A collection of his dad’s photo books and a camera that didn’t work sparked Paul Conrad’s passion for photography and photojournalism. Today his shots of Bellingham landscapes or local sports games widely circulate around news publications and are purchased through his online shop.
His passion for “the chase” after a good shot has brought him and his camera across the country capturing everything from breaking news stories to the Tennessee Titans and St. Louis Rams Superbowl in 2000. He now lives in Whatcom County with his wife, Heidi, and is often found hiking in the Chuckanut or Mount Baker mountains, usually with his camera by his side—just in case the lighting is just right.
Conrad left his hometown of Buffalo, Colorado when he was 19 and joined the Navy. During his time in the Navy he got his first camera—a Minolta XGM, in 1984—and saw the value and need of telling visual stories.
After returning home from the Navy, Conrad began chasing after photography and photojournalism full steam ahead, and got involved with selling photos to a daily newspaper in Cleveland. He was making just $10 a photo, but got his foot in the door of professional photojournalism.
Conrad says he did a lot of “feature hunting,” during this time, which essentially meant running after stories as they were breaking to get the best possible photos. He was equipped with a police scanner in his car and would listen to see what was happening locally, and then chase after stories as they developed. Some photographers may shy away from this intensive, difficult style of work, but not Conrad.
“That’s the kind of work I really, really like to do,” Conrad says, “the photojournalism style type of work.”
Conrad had been taking photos since he was 19, but was 32 when he got serious about photography as a career. He was recommended to go to West Kentucky University for a degree in photojournalism, where alumni from the university hold over 60 Pulitzer nominations and prizes. In short, he says, they “taught you to shoot like a journalist.”
In college, Conrad once drove three and a half hours, leaving at 4:00 a.m., to cover the story of an F5 tornado as it ripped through a nearby town.
During his last year at West Kentucky University, Conrad worked at the Bowling Green Daily News. “It gave me a great platform to learn newspaper operations, how to develop feature ideas, new techniques, and also having outlets such as the Associated Press and the Kentucky News Photographers Association.”
During that one-year stint before graduation, Conrad won first and second in Spot News and honorable mention in portrait/personality in the annual KNPA contest. “Due to the influence of photo editor Joe Imel, I honed my news-gathering skills and was able to quickly get a full-time job straight out of college.”
After graduation, Conrad moved on to capture more impactful photos at the Enid News & Eagle, in Oklahoma, and The Aspen Times, in Colorado. His time in Oklahoma brought a lot of tornado chasing and camping overnight on assignments, waiting for the “right moment” to happen.
“To me, good photographs have an impact,” he says. “I’m not just talking pretty colors; they have to have an emotional impact somehow. You look at a photo and say, ‘Wow.’ You feel something.”
Before Conrad and his wife moved to Bellingham in 2011, the majority of his portfolio was comprised of hard news or sports photojournalism. Relocation not only brought a change in scenery but a change in photography style, as well. While he still does plenty of people-focused assignments and captures stories that need to be told, he often finds himself with his tripod, staked out at Lake Whatcom at sunset, waiting to capture the perfect reflection of the pink and orange sky on the water.
In addition to landscapes, Conrad has spent time in Bellingham on the sports fields capturing important moments for high school athletes for theBellingham Herald. Conrad has volunteered his time and photography for three years to shoot photos of sporting events for the Meridian School District.
“My goal is to make sure that kids get photos of themselves in high school playing their favorite sports,” he says. A key aspect of knowing how to take quality and impactful sports photos, he says, is understanding the game and knowing what might happen next.
“If you want to learn to shoot fast, shoot sports.”
Providing impactful photos to the community is important to Conrad, as well as teaching skills to upcoming photographers on how to capture these sorts of ‘wow’ photos. He was an introduction to photojournalism instructor at Colorado Mountain College and lead free workshops in Seattle for every level of photographer to improve the quality of their work.
You can explore and purchase prints from Paul’s website or on Facebook and Instagram. Comment on one of his photos with what caught your eye; he always takes the time to respond to every comment on each of his social media platforms.