Behind the Image: Heritage Brands and Outdoor Photography with Tyler Sharp
Tyler Sharp is a writer and photographer whose work spans outdoor photography, environmental conservation, and Western heritage brands. Tyler is one of the latest contributors to the Adobe Stock Premium collection. We sat down with him to learn more about the power of committing to your passions, why authenticity is critical for heritage brand photography, and how a family tradition inspired an iconic image.
Adobe: Can you tell us the background story behind the image?
Sharp: My dad and his three best friends started going fly-fishing in Paradise Valley near Yellowstone in the late 1970’s. They looked forward to it every year, and it became their sacred tradition. In 2008, one of those friends was murdered, tragically. At his funeral, my dad and the other two remaining friends made a promise to each other, that to properly honor Zimmy, they couldn’t miss a year. One of them had to go in some form or another, and they decided it was time to pass on the tradition, and bring the sons. 2010 was the first year they invited us, and now we are part of the annual trip.
There’s a very special energy in that area of the world: the Absarokas, the Beartooths, Yellowstone and Paradise Valley, and I just feel very drawn to it.
Adobe: What was happening when you took the photo?
Sharp: The guy in the photo is Ken Simboski, but we all call him Simbo. We were on the Yellowstone River, in Emigrant, not too far from the Old Saloon. Simbo had woken up before everyone else and was wading out in the river, fishing by himself. I noticed him out there, and he was wearing the Stetson hat and Filson waders I had brought to shoot for those companies. I ran outside and managed to get this shot of him right as he was pulling a trout in, a little after sunrise. It’s much easier that way, when I can provide some product to friends or family, and be able to shoot it for the brand in a natural way, without having to stage anything.
The photo definitely has the spirit of Montana and fly-fishing, and it represents the whole story of what their fly-fishing trip means, as well as what it’s going to be for us in the future.
Adobe: How do you take a good photo of someone fishing or doing other outdoor activities?
Sharp: That’s a big part of the conversation I have with a lot of brands, especially brands that aspire to be outdoor heritage brands. There’s a major difference between photographing something that is actually happening, and having to make it look like something cool is happening. Authenticity is a major theme. He was actually catching that fish, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time, which makes it a more powerful image.
I try to think creatively about what might be a unique way to represent fly-fishing. Ideally, it’s a mood. Sure, people want to see a big fish, and you may think, “Wow, that’s a big trout,” but it’s not necessarily an interesting image. I always try to approach it from a creative perspective, and think of something unique, or that hasn’t been seen, as opposed to what is already out there.
Adobe: What advice do you have for other photographers on taking their work to the next level?
Sharp: For me, the major turning point in my career was when I truly defined my direction, and focused in on the type of work that made me feel fulfilled. Previously, I was really burned out on freelance photography, doing all kinds of random stuff: portraits, weddings, corporate headshots, and just trying to pay the bills. I got so sick of photography, and I almost quit. Through that process, I asked, “Well, if I didn’t do photography, what would I actually do? Would I go work at a bookstore, go work on a ranch? What would actually make me happy?”
Through that process, it led me to the question of, “If I took money out of the equation for photography, what is the type of photography I would really enjoy doing?” The answer was outdoor work, fly-fishing, hunting, travel, going back to Africa, and working with companies like Filson, Cabela’s, Stetson, and Garden and Gun. Once I defined that goal, the next question was, “What can I do today to get a little bit closer to that?” For the most part, I tried to stop taking jobs that were distracting me from that goal. As soon as I shifted my perspective like that, everything changed immediately. Since then, it has been an unbelievable ride, as I’m now producing work I care about, and re-kindled my love for photography.