Fixing your eyes on Michael DeYoung’s adventure photography is a thrill. His love of nature and adventurous spirit burst from each of his vibrant images. Whether in Alaska’s awe-inspiring mountain ranges or the deep-red earth of the Utah desert, a portrait of an athlete’s (and an aesthete’s) paradise is laid before you. He inspires the budding athlete to put on those running shoes or strap the kayak to the car, and go explore the rich, colorful world in which we live.
The crisp, vivid colors that come forth in DeYoung’s landscape photographs give away his background in nature and wildlife photography. In fact, it wasn’t until later in his career, after some sound advice from agencies and colleagues, that he moved down the path of adventure-sports photography. “The supply and demand was more geared toward people and lifestyle,” says DeYoung. “I never thought about shooting my lifestyle until then.”
And that’s exactly what DeYoung captures: his own lifestyle. An avid backpacker, hiker and kayaker, he has been an adventure-sports enthusiast his whole life, trekking throughout the world, from Alaska, Baja and Costa Rica to his backyard of New Mexico and the American Southwest. Adventure sports are his inspiration.
“I have to participate in the activities to get to the place that I need to be,” DeYoung emphasizes. But he doesn’t just participate for photographic inspiration; rather, it’s his love of the outdoors and the sport.
Making the switch from nature photography to adventure sports wasn’t as easy as he first expected. “I was naive about it at first,” recalls DeYoung. “I thought it would be an easy transition, but it wasn’t. You have to think about lighting, style, art direction, talent. I’m still learning about it, but I’m better than I was when I started. Landscape photography is way easier in comparison.”
With sports photography becoming ever more present, even to the extent of being oversaturated with the work of both professionals and amateurs, DeYoung makes a unique distinction in his own work. “Let me be clear,” he punctuates. “I wouldn’t consider myself to be an extreme-sports photographer. It’s more like I shoot adventure sports that are accessible to everyday people.”
This distinction is what makes DeYoung’s work so appealing to a general audience. He enjoys having the ability to use rich, beautiful scenery as the background to people’s normal recreational activities like running, yoga or hiking. It creates images of real people in surreal worlds, inserting a level of fantasy to each frame.
“I’m adaptable, a problem-solver,” DeYoung explains. “I like the challenge of making something out of nothing. You’re making a photograph where something doesn’t exist. My overall style would be emphasizing fun, low-impact, Zen-like pictures—people and places where people say, ‘I really want to be there.’”
DeYoung approaches his technique in the same easy manner. He recognizes that the degree of difficulty in achieving a shot doesn’t necessarily correlate with the perceived creativity of a shot.
“All subjects are design elements,” he says. “You don’t have to stand in 40 below to get a great shot. It doesn’t make it any better. If I can get a picture going 50 miles an hour on the freeway out of my car window, great!”
Simplicity also is the rule when it comes to lighting. The lighting in a DeYoung photograph is easily one of its most distinctive characteristics. The vividly colored landscapes add a depth missing in much of outdoor photography. His critics may accuse him of being “hyper-colored,” but those who have spent as much time as DeYoung has exploring the outdoors know that the colors we see in nature, untouched by mankind, easily can surpass what any digital effects can create in post.
“What can I say?” declares DeYoung. “I’m a bold color person!”
DeYoung’s color palette may be bold, but his technique is simple and organic. He chooses not to rely on postproduction color touchups, but only on what he can capture in the field. “I’m a big believer in doing everything you can in the field,” he says. “It’s more time-consuming to do it in Photoshop. I don’t have the ‘fix it in post’ attitude. It’s a bad way to go.”
Carrying over a touch of the old school, DeYoung is still a religious user of graduated neutral-density filters. “It’s just easier to pull a filter,” he adds. “It just doesn’t look as good to do adjustments in postproduction. It doesn’t look as good as doing it in the field. I guess I still have the film mentality.”
DeYoung’s fresh and enterprising style isn’t only a product of his creative mind and love for the outdoors. As a businessperson, DeYoung understands the importance of market research and staying up on the latest trends. Since the majority of his business is stock photography, he shoots self-assigned work based on historical data and sales. To stay relative, it’s crucial that he stays competitive.
“I get information on how to stay fresh from my editors,” says DeYoung. “I get a book that describes trends. And I go online to find color trends. It’s critical that we style people in the latest and greatest gear and apparel. I look at catalogs from Patagonia, Title Nine, REI, L.L.Bean. You have to look at people and see what they’re wearing. On top of everything else I do—shooting, marketing, research—I have to make a concerted effort to stay on the latest trends and stay competitive.”
DeYoung’s switch to digital back in 2003 also was a strategic move to stay ahead of the pack. “I switched to stay competitive,” he says. “I saw the way it was going and had to jump in.”
It’s this fluid, constantly evolving adaptability that makes DeYoung a frontrunner in an ultra-competitive business. By pairing his savvy business mind with his originality and love of nature, he delivers a photographic vision that’s stimulating and exciting!
DeYoung’s talent for capturing adventure sports available to the weekend warrior gives his work a human, approachable feel. It’s not about extremes—jumping off craggy peaks or doing 360s down a pipe—but inspiring people to get off their butts and jump into a world of color and adventure.
To see more of Michael DeYoung’s photography, visit www.michaeldeyoungphotography.com.
Article written for DigitalPhotoPro, www.digitalphotopro.com