Featured Artist: Derek Warner

Featured Artist - Derek Warner

Today we are fortunate to have our friend Derek Warner with us speaking about his work and what photography means to him. Derek is one of the most candid, genuine and supportive people we have had the great pleasure of meeting in our brief history. He is one of those rare fellas whose talent is surpassed only by his character and we couldn't be happier to share his story here for you to enjoy.


Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you originally get into photography?

I was born and raised in Lino Lakes, Minnesota and now I've been living in the Twin Cities for over four years. Prior to that I spent one year living in Mankato, so I haven't really gone too far. One day while I was living in Mankato I was walking home and stumbled across $300 on the ground. Crazy right? There was no one around so I took the money and kept it. At the time I was really into longboarding and figured I'd buy a GoPro with that money so I could make some longboarding videos. Making these videos taught me the value of capturing stories so I sold my GoPro and bought my first DSLR. From that point I have been taking photos ever since.

What are your goals for your photography? Do you see yourself as an amateur enthusiast or an aspiring professional?

Photography goals? Hmmm that's a tricky question... For me photography is about more than snapping the shutter to make a piece of art.  Don't get me wrong, I love the entire photo creation process from start to finish, but I care even more about the stories that photography gifts me. I want to look at every photo I take and have an emotional experience through it because I get to remember the people I was with or the journey I went through to get the shot. So, I'm not sure I'm much more than an extreme enthusiast. With all that being said, I do have an insane passion for growth and a desire to be the best there is. I make it a point to do something involving photography every single day. This could mean watching a ten minute tutorial or actually going out to shoot as long as I am doing something.

How have you developed your skills since starting out? What would you consider your strengths and in what areas are you still working to improve your craft?

I have to credit almost of my development to Youtube University. I'd be embarrassed to admit how many hours I've spent watching tutorials on anything from the technical knowledge you need to know about a camera to the most in depth Photoshop edits. I think my greatest strength is understanding how I can take a photo that was captured incorrectly in camera and processing it into a photo that looks solid. On the opposite end, I think even though I have a very strong technical understanding of my equipment, there are a lot of times I shoot too fast and don't do the best job in camera right from the get go.

What is your equipment setup?

The camera on the back of the Motorola RAZR. Just playing. I rock a full frame Nikon that I love because not many other people around me shoot Nikon so it's fun to be able to approach things differently. 

What is your process? Would you say you generally plan out shots ahead of time or take them as they come, in the moment?

It's about 75% planning shots and 25% taking as I go. I generally only use my camera if I have planned out time to go take photos of a location I have already predetermined, but with that I'm always keeping my eyes open for shots along the way that might be just as cool as the shot I originally went out to get. I am a big advocate for living in the moment and focusing on what is actually going on around me so unless I am setting out to to get some bangers with my camera I surprisingly don't really shoot that much. 

How much location scouting and prep do you do before hitting up a sunrise/sunset shot?

Let's just say Google Maps, Aurora, the Weather App, and Photo Pills are my favorite apps. I do quite a bit of preparation for most of my shots.

You recently posted a stunning shot of the Northern Lights along the North Shore, can you tell us a little about the process for capturing something like that or say a stellar Milky Way laden night sky?

Thank you! Capturing anything in the night sky is tough. That is one of the few parts of photography that I will argue equipment makes a big difference. The camera has to be powerful in low light and it's going to be a lot easier if you have a lens that's anywhere from like f1.4 to f2.8. A tripod is absolutely necessary to stabilize your camera and it can help even more to have a remote shutter so you can avoid any possibility of camera shake. I use the Aurora app to look at cloud coverage as I'm planning out my night to make sure I'm not going out and getting a sky covered by clouds. The part that makes the process so fun is that you have to be up in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere to avoid light pollution, and most often times with very few people or even alone for that matter.

What are your favorite subjects to shoot? And what is your least favorite?
I love sunrise and I love the color green. So, I love being in the woods and I love starting my day by capturing that first light before the rest of the world has yet to wake up. You know what I don't like? Staging things. I've come to learn that my favorite form of photography is documentation. I'm not a big fan of anything like portraits where I have to stage the scene to create the photograph. I'd rather chase after a moment that is naturally existing and capture it as it's happening.

We wanted to ask you a little about the Minnesota photo community – specifically among those who regularly shoot along the scenic North Shore there seems to be somewhat of a kinship – an amazing bond between a very supportive group who champion each others work and push each other to continually improve. In what ways has the community benefited your work? Are there any drawbacks?
It's amazing to be surrounded by people who share passions with me. In the photography community we've created a comfortable environment for asking each other for advice and constructive criticism. It all feels natural and even when there is someone you feel is "better" than you, it doesn't feel uncomfortable to reach out and talk to them. I'm blessed to be a part of it. Having friends who hit me up to go shoot when I maybe otherwise wouldn't have shot that day has been huge for my work. The best way anyone can improve in photography is by doing and because I have friends who push me to get out and shoot it helps me progress faster. I wouldn't really say there are any drawbacks. I haven't come across people who have been too negative to the community so it's all been a blessing. 

When you go out shooting with others what’s the vibe? Do you tend to try to inspire one another? Challenge each other? Out do one another? How competitive does it get?
Positive vibes. Almost everyone I've met and gone out to shoot with seems to recognize that we are all there for the same reason: a passion for photography. That tends to eliminate any competition because people are there to share those experiences and help one another. When we are out and get a cool spot to shoot, people start to feed off each other's energy and everyone gets really excited and happy to be there.

What’s your favorite thing about shooting in Minnesota? Least favorite?
My favorite thing is the dramatic weather. It makes it easy to get a variety of solid shots when things are changing so frequently. 7 month long winters aren't so fun. I'd be happier with a three month winter. 

What’s your favorite place to shoot in Minnesota? And what’s your favorite season?
There are too many views in Tettegouche for me to not say Tettegouche. It's so big and gives you so many options. My favorite season has to be fall. Who doesn't enjoy those red, orange, and yellow colors?
Any places you absolutely have to stop when visiting the North Shore?
Northern Waters Smokehaus in Canal Park. It's my favorite food spot in the whole state. I've been pescatarian for two years now and their salmon is phenomenal. 

Do you happen have a favorite photo you’ve ever taken?

It's hard to choose a favorite because they are all so different. I do really like my picture of some ducks swimming on Trillium Lake near Mount Hood in Oregon. Me and the guys I was out there with shot canon beach at sunset and then drove three hours to the lake to be there for sunrise. We were greeted by a family of probably 10 ducks who walked around on the shore by our feet and swam around on the lake right in front of us. As the sun was rising it added a serene glow to the fog covered lake. That was a moment I'll never forget and I'm happy I got to capture it.

Who are your heroes? (Photography or otherwise)

Photography is my favorite thing in the world, but I also care deeply about mental health because of the issues I face. Some of the people I really admire are Tony Robbins and Eckhart Tolle who have spent their lifetimes tapping into the mind and body to understand what we can do to ensure we live happy and fulfilling lives. Oh yeah, Donal Boyd is my favorite photographer. I've never seen someone capable of capturing wildlife the way he does.

Any bucket shots on your list?

I absolutely have to shoot the Pyramids of Giza at sunset. I think about it almost every day.

What’s one piece of advice you would offer someone who is just starting out as a photographer?
Find the happy medium between looking to other photographers for ideas and coming up with your own. While it's good to look to other photographers as a starting point, you'll never grow if you don't push yourself to creatively pursue your own unique shots. Original thinkers are what drive world change and what will ultimately set you apart. 

This one comes from our previous featured artist Lite Travelers who would like to know ... What does photography/art/design (whatever it is you create) mean to you? And why do you do it??
Yo, Ian and Emily, what's good! I have had mental health struggles my entire life. I struggle to focus and think straight a lot of the time. The second I pick up that camera to start shooting or to chase that next shot, nothing else matters to me. Photography releases me and has even kept me away from some of the poor decisions I've made in the past relating to drugs and alcohol. Photography for me has always been my escape and my way of exiting both internal and external chaos to enter a state of consciousness that nothing else has ever come close to doing for me. I continue to do it because of the positive energy I gain from it and the happiness that comes from knowing I'm directing my energy toward something that allows me to experience exciting moments that will stick with me my entire life.

What one question would you ask our next featured artist? (Anything you like)

What makes you different?

Time to pay it forward... who else would you like to see featured on this blog?  
Let's hear it from the guy who is much more talented than he gets credit for, Parker Hoen!

For more on Derek Warner be sure to check out his work at: 

Instagram | @d.r.warner
Website | www.derek-warner.com


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