Jennifer Renwick’s name is brought up every time I ask fellow photography lovers who they find inspiring, and it’s not without a reason: her portfolio is packed with high-quality and awe-inspiring photography.
For the past 4 years, she’s been travelling full-time in a travel trailer and the images she’s captured along the way are incredible. You might also know her from initiatives such as the Nature First Alliance and the Nature Photographer’s Network, which goes to prove that Jennifer is a valuable contributor of the landscape photography community, beyond her beautiful images.
In this interview, you’ll get to know more about her background, life on the road and photographic philosophies, as well as some valuable tips on how you can improve your own photography too.
Start by telling us a little about who you are and how you got started with photography.
Thank you for this opportunity, Christian! I am a full-time nature photographer based in Colorado, USA. I have been photographing nature and the landscape for about seven years, three years as a hobby photographer, and four years as a full-time photographer.
In my “previous” life before photography, I received my bachelor’s degree in Geology, and then switched gears to work in Veterinary Medicine for fourteen years.
The natural world has always inspired me, and I have always wanted to document the beautiful landscapes and details I observe. I first picked up a camera seven years ago, started to photograph the landscapes the trips I took out to the American West during vacations and developed the passion of the craft. I educated myself about landscape photography every chance I could get. Finally, after some introspection and soul searching, I decided to take a break from my career in veterinary medicine and head west with my camera to pursue my dream of being a professional nature photographer.
I met David Kingham, my life partner and business partner, and we decided to hit the road full-time in a travel trailer to explore the west. David had been leading photography workshops for quite a few years, and I jumped right in and joined him in teaching. We now travel around the American West full-time teaching in Nature’s beautiful classrooms and photographing the landscape.
How is it to be a full-time traveler in a trailer? What are some of the ups and downs that come with it?
This May marks four years of traveling full-time on the road in our travel trailer. When I said I was going to adopt this lifestyle, I’ll admit I received some odd looks from family and friends. After all, it’s not exactly a normal lifestyle. These past four years have been the most eye-opening of my life, and I’m so grateful we’ve been able to travel around and experience the adventures we’ve had.
The trailer is a four-season trailer, and it’s equipped with all the comforts of home. We are fully equipped with solar power and can go about two weeks before we need to reload with water and supplies and dump the tanks. We can charge our camera batteries and laptops and can run entirely off solar on sunny days. We do have a generator as back up for rainy/cloudy days. Having solar energy has allowed us to spend quality time in locations with plenty of opportunities to photograph and explore.
It’s not easy living in such a small space, and there are challenges. For instance, mail and packages require advanced planning for where we’ll be, and we have to reserve camping in some spots up to a year in advance, which can take away the spontaneity of visiting locations. Having consistent internet can be a problem, especially in the more remote areas. A lot of our business work requires the internet, and that makes us prisoners to technology. Challenges aside, it’s worth the trade-off waking up in some of our favorite places and photographing whenever we want.
You’ve said your real passion is photographing the smaller details in the landscape. What is it about these scenes that fascinate and inspire you?
Coming over from the fields of veterinary medicine and geology, I know that you rely almost solely on observations for both fields. The Earth can’t tell you how it formed, and animals cannot tell you where they hurt, so you rely on observations to guide you. This translates into how I see the smaller scenes and details around me.
I’m inquisitive and observant when I’m out photographing, or just exploring an area. Every scene and landscape have all these smaller stories that compel me to look for the details. I’m fascinated by the mundane, more trivial curiosities that go undetected. For example, I am obsessed with mud patterns. I will always stop for a good mud patch. During the day, they look similarly colored, but the twilight in the morning and evening change these patterns into very colorful works of art. I know this because I take the time to study how light interacts during different times of the day.
Taking the time to notice these details and how they interact with the environment at different times helps you slow down and appreciate your circumstances. I enjoy photographing these minor, but very compelling features. I enjoy taking the ordinary and showcasing the extraordinary beauty these subjects create.
What are some of the main challenges when photographing smaller scenes?
I think one of the main challenges is learning to see the more intimate side of nature. We’re trained as landscape photographers from the start to see “wide.” We want to capture these grand landscapes and all their glory. The wide-angle lens helps up to invite the viewer to step into the scene with us.
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (I still love shooting those grand landscapes scenes!), it can be hard to part with that wide-angle and shoot the smaller stories in the landscape.
Learning to recognize those smaller scenes can be challenging if you’re not used to doing it. Spending time with a telephoto lens or macro lens can help guide the eye. Taking a visual inventory of those grander scenes and taking the time to identify the smaller elements that catch your eye is an excellent way to help as well.
Another challenge would be from the technical side. Abstract scenes and smaller scenes may require focus stacking to get everything in focus, which can be a challenge at times. I’ve come back with some photos I’m super excited about, only to see in Lightroom that I didn’t grab quite enough points in my stack. While frustrating, it’s all part of the learning process!
How has your photographic style and vision have changed during your years as a photographer?
When I first started with photography, I loved grand landscapes, and I hardly ever used my telephoto during the first part of my journey. During the past few years, I’ve become more interested in the abstract side of Nature and photographing smaller scenes.
While those grand scenes resonate with certain people, they were missing something to me. When I became more interested in shooting smaller details and landscapes, that’s when I realized I was following what my eyes and heart wanted to photograph. I felt more connected with the scenes around me when I slowed down to see the smaller things.
I think your vision ends up finding you, as it’s usually the subjects or conditions that make you happy. I also believe our perceptions and styles as photographers evolve with our interests and travels, and that’s what helps keep us inspired.
Tell us a little about the Nature First Alliance that you’re a founding member of.
Nature First was born out of concern for our wild places that we all photograph and love. A group of Colorado photographers noticed a disturbing trend with some sensitive locations worldwide being trampled and destroyed for photos, trash left behind, and sensitive areas being shared on social media, therefore leading to more damage.
We put our heads together and came up with Nature First, and seven principles we encourage photographers, and anyone else that spends time in Nature can keep in mind and follow.
We can all be better stewards and ambassadors to the places we love and photograph. It’s not about pointing fingers, but more about how we can all work together to protect the locations we love and keep us inspired. The more advocates we have, the better these places will be.
You can visit www.naturefirstphotography.org to learn more, read the principles, help spread the word and educate others, and become a member (it’s free!). Nature is for everyone, and by advocating these principles, we can make sure these places stay wild for generations of nature lovers and photographers to come.
Many landscape photographers might be familiar with NPN, The Nature Photographer’s Network, which you’re a co-owner of. Why do you think this has become one of the go-to resources for photographers wanting to improve their creative vision?
The Nature Photographer’s Network has been around since 2000, and David was a member way back after its creation. He had many positive experiences and met other like-minded photographers along the way through NPN. When the opportunity to keep it going presented itself last year, we were excited to update the technology and re-introduce it to the Nature photography community.
It has always been a place to connect with other photographers, receive image critiques if desired, share images, and participate in social events that bring photographers together. It’s different than sharing on social media, and we’ve cultivated a safe, drama-free, and supportive environment. It’s a place to get honest and constructive feedback on images, chat with other photographers, learn new things with the educational articles, and enjoy the camaraderie.
With each genre of nature photography represented from birds, landscapes, wildlife, plants, and macro, there is something for everyone! Overall, it’s a great place that’s focused more on personal and creative photography and sharing the love of the craft.
Dolphins in black and white are perhaps one of your most known series. Tell us a little about what went into capturing these beautiful images.
I photographed those images shortly after my mother had unexpectedly passed away. My parents both introduced me to the ocean at a young age, and we were a scuba diving family. Dolphins are a subject that have captivated me since being a young girl. I have fond memories of interacting with wild dolphins in the ocean with my family.
After her death, we went to the Southern California coast. We ended up on a whale-watching expedition, and I photographed the dolphins we encountered that day. An idea for a personal photography project came to mind, and one trip turned into eight more to bring my idea to fruition. I wanted a project that celebrated those fond memories I had and wanted to process the images in black and white for increased depth and emotion.
Dolphins are very social creatures, like us, and I can see and feel emotions when I photograph them.
The black and white processing was akin to my grieving process. Some days are hard and dark, others are peaceful and bright, and there are days with so many different feelings, like the different shades of gray. What ended up as a personal project turned into something much more. It’s a great example of photographing what you’re emotionally connected to and passionate about. These images have resonated with many people, and in the end, the viewer will connect more with your imagery if you have a connection.
What are your top three pieces of advice for someone just getting started with landscape photography?
My three pieces of advice would be:
- Free yourself of expectations when heading out to photograph. Expectations lead to pressure, pressure leads to stress, and stress inhibits and is never conducive to the creative process. Heading out without expectations has led to more rewarding photography experiences for me.
- Be your own creative director. Don’t let social media likes or others influence what you photograph. Photograph what interests you, and subjects that you’re passionate about. Viewers connect more with personal photographic endeavors.
- Take time to experiment with different lenses and techniques. If it doesn’t work the first time, it’s okay! Failures are a part of the learning process. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. Trying new things keeps the creativity going, and you may discover something new that you enjoy shooting!
We are living in strange times right now. How has COVID-19 affected your business? What is your advice to other photographers who might not know what to do right now?
These are indeed strange and uncertain times! Our spring and summer workshop seasons, along with speaking engagements, seemingly disappeared overnight. It was a tough decision to cancel our workshops, especially when most consider getting out in the wilderness as mood-boosting therapy during these challenging times. Ultimately, the safety and health of our participants, along with ourselves, came first.
Many of the National Parks are currently closed here, so that was a contributing factor as well.
My advice to other photographers feeling the hit right now is to put on the thinking cap and get creative. Stay positive and make a list of things you’d like to accomplish during the downtime.
For example, since we are unable to lead workshops right now, we’re focusing on other educational tools that everyone can access via the internet. We have teamed up with other photographers to give some webinars and photo critiques over zoom, and I’m currently working on a few e-books.
There’s no better time to go through and process old photos, spruce up the website, learn new things through tutorials, work on a blog, or collaborate with other photographers. Even though we can’t be out in the field right now, the above opportunities will help keep the creative juices flowing.
Hopefully, we’ll all be out there teaching and photographing again soon!
What is next for Jennifer Renwick?
I will be teaching another webinar or two here in the next month, finishing the e-books I’ve been writing and looking forward to getting out in the field soon and back behind the lens! We’re really looking forward to getting back out in the field and teaching again!