If you were to meet Adam Saligman whilst travelling, armed with his Sony point-and-shoot camera, you might not expect much from his photography. He has no bag full of high end cameras, top quality lenses, or the latest tripod.. but appearances can be deceiving.
While you were shooting your backpacking adventures in Europe, Adam was trekking the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia, exploring the deserts of Namibia, and conquering the harsh landscape of Antarctica. His inspiring travel destinations, coupled with an incredible eye for perfect composition produce breathtaking images worthy of National Geographic. If Adam can teach us anything, it's that understanding the core principals of photography will always trump the amount you spend on equipment.
We caught up with Adam to find out a little more about the stories behind some of his best pictures:
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Where are you from?
I am from St. Louis, Missouri, right in the heart of USA.
Tell us about yourself
My profession is secondary school education on the international school circuit, specifically teaching literature, writing, and debate. Travel is one of my biggest passions (and best excuses for why I am not saving much money).
When did photography start for you?
I started taking photos in 2007 when I moved to China for my first job after graduating university. My friends at home bought me a reasonably priced, but wonderful Canon point and shoot digital camera. I had never owned a camera before, nor had taken any classes in photography. My friends insisted that traveling without sharing my images with them was both foolish and selfish.
How did you learn your skills?
My pictures of some of China's most amazing landscapes and historical sites mark my status as a beginner with weak compositions. As I traveled more, through driving across the US, exploring the Arctic, and backpacking in Asia I taught myself a lot about composition. At first, my photos were memories so I could recall each adventure, but as I learned how to compose shots, these memories became stories.
Tell us some of the stories behind your photography
In Stepantsminda, Georgia, while venturing to a six hundred year old monastery in the lofty Caucasus Mountains, I saw the human built citadel as a humble subject of the towering, snowcapped peaks. I had to step back and compose a shot where the monastery stood feebly (not rising much higher than the lower third of the photograph) a before an infinite wall of rock and snow. The mountains were the Heavens in this shot, so I chose to leave out the sky. The image of the church itself can not translate the humbling vibe of this site that transcends beauty.
While visiting Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, the Jalil Khayat Mosque stood as a colorful, modern marvel. Capturing the entire ceiling makes a great memory, but bringing out the enchanting figures and patterns translates a bit more effectively the awe of this Islamic architecture. I saw an owl in the ceiling, and that is what I focused my composition on.
At the surreal landscape of Deadvlei, in Namibia's Sossusvlei National Park I wanted to play with contrast between dead trees and dried clay buried in shadow and the large sand dune walls in the background ignited to a fiery orange color by the rising sun. While translating how surreal this landscape is seems impossible, I focused the shot on the darkened trees against the brightly lit dunes in the background. Little yellow blossoms on the distant dune become stars in a sky of sand. This image is far from idea, though. Had I visited Deadvlei at sunset, not sunrise, the other dune walls would be lit, and they are much closer to the trees, so the yellow blossoms would become larger, and more interesting/surreal themselves as part of the composition. As a traveler first and photographer second, I do my best with the moment that I have for each shot.
On a snow mobile excursion to Tempelfjorden in Spitsbergen, a schooner imprisoned in the frozen fjord (the boat is placed here every winter for tourists) could not reach above the white mountain horizon. The tourists and their dog sleds and snow mobiles had to appear small next to the ship, and ant like in front of the white mountain faces. This landscape's awe rests in the totality of immaculate white covering everything, including the tundra, the mountains, and the fjords. My composition had to focus on this. A thin strip of clear blue sky atop the mountains is necessary for both some contrast to highlight the serenity of the place.
What equipment do you use?
I now use a Sony RX100 point and shoot camera, which gives me great resolution. I am not a professional photographer, and I am not particularly knowledgeable about high tech camera functions. I focus entirely on composition to bring out mood or tell a story.
Tell us about your annual photo calender
In 2012 my mother suggested that I compile photographs to make a calendar as a "Christmas card" to my family, when I had always struggled with choosing gifts. That year I made a calendar of various landscape shots from around the world and gave them to my employers, one friend who asked for it, and all members of my immediate family. Each month had one picture and a title. Months that are warm in the Northern Hemisphere had "warm landscapes." Months that are usually cold have "cold landscapes." The next year, as I reached out on facebook for friends' opinions on which photos should make the cut, many more friends wanted calendars. For the 2015 calendar, I experimented with a theme: having each photo be some sort of shrine, be it religious, cultural, or metaphorical. Every year I have printed more and sold them at cost to those who asked for them. I am wondering what the future of this project will be. I want it to evolve and maybe become a small business, and am still thinking about where and how to promote this. I also am thinking of other ways of making the calendar, other than simply choosing one photo to match each month.
Has you photography gained any recognition?
I post my photos on 500px.com
and have sold limited licensing rights for a few images. I also submitted a few photos to the Hitchhiker's Guide contest on facebook, winning one week's competition. (As a hobbyist) I do not work with post production or devote hours in the field to capturing the perfect shot.
See Adam's full portfolio of incredible images here:
Want perfect composition for your images in Lightroom? Check out our Academy post on the 'Crop Overlays' function here.