I’m excited to share an interview with a very talented photographer from the Austin, Texas area. His name is Randy Dykstra and he finds inspiration for his work with his passion for nature, travel and adventure. Randy has taken what was once a hobby and has turned his photography into a thriving career. As you browse through some of the photos from his collection below, I think you’ll agree that he’s quite accomplished at his craft.
Thank you, Randy, for taking the time to respond to each question and giving the readers a glimpse into the mind of a person who truly enjoys what they do. Your body of work is truly inspiring.
Can you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
I’m a bit of a mixed pot. I’ve retired from the aerospace industry where I was a systems engineer. In my younger days, I competed internationally in water polo and swimming and then competed at a very high level of volleyball (beach and indoors). After graduating college and starting work full-time I transitioned to triathlons and became a SCUBA instructor. Along came my two sons and my attention turned to their activities and their love of baseball. I’m proud to say they both became professional athletes. I also enjoy good food and wine, and sharing with friends is all the better.
Where do you call home?
I grew up in Santa Barbara, CA area, and then lived in San Diego for 35 years. However, I just recently moved to the Austin, Texas area, which I now call home.
After browsing through your website, I see that you have built up an extensive collection of wonderful photography. When did you first become interested in photography and how long have you been involved with it?
Well, it’s been quite a while actually. Back in high school, my friend and I built a darkroom and processed B&W film. My 18th birthday gift was an Olympus OM1, the smallest SLR at the time, which allowed me to take it backpacking. I loved the outdoors and just took photos for enjoyment. Then, marriage, kids, and career, shifted my photography to babies, little league, and such. In the 1990s I became a SCUBA instructor and underwater photography became my main interest. Once my children were grown, I went back to my love of nature and travel, and developed my photography skills. It was at this time I figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up (ahhh… retired).
What type of photography shoots do you look forward to?
Honestly, whatever is next! I do have a passion about wildlife, travel and nature, but I’m also expanding my skills to portraiture, and other genres.
When shooting subjects, what do you find most challenging?
Remembering to reset my bracketing setting…LOL. As an engineer, I love and flourish in the technical aspects. My challenge is to find the artist compositions, and try to bring out the right side of my brain.
Location and weather conditions seem to be a crucial aspect to a successful photograph. How do you handle these unpredictable factors?
Yes and no. Some of my better photographs have been taken when the forecast has been absolutely horrid. But I’ve gone out, and lo and behold, some miracle of light appears. Of course, there are also times where I come back with not much. Obviously, we all want wonderful light but with nature and travel, you sometimes have to take what you get or plan another trip.
What would you say your most remarkable wildlife encounter has been?
There are two instances that come to mind and got my heart pounding. One was on the Yongala wreck in great barrier reef. A bull shark rushed my partner and I. Fortunately, we were behind part of the superstructure and the shark zoomed up and over our heads. Unfortunately, the only photo was lost when we tried to have the memory card copied. (early days of digital)
Second, was a time just a couple weeks ago, I was in Alaska to shoot Polar bears and on my very first foray, a very large male just came walking down to waters edge and seemed to just pose for the cameras.
What is your favorite part of heading out to a new location?
Seeing something new, especially wildlife. You’re never sure what may turn up. Although, you plan to go to areas where you believe there is a good possibility to see what you are after, many times something out of the blue surprises you.
Share with us your favorite image and why.
I don’t have one favorite image, I have hundreds or even more. Each one means something different to me. Some remind of the sheer thrill of being close to a wild animal or seeing a majestic view, that takes your breath away. Others, give me the satisfaction from knowing the difficulty of getting just the right photo.
What do you hope viewers take away from your images?
I hope they get a glimpse of something that they don’t normally see, and it inspires them to go out and enjoy this wonderful planet of ours.
Do you have any tips for new photographers who want to take better wildlife photographs?
Patience and preparation. I teach a class on wildlife photography and I like to start it off with a quote from an old Nat Geo article. “F8 and be there.” For me it means have your gear ready in a mode that is reliable for your subject and then do the research and preparation to put yourself in a position for the animal interaction to occur.
What type of camera(s) do you shoot with? What is your favorite lens?
I now shoot with a Nikon D850. That is really a great overall camera. I also have become partial to Tamron lens, mainly because I believe their price point to quality is the best at this point in time. But if I ever get a big stock sell, that doesn’t mean I might not snatch up a fast super-telephoto Nikon lens.
What is in your camera bag?
Which one? It all depends on what I expect to shoot and how far I might have to carry it. My knees, hips and shoulders are not what they used to be, so while I used to run up hills with a 50 lb backpack; that’s not happening these days. Obviously, it starts with my D850 and then I select the focal range lens I expect to need. My 24-70 and 70-200 are typically along for the ride, and the choice is then 150-600mm or 15-30mm? 100 macro or 50 mm or 85mm. Perhaps a tripod, trigger, or maybe a speedlite or reflector.
What is your favorite photography accessory?
I think it’s my “lighting bug”. It allows me to set up and get lighting shots day or night.
What piece of equipment would you most like to get but don’t have yet?
A long and fast super-telephoto lens. IE 600mm F/4 Nikon or perhaps the 180-400 F/4 with a built-in teleconverter. Both are in the $12k range, which means everyone needs to go out and buy my stock images or upcoming book! LOL.
How important is Photoshop or other image editing software in your final images?
All of my images are now shot in the RAW mode, which means I get to decide what processing and how much is done to my photos. It allows me the freedom to document the scene or to become more artistic. I do most of my work in Lightroom (or Adobe Camera Raw) as wildlife creates a stunning photo by itself. But some enhancements really increase the quality of my work and I’m constantly trying to get better. Learning the right workflow and technique is always challenging to me.
Was there a point in your journey when you started to feel really good about your work? If so, what did it feel like to get past that “tipping point?”
Not sure I’m past it yet. I am a bit of a perfectionist and always want to get better. I have been getting more notoriety recently, and have a publisher talking to me about doing a series of books, so I guess when I get my first one published may be that point.
Do you have any projects that make you look back and shake your head? What made the experience so unpleasant?
I really can’t remember anything that I felt was unpleasant. There are a number of times you shake your head because you forgot to bring some item or you just get a brain freeze and don’t adjust a camera setting or two. Photography, on the whole, is pure fun for me, and I enjoy the process. It’s an ever-learning journey.
What are your upcoming travel plans?
I am developing my travel and tour business. I have planned trips to Montana, New Mexico and Alaska. I really enjoy teaching people the skills I’m passionate about. I did this years ago with SCUBA trips and now plan to incorporate travel and education into my photography knowledge. I won’t take someone to a place I haven’t been to and so I also do “scouting” trips and they can occur at a moment’s notice.
What do you think the future holds for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
This really isn’t a job to me, its what I like to do. I do have a deadline in November on my first book. I hope to take photography to a point where I have a series of books, and develop an on-going excursion company, where I tour the world taking photos with amazing friends.