Jim Brandenburg: Chased by the Light

Can a world class, National Geographic photographer lose his passion? Yes! How does he get it back?

After 20 years hard work for National Geographic and being on the road and away from home 60-70% of the time, Jim Brandenburg “lost his passion” for photography. He was “empty”. In need of a change, he set out on a personal project to re-kindle the love of nature and photography that got him started in the first place.

Staying close to his home in northern Minnesota (near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area), he would take one picture per day from the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice. Unlike many photographers who pick their best photo each day out of dozens or hundreds of photos taken that day, Brandenburg would limit himself to one click of the shutter. He would capture 90 days on three rolls of film.

Think of the challenge for a photographer that was used to having 20 or so of his best photos chosen out of 20,000 – 30,000 photos taken for a National Geographic article. What if he took a photo early in the day and something better came along later? What if he waited all day and didn’t find anything to capture his creative imagination by the end of the day? There was a time when he was ready to quit the project. No one knew about this self-assignment so no one would know he quit, but he persevered.

At the end of the 90m days, he ended up with a great collection of photos, many of which are stunning. You can see all 90 photos via the link below.

Two years later a National Geographic editor was visiting Brandenburg in his Minnesota home and saw the photos. The editor was impressed and the photos and Brandenburg’s journey of inspiration became the lead article in the November 1997 issue of National Geographic. It was the largest collection of photos by a single photographer ever published in one issue.

When my copy of that issue arrived, I was captivated and inspired by the photos and the project. I still have that issue (photo at the top of this article). When the photo project became the book Chased by the Light, I grabbed a copy. When the Chased by the Light video came out, I grabbed it too. They inspired me as a photographer. He still inspires me.

It wasn’t the first time I bought one of Brandenburg’s books. I picked up his classic, Brother Wolf, several years before the National Geographic article came out, so I was well acquainted with his beautiful imagery.

If you love nature, and especially if you love nature photography, I recommend anything by Jim Brandeburg, and I highly recommend the Chased by the Light book and video. In the video you see the photos, but better yet, Brandenburg takes you to the location where several of the images were taken and tells you about the process of creating the images. He also goes into more detail as to why he undertook the project. On the other hand, as impressive as the photos are on your TV screen, the photos look best in the reproductions in the printed pages of the book. You can order his books and DVD here and at the links below.

If you find yourself in Ely, Minnesota, be sure and stop at Brandenburg’s gallery and be amazed at the large, gorgeous prints on the walls. Buy something and support his charitable work.


You can order Jim Brandenburg’s books in this section of my photography store. It is powered by Amazon.com so you get Amazon’s great prices, fast delivery, and excellent guarantee. Some of his books are out of print but you can click the “Buy at Amazon” button to order from a third party seller and still get Amazon’s guarantee.

You can order the video version of Chased by the Light here. Click the “Buy at Amazon” button to order from a third party seller and you get Amazon’s guarantee.

JimBrandenburg.com. There is a gallery of all 90 photos in the Chased by the Light project, along with several other galleries of beautiful images.

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