About the Photographer

Stephen Thomas Penland (b. June 17, 1948 - d. June 6, 2014)

Steve grew up in Montana, graduated from Whitman College (BA), the University of Puget Sound (MS), and the University of Washington (PhD) with majors in biology and wildlife science.  He served for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines, and  worked for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife for 24 years, retiring in 2008.  He last resided in Walla Walla, Washington, but then sold the house to live and photograph the American West from his camper pickup truck. It was only a few years before his travels on this earth were cut short by pancreatic cancer.

Photographic Journey

"I prefer landscapes. There are two reasons for my choice of subject matter. I grew up in a family in which alcohol and the unpredictability and chaos it produced was a constant theme. In contrast, I find landscapes to be solid, stable, and following laws of nature in a predictable way. Landscapes may always be changing; indeed, one of the good aspects of photography is that I can go to a place repeatedly and it is a different photographic experience each time. But this change is within limits and can be predicted, including potentially violent aspects of storms. Tornadoes do not appear out of a blue sky.

Another reason that I prefer to photograph landscapes is that I had cancer in the 1970s, and that experience did away with any sense of complacency about life that I may have had. The silver lining to five years of radiation and chemotherapy is that it is impossible for me to take the beauty of the natural world for granted. Trying to capture the essence of a natural place through photography only enhances the experience of being there.

I walk into a landscape with a camera in hand because the camera helps me to see and experience that landscape. That is different from walking into a landscape with a camera in hand because in that landscape I may find a good image for my camera.  Most of my photography consists of wanderings guided by the light and the weather." - Steve Penland

Equipment Through the Ages

"After using "point-and-shoots" since I was a kid, I can distinctly remember getting my first SLR (a Miranda Sensorex) in 1971 and being amazed that I could actually manipulate the f-stop and shutter speed to suit the situation. 

Most of my photography in the past was done with a Nikon F100 35mm camera, one of the best values in that format in my opinion.  When I was using medium format film, my two favorite cameras were the Pentax 645NII (another great value) with a variety of prime and zoom lenses, and the Hasselblad 501cm with a set of superb prime lenses.

Today much of my digital photography is done with a Canon 1DsMkIII camera and a variety of prime and zoom lenses, and a Canon 1DMkIV when I'm photographing action (such as birds in flight).  The 1DMkIV is great for wildlife and telephoto lenses.  My most frequently used lenses are the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 and Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS.  I'm also very impressed with Zeiss lenses, and the 21mm prime and 50mm makro prime are slowly taking over from my 24-70mm (ably assisted by Canon's 24mm T/S II lens).  I always photograph in RAW, and processing of these images is done with Photoshop CS4 on a Mac desktop computer system. I always use a tripod; currently I use a Gitzo GT3530LS and a RRS BH-55 head.

In March, 2011, I added a Hasselblad H4D-40 to my camera bag, along with a single zoom lens, the 35-90mm HCD.  I've since added several prime lenses, from 28mm to 300mm and a 1.7x converter.  The H4D is capable of tremendous dynamic range, and the Phocus software for converting RAW images is exceptionally good.  The H4D is becoming my preferred system.

With the loss of some of my favorite films, the closing of so many photo labs, and the near demise of 220 medium format film, I've since given up film entirely.  While digital has many advantages, I know it is much more difficult to include the sun in the frame when using a digital camera;  film simply provides better tonal transitions in the vicinity of the sun than current digital cameras are capable of producing." - Steve Penland