While all of our guides are equally amazing, we feel Russell Graves, our subject for this edition, is especially interesting with a decades long career in not only still photography, but in film and writing. He even knows a couple celebrities!
We hope that you enjoy reading about Russell, and that you have a chance to get to know him on one of our 2018 tours!
Russell, thank you for your time today. Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? Go to school?
I grew up in the country north of Dodd City, Texas. I went to school in Dodd City and then I went to college at East Texas State University.
You were an Ag Science teacher for years and years…Can you talk a bit about that experience. Do you feel that experience has in any way helped your photography?
Yes, I was an ag science teacher for 16 years. For about half that time, I taught because I wanted to and not because I had to. By about 2000 I was making most of my income off of photography, but I still loved teaching. I think teaching really helped me learn to accept and work with all personality types – a must when you are doing commercial photography.
What are your hobbies? Do any of them stand out as either your favorite, or what you are best at?
My hobby, as crazy as it might sound, is building homes! I have built four homes for myself, and really enjoy the process of creating something from nothing. Each of my homes are rural properties and it is really satisfying to pioneer a new piece of property where no existing infrastructure exists. In home building, I especially like the end process of curating interesting pieces and doing the final interior design. Aside from that, I like cooking and playing the guitar.
You have an extensive background in photography as well as writing. Can you talk about your experience over the years in this field?
My experiences are really all over the place. I started out just interested in wildlife but as my skill set grew, so did my client list. Now I do a broad genre that I call rural lifestyles. Under that umbrella I do a lot of stuff in the hunting, fishing, and agriculture industries.
You’ve met a lot of noteworthy folks. Any great stories about these characters?
They all have great stories but probably the most noteworthy I think is one that I doubt the person will remember. I was photographing country music star Pat Green for a client and we met to do the work before one of his shows. Since I had back stage access to the concert after the shoot, I brought my wife and kids along. When Pat found out my kids were with me, he wanted to meet them. At the time they were pretty young, I think my daughter was 12 and my son was seven. Once he met them he insisted that they sit on stage while he performed so he had his roadies put out a couple of chairs at the back of the stage. I was really impressed at how he treated my kids as if they were his own.
What is it about photography and writing that stokes your passion for each?
I like interesting people and places and like to tell the stories of each. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy having the coolest stories around the campfire as well. I like to think of myself as a 1%-er in that I get to see and do things that 99% of people never will.
When, and what specifically got you into photography?
I got into photography at about 17 years of age. That was in 1987. My older brother was in the army and while he was stationed in Alaska, he bought a new Canon camera and gave me an old Vivitar camera that our older sister had given to him. I started taking pictures of stuff with which I was most familiar (ranching, chickens, cattle, and wildlife) and fell in love with taking pictures. A couple of years after I got started, I leveraged my ability to write in order to sell photos to magazine. So when I was 19, I had my first photos and articles published in a magazine and by the time I turned 20, I had my first cover.
What do you love the most about your career?
The people I’ve met and seeing things in a way that brings beauty into things that most see as mundane or ordinary.
You and your brother produced a documentary film that received some fanfare, yes? Can you talk about that process? How did it come about, what was the inspiration? What was it about? Any particular stories come from the filming process? (Can we plug anything here for it? like a link to anything)
Yes, we did produce a documentary. The idea really arose from a magazine story I was working on. I was asked to do a piece about a creek that I grew up on. I was asked to document what was going to be lost in the creek ecosystem once a lake project was completed. Realizing that a movie script is essentially the same as a magazine article (a story), I wanted to document the story in multiple ways. So, since digital SLRs were just starting to be able to record HD video, I bought a Canon 5d Mark II and filmed much of our 30 mile canoe trip down the creek. We filmed the creek and the wildlife and people that live in the region. I used my magazine story as the basis for my voice over and then I taught myself how to edit video and the film was born. It aired to a national audience and has been featured on several regional outlets.
For those interested in looking into this film, it is titled “Bois d’Arc Goodbye,” and you all should give it a look!
Do you have a favorite image that you’ve made?
Do you prefer wildlife or landscape photography? Or, perhaps something else?
I lean towards wildlife because that’s where I find my roots. However, since the landscapes in which wildlife resides is an integral part of telling a story, I’ll do landscapes as well. I also love pictures of people who make their living off the land as well.
What do you feel are your greatest challenges with each type?
The greatest challenge of wildlife is usually self imposed. Since everything has been photographed before, I try to come up with dynamic and creative ways to photograph wildlife. The same really goes with landscapes as well.
How did being hired on as a BCJ guide come about? Did you know Russ prior, or did he seek you out?
I met Russ when I attended his Katmai bear trip. We just started talking and struck up a friendship and the conversation came up. I am not sure if he brought it up or it was me. Either way, here we are.
What are you most excited about looking forward to working with Backcountry Journeys guests?
I think I am excited about meeting new people and hearing their stories. I have only attended one of his trips but I connected with some people on that trip with whom I still stay in contact. I also look forward to sharing my knowledge and experiences with like minded people.
What do you feel are traits, experience, skill or whatever that you bring to the table as a BCJ guide that folks on your upcoming tours can look forward to?
I think I am a pretty accomplished photographer, filmmaker, and writer and to that extent, I have lots of stories to tell and a ton of experience to fall back on.
What will be your focus (pun intended) when out guiding guests on BCJ tours?
Learning about a location and the wildlife there and using the ability to learn about an animal or place to enrich your overall experience. Photography is fun but immersing yourself in the who story of a place is a much richer experience.
Talk to us about your current gear setup?
I use Canon cameras and shoot a variety of lenses from 15mm fisheye to 500mm f4.
What is your favorite location that you’ve spent time in photographing, and why?
I think its my home. I live on rural property and manage it for wildlife. Being able to shoot cool pictures on my own property is pretty satisfying and underscores my work to increase the wildlife populations on my property.
Nikon or Canon?
Mirrorless or DSLR?
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, newspaper photographer and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.
Don’t Miss the Next Session of BCJ “Live”
Backyard Bird Photography: Simple Techniques for Wildlife Close to Home
with Russell Graves
Tuesday, March 9th, 2021 at 11 am (Mountain)