SmugMug Films: Trey Ratcliff lights his own path

Trey Ratcliff left a career in technology to pursue photography and exploration. His new path has led him to far-flung places around the world, and we at SmugMug were lucky enough to follow him to Morocco and see the world through his eyes. Watch his approach to his unique vision in our latest SmugMug Film at the end of this interview.

In Trey’s pursuit to create images that portray the world with all the light and color he sees in it, he’s been met with praise and criticism across the Internet. And he’s learned to ignore it, choosing instead to create his art only for himself.

How would you describe what you do?

I try to make the real world look like it really does to me: a fantasy. When you start taking photos in a certain way or of a particular subject, you go into a fantasy spiral that allows you to see more “truth.” I look for that thin veil between fantasy and reality—that’s my favorite area. I explore the tension between what is real and what isn’t, because secretly, I feel like the world is a giant fictional projection.

Burning-Man-Day-1 (1006 of 1210) (1)

Tell us a bit about how you got started with photography.

I was born blind in one eye and with terrible vision in the other. I’m still blind in one eye, so I see the world in 2D. So I love to think about how to present a world that’s 3D in a 2D medium, like a photograph.

How does your partial blindness affect how you see the world?

One eye is more than good enough, and I call it The Gift! Every year we experience more of the world in 2D. Every month, in fact, we probably spend 1% more than the last staring at a phone or a laptop, which is 2D. We’re all learning to experience a 3D world in 2D—I’ve simply been doing that for 44 years. And that’s the challenge for all photographers, right? How do you successfully remove one dimension and still have a scene make sense?

I think the idea that you need to take a 2D photo of a 3D world really got me into HDR. It seems to me that “depth” is no more important to a scene than color or texture. Since you lose depth in a photo, I chose to make up for it with dramatic color and texture, which can do a lot to communicate the essence of a scene.

Lijiang at Night (1)

The philosophy of HDR is to use your camera to sweep through all the light available, dump the light into your computer, and then bend the light to your will. I love using technology to make beautiful things. It’s fun to break the rules—have fun with photos and find your own creativity through child-like exploration without rules.

My work became popular after I had the honor of having the first HDR photo ever to hang in the Smithsonian. That led to many more opportunities that I’m eternally grateful for.

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What were some of those opportunities?

One day Mark Zuckerberg sent me a note through Facebook Messenger. I thought it was a joke. He asked if I wanted to come into the Facebook offices and spend the day with him. We spent a day together and talked about photography and art. He was so curious. It was a nice conversation. That led to more things, including this fun new thing we’re doing now: a few live shows a week on Facebook as we travel across 6 continents in 6 months.

Another time I got an email from Sergey Brin asking if I wanted to come into Google X. He pulled up an old video I made in Japan; I’d had a crazy idea to shoot the world at 300 FPS (10x faster than normal) but play it back at 30FPS. The result was interesting, and I was trying to explain stuff I barely understood to Sergey and his Google X team! That got me involved with Google and many of their projects.

The key to receiving these opportunities seems to be having an open heart, being totally vulnerable, and never taking anything too seriously. Having an open heart has filled my life with amazing people.

What work is most meaningful to you?

One of my most meaningful projects to me is the HDR tutorial I put together on my site. I never thought it’d be so popular. But I’ve found that sharing stuff I figured out along the way has been a great way to inspire others.

I used to think of myself as a “photographer,” and I still am, but I think I accidentally became a “teacher” as well. I have no formal training in teaching, but I don’t have any formal training in photography either! I figured it out along the way organically, and this became my teaching style.

What’s been your most challenging shoot to date?

Antarctica was very difficult. Camping on the mainland in the Dry Valleys was physically challenging, but it was rewarding, too. I felt lucky to fly on a CL-130 and land with skis on the sea ice. It was so amazing! I felt like a proper explorer from the olden days.

Day 13 - Sunny Valley - The Mighty Glacier

What are your gear “must haves?”

Currently, I’m between worlds. I’m mostly shooting with the new Hasselblad, but I have my Sony gear nearby and ready too!  A full list of all my gear is available here.

Do you shoot everything manually?

I shoot manually for maybe 30% of my shots. Everything else is aperture priority. That computer in the camera is really smart. With quick-changing lighting conditions, I let that computer decide the same thing I would have anyway.

What do you look for in terms of light and framing for your shots?

I prefer light that’s a bit confusing or dazzles the mind. If I’m surprised or transfixed by the light, it becomes a fun challenge to capture that feeling.

Deep in the Guangxi Province of China

How you go about capturing that feeling?

I listen to a lot of strange ambient and electronic music. That helps my mind disconnect the visual from the audio. This makes everything dramatic, and it feels like I’m moving around a huge movie set to find the most interesting photo.

And what about for storing, selling, and sharing your images?

I like using SmugMug because of its beauty and flexibility. It’s almost scary how much you can change to make your website uniquely your own. I was able to make my site look exactly like I wanted without needing to do any code or scripting nonsense. It’s nice to know that when people come to my portfolio, they see things exactly the way I want them to see them.

SmugMug has also made organizing way easier for me. I have a lot of photos, and I’m constantly re-organizing them. The order is really important to me. It’s very fun and fast to re-order my albums and move files around folders. It’s also given me a chance to get in there and clean up all the clutter that’s happened over the years.

For sharing, I use SmugMug in the background for my main blog. My blog is hosted on my own server, and I embed my images directly from SmugMug so anyone clicking on a photo will be taken to my SmugMug site to view the large image. I looked at the stats, and we have over 160 million photo views on SmugMug for the year!  I also get asked a lot about my in-camera settings before processing, so I use SmugMug’s API to show the embedded EXIF information whenever someone rolls over a photo on my blog. Since SmugMug already stores that information, I can just use their API to pull the info and show it to my visitors. This way they know exactly what settings I used on my camera to capture a shot.

Any advice for those looking to pursue a similar path?

Yes! Stop worrying about what other photographers think. They’re not your audience. Every minute you worry about impressing other photographers is time wasted.

When I first started posting my photos on the Internet, I got a lot of hate and negative feedback. So my advice to you is if you get any kind of hate, fight back with awesome. You create yourself through your art. Take photos that are interesting to you that very few other people understand.

An artist creates for the sake of creation. Self-expression is one of the most natural things about all of us.

What about advice for capturing the image?

The key is to see 100 interesting things per day and take photos of all 100. Then, in your workflow, choose the best 1, 2, or 3. This process and workflow is an end in itself.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Before I got into photography, I once called an investor in a new company, Michael Heisley. He was a lovely man, and I‘m sad he’s passed. At one point in my late twenties, I offered to sell him additional stock because I really needed money and thought that would make me happy. He said, “Trey, money will not bring you happiness.” At the time, I didn’t see it, but it’s quite true. That was the first step to letting go of myself. I’ve gone on many struggling steps since then and I’m still going down whatever strange path there is in this universe. I’ll make a book suggestion, okay? “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer. Another great one is “A New Earth” by Eckhardt Tolle.

I get much more joy from pursuing my creativity in whatever direction it takes me. Find what you love and go after it. The right audience and support will find you as a result.

Get SmugMug on the go with all-new mobile apps.

With hundreds of thousands of installs and a 4+ review rating in the app stores, our iOS and Android apps have been a huge success and a helpful tool for uploading, as well as accessing photos on the go—for you, your family, and your clients.

At SmugMug, beauty never sleeps.

In the newest versions of our mobile apps, we’re taking beautiful to the next level with an attractive, consistent look across both desktop and mobile experiences. Your profile photo and cover photo are now on display at the top of your app home screen.

iOS screen on the left. Android screen on the right.

We’ll also display your featured photo as a cover photo in each of your folders and galleries.

iOS screen on the left. Android screen on the right.

What about those slideshows? 

We’ve made accessing the full-screen slideshow of your photos easier by making the play button more prominent.

iOS screen on the left. Android screen on the right.

Sometimes a picture is worth at least a few words.

Now you can see titles and captions on your photos! Add them from your desktop site and see them displayed on the mobile apps, too.

iOS screen on the left. Android screen on the right.

We just let the speed demon loose.

Now that we’ve touched on the beauty of the new apps, we’d like to also mention the beast-mode part of our equation. That’s right, we added major horsepower under the hood of the new apps, which means your photos will display up to twice as fast (and in many cases much more) as our previous versions. Welcome to the photo fast lane!

Breaking it all down.

We’ve mentioned the highlights, but if you’re interested in a more detailed list of mobile app features, have a look at them right here:

iOS features

  • Browse SmugMug folders and galleries
  • Upload unlimited photos and videos
  • Save galleries for offline viewing
  • Play full-screen slideshows of any gallery
  • Mark galleries as favorites for easy, instant access
  • Share photos and videos via SMS, email, Twitter, and Facebook
  • Follow other SmugMug users
  • Browse all folders and galleries privately shared with you by other SmugMug users
  • Enable the SmugMug extension to upload from your Camera Roll, SMS messages, and other apps
  • Delete photos from your SmugMug account

Android features

  • Browse SmugMug folders and galleries
  • Upload unlimited photos and videos
  • Save folders and galleries for offline viewing
  • Play full-screen slideshows within a single gallery or across multiple galleries
  • Mark galleries as favorites for easy, instant access
  • Share photos and videos via SMS, email, Twitter, and Facebook
  • Follow other SmugMug users
  • Browse all folders and galleries privately shared with you by other SmugMug users
  • Upload from your Gallery, SMS messages, and other apps
  • Delete photos from your SmugMug account
  • Auto-upload photos and videos to your SmugMug account
  • Cast photos and videos to your TV with Chromecast
  • View detailed photo information
  • Change download location to external SD card
  • Support for Amazon Fire TV
  • Set Android Daydream, the interactive screensaver mode, to display photos from a SmugMug gallery

Ready to get more beauty and more beast-mode from your SmugMug app? Head on over to the Apple App Store or Google Play, grab the latest update, and prepare for awesome photos on the go.

Strap Yourself in for Climbing Ice – The Iceland Trifecta

In January, we called up Tim Kemple, an acclaimed photographer and filmmaker with clients like The North Face and Land Rover. When we got him on the phone, we had one burning question on our minds:

“Do you have a project that you’ve always dreamed of doing?”

This question sparked a storm of ideas, and in a matter of weeks, we had hatched a plan: bring together Tim and two world-class climbers, Klemen Premrl of Slovenia and Rahel Schelb of Switzerland, as they attempted to climb the Iceland Trifecta—an iceberg, the ceiling of an ice cave, and a very deep iceberg crevasse.

All these ice climbs would be technically challenging—some would say even impossible and too dangerous to attempt—and, from a filming perspective, we had no idea what kind of adventure we’d find once we got to Iceland. Normally, it’s exactly this uncertainty that you try to control. But for the team here at SmugMug, and for Tim, Klemen, and Rahel, embracing that uncertainty is exactly the kind of “adventure” we wanted to pursue, regardless of outcome. “Adventure” means pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, embracing uncertainty, and using your technical expertise, physical stamina, and mental moxie to attack the photographic and climbing environment. And so we commenced the adventure of a lifetime.

On November 6, attendees of the 40th Banff Mountain Film Festival got a sneak peek of the film, which was selected as a Finalist, but today, this film makes its online premiere. We hope you enjoy the ride.

Read more of the behind-the-scenes.

Ready to go on your own adventure? These photo and and climbing tips articles will help you.

SmugMug’s Filmmaker Anton Lorimer at the Banff Film Festival
SmugMug’s Filmmaker Anton Lorimer at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival

Get all touchy-feely with new premium holiday cards.

If you want to really impress this holiday season, now is the time to start thinking cards!  We have three new glorious looking and luxurious feeling card stock options for our 4×8 cards, ensuring that your holiday creations won’t get lost in the pile or on the refrigerator.

Here’s our new 4×8 card lineup:

Matte:
The heaviest and jolliest one of the bunch, weighing in at 110# card stock, provides a more traditional paper type for excellent photo reproduction.

Felt:
A little lighter at 100# card stock, this paper is listed as Ultra Bright White to really make the whites in your card pop like a snowball to the side of your head.

Pearl:
Looking for a card with a little something extra?  This 98# paper has a unique white pearlescent finish and smooth feel that will really shine merry and bright.

How do I buy them?
Whichever cards you choose, we guarantee you’ll be happy with the result!


Get started creating your cards right now by going to one of your galleries, clicking the “Buy” button and choosing “Create a Card.”

How do I sell them?
And for those of you who sell cards, make sure to add them to your pricelists now! ***Please note that the old 4×8 photo paper cards have been retired and removed from your pricelists.

For more info on creating cards, check out our Help Center and for holiday ordering/shipping deadlines check out this helpful guide.

Feast your eyeballs on two spook-tacular Halloween treats!

SmugMug makes managing and displaying your photos simply magical. Subscribe to any new plan right now for 31% OFF and you’ll soon be creating unearthly galleries, sharing spooky memories with family and friends, and storing everything to infinity and beyond.

GET THE DEAL

Cast your spell quick! This offer is powerless after November 8.

* This boo-tiful offer is valid on the first year of any new SmugMug subscription.

Transform your Halloween memories into a spooktacular Montage Photo Book. With auto-magic layouts, it’s as easy as hocus pocus to make a stunning photo book in minutes, not hours. For a limited time, we’re carving 31% off Montage exclusively for SmugMug customers. 

CREATE YOUR BOOK NOW

Get carving quick! This deal vanishes November 8.

Ring-Ring…Calling all photos, it’s the SmugMug magic uploading link.

Hello, it’s SmugMug and we’ve got a quick, easy, and secure way to get your photos from your phone onto your SmugMug site. It works like magic so we’re calling it our SmugMug magic uploading link. Now you can transfer all the those trip, party, or selfie photos you snapped from your phone right to SmugMug faster than you can say Abracadabra!

This handly little tool is a big help when you’re working with your SmugMug site on your computer and you realize that you want to add a few or even a gazillion photos from your phone right to a specific gallery. In just a few clicks, we’ll send a magic link to your phone via text message.

With that link, you’ll be able to move photos right to the gallery—and like magic you’re done and done!

Need all the details? Check them out right here.

Ring-Ring…here’s one more phone uploading thing. When you’re on the go and want to move your photos from your phone to your SmugMug site, another great uploading tool is our SmugMug app for iPhone or Android.

When it comes to uploading, let’s think outside the Dropbox.

Can we be frank for a second? Dropbox may be a convenient place to backup your photos and videos, but it’s not the best way to showcase, share or sell them. That’s why you have SmugMug, right? So now we’ve made it super simple to transfer your photos from Dropbox to your SmugMug galleries in just a few clicks—right from the SmugMug browser uploader.

Just select Dropbox in the uploader,

sign in to your Dropbox account,

select the photos you want to upload and, drop those photos on SmugMug like they’re hot!

Remember you’ve got unlimited, pixel for pixel secure storage with SmugMug so go on and give us all you got.

See how easy it is to free your photos from Dropbox’s virtual shoebox in the sky, right here.

Special Note: This feature currently doesn’t work if you’re on a custom domain. Custom domain support is coming soon, but in the meantime, switch your URL to your SmugMug nickname version (yoursmugmugnickname.smugmug.com) to get Dropbox to work correctly.