Life through Stiffler’s lens: Colton Stiffler
By Timothy Behuniak EBS CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
BOZEMAN – Many of us have ample experience with impulse purchasing. Some of us even regret spending our hard-earned cash after walking out of the store. But Montana native Colton Stiffler hasn’t looked back since spontaneously buying his first camera in 2005.
However, Stiffler’s creative interests can be traced back to his earlier years growing up in Butte. His mother was a painter and potter with an eye for detail that trickled down to her son. In high school, he was drawn to videography and media by making ski videos with his friends. “We made rambunctious films and caused some ruckus in town,” said Stiffler, a wry grin on his face.
The photographer’s love for the outdoors and outdoor recreation began at an early age and now, at 37, that love has yet to dissipate. Growing up in southwest Montana means spending countless hours of free time outside. While his mom ingrained a creative energy in Stiffler, his dad instilled an adoration for the great wide open.
“We spent most of our free time in local rivers and in the mountains fishing, hiking, skiing and mountain biking,” Stiffler said.
After composing and capturing his first simple image of a tree in 2005, Stiffler immediately gravitated toward photography. “I couldn’t believe the amount of detail, resolution and colors,” he said. “I really enjoyed the technical aspects of trying to take a photo while learning about light. It captivated me.”
While Stiffler attended DeVry University in Seattle for electrical engineering and now works full-time researching photonics, he’s constantly juggling the stimulation of his left and right brain. After working 40-hour workweeks at the S2 Corporation in Bozeman, Stiffler unwinds at home by scheduling photoshoots, editing photographs and pursuing creative opportunities.
“Both pursuits are full-time jobs,” he said. “But I always feel fortunate to be able to make both things happen.”
On weekends and during off-work hours, Stiffler expels his restlessness by skiing in winter and mountain biking when the snow abates, always with camera in hand. “I like subjects with a lot of color and contrast, and of course beautiful landscapes.” he said. “I use a combination of getting settings right in the camera as well as manipulating images in the digital darkroom. I enjoy post-processing and bringing flat, bland images to life.”
In his early 30s, Stiffler was bitten by the international travel bug. He purchased a plane ticket to Nepal in 2015 and departed on his first solo trip. Feeling out of his comfort zone at first in the bustling capital city of Kathamandu, Stiffler eventually embraced language barriers, new sights and smells and headed toward the mountains.
“I’ve always dreamed of seeing with my own eyes the world’s tallest peaks,” he said. On the morning of his 34th birthday, Stiffler watched the sun rise over Mt. Everest – a present to himself, he said.
Stiffler has since traveled the entire length of the Nile River in Egypt and toured various countries in South America. Recently, he returned from Japan where he again experienced a new culture, food and language barrier while capturing images of his friends in world-famous snow, dubbed JaPow.
“I love to shoot action,” Stiffler said. “I love seeing people challenging themselves in precarious situations and I’m always trying to capture and share that with the world.”
Although Stiffler’s action and travel images have appeared in Teton Gravity Research media as well as Outside, Powder and Ski and Mountain Outlaw magazines, among others, he also dabbles in weddings and architecture photography.
“I like to challenge myself to shoot a little bit of everything and not just confine myself to a particular subject or theme,” he said. “Shooting a static subject in a studio with the right lighting is very challenging, but it all translates to being a more well-rounded photographer.”
Long days working two full-time jobs continues to pay off: Stiffler has recently been collaborating with the national outdoor-orientated eyewear brand Zeal Optics, and also traveled to Patagonia as a hired photographer for the tour company Traveling Jackie. All the while, his list of places and subjects to shoot gets longer and longer.
“Right now the biggest challenge is finding the time and energy to go on new trips,” he said. “But I’m always chasing elusive moments with my camera.”
Visit coltonstifflerphotography.com or to view more of Stiffler’s work.