Let’s say that the first Tara Kerzhner photo you see when you come to this story is the hands picture. Knowing little or nothing about her as a photographer, you would still know this: details are important in any photo story she chooses to tell; and somewhere along the line, she’d formed a liking for black & white photography.
What you couldn’t tell looking at that photo, or any of the photographs here, is that recently Tara began photographing with the Nikon Z system, and it’s what she saw when she began shooting with a Z 6II that prompted us to tell you this story.
It starts with a couple of friends—fellow pro photographers and Z-system shooters—whose “you really oughta try it” suggestions coincided with Tara’s interest in finding out how Nikon’s mirrorless system performed. Not that she was dissatisfied with her current system, but…well, maybe this was one of those times that the grass actually was greener on the other side of the camera-brand fence.
What she saw in her first photos with the Z 6II was the incredible sharpness of the images compared to the system she’d been using. “That was the knockout,” she says. Which is interesting, because in Tara’s judgment the initial lure of any Nikon system is the legendary reputation of NIKKOR lenses. “I think that what sets my style more than anything is the sharpness of prime lenses,” she says, “and that was what I recognized right away. There was a sharpness I was getting from the camera and the lenses that I’d never seen before. There was a difference I could see in the images."
She’d photographed with two primes—the NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S and NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S—and two zooms—the NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S and NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S.
She’d also heard from her friends about the Z 6 II’s dynamic range—the ability, in the real-world situations a pro shooter faces, to accurately capture dark-to-light tones in a scene. Obviously, the greater the range, the better, and for Tara it was a key consideration. To appreciate why, we have to take you back to the beginning.
There was a sharpness I was getting from the camera and the lenses that I’d never seen before.
Setting the Style
“I started taking photos when I was pretty young, with my mom’s film camera, so I learned on film,” Tara says. “I took darkroom classes in high school in the last years they were even offered. Black and white photography—I really fell in love with it, and the important takeaway for my style now is that I tend toward high-contrast scenes and dramatic light.” How well the Z 6II performed in those scenes and situations was major convincer that it was time to make a change.
In addition to sharpness and dynamic range, there was also the camera’s capture of color. “One of my friends had talked so much about the brilliance of the color in the images,” Tara says, “and that was a cool thing to see.”
What has also stayed with Tara from the early days of her photography is “the darkroom advantage of seeing and controlling the results,” which in digital photography directly translates to “what you like your gear to be able to get, right from the start. Then you work with the same concepts, but with digital they’re even more controlled.
Equally important, regardless of whether the image is color or black and white, is the detailed telling of the story. “I think my strength as a photographer is to take those really rad climbing photos—someone hanging of a cliff, that really dramatic shot. I know I’m good at that, but I’m always challenging myself to have my camera with me all the time so I can capture those in-between moments, those details of the story.”
Her story-telling strength begins with her experience as a climber: she knows what comes next, what to anticipate; and she knows the picture she wants to get. It won’t surprise you that it’s a picture with a difference, and that she often challenges herself to find a new route to the photograph. “I feel very comfortable taking climbing photos—I’ve been climbing for probably 15 years,” she says, “so taking an action, climbing photo, high off the ground, is my comfort zone.” The idea then is to use the light, the perspective, the position to make the photograph something special.
Changing the tools for that job meant “a little bit of a break-in period,” but “the basics, what I look for and the way I want my pictures to look, that doesn’t change. And it was all there: sharpness, clarity, detail, color.
“The gear is so advanced, and you can do so much more, but the most important thing is to be able to do what you like, what you want to do, and what you are good at.”
Tara’s website, tarakerzhner.com, features a selection of the really rad and the in-between moments.
Tara Kerzhner is an award winning photographer, cinematographer, and accomplished rock climber. Since grabbing her mother’s film camera as a kid, Tara’s lifelong dedication to her art was set. Today Kerzhner balances her passion for adventure sports photography with stories that honor Indigenous people.