I study and track the moon for nights I’m looking to capture the Milky Way and all of its glory. It’s all a roll of the dice. Some days and nights work out and yield epic shots and others don’t. It’s a matter of getting out as much as I can to capture as much as I can.
Where’s been your favourite location to explore and photograph?
This is a tough one. I get asked this a lot. I would have to say that the Pacific Northwest is probably one of my favourite spots to shoot because I am a waterfall fanatic. There are plenty of waterfalls here in Utah and in the Southwest that is closer to home, but I love the mood that the PNW puts me in when I stand in front of a massive waterfall surrounded by enormous green trees and crisp mountain air. Aside from there, if I were to pick a place in Utah, I would definitely have to say anywhere in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area.
What would your dream photo adventure be?
I’d have to say if I were to pick a place stateside, I would pick Thor’s Well. I have been there, but at the time I was there, I didn’t have a camera with me. I am looking forward to getting there with gear in tow ready to shoot an amazing sunset. If I were to pick a place overseas, I would have to say anywhere in Southeast Asia, Australia, or New Zealand. I want to experience astrophotography in the Southern Hemisphere and capture amazing seascapes from that region.
Where do your images tend to be used?
I have worked with Utah.com and have had some of my images used by them.
How do you feel you differentiate your landscape images to those taken by others?
As I mentioned before, it’s easy to find the same shot with a different style of editing on social media. For example, Watchman Peak in Zion Nation Park has been photographed countless times, but it’s always my goal to try and capture it from a different perspective or angle giving the viewer a different sense of the peak while incorporating some emotion and feeling into it. I want people to see my work and ask themselves, “Wow. What did he have to do to get that shot?”
What’s been your proudest moment as a photographer been so far?
Canon featured my shot of Multnomah Falls on their Instagram page once. It was a great moment for me because I was able to reach so many with just that one shot. It was a 2.5” exposure, so I guess you could say that was my 2.5” of fame.
What MIOPS products do you own, and what photographic challenges do they allow you to overcome?
The MIOPS Smart has increased my photography game quite a bit. No longer while out capturing epic monsoons do I need to leave the shutter open and wait for lightning to strike and take up memory space with images I’ll probably never use. This device does it all for me.
Talk us through the setup you used for one of your favourite images.
This is tough. It changes on every shot. I can’t really say there is a process aside from the normal stuff of setting up the tripod, attaching the camera, and finding a composition. I do, however, spend a great deal of time walking around the area once I’m all set up to try and find different areas that will yield more promising compositions. I try to get at least 4-5 different compositions from the general area.
What are the next projects you want to work on with your MIOPS gear?
I am really excited to get my hands on a Capsule360 to really amp up my time-lapse stuff and astrophotography. Being able to incorporate movement and a slide into a time-lapse really tends to put photographers on an entirely different level.
You offer adventure photography tours as one of your services, for anyone unfamiliar, what does this involve?
Thank you for asking this! During all of my travels into the backcountry, into national parks, etc, I have seen too many times people fumbling around with their phones or cameras trying to capture images of themselves, family, or other adventure friends. I wanted to start a business that not only incorporates being professionally guided into the backcountry but allows people to put the phone away and allow me to capture all of their moments so that they can take in and experience nature for all its beauty and glory without having to worry about taking photos.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start building their own landscape portfolio?
Stop looking to social media for inspiration and go out and shoot. Find inspiration through your lens; not your phone or computer.
You can see more of Jason’s brilliant work or book a photography tour with him at www.backcountryshutter.com