Way Out West Lifestyle Portraits

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The Story of Amy Peterson & Selkirk Ridge Photography
by Bill Hedrick

By all accounts, Amy Peterson is the definition of a country girl… born and raised in Sandpoint, Idaho, a rural community of hard working, down to earth people who are proud of their way of life. They enjoy fly fishing in the cool mountain lakes and cooking their catch on the banks in a cast iron skillet with onions and potatoes.

Growing up in that part of the world represented the perfect childhood, according to Amy. Ther parents taught Amy, her brother, and her sister how to live off the land, hunt and fish, grow a garden, can food, raise livestock, sew, and all those things that were essential, going back five generations. “Growing up,” she explains, “we had nothing extravagant, but everything we needed.”

Her great-great-grandfather was a conductor on the railroad when it first came out west and her grandmother taught in a one room schoolhouse in the 1940’s. In those days, timber was the main industry and Sandpoint started out as a logging town along the Pend Oreille River and Pend Oreille Lake. “In recent years, a lot of that has stopped and, unfortunately, tourism is taking over. It’s sad to see and I just keep hoping we can keep our small town feel and traditions to pass down to the next generations,” says Amy.

With her values, upbringing, and appreciation for what she has and where she lives, Amy Peterson is not all that much different from her neighbors. So, it only comes natural that Amy would want to do her part to help preserve that way of life with a camera. “I love to capture families doing what they do and telling their story. Each family is unique, and I want to be able to bring that out in their images, giving them something to cherish for a long time.”

It’s a great way to make and to keep friends and many of her clients come back again and again for all the “little things” that happen in their lives and it’s important to Amy to document those times with a “North Idaho kind of feel” where everyone feels comfortable, laughs, and enjoys every moment. “To show that this lifestyle is still being lived in rural areas and to protect it as things develop and grow and change is important to me.”

Although she has a formal studio located on their ten acres of land in the Selle Valley, Amy does much of her photography on location. “No matter which way you walk out the door, there are adventures everywhere as long as you like being outside,” she says. “We are on the borders of Canada, Montana, and Washington and between the Selkirk and Cabinet Mountain Ranges.” When Amy is not in the studio, she can usually be found doing a session at a nearby ranch or for one of the local magazines.

In her studio, Amy typically photographs seasonal sessions including newborns, children, families, products, headshots and passport photos. She’s quite diversified and claims to photograph “pretty much everything” that needs to be photographed in her community. But she admits that, in recent years, she’s stopped photographing “everything” and has begun to photograph more of what she “loves.” Part of that process involves learning all about her subjects and how they work “inside and out.”

She calls it Western Lifestyle Photography and her goal is to preserve the feel and traditions of the people into each of her images. For many of her clients, it is a way of life that dates back to the 1800’s. “It’s a community of neighbors and people who respect and appreciate what they have,” she explains.

To tell their stories, Amy typically photographs them in their environment, doing what they do best. “We just talk about their life, their interests, and then decide the best way to capture it all.” That means she photographs them at their home or on their farm or ranch. “I especially love when they include their cattle, horses, and cow dogs in their photos. My favorite!”

Amy came by much of her photographic talent naturally. Years earlier, her father used to do photography on the side for extra money. Then, when Amy was in the third grade, her grandmother gave her a camera as a birthday gift. “Immediately, I thought I was the next National Geographic photographer. In no time, I began taking photographs of wildlife, landscapes, and my own horses at home. After a while, my friends and I would set up little fashion shoots in my back yard. But it wasn’t until I became a mother that I learned to appreciate the importance of capturing images.”

With a family of her own, Amy realized that there just weren’t many places in her area that offered professional photography, other than an occasional in-and-out studio with no real options or choices. It was frustrating and Amy knew there had to be something better and that’s when she got serious about photography. “I look back now and laugh at how wonderful I thought my work was at the time,” says Amy.

For the next ten years, as her children grew up, Amy worked on improving her photography. “Of course, I was still using Dad’s old film camera at the time, so I couldn’t afford to make many mistakes!” But digital made the scene and Amy’s world took on a whole new light. “I invested in my first camera and it was a life-changing experience,” she explains. It wasn’t any time before people were calling on Amy to do family photos and photos of their kids. Soon she was photographing weddings as well.

“In about 2007, I realized I could possibly do this as a business and make some extra money,” she recalls. Then Amy read an article about a western photographer named David Stoecklein who also happened to be from Idaho and who taught workshops.

“I sent him a message and he immediately called me and we chatted for several hours about my experience, equipment, lighting, and workshops he was teaching down south. At that time, attending a workshop represented a great deal of money for me and I wasn’t sure I could afford it,”

But, where there is a will, there is a way. After discussing with her husband how her passion for photography was growing, they decided that anything worth doing was worth doing right.

“We decided I should get my business license through the state, take out a small business loan, buy new equipment, and jump in head-first,” she relates. So, in 2016, with some advice from David Stoecklein’s son, Drew, and after attending a handful of their workshops at the Stoecklein Ranch, Amy took the first big step and quit her job.

For the next five months, Amy moved to Missoula, Montana. There, she completed an intense program at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. “I left my three kids and husband and drove the three hours to Missoula and came home only on weekends or a few times a month to see them and to photograph weddings, seniors, families, and do some ranch work. In November of 2016, I graduated, moved back home, and we decided I needed a space of my own. So we had a 16×40 shed built and my family helped me convert it into a studio.” From that time on, Amy has been a full-time professional photographer.

A year or so later, one of Amy’s fellow classmates, Bobbi Jordan, from Sitka, Alaska, called to encourage Amy to join her to attend the 2019 Imaging USA in Atlanta, Georgia, and take the prep class to become a Certified Professional Photographer. “I joined PPA in 2018 and a handful of us decided to go to Imaging together. We all took the three-day prep class and studied like crazy and took the written exam.” Of course, she passed. In the Spring, she passed the image portion as well. “I learned so much in the process,” she adds.

During her studies in Missoula, Montana, Amy was mentored by Neil Chaput de Saintonge, who was taught by Ansel Adams. Neil is the founder of the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. “He is a fascinating person and we learned a lot about the history of photography. His work was incredible, and I love the black and white imagery, his mastery of light and shadow, and the beautiful landscapes he photographed. Every image tells a story and preserves that moment forever, the same way I want to continue preserving our heritage, showing that it still exists.”

Selkirk Ridge Photography takes its name from the nearby Selkirk Mountain Range where Amy explored as a kid, as well as the name of the street where her home is located. Outside of the studio, the world is her canvas. “We have some beautiful natural backdrops here, from waterfalls, to rivers and lakes, fields, and beautiful timbered landscapes. It is all very seasonal and it changes up the look every few months, so we get a lot of variety in our area for making beautiful outdoor photos,” she explains.

Amy’s children are a sixth generation and her grandchildren are a seventh generation to live in Sandpoint, Idaho. She and her husband, Luke, grew up there and met in elementary school when she was in the fifth grade. “He was a friend of my brother and it wasn’t until years later that we started dating and eventually married,” she says. The couple own Northwoods Forestry, a timber and logging company.

Much like she was raised herself, Amy and her family enjoy hunting, fishing, and riding horses. “We’re involved in 4-H, archery, fiddle, dirt bikes, raising livestock, and many other fun adventures.”

Amy and Luke have two sons and a daughter: Derek and his wife, Elizabeth; Alex and his wife, Kacie; and daughter Kiah, the baby of the family. But it appears that Kiah might just be following in her mother’s footsteps! “She photographs families and does portraits and helps me teach our Western Lifestyle Workshop each fall at the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch. She operates as K-ography on social media and her website.”

Kiah also does quite a bit of commercial work in the hunting and fishing and outdoor life field, something that fits in well with the archery shop she and her boyfriend own. “She has truly become an amazing photographer over the years,” adds Amy. “When she was only twelve, she started shooting second camera with me at weddings and also did video.”

All of the “kids” and their families live close and spend a lot of time together, fishing, hiking, hunting, camping, horseback riding, and snowmobiling.

According to Amy, that interaction with family and friends is the key to great portraiture. She learned that early on. “And little kids are the best,” she says.

“I was in the store one day and this little guy that I had photographed walked by and just looked at me and said ‘cheeeeeese.’ That kid made my day. They can be challenging, but if you can get to their level and find out what interests them, they will be your friend forever. They don’t forget anything!”

Amy Peterson is the perfect example of someone who recognized her passion for photography and made up her mind to do something about it. She’s made quite a name for herself but we think the best is yet to come.