Focus on Photographers - Trevor Clark

Trevor Clark was recently highlighted in Photo District News (PDN) for his use of off-camera lighting in his adventure and outdoor photography.  Trevor seems to be the quintessential on-the-road and shooting-all-the-time kind of photographer.  With each interview in this Pictureline series of "Focus on Photographers," you can start to see how differently people see the world in what they want to shoot and why.  Trevor's work in the outdoors is well executed, and the work that goes into each shot is evident.  We appreciate him talking to the Pictureline crowd.

Pictureline:  Tell us about one of your favorite images. Will you take us through the process of previsualizing this image or did it come up as part of another shoot, unplanned?

Trevor Clark:  This image is one of my favorite images because it was truly just a moment where everything came together.  I was experimenting with shooting squirtboating, a form of underwater kayaking using low volume fiberglass kayaks and the river’s many layers of currents to perform tricks underwater and stay down for as long as possible.  Of course, loving to be a part of it all, I was trying to use the river’s currents to sink myself as well so I could shoot what really happens down there.

Really it was more like controlled drowning than anything, but after a while I was exhausted and needed a break.  I swam over to the rock in the picture, and before I knew it Flow, the dog, came over to check on me.  When she saw I was fine, she looked over my shoulder at the other kayakers still playing and at that exact same moment my friend bent over to dump the water out of his kayak.  The scene just created itself for me, and I happened to be tired enough to be there at that moment.  It was literally as fast as one frame, but for me it just showed so much about the lifestyle of being a kayaker.  I certainly pre-visualize a lot of images, but my favorite aspect of photography is being in the right place at the right time.  That place where practice and preparation meet a little bit of magic.

[Updated 2/25/12]: In this image I was using a Canon Mark III in an SPL surf housing.  I had a 15 mm fisheye lens and port on the housing.  On top of that, I had on a mix of kayaking and diving equipment.  An older, and less buoyant PFD [personal flotation device], mask, fins and kayaking helmet.  What I wish I would have had at the time was some body armor because I found out those kayaks spin around like airplane propellers.  I caught one to shoulder, face and housing and it actually broke the dome on the port, flooding the housing.  All of the images were recovered, but the camera, lens and port had to be replaced. I now own body armor and have helped SPL improve the design flaw that allowed that to happen.  It’s imperative to have good camera insurance.

Pictureline: You're probably the first person to use the phrase "controlled drowning." What is your process of setting up your camera?  How do you prefer to shoot (for example, Aperture Priority or Manual). Can you give a run down of your equipment?

Trevor Clark:I was lucky enough to have a really tough teacher in journalism school.  He was the kind of person you always wanted to please, so shooting on anything but manual was like a death sentence.  I have not left manual mode on any camera since those first days with a camera nearly ten years ago, and I truly believe that is the only way to shoot.  Then you are the one making the decisions.  To me it doesn’t really matter how smart new cameras are getting if you can’t be the one to decide how you want the image to look.

The same goes with off-camera lighting.  That same teacher of mine would have a field day with us if he ever saw an image with direct flash, so I always carry and use an off-camera shoe cord when using a Speedlite.  In fact, I still use the same one I bought in the before-mentioned teacher’s class (Canon Off-Camera Shoe Cord 2). If I am bringing in the big guns to strobe action or a portrait, I use the ProFoto Pro B2, three heads, different ProFoto light shapers (or home made ones), reflectors, the whole deal.  I use all Canon equipment and have most of their high-end lenses, but my favorite combination is a 5D Mark II paired with a 16-35mm f/2.8.  That is my go to before anything else.

Pictureline:  We recently saw some of your outdoor lighting work in PDN, fantastic.  Do you have a creative process or do some scenes just "come" to you?

Trevor Clark:  Thanks, I was really excited when that article came out.  As far as lighting, I do have to think about it first.  A lot of times, we as photographers don’t get that luxury so you just have to try to come up with something really quickly.  In the case of the images used in the PDN article, they were a bit more planned.  I knew both locations, and I had seen hundreds of images from both locations already.  I think that made me want to do something different and show what a little forethought and planning can do.  Both images were a little bit "from the hip" once we got there, but the general idea was already planted firmly in my mind.

Pictureline:  What was your best self-assigned shoot?  Why was this so important to you?

Trevor Clark:  So far my best self-assigned shoot is a story I shot about a professional female kayaker from the US who is also a medical doctor now based on the banks of the Nile River in Uganda.  It is an important story to me because I wanted to use my skill set to spread a positive message.  I set up a Kickstarter project and got the funding I needed to make it happen.  My whole goal with that project was to help in the only capacity I know how, and we came out of it with a photo story and great multimedia piece that will all be published shortly. On top of that, I may be going back to Uganda for a larger scale project as a result.

Pictureline:  What is it about photography that you love the most?  Taking the images or reviewing the images or doing the sports yourself?

Trevor Clark:  Aside from those "moments" where everything comes together in front of the lens, my favorite part of photography is just being out there and doing it.  To be on a trip where I am there to bring home the images is truly empowering.  When I don’t have the option to think about the finances, social media, the calendar, but only have the capacity to focus on the task at hand without interruption from the outside world, is when I am most at home.  I could probably do without all of the work that comes on the back end of shooting to your heart’s content, but it is rewarding when you have a final product that you are proud of.

Pictureline:  Do you have any philosophies in photography that you hold firm?

Trevor Clark:  Yes.  Integrity above all else.  It’s a difficult business to be in, and there are a lot of people out there who will do anything they can to get ahead.  And, having spent a fare share of my time on a Ramen noodle diet, I get it.  I still don’t think that changes anything though.  You have to be truly passionate about what you are doing and not worry about what others have going on.  The second you get preoccupied with those thoughts, you have lost all of the reasons you probably got into photography for in the first place.  So, hold true to yourself, do the right things and your own passion, enthusiasm and positive direction will carry you forward.

Pictureline:  Well said.  Was there ever a time that you thought you wouldn't make it as a photographer?  What got you through?

Trevor Clark:  Not exactly.  Now let me explain.  As photographers, we all have periods or moments of self-doubt, fear of failure, and so forth, but you cannot ever let that get in the way.  If anything, use those moments as motivation.  If you really want something, you won’t think, "What if I don’t make it?"  Instead, in your moments of weakness you will think, "When are things going to start panning out?"  Maybe it seems like a play on words, but to me, those are two different ways of thinking. "When" implies that something will happen at some point.  It is the "when" that plagued me with concern in my moves toward getting things going. When you know that you want it badly enough to put everything you have into it for as long as it takes, then it is only a matter of time. When you start doubting that sentiment, you have already given up.

Pictureline:  Very motivating. On another note, tell us about your prints.  How do select images to sell as prints?  Do you believe in limited editions? Do you do your own printing or whom do you trust to make your prints? [Editor's note:  You can check out his prints here.]

Trevor Clark:  I am actually in the middle of changing up my print selling process.  I do some of my own printing, but can’t handle the larger ones in house.  For that I use a printing company I trust.  Fairly soon, I’ll be offering an entirely different method of printing, and I am very excited about it.  I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but I believe I have found the best way to physically show my style of imagery.  That should be live in the next few months.  As far as selection, I try to choose images that people will want to hang in their houses or offices.  I’ll take feedback any day. And with limited editions, I’m not sure.  I’m still trying to figure out where I stand on that myself.

Pictureline:  What are the biggest challenges you face in the industry...and by the way, which industry do you feel the most comfortable in? Outdoor Lifestyle? Landscape? Adventure?

Trevor Clark:  I feel like I am a part of a few different industries, but I probably fall most comfortably into the outdoor adventure world.  There are a lot of challenges there, physical and so forth, but the main thing is probably finding decent paying clients.  I love the outdoor industry, but like most industries at the moment, there has been a decline in the interest or ability of paying for content.  That is also compounded by the number of folks who are out there giving it away for free in hopes that a byline will carry their career forward.  The bottom line is, a lot of marketing and storytelling budgets have shrunk.  That said, I do feel that there is always a way to make things happen.  Today’s economy has challenged everyone to be more creative in their approach, so it just means changing the model around a bit.  Creativity certainly doesn’t stop with the photograph these days; it has to exist on the business end, too.

Pictureline:  How do you see the adventure photography / outdoor lifestyle photography industry currently or in the near future?

Trevor Clark:  I see the outdoor and adventure photography industry as being one of the most competitive industries out there.  Of course, I am biased.  I am sure there are plenty of other industries as competitive and more so, but everyone who sees great images from cool sports in exotic places wants to be an adventure photographer.  They want to live that life. To me, those are the wrong reasons to get into photography.  The only thing that will drive you and carry you further in this industry is the desire and passion to tell a story and make compelling images that do that.  The travel and lifestyle of it all are byproducts of that.  Images must come first. Who knows where this industry is headed.  I try not to focus on much other than what I feel I need to do to keep moving forward.  It can be pretty easy to feel overwhelmed by all of it, so I try to put my energy into the things I want to shoot, the stories I want to tell, and the clients I want to work with.  It keeps it much simpler and a bit less stressful.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m ignorant to how things are evolving, I just mean that you can’t go wrong by paying attention to what makes you a unique aspect in this sea of change.  Carry that forward and keep your creativity up on all fronts, and that is really all you can ever hope to do.

Pictureline:  How do you think the adventure / outdoor photographer of the near future will survive or thrive?

Trevor Clark:  I think that there will always be a need and want for outdoor / adventure photography.  People love it, even if it has nothing to do with their normal lives.  Adventure imagery applies to a lot of concepts in life as well, so I think there will always be an application.  I think one thing is certain.  Every photographer is going to have to be more creative in their business models than ever before.

Pictureline:  Some great insights into your photography and business.  Thanks again for talking with us.

Check out all of his great work at


Adventure photographyFebruary 2012Joel addamsLifestyle photographyLimited editionsOutdoor photographyOutdoor sportsPdnPhoto district newsPhotographic industryPicturelineTravel photographyTrevor clark