Ric Ergenbright Photography

Ric Ergenbright Photography

Ric Ergenbright has been a travel and landscape photographer for more than four decades. He has worked on assignment for National Geographic, Life, U.S. News, Audubon, Reader’s Digest, Outdoor Photographer, and many other publications, magazines, books, calendars, corporate reports, national ads and television shows. He is currently pursuing higher perspectives of the world through powered paragliding and remote controlled aerial photography while also writing his next major book. We caught up with the man behind the camera to learn more about his life as a professional photographer in Central Oregon.


Eastlake Framing (EF): How did you get started in photography?

Ric Ergenbright (RE): By osmosis. My father was a professional photographer, traveler, and writer, and I was heavily influenced by his passion for those pursuits. Of particular significance was his founding of America’s first photographic tour company in 1953, and the opportunity it gave me to take a semester off from college in 1964 to join one of his “Thru The Lens” tours to Japan. Although I’d grown up in a photographic environment, I didn’t see it as my life’s focus until I went on that trip. But that experience was a game changer, and I was hooked for life!

EF: Do you remember your first camera?

RE: Our first stop on the Japan trip was a large photographic store in Tokyo, and by the time we left I was $362 lighter, and the proud owner of a new Nikon F with 4 lenses and a bunch of accessories. That system lasted me until 1968, when I traded up to a complete Hasselblad system before leaving Germany as a still and motion picture photographer for the Army. In the decades that followed, I used systems by virtually every major manufacturer, and shot in large, medium, and small formats – both in film and digital – with an emphasis on panoramas. Most recently, however, I’ve been using a small Sony mirrorless camera mounted on a remote controlled quadcopter (sometimes called a drone) to capture hi-res aerial landscapes.

EF: How exactly does shooting with a quadcopter work?

RE: The “quad” is launched and controlled with a radio remote, and it can be flown either “line of sight,” where you’re just guessing what the camera is seeing, or with a video monitor that allows you to actually see through the lens of the camera. In that mode, called FPV, I’m able to control the camera as I would on the ground, but essentially get inside the camera and put it in the air above my subject. Being able to do that changes everything. For example, when I recently took my quadcopter out to the Painted Hills, which I’ve shot dozens of times (like any Central Oregon photographer), I saw a whole new world of colors and patterns and designs that I’d never seen before. It was amazing! Now, every place that I’ve photographed in the world is calling my imagination, and I want to go back and shoot it again from the air.

EF: Why did you make this transition?

RE: Basically, it was to stay alive as a photographer in today’s rapidly changing image creation marketplace. But it was also an opportunity to engage with a frequent childhood dream of soaring like a bird above the earth—not flying in a plane, but actually having wings and feeling the wind in your face. These goals merged a couple of years ago when I took a powered paragliding course at the Oregon coast, and became friends with Jared Leisek—an instructor who used his paraglider as a platform to produce some truly remarkable videos. Shortly thereafter, Jared stared working with X-PRO HELI in Bend, makers of a hi-end video quadcopter called the XP2, and it wasn’t long until I was using this technology as my new photo specialty.

In the past, it wasn’t necessary to have a specialty in the image licensing business (commonly known as stock photography), but today it is. The reason for that is the invention of digital photography and the exponential growth of the internet. Consider that today there are more camera equipped devices connected to the internet than there are people on the earth, or that more than 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day. Business-wise, this is a simple issue of supply and demand. There are just so many images available today that they have little perceived worth.

In the 80’s and 90’s, stock photography was a good business, but today it is only viable for those with a strong specialty. As one pundit put it, “This is a time to specialize or fossilize.” For me, that means putting my camera where there are no tripod holes – up in the air! It’s a field that’s getting a lot of attention lately, some good and some bad, so who knows how long it will last. But, for the moment, it’s really fun and I’m producing some exciting images. A few of them will be on display at the Eastlake event.

EF: Where else do you hope to shoot with the quadcopter?

RE: At first, mostly in the west; Death Valley, the four corners area, and other places known for their colorful landforms. I did an assignment for National Geographic in Monument Valley, and I’m hoping to revisit that next year. After that, wherever my wanderlust leads me!

EF: What is the most challenging part about what you do?

RE: Trying to keep up with the crazy pace of changes in the photographic industry. Ten or twenty years ago, nobody could have imagined where we are today. To keep up, let alone stay ahead, is important and really hard to do.

EF: How did you end up in Bend?

RE: When the travel industry was decimated by the 1979 recession, my wife and I began thinking about selling our photographic tour company and relocating outside California to concentrate on stock photography. To tease that daydream, I overlaid a circular acetate template on a National Geographic atlas, and moved it around various western state maps to find “the” spot that offered the highest density of great landscape material within a 400 mile radius. The winner was Sisters, Oregon and, having scratched that itch, I soon forgot about it.

A few years later, we were scouting a new tour to the Pacific Northwest and, coming into Central Oregon at sunset, our headlights hit a sign that said, “Sisters, 20 miles.” My mapping exercise came back in a flash, and we decided to stop and check it out. The following day, we explored the area then headed home via the Cascade Lakes Highway. It was love at first sight; and, by the time we got back to L.A., we had decided to make the move. And so we did, the very next year, in 1983. At the time, Bend had a population of 17,000. Now it’s close to 83,000. So things have definitely changed. What hasn’t changed, however, is its great location, its friendly population, the beauty of its immediate surroundings, and our love of being here.

EF: How long have you known Deb and what is your relationship with Eastlake Framing?

RE: Deb and I started our careers in Bend at the same time, and it’s been a delight to work with her over the last 30 years. Simply put, she is the most talented framing artist I’ve ever encountered, as the following statement from my print website makes clear: “Creating a “naturally perfect” environment for viewing a color photograph requires an exceptionally talented framing artist, and Deb Spicer of Eastlake Framing in Bend, Oregon, is the best I’ve ever encountered. With practical experience in custom color printing and photographic retouching, a profound knowledge of available materials, and extraordinary craftsmanship in applying them to a framing project, Deb is a key resource and invaluable partner in creating our Special Edition prints.”

Thanks for sharing your art with us Ric!

Get to know Ric and view his work at our next Artist Spotlight Event, Friday, June 13 from 5-8 pm.

RSVP to the event on Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/o6merqr

Eastlake Framing is located at 1355 Galveston Avenue in Bend, Oregon. Subscribe to our newsletter to ensure you don’t miss other great features on local artists and shows!

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