Meet the Photographer: Durand Johnson

2011 National Wildlife Photo Contest: Landscapes and Plant Life, First Place

03-13-2012 // Laura Tangley
Durand Johnson, First Place Winner, 2011 National Wildlife Photo Contest

Utah-based Durand (Duke) Johnson grew up on a small farm in rural North Dakota, which allowed him to be outside almost every day—and night. "I have been enthralled with the night sky since I was a child," Johnson says. "As long days stretched into nights, I would often stay out even later, not wanting to abandon the beautiful sky."

Johnson’s work provides a fresh perspective on some of the nation's best-known and most-visited places. "I have begun to visit our national parks at night to shoot the Milky Way and constellations over iconic features," he says. "Hours of pre-planning shots and using my knowledge of the cycles of the sun and the moon enable me to be in just the right place at the right time."

Recently, Johnson mastered a technique that allows him to keep stars tack sharp while simultaneously exposing the foreground—a time-intensive process that produces images that are unique in both composition and quality. "Panoramic images of these amazing landscapes are among my favorite works," he says. "The images make you feel like you are part of that environment, if only for a short time." To learn more about Johnson and see additional images, visit


NWF: Why did you enter NWF’s Photo Contest?

DJ: I love nothing more than being out in nature. Each year, I enjoy seeing many of the thousands of entries in NWF’s contest representing some of the most beautiful places on Earth. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to share some of what I get to see with many other people.

The Milky Way over bristlecone pine, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

The Milky Way over Ancient (at least 1600 years old) Bristlecone Pine at Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

NWF: Can you describe briefly the circumstances behind the making of your contest-winning photograph?

DJ: My wife and I were at the end of a seven-day photography trip to Bryce Canyon, Zion, the Wave and the Page Arizona area and were exhausted because we’d been up most every night doing astrophotography (usually sleeping just an hour or two) and then shooting during the day as well because it was too hot to sleep. The entire trip had been planned to allow us to have the moon and the Milky Way in the right position for this shot at the end of our trip—provided it was clear.

2011 National Wildife Photo Contest Winner

First Place, Landscapes and Plant Life, 2011 National Wildlife Photo Contest

Though the weather forecast for Monument Valley was not great, we still decided to go back home the long way to detour by the valley just in case. Fortunately, we were lucky, and the clouds stayed away. After about a two-hour wait, we were able to capture the rising arc of the Milky Way over Monument Valley just minutes before the first-quarter moon set. The low moon cast red light onto the landscape, enhancing the rocks’ natural color.

Trees on a cliffside, Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park

Trees clinging to a cliffside surrounded by
mist from nearby Vernal Falls in Yosemite
National Park, California

NWF: Do you think that photography can promote wildlife conservation? If so, how?

DJ: The only way that many people get a chance to experience beautiful places is by seeing photographs, whether in magazines or on the web. When I’m out shooting photos, I’m always amazed at the wide variety of wildlife that inhabits unique environments.

If people can become aware of stunning landscapes, they are much more apt to make decisions that support keeping these wildlife habitats as they are. This keeps the resources available for all of us as well as for generations to come.


More Nature Photography





Related PhotoZone Resources
    Flickr Icon           Facebook Icon           Twitter Icon           YouTube Icon   
Certify your yard today!