A Photographic Journey of the Great Plains


Erik Johnson’s photographic journey began in 2012 with a smartphone camera and a new puppy. Capturing—by trial and error—and sharing his surroundings and personal experiences, Erik began to venture further from hometown of Lincoln, NE in search of subjects. Of course, his puppy enjoyed these outings to the countryside around Lincoln.

“It was during these outings that I began to notice the beauty of the world around me in a way that I never quite had before”, Erik says. “We were often out at the end of the day when the sun was low on the horizon and the sky would take on breathtaking colors. It was during these walks that I began taking photos of the incredible natural world around me.”

Fast forward one year later and he had outgrown the smartphone camera and was now using his first Nikon camera, a D7000 DSLR and 18-140mm lens that were given to him as an early graduation gift from his mom.

The D7000 fueled Erik’s drive to spend more and more days photographing the countryside. He upgraded to a D810 a few years later, for its low-light capabilities and high resolution.

Photography has given Erik the opportunity to blend his passion for the outdoors with a creative medium. “Going out into nature alone is a truly meditative experience and I enjoy being able to bring back a part of that experience and share it with others. The shared experience is not just visual, photography gives me the ability to also share a story or message along with each image,” he explains.

A self-taught photographer, Erik chose the challenging genre of landscape photography. “It’s taught me the virtues of patience and persistence. Good light is a rarity, you won’t come back with incredible photographs each time you leave your front door,” he acknowledges.

Even when he doesn’t end up making images, Erik says the journey itself makes it worthwhile.

“In many ways, photography comes second to the actual experience of just being out in nature,” he says. “A morning cup of coffee on the tailgate of my pickup, throwing a tennis ball to my dog, knocking back a few pages in a good book—even though the memory card might be empty, my soul is filled,” he says.   

His favorite subject? Nebraska and the landscape and inhabitants of the Great Plains in general.

Erik admires conservation photographer Michael Forsberg, who explains what draws photographers such as Erik to the Great Plains: “It doesn’t knock your socks off at a glance. It’s not the Colorado Rockies, it’s not the Pacific Northwest, it’s not the Grand Canyon. It’s a place that you can’t appreciate from a roadside pullout in five minutes. It’s a place you have to linger for hours, for days, for months, for years or a lifetime. Then it’s like getting to know an old friend. The more time you spend, the more layers you peel away, the more beauty you see. That’s what the Great Plains is, and it can be every bit as remarkable as all these other places.”

“Many see this region as a place you pass through to get to more grand landscapes,” Erik notes, but he sees the beauty they don’t. He says he’s only scratched the surface, “I feel compelled to explore every corner and unearth every story that these places hold.”

When asked how he describes his photographic style, Erik says, “I want my photographs to be real and to portray the experience that I took in with my own eyes.” He strives to “not manipulate the reality of the situation.”

Weather and the Great Plains

“Weather is one of the most dynamic natural forces and no two events are ever the same. You never know what you’ll end up with when a thunderstorm rolls over the plains and brings dramatic light with it,” Erik says. “The best sunsets I’ve ever experienced are those following strong thunderstorms as the clouds break and the sun’s light pierces through and the sun sets on the horizon. Various cloud formations will reflect and filter sunlight in different ways, leading to a varied palette of colors,” he adds.

Erik notes that the process of photographing weather is an experience in itself and may sometimes be a ‘don’t try this at home’ type situation. “There’s a pure adrenaline rush as you barrel down backroads to get into position under a storm—or try to get out of its way.”

Although Erik has logged more than 100,000 miles between two vehicles in his pursuit of photography, he suggests to others that you don’t even have to leave your backyard. Do what you can, when you can. “Beauty can be found anywhere. Any time spent with your camera is progress and a step forward in the craft,” he says.

What the future will bring

Time-lapse, astrophotography, star trails… been there, done that… Erik is interested in further expanding his photographic craft. Video and film photography—two distinct areas—interest him. Video for how it, along with audio and music “can translate emotions in a completely different way than still photography” and film photography because it requires you to slow down.

Erik is one of the new age photography generation, who first discover photography digitally and then desire to learn the valuable basics that are found through using a film camera and being held to the limitations of a single roll of film in the camera at a time.

“No matter the techniques I pursue in the future, the biggest aim of mine is to create a body of work that is both meaningful and beautiful,” he says. “I want to tell the story of the landscape I’m standing in. I want to show why we need to protect these places and give a voice to its inhabitants. I want to create art that is not just visually stimulating but also makes a difference, in a time where we need it the most,” Erik concludes.

See more of Erik's work at his website:

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