Background, Experience, & Philosophy
Thank you for your interest in my work! I am Michael Rung, a self-taught nature photographer based out of Fort Worth, Texas.
I grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, MO, spending a fair bit of my childhood exploring the creek and woods that meandered through the neighborhood and surrounding area. For whatever reason, as I reached my teenage years and entered adulthood, I spent less and less time outside, leading to my first experiences hiking as an adult not taking place until I was nearly 40. It wasn't until I stumbled into the world of nature and landscape photography that my love for the outdoors was reignited.
Having always dabbled in photography to some degree over the years, it was after a business trip to Ireland in 2015 - during which I was armed only with my trusty Windows Phone - that I truly found my passion for the craft. Besides a desire to share my travel experiences with family and others through the photos I captured, photography quickly enamored me with its ability to forge a deeper bond with nature and cultivate a therapeutic mindfulness when capturing images of the natural world.
Since 2015, when I purchased my first DSLR camera after returning from Ireland, I have been deeply committed to photography. However, it is my work from 2019 onwards that truly represents the photographer I have become today. By consciously adopting a reactive approach and avoiding the disappointment and loss of motivation that often accompanies preconceived expectations, I began working more methodically in the field, resulting in a significant improvement in the quality of my work.
In 2020, with the onset of the pandemic, I seized the opportunity to offer online presentations to camera clubs and other groups, expanding on the one-on-one teaching I had previously provided. I have facilitated several presentations over the subsequent years.
That same year, I launched my YouTube channel, focusing on Lightroom Classic tutorials and sharing insights into my creative vision through my "Making the Image" series.
In 2021, I made a meaningful investment in a professional large-format printer, allowing me to produce my own fine art nature and landscape photography prints. This step granted me complete creative control and ensures the highest quality for my clients. From carefully processing my raw files to faithfully depict the essence, experience, and presence of the moments captured in the field, to selecting museum-quality fine art papers best suited for my work, I have full ownership in realizing my artistic vision from start to finish. You can explore my curated print collections here.
I released my first Limited-Edition print folio, "Look for the Light," in late 2022. The folio is a collection of prints from my work spanning 2019 through 2021, each made using the same museum quality and archival paper and pigment inks as my standalone prints. You can learn more and purchase the folio here.
Since leaving my corporate career of nearly 30 years in early 2022 to pursue photography full time, I've also offered other photography services in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Learn more about the services I provide here.
You can read more about how I started my photography journey here.
As noted above, over the past several years I've had the opportunity to give several online presentations to various groups around the world, such as:
If you'd like me to present to your group or organization, please contact me here. I'd love to share my passion and enthusiasm for photography with you!
My Artistic Philosophy
Is photography art?
The age-old question that has spawned endless debate... As a photographer dedicated to capturing and sharing glimpses of the natural world, I firmly believe that nature photography is indeed a manifestation of art. There is an art to seeing the world with a photographic eye, an art to composing one's surroundings within a finite frame, and an art to editing one's work in the analog or digital darkroom.
With that out of the way, my photographic art is rooted in two primary principles: being reactive to my surroundings and remaining true to what I saw and experienced.
What is Reactive Photography?
Rather than extensively pre-planning specific compositions, meticulously predicting sunrise and sunset quality and other events using apps, and allowing them to dictate my actions, I have evolved to embrace spontaneity. The preconceived notions of what constituted a "good" image gradually eroded my enjoyment of photography, as reality often fell short of my lofty expectations.
Rather than confining myself within artificially narrow boundaries, I now appreciate the endless offerings of the natural world. By relinquishing my dependence on extraordinary conditions, typically at sunrise or sunset, I compelled myself to explore more creative perspectives, leading to a transformative shift in how I perceive the world. For nearly a year, I intentionally avoided capturing a single sunrise or sunset, while also deliberately avoiding the buildup of expectations. This conscious choice made me a better and happier photographer. Even today, I am more inclined to sit and savor a beautiful sunset sky, rather than frantically capturing it through my lens.
Embracing reactive photography does not imply a complete abandonment of planning. Rather, my preparations revolve around researching a general location or region rather than fixating on specific compositions. This approach grants me the joy of immersing myself in the outdoors and responding to captivating moments as they unfold before me. Instead of tunnel vision for a single subject, I truly absorb and perceive everything that surrounds me.
Why Does Authenticity in Photography Matter?
As someone who deeply appreciates the beauty and magnificence of the natural world, I feel strongly about protecting the authenticity of nature photography through representational work. To me, it's not just about capturing visually stunning images; it's about preserving genuine moments and scenes that evoke a sense of wonder and awe.
The falsification of photography through compositing and manipulation in tools such as Photoshop is concerning to me, although far more so when it comes with a lack of disclosure or outright misdirection (such as claiming a photo represents an experience when, in fact, it does not). I don't begrudge anyone fulfilling their creative vision through compositing or significant alteration: that in itself can be an extraordinary artistic endeavor. I do, however, expect honesty and integrity in how such work is presented.
My personal philosophy is that nature photography should capture real experiences and genuine encounters with the natural world. When I view a photograph, I want to feel a connection to the scene, knowing that it truly existed and was witnessed by the photographer. The use of software manipulation tools may create visually impressive images, but they often lack the essence and integrity of the natural environment as it was truly experienced.
Similarly, I feel the rise of AI-generated imagery - especially when the end result is passed off as a photo - poses an even greater threat to the authenticity of all genres of photography. While text-prompted AI algorithms can generate remarkably realistic and beautiful landscapes, these images lack the grounding in reality that I find crucial to feeling inspired. I want to know that the photographs I admire depict actual places, allowing me to appreciate and marvel at the wonders of the natural world, and I believe followers of my work largely feel the same.
The ongoing (and accelerating) erosion of public trust in photography concerns me deeply. If viewers can no longer discern between what is authentic and what is artificially generated, it becomes increasingly challenging to raise awareness about environmental issues and inspire action. By upholding the authenticity of nature photography through representational work, I hope to maintain a strong bond between my audience and the natural world, fostering a genuine connection that can inspire a deeper appreciation for my work, our planet's beauty, and foster or strengthen a desire to preserve diminishing natural environments.
As it becomes increasingly difficult for viewers to discern between reality and fantasy, I'm striving to share more around my experiences and processes.
Fostering Trust with My Audience
With the sentiments I've shared, the question arises: In a world where skepticism increasingly colors our perception of photography, how can I counter this trend and foster trust among my audience?
Although I love the concept of producing in-field videos - a la Ben Horne, Thomas Heaton, and others - I have found that it is quite detrimental to my photography. It adds stress, breaks my concentration on seeing and composing, and hinders my ability to achieve anything remotely consisting of a flow state (learn more about flow state here).
Having come to that realization after my 2023 trip to Utah - during which I recorded zero videos aside from a few phone clips - I subsequently pondered how else I could share more about my creative process. Enter two new series on my blog: UNFRAMED and more generalized, yet detailed, trip reports.
Part blog, part zine, UNFRAMED will take you behind the scenes of many of my favorite photos. This series provides a more personal look into my experiences while out in the field, and what went into the making of the featured photos, going well beyond what I share on social media.
In short, I provide more than what is typically consumed on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, where quick glances of a second or two and a habitual double-tap or like are encouraged instead of spending more thoughtful time with images and words shared within posts.
Whereas UNFRAMED entries are focused on specific photos and my process of making them, my trip reports are broader in scope. Reserved for my larger trips I embark on a few times a year, their intent is to take readers along with me, as it were, on my journeys out into nature.
The main goal of trip reports is to talk about where I went, what I saw, the conditions I encountered, why I made certain decisions throughout the trip, etc., while also sharing behind the scenes snapshots from along the way.
Follow My Journey
Help Support my Photography
I've been pursuing my passion for photography, while producing educational resources and other content, for several years now. It has required plenty of time, patience, and monetary investment. Without my supporters, none of it would be possible. For instance, as I surpass the milestone of 5,000 subscribers to my YouTube channel, the revenue I earn from that platform is barely enough to cover the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.
Your donations directly help support my work and are truly appreciated. Every contribution, no matter the amount, helps to keep this dream alive, allowing me to continue sharing my love for the natural world through my photography while teaching and inspiring others.
Donations are managed via PayPal and may be made on a one-time basis or as monthly recurring payments, if you choose to do so. However you choose to contribute, it will be greatly appreciated!
Other Ways You Can Offer Support
YouTube recently added a feature that lets viewers leave a small tip for creators whose work they value. Simply look for the Thanks icon you see above, next to the thumbs-up button on my videos.