Damian Riley

Damian Riley

Explorer, Photographer, Yosemite Native

An avid adventurer and visual artist, Damian lends his talents and unique perspective to bring attention to the importance of the human element in nature photography. Born and raised in Yosemite, he is himself a member of the Miwok tribe who famously named the region. After traveling the globe for the past 15 years and taking photos along the way, Damian returned to Yosemite, blending his skill sets to portray the region in an entirely new light.

What drew you to photography? I have been a graphic designer for many years and have always tried to incorporate photography into my art. After a while, I realized that photography was becoming more of a passion than design. I still do graphic design work, but I would always rather be taking photos. 

How do you educate yourself to take better pictures? I constantly observe light, no matter where I am. I try to learn from photographers that have inspired me to take better photos, like Robert Mapplethorpe and Richard Avedon - true masters of light. At the end of the day, that’s what photography is all about. What’s your biggest motivation to continue shooting? That one day I might be able to sustain myself with my photography alone – I would want nothing more in the world. 

There’s an almost surreal thread embedded throughout your nature photography; how and when did you develop that aesthetic? The "surreal" is a comment I get a lot about my photos. Honestly, I never set out to create something deliberately surreal, I think what people see is my ambition to bring the observer into the moment that has passed into memory. That’s what the photo is capturing. Memories are like dreams, sharp points of focus but blurry in other spots. It’s very very rare for me to shoot in anything over F5.6, and maybe that's because I want you to see the photos as if you had been standing there with me, and I want to draw you to a specific point in the photo. Large apertures make me wander around the photo. I look for photos that stimulate my senses in a provocative way, instead of beating me over the head with sharp focus glamor. 

​What upcoming project are you most excited about? I am excited that I am moving closer back to my true passion in photography, which is people. To be honest, I don't get excited about landscape if there is nobody in my frame. Human beings are the most dynamic subjects to take photos of and my constant challenge in photography.