Meet this month’s Featured Photographer, Nathan Welton. His beautiful photography does something rare–he captures grand, awe-inspiring landscapes, while also showcasing the humanness and fragility of the climber. He’s also one of the nicest guys around.
Read on to hear about his undeniable passion for people, places, and experiences has molded him into the photographer he is today:
Experiences and stories are sort of like a weird currency: we collect them, we trade them, and hopefully we use them to do something for the greater good.
– Nathan Welton
What came first, climbing or photography? How did you get into photography?
Photography came first for me, and climbing came many years later. My dad is a cardiologist, but loves art, and was really into fine art and street photography when I was a kid. He’s even more psyched now that he’s retired, and spends his time shooting for magazines and newspapers in Washington State.
Every Saturday morning starting when I was about 5 or 6, he’d want to go on what I dubbed “camera sneaks.” I just wanted to watch cartoons, but we’d always somehow wind up at festivals or parades, and then we’d come home and spend the afternoon in the darkroom.
It was so cool being in there, with the red light illuminating the projector and all the trays of chemicals. I pretended to be a ghost when I opened his drawers of photographic paper and didn’t ruin them in the red light, and I felt like a sorcerer when I put a piece of white paper into a bath and pulled it out soon after with an image on it.
In high school I took photography classes and loved it, and then starting shooting my travels and adventures when I wound up in Colorado for college. That’s when I discovered rock climbing.
After college, I took a year off to travel and climb in Asia, New Zealand, and Mexico, and then got a master’s degree in science journalism. Grad school photography classes and five years shooting and writing for newspapers led me to a career as a full time photographer.
For the last decade, my life has been a rewarding mix of living in Colorado and shooting weddings and adventure sports, and traveling abroad shooting adventure sports and destination weddings.
What do you hope to inspire or portray with your photos?
I want to inspire people to go outside and get after it, and then come home with a new and memorable experience. Experiences and stories are sort of like a weird currency: we collect them, we trade them, and hopefully we use them to do something for the greater good.
We’re all a lot more likely to take action for a cause that we have experienced before or can relate to. Photos inspire experiences. Experiences cause passion. Passion breeds action.
With so many different forms of expression and art that exist, what about the medium of photography are you most drawn to?
When I worked in newspapers, I tried really hard to write cinematically. I wanted my readers to feel like they were sharing my experience with me. I wanted my stories to be so visceral they’d evoke a smell or a gust of wind or a shivering cold.
I think words can be more powerful than images because they can tell a deeper and more complete story. Rarely is the movie better than the book.
But I think photos are more relatable and immediate. Images of expressive people in beautiful areas transcend language and cultural barriers, and they tell a story instantly.
Another thing I love about what I shoot is that it’s often unscripted. I want to see people really trying hard, grabbing draws, taking whips. I also like being forced to Macgyver my way through things.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring outdoor photographer, what would it be?
If you think you don’t need to get better, go do something else. Complacency breeds laziness and a lack of creativity, and you should always be striving for the next big thing. Evolve or die.
What is one of your proudest moments as a photographer?
I struggled with this question, so I talked around it and hopefully answered it abstractly. Bear with me for a second. First of all, I don’t stake my identity on photography. It’s something I do, but it doesn’t define me. I am a lot more proud of who I am and what I’ve learned from family, friends, and life experiences.
I used to wonder why those “camera sneaks” with my dad seemed like such an eternity, despite lasting for a few hours. I hate it when life passes quickly, and I’m definitely not proud of my inability to escape this inertia. It’s way too easy to get caught in the machine and be taken for a ride, and I’m always trying to recapture my childhood perception of time.
Then I read a fascinating article about the science of the passage of time, and it boiled down to this: as kids, everything was a new experience, and new experiences take a lot more mental energy to process. We essentially perceive time differently because we are more present.
I felt this familiar feeling recently during an onsight burn on a new climb—I was so focused that the rest of the world slipped away and stopped. I very vividly noticed this, watching my wife take a ground fall a few years ago in Turkey. Thankfully she lived, but the single airborne second lasted two full minutes in my head. For good and bad, what set those experiences apart is that they were new.
Basically, the best way to slow time down is to keep things fresh. That means: travel a lot, challenge yourself, meet new people, try new things, and learn new stuff. If you seek out and embrace adventure, life will truly last longer.
So, back to photography. Photography is a vehicle that takes me to new places, new people, and new experiences—all of which help me to evolve creatively and intellectually. I’m constantly learning about my craft and the people and places I shoot. Photography is adventure.
It also helps me slow down and see more beauty. If all goes well, I create a picture of that beauty—be it a moment, an emotion, a landscape—and show it to other people, who hopefully get inspired to either seek it out, preserve it for someone else, or just live with more intention.
So I guess I’m most proud of building an adventurous career that lets me experience all this, and hopefully inspire others.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I also shoot weddings, which I love. They are amazing events with so many complex layers, and I enjoy wedding photography more than any other discipline. Visit my site at dreamtimeimages.com
We would like to thank Nathan for his inspiring photographs and willingness to speak openly about his views on climbing, photography, and life. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors!