Let’sBeWild: Your photos show an obvious love for nature – are there any environmental and conservation issues that you feel strongly about? Can photography help to preserve the wild places we love?

Thomas Koidhis: I think by this point in the interview that much has become clear, for sure. Humanity…disappoints me so deeply sometimes that my experience borders on the misanthropic. At the same time, how can I judge? We didn’t know any better for so long. There was no “parent” civilization to teach us what was real and what was right. Civilizations, as I am convinced more of them are out there somewhere if you know what I mean, grow up in isolation. We are forced to teach ourselves.

LetsBeWild.com – An Adventure Travel Magazine – Photographer Interview: Thomas KoidhisMy disappointment comes from the fact that now, we do know better. We know enough now that we should be able to see how inappropriate so much of our behavior is. We’ve built this 21st century world based on certain ideals and definitions that we place importance on and we fail to see that many of those ideals and definitions are artificial. We invented them. It should not be any surprise that great disparate masses of people, even in North America, are disillusioned. All I see is governments squabbling, only pretending as if they know what they’re doing and what is going on. Huge bloated populations unable and unwilling to see how fooled they are indeed, only able to continue consuming and allowing others to think for them. How could we let the disparity get so great? When will we see the insanity of one population so overstuffed they still falsely believe they are entitled to such excess while another is stricken by such famine and poverty that they are struggling to cling to life? I am so proud of some individuals who see this and do all they can to bring light to the fact that this is wrong. Those who see this and in the very least care are the people who continue to fill me with hope.

And all of this doesn’t even touch down yet on what we’re doing to other forms of life on Earth. It’s not just macro sized life forms, either. Every living thing is part of a greater network of things. Many of you may know that the human body is in large part comprised of bacteria that aren’t even truly “native” to our organism, yet they fulfill certain needs we have. It is a conglomerate – without them we wouldn’t be here and vice versa. And that conglomerate extends beyond the human organism, into the rest of the networks of life on Earth. If you go out into any random area, be it a grassland, a forest, a beach…it doesn’t matter, and pick up a handful of Earth, in that handful you will be holding many thousands of types of organisms that haven’t even been discovered or studied yet. We don’t comprehend the interconnections between all things but rest assured, they are there. In a literal sense once again, we are the Earth itself in any way you can think of it. I see us talking about populating other planets or finding a new place when Earth no longer “serves us” and I wonder how humanity could be so obtuse. It’s all well and good – we are already a multi-planet species in some respect. We still fail to see however the importance of our roots. How could we think, in all of our ignorance, that we could ever be divorced from the biological origins that gave rise to us in the first place.

LetsBeWild.com – An Adventure Travel Magazine – Photographer Interview: Thomas Koidhis

If our own and the next few generations don’t see this and act on it in some way, if they continue to engage in reckless and entitled thoughts and behavior, I won’t be surprised in the least when the Earth swallows us up and life moves on without us. Don’t get it twisted…Our end will not mean the end of life. We will get left behind.

I really hope that photography can continue to bring light to this situation. Of course the very fond thought comes to mind of the late Galen Rowell who was taken from us far too early. There is hardly a nature photographer out there who doesn’t highly respect if not idolize him. He was a beacon of hope for conservation of untouched wilderness and the protection of what he understood was fundamentally and vitally important to all of us. Earth, our home and our family of life. I strive to embody even a small morsel of what he represented so that his message can live on.

 

Let’sBeWild: Your photos of the Northern Lights are breathtaking. Can you tell us a bit about what goes into photographing the aurora and what the experience of seeing it first-hand is like?

Thomas Koidhis: In theory it is exceptionally simple to photograph the aurora. In practice, it often becomes much more challenging. I notice that most people can afford a decent DSLR these days with the market boom on these devices and with growing interest in space and science it is really nice to see people excited and enthusiastic about a natural phenomena like this. Of course it is a nearly indescribable experience even after years of observing and photographing the aurora borealis but I will try regardless!

LetsBeWild.com – An Adventure Travel Magazine – Photographer Interview: Thomas Koidhis

LetsBeWild.com – An Adventure Travel Magazine – Photographer Interview: Thomas Koidhis

Imaging the aurora borealis is best taken in a series of mental steps. You need certain “conditions” I like to call them to get the winners. By now, everybody knows you need two basic things: a camera that can take a long exposure – to have the shutter open for a long period of time (usually longer than ten seconds), so that light can hit the sensor for an extended period of time, allowing a dark night sky to become properly visible on the recording medium. For perspective most “point-and-shoots” snap your recreational photos usually faster than 1/30th of a second and in daylight rarely slower than 1/125th of a second. The other is clearly a tripod, as no-one that I know of can take hand-helds of aurora and get a sharp image.

There is kind of a divergence at this point. What improves your aurora photographs from this point can be a little more subtle. You have two general choices: a) Put your DSLR (or non-DSLR transition camera that has long exposure settings) on your tripod, set it to automatic settings and let the camera do the work. You will get nice personal pictures in the least, especially with the level of technology easily available right now. In time as you get familiar you will see your images slowly improving.

b) If you want to take things to another level then it would be in your best interest to learn to shoot on manual settings. That is literally as easy as finding a guide on the internet or buying an introduction to photography book. If possible look for a practical guide. All you need to know at first is how to properly expose an image, meaning how bright you make the image, using three variables: ISO Speed (sensor sensitivity to light), Shutter Speed (Length of time your sensor is exposed to light) and Aperture (ratio of the lens’s focal length to the diameter of the lens opening created by your aperture blades – controls how much light comes into your camera at a time. A side effect of aperture is it controls your depth of focus). I’ll try to get off my butt and start posting tips on my blog! Once you have learned to use your manual settings, it becomes a very interpretive process. Combining the various ways you can choose to photograph the aurora with the infinite variety of ways that aurora manifests, you have so many possibilities. This can be daunting at first but I try to have an adventurous spirit as that makes the experience of learning the relationship between you and your camera and the condition of subjects much more enjoyable.

LetsBeWild.com – An Adventure Travel Magazine – Photographer Interview: Thomas Koidhis

If you are looking for high quality one relatively immediate thing you can do is invest in a higher tier camera body and/or lens once you have the photography knowledge to justify the investment. The same very smart man who told me about the percentage of our brain devoted to processing images also told me that the least important part of photography is the camera. This is unambiguously true and I have experienced its truth many times since starting photography. This doesn’t mean that the camera and the rest of your equipment make no difference at all; ample skill and knowledge applied to higher-sensitivity equipment, more powerful processing, bigger resolutions and clearer glass will each in their own small part add an edge to your technique and image quality.

Once you understand concepts such as the fact that the more brightly you expose your image without blowing out the highlights, the better detail and image quality your data will retain, you will see an immediate improvement in your images. You can darken them in later post-processing to make them look natural again. All details following such as what particular settings you use for a situation, whether you use a cable release and mirror lock-up to keep your chip as steady as possible or how sturdy your tripod is all add up to produce a resulting effect on your final result which is bigger than you might imagine.

Anyone who hasn’t seen the aurora has probably heard that the aurora is an amazing sight. It is. It’s mind-blowing. You can watch it almost every night for years and hardly bore of it. I naturally find my own sense of amazement at it because I like to think about what exactly is happening up there. What really gets me and everyone else to really start cheering is when the activity truly picks up. The speed that those curtains and spikes can sometimes tear and flutter through the sky while they pulsate in cyan graduating through several shades of green into purple and sometimes red and white is something that commands the total awe of your being no matter who you are or what you’ve seen. For me some of my friends, the experience when those levels of intensity hit often borders on some strange precipice between wondrous disbelief and terror.

 

LetsBeWild.com – An Adventure Travel Magazine – Photographer Interview: Thomas Koidhis

Let’sBeWild: You and your friend and frequent shooting partner and fellow Fort Smith resident Karl Johnston were among 28 photographers out of 985 entrants who submitted 3,586 photos whose work was selected in the 2011 Epson International Photographic Pano Awards to be displayed in Sydney at PMA. You placed 6th in the Amateur Nature category and Karl placed 4th in the Nature category. It’s pretty amazing that out of nearly 1,000 entrants from 62 countries around the world, two photographers from the same small Canadian town of only a few thousand residents both placed so highly in one of the most popular and important nature photography competitions in the world. Tell us a bit about your experience doing so well in the Epson Pano Awards.

Thomas Koidhis: What can I say, I was pretty proud of us both! I think Karl’s actually a little ired that I didn’t enter this year. To him I say, “Don’t worry LeBron – get ’em next year!” Seriously though, I have a little bit of a stockpile of panoramic images building in my hard drive…When I have about 10-15 that I think are top quality I’ll submit them all and try to see how many gold stars I can earn, haha! I felt like I had accomplished something and that all of my hard work had paid off. It’s always great to get results in your endeavors. The town was proud of us too, many locals voiced it to us personally when they heard the news and generally they were very supportive so I’m proud to have represented their town and some of the talent that buds here in an international competition. You should see some of the musical talent here. I’m pretty honored to have had my panorama displayed in the Sydney convention! That was probably the best news because it came after the fact that we had placed so highly. All in all it was just confirmation that I should just keep doing what I do.

 

Let’sBeWild: What is shooting with Karl Johnston like? You both photograph many similar subjects but your work each has its own unique style. Has having a frequent photography partner influenced your own work?

Thomas Koidhis: I will start with answering this with some words from a very good friend of mine from Germany. She said,

“You can’t refrain from existing and from what I call “being existed upon,” by which I mean other people ALWAYS having their impact on you, no matter what they do. Some people influence me by NOT doing anything at all, and sometimes that impact is much more radical than people being constantly on the move and jabbering away endlessly. I tend to listen more to the ones saying some words in a while than the ones talking all the time.”

LetsBeWild.com – An Adventure Travel Magazine – Photographer Interview: Thomas KoidhisThe simple answer to the second part of that question is yes. Karl and I have been close friends since we were 9. At 23 looking back, the memories are countless. When you think of it that way, it’s impossible to entertain that the two of us haven’t had a strong influence on each other and our work. I think we both tend to be good at whatever we put our minds to but our particular strengths at any given time often complement each other especially when we collaborate. There is even a light competition at times that forces us to each push ourselves a little harder to progress a little farther. I kind of want to make an obscure anime reference because you often see those characters dynamic relationships forcing each other to evolve little by little.

Karl is a great guy. Many know him through his work and others have known him his whole life in Fort Smith. I personally know him as a complex and somehow at the same time simple guy who likes people, has good intentions, drinks too much tea (I’m always waiting on his ass) loves BBQ, the land and his hands and toes in the Earth. Bring him to a sunny beach and watch him entertain himself for hours in the sand! He’s become extremely outgoing as he’s grown up and his sense of humor has actually kept me sane on many occasions. I’ve had to start a “quotes of Karl” notepad on my computer because the lines are just too good to let die.

 

Let’sBeWild: Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share with us?

Thomas Koidhis: I’ve tried in this interview, especially in certain statements I’ve made concerning humanity and the nature of things, to state the truth to the best of my knowledge. I also stated many beliefs, so you will have to take them at that. I know that reality is so mysterious that we will only ever be able to approximate the truth. I believe that the Tao comes very close;

The reason that can be reasoned
is not the eternal reason
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The nameless is the origin
of the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.

The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders

3 Responses

  1. JT

    Thomas does some amazing work! What a read…some really insightful thoughts… glad I read all of it

    Reply
  2. mark lohnes

    With so many cool and interesting photos floating in cyber space one can be quite jaded towards nice work. Thomas’s images have extra-dimentionality that goes beyond simply capturing a powerful scene with a stout camera. He has very impressive and impactfull images with extremely deep wisdom that is being conveyed within each one. Thomas is a master far beyond his years and one can learn so much just from the images, let alone his verbal words. Great interview.

    Reply

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