Backpacker Photo School: How'd They Get The Cover Shot?

BACKPACKER cover photographer Jon Cornforth shares his tricks and tips for landing the perfect shot.
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BACKPACKER cover photographer Jon Cornforth shares his tricks and tips for landing the perfect shot.

In selecting a cover shot for BACKPACKER’s March issue, we had to choose from a lot of beautiful images. But Jon Cornforth’s beautiful sunrise photo of the iconic Cuernos del Paine in Patagonia, Chile, stood above the rest. Cornforth spends half the year traveling to capture iconic shots like this one, but you can get them in your backyard.

In this interview, the Seattle-based nature photographer shares details about how he created this image, including the day he took this photo, and how he refined his technique. You'll use these professional tips to improve your photos, whether they’re from Patagonia or just down the road.

BACKPACKER: How did you make this photo? What camera did you use to make this photo? What is the ISO, aperture, shutter speed? Did you use a tripod?

Jon Cornforth: I used a Pentax 67II medium format film camera & 55mm lens with Velvia 100 film, a Singh-Ray Warming Polarizer, Singh-Ray 3-stop SOFT Graduated Neutral Density filter at f22 for 30 seconds. I also used a Gitzo Basalt tripod with an Acratech Ultimate ballhead & quick release camera base plate.



BP: What were the conditions needed to create this image? For example, was it sunrise or sunset and why did you choose that light? How long did you scout this location? How many days did it take to get the right light? Had you been to this location before?

JC: I spent a week camping at Lago Pehoe in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, in miserable weather in order to capture this one spectacular sunrise. Storms with intense lenticular clouds boil over the Chilean Icecap onto the Argentine plains where it is clear almost every morning, which allows the beautiful light underneath the clouds.



BP: How long have you been shooting? Did you go to school for photography or are you self-taught?

JC: I have been taking pictures for almost 10 years, almost 9 of them as a full-time professional. I am mostly self-taught, though I did take some basic classes through the Mountaineers in Seattle and a one-day workshop with Art Wolfe when I was starting out.



BP: Who inspires you?

JC: My original inspiration came from photographers like Art Wolfe, Galen Rowell, Jack Dykinga, and Tom Till.



BP: What advice do you have for the aspiring photographers among our readers?

JC: Pick a spot that you like and go back frequently, whether day-after-day or year-after-year, until you get something special. Time, patience, and luck all have to come together to create spectacular images.



BP: What are your favorite places to take photos?

JC: I can be found creating images in places like Alaska and Patagonia. I love the raw beauty & lack of crowds. To me, being the only person taking that particular photo is the ultimate reward.

—Julia Vandenoever and Genny Wright Fullerton