Capturing the Beauty of Nature: An Interview with Photographer Lee Nordbye

Amy Liu Photography

Photo credit: Amy-Liu Photography

Photographer Lee Nordbye has the outdoors and photography in his blood. From the time he was a baby, his parents would take him camping and hiking. As he got older, his dad, family friends and Lee would explore the lands of Northern Alberta all year round, whether it was by Jeep or on a sled. They would spend their summers camping, hiking and exploring the Rockies from Jasper National Park to the Grand Tetons. It would never fail, Lee’s dad would always have his camera along with him and when Lee was old enough, he got his first camera – a Kodak Instamatic.

Now a father himself, Lee’s love affair with the Canadian Rockies continues through his adventures with friends and family. His thirst for exploration, photography and adventure has grown over the years through his experiences living in the United Kingdom and exploring Europe, Greenland and Namibia.

In 2015, his photographic journey took an amazing turn from being a hobby photographer to becoming a photo artist. In 2017, Lee decided to purse his passion as a full-time career and he has enjoyed the journey and successes ever since.

By Al Gord

Lee, we are so glad to be able to interview you. You have been enjoying photography since the age of 12. What was it that first drew you to this art form and what was your first camera?

I am excited to discuss my passion for photography and the outdoors with you Al. It always brings a smile to talk about capturing those special moments that nature has to offer.

My inspiration to get into photography and exploring the world we live was my dad. He was an avid amateur photographer who always had a camera in hand on our holidays and our adventures in Northern Alberta. Perhaps I am dating myself here a bit but my first camera was a Kodak Instamatic. I would carry it around with me on our holidays and the most exciting thing upon our return was getting the photos in from the lab. Unlike our instant feedback today, I had to wait about a week to get my photos, as we had to send them away to the nearest city to be developed.

Table for Three, Abraham Lake

Table for Three, Abraham Lake

Technology has really changed photography and the processing of images. What equipment do you use and what is your process? How does your choice of equipment affect the photos that you produce?

You caught me in the middle of an equipment change. I used to be Nikon shooter, in large part because my dad shot Nikon. We could share lens and talk gear together. After many wonderful years with Nikon, I decided this year to upgrade to a mirrorless system. Today, the vast majority of my friends shoot Canon so I made the leap myself. The decision to change to Canon was primarily to take advantage of sharing lens on our adventures. Weight and bulk are critical to many of the adventures I go on. Sharing lens is one way to minimize the combined weight and bulk.

With the advancements in technology in both the “real” and mobile camera worlds, photography is all about the art of seeing and feeling. It is a lot less about the gear in my honest opinion. For any photographer to stand out in today’s world of social media, you need to find your unique vision and passion. Gear is just the tool.

I also get that I just said I upgraded to the mirrorless system. Although I love the upgrade in technology, my goal was to lessen the weight and bulk in my pack.

Bow Glacier, Cirque Peak

Bow Glacier, Cirque Peak

As with any other art form, photography requires hard work, patience, and a special talent. When you are in the field, how do you know that the image you are taking is just right? You talk about seeing and feeling a photo. Are there certain elements for which you are looking? What are your determining factors when deciding which images you choose to share and represent you as an artist?

Photography as an art form is all about seeing, feeling and believing. Whether it is in the field, culling my images, processing them and deciding on which ones to share in printed form or on social media, it is all about listening to what excites me in my heart and gut as you say. I find I get myself into real trouble when I listen to my brain. The what, where, when and why of all my stories is from the heart and gut. The brain is the how to execute the steps.

Trifecta, Unnamed Glacier

Trifecta, Unnamed Glacier

I too am of the belief that as an artist much of what we do is based on a feel we have towards the vision of a piece. One of the powerful things about photography is the experience. Travel plays a significant role in your career. What places are most memorable for what about these locales really stood out for you as a photographer?

I have been extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to travel to a number of places in the world in a previous career, on my holidays and through photography. Notwithstanding my travel, the place that remains my favourite is the Canadian Rockies, which is just on my doorstep. There is no other place that I have experienced that offers the diversity in activities, scenery, and pure enjoyment.

My second fondest memory comes from my trip to Greenland in 2016. I instantly fell in love with the artic and everything that it has to offer. The people were so friendly; the 50 to 100-meter-tall icebergs (above sea level so 1 km in total) were mind blowing and perhaps the most magnificent coastline I have had the pleasure to witness. Hiking along the massive cliffs in Qeqertarsuaq (Disko Island), felt like I was in some fantasy movie like Lord of the Rings.


It seems evident to me that you embody photography in everything that you do. I understand that you teach photography in a unique context, as you provide photography lessons through guided tours in the wilderness. How did this venture come together?

As with all businesses, entrepreneurs need to develop a business model, products and services that are unique. I firmly believe that you are at your best in delivering those products or services when you are passionate about them. There is nothing more exciting for me than exploring the mountains with family and friends. I want to spread the joy with others who visit the Rockies.

In viewing your work, landscape photography is your primary focus. What is it about landscapes and nature itself that you love as an artist?

The love affair with the mountains and nature starts with the need for therapy time. I have had mental health challenges on many occasions in the past. I have found one of the top three things I can do to help myself remain happy and healthy is spending time with friends and/or family exploring the mountains. I call it my Mountain Therapy. There is just something about the fresh air and seeing the majesty of what nature has created that gives me joy.

The photography side of things is secondary. I always have a camera with me but for me the main thing is getting out and enjoying the moments that nature offers. I found that when I went out with the mindset of having to get the next award-winning shot, I would always come home disappointed, frustrated and/or sad.

I find that each artist has a piece that he or she has created that is special to him or her. You mention that for you capturing the perfect photo is not your goal. That being said is there a specific photo that has special meaning for you?

A great question and to be honest I have not given it much thought. My favourite shot seems to be the next one that excites me. However; if you were to pin me down, my favourite shot is what I call Nature’s Sculpture. It is part of my Below the Peak series, which celebrates the more intimate beauty and moments the Canadian Rockies offers below a mountain peak.

We were exploring Dome Glacier a few years ago in search of ice caves, when we came across a massive snow structure sandwiched between two large sections of the glacier. We had to crawl under it to continue our journey. After crawling under the structure, I rolled onto my belly and immediately said I had to capture this unique sculpture created by nature. It just amazed me how snow, ice, wind, rain, and sun collaborated to create such an amazing piece of art.

For me, it is the uniqueness of this moment (highly unlikely to have been seen and/or captured by others given it would have melted a few months later) and the intriguing way nature created it. As I mentioned it is part of my Below the Peak series, which I am very excited about as it tells the stories of the unique moments of beauty and interest when you look beyond or below a peak.

Nature’s Sculpture is both a beautiful and powerful image. Are there any landscape photographers who have influenced your work or inspired your art?

There are so many great photographers, both professional and amateur that I follow, admire and that have influenced me in some small way. Most of them are from Offbeat Photography, a group created by my wonderful friends Dave Brosha and Paul Zizka. I attended a black and white portrait workshop hosted by Dave in 2015. This workshop inspired me to get into landscape black and white photography. Paul’s thirst and passion for adventure has inspired me to move beyond the road and your standard hikes to explore the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies. In fact, it is Paul who inspired me to try climbing for the first time in 2020 after saying no way in hell for many years.

Nature's Sculpture

Nature’s Sculpture

What message and or do you have for aspiring photographers, especially for those who do not have the budget to have a full photography set up?

As I noted above, in today’s marvelous world of technology, to be successful and happy in photography, no matter if you are shooting for yourself or a client, you have to find what makes your heart go pitter-patter or what gives you the feeling of butterflies on a first date. What are you passionate about? I can almost guarantee you that you can capture those stories on any camera set up, be it a mobile phone, introductory DSLR or a professional mirrorless. As a recovering accountant, I firmly believe that anyone with a true passion for photography and time to explore it can create amazing art.

Those are words of wisdom. Lee, I am glad that we got to connect and learn about your work. I look forward to seeing your next series of works. In closing, can you tell us about your Adventure Fifty 3’s initiative? How this will influence future locales for your photography?

I am super excited to have been part of this discussion about photography and the outdoors. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

In terms of my Adventure Fifty 3’s project, it is more about motivating and inspiring me to continue to explore the Canadian Rockies, from the valley floor to the summits. At the end of the three years, my goal is to have summited 50 peaks, explore 50 glaciers and experienced 50 below the peak adventures through as many different mountain adventure activities as possible. This includes ones that challenge my fear of falling.

My choices of locations will be based on my desire to explore the Rockies from the farthest points, north, south, west, east, valley bottoms and tops of the peaks. The camera will of course come along with me in the hopes I can capture those special moments offered by nature.

It is evident that Lee’s journey will continue and with it, powerful new photographs are sure to follow. To keep up with Lee and his work, you can visit his website and his social media pages: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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