An interview with Rick Aeschliman: What photography takes: timing, place and artistic talent |

An interview with Rick Aeschliman: What photography takes: timing, place and artistic talent

Jim Bair
Special to The Union

It’s not unusual for some of us to wake up one morning and want to be an artist. After all, art is thought to be the ultimate in free self-expression. Pursuing that desire often meets with a rude awakening such as needing to make a living, but the desire to create things of beauty lurks on.

So it is with Rick Aeschliman whose lurking talent got very serious long before he became a winning photographer.

But it wasn’t art for art’s sake. Growing up in Pasadena, Rick headed out on camping trips with his father at an early age. While the delight of things outdoors such as fishing and hiking was fulfilling, the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains inspired him. Wanting to record the beauty of nature, by age 10 he began painting. Before he knew it, he was an art major at San Jose State University.

While a freshman, he studied painting composition. An encouraging professor suggested that he create a logo for a specialized car company in competition with hundreds of other aspirants. He won and began being recognized for his mastery of light and color. What could stop him from painting, especially for capturing nature to share with and inspire others?

Money. One day as a sophomore, he was part of a group being asked, do you want to make a living? If so, go to the other side of the room, if not stay where you are. His move to the “other side” was totally pragmatic, majoring in finance and getting a BS degree. So on with life, marriage, and a career with companies like FMC as a financial analyst and strategic planner.


Decades passed applying the lucrative skills of finance and accounting, and getting a position with Grass Valley Group. Living in the foothills not only afforded Rick and his wife wonderful access to the Sierra, but also the dream home. They built a house on acreage that’s a work of art in itself, one that Frank Lloyd Wright would be proud of, and has an apple orchard, vineyard, and, no kidding, a bear. If you have apples and are in the forest, the bears will come, so why not put a bushel of apples outside the gate for them? Whatever works, we hope.

With country living calling and retirement in the offing, art did more than lurk. As painters know, you can paint landscapes while in the outdoors setting (plein air), or take photos home to help remember the scene. For years, Rick used a “point and shoot” camera which was fine for reference while painting back in the studio. “After the Storm” is a beautiful example of a painting based on photographs.

One day, in a symbolic situation, a “celebration of life” for a deceased relative, Rick asked the event photographer about his big, fancy camera, a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex). Responding well to the curious artist, the photographer asked, do you want to buy it? So in 2016, Rick awoke as a photographer, with a fine Canon DSLR (6D) and the opportunity to invest in equipment like lenses, tripods, lights, and much, much more.

There’s a bit more to photography than equipment such as shooting at night. Rick had heard about the Nevada County Camera Club presenter, Jennifer Wu. She is an internationally renowned professional, distinguished as a “Canon Explorer of Light” (sponsored by Canon to speak around the world). She discussed how to do night photography, showing phenomenal night-time images of the universe, including a sky filled with the Milky Way and beyond.

Rick was hooked and it didn’t take him long to master the technicalities of night shooting. Rising Moon over Half Dome is a stunning example. But he had some help from apps, the first (Photopills) told him when the moon would rise in Yosemite Valley on that day and a second app (Skyguide) enabled him to hold up his phone to Half Dome and see exactly where the moon would rise. Rick was thrilled to catch a supermoon-rise from the solitude of Cooks Meadow.

In another night photography opportunity, Rick got unbelievable help from man’s interaction with nature— in a startling way. Fire, Tufa, and Stars was taken at the South Tufa (a tufa is a limestone tower formed by chemical reactions from under water springs) in Mono Lake. As if the night sky and low-level LED lighting from 200 feet away were not enough, an unprecedented orange glow became apparent in the northern sky. It was from the “Boot” forest fire near the town of Walker, California!

He had a truly unique photo, and said, “Although we had set up the shot ahead of time, we were gifted with an unplanned light. Unfortunately, in this case, it was caused by the carelessness of man.”

We note that shooting at night requires long exposures to capture the celestial bodies, but not too long (less than 30 sec.) or they will streak turning into lines instead of points of light.


Rick has learned well the importance of timing in nature photography. Pre-dawn hiking to a previously scouted point in the High Sierra, he caught the sunrise perfectly. As expected in the eastern Sierra, the 14,000-foot peaks of the Palisades began to glow first and he started shooting. For 15 seconds, the foreground lit up, as well as the Palisades, but the peaks nearest him stayed in darkness. A few seconds later the entire scene was in full sunlight ending the shoot but he had caught Sunrise on the Palisades in all its glory.

Rick’s path into photography is beginning to look very different from painting. While painting can reveal the magnificence of nature, photography reveals the preeminence of time. In other words, with painting, talent and imagination are paramount, but in nature photography timing is everything — well, almost. Consider this remarkable and stunning photo, Clearing Storm at Valley View, Yosemite Valley, which required braving a 2-foot snowstorm in February. Knowing where to shoot a Yosemite sunset is extra critical when a snowstorm is clearing. You can see from the photo why he chose the Valley View location, but he almost didn’t make it.

“We proceeded (toward Valley View] and suddenly came to a stop with several other cars,” he said. “A tree, heavy with snow had fallen across the road. I had a sinking feeling that my once in a lifetime shot was lost. I got out of the truck and found several resourceful and very motivated photographers hacking at the trunk of the ‘offending tree’ with small axes. After they got half way through the tree trunk, about six of us pulled the log in the opposite direction and it suddenly cracked and we were able to pull it to the roadside … nature treated us to a dazzling light show … A ray of light in the mist “pointed” directly at El Capitan and the rising moon added a nice dimension to the unfolding drama. It was breathtaking!”

We agree.

Getting to photographic locations is one of Rick’s specialties, and recognition of that ability lead him to becoming Field Trip Coordinator for the Camera Club which has approximately eight trips a year, some overnight. Combining timing and location lead to this striking photo, Sutter Buttes Sunset. As attendees on his trips have learned, have your camera ready, and the geese will fly (or other natural phenomena will grace your lens). This photo tied for “Photo of the Year” in 2018, Nevada County Camera Club, the top honor. We note for photography purists that none of Rick’s photos have had the color saturation pumped up in Photoshop of other software. In other words, these are the actual colors from the scene.

While much of a photographer’s success depends on “being there” in time and space, a deeper philosophy is also important. Rick is committed to finding artistry in nature and capturing places of beauty that create awareness in all those he can share with. Hopefully, these almost miraculous nature photos will encourage the preservation of natural places. Once we have been seen his photography, we do not want what was captured to ever be destroyed by development, and will join with Rick in the “celebration of nature.” See Rick’s site for more celebratory photos.

Jim Bair is a member and former vice president of the Nevada County Camera Club and has some of his award winning photos on

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