Trey Ratcliff

Famous Photographer Picked up First Camera at Age 35

Trey Ratcliff has the number one travel photography blog on the web and nearly 9 million Google+ followers while his photos have been viewed over 120 billion times. His artwork currently sells at a whopping opening sales price of $75,000 and his mother can be proud that the Smithsonian’s first HDR (High-Dynamic-Range) photo on display is one of her son’s own.

Ratcliff is considered by many to be the pioneer of HDR—a technique used in imaging and photography to produce a greater range of luminosity than what is possible with standard imaging or photographic techniques. The real science takes place on the post-processing end with software that combines the images into one vibrant image producing full shadows, midtones and detailed highlights. The effect at times can look like a photograph merged with a painting. The technique can be learned in a short amout of time which is what has attracted a mass of HDR practitioners along with its critics.

Ratcliff offers numerous HDR photography tutorials, books, and recently launched The Arcanum—a photography online learning platform that uses a master and apprentice learning approach. He’s co-creator of Aurora HDR software and has partnered with Peak Design to create the ultimate photographer’s camera messenger bag.

What’s most impressive about Ratcliff is not only his remarkable achievements but also the journey leading up to his success. A journey that attracted a lot of haters and backlash from the “old school” photographer communities that view HDR post-processing as a mindless hack or cheat. Trey has proven however that there is a definite audience of millions who are drawn to his world of vivid, dynamic imagery.

Ratcliff describes his draw to photography and HDR:

I grew up blind in one eye and this might have changed the way I view the world. I don’t know. It’s hard to be objective about the way one’s brain was wired. My background is in computer science and math, so I bring an algorithm-like process to capturing the scene in such a way that it evokes memories in a palpable manner.

Ratliff’s photos are a representation of how he sees the world.

No photography classes or books required

Trey majored in Computer Science and prior to his photography venture worked as a computer programmer and then moved on to start a few online software and gaming companies which gave him a high level of business acumen.

While running his online gaming company, he decided to purchase his first DSLR camera in his mid-thirties while traveling. He started to tinker with his camera becoming acclimated with the myriad of different camera controls and settings. He took thousands of photos and used nothing but the Web to search for any questions related to photography and HDR.  Trey’s completely self taught attending no photography classes and admits he’s never read a book on photography other than the books he authored himself.

Patience and persistence are the keys to Ratliff’s success. He launched a website and posted one picture every day 365 days a year. The only admirer of his art for the first few years was his mother. He continued to post on however constantly refining and tweaking his craft.

After a few years people started to take notice. His photos started to slowly be shared across Flickr and other social media sites.  He created a newsletter to help others and soon had established a following. People were loving his art and were intrigued by this new phenomenon known as HDR photography.

Put your stuff out there

Ratcliff cringes when he thinks of some of the early photos he would post for the world to see although it was only his mother admiring his art during those early years. The images kept flowing regardless and Trey continued to take thousands of photos while posting his favorites everyday.

The only way to learn and experiment is to catapult your work out into the world in order to see what works and what doesn’t.

Trey sums up his work ethic:

To me, it is better to “guess” at how something works, experiment, fail, guess again, fail, and keep repeating that process over and over again until you either figure it out or you discover a multiplicity of other cool tricks along the way.

Learn more about Trey at Stuck in Customs.

Although Ratcliff admits to reading no books on photography, he does recommend two powerful books geared toward spiritual development:  Unteathered Soul and A New Earth

Photos by Trey Ratcliff

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