About Johnathan Ampersand Esper
My passion in life is to explore and photograph our world's wilderness areas. I love adventuring in wilderness landscapes, combining my love for photography, traveling, adventure, the mountains, and seldom-visited places with my desire to remember and share the unique sights I see with others, hoping to create appreciation and respect for these wilderness areas. Photography also helps me to slow down in my wanderings and notice the details and wonder at the beauty that nature exhibits every day, all over the world, whether anyone is there to witness it or not. I specialize in panoramic wilderness landscapes and wilderness adventure photography.
A main goal in my photography is to make the viewer of the photograph feel like they are really in the scene, and not just looking at a photograph, and I feel the very large panoramic format, along with a minimalist mounting method which emphasizes and bolds the photo and does not distract the eye with a fancy frame, helps to achieve this feel. I believe that if a viewer feels they are part of the scene, they will connect with it, and the wilderness landscape it depicts, better. And if someone connects with a landscape, that person is more likely to value it, which then leads a person to want to preserve and/or personally enjoy it. While much of the photographer community strives to achieve simplicity in their compositions in order to create more impactful imagery, I have evolved my style to include as opposed to exclude. This style, I hope, adds to the realism feel of my images, as well as differentiates my work and style in a crowded photographer community and over-photographed world.
The story of Johnathan Esper
Growing up in the outdoor-oriented town of Long Lake in the Adirondack Mountains in the eastern United States, I developed outdoor skills and an appreciation for nature with my family at an early age. My middle name Ampersand is named after a mountain in the Adirondacks, and my parents brought me winter camping at 11 days old. I spent winters when I was young hiking and setting regional speed and young age records in the nearby Adirondack High Peaks, such as being the youngest person to summit all the main peaks in this range, and also completing them in winter in the shortest amount of time. (Now my younger brothers have the youngest winter record.) Then I expanded my hiking goals to include all 4,000 foot peaks in the northeast USA in the winter, and then the United States 50 state highpoints. I was homeschooled, so this also allowed our family to travel for extended periods to different locales, whether this was renting a 4x4 in Africa and independently driving around on safari and getting stuck in massive mud pits in the rainy season and getting help from spear-wielding Maasi people, spending a month in winter without seeing the sun in Barrow, Alaska's northernmost point, or sightseeing on a year-long tenting-only road trip across America. So all these adventures gave me a rich heritage of appreciation for the outdoors, travel, and adventure. During these travels, my mom (and then later myself) always became frustrated with her inability (or maybe it was her camera's inability) to capture impressive images like professional photographers of the day. She eventually resigned herself from that lofty goal, and told me to be content too, and thus the seeds were sown for me to want to break through that photographic barrier.
I earned an international business degree in college, (incorrectly) thinking it fit perfectly with wanting to be in business for myself, retain independence, and travel. Afterward, I decided that it was more important to follow one's own dreams than to follow the American Dream. So I went to New Zealand for 9 months, one of the iconic destinations of the world talked about by every outdoors lover, living out of my car, exploring, and going on backpacking trips. During this time I self-taught myself photography, and transformed into a professional-level photographer. It is said that it's hard to take a bad picture in New Zealand, but at first my photos weren't all that different from my mom's years ago. I've never felt content being just ok at any outdoor pursuit, including photography, so this motivated me to improve. I did it by comparing what I saw when taking the photo to how it came out, and also studying other photographers' work, and figuring out the necessary changes I needed to make to get there. Outdoor photography magazines, internet articles, and the ease of reviewing one's own work digitally added to my technical learning. I also discovered my own stylistic preferences for the panoramic format after being frustrated at my inability to adequately convey the grandness, or the extended detail, of the scenes before me with a standard single exposure. I see in a panoramic way, not through a pin-hole, and that is what I want to capture.
Since then, I've practiced high-altitude adventure photography on successful private mountaineering expeditions to Denali and Aconcagua, the highest mountains of North and South America, and further experimented with adventure photography with travelling companions while on another 9 month conservation volunteerism, hiking, and photography adventure in Patagonia. Living in another iconic wilderness destination, I gradually resolved that photography was really what I wanted to do full-time, as I find it is a perfect fit with my freedom- and outdoor-loving lifestyle. After Patagonia, I returned to my hometown area of the Adirondacks to develop a local portfolio of work, in seeking a different business and marketing angle. I found that it's easy to travel the world in search of wilderness and overlook some other beautiful areas closer to home, which I'd not yet explored or photographed seriously.
I am currently living life to the fullest, enjoying the beauty, challenges, and solitude of wilderness, and learning about the photography business through personal experience and discovery. The list of places I wish to visit, the mountains to climb, the beauty of Creation that I wish to discover for myself, the ways to record this Creation, always grows, and never gets shorter. You may read more adventure photo stories about me on the Adventure Journal page.
“In everyone there is born a spirit of adventure. In some, it is nurtured; in others it is discouraged.” - Johnathan Esper, 2004
My artistic statement
I have always shot exclusively digitally, and like the Canon 5d DSLR models for their high resolution and lighter and smaller body than other professional cameras, which is a necessity for backpacking trips. I keep my photographic equipment light and limited, and when in the backcountry carry a single Canon L series zoom lens. As I've progressed in my photography, I see opportunities for new equipment that could improve my photographs and expand my artistic vision of what I want a scene to convey, so I also use a couple filters, a tilt-shift lens, remote triggers, and lighting devices like flash and reflectors. For the panoramic images, a special tripod head is used, so that both foreground and background objects stitch together seamlessly on the computer. Digital correction and enhancement are a vital part of my photography, especially with panoramic images that require hours of post-processing. My goal when digitally editing is to re-create what I (subjectivly) saw or felt at the time of capture, and will use any digital tools to accomplish that goal, but I avoid gross digital manipulation, which has a different goal altogether. The panoramic images are composites of multiple photos (sometimes up to 30), stitched together digitally. I also use HDR (high dynamic range) techniques to retain detail in some high-contrast scenes.