Randall Sanger loves waterfalls — so much so that they solidified his career path.
Sanger, a landscape photographer based in Williamson, became interested in photography after high school, but it wasn’t until he broke away from the corporate world post-undergrad that he pursued his passion full time.
Now, he’s proud to show off his beautiful state through photography that started with a book he co-authored about waterfalls, “Waterfalls of West Virginia: The New River Gorge,” published in 2010. Sanger always wanted to put together a book on Mountain State waterfalls, realizing there were no others published at the time; he also wanted to include waterfalls that weren’t as well-known in his book.
“It seemed like every magazine or every gallery I went into had the same dozen waterfalls in West Virginia,” Sanger explained. “I knew there were more, because I’d seen them. That made me think I can showcase all the waterfalls in West Virginia and hopefully photograph them really well, too, not just have snapshots of waterfalls and directions. I wanted quality photos to go along with the book information.”
Aside from waterfalls, Sanger loves sunrises and sunsets. He has an eye for catching the dramatic light and would rather be outside than editing inside.
“My niche has been as a waterfall shooter, but my love is the sunrises and sunsets. I tell people those are my two favorite colors,” he said. “We all develop a style of our own, and folks seem to like mine.”
Through his nature photography, Sanger says he gets to defend the state from stereotypes.
“Early on my goal was just to showcase the beauty of West Virginia and make people realize that those stereotypes are not quite right,” he said. “We’ve got beautiful natural scenery; we have wonderful people. West Virginia is a great place to be.”
Becoming a juried artist at Tamarack had residual effects for Sanger’s career as well. Many of his pieces can be found in print bins or in gallery exhibits at the artisan center every year.
“Getting into Tamarack was a big help to me, and a lot more eyes got to see my work,” he said. “It was a huge recognition to be a Tamarack artisan, it still is an honor. (It) gave me some legitimacy throughout the state. I’ve gotten several workshop clients just from them seeing my work in Tamarack.”
Sanger’s photography business has expanded over the years, through online sales and galleries, and he now has a wide range of clients, from large companies to ordinary folks looking to decorate their homes and businesses. He also has clients from across the country — giving him an opportunity to showcase West Virginia’s beauty all over the world. The loyalty of West Virginians living outside the state has also helped his business, with those folks wanting a piece of home.
Sanger teaches others and passes along what he’s learned by hosting photography workshops focusing on natural beauty. The workshops mostly involve being in the field, with very little classroom time.
“They want to be out looking and photographing, so basically everything I go over in my little presentation we cover out in the field for people who need it,” he said. “Nine times out of 10 there will be several people there who don’t really need the tips, suggestions and the learning aspect, they just want to be with other photographers, and they hire me or join us because they know I’ll get them to the right places at the right time.
“It’s a neat mix of folks who just want to learn more or learn how to capture a waterfall, struggling with dramatic light, to folks who already know all that, maybe even know it more than I do, but just want to use me as a means to get these great places without having to figure it out on their own,” he said.
Originally, Sanger thought hosting workshops would be a great way to supplement his income, but they quickly evolved into another way to promote the state. So far, 38 states and four foreign countries have been represented in his workshops, which means many clients are exposed to the Mountain State’s beauty for the first time, and they keep coming back — his workshops have a 94% return rate.
“I’ve developed friendships with a lot of folks, and they love my workshops and continue to support me, but every workshop I have somebody new so it’s always neat,” he said. “They’re blown away, if they’ve never been here before. They love the state, love coming here to shoot, love the camaraderie you get with other photographers, and the workshops are always a lot of fun.”
Reflecting on how he got his start, Sanger’s advice to emerging artists is to never get discouraged.
“Many nights I wondered if I was doing the right thing for me or my family, but at the end of the day, especially now or the last few years, it’s been pretty successful,” he said. “I’m tremendously blessed to do what I love as a way to support my family. It takes a lot of work and the right balances, but don’t give up. If you believe in your art and your work, keep going after it.”
To learn more about Randall Sanger and other West Virginia artists, visit ShineOnWV.com.