By Alexis Bonogofsky
You know when you start a project and you think it will be simple and straight-forward but then you dig into it a little and it turns out it is going to be way more complicated than you thought and if you had known that in the beginning you probably wouldn’t have taken it on in the first place?
That’s what happened to me last year when I proposed a “Top 10 Montana photographers to follow on Instagram” story to Last Best News.
Turns out it it was neither simple nor straight-forward. Montana is home to some of the most talented and creative photographers in the world, which makes trying to pull together a list of the best ones a fool’s errand.
I knew there were many people to choose from but I didn’t quite realize the sheer number of great photographers I would find. I quickly realized curating a Top 10 list was almost impossible to do without leaving out dozens of people who deserved to be there. I bailed on the article.
But months later I couldn’t quite shake the desire to bring attention to some of the amazing artists in our state, so I decided to make the list. Before I begin I must register some caveats to the reader.
First, I limited my pool of photographers to those who shoot mostly outdoor, landscape and wildlife images. Second, I didn’t include accounts that compile photos from photographers such as Visit Montana (@visitmontana) or Montana Big Sky Series (@mtbigskyseries) or really famous National Geographic Montana photographers like @ronan_donovan or @amivitale. Third, I tried to bring some geographic diversity to the list by featuring photographers from all over the state, not just Western Montana.
Last but not least, I wasn’t able to include everyone that deserved to be here. In fact, right now I can think of another 10 accounts off the top of my head that could easily be added, so please feel free to mention others that you know of in the comment section.
Once I narrowed the field down I picked my favorite pages based on one criterion: I take notice of their photos. In a world saturated with images it is easy to just keep scrolling but these folks make every photo count. And instead of 10, I did 15. Ten was just not enough. In no particular order, here are my favorite Montana outdoor photographer Instagram accounts.
Andy Austin – @andyaustinphoto
If you don’t know Andy Austin, then you don’t know Montana’s most ambitious and outgoing outdoor photographer. His talent and enthusiasm for photography and our great state is palpable on his feed, which is filled with beautiful images from all corners of Montana, the greater interior West and his frequent trips overseas. Andy is a Billings native but currently spends most of his time in his Sprinter van roaming the country seeking out great photos
Becca Skinner – @beccaskinner
Becca Skinner is a National Geographic Explorer, photographer, writer and conservationist based in Bozeman. If you love the West, fishing, outdoor recreation, falconry and compelling portraits of people, Becca’s is a great account to follow. She already has over 50,000 followers, so I’m sure this plug is unnecessary but hers is a feed not to miss.
Erin Braaten – @dancing_aspens_photo
Erin Braaten’s feed is nothing short of spectacular. She lives and photographs mostly in northwest Montana including the Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park. When I’m missing northwest Montana, all I have do is go straight to her account and see what wonderful landscapes and wildlife images she’s been able to capture.
Colin Ruggiero – @colinruggiero
Missoula photographer and filmmaker Colin Ruggiero is a self-described reluctant Instagrammer, but we should all be grateful that he decided to jump into the social media fray and share his spectacular photos with us. You’ll see amazing images and videos from Montana and from his travels all over the world. His feed is equal parts ocean and mountains and the photos are all exquisite. There is not one photo on his feed that isn’t worth spending minutes looking at.
Jess Mcglothlin – @jess_mcglothlin_media
If you love fly-fishing, you won’t want to miss the feed of Bozeman-based photographder Jess Mcglothlin. She is also a great writer so you can follow along with her images and words as she travels all over Montana and the world photographing and writing about fly-fishing and other outdoor pursuits.
Dawson Dunning – @3bearsmedia
Kathryn Socie-Dunning – @scramblinhillsides
If you’re not following Livingston-based photographer and filmmaker Dawson Dunning, you’re missing out on some of the most jaw-dropping photos and videos of wildlife that I’ve ever seen. And, the best part is that Dunning is from southeast Montana, my favorite. He also gave me an excuse to cheat a little and sneak in one more stunning photographer, his business partner and wife, Kathryn Socie-Dunning. How could I not love her feed? Her stunning images of the Paradise Valley area and her border collies were enough to grab a spot on this list.
Tony Bynum – @huntphotos
If you want to see some images of wildlife that you won’t see anywhere else, then you must check out the work of Tony Bynum. You don’t get the shots Tony gets without putting thousands of hours getting into the backcountry and tracking wildlife. He puts in the work and it shows.
Nathan Satran – @nathansatranphoto
Forsyth photographer Nathan Satran spends a lot of his time photographing the beautiful southeast Montana and he is frequently featured on Montana’s tourism department feed. You’ll see amazing shots of Montana badlands, big skies, never-ending prairie land, sandstone formations and the Yellowstone River.
Megan Johnson – @montanamaggie
If you spend any time poking around on Instagram, you will certainly come across the feed of Missoula-based photographer Megan Johnson. She not only takes great photos but she has a great community on her page. It’s a pleasure following along and seeing Montana through her eyes.
John Stewart Wright – @johnstewartwright
The fact that photographer John Steward Wright, of Bozeman, only has 488 followers is just not right. One could only hope to capture the images he does of Montana’s native bird species. There is not one shot on his feed that isn’t worth putting on your wall.
Houston Harmon – @houstonharmonphotography
Houston Harmon is a Lavina-based photographer who also happens to be the photo instructor at Billings Senior High. His beautiful landscape shots of the central Montana prairie are photos that you just don’t see very often. I can’t get enough of his big skies and open country.
Erik Petersen – @erikpetersenphoto
You can’t miss the feed of southwest Montana’s Erik Peterson. He is well known for his striking images of the Red Ants Pants music festival in White Sulphur Springs and his epic images of the Tippet Rise Art Center near Red Lodge, but his photos range from hunting dogs and big Montana landscapes to skijoring and people enjoying themselves in the outdoors. Like most Montana photographers, it seems like he’s always on the go.
Danielle de Leon – @mssdeleon
Danielle de Leon is an expert drone pilot and photographer, so if you want to see Montanan from the sky, go check out her feed. Her photos aren’t just your run of the mill landscape shots. You get to see Montana from viewpoints you’d never be able to see without being in the air.
Pat Clayton – @fisheyeguyphotography
If you want to see what’s going on under the water in Montana, look no further than Bozeman-based photographer Pat Clayton’s feed. You’ll get to see sharp, clear and colorful photos of Montana’s native fish species in their natural habitat. Fish Eye Guy Photography is indeed an apt name for his photography business.
Nicholas Parker – @traunfoto
If you want to immerse yourself in the sights of Glacier National Park, check out Whitefish photographer Nicholas Parker’s feed. Intimate photos of bison, bears, wolves, moose, mountain peaks and clear mountain lakes—he’s got it all.
Others to definitely not miss: @mtmiller.montana, @k.fryephoto, @kevinleaguephoto, @gnarangutang, @chrismcgowanphotography, @ridlephoto, @stonefly, @coltonstifflerphotography, @hunterdayphoto, @jasonsavage
And, of course, you can find me on Instagram at @alexis_bonogofsky.