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Field Notes Special Edition Exposed: One Man's Dream Of Becoming A Human Drone

Foreword by Erik Hogan

This week I offer you a cross-post from Wildhood Wanted, a publication by Kristi Keller. She has been one of the strongest supporters of Field Notes since early on. If you aren’t already familiar with her, Kristi is a travel writer with subject matter expertise in Jamaica. Her experiences and narratives in Wildhood Wanted are insightful, compassionate, and very, very funny. I encourage you all to subscribe!

A while back Kristi reached out to me over the possibility of an interview. She sent me a list of humorous yet savvy questions, which I attempted to answer with my own creativity and humor. I learned a lot about myself in the process, including the need to edit when my thoughts get lost in the weeds. But, I think it turned out very well!

By Kristi Keller

Don't be surprised when you see large crowds emptying their pockets in a desperate plea to purchase his work

Welcome to my first Substack interview EVER!

I can’t even remember how I stumbled onto Erik Hogan who writes and produces Field Notes. I say “produces” because every single one of his weekly newsletters is a whole production of mood-inducing photography, words, and occasional video compilations of his adventures in the wild.

Who better to interview for a publication about Wildhood? Plus, I am ALL IN on supporting those pursuing their passions wholeheartedly.

I believe it was after reading Erik only once or twice that I immediately hit the “pledge your support” button. The amount of work he puts into his newsletter is staggering.

So, here we go! Below this Narnia-like waterfall is Erik in a nutshell…or should I say waterproof tent shell?

© Erik Hogan

Where are you originally from and where do you currently live?

I was born and raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia, USA.  When my parents originally moved there it was so far out in the country that my Mom was afraid that if her car broke down there wouldn’t be another person around to help her.  However, by my freshman year in high school urban sprawl from Atlanta had taken over the area, bringing people and development and the associated crime and pollution.

I went to college at The University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, about a one-hour drive east of Stone Mountain.  This place had a small-town, quirky, artsy feel that I really enjoyed, and it was at UGA that I met my wife, Heather. 

After graduating, I had a failed attempt to move to New York City and we then lived in Atlanta for a short stint before I realized that I hated big city life.  Heather wanted to return to school, so we returned to Athens, where we stayed.

Is photography your profession or mainly a hobby?

I would say that photography is a profession I do in my spare time and don’t get paid for.  Or perhaps it could be a hobby for which I prioritize the majority of my time, creative energy, skill development, and education.  The lines here are blurred.

As I was beginning to get seriously interested in photography, part of the appeal was all the Google search results telling me how easy it was to sell stock photos and prints on the internet as a side hustle.  This sounded ideal.  It would allow me to spend time doing the things I enjoy and make money at it while having complete separation from my day job.  With that premise in mind, I was all in.

The key here is doing it as something I enjoy.  Otherwise, I could make money much easier by just picking up overtime.  So, I stayed away from the more lucrative fields of photography such as portraits or wedding photography because I’m not interested in them.  Yet here I am, several years down this path, with very, very little monetary success.  

To this day, I attribute the main reason for this as simply not being good enough.  It drives me to seek to improve.  I have this belief that at some point I will have a large print on a coffee shop wall that will draw crowds from all around, crying and emptying their pockets in a desperate plea with the barista to purchase it for any amount they can give.

In all seriousness, I was already committed by the time I realized how saturated the market for landscape photos is.  Google’s promises were lies.  The proliferation of cell phone cameras, social media, and easy access to stunning locations has combined to make jaw-dropping images very commonplace.  Why would someone purchase a digital download when they can hop on Instagram and scroll through millions of similar images for free?

I have yet to sell a print online.  A couple of people have purchased digital downloads on 500px, which netted me less than $3.  But, I did create a calendar this year and earned almost $100 through sales, so the trend is positive! 

I have faith in myself that I will have success in the long run, if I keep at it.  So, is it a profession?  Maybe not enough of one to allow me to quit my day job anytime soon, but it is definitely a worthwhile endeavor for me!

© Erik Hogan

With photography in mind, if you had a choice between two superpowers, would you choose flying or invisibility?

(Human drone or sneaking into the Whitehouse undetected 😂)

I would choose flying, without question.  I primarily shoot landscapes, which is all about perspective.  Sometimes I get very low to the ground, with a flower or rock close up in the foreground.  Other times I climb up on things to shoot downward.  It's a game of seeing the world from a different view than the standard roughly 5 to 6 ft off-the-ground view our eyes normally provide.

Drone photography currently provides incredible views from high above the earth.  Unfortunately, at their current technological level, drones are very loud and incredibly disruptive in the wilderness.  In many wildernesses, they are banned.  I have encountered them on several occasions on backpacking trips and it was so off-putting that I have resolved not to use them.

Having the ability to fly would be a game-changer!  I would absolutely love to take photos from the perspective of high above the landscape.  Even just a view unobstructed by trees would open up a staggering amount of available compositions.  And this doesn’t even mention the benefit of being able to scout locations without having to trudge for miles through the forest just to get there.

Unless I have to flap my arms rapidly in order to fly.  That would make it hard to take photos and would be kind of pointless.  

© Erik Hogan

When you're out in the wilderness on a shoot for days, what is your motivation to be out there? What is your biggest fear? What's your biggest annoyance?

The wilderness is hallowed ground.  I love the physical challenge, including the discomfort, uncertainty, and danger.  Exposure to these gives one perspective and insight into the world and into life itself.  It is a critical component of making art.

Those hardships are intertwined and inseparable from the paramount beauty of the natural world, manifest in sunsets over remote mountain ridges or cascading waterfalls.  To truly love one, you must love the other as well.  Being in the wilderness, for me, is a privilege.  This is the world I was made for, not the modern purgatory of hourly wages, municipal government online training sessions, and crippling taxes.

Fears are plentiful in the wild.  I worry about being underprepared for unexpected weather, or an injury like tweaking my lower back or twisting an ankle.  Running across unscrupulous people far away from witnesses is always a concern. 

One big fear for me is sleep.  Backpacking is an exhausting activity.  There is a good reason that 9 pm is called ‘backpacker midnight.’  But, falling asleep means surrendering all agency and control of your destiny.  Any creature or weather system can approach as you slumber, completely unaware.  This never gets easier for me.  Every night I have to leave my survival in the fates’ hands for several hours as I succumb to exhaustion.

The other fear is returning to civilization and the possibility that I failed to capture the photos that I intended.

The biggest annoyances are all gear-related.  I accept the discomforts as part of being outdoors.  However, I am there to take photographs.  In the humidity of the early morning lenses fog up.  Sometimes I catch it and can wipe them, but there have been others when I photographed for quite a while before noticing. 

Batteries always seem to drain incredibly fast, especially in the cold.  The chargers and power banks to keep them topped off are heavy and never enough.

If you were shipwrecked alone on an island and your basic human needs (food & water) were taken care of, what THREE other items would you want with you?

Ok, this sounds like I’m in it for the long haul!  Photography is a non-starter.  I’d need way more than three items and have no way of sharing the images.  

First, I’d need entertainment.  I’ve seen enough of the History Channel series Alone, about survival in the wild, to know that everyone breaks when their minds run out of fun things to think about.  So, I would need a book.  But, which one?  Maybe something to help me live a good life, despite my circumstances, like Seneca’s letters or Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.  Or, perhaps a collected volume of poetry, just to have a variety of perspectives to read over time.  No, the best bet would probably be a Calvin and Hobbes comic book.

Item number two is critically important.  It has to be a pillow.  When I was young I could throw myself on the ground to sleep and wake up just fine.  Not so anymore!  These days sleeping outdoors means tossing and turning all night, just to wake up in the morning with a crick in my neck and not be able to look to the left for the entire day.  A pillow helps!

I think anyone familiar with my adventure stories knows what item three is.  Coffee.  We might as well move this up to number 1.  But wait!  Some might argue that coffee involves more than just one item.  You need the coffee itself, a filter, something to boil the water in and a cup to catch it and drink it from.  I don’t care.  I am taking all of those things with me and I’ll fight anyone who tries to stop me!

© Erik Hogan

How long have you been a photographer and what was your inspiration to start?

I have had a creative inclination ever since childhood.  I took art in high school and a photography class.  This was in the mid-1990s before digital photography existed.  I learned all about processing film and making prints in a makeshift darkroom.  It was fun, but I never considered it as a career and when high school was over, so was my access to a darkroom.  I left photography behind.

I continued to sketch and draw as a hobby.  The problem is that it is very time-consuming.  When I’m hiking or backpacking I’m moving from location to location and rarely have the time to sit and draw.

Injury is what flipped the page.  I tore my ACL at work in 2019 and ended up at a light duty desk job for about 9 months leading right into Covid lockdowns.  I found a Nikon DSLR digital camera that belonged to the unit I was assigned to in a drawer.  Nobody working in the unit even knew it was there.  So, I kept it for a while out of boredom and curiosity and began to remember how to work a camera.

I learned that adventure photography was a thing and checked out library books by Galen Rowell and others.  There was so much to learn, and I was hooked!  When I was able to hike again I took that Nikon up one North Georgia mountain with me.  I had a blast and took some interesting photos, but was worried the whole time because the camera wasn’t mine and I was very afraid of breaking it.  Later that year I was able to get my own camera.  Ever since it has been a process of going further, learning more, thinking deeply, and just getting creative.

Since you're a spectacular nature and landscape photographer, if you were a tree, which kind would you be and why?

Trees are fascinating!  I have never seen the giant sequoias, but their size seems incomprehensible.  Then, there is the grove of aspen trees in Utah.  They share a connected root system and are considered the largest living organism on earth.

I have taken many photos of trees over the years, which I categorize as Tree Portraits.  Each species and individual tree has its own characteristics that make it stand out.  

As a photographer and explorer, though, BEING a tree might be an archetype of tragedy.  I would choose to be the type of tree that stands on a prominence on a mountain top, looking out over the land.  I would be the type I’ve photographed, rising silhouetted against the colorful palette of pre-dawn clouds.  I would be the type of tree that has the most ideal vista to watch the earth evolve over countless changing seasons.  

The tragedy is that I would have roots.  Does it bother trees that they are limited to the same view at the same spot for their entire lengthy lives?  What if they aren’t friends with their neighbor trees, or just want to see what’s right over that other hilltop?  Maybe trees aren’t bothered by things that are out of their control.  I think that is the type of tree I would like to be - the one that is content with where it's at.

What advice would you give to a wanna-be photographer who only had $1000.00 to spend on gear?

(Kristi speaking here…I had to laugh at the following answer because it’s completely Greek to me. I’d never start photography based on this! 😂)

Photography is expensive, so this is tough!  I’m going to presume that this is oriented to the type of photography I do, rather than something like sports, real estate, or wedding photography.

The obvious first item of necessity is a camera.  I will focus on the DSLR type.  Megapixels are great, but not everything.  The camera sensor should be a big consideration.  This is essentially the piece that catches the light and translates it into digital data. 

Generally speaking, bigger is better.  Full frame sensors are standard for most professional photographers and equate to 35mm film.  With full frame you get better dynamic range, meaning more shadow detail without blowing out the highlights, and greater depth of field.  However, they are more expensive and likely to surpass this budget unless a used one can be found.  This mainly leaves us with what is known as a crop sensor.  These sensors are marginally smaller, but still offer good results.  There are many solid mid-range options available here that come with versatile kit lenses.  It is important to know that when you purchase a camera you are buying into a camera system that includes the options for lenses available down the road.  Canon is a good choice because of the variety of Canon and off-brand lenses to choose from.  My choice of camera was the Pentax K70.  It is an older model now, but is considered an upper mid-range crop sensor DSLR.  A major reason for choosing this one was that it is renowned for being rugged and has weather sealing, unlike most cameras in this price range.

Other camera types to consider would be a mirrorless camera or a micro four-thirds.  Mirrorless have the same sensor options as DSLRs, but different internal mechanisms.  They tend to be smaller than DSLRs and camera technology is moving in that direction, but they are more expensive and I don’t have first-hand experience with one.  Micro four-thirds use a tiny sensor and internal computer-aided photo processing to produce impressive results.  Olympus, now OM Systems, is the pioneer in this field.  These cameras are less expensive than top-of-the-line DSLRs or Mirrorless cameras, but since they are cutting edge technology, still mainly outside of this budget.  My recommendation would be to choose a mid-range crop sensor DSLR.

There are several important accessory items to consider after obtaining the camera.  First would be a solid tripod.  For low light and long exposure conditions, this is indispensable.  The heftier the tripod, the more stable it will be and therefore the sharper the images will be.  But the trade-off is weight and portability.  Next, I would consider lens filters.  A circular polarizer cuts through glare and enhances colors, especially in wet conditions.  A neutral density filter will allow for longer exposures to smooth out water or create creative streaking in clouds.  Decent filters should be available at a relatively inexpensive price.

Finally, a computer program will be necessary to process the photo files.  Adobe offers a photography plan that includes Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.  It is available as a monthly subscription at a reasonable price.

Cliff Notes Version: Ultimately, the best camera is simply the one that is with you.  Learn about composition and what makes a compelling image.  Learn about contrast, color, and texture in a picture.  Find photographers you admire and study their photos.  With knowledge of creating compositions a cell phone or point-and-shoot pocket camera can create very interesting pictures!

© Erik Hogan

Why did you start Field Notes on Substack?

I had been trying to promote my photography through Instagram and other social media outlets for several years.  I worked hard and tried to keep up a daily posting regimen to stay visible.  It seemed that I was tossing all of my efforts into a void where they vanished after getting just a handful of views.  I never gained much of a following and never got ‘discovered’ with brand endorsements, sponsorships, or any of the other things you dream of with social media success.

I tried a couple of other avenues for a blog, experimenting with writing more about my photography.  No platform really stuck until I discovered Substack.  I was immediately drawn to the idea of owning all of my content, being able to reach every person who chose to subscribe to me and a simple path to monetization.

I started Field Notes with the idea of giving my photography more relevance to people by writing about its context and back story.  This quickly developed into a passion for creative writing.  I got a college degree in English with the idea of being a nature writer.  Unfortunately, I had very little life experience at the time and this wasn’t a paying career for a recent graduate.  Fast forward twenty-some years and I now have a lot of experience, with the scars to validate it.  My careers have required me to write many reports, clearly and concisely so that they can be read and understood sometimes years later.  Unwittingly, I ended up with a great background as a photographer/writer.  

It was rough at first, but the writing in Field Notes began to flow and, I think, continues to improve.  The adventure stories of my backpacking trips quickly became favorites, fun and easy to write.  I included many photos in these to help tell the bigger story.  I’ve also gotten more experimental with creative prose, poetry, and some rough philosophical writing.  Also, each issue of Field Notes seems to give my photography a stage.  

Just recently, I finished compiling the adventure stories from this past year into an ebook that I’m offering for free to subscribers.  The more energy I put into Field Notes, the prouder I become of it.  I’m very excited to see where it will lead!

Can you teach our readers something in just ONE sentence?

Wisdom must be earned through experience.

(Kristi speaking again….this advice is brilliant!)

Erik Hogan is a photographer who primarily shoots landscape, wilderness, and nature scenes in the Athens area.

Follow on Instagram @erikhoganphotography Erik's sketchbook includes a look behind the scenes, with an option to purchase a limited number of prints through the link in his bio. htttps://erikhoganphotography.com.

Subscribe to his Field Notes at

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