We all love taking pictures, but there are a few passionate folks who enjoy sharing their surreal experience with the world. As they say, when words fail to express a story, it’s the photographer that narrates a story. That’s what James Kaiser a well-known travel writer/ photographer does with his breathtaking photos.
Born and bought up in Maine, the northeasternmost U.S. state, his passion for photography was fuelled by the city itself. A well-known guidebook writer, he self-published his first guidebook to Acadia National Park in 2000 which quickly became one of the best-selling guides to Acadia. Later on, he shifted to California where he published guidebooks on famous National Parks such Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Costa Rica. Apart from being an ace writer, James is an amazing photographer who sees nature through a lens that would amaze the world. Connecting with for the #iamlivingit series, we from team Livingit bring to you the story of James Kaiser and his splendid journey from a travel writer to an amazing photographer.
Livingit: How did the passion for photography grow?
James Kaiser: What first drew me to photography was the beauty of the coast of Maine. I grew up near Acadia National Park, which is arguably the most beautiful place in Maine, and I began photographing it when I developed an interest in photography shortly after college. I fell in love with capturing beautiful, random moments in nature. It takes a lot of patience, but when you get that perfect shot that has never been seen before it makes it all worthwhile.
Livingit: Since you are a well-known writer, please share with us what motivated you to write a guidebook on Acadia National Park? How long did you take to complete it?
James Kaiser: I was motivated to write my Acadia guidebook because I didn’t like the existing guidebooks. They mostly talked about hotels and restaurants. I wanted to know about natural history, geology, wildlife and all the terrific outdoor adventures in the park. And of course, I wanted great photos. So, I decided to write and self-publish my own guidebook. All told, it took about nine months.
Livingit: You have visited various National Parks in the USA, which one has been your favorite?
James Kaiser: My best experience has been in Yosemite National Park. The hiking and backpacking there is just incredible. I discovered some of the most beautiful places in the park – places where very few people go.
Livingit: Tell us about the camera that you first invested and which camera are you using now?
James Kaiser: My first camera was a 1.3 megapixel Sony point and shoot! Back in 1999, that was a pretty high tech camera. It was a great introduction to digital photography, but as soon as the Nikon D1 came out I bought that, and I’ve been shooting Nikon ever since.
Livingit: We would love to know about your present style of photography?
James Kaiser: My current photography style is best described as “Blockbuster Nature”. I’m aiming for photos of the natural world with a real WOW factor. Sometimes that’s a stunning sunset. Sometimes it’s capturing wildlife doing something spectacular. Sometimes it’s putting a landscape in context by including a person somewhere in the shot. Every photo is different. It just depends on the situation.
Livingit: Any photographers who influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking and photography?
James Kaiser: Ansel Adams was my first introduction to landscape photography. He really opened my eyes to the true artistic possibilities of outdoor photography. These days I’m constantly impressed by Jimmy Chin. He combines brilliant composition and raw athletic ability to capture some of the most beautiful places on earth.
Livingit: Tell us something that you would like to share with the world?
James Kaiser: I grew up obsessed with drawing and painting. My goal was to become a professional artist, and I studied the fundamentals of composition, shading, blind drawing, etc. Although I ultimately abandoned drawing and painting, those fundamentals definitely carried through to my photography. Be passionate about what you do, and something good will follow.
Livingit: It is believed that its the photographer and not the camera that brings life into a picture. What are your thoughts?
James Kaiser: I definitely agree. Although if you don’t know the technical fundamentals of your camera you’ll be lost.
Livingit: As a photographer what are the travel essentials that you carry with you?
James Kaiser: If space isn’t an issue, I always travel with two cameras and five lenses. That way I’m prepared for anything. If space IS an issue, I travel with one camera and two lenses (wide angle and zoom), which is fine for 80% of most shots.
Livingit: From Maine to Costa Rica it has been a long journey, please share your travel experience and what made you move to Costa Rica?
James Kaiser: I first visited Costa Rica in 2006 at the invitation of a friend. I was blown away by the natural beauty. The tropical rainforest was an ecosystem I had never experienced before. I couldn’t believe that wildlife can contain so much beauty. Similar to my first Acadia book, I started looking at the available guidebooks, and I didn’t see anything I liked. I wanted a guidebook that focused on natural history, wildlife, and outdoor adventures. So, I decided to write my own.
Livingit: How different is Costa Rica National Parks from the National Parks of USA?
James Kaiser: Costa Rica’s national parks are much more wild and rugged. You don’t find the expertly manicured trails and roads common in U.S. national parks . This has both advantages and disadvantages. One of the main advantages of Costa Rica’s national parks: limited crowds!
Livingit: Tell us about hiking/climbing the tallest mountain Cerro Chirripo in Costa Rica.
James Kaiser: Hiking Chirripo is one of the best adventures in Costa Rica. But temperatures there can fall below zero. When most travelers imagine a Costa Rican vacation, they dream about palm trees and white sand beaches. The last thing they want is freezing temperatures. As a result, Chirripo remains one of Costa Rica’s best-kept secrets. On clear days you can see both the Caribbean and the Pacific from the peak.
Livingit: What is the one gadget which you wish you hadn’t bought? Why?
James Kaiser: I rarely use my selfie stick.
Livingit: Share with us your workflow and the post processing tools.
James Kaiser: Great question. First I import the raw photos onto an external hard drive. Then I open them in Bridge and tag them with keywords. Then I organize them into separate folders, based on subject. Then I rate the best and import them into Lightroom, where I do 95% of my editing work.
Livingit: Your photos speak about your talent, but what is the one thing you wish you knew as a beginner?
James Kaiser: The importance of keeping your lens clean .
Livingit: A good picture highly depends on weather condition and location, but it can be highly unpredictable! How do you cope up with such unpredictable factors?
James Kaiser: It’s nature. You just have to deal with it. That’s a hard thing for most people to accept these days. We live in climate controlled bubbles where so much is under our own control. But randomness and unpredictability is part of life. Taking landscape photos is a terrific reminder of that. Sometimes it sucks. Other times it leads to incredible moments that are all the more special because they are random and unpredictable.
Livingit: Colour vs. Black and White. Why one over the other, and is the photographic process different?
James Kaiser: Either one works for me. Totally depends on the photo. It’s a different form of visualization, but otherwise, it’s the same basic process.
Livingit: From your impeccable photograph collection which is the one that holds a special place in your heart and could you share with us?
James Kaiser: I could never do that. It’s like picking your favorite child.
Livingit: One advice that you would like to tell the aspiring photographers?
James Kaiser: Shoot as much as possible. Experience is the only way to get better. If you want to be a great photographer, take the time to study other visual arts as well. It will definitely improve your skills.
Livingit: What are your future plans in travel writing and photography?
James Kaiser: My future plans are currently up in the air. I would love to write more guidebooks about U.S. national parks. You could literally spend a lifetime exploring America’s national parks. To me, that definitely seems like a life well-lived.
When you travel around the world, you see the world differently. There is an utmost satisfaction in exploring the world, following your passion and doing what your heart says. Never settle, just keep the spark alive and as we say stop existing, start livingit!