This week we’re bringing you a special Instagram takeover with Ian Plant, co-founder of Shuttermonkeys. Check out our feed for nature photography tips and jaw-dropping images from around the world.
The photography space can sometimes feel overwhelming: there’s a lot of competition and a lot of information to take in when you’re looking to up your game. Two PhotoShelter members, Ian Plant and Zac Mills, have set out to fix that with their newest venture Shuttermonkeys.
Shuttermonkeys is a community of passionate photographers devoted to photo education, inspiration and providing space for enthusiasts to connect with professionals. Founded by Ian and Zac, Shuttermonkeys offers amateurs and photo enthusiasts alike tips on landscape photography, a look behind the scenes, a forum to give and receive feedback on personal work, and more. We had the pleasure of chatting with both Ian and Zac to learn more about how they got their start, their goals for the future, and why they’re so focused on giving back to photography and wildlife conservationist communities around the world.
Both self-taught photographers, Ian and Zac were uniquely positioned to create an online resource for photographers interested in nature photography. After experiencing firsthand the quantity (and at times lack of quality) of information for new or amateur photographers looking to take their skills to the next level, they were motivated to help future nature photographers avoid some of the hardships they faced when they were getting their start.
A bit of background on the Shuttermonkeys Co-founders —
After his first year of law school, Ian worked for a law firm in New York City and treated himself at the end of the summer to a new camera—a Pentax K1000. That purchase changed everything. “I realized I’d made a huge $100,000 dollar mistake,” he told us. He worked just long enough as a corporate lawyer in Washington, DC to pay off his student loans and then left that world altogether to pursue photography full-time.
Zac Mills had a similarly unconventional pathway to photography. A trained economist, Zac worked at the United Nations for eight years prior to branching off into photography full-time. While at the UN, his primary responsibilities involved advising governments around the world on how to improve their budgeting practices (which no doubt still comes in handy when he’s planning trips). The work necessitated traveling 6-8 months out of the year, his camera always in tow. Similar to Ian, his love of photography was unearthed after participating in a collegiate exchange program in Malawi. He purchased his first camera: a Canon point and shoot. (For reference, that camera was 3.2 megapixels and cost $800.) His interest in travel and photography grew while traveling with the UN and soon a career in photography became a no-brainer.
A few years ago, the two joined forces after Zac reached out to Ian saying he was a big fan of his work and asked if he was interested in traveling and shooting together. The rest is history.
On why they created this photo community —
Shuttermonkeys’ goals are both educational and experiential. “Our tagline is Shuttermonkeys, the evolution of photography,” says Zac. “And what we mean by that and what we’re signaling is that we’re all about pushing creative boundaries, not taking the same shots that everyone else is taking. Instead, focusing on originality, putting in the fieldwork and going to really amazing spots around the world to produce these unique images that really stand out. So that is also part of our education mission, to tell people, look, you don’t need to take the same shot everyone else is doing. Get out there and produce something that you’re passionate about, but that’s also very creative and unique.”
Creating a curated collection of high-quality educational resources so people don’t have to second guess the quality of the resources they’re discovering online is a must. “We’re trying to put that all in one place for them,” Ian says. On their site you can find resources about trip reports, editing tips, and a super helpful (and free!) landscape photography cheat sheet.
Parallel to education is their quest for experiential learning, which has led them to focus heavily on producing video. Along with their Pro Team, they’re taking us to amazing locations around the world, including Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve to observe and photograph brown bears, the edges of an active volcano in Vanuatu in the South Pacific, and to photograph the total solar eclipse in Argentina. The videos are a unique blend of how-tos and motivational field content. Throughout, their encouragement and expert instruction shine through; there’s a see, you could be doing this too! theme.
On giving back —
It’s no secret that many wildlife and landscape photographers are also pursuing some degree of conservation and Shuttermonkeys is no exception. Not only are they providing free resources and videos, but they’ve also created a giving back policy whereby a portion of every purchase is donated to primate conservation efforts, namely the Sumatran Orangutan Society.
Nothing makes us more proud than seeing two PhotoShelter photographers teaming up for a good cause. If you’re interested in nature—looking for feedback, new editing pointers, ebooks or just inspiration—we highly encourage you to give Shuttermonkeys a visit.
In an industry where it often feels impossibly competitive, it’s refreshing to see two photographers motivated to help their peers and the animal kingdom they’ve had the pleasure of documenting.
(Cover image by Zac Mills.)