Q & A: Tahoe photographer Nick Cahill on his craft and scoring a National Geographic cover shot
When National Geographic reaches out to you for a photograph — not the other way around — it’s safe to say you’re on your way to making it as a photographer. That’s what happened to 28-year-old Nick Cahill of Incline Village. The adventure photographer’s nighttime photo of Lake Tahoe and the Milky Way was chosen for a special edition cover last fall.
During a presentation Wednesday, March 9, for Lake Art Tahoe League, the Sierra Nevada College graduate told an engaged audience his first reaction to being considered was that the email might be spam, or a friend playing a prank.
Now, what started as a side interest to his outdoor sports hobbies may be on its way to becoming a full-time gig.
Balancing a day job as media director for Force12 Media, working remotely has allowed Cahill to continue to pursue his photographic interests with a goal of potentially going freelance full time some day.
The Tribune sat down with Cahill Wednesday to get some insights into his process and what makes a good photo.
What would you say is the secret to good photography?
Being there. I think the hardest part of photography is being in the right place at the right time. When you combine that with proper planning and the proper thought process, I think that’s when it all culminates together.
How important is the right gear?
I don’t necessarily think that gear is the answer. I think the best camera is the camera you have. A lot of people get caught up in, ‘I need a better camera to take better photos.’ In reality most people just need more practice. I myself need way more practice. I look at other photographers, and I view my stuff as much lower than other people (who) may look at my images.
What can the right technology or the right setup do?
It can get you the cover of National Geographic I guess. (laughs)
What’s the difference between a $250 camera and $1,000 to $3,000 setup?
I think that the line is kind of drawn at $1,500. I think between $500 and $1,500 gets you a very similar camera. Then when you jump up (over $1,500) you go from consumer to ‘prosumer.’
Do you think a good lens is more important than a good housing or base?
I think they’re equally important. If you have a really great lens and a terrible body, you’re not going to take amazing photos. If you have a great body and a terrible lens, it’s still not going to take amazing photos. You want to be in the middle.
What’s your favorite lens?
It’s a 24-to-70 millimeter f/2.8. It’s my favorite because it is really close to what the human eye sees. It’s a fast glass lens at 2.8 so it allows a lot of light in, and it gets that shallow depth of field that people like in photos.
Making it as a freelancer is challenging. How do you make it work?
I’m fortunate enough to have a salary paid job that has steady income, so I’m able to flex my free time in this. I think it would be drastically harder to be a freelance photographer. The arts scene is very difficult to make that happen, regardless of what genre you’re creating.
Would you consider going freelance full time?
I absolutely would like to go 100 percent freelance.
What are some quick fixes that come to mind for amateur photographers?
My biggest pet peeve with amateur photographers — I was actually talking to a friend about this — is horizon lines. If you’re taking a photo of a skier on a steep slope, I want that tree to be straight up and down. The way it is when I’m skiing. I see straight up and down. Or the horizon with the lake, I would like it to be flat.
How would you describe your success rate with good photos?
The more I plan, the higher my ratio of success is. I use a lot of apps. I check the weather. I know this time of the year, I would like to be shooting the sunset from these locations. These locations are good for my night photos.
What makes a photo interesting to you?
That’s a really subjective question. To me what makes a photo interesting or engaging is if it makes me think — think more than ‘that’s beautiful.’ I want to put myself in the photographer’s shoes and think about how difficult it was for them to capture that image. That’s what, to me, makes a photo interesting. How cold were they when they took that photo? Or they were standing in knee-deep water? They didn’t just pull off the road and snap the photo.
How did National Geographic find your photo?
National Geographic reached out to me. They found my image either on my website or on another website. They reached out to me through my contact information on my website, emailed me, asked me if I’d be interested in it being potentially used for the cover. Four months later, they said they would love to use my image.
What was your initial reaction to their email?
I thought it was a friend playing a prank on me. I had been trying to get into local things for years and it had been no, no, no. Well, maybe not necessarily no, but ‘that’s not the image we’re looking for.’
How did you respond when they told you it would be on the cover?
I was riding the bike in the gym. I almost had a heart attack.
My blue bus adventure, which you can find on Instagram @bluebusadventure. It’s building a tiny home school bus into a full-on mobile workstation.
You said in your presentation that you and your girlfriend plan to live and travel in the bus. What’s your work schedule? Does it accommodate those plans?
It’s totally whenever I want. So my plan is to park, bust out a bunch of work, go on a hike, then do some more work. It’s very much on my own schedule.
See more of Cahill’s work at http://www.cahillfilms.com.
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