Earlier this month, ImprovePhotography.com ranked the Top 20 U.S. States for Photographers to Live in 2016. The site’s data set is about as comprehensive as it gets, incorporating a broad array of factors—from average earnings and cost of living to each state’s weather and number of national parks. For photography professionals considering a change of scenery, thinking about setting up shop in a new locale, or simply looking for another reason to take pride in their state, this is the definitive list.
We’re thrilled with the recognition Oregon received. ImprovePhotography named it the “most photogenic state,” beating out Hawaii and California, thanks to our home state’s plethora of waterfalls, coast, and trails—all within driving distance of Portland. In fact, considering the picturesque landscape and accounting for the state’s relative earnings for photographers across the board, the site ranked Oregon as the second best state overall, just behind Utah.
We can’t really argue with ImprovePhotography’s decision, nor are we calling into question its methodology, but we wondered: Why not number one? Ask any local photographer and they’ll tell you not only why Oregon is the best state to practice their craft, but how it’s transformed their relationship with photography and their perspective as an artist.
So, that’s what we did. Here are five professional photographers on why Oregon will always be first in their hearts:
Stunning Nature Scenes Just Minutes Away from the City
“As a native New Yorker, born and raised in Brooklyn, the only nature I’d ever been exposed to as a kid was the municipally planted tree in front of my house and the occasional visit to Central Park,” said Brian Matiash, a photographer and educator who now lives in Portland. “My jungle was made of concrete, asphalt, and brick and these surroundings formed the bedrock of my photography. However, it was my move to Oregon in 2011—something I never believed I’d do as a kid—that awoke a passion I didn’t even know I had with landscape and nature photography.”
Brian is far from the only one inspired by Oregon’s uniquely accessible natural environment. Each photographer we spoke to was quick to mention the state’s terrain.
“Between snow-capped mountains, barren dry desert lowlands, dense forests, and rocky coastal beaches, the state provides visitors varied and remarkable scenery,” said Michael Skourtes, an avid hiker and landscape photographer. “Whether setting out on a scenic drive, or on foot fully immersed in an old-growth forest, there is no substitute for this rugged and pure landscape.”
“Oregon’s Natural beauty resonated with me long before my wife and I moved to our home in Bend almost 20 years ago,” admitted Mike Putnam, another landscape and fine art photographer. “Stunning images of Oregon are part of what lured us to this beautiful state.”
“A photographer could spend all their time in Oregon and not even cover everything there is to see and photograph because there are so many gorgeous destinations to explore and enjoy,” said Patricia Davidson, a coastal landscape photographer based in Coos Bay. “I’ve spent a number of years photographing our great state and haven’t seen any others in my travels that have the type of diversity in scenery that we have: beautiful mountains, streams, lakes and waterfalls surrounded by lush, green forests; and a gorgeous, wild coastline that includes beaches, sand dunes, historic lighthouses, rocky cliffs with crashing waves in season, dotted with sea stacks and teeming with wildlife.”
Gary Randall, whose photography business is a permittee of the Mount Hood National Forest and Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area, echoed Patricia’s sentiment: “I’ve been in every state of the union and concerning Oregon’s hierarchy in importance to photographers, especially from a landscape photographer’s point of view, Oregon has the most diverse and varied landscapes available than any state.”
“If I drive thirty minutes from my house, I have access to some of the most lush and verdant forests and raging waterfalls in the world,” Brian added. “Another thirty minutes puts me at the snowcapped base of Mt. Hood. Two hours from there and I can climb up and slide down giant sand dunes in Florence.”
He also mentioned the rocky shores of Cape Kiwanda and Cannon Beach, and the massive playa in the Alvord Desert:
“Mile for mile, Oregon offers some of the most stunning and diverse landscape scenes that a photographer could possibly ask for. I am so proud to call it my home.”
A Great Place for Beginners and Pros Alike
According to the photographers we spoke with, Oregon’s abundant natural beauty is both a fun challenge for seasoned experts and an invitation to newcomers. Even beginner photographers can get jaw-dropping shots.
“Oregon is a state to get out and explore,” said Michael S. “This diversity, and the ability to create your own photographic adventure, rewards all photographers who venture out and explore the land.”
Gary Randall mentioned that with some creative thinking, the land offers immense opportunity for scenes and events apart from pure landscape photography, such as wedding portraits:
“We have the ocean, hills, valleys, vast forests, lakes, waterfalls, creeks, rivers, glacial peaks, sage brush country, high desert, sand dunes, desert mud cracked playas… We even have a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon—in Hells Canyon on the Snake River, at almost 8,000 feet deep. I think that’s a pretty good résumé. These places aren’t just for beautiful landscape photos, but are amazing backdrops for portrait and wedding photographers as well. “
“My favorite thing about being a full-time landscape photographer in Oregon is the people—yep, people,” said Mike P. “Oregonians have immense pride in their state. Many residents have chosen to live here, which I think contributes to to their overall happiness.”
Mike’s onto something: people all over the country are flocking to our state. As a matter of fact, another list—this one published by CNN—recently identified Oregon as “the most popular state to move to.”
“Personable, kind, and joyful people are the norm on Oregon’s trails,” he continued. “Living where you want and embracing an active outdoor lifestyle seems to make for happy people and happy people foster strong relationships with one another. These relationships with fellow lovers of Oregon’s natural beauty buoy my spirits, even when then light is dull and my large format film camera is heavy. I moved to Oregon for its amazing beauty, but I’ve stayed for its people.”
Tell Us What You Think
Thanks to all of the photographers who were kind enough to weigh in on why they think Oregon is number one—click on their names below to see their work and learn more about who they are:
– Brian Matiash
– Michael Skourtes
– Mike Putnam
– Patricia Davidson
– Gary Randall
We’d love to hear from you, too! Do you agree with ImprovePhotography.com’s 2016 ranking?
What makes your state the best place to live and work as a photographer?
…And if that state isn’t Oregon, well, why not?