The Life and Times of a Landscape Photographer


By David Michael Newstead.

On a recent trip to Canada, Nelson Tirado hiked through the wilderness for four hours so he could be in the right spot for five minutes. The water in Calgary National Park is known for turning a unique shade of turquoise in the summer and this presents a brief window for stunning pictures. Despite the obstacles involved, it was an opportunity that the 29-year-old photographer couldn’t resist. So with his equipment slung over his shoulder, Nelson raced against the approaching sunset, trying to capture the interplay between the turquoise water, the sunlight, and the park’s natural features. After a few minutes had gone by, it went dark around him and that moment he was chasing had passed. The only thing left to do was to start the four hour trek back through the Canadian wilderness, navigating his way through pitch black forests and a record number of grizzly bear warnings from park officials this year.

For Nelson, it’s a remarkable change from his life four years ago. In 2010, he immigrated to the United States from Maracay, Venezuela. Originally educated to be a labor lawyer, he faced all the challenges of establishing a new life for himself as well as the choice between restarting his legal career in the U.S. or pursuing a different path. Nelson would eventually embrace his passion for photography, but that shift really began unexpectedly with a single picture hanging in a furniture store in Miami. For fun, Nelson had taken a photo of the city and given it to a friend. That image was meant to look nice and fill up space on a store wall and there was no reason to believe that anything else would come of it. But as time went by, so many customers in the store stopped to compliment the photo and to ask about the artist who created it that it inspired Nelson to forego practicing law and to head in a radically new direction — Landscape Photography.

Four years later, that journey that started in a Miami furniture store now entails a total commitment to his profession. Nelson does extensive research, planning his trips months in advance. He trains in the gym every morning so that he’s physically capable of hiking and carrying his equipment long distances into remote locations. He’s never photographed the same place twice and he actively seeks out less well known sites for his work. So far, that’s meant excursions to South Florida, Utah, Arizona, Tennessee, North Carolina, and most recently, Calgary where he relied solely on natural light and the colors immortalized by film photography. Today, his pictures go on to decorate his gallery in Miami-Dade County and the homes of his avid collectors and fans. His mission, he says, is to capture the soul of a place and to share those images with his followers on social media. Those moments then become lasting reminders of the profound beauty of nature and the importance of conservation.

“I want to create photographs that make people feel like they can walk into them, like they are in another place,” Nelson told me.

Later, when I asked him what he thinks about during those long and arduous hikes, he explained that he breathes, that he doesn’t think, that he blocks everything out. He becomes totally focused on getting the photograph that he traveled there for.

“The fear,” Nelson said. “…is not making it there in time for the shot.”

After that critical moment, the adrenaline fades and his attention turns to getting home. Of course off the beaten path, it’s easy to get lost or injured. He’s at the mercy of the elements and he could run into wild animals. Out there, Nelson is all alone and he knows it. The training and all his preparations carry him part of the way, but it’s that sense of dedication to what he’s doing that drives him. And in the end, after all the effort, the photograph is a testament to his journey.

To follow Nelson Tirado’s adventures in Landscape Photography, check out the links below:

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