Featured Artist - Tucker Olson
Born and raised in the epic chill and thrill of Minnesota's legendary winters, today's gifted guest cut his camera carrying teeth along the crags and caverns of Lake Superior's splendidly savage shoreline. Before expanding his expeditions westward, Tucker diligently developed a digital deftness (as well as his trademark #tuckertones) which he now wisely wields as he basks in the Badlands, adventures across Alaska and settles into Seattle life. Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pride and joy that we happily bring you the signature stylings of the one and only, Tucker Olson.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how it is you managed to get into photography?
Sure! So I went to college at UMD where I majored in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. Probably the furthermost thing in the world from photography but growing up I always was good at science and loved math. However, I did have an artistic side as well and drew a lot in high school. Some of my favorite memories as a kid were painting with my grandma.
Fast forward to college, I chose to pursue science because it was higher-paying and that degree just made more sense at the time. As time went on I became interested in becoming a pharmacist, but after exploring the field (volunteering and pharm tech job) I realized that it wasn't for me. Right around this time is when I started photography and it quickly took up all of my free time.
Photography actually started as a complete joke... lol I used to rent Canon t5is from UMD's media hub and take photos of me and my friends at parties. Goods times, but I eventually transitioned from drunk college kids to landscapes. From there I found a passion for landscape photographer and decided that was a better use of my time.
What do you typically bring with when you go out on a shoot?
I always make sure to have a tripod and of course a backup tripod just in case.
Just kidding, I'm more of a run and gun type-o-guy so I usually just have my camera backpack and a couple of lenses (16-35, 24-70, 70-200). I rarely use a tripod (unless it's astro of course) because I feel like experimenting with different compositions in different spots teaches you more than staying in one spot trying to "master" your settings.
In our last feature, Preston Buechler mentioned that you and George Ilstrup were 2 of the major influences on his choice to passionately pursue photography and attend college at UMD... what did your time in Duluth teach you and did you ever think your work would be responsible for inspiring others to follow in your path?
Duluth taught me the fundamentals of being creative which is if you want to get better at something you need to practice it as much as possible. Duluth makes it easy because everything is pretty much within a one hour drive and it's home to everything you would ever want as an outdoor photographer.
Lol no I did not believe that it would inspire others but I'm glad it did!
You’ve now moved on from Duluth, venturing out and visiting a number of other great northern territories like the Badlands, Canada, Alaska, Washington, and other PNW locales… what is it about the North that seems to call to you? What makes Minnesota unique in your opinion? And which of the places outside of Minnesota has been your favorite so far?
I've always been drawn to the North, and enjoy the cold. I briefly touched on this in the last question, but I believe Minnesota is so diverse. If you want to learn photography the North Shore is the perfect place because it has: Northern lights, milky way, lighting strikes crashing ice, giant waves, large cliffs, beautiful sunrises, colorful leaves, and plenty of other things to practice shooting.
Alaska is my favorite place. Hands down, it still doesn't feel real that I lived there. The mountains there are out of this world, and I believe everyone should plan a visit.
Since leaving the North Shore, what would you say you miss most about MN? What do you miss least?
There's a lot I miss about Minnesota, but I miss the people the most. Of course, I miss my family and friends but the "Minnesota nice" charm is a mindset you won't find anywhere else.
One thing I don't miss is access to new landscapes/places. Minnesota is tucked away in the North which makes it hard to travel to new states.
Last year Lake Superior experienced an abnormally cold winter, freezing solid enough that you were able to walk out on the ice and experience the sea stack known as “The Thumb” from lake level in person. What was that like and how significant was the iconic formation to you during your time along the shore?
Oh, man... Walking on a frozen Lake Superior is scary and I don't recommend because it's extremely dangerous. I understand people go ice fishing on there but not in common photography spots up the shore. With that being said, it's eerie to hear the loud cracks and shifting ice underneath you. It makes your heart race.
Haha, I enjoyed taking photos of the thumb but I'm glad it's gone now for a couple of reasons. Number one, that spot was not safe and was often covered in slippery ice. I would feel awful if someone fell in and died because of a photo I posted. Number two, it was an "easy" thing to take photos of and it was hard not to copy everyone else when shooting it. I believe people should push their creativity and not copy what everyone else is shooting.
You have a tremendous talent, whether flying a drone, boots on the ground or shooting from a kayak/paddleboard. Which of these would you say you enjoy the most?
Thank you! My favorite photos are the ones with a camera in hand on an adventure. That could mean a variety of things but I enjoy the story behind an image. I believe that when you take photos with a camera rather than a drone they are more relatable, and connect with people more.
With that being said drones are fun. Every flight is both exhilarating and stressful at the same time. I've had VERY close calls with crashing my drone and I'm sure my time will come soon.
What in photography would you say challenges you? What do you see as your strengths? And what resources do you use for improving your skills?
The one thing that challenges me the most outside of Minnesota is the time commitment and hoping the conditions work out. Here in Seattle, you just can't wake up and shoot sunrise when the weather is looking prime. Most ideal locations are hours away so I'm limited to just shooting on the weekends. I would have to say the biggest challenge would switching my style of photography to focus more on storytelling rather than perfect landscapes. Has forced me to change the way I think about images and it's something I'm actively working on.
I would say one of my strengths is finding locations. I've become great at being able to find any photo I come across on Instagram and think it's an essential tool for a photographer to have.
I watch a lot of youtube videos and I would have to say that has helped me the most.
What are you looking for when you go out to shoot? How much planning do you do beforehand?
I enjoy shooting from high up locations with people in the frame to show scale. So usually I look for hikes that involve lots of elevation gain or tall cliffs. My favorite part of the process is planning. I use social media intently so every single day I save new locations and put them in my google maps. I also write down all of my ideas in my notes so when I do travel to these spots I have a good idea of what to do when I arrive.
As someone who would often go out shooting with friends during your time on the North Shore, do you ever feel like it leads to a surplus of overlapping imagery between photographers sharing virtually the same shot or is there an inherent challenge to making essentially the same landscape look unique through the eyes of each artist? How do you set yourself apart?
I enjoy going out with 3-4 of my friends at the very most. I like shooting with friends who have a completely different aesthetic than me because it's fun seeing their perspective. However, I do not like going out and shooting with a "squad" of people. It's annoying to have to wait to take a photo and I've had people copy me the moment I step away from an angle. I guess I set myself apart by my compositions and my tendency towards certain colors.
What was it like being part of the epic Bishop and Rooks Land Rover shoot of 2018?
One of the best memories of that summer. I had such a good time with everyone there and got really muddy.
How do you approach the editing process?
I don't want to bore you with the deets but one tip I would suggest for editing is one I got from my good ol' friend George. This has saved me a lot of space on my computer and I wish I found this out sooner. When you are first importing your photos into Lightroom make your selects at this stage and only import the best ones. This leaves you with 5-10 of your best photos and cuts the workload down tremendously.
Having spent an extended period of time in Minnesota what would you say is your favorite season? Favorite thing about shooting in Minnesota? And favorite MN location to shoot?
I would say winter is my favorite season in Minnesota. My favorite thing to shoot during that time is the giant ships breaking through the ice. Where else are you going to find that in the United States? Otherwise, I would say northern lights have always been a magical thing to take photos of.
Are there any specific places, restaurants, coffee shops, campgrounds, etc. that you absolutely love or have totally missed while you have been away from the North Shore?
I would have to say I miss Northern Waters (Duluth) and Java Moose (Grand Marais) the most.
In the past, Reece Hickman mentioned that given the choice between having Northern Waters Smokehaus’ sandwiches in her life or you, she wouldn’t hesitate to choose the sandwiches… since turn about is fair play, are there any foods or guilty pleasures that you would choose over Reece?
Yea uh I would just about anything over Reece doesn't have to be food.
A number of our favorite shots of yours have come from the legendary Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (which we know has a special place in your heart as well). Are there any specific places within the BWCAW you find yourself going back to on the regular or are you continually seeking out new adventures each time you visit?
There is one regular spot, but I don't feel comfortable with sharing the name because I don't want it to get popular. However, I do seek new adventures and believe that any trip there would be worthwhile for anyone.
I noticed on your website in the about section you link to “The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace” … would you explain a little about why this is important and along your journeys have you discovered any particular hacks that make it easier to follow this ethos?
Anyone who spends time outside has a responsibility to take care of nature and leave unchanged so future generations can enjoy it too. It is selfish and wrong to litter/disrespect the landscape. Nothing is worse than finding an empty Gatorade bottle on a hike or seeing the couple's names carved into a tree.
I don't have any hacks but I always remember to bring a separate bag for trash when I'm backpacking.
Whether capturing the Northern Lights, starry nightscapes or lightning mid-strike you seem to have honed the craft of shooting in various low light settings exceedingly well. Do you have any tips for beginners attempting to capture these kinds of imagery?
I am happy to answer any questions anyone might have so if you read this and you're still confused please reach out.
For all of those situations, I used a tripod and have my camera set to manual focus. Exposure will vary, aperture or f-stop is either 2.8 or 4.0 (depending on the lens), and ISO is typically around 3200 - 8000 (I wouldn't go any higher).
I use a Sony and one unique thing is that they have this feature called focus peaking where everything in focus is highlighted in red. This makes it extremely easy to focus in on stars because you can zoom in on them and see that they are crisp. This cuts out the trial and error you would have to do with other cameras. If you don't have a Sony I would suggest focusing on infinity and then slightly shifting the focus back until they are in focus.
Northern Lights - It depends how bright the moon is in the sky but usually, I try to aim for 2 - 6 seconds with my aperture at 2.8 and ISO around 6400.
Lighting - Pretty much the same as northern lights. The timing is key and you have to guess and have your camera capturing the images as it strikes.
Milky Way - I use an app called Photopills to check the moon phases and try to get out when there is no moon. Exposure can vary but I try to aim for 8 - 10 seconds with my ISO going no higher than 8000. While on location I'm looking at the RAWs to make sure the stars aren't' streaking (they will do this if your exposure is too long).
With all of these, I believe having a camera that handles low light well along with a fast good lens is the key. Typically I am against the gear > skill argument but with low light conditions, I think you have to have decent equipment.
Now we have a couple of quick questions that came to us by way of some of our followers on Instagram…
• Jordan M writes… “when are you coming back??"
Not sure :(
• Another follower who shall remain nameless asks…”on a scale of 1-10 how cool is Reece Hickman?"
• A third follower wants to know… “how early do you get up to catch the amazing sunrise shots?"
Go to bed early haha. I usually go to bed at 10:00 PM every night so waking up early comes naturally.
What do you do when you’re not out shooting? (Any hobbies, favorite shows, play any musical instruments, etc.)
I don't share a lot of my personal life on Instagram but here are some of my favorite activities:
Running. Ever since I ran grandma's marathon in 2017, I've been obsessed with it. This summer in Alaska I got really into trail running and I ran my first ever mountain race. That was a wild experience and I can't wait to run another. I usually run 3-4 days a week and would like to do an ultra towards the end of 2020.
Lifting. Not very exciting but I lift 3 days a week.
Snowboarding. I started snowboarding when I was 11 and even competed in some competitions for slopestyle. I don't do it as much now but try to get out 2-3 times per year.
Backpacking. Something I never got a chance to do in Minnesota. I'm looking forward to exploring Northern Washington and am planning some longer trips for this upcoming summer.
Nutrition. Eating healthy has been a top priority of mine since 2016 and one bonus of studying biochemistry is that I learned how to read and understand scientific papers. I use that knowledge and apply it to my everyday life.
Designing. Designing is what I do for a job and it's something I am extremely passionate about.
Shows. I only really watch documentaries but there's this one show called Doomsday Preppers that is hilarious. The people on the show are insane and it's so funny seeing how crazy people are.
The World's Most Extraordinary Homes
Rotten (Avocados, Chocolate, Wine)
Broken (Ikea, Makeup, Vaping)
Don't F**k With Cats
The Devil Next Door, Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
Ted Bundy Tapes
Reading. I try to read 30-45 minutes per day and I just finished "Impossible First" by Colin O'Brady. It's an adventure book about the first person to cross Antarctica alone and unsupported. He talked here in Seattle last week and it was surreal meeting him in person.
Do you happen have a favorite photo you’ve ever taken?
I don't have one all-time favorite, but I would have to say capturing the northern lights over the BWCA was a special moment that I will never forget.
Who are your heroes? (Photography or otherwise)
My grandma was a huge inspiration of mine because she taught me how to be creative. Of course my family and friends (I'm not going to name specific people).
Outside of them, I would have to say the following people. I wouldn't call them "heroes" because I don't personally know them but here's a list of people that inspire me:
@Jimmychin (Climber / Photographer)
@Davidgoggins (Navy SEAL / Ultrarunner)
(There are tons more but here's just what I could think of off the top of my head)
Any bucket shots on your list?
Realistically I would say Utah is the next place I would like to visit. If I won the lottery today you'd find me on the next ship to Antarctica.
What’s one piece of advice you would offer someone who is just starting out as a photographer?
You're going to suck. Everyone sucks when trying something new and it's just apart of learning. Try to shoot as much as possible and when you're not shooting try to come up with ideas for future trips. Use social media as a tool and use it with intent. Be organized with your thoughts and make sure to write down everything. I highly recommend using note-taking apps such as Notion or Evernote.
This one comes from our previous featured guest Preston Buechler who would like to know ... What have you found to be the biggest difference photographing places inside of Minnesota compared to places such as Alaska and the PNW, PLUS how do you find all of your banger locations while traveling?
I touched on this previously, but I would say it's easier to plan and get the most ideal condition in Minnesota than anywhere else. Everything is so close to you and it's easy to set yourself up for success by being there on the most ideal mornings. Other places it's hard because you don't have that luxury.
For the most part, I only follow photography related pages on IG and don't mindlessly scroll when I use it. Whenever I see a cool location on a feature page I screenshot it and use the internet to figure out where it was taken. I recommend using All Trails and simply searching "Best hikes in ______". You'd be surprised how easy it is to find spots.
What one question would you ask our next featured guest? (Anything you like)
HEY GEORGE WHAT ARE YOUR SETTINGS?
Time to pay it forward... who else would you like to see featured on this blog?
GEORGE DULUTH! I'M CALLING U OUT!
Thank you so much for your time.
For more Tucker Olson goodness check out Tuck's work on...