Interview: Photographer, Outdoor Adventurer, and Photo Book Author Peter West Carey

Peter, doing what he does best.
(Photo by Peter West Carey.)
It takes bravery to make your passion your career. Whether it's mountain guiding, writing, even opening your own online store, there's a certain amount of risk involved. But when it's something you truly love, the risk can be completely and entirely worth it.

I met Twitter friend Peter West Carey over sushi in Seattle back when the outdoor community on social media channels was small. He's a talented photographer and all around amazing human being. Since we met in 2010, he's traveled the world taking pictures and teaching, and just released an eBook, A World of Panoramas.

In celebration of the release of the eBook, I'm excited to share Peter's perspective on how he decided photography was his calling, the challenges of publishing on your own, and what makes his eBook unique.

AI: What made you fall in love with taking pictures?

PWC: I got my start in photography soon after high school when I fell in love with hiking the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. It was my selfish desire to capture those striking vistas, the rippling mountain lakes, and the endless miles of evergreens that lead to my first camera purchase 25 years ago.

Mount Hood, photo by Peter West Carey.
It wasn't until 18 years later that I decided to make photography my career. I had been shooting weddings for friends and family since 1992, and the experience and skills I'd developed made it an easy transition to paid work. I added in writing about photography to the mix and I have over 300 articles at Digital Photography School to show for that effort. Then, I began teaching, and I still love helping others learn the joy of photography. Around the same time, I started leading local and international photo workshops and tours, including trips to India, Nepal and Bhutan.

I don't feel it was a mistake for me, and I do tell others considering a career in photography to go for it. I thought in the beginning that if I did it for money, it would ruin my artistic desires. As I've been shooting and teaching commercially for seven years now, I can say those ideas, for me, were wrong. I still love shooting creatively as well as shooting under pressure during a wedding or product shoot.

Alaska, photo by Peter West Carey.

You published an eBook consisting entirely of panoramas; why?

So much of what I see while outdoors hiking is wide, too wide for standard format images. I used to have a panorama matte in my film camera that would automatically crop out the top and bottom on a regular slide film, much like the letterbox effect for movies watched on a TV. I loved the wideness and vastness that it projected.

In the digital age I was delighted when technology caught up to what I had in my mind. The book came about when I found book printer that would print images onto whole pages and then affix them in the book, so there is no gutter down the middle like a normal book. The format was 1:3, in this case 8" tall and 24" wide and that was a great place to start, so I wanted to fill each page entirely. Panoramas were a natural fit for this type of printing.

Ama Dablam, photo by Peter West Carey.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in publishing the print version of your book? The ebook version?

The biggest challenge was cost, to be honest. And narrowing the images to just 20. I printed a proof book and was very pleased with the quality of paper, binding and image sharpness, so that made the process easier. And the next challenge was how to inform readers. I filled the pages from edge to edge to let the photos take center stage, but this left no room for text. I had a table of contents and that listed the location and title, but I was being such a puritan I didn't even have page numbers!

That lead to the creation of the ebook which was meant as a companion, but also stands alone quite well. The biggest challenge with the ebook was learning a new program (Adobe InDesign) and getting the formatting the way I wanted. Plus there is a lot of information in the ebook and compiling it all took some time, as well as writing the text. it contains 42 panoramas plus over 250 supporting images, all with links to larger versions online. I also decided to link the map to the exact location where each image was shot as well as the shooting information for each photo. It ended up taking months longer to finish than I had planned.

What's one thing you hope readers take away from A World of Panoramas?

I would love it if readers were filled with a desire to see more of the world around them when they finish looking through the book or ebook. I wanted to show the beauty and diversity of that little slice of this planet that I have explored and to inspire others to do the same. I firmly believe travel breaks down bigotry, cultural phobias and biases we hold because we have not experienced more diversity in our lives. It's quaint, but I believe the world would be a better place if more people left their home town and traveled abroad to see for themselves how different and how much the same other cultures can be.

Gokyo, photo by Peter West Carey.

How did you choose which images to highlight, and what are some special features of the book readers should know about?

The selection was made from a impact standpoint. I wanted images that were striking and bold. I have lots of technically difficult images (a 600 megapixel image of the Burj Khalifa, for instance) but they don't fill the reader with much. Unless you are into photography, those images don't really impress you and make you want to visit that location. I picked images to make people go, "Wow! Where is that?" and to start them thinking outside their daily lives.

As I mentioned before, the pages of the book are one of its main feature. They lay flat when opened with no interruption, just a gorgeous two foot wide image printed in vibrant color. Each print book also comes with a copy of the ebook to give readers a full package of information, including links to specific information about each location. The pages are also printed on archival paper with archival inks to last well beyond our lifetime.

Utah, photo by Peter West Carey.
The book and ebook also include a number of vertical panoramas, which would be lacking if printed on a normal page. But as the ratio is the same, all readers need to do is rotate the book to get the full breadth of the image. Some places, like the inside of a temple in Bhutan, with its seating space for monks and ornate ceiling painting, just scream out for this type of format.

Lastly, the ebook allows for a lot of zooming, so readers can fly into the images and pick out details they might not have seen before. They are huge images and make for fun exploring.

The biggest feature of the ebook is its expandability. For me this is a lifelong body of work as I plan to keep shooting panoramas until I can't lift a camera. I will send out updates to the ebook, free of charge, for life, twice a year. I have tons of panoramas that didn't make the book that are still worthy of the ebook and I will keep creating them.

Second to that feature, each image in the book is for sale and the panoramas can even be printed 2.5' x 7.5'! You can make some huge art at that size and I loved the ones I have seen printed.

Where do you plan to take your photography skills next?

By the time your readers read this I'll likely be in Europe on a family trip, but still I'll have a camera with me (or even my iPhone, which can take great panoramas in the right lighting). I look forward to the challenge of capturing unique images of icons people have shot for decades. I can imagine vertical panoramas of the Eiffel Tower with differing foregrounds to help put it in its place. Saint Peter's Square as a full 180 degree panorama. London from the top of the Eye. Those types of things.

Thanks to Peter for virtually sitting down with us and discussing photography as well as the release of this new eBook! Be sure to take a look at the print version as well as the eBook version, and follow Peter on Twitter and Facebook for some serious photographic inspiration.