Here’s the second part of our interview series celebrating our own home state, the beautiful state of Arizona.
It was an absolute pleasure to chat with Peter Coskun amazing astrophotographer and landscape photographers about his work of art.
Q: Peter, can you tell us a bit yourself? What was your background? What was your childhood like?
First I would like to thank you for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts and experiences with photography with you. I grew up just outside the city of Philadelphia back east and never had much interest in nature back then, though I always tried to be creative with whatever I was doing especially in school. Just as I began high school, my family and I moved to Arizona, a pretty drastic move for all of us. I actually learned with film before I started with digital taking a photography class my junior year, but there was a few years in between that where I didn’t touch a camera at all. I used to ride BMX and always flipped through the magazines looking at the photos, which prompted me to get a camera of my own. It wasn’t anything special, but I got my first spark of inspiration to make a photograph. Years of riding a bike in the desert allowed me to enjoy the surroundings a bit more than most. One particular outing where I went to photograph a BMX contest was in a beautiful desert setting and I spent more time wandering around the desert photographing nature than I did the contest itself. Slowly but surely, I was becoming addicted to being out in nature. When I finally upgraded to a DSLR I knew I was going to be photographing nature almost exclusively. I enjoyed seeing the various wildlife around the desert, so I actually invested more so in wildlife photography, purchasing a large telephoto lens. A trip to Yellowstone was like a dream for me, all the wildlife and nature one could have. However, I neglected the landscapes with the camera, and never quite captured the true beauty of such a location. It wasn’t long after that I began to focus on landscape photography and again, slowly but surely I was almost exclusively photographing the landscapes I was seeing. The long lens began collecting dust, and the wide angle began getting all the love. In 2012 after my first solo trip into California’s Eastern Sierra, I knew that I was going to primarily photograph landscapes from here on out. I still sometimes photograph wildlife when the situation presents itself, but it’s few and far between the amount of landscape photos I take.
Q: What first drew you to capture your adventures? How do you define astrophotography?
More and more I found myself enjoying the solitude of places far away from civilization. The further or more rugged, the better. Though just seeing them for me was not enough, I wanted to photograph these places to share my experiences from them. What I saw, how I saw it, how it made me feel etc. Now, it seems as if the photographs give my adventures a purpose, though I don’t always click the shutter if I’m not inspired, or rather, just trying to soak in a particular moment. In regards to astrophotography, I am not sure I quite belong in that category as that is not my main subject, but I certainly have fun trying to capture the night sky and other celestial events. For me, astrophotography is almost exclusively about the sky itself. I usually think of people with their cameras connected to telescopes and trackers photographing vast galaxies not seen with the naked eye. Of course, this may be up for interpretation. I consider my night photography under the “nightscape” category where I try to incorporate the landscape in addition to the sky and not the other way around. I think in all my night sky images, the scenes are specifically composed to include the stars and their relation to the scene itself and not just randomly placed above the landscape.
Q: What did you find so unique about Arizona?
Before I moved to Arizona, I always thought it was a true desert, barren, cacti everywhere, no rain or water, sand for miles, but I quickly realized that is not the case. In fact, I have found Arizona to be one of the most diverse places I’ve been, and most people are baffled by some of the locations that I photograph and share and mention they are somewhere in Arizona. If I’m not feeling the desert at the moment, I can drive an hour or two and be in the pine trees and mountains. If I want to photograph a lake or a river, there are plenty within driving distance. In the winter if I want to see snow I can drive up north and photograph it and come down to the desert and be in shorts the same day. It really is rather remarkable. We still get all four seasons here, in fact, IMO it’s hard to argue that there is anywhere better for fall color. Yes the east coast has some amazing places as do the rocky mountains, but neither of these locations can offer a lengthy autumn like here in Arizona. You can have various fall colors from late September all the way into January if you know where to look. The summer monsoons are also quite the spectacle and bring the drama of mother nature throughout the valley and all across the southwest.
Q: Did you get to photograph any hidden places in Arizona?
It’s harder and harder to find hidden places these days no matter where you are, more often than not someone else has been there. I wouldn’t necessarily say I get to photograph hidden places, but rather places that are seldom seen as it takes more work than the average tourist. I like finding new places to me or places I haven’t been before. I often have people ask me “where is this” on my photos. Most of these places can be found doing a bit of research, which is part of the fun of adventuring and exploring.
Q: How else do you capture the world besides photography?
I think for me photography is the perfect medium for me to capture my explorations. With photography, you have to get out to the places you wish to photograph and stand there to take the photo. That is perhaps my favorite part, the experience of looking out over a stunning view or anything beautiful. While some styles of painting require similar efforts, one could also just sit at home and paint a scene they are familiar with or wish to see. Photography gives me a purpose of traveling and “capture” the world.
Q: What equipment do you use to captures your astrophotography? Where is your favorite place to do astrophotography?
I don’t use any fancy trackers or telescopes for my “astrophotography”, just my trusty Canon 6d, a Tokina 16-28mm 2.8, a tripod, and a wireless remote trigger. My favorite places to photograph the night sky are typically up north on the Colorado Plateau which connects Northern Arizona and Southern Utah and has some of the most spectacular and remote landscapes in all the southwest. Although, I would be hard pressed to say that the Eastern Sierra area in California and Death Valley are right up there among my favorites for that type of photography.
Q: For taking a crazy shot like that how do you combat sleep deprivation and the late nights?
For most of my milky way images, I am up early in the morning (2-3am) hoping to photograph it arcing over the landscape. During the summer months, I just wait an hour or two after sunset and it’s usually quite visible. I think there was only one time where I did a nearly 48 hours no sleep marathon of shooting while in Yosemite and the Eastern sierra where I photographed the milky way both rising and setting in locations four hours away from another, sunrise to sunset, and then more milky way photography. I enjoy my sleep as much as I enjoy photography, so for me, it usually has to be worth it for me to get out of bed early in the morning. Most of the times I can predict what conditions will be like and if I need to wake up or not. If the skies are clouded over at 3 am then I just shut my eyes and go back to bed. Coffee and chocolate also help stay awake during the extra late nights.
Q: What is the most memorable trip you have had in recent memory?
Last year my girlfriend and I had gone to Glacier National Park in Montana. It’s my favorite place (that I have been to so far), so it was special to get to share it with her. We also went during the fall and couldn’t have timed it better. The leaves were changing, the tundra was changing, the bears were out in force. The weather was interesting, not the most ideal, but it allowed for some incredible atmospherics over the mountains. We had a number of interesting bear encounters (all safe) and got to enjoy them preparing themselves for winter. Not to mention the food there is surprisingly quite amazing for a national park and I happened to run into one of my biggest inspirations while photographing a grizzly bear, Marc Adamus. Being in my favorite park during my favorite time of year with my favorite person, it’s hard to beat that. Although, a Lake Powell trip a month after is a very very close second.
Q: What advice would you give to someone embarking on their first adventure?
What’s one hindsight astrophotography tip that you would give to yourself when you first started and other beginner astrophotographers? Don’t expect your first adventure to go as you planned. Part of adventuring is working around those plans should something go wrong. Sometimes the best experiences come from those unexpected adventures you weren’t planning on. If I knew what I knew now back when I first started in terms of photographing the night sky, I would tell myself to get some faster glass and a camera with excellent low light and high ISO capabilities. It was quite frustrating back when I first started trying to photograph the milky way with a camera that maxed out at ISO 800 and a kit lens, I was wondering why all my photos were coming out so dark…. Also, get away from the city, the further away from the city lights the better the skies to photograph at night.
Q: What other projects are you currently working on?
The only thing right now I am working on is getting out as much as possible to photograph the monsoons and hopefully have a new release gallery on my website by fall with those images. I will also be back in Glacier National Park working on some new images as well hopefully photographing summer wildflowers.