Creator Spotlight: Zach Doehler
"As a photographer, I often feel like I am more of an observer than an artist." -Zach Doehler
Vocal Creators! Get ready for something special, because this #VocalSpotlight features the talents of landscape and nature photographer, Zach Doehler. In all honesty, we could probably just leave it at that and let his photos speak for themselves, but there's something really special about Zach's presence on Vocal that goes beyond his talents in photography.
The stories that Zach writes and ties to each collection of photos make his imagery all the more enjoyable. While reading and viewing his work, he makes it seem like you're there with him traversing the Canadian Rockies or camping in Paradise Meadows. It's hard to tell whether his imagery supplements his writing or vice versa; either way, we're ecstatic that Zach found a home for his creativity on Vocal.
Between his stories "The Golden Lining" being staff picked and "Getting Lost in the Alpine" winning first place in the Vocal+ exclusive "Outdoor Shots Challenge", picking Zach for this #VocalSpotlight was only natural. If you've yet to read his work, we highly recommend you do so (and drop a like!) before or after reading this Spotlight. Trust us, you won't be disappointed. Zach Doehler, ladies and gents:
On His Background and Hobbies:
I am a 20 year old landscape and nature photographer based off a little place called Vancouver Island just off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. I was born and raised in BC. I love exploring nature, riding pedal bikes and motorcycles, hiking in the mountains, and of course; writing and photography!
On Writing and Discovering Vocal:
I used to really enjoy writing in school. English class was definitely one of my favorite subjects. I think writing was something that I always found enjoyable but I was never sure if I was really any good at it or not.
I started posting my photography to Instagram back in Fall of 2015. My focus on the platform was to share my images and gradually improve my skills. And that hasn’t changed of course. But I started to notice after a year or two of posting images just how much a good story can add to an image. So I tried to get into doing more storytelling and writing in my captions.
Sometimes I would write long stories and sometimes short. Most of the time, people never read them and only ever saw the image. But every so often I would get a comment from someone either on the post or in-person saying how much they appreciated the writing I put into my caption; and I really appreciated that! It was nice to get recognition for something other than just my photography.
When I discovered Vocal through an Instagram ad, I decided to give it a try in hopes I could potentially win a contest there. But I didn’t realize how enjoyable it would be to actually put together these 1000+ word stories to some of my images. It has been so much fun pursuing a different form of creativity and also sharing some behind-the-scenes on a few of my favorite photographs.
On What Inspires Him to Create:
Many forms of art inspire me to create, whether that’s music, cinematography, photography, films, paintings, et cetera. I think as an artist, it’s important to find inspiration in other forms of art than just what you specialize in. I think it can really open up your creativity and give you new ideas that you may have not come up otherwise.
And of course, nature is probably my number one inspiration. As a photographer, I often feel like I am more of an observer than an artist. I definitely get creative and a little whacky with my editing, but the thing that really makes any of my images beautiful is the nature that I am capturing.
Often the best photos come from just being at the right place at the right time. The immense variety of different landscapes we have to enjoy on this planet is incredible. And the way that good light can impact a scene is always mind-blowing to me. We really are so blessed to live on such a beautiful planet!
(Most of the people that come to mind that inspire me are photographers, so I will mention those down below.)
On His First Place Winning Piece, "Getting Lost in the Alpine," and Adapting to Unfavorable Conditions
I was really quite surprised and so very appreciative that this story won 1st place! I would have never thought that trip would end up being so important in the future. I think that weekend in the rainy alpine meadows taught me how important it is to be adaptable in landscape photography. It also helped me to momentarily get out of my pessimistic mindset and just enjoy shooting, whether the conditions were what I wanted or not.
Quite often I can get pretty discouraged when out photographing a place if the conditions are not at all what I planned for. I used to let it really bother me when I was first getting into photography, but overtime I improved my attitude and have learned to adapt. But it is certainly an on-going process.
That trip to Paradise Meadows definitely proved to me that sometimes the conditions that you think are ‘ideal’ aren’t always the best conditions for that scene. I may have been hoping for fluffy clouds and golden sunsets originally, but that dense fog was actually the prime condition for those meadows. And I was able to get some images that I had never really captured before. So I am very happy that the weather turned out the way that it did for that trip, even though my buddies and I were all pretty soaked from the rain afterwards...
On His Favorite Photograph He's Ever Taken:
It is actually pretty difficult to pinpoint which image of mine is my absolute favorite. I’m actually somewhat unsatisfied with a lot of my photos mainly because there are things that I can see and don’t like in them the more that I look at them. But I try to keep a fairly consistent daily posting schedule on Instagram, so I try to get all my images to 90% of what I want them to be and then share them. If I tried to get that extra 10%, I would probably have very few images!
Probably the closest image I can think of to being one I am truly satisfied with is “Endless Horizons”, which is a photo that I captured up in the central mountain ranges of Vancouver Island.
My first story here on Vocal was actually about the hike that I captured this image on. It was my first ever solo hike and I did it during a couple weekdays in early October. I had been wanting to do this for almost a year and never had the opportunity to with my friends during the Summer. So I decided to send it solo.
It was a bit scary at night, but overall the trip went well. That morning I hiked up to this view and I was just blown away by the amount of mountain layers I could see from there. It was spectacular, and it was a big bonus that I had never seen that composition or even the view itself photographed before.
In post-production, I tried to get a two-toned warm and cold look to the photo. I liked the cool haze in the mountains but wanted to emphasize that warm morning light in the sky. The edit just came together so easily, I was quite surprised. And the response on the image on my Instagram was even more surprising! There are very few things that I don’t like about this photo and I like how it represents my first ever solo overnight hike, so that is probably why I would choose it as my favorite.
I captured that image with a Sony A7Rii and a Sony G 70-200 f/4 lens. My settings were 1/160s, f/11, ISO100, 97mm.
On His Dream Destinations:
Ahh there are just so many places I want to visit. I would love to visit the Patagonia region in Argentina during the Fall. I’d love to go back to the Italian Dolomites as I only spent a couple days there back in 2018 and it most certainly was not enough. I would also really like to visit the Namib Desert in Africa. And I would love to go hiking up in the wild mountain ranges of Alaska. My list is quite honestly endless...
I have spent most of my time as a photographer doing road trips in British Columbia and Alberta, with a couple trips down in the Western States. But I would really like to start traveling by plane to more exotic locations. Just when that will be with this whole COVID thing, who really knows. For now, I am taking advantage of the beauty I have here to enjoy and photograph. I really am lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world and I don’t want to take that for granted.
On Photographers Who Inspire Him:
There are many photographers that inspire me. I think it is very key as an artist to have at least a few people in your medium that inspire you. You can really analyze their work and pinpoint what it is about their art that you like so much, then try your very best to improve in those areas with your art. A few photographers that come to mind would be Marc Adamus, Michael Shainblum, and Benjamin Everett.
I could go on for hours on everything that I like about their work; but, to put it simply, I just love how masterful and unique all 3 of their styles are. They put so much thought and time into every image, it’s truly amazing. Whenever I find myself developing an ego towards my work, I just look at their images and it puts me right back in my place.
Marc Adamus goes to places most humans will never set foot upon. He spends hundreds of days out of the year patiently searching for the best compositions and conditions—and you can really tell with his work. He’s also very influential as his style has really sparked a whole new era of digital landscape photography.
Michael Shainblum is just an incredible artist all around. His photographs, time-lapse photography, cinematography, videography, and so on is just incredible! I honestly don’t understand how he has managed to master so many forms of digital art. His work is really astonishing and he has some of my favorite photographs that I have ever seen for sure.
Benjamin Everett has some of the most creative ideas and concepts. The way he blends digital art with photography in such a seamless and minimalistic way is very beautiful. His style is so well defined and unique, you can easily tell when people are inspired by his work in their own images. His style is truly a signature of his work. He only posts every so often and he is overall a rather mysterious person I find, but I feel like every time he does post, he pretty much always shares a masterpiece. He literally turns plastic bags, sticks, and rocks, into works of art. I don’t know how he does it...
Advice for Someone New at Nature Photography:
Ignore what other people think and say. Art is art and you can create whatever you want. Dive into editing and post-processing and just have fun with it! I wish someone would have told me that when I was first getting into photography. I am often very impacted by people’s opinions and criticisms, no matter how much I try to not let it bother me. I used to get so many negative remarks said about how I edited my photographs, from mostly friends and family. I didn’t have many followers or supporters starting out, as you’d expect. So there were times I really just wanted to quit. I felt like I was somehow annoying people by just trying to be creative and different with my images.
But I had a few friends and followers who’d encourage me to keep going and create what I wanted to create. My Mom was always a big support too and she helped me through those discouraging moments. And now that I have constant support online and from my friends, and that I have managed to turn this into how I make a living, I’m not bothered by those comments and if anything, I tend to find them humorous now. But had I listened to all the negativity and quit photography, I would probably still be doing plumbing! And I am not much of a hands-on kinda guy so I really struggled with that.
It makes me wonder though how many artists have stopped creating what they want to create because of bad reception. And when you’re just starting out, it’s easy to accept any criticism from anyone as valid; when you really shouldn’t. Instead you need to focus on you! Create what you want to create. That is the only way you will form your own personal style.
Honestly, you don’t need much gear starting out. You have a good camera in your pocket! I’ve posted images on my Instagram before with my phone, and people thought I used my ‘expensive’ camera to take them! The key is knowing how to use it, and going out when the light is good.
Don’t worry about location either, just get out and explore where you live! I used to think that Vancouver Island was a really boring place to live, simply because I grew up here and was used to my surroundings. But once I got my driver’s license and started exploring and hiking to different places near me, I had a whole new appreciation for where I live. And I bet ya 80% of the people that live near me haven’t heard of half of the places that I have visited on this island in the past couple years.
Explore your own backyard. There are plenty of gems to be discovered. Just hop in your car and start driving!
On the Balance Between Warm and Cool Colors:
Sometimes I will lean more to one temperature than the other. Perhaps a Winter scene I will go for an overall cold look, or maybe a colorful sunset I will aim for a warmer look. Sometimes I will balance both.
There are warm and cold colors that tend to combine very well with each other, so sometimes balancing the two can create the best end result. Every so often I may shoot an image with an edit in mind, but I think most of the time, I create what I want at the moment that I sit down and edit that image. I may even take an edit in a completely different direction than what I originally planned for that photo. It just depends on what it is really!
On What Storytelling Can Add to A Photo:
I think a story helps the viewer understand all of the work that goes into capturing an image. It’s easy to just look at a photo, like it on Instagram, and move on. But a story helps you to appreciate more of the behind-the-scenes and little details that you may have ignored otherwise.
Writing in general just allows you to be more creative and add more to the overall value of the image that you are sharing.
On What's Keeping Him Sane During These Crazy Times:
Keeping up my spiritual and physical routine, spending time with my girlfriend and my friends, getting out in nature as often as I can, going out for rides on my motorcycle, staying busy with work and creative projects, et cetera.
There have definitely been difficult moments during these crazy times; but, I am very fortunate to live in a part of the world that hasn’t been hit as hard by COVID. It definitely helps that I have already been making a living online for the past year. My focus is to just continue to be cautious while also not worrying about it so constantly that it begins to take a toll on my mental health. It’s important to find the balance!
I feel for those who are under more strict restrictions and lockdown right now and even more so for those who have been affected directly by the virus whether physically or financially. Stay safe out there!
On His Favorite Story He's Published on Vocal
I think “The Golden Lining” is probably my favorite story that I have written on Vocal. I have always wanted to share that story in more detail but never had a place that I could do so. So to be able to do so here is super awesome and I was really stoked when that story got staff picked! That definitely encouraged me to continue on writing more stories.
Don’t think about it—first thing that comes to mind:
What is one thing you couldn’t live without?
Cats or dogs?
Favorite travel destination?
The Canadian Rockies
Favorite local restaurant?
What’s your go-to late night snack?
Brie cheese and a toasted bagel.
What are you currently binge watching?
I’ve been catching up on all the Marvel movies I somehow have never watched before.
If you could speak a new language, what would it be and why?
I have actually been learning Mandarin Chinese for the past 5 years. I am still very much a beginner, especially because I am a terrible student. But if I could suddenly wake up one day speaking it fluently I would be beyond stoked, no doubt. I have many important reasons as to why I am learning it, but to put it simply, it is a beautiful language and it has the most speakers in the world! So it only makes sense to find it appealing I think.
Favorite story you read on Vocal by another creator?
50 Things Photographers (or Any Artist/Creatives) Can Do During Lockdown by Gerard Santiago
From all of us here at Vocal, thank you for sharing more about yourself and for going into such great detail, Zach! Chasing a passion can be as exhilarating as it is daunting; we (among your other followers) are sure happy you continue to hone in on your craft.
In the interview above, you touched on something that we'd love to piggy back on. You said, "I try to get all my images to 90% of what I want them to be and then share them. If I tried to get that extra 10%, I would probably have very few images!"
If your fixation on perfection is standing in the way of creating, it is no longer about perfection or even creating in general. Take pride in the time and effort you put into the thing you love, then set it free! At the end of the day, that's what you'll appreciate most.
Want to create breathtaking imagery like Zach? You're in luck. He offers in-depth tutorials that can (and will) take your photography game to the next level! Visit his tutorial site today and be sure to check out his stories on Vocal! Thanks again, Zach!
About the author
Vocal Spotlight aims to highlight standout creators who are changing the world one story at a time. We're getting to know the storytellers who inspire us the most, and we can't wait for you to meet them.