Photographer Spotlight : Nye Simmons

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nye simmons - photographers spotlight

I love how fog simplifies an image reducing it to form without background clutter. Colors become muted and a delicate hand is needed in post processing the image. This early spring image high on the Blue Ridge Parkway embodies what I enjoy most in that place at that time of year.

Nye Simmons

Tell me about you!

I grew up in Cajun Country in Southwest Louisiana, eventually winding up in medical school at LSU in New Orleans. Along the way I worked summers at scout camps progressing from the local council to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico during college and medical school. My father let me take his old Argus C3 that he brought back from Korea with me to New Mexico and that is where my photography started. A Canon FTb followed a couple of years later and was my mainstay for many summers in the mountains as well as on yearbook staff at LSU. School led to work as an emergency doc for many years, accented by a loving wife and two wonderful sons, and now two grandchildren. After recently retiring from medical practice, full-time photography is the next chapter in process of being written.

Sidebar in the fun fact category…

My grandparents emigrated from Paris in the late 1800s to decidedly French Cajun Country of Southwest Louisiana. My real name is Reynald after my uncle. My father could not pronounce that when he was young, so baby talk became Nye. The name stuck in the family, and being my father’s favorite uncle, the name followed me as well, and on to the older of my two sons.

The Racetrack in Death Valley is legendary amongst landscape photographers, making the long pilgrimage on the washboarded road and braving the frequent flat tire. The last movement event was in 2014 to my knowledge, this was made in 2012. The Arca Swiss RM3Di allowed creating a panorama by shifting while simultaneously tilting to avoid the need for focus stacking. A Phase One P65+ digital back on the RM3Di completed the setup. It seems to render better in black and white

Nye Simmons

Your primary career was as an emergency physician. How did you discover your love for photography?

The emergency room is where people can go to take the first steps towards healing whatever ailment or tragedy has befallen. It is NOT the place where those who provide that care go to start their process. We need to get away. With camera in hand in the mountains or desert, and now swamp I could block everything out and focus on the scene in front of me. It was major detox from witnessing the breadth of human misery at work. Photography became my therapy, and the creative outlet became increasingly important. I was outdoors in the mountains or on a trail whenever I could. I taught backpacking for many summers and that remained an important get-away; and the camera fit right in. It all really dovetailed for me.

This image was taken from the popular Cowee Mountains Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I noticed the necessary cloud structure developing in the afternoon and waited (though not 3 days as some embellish) for the sun to get low enough to punch through some sunbeams. What followed was a kaleidoscope of constantly shifting patterns. The Arca RM3Di allowed creating a panorama by shifting with the P65+ digital back.

Nye Simmons

Who are some of your favorite photographers (past or present)?

I wonder sometimes where all this talent has been that we see on-line and in print. The world was so much smaller even a few years ago. My favorite photographers all had their roots in large format film before social media and over cooking became the norm.

David Muench has a talent with a wide angle lens to bring a foreground into context and balance with the distant scene, creating wonderful images through the years. His grand landscape style was an early influence that persists to this day, although for me has morphed into more intimate compositions.

Charles Cramer is the master at creating more intimate evocative compositions using more normal and short telephoto focal lengths. That is the direction I have been drawn toward. Joseph Holmes seems to me to bridge both styles. Charlie and Joe have probably had the most influence on my work over the years.

Serviceberry in late light at Morton Overlook, I alluded to this image earlier. The combination of elements screamed to be composed in this fashion. I was grateful not to have to jockey for tripod space with the group photographing nearby but was a bit puzzled that they did not “see” more clearly. Ebony SV45U with probably a 110 Schneider on Velvia but it was along time ago.

Nye Simmons

In conjunction with freelancing, you’re also a self-publisher. Can you introduce us to that side of your craft, and what we can expect in the future?

I reached a point where magazine articles were no longer satisfying, and I wanted to do a book. The publishers I contacted were either not interested or were themselves self-publishers and not taking on outside work. A local producer named Jim Wells took me and my associate on that project under his wing and with Bill Campbell the first iteration of the Smoky Mountains Photographer’s Guide was born. We did the image prep but hired a designer to do the layout. With profit margins as thin as they are in the book and calendar world, learning to do your own design and layout is essential; formal training would have helped, but you can learn the software by doing.

A photographer friend did a magnificent book on the Smokies and netted a 3% royalty for his trouble. 3% — really? Not sure it covered his gasoline costs. I began to work with my friend Jerry Greer at Mountain Trail Press and did my own design and layout and funded printing in return for a more generous return on investment. His business took new directions, and I found the commissions taken by distributors to be increasingly oppressive. He relinquished the rights to Best of the Blue Ridge Parkway back to me and I have been publishing under my own label for the past several years, dealing with a few clients only. I have an engagement calendar at press now and plan another larger format style book on the Smokies in the next couple of years. It is liberating to be the editor, to follow your instincts on content and design; it is just another creative outlet. Learn by doing, seven books and counting.

Reflections and Light. A late autumn image on Little River in the Smokies at one of my favorite stretches of river. Reflections from the far shore trees blend with shafts of light illuminating the river bottom. Fuji GFX50s with Pentax 80-160 on Mirex tilt shift adapter. The Pentax lens has a full frame 645 image circle so with crop 645 or full frame 35mm you can work out of the sweet spot of the lens. And yes, that lens stands up to 100MP demands.

Nye Simmons

Can you describe a photographically challenging situation that you were confronted with that you were able to resolve on the fly?

I think most of us MacGyver things at some point. The most interesting thing I suppose was in my view camera days in Death Valley’s Mesquite Flats Dunes. The wind was intense with sand blowing everywhere, and as you can imagine a 4×5 view camera in the wind is very much a sail without a boat. The vibration was really prohibiting making any sort of image, when it occurred that I had a small umbrella in the pack. And yes I had forgotten to take it out, not expecting rain then. Deploying the umbrella to block the wind was just enough of a break to make an image, though I confess not a trophy.

Liquid Light. At the peak of fall, color reflections can be vibrant and require delicate processing to avoid overcooking the image. Unless in luminosity mode, every move with curves and levels intensifies color. Fuji GFX50s with Pentax 80-160 on Mirex tilt shift adapter.

Nye Simmons

You’re an experienced photographic educator with 5 upcoming workshops scheduled in 2022. Whats the most valuable thing you hope participants take away from your workshops?

I was an educator before I became a doctor, teaching backpacking and wilderness survival skills. I was also an educator for over 40 years as a physician albeit an informal one. One of the most important parts of my job was educating my patients as to their ailment and proposed treatment. My guidebooks are educational tools, the written form of a zoom conference. The workshops are just an extension of what has been a lifelong undertaking, only the subject has changed. And of course, no one is dying.

When I am out, I constantly see compositions; I can’t help it, it has become ingrained. It still surprises me how people look without seeing. Certainly true for the masses of tourists in our public lands, but also for photographers who are developing their craft.

I recall a sunset one day with a serviceberry tree in full bloom which was the foreground element to a grand scenic. A workshop was on the other end of the parking area all focused on the distant scene without regard for the complexities offered by this gorgeous tree. They had looked, but did not see.

My emphasis is trying to help my students to see better. We have all seen so many sunset images and sweeping vistas. My thrust is to see something that no one else has seen – the personal image that no one else has taken. I learned a long time ago that there have to be multiple ways to explain the same concept because each unique brain has a different way of processing information. Engineers see differently than musicians so it can be challenging. If you say the same thing differently, eventually one of those descriptors will reach the “ah ha” moment. Then there is progress.

Who can resist the combination of aspens fall color and sky all combined in a reflection I ask. Since most reflections focus at or near infinity, depth of field with the telephoto was not such an issue. GFX100s with 100-200 zoom.

Nye Simmons

What is your favorite underrated photographic tool? Why?

My favorite underrated tool is the viewing card. It can be cut from mat board or something more durable. I hand them out at my workshops. There are now apps for your phone that can do the same thing — more techno but the old school way works just fine. It helps to tune out the clutter and focus one’s thoughts about composition in a way that the phone apps don’t do for me.

Cypress trees in fog. Taken from kayak handheld with GFX100s and 100-200mm zoom. Fog does wonderful things here cleaning up the composition and reducing the image to a study in form. Photographing from a kayak has been a liberating experience opening up new potential subjects combined with the exuberance of gliding quietly through cypress groves.

Nye Simmons

If you were behind your camera and could choose anything you wanted to be in your viewfinder, where would you be and what would you be looking at?

The most enchanting 3 hours of photography that I have had in recent years was from my kayak on a small lake in South Louisiana in the fog gliding amongst old growth cypress in fall color. I will chase that experience for years to come.

Cypress trees in fog. Taken from kayak handheld with GFX100s and 100-200mm zoom. I have not photographed wildlife for years (except when on safari in Africa) but this landscape image would be dead without the accent offered by the egret. Occasional artifacts occurred randomly on this session and later in the trip, perhaps a dozen out of 400+ images affected. Seemed similar to the rolling shutter artifacts in some ways. The Fuji techs were not able to replicate the problem when the camera and lens were sent back to them, but they postulate an interaction between the lens IS and in-camera IBIS when using the electronic shutter setting. They recommended using electronic first curtain instead in that situation.

Nye Simmons

Why did you select Capture Integration as your equipment partner?

Perhaps this is the easiest question to answer. I have lost track of the years when I was first introduced to Dave at Capture Integration in the days of the Phase One P45+. I graduated to the P65+ and Arca Swiss RM3DI tech camera, all with guidance and support from Dave, Steve and colleagues. When it came time to switch formats, CI was there to help with that transition, albeit to a platform they did not continue to support. I moved into mirrorless with the Fuji GFX50 and now that Capture Integration has become a Fuji dealer, I am happy to be reunited with them once again. There are any number of places that a photographer can get equipment, but there is no place that provides the level of expert personal attention that Capture Integration provides.

Death Valley can be a stark place, no more so that at Ubehebe crater. That starkness was accentuated by the storm clouds rolling through as well as conversion to black and white. Sony a7R4  with Sigma 14-24 zoom at 14mm. Without the clouds, the scene would have had an entirely different feel.

Nye Simmons

Cypress grove in fog at Caddo Lake. Taken from kayak handheld with GFX100s and 100-200mm zoom. Old growth cypress groves take on a mysterious quality on the water, making the experience a complete experience rather than just a photo shoot.

Nye Simmons

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