TWiP Family 049.5: Trey Ratcliff on Becoming an Artist

trey-cv-cardToday’s episode is an interview with Trey Ratcliff. Trey is known for his travel photography blog, Stuck in Customs, among many other things. In the interview, we talk about his new video series, Becoming an Artist.

Trey picked up a camera in his thirties and taught himself how to make photos that express the way he sees the world. He finds the process of making photographs meditative. What about the idea that when we are taking photos we’re not present? He says, “That’s a lie!” Trey says when he’s photographing his family, he is incredibly focused on the experience. What does he do with all those photos he takes of his kids? Trey shares a great idea for sharing family photos as magnets that can be rearranged throughout the year.

Trey explains what HDR photography is and what it is used for. And, we talk about a month long trip he recently went on with his family.

Just this month, Trey launched a new video course called, Becoming an Artist. Leave a comment on this post sharing something you are struggling with in your artistic path for a chance to win the series.

More about Trey Ratcliff: Website, Facebook, Google+, InstagramPinterest


  1. I enjoyed the episode. I struggle with finding that extraordinary image in the ordinary. Often, I am struck by incredibly interesting images that others make from what would otherwise be a mundane setting.

  2. I loved this episode! Ive only recently gotten into photography and have been tearing through anything I can learn from, so this episode was a great reminder to step back from the settings and the camera, and be more in the moment! Anyone in photography has heard of Trey, but to hear a bit more and how he taught himself gave me quite the inspiration to push even harder (but not to burnout lol). My main struggle is finding more time to grow and shoot!

  3. The struggle I’m dealing with now is how to monetize my passion. I can shoot portraits and headshots and while it’s better than working in an office all day it’s not really lighting my fire. My passion is for dramatic landscapes: waterfalls, mountain ranges, slot canyons, etc. I have 2 problems: 1.) I live in Louisiana, a flat swampy landscape devoid of all the things I love, and 2.)I don’t have money to travel to those places (I have 3 kids and mountain of student loan debt). I’m stuck between working a job that pays well and that slowly kills my soul for the promise of a vacation in some spectacular place and one day being debt free or living the life of an artist working in photography that I enjoy but maybe don’t love completely. I think I’m going to take path number 2.

  4. I’m really enjoying twip family. Keep it up. Fun to hear trey on here and discussing HDR and family.

    My biggest artistic struggle at this point is trying to focus on doing more with less. By that i mean trying to show off an event with only a few photos and not 30. For example birthdays, fun adventures with the kids on a hike or a trip to the grandparents. The albums are adding up haha.

    Thanks, keep up the good work!

  5. Congratulation Jenny on a great series of podcast, Trey’s conversation/interview was really great.

    I am looking to travel, to be out in nature, via the many places offered for artist in residencies and have put together a small workshop on Digital Photography for Artists, to provide a bit of impetus to the selection committee. I’ve only run this a few times but I am struggling with a question always I get asked. “Why does my painting from a photo look flat/boring/unexciting”. I usually get shown an example and yes accurate painting from photos can be very HoHum. It generally has little to do with their skills in the media, usually that is brilliant. In simple terms being there you will see a more vivid view, the average snapshot reduced this to a much flatter range of tones. I know it has a lot to do with Dynamic Range, which Trey explained very well, and I already do encourage them to take bracketed exposures and even try HDR. However I’m becoming aware that this is perhaps just part of the problem. Photographer are typical bias towards correctly recording the highlights (eg often exposing to the right) whereas in most art media (pencils, watercolour charcoal etc) it is about leaving the paper white and actually applying darker tones, which usually means concentration on the shadows. Whilst photographers move into the light, a painter needs to worry about the shadows to compose his image and let them create the highlights.

    I have also really enjoyed the 365 project, and you may have noticed a lot of my photos lately are photographs of shadows. I just can’t explain why I think this is important (yet).

  6. Great podcast! This was one of my favorites. I think I’m struggling with composition. I thought I had it down, but I feel like maybe that is what is missing from my photos.

  7. This was a phenomenal episode, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing you two banter about photos, family, travel, and even hearing Trey’s thoughts on medium format. I think you’re exactly right about travel, too. It certainly does have a soothing effect on people, and helps you see that there are a lot more ways of looking at the world than you might imagine.

    As for my struggles, this might seem kind of silly but right now my big one is trying to find new ways of photographing familiar scenes that I see every day. I have a lot of family and work obligations so I often visit the same places each day (i.e. home and work) and even though I know there are many photographic opportunities literally around every corner I kind of wish I could see my whole town with a fresh set of eyes for the first time.

  8. Thanks Jenny, wonderful episode, BUT too short. Wonderful to hear two of my favourite people, who I haven’t met, yet. I plan to listen or watch again. I feel I’m a fairly competent photographer, but always in too much of a rush, I could probably benefit from slowing down and taking fewer photos. Jenny’s 365 is helping in making me choose just 1 photo each day.

  9. Really interesting podcast! I recently started discovering like you said that there is more to photography than pointing and shooting. Right now I feel like I struggle the most with exposition and colors in my photo. I tent to oversaturate my pictures even though I try my best in lightroom to avoid it. Thanks for a great podcast! 🙂

  10. Hello from Cyprus. It is mind blowing how this podcast evolved. Thank you!!!

    Hopefully next month I will get my phd in AI and I will be having a lot of time to spend in photographing my family and the things I find interesting. My struggle is sort of my fear that I now that I will have more time to do the things I love I might loose my interest in photography since I will be expecting more from myself.

  11. WOW! I just finished this episode. Trey seems so approachable. Right now I struggle with my own voice. I really like doing long exposure shots, like waterfalls and light painting, but I feel like something is still missing. When I look at my photos I don’t always get that breathless feeling. That feeling is my Grail. Jenny, I love the show, I’m so glad I found you.

  12. I have a question for Trey, if he’s reading these 🙂 I really like the idea of getting family photos printed on magnets and putting them up on a special magnetic surface in the house! Where on earth do you get your photo magnets printed, though? The places I have found online seem to do these types of prints for special occasions (i.e. weddings, cards, etc.) and require fairly large quantities. I’d like to find an option that just does single prints or small quantities.

  13. I love the idea of printing on magnets. I do this all the time with instagram photos. I have a big white magnet board at home where we post all the photos.

    I’m struggling with finding my style, my voice. I still feel that even my best work is a copy of something I’ve seen before.

  14. I guess if Hasselblad let me ‘use’ a medium format camera, I too would like the photo better than the ones out of my 35mm full frame format camera…really…? I like to hear the ‘personal-side’ of Trey Ratcliff. Thanks for a great show .

  15. Great episode – listened to the first 20 min before work and could not wait to complete it! What I am struggling with? Self discipline and motivation.. When I take my camera out and start shooting I really enjoy it.. But to push myself to take it out of the bag and start creating art is a real struggle.. Shame on me :)) Thank you for a great show! Very inspirational!

  16. One of the things I have been struggling with is conveying the emotion of the scene in my photos. I just can’t capture that the way I want to.

  17. Really great episode. I always look forward to a new TWIP Family. I really admire how entrepreneurial Trey and Fredrick are and their willingness to take the risks to be successful photographers.

    I am struggling with finding time for my photography. I feel a bit awkward to carry a DSLR with me at all times. What do others carry to take advantage photo opportunities as they arise?

  18. Thank you again for another great episode! Such a fun chat, too. Search and Destroy really cracked me up; we could call our 6 and 4 year old boys the same.

    I am interested in street photography as I am very interested in human nature, observing people, and so on. But I am quite shy, careful, and approaching strange people with the camera is challenging for me. And, here where I live, in China, I cannot stay that “hidden” among people, as I am a blond, blue-eyed European. I cannot really stand out any more than I already do. The local people are so curious about foreigners.

  19. The best thing for me so far for motivation and self-discipline is a 365 project. Join us on the TWIP Family 365 project on Flickr or any other one for that matter and you’ll see what I mean.

  20. Hello to both of you. Just an idea. What about doing a show together:-) love the podcast you both have

  21. Thanks for the great show, once again! Btw, Jenny, I love the intros to your shows, where you let us have part in a typical small scene out of your everyday life. Makes me open my eyes about my own kid, and puts a smile on my face. Every time.

    As for the struggles I’m facing in my photography: they are of a technical nature. They are about making a shot stick out, making it pop, making it look like one of those calendar shots one would hang on the wall!

  22. Thanks for such a great interview! Really inspiring stuff and it drives me to want to get out and create more great content.

    Regarding struggles, and I’m sure many can relate, I’m struggling with making time to get out and create. I work full time in the afternoons and my wife and I have a 2 year old son, and she deserves as much time off as possible (she’s a wonderful stay at home mom) so we’re home most of the time. It’s a very busy situation that I’m sure a lot also experience. What kinds of things do people do the keep that passion for creating alive when so little changed from day to day?

  23. Hi Simon & Jenny , … & all

    In Australia Vistaprint do offer a range of magnetic photo product and individual item print runs. The photo is printed on a vinyl front with a sandwiched on magnetic layer behind and is thus thin and flexible. The ones Trey mentioned sounded like thick tiles. At the moment in Australia, at least, vistaprint offer a XL Photo magnet for AUD$9.99 for one on a largish size 292 by 222mm (roughly an A4 with some bleed edge removed for the NON USA folk, or roughly 12″ by 8.5″ if you are USA based). A simple way to get more value, ie get more photos, is to create a collage of several images and then cut up the magnetic sheet with a Stanley Knife to liberate the individual images you want.

    Vistaprint often gets bad press from photographers but they focus on products for business and their quality if fine. Especially since a magnetic photo board is meant to be handled (not a “do not touch” art work). When I had a batch of business cards printed about 4 years ago I got a sample car door magnet printed and that spent about 2 years on the car (including car washing) under the harsh Australian sun and perhaps did fade a little but still looks fine. The vinyl surface is easy to clean.

    In Australia Dulux and Resene (a brand via Masters) do still sell a non toxic magnetic paint (Targeted at kindergarten’s and pre-school center’s walls).

  24. Hi Bruno – So glad you enjoy the intros. I have fun with them as I’m sure you can tell. There is no shortage of material! – Jenny

  25. Loved, loved this interview. Had never heard Trey and always thought he might be so aloof and untouchable being that he’s so admired. But, he sounds like a down-to-earth kind of guy. Really liked the line about how wine helps w/parenting; I sooo agree! I aspire to becoming a food-travel photographer and am struggling w/where or how to get an opportunity to shadow a food stylist-photographer and how to get noticed. Which social media outlet will bring my big break?

  26. Both my kids, who have 2 kids of their own apiece, LOVED Trey’s magnet board idea! All kids (and even one or two adults) love looking at themselves.

    My struggle involves finding interesting things to photograph that are close to home. I’m pretty sure this is just a limitation of my own creativity, but I can’t seem to get over the feeling that there is nothing of interest unless I go to New Zealand, or Bruge, or St Barts.

  27. Wonderful discussion again! Loved the idea of going with an attitude of fun, and the idea of photography as a form of meditation. I totally find that. My challenge these days is getting the photos from my harddrive to print and/or posting. Allocating the time to sort and process the images becomes a big job after parties or sessions, then I bog down and it’s hard to get caught up. I don’t have answers. Maybe putting it out there will give me the time (and efficiancy) to catch up with this year’s daily project!

  28. Thanks everyone for your comments. I loved reading about what everyone is struggling with. Not because I love struggle, but it’s a universal experience we all share – each in our own way.

  29. This was (another) great episode! I love the magnet idea; wondering where he gets them. I’m behind, so I’m on to the next one soon!