Off the beaten path: The photography of Craig Thompson

Brandon Paykamian • Dec 10, 2018 at 10:23 AM

From a young age, Craig Thompson, an Ann Arbor, Michigan native, has had an interest in traveling and exploring. These days, the 64-year-old Johnson City resident continues exploring ecosystems across the country – taking his camera with him along the way.

Thompson said his favorite places to shoot nature landscape photos are in the deserts of the Southwest and in and around the waterfalls nestled in the Central and Southern Appalachian region. His favorite time of year for photography here is in the fall.  

“I get my best photos when I see the leaves turning. You get the color from the leaves and the water, so you get all these elements coming together at one time and that seems to be when I get my best opportunities,” he said. “My current focus in Appalachia is on waterfalls. I primarily do western North Carolina, although I’ve done a few in Southwest Virginia.

“A few counties in upstate South Carolina – those on the border – are rich environments for waterfalls. Oconee County is my favorite.”

In the Southwest, he prefers to shoot in the early morning hours or during sunset, which he considers the “the golden hours.”

“One of my favorite areas to shoot is the desert Southwest. There, I usually go to the Grand Staircase Escalante,” he said. “This is one of the largest national monuments, and so much of it has some grand scenes, but a lot of it is a barren looking area.

“When you go to a specific location or place, you just find something that’s awe-inspiring – just a wide variety of geological formations,” he continued. “It’s a hot spot for photographers, no question about it. You can take a lot of photos in many of those locations.”

In our region, Thompson said he likes to find areas that are less traveled and often known only to a few people. Though he does do some wide landscape shots, he said he prefers shots that are more close up – giving viewers a closer look at the details of the subject. 

“It may not be the things people pass by, but it’s not the things where you usually pull off on the side of the road and sit in awe of the whole scene. It’s more specific things, and it’s stuff off the beaten path, where it takes a four-wheel drive or four-wheeler to get there,” he said.

In 2015, Thompson said he had his biggest year, spending 62 nights in a tent as he traveled to get photos in some of his favorite places, including spots throughout Central and Southern Appalachia, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Cumberland Island, Georgia, where he said he often spends a few nights a year taking photos.

But it isn’t all about the shots themselves, according to Thompson. It's the process of getting those photos he enjoys most.

“It’s not so much getting the picture. It's the experience of going there and experiencing the landscape,” he said. “I guess I like to be in a variety of ecosystems, and not so much just from a photography standpoint, but also from an exploration standpoint.”