Heidi: For the In n Out image by the airport how much planning went into that?
Ethan: I had seen this image a few times cycle through my Instagram feed from fellow photographers based in the LA area. Growing up in Maine, the possibility of getting a shot like this just didn’t exist. I knew the location of the shot but that was about it. To be honest, not much planning went into this particular shot. It was more just, get there, set up my camera, adjust my settings and shutter speed and wait for a jet to fly over. It took a few tries dialing everything in due to the fact it was well past sunset, getting the jet as motionless as possible was not an option, so figuring out my settings to keep the jet from looking like a blur in the sky took a little time, but I was happy with the result I produced.
What draws you to low light/night photography and who or what are your inspirations?
I never really thought of myself as a “night shooter”. I mostly shot landscapes and brand photos before moving to California in 2018. One evening, during the beginning of the pandemic, the cabin fever hit. I needed to get out of the house. I had been to LA a few times before to explore during the day but really wanted to see the city at night. I knew due to the pandemic, the streets would be a bit more calm than normal. So I packed my camera bag, grabbed my tripod and drove down to see what I could find. I got to the heart of Downtown LA right around sunset. There were a few of the classic LA spots that I wanted hit. The Korean Bell of Friendship, the 4th Street overpass and a few others. Upon taking my first photos at a low shutterspeed and seeing the results, I was hooked. The light trails, the somewhat moody, ominous look these photos produced sunk their claws into me and drew me in. I had tried experimenting with light trails in Portland, Maine a few times, but never had much luck. Come to LA and BAM, these were the shots I had always really wanted to take. A few photographers really inspire me in the night photography world, Andrew Wille (@andrewoptics), Kyle Meshna (@meshna), and Mike Will (@m.visuals) are three I think produce amazing content and constantly push me to become a better photographer.
Can you tell us about the lake in Maine water skiing clip, I mean, those conditions…
I was home in Maine for my birthday and was lucky enough to receive a drone as a gift from my family. One night, we were at a rented lake house and there was an absolute banger of a sunset. I hadn’t flown my drone other than a few test flights so I figured I would fly out over the lake and capture the scene from above as the light faded. While I was flying I noticed a slalom water skier being towed behind a boat. I watched for a few moments and as much of the light was gone, the skiers spray was catching all the orange light from the sky, giving a look of flaming water spray. It was the first drone video I ever took, and still my favorite to date. Sometimes things just workout without any planning whatsoever and that was definitely the case that evening.
How did your love of photography come about and how long have you been using drones?
I took a film photography class in High School. My teacher, Ms. Brown was the first one to really instill that love of photography in me. After that class, I didn’t purse photography much until years later. My dad’s friend gave him an old Nikon D40. It was a pretty old camera, but I loved the ease of digital photography. I shot on that camera for about a year and produced some very mediocre photos. I wasn’t too happy with the photos I was producing so I sold that camera in a yard sale. A few years went by and signed up for a few courses at the Maine Media College in Rockport Maine. One of my professors, Kate Izor (who is now the personal photographer for Roger Waters!) was the one I really credit with putting that deep love of photography in my brain. She taught me some Lightroom basics and showed me how to really use a camera to its fullest potential. I had the itch to start shooting again. I did a little research and decided I wanted to go with a mirrorless camera. The Sony A6000 was my first camera I had since the D40 and that really made a huge difference. I bought Lightroom and the rest it pretty much history. I have been shooting pretty consistently since then and developing my skills over the years.
I have been using drones for only about a year now. That has been a huge help when I’m going through a creative slump. I sometimes get uninspired using my camera but having the option to photograph from a bird’s eye view always re-inspires me. I now like to photograph the same place from both ground and sky, it helps me create different images and sometimes a boring scene on the ground can be stunning from the sky. The water skier is a perfect example of this. From the dock, it looked like every other water skier on the lake, from above, it added so much more beauty.
The drone still that I shared is of downtown LA, it’s a composite of three images taken from different heights. I stitched them together in Photoshop to create a vertical panorama of the skyline downtown. I love this photo just based off the perspective and depth.
What have you learned about the creative journey?
For anyone going through a creative slump, just know we all go through them. I find myself having creative block a lot more than I would like to admit. I always find inspiration from other photographers. It sounds goofy, but when I see creators producing amazing content, I almost get jealous. It drives me to get out and produce content of my own. Just know that everyone experiences these creative slumps, it just takes drive and desire to get back out there and start creating again.
One other thing, nobody picks up a camera and starts taking stellar images right off the bat. Take your time, hone your skills, find a subject matter you love to shoot and focus on that at the beginning. Once you have your skills dialed in that field, branch out and try other styles of photography. Finding a photography community is also a great way to grow your skills, and tips or tricks from fellow photographers are always nice to receive.