Windmills at sunset in the Tehachapi farm, California.

Alexandre Buisse Interview: Secrets of a Mountain Photographer

mountain photographer - illustrationbio Alexandre Buisse InterviewAlexandre Buisse is a professional landscape photographer who specializes as a mountain photographer. He has written 2 books on the subject. He’s based out in Chamonix, heart of the French Alps, where he’s able to take beautiful photos of mountains all the time. If you’re interested in landscape photography, then check out this interview.

When did you think photography was going to be your career?

Surprisingly late. I had little to no interest in photography until a trip to China, in early 2005. I came back with the motivation to obtain better images, especially during my hikes in the French Alps and in northern Sweden. When I started climbing more and more, and discovered ski mountaineering or paragliding, it felt natural to add a photography component to my trips.

Shooting professionally didn’t occur to me for a long time, as I had a “day job” as a PhD student in mathematics. It’s only at the end of my PhD that, having accepted that scientific research wasn’t for me after all, I decided to take a shot at becoming a professional mountain photographer.

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You focus primarily on “mountain photography” – why did you choose this niche?

This came naturally and for the best of reasons: climbing, skiing and flying off mountains is what I love the most, and something I am going to keep doing, whether I make a living photographing it or not. In addition, there are relatively few alpine photographers who are willing to do what it takes to get images from such extreme and remote locations, so it’s (slightly) easier to make a living than in other more competitive fields.

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How did you attract your first clients as a mountain photographer?

The mountain adventure community is actually fairly small, and the people all know each other. By being a climber myself, I met people and made friends who in turn introduced me to others, until I got in touch with photo editors at major mountain equipment companies, who are the core of my client roster at the moment. But of course, I also do a lot of more traditional marketing, with a blog, facebook, an email newsletter, attending tradeshows and many others.

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What is your post-processing workflow?

I now work almost exclusively with Lightroom 4, only adding Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 for B&W conversion. I have a usual workflow in Lightroom that usually includes turning up shadows, reducing highlights, adding some clarity and vibrance and a tiny bit of curve manipulation just to make things pop. But this is only a basic recipe, the most important part is to have an idea *before starting* of what I want to express with the image, and to keep this in mind while processing, so that the adjustments work toward that goal. Mostly, it’s a byproduct of spending hundreds of hours working and experimenting with Lightroom.

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What do you think makes your work stand out from other photographers in your genre?

I am willing to carry a camera in many situations where most wouldn’t, be it difficult climbing routes or extreme weather. And I keep shooting when the only thing I want is to get out of there and go home. This gives me unique points of view and atmosphere, along with a more authentic feeling of what the athletes were really experiencing.

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What are three things a landscape photographer can do to improve their photography?

Do the work to put themselves in the location where the great images might happen.

Shoot the postcard view, but then keep exploring and working the scene, using their imagination and knowledge to search for alternative points of view.

Research a location and get to know it well enough that they understand how it really works, and when, where and how the right conditions might appear.

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Going to great locations costs money. Is it possible to take great photos of nature without having a lot of money?

Apart maybe from the Galapagos and Antarctica, it is nearly always possible to travel very cheaply. I’ve stayed at rundown hostels and traveled on endless local buses, which might not have been very comfortable but gave me the opportunity to use whatever resources I had to make the images happen. You don’t really need that new camera or lens – the money would nearly always be better spent on a plane ticket if what you really care about is creating great images. That is what a mountain photographer really cares about.

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What’s in your gear bag when you travel?

I like to travel light. These days, I’ll have a D800 body, three lenses (16-35 f/4, 70-200 f/2.8 and 50 f/1.8), some spare batteries and memory cards, and possibly a laptop with external hard drives. I almost never carry a tripod, flash or more lenses, as I find they slow me down too much and in the end, lead to more missed shots.

See more of Alex’s work at his website and Facebook.

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