It’s rare that an international business major leaves the corporate world to pursue a career in photography. But North Carolina-based photographer Chip Laughton’s talent is also rare, which ended up making his career change a smart one. Dubbed “the storyteller” from those who knew him growing up, Laughton would later surf all over the US, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, avidly photographing those outdoor adventures shared between him and his friends.
After catching some shots that captured those moments in time perfectly,
Laughton was told by friends that he should start submitting his photographs to magazines — that they looked like they would be in print. Brushing off the idea while brushing up on the basics of international business, Laughton never saw photography as a possible career choice. Business was a much more dependable path.
As fate (or luck) would have it, Laughton’s company shut down the division he was working in, leaving him without a job and scrambling for a “plan B.” After a bewildered conversation with his sister, she offered some advice that couldn’t have come at a better time: “Now’s your chance,” she said. “Take your camera and do something with your photography.” His wife agreed that he should do something he loves this time, and within the span of a few hours, the idea for Days Afield Photography was born.
Since then, Laughton has become a regular contributor to over a dozen publications and sells his images to other businesses creating catalogues, calendars, advertising campaigns and websites. He also has an agency — Windigo Images — that markets his work to the outdoor industry. The true lifeblood of his images, however, comes from his private clients — clients who bring him along on their outdoor adventures with friends or family to photograph the experience.
His list of clients steadily grows and now ranges from a group of friends pheasant hunting in the Dakotas to conservation groups on fly fishing trips to some great river. He has even been invited to Alaska to shoot the Iditarod sled dog race. Spending from three days to a couple of weeks with clients, chronicling their entire adventure, Laughton then edits the images; writes a story of the trip; and gives his client a full color, glossy coffee table book as a memento.
Q: Why did you choose photography as your primary medium to tell stories?
C: “Well, for one thing, a picture is worth a thousand words and I can be a bit long winded. Photography was something that came pretty natural to me. Other than a few online courses when I switched from film to digital, I am pretty much self-taught.”
Q: What type of shot do you capture best?
C: “I love still images and capturing that one moment in time. To me, it leaves more to the imagination. When one of my images is hanging on a client’s wall or one of my coffee table book commissions is sitting in their living room, and someone asks a question about it, a thousand memories are going to pour out of that one moment in time.
Each of those images is a story, in itself. The memories a photograph can bring out are why I do this.”
Q: As an outdoor sports and recreation photographer, where were your favorite places to shoot and why?
C: “It’s not where, but what. Sporting dogs, upland and waterfowl hunting and flyfishing…being chest deep in the water of some swamp or marsh with my lens just above the water’s surface, shooting retrievers as they hit the water. Or crawling on my hands and knees through briars and bushes trying to get in front of a pointer or setter locked up tight on a woodcock…the smoky breath surrounding them as they take in the scent.
Sitting in a duck blind at first light with the sound of whistling wings overhead, dogs panting and duck calls. The heart-stopping moment of a cackling rooster pheasant jumping up in front of you…these are magical moments in time. Something like that is heaven to me.”
Q: What’s your favorite camera to use when shooting?
C: “Brand of camera is not that important. I happen to be a Nikon guy. I shoot with DSLRs for work, but I have just as much fun using a point and shoot or my iPhone. Actually, I am kind of addicted to the iPhone panoramic feature.”
Q: When not shooting others’ outdoor adventures, where do your own adventures take you?
C: “I am an avid outdoorsman, training my dogs, upland and waterfowl hunting and fly-fishing. I live in the mountains in North Carolina with my wife, Kelly, and I am currently down to one dog: my lab, Zach. So a lot of my own adventures are right in my backyard. Even when I am not working, I rarely leave the house without some type of camera.”
Q: Any advice for amateur photographers on getting the best outdoor recreation shot?
C: You are telling a story with your pictures. Tell that story from a different point of view. If you want your shots to stick out, do not just stand there and take a picture like everyone else. Get down on your knees, lie down and change your perspective when you are taking a picture.”
Q: What else should we know about you?
C: “I probably will never get rich as a photographer, but I get to live a rich life. I have been pretty fortunate to have a career doing something I love. I get great joy watching people’s reaction to my images and books I do for them. Being able to create memories of someone’s “days afield” is my reward. I am thankful for the support of my family, friends and all of my clients.”
An Interview with Chip Laughton
Story by Tonya L. Thompson | Photos by Chip laughton