Seize the Moment with Travel Photographer Dan Wheeler
By Tim Cotroneo
During Dan Wheeler’s first life as a telecommunications consultant, his view of the world rarely ventured beyond the inside of hotels and corporate boardrooms. Today Wheeler’s travel photography career means he bounces out of bed knowing his camera lens will capture some of the most stunning views on the planet.
For the past decade, Wheeler’s travel calendar has circled dates that included stops at the white sand beaches of pristine islands, panoramic scenes from epic mountainscapes, and the majestic views from 5-star resort balconies. A day in the life of this Colorado native begins with the sun rising, ends with the sun setting, and includes all of the spontaneous happenings in between.
Wheeler was asked to offer a glimpse inside his travel photography journey. He also shared what he likes best about a profession that captures amazing one moment in time images.
Q: Where are you based?
A: I’m based near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains outside of Boulder, CO.
Q: How did you get started in photography?
A: My photography passion didn’t really get going until 2002 when my girlfriend (now wife) bought me my first digital camera, a Canon Powershot G2. Digital cameras changed the game. They allowed me to start experimenting with camera modes other than auto.
At that point in my life, I was hiking and climbing mountains around Colorado. The scenery was spectacular, so naturally I wanted to capture these moments. From that point on, I began taking my camera on every new adventure, and I’ve never looked back.
Q: Do you remember when photography turned into more than a hobby in your life?
A: Very much so. My first career was in technology consulting. It was great work. I learned a lot and met so many good people. But, after nearly 20 years of consulting, I hit a wall as a result of the business travel, the long hours, and juggling multiple clients. The complex projects just wore me down. I knew I had to make a change for my own health and wellbeing.
So, I made the difficult decision to retire from consulting, and sensed that this was one of those rare “crossroads” moments for me both personally and professionally. I could go with a practical career option that felt comfortable and stable, or I could attempt to make the leap into my true passion, travel photography, and give it my best shot. Well, nearly 10 years later, I’m very happy to report that I made the right choice! My work these days is the perfect mix of what I truly enjoy: using my camera gear, tapping into my creative side, traveling to exotic locations, and working with amazing people around the world.
Q: What is one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
A: I fell into the trap early on of thinking I wasn’t getting good pictures because of my camera gear. In reality, my picture quality had very little to do with the actual camera and had everything to do with how I was photographing. Over time, I realized that photography is much less about the gear, and much more about me. Don’t sweat the gear when you’re first starting. Instead, focus on some of the most important photography fundamentals such as a well composed shot, a captivating moment or subject, and amazing lighting. Even with a very basic/entry level camera …. if you can nail those things, you will be rewarded with some amazing shots.
Q: How do you educate yourself to take better pictures?
A: Hello YouTube! Kind of joking, but not completely. YouTube is such a treasure trove of great information, and there’s no shortage of wonderful how-to/tutorial type videos out there for photographers and filmmakers. But even with all the how-to videos, books, blogs, etc., nothing beats just getting out there and experimenting. I’m always trying out new things to see what sort of new compositions and techniques can be had. It’s a never-ending learning experience, which is what keeps things interesting and exciting for me.
Q: What is your photographic niche, and what is it about this niche that appeals, inspires and satisfies you?
A: My photographic niche is definitely travel photography. I specialize in creating digital content that brings out the very best of unique luxury resorts and villas from around the world. Why do I love it? Well, it’s pretty simple. It’s a combination of all the things I’m passionate about: photography, travel, beautiful locations, amazing people, new cultures, and the flexibility to maintain a very healthy balance between my work and my family. It’s honestly the perfect job for me …. and I wouldn’t stop working even if I won the Powerball jackpot!
Q: How did you start incorporating drone photography and video into your skill set?
A: Well, it’s actually the drone purchase that led me down the path of video/film-making. For quite some time, I was really torn about whether to buy a drone or not. I kept coming up with excuses (too loud, too much to carry, too easy to crash, will distract me from my other cameras, etc) or why a drone wasn’t the best idea for me. But every time I saw those aerial shots, I was so captivated. After a couple years of serious internal struggle, I finally decided to give it a shot, and it’s honestly been one of the very best additions to my camera bag.
The drone opened a whole new world of photo and video possibilities, and to this day, I still get those excited stomach flutters before every flight. Once I started collecting all this aerial video footage from my drone flights, I realized that while aerial video is great, you can’t build great travel videos with drone footage alone. So, to get some “ground level” views, I started shooting video on GoPro’s and my iPhone. Both of those were great for starters, but they also have their limitations. That’s when I finally decided to upgrade my main camera and decided to go with one of the new Z series cameras by Nikon. Thankfully, now I have the full arsenal of cameras to capture aerial, landscape, and even underwater footage. It’s funny to think that not too long ago, I was 100% a stills-only cameraman. Fast forward to now, and I probably spend nearly half my time on video projects. It all happened pretty fast, but I’m so happy it did!
Q: What are the typical preparations that go into your photographic shoots?
A: When I’m doing client work, I always try to have an up-front client session before arriving to the site to better understand what they’re hoping to get out of the photo shoot. That way we can loosely plan out the schedule and get organized beforehand. That also helps me understand what equipment I need to bring …. because traveling with everything I own becomes nearly impossible thanks to flight luggage requirements these days!
I also spend a lot of time trying to better understand when I’m most likely to experience the best natural lighting conditions. I look at things like sunrise/sunset times, weather forecasts, and even reviewing google earth to see detailed maps of areas I plan to shoot. And of course, I always like to check out social media sites like Instagram and YouTube before visiting. There’s so much amazing content out there, and it can be a huge help in becoming familiar with new locations when you’re only on site for a limited amount of time. Those social media sites also help challenge me to think through how I can capture something different and unique from what’s currently out there.
Q: Do you have an all-time favorite photo destination, and what is special about that place?
A: Oh wow, now that’s a tough one! I like to tell people that I love nearly every place I visit, because each place has its own unique qualities that make it great. But if I had to pick one place from a pure photographic standpoint, I’d have to say the island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. The lagoon there is one of the most magnificent I’ve ever seen. It is surrounded by picture perfect, palm-lined motus (small islands) that are fabulous for a picnic and a day of exploring. There is one motu called One Foot Island that is so photogenic I could literally spend a month camped out there and never get bored. It has got to be one of the most idyllic tropical locations on the planet.
Q: What do you try to say in your photographs?
A: My photography has always been about sharing the world as seen through my lens. My photos and videos are really just me telling my story: a collection of my experiences, feelings, and beliefs as I go through life. Ultimately, I hope that they serve to inspire, encourage, and guide others to get out there, seize life’s moments, and explore everything that this wonderful world has to offer.
Q: Can you think of a photographic moment where you thought, “Oh my, look at what I’m seeing!” Sort of a perfect photography scenario?
A: Oh, definitely. One moment that jumps out is a day trip I took from the beautiful Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort in Long Island, Bahamas. The General Manager lined up a day-long boat trip for a few of us that included snorkeling, reef fishing, sightseeing, exploring sea caves, and a picnic lunch stop at a “special” place, as he put it. Everything was incredible during the day, but when we pulled up to that special sandbar, I was completely floored. It truly felt otherworldly: the sun and breeze, the beautiful Bahama blues in the water, the perfect sand, a picnic lunch with cold beverages … and best of all, the entire sandbar was ours. Not another soul or boat in sight! I will never forget that moment. And the drone shots I got from that trip are to this day some of the most favorite photos that I’ve ever taken.
Q: What is on your photography calendar for 2024?
A: I am making a real effort to expand beyond some of my established locations in 2024. A few places that are on the target list include the Seychelles, Maldives, Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam. Of course, it will all depend on how the project schedule shakes out, but hopefully I’ll get to at least a few of those places. And of course, I have a very soft spot in my heart for all places Caribbean, and very much look forward to return visits to Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos. If all goes according to plan, 2024 will be the perfect mix of old and new … and the best year of travel photography yet!
Q: Anything I haven’t asked that you’d like readers to know about you or your photography?
A: Well, I guess I’d like to say thanks for this opportunity to share a little about myself. It’s been fun. I hope readers can relate to my story and maybe even learn a thing or two! I’d also like to say thank you to my family. They’ve put up with me on so many trips and adventures …. from waking them up in the hotel room at 4 A.M. so that I can gather up my gear to head out for the sunrise …. to delaying countless dinners so that I could be in just the right spot for sunset! They’ve been by my side the entire time, never complaining and always supporting me. Without their support, I most certainly wouldn’t have been able to chase my photographer dreams.
View more of Dan Wheeler’s amazing photography at https://www.whatmylenssees.us/