After leaving his hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Michael Greene earned a B.S. in Business Marketing from Ohio State University, and a Master’s in Mass Communication from Arizona State University. He found his home in the Grand Canyon State, and now lives in Scottsdale. Although he didn’t study photography in school, he got a quick education when working at a local news station with a staffer who helped him with questions about his first camera, a Canon PowerShot S45.
Greene moved on to an S70, then a Digital Rebel, before discovering a high school friend was living close by and working as a professional photographer. They began shooting together, and Greene received a lot of mentorship. He was hooked on photography and began to get very serious. Buying a Canon 5D, and later, the 5D Mark II, Greene has been shooting these cameras exclusively for almost three years.
Landscapes are the primary subject Greene has been interested in photographing. In 2003, he was hiking with a friend in Payson, Arizona’s Horton Creek. It was here he first became interested in shooting natural scenes. Recalling his Pennsylvania roots, Greene shot a different kind of landscape back home. “There’s no 12,000, 13,000 foot mountains,” he says of his native state. “You have a lot more intimate scenes—mostly pictures of streams with rocks and water. Slow shutter speed and cascading creeks—that’s what drew me to landscape photography in the first place. I knew that was what I was interested in shooting. When I decided I really wanted to take it to the next level in 2008, I wanted to start incorporating more skies into the picture, and to incorporate scenics with water and sky, which is something I wasn’t doing up to that point in time. I was taking pictures of water, but it would be in a canopy of the forest, the trees.”
He often does extensive research online before heading to a new photographic opportunity. Once there, he takes time to scout locations while backpacking. “I think every photographer needs to be spontaneous, but I’m premeditated as possible with this stuff,” Greene says. His blog is a great resource containing the research he puts into a shoot.
Preferring both a natural and film look to his images, Greene believes in a minimal amount of color correction in post-processing. “I try to keep the pictures as natural as possible,” he says. “Normally I boost up the vibrance levels slightly for Web presentation because the files are so much smaller, but not much. I try to make the picture look as good as possible without overdoing it and without taking, quote unquote, artistic liberties. I don’t like rocks that are supposed to be gray looking blue or purple. I will experiment with white balances and tones to try to bring out the best colors, like my Bryce Canyon photos. I noticed, for Bryce Canyon, because the reds show up so much in the rocks, especially at sunrise and sunset, you really have to cool off the images quite a bit to achieve some kind of balance in color.”
To achieve this, his white balances will be at 2800 or 3200 for some of those images. He’ll use the tint slider included as part of the white balance adjustment in Adobe Camera Raw plus or minus 25, often adding a bit of purple. “It’s important to not adhere to any rules when you’re doing these things to try to strike a balance,” he says. “I’ve definitely learned more about color, and the relationships of colors. I understand more now what color is and how to create certain colors so I use a lot of the selective colors in Photoshop. A good tip is just extracting cyan from red will boost your reds greatly, and that’s always a nice thing to do. If you pull cyan out of pictures you usually can enhance colors quite a bit, naturally and tastefully if you don’t go too far. Sometimes I use the black as well. Instead of adjusting the contrast, I’ll just adjust the selective color of black as well.” Greene shoots in RAW and uses Photoshop exclusively for his color correction work.
Along with his Canon 5D Mark II, Greene uses Canon L Series lenses: 16-35mm, 28-70mm, and the 70-200mm f/2.8. Greene’s tripod is an Induro CT313. “I got it when I got the 70-200mm lens because the old tripod I was using, a Gitzo, didn’t have enough load capacity. I couldn’t get a clear picture with it. I wasn’t really happy with that tripod,” he recalls. “I’m using the Induro for everything now. I just got back from a backpacking trip in the High Sierra. We were in Sequoia National Park and we hiked on the High Sierra Trail. It’s the east-to-west trail in the Sierra Nevadas. The John Muir Trail runs north-south, down through the southern parts of the mountain range up into Yosemite and beyond. The High Sierra Trail cuts across the range, so it goes really up and down, up and down, over and over. It starts in a grove of giant sequoias and they just carved it from giant trees to the giant mountain. It goes all the way to the top of Mount Whitney. We did some hiking on that. We didn’t do the whole thing, but we did about the first 17 or 18 miles, and it was pretty difficult. There’s a lot of ups and downs, and we also hiked through a couple different lakes. We did about 43 miles, out and back, over six days and five nights, and I took it with me on that trip and it worked out well. Obviously it’s a little bit more weight, but I would prefer carrying the more weight and just having the peace of mind and the ease of use.”
“I’ve enjoyed the tripod immensely. It’s flexible,” he continues. “You can raise the legs up 90 degrees, so even if you had a vertical shot or you want to get down lower, you can expand the legs out to 45 degrees or 90 degrees to get lower to the ground. I’ve set up on the sides of very steep cliffs or in swift‑moving water or slippery rocks. I went up to Point Sublime with a buddy of mine a few weeks ago. There was—and I’m not even kidding—60‑mile‑an‑hour wind gusts, and that cliff was about a 700‑foot drop straight down. I didn’t want to get too close to the edge, otherwise I would have probably tried to incorporate more foreground imagery, because there were some nice shrubs. So I did set up, and I was glad I had the Induro, because it was solid. I still didn’t feel comfortable taking my hand off it, but I’m sure it would have stayed. I can pretty much set up on whatever. I’ve set up in some very, very precarious situations. That kind of comes with the job.”
“The value behind the CT313 is amazing,” Greene concludes. “I really don’t know what more you could ask for. The tripod’s built extremely well. It’s easy to use, it works extremely well, and for the price it’s an amazing brand. I can’t imagine that I would ever even consider switching brands right now. As far as brand loyalty goes, I’d say Induro is probably the most loyal I am to any kind of camera equipment that I have. I would say the Induro is, in terms of value, out of every single piece of camera equipment that I own, the very best value, the best bang for your buck.”
Also a sports fan, Greene originally went to graduate school to get into sports journalism. He has shot professional football, college football, basketball, mixed martial arts and boxing. Although he doesn’t promote this work, it’s an area he’d like to further develop his skills in.
With our national parks as his main subject matter, Michael Greene’s photography reminds us of both the beauty and intense fragility of our natural world. We are stewards of this beauty for a brief moment, and the richness and compositions he presents challenge us to understand this. Although most of us do not consider the places he photographs, nor their importance, the world is fortunate we have him to capture them temporarily for us, our consideration, and our reverence.
Written by Ron Egatz