Next up on the Flylords Photographer Spotlight series is Jesse Packwood, a name that is probably familiar to most Flylords followers and readers. Jesse has been an intricate part of our photoshoots, creating amazing content highlighting our favorite destinations, guides, and products. When he’s not behind the lens, you can find him rolling around Colorado in his vintage Land Cruiser chasing his next adventure. We caught up with Jesse earlier this month to chat about how he got his start in adventure photography, his methods, and his favorite adventures that his camera has taken him on. Check the full interview out, below!
Flylords: When did you first pick up a camera? What model was it?
Jesse: The first camera I picked up was a Minolta 35mm film camera back in high school. I couldn’t tell you the exact model but I was mostly just playing with it then. Learning about shutter speed and aperture on a film camera first made the transition to an SLR extremely easy though. I’d recommend buying a cheap film camera with manual settings for anyone, even if they have been shooting digitally for years.
Flylords: Did you study photography? How did you develop your photography into a professional career?
Jesse: I bought books on photography but never took any classes. I was mostly learning through trial and error and it was a lot of fun. I lived and breathed skateboarding so I was making skate videos with my friends and photography was an extension of that. I was just capturing memories early on and didn’t think to shoot professionally until my friends started encouraging me to. So my freshman year of college I spent all my money on a Nikon D700 and started taking any paid photography gig I could find. Outside of learning how to use a camera, I think being reliable and communicating well are the skills that have helped me build my photography career.
Flylords: What photographers do you look up to? In general? In the fly fishing community?
Jesse: The first ones that come to mind, in general, are Harrison Mark, Atiba Jefferson, Dylan Gordon, and Aaron Brimhall. They are all big influences for me in the sense that they make me want to take my camera everywhere. In the fly fishing community, Dylan Schmitz and Nick Kelley are people I’d love to shoot with. They seem to find the balance between a raw and professional style that I really admire.
Flylords: What attracted you to fly fishing as a subject? To fly fishing photography?
Jesse: When I first picked up a fly rod I loved it just for the sake of catching trout. I didn’t realize at first that I would be hiking canyons, floating rapids, and climbing mountains to catch fish on a fly rod but with the places, I was ending up I just couldn’t leave my camera behind. The process of tying flies, casting, and that connection with nature felt like art in real life to me so I loved shooting it. When I started shooting fly fishing I recognized that the industry seemed to be way behind in digital content so I also saw it as a good opportunity for me to blend my passions together and shooting for Flylords has been a dream.
Flylords: What was your first paid photography job?
Jesse: My first paid outdoor photography gig was for a camping company. Tents, chairs, blankets, and other miscellaneous camping gear. It was simple and easy since my friends and I camped often but it can be tough to rely on your friends when you’ve got to deliver content. I was underpaid but the company was happy and I got paid double on the next contract for that same company.
Flylords: You’ve been on quite a few adventures on Flylords assignments, which destination has been your favorite? What species of fish has become your favorite to chase?
Jesse: Chilean Patagonia was hands down my favorite place I’ve been with Flylords. It felt like I was at the edge of the world and there were trout everywhere. I’ve traveled a ton and Patagonia felt like some strange mix of the Canadian Rockies and Thailand at times but with a Spanish accent. It also helped that our host Pancho felt like a brother to me and I hooked and lost the biggest trout of my life down there. One day, I’d love to go back.
As far as my favorite species of fish to chase, that would be Peacock bass. In South America, it’s a journey just to get to them, and then targeting structure with a perfectly placed cast is almost guaranteed to find one. I got to chase them in Colombia and my fly would sink about 5ft down so I could still see it in the water but nothing else. Then out of nowhere a huge mouth would open and crush the fly, bending a 10wt in half as you fight it away from the trees surrounding you. Pound for pound, Peacock bass have to be some of the toughest fighting fish out there and I love that every one of them is unique.
Flylords: Are there any important lessons that you’ve learned during your career so far?
Jesse: Oh there are several important lessons I’ve learned over the years. The biggest one and probably toughest one to swallow was to ‘Say No’. Photography is a hustle and if you’re doing it full time it’s hard to turn down money but it turned out that those extra shoots I would squeeze into my schedule were the most work and not worth the stress or time at all.
Another lesson I learned was quality over quantity. With a digital camera you can take as many photos as you want but if you don’t love the photo, to begin with, clicking the shutter 100 times isn’t going to magically turn the shot into a good one.
Flylords: Do you think shooting things that you’re interested in bring out the best in your work?
Jesse: Yes, 100%. I struggle to shoot things I’m not interested in just based on the lack of interest alone but it’s also tough to figure out what a great shot looks like when it’s not something you’re familiar with. So after shooting something new for a while and taking mediocre photos you’ll lose confidence quickly.
Flylords: Do you have any advice for aspiring professional adventure photographers out there?
Jesse: This might not be what people want to hear but my best advice would be to not quit your day job. Taking the leap before you’re ready and not knowing when your next paycheck is coming can be overwhelming and stressful. That will lead to burnout real quick let alone a distaste for the things that you actually love. I know there are a ton of inspirational stories of people that quit their jobs and never looked back but there are also thousands of failure stories that you’ll never read about. So don’t put the unneeded pressure on yourself and let yourself go at your own pace. If photography is a passion then it’s a long game. You don’t have to try to be successful overnight.
Flylords: Could you pull back the curtain and give us a glimpse into your post-editing process? What does that typically look like?
Jesse: I am almost exclusively in Adobe Lightroom unless I need photoshop to remove something from the background on an image. I have a couple of presets that I’ve made myself that I typically start with and then I’ll adjust certain things by image.
Flylords: On a typical shoot, what are you carrying in your pack?
Jesse: For a typical fishing shoot, I have one camera with me, a 24-70mm lens, and a 35mm lens. I’ve found that versatility is the most important feature I need when shooting outdoors but having a prime lens for more detailed product shots makes a huge difference in my opinion. I also usually have my own fishing gear with me so I can find some fish in between shots.
Flylords: What pieces of gear or camera equipment go with you on every excursion?
Jesse: The packing list includes two Sony cameras, 16-35mm, 35mm, 24-70mm, and a 70-200mm. Throwing in a ton of batteries and polarizers is typical as well as a foldable reflector/shade. I always bring a tripod but so much of what I do is run and gun so I hardly ever utilize it. One thing that has been a game-changer is a little shoulder strap mount from Peak Design that can actually hold my camera for me when I’m wearing a backpack. Photographers seem split on whether or not you need a camera strap but I always have one on my cameras and they’ve been safe all these years. One last thing, I always bring is a large USB battery pack to recharge my camera if I somehow burn through all of my batteries.