Top Photographers of 2013: Part 1 – Trey Ratcliff of StuckInCustoms

Top photographers of 2013: Part 1 – Trey Ratcliff of

The first thing that struck me about Trey Ratcliff’s website was its name. Stuck in customs? Huh?

top photographers of 2013 trey ratcliff stuckincustomsSo I went to the all knowing guru (Google) and set about discovering its origins. What or who inspired it? Is there any deeper, hidden meaning?

Did he just pull it out of his hat, or mull over its import? Was he being literal, sarcastic, ironic?

Was it because he travelled so much and spent an inordinate amount of time stuck in customs? Could it be as simple as that?

I was stuck on StuckInCustoms. I wanted to know it all. I needed to know it all (blame it on OCD, I did).

So, here I was Googling the guy to death, reading dozens of his interviews, listening to over half an hour of him and Matt Brandon of Peachpit talk about Trey’s best selling book A World in HDR to find out whether anyone asked him why?

And I got nada, zilch!

The only telling thing I found was Trey himself being a.k.aed as Stuck in Customs on two separate occasions.

What the…ahem…I mean what does that mean? He has two legal names and used one of them as his website? Well, I guess if Phoebe could change her name to Princess Consuela Banana Hammock, anything is possible.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping Martin solves this mystery for me when he interviews Trey. ☺

My own journey was not in vain though. It’s weird how we can get carried away with something seemingly so inconsequential and end up learning all sorts of tidbits about someone –, has become the #1 Travel Photography Blog on the Internet.

#1 StuckInCustoms Photography Blog

  • Trey Ratcliff posts a photograph every single day
  • He draws and digitally paints too and really well I might add
  • On an average his photos get over a million views a week
  • Trey has over 7 Million Followers on Google+
  • He has 552,140 followers on Facebook
  • 49,614 followers on Twitter
  • 4,796,670 followers on Pinterest
  • Declared one of the 10 most influential people on Pinterest in 2013

Ratcliff is the only man on our list this year, but he’s had a huge impact on the conversation around artists and photographers sharing images on Pinterest. He stirred up controversy last year when he said photographers should stop complaining about copyrights and continued to encourage photographers to not be scared about sharing their work in another controversial blog post this year entitled “Why I don’t use Watermarks.” The post received 157 comments and a counter post written by a fellow photographer. – Full article here

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trey ratcliff hdr photography tutorial

That’s right, his photographs are there for anyone to use, all images are Creative Commons, non-commercial.

It was a pleasant surprise to find a professional photographer who allows the use of their photos for free.

You can use them in your personal blogs, as desktop backgrounds or for just plain fun, as long as you link back to his website and give the credit which is rightfully his due.

So where were we on the list? Oh right, Trey has a degree in Computer Science (me too, although he actually put his to use) and Math. Apparently this allows him to see the world differently, in algorithms. (Say what now?)

I have my own interpretation of HDR photography, as you might detect from my work.  My history is a strange combination of growing up blind in one eye and then majoring in computer science.  I’ve always thought about the brain, the eye, and the manipulation of light in terms of algorithms.  I give deep thought into how we store scenes and emotions in our mind’s eye, and I seek to achieve, photographically, a palpaple sense to the world around us.
— Read the rest of Trey’s 3 min interview with Jim Goldstein here

Throw In Some HDR Photography

So what’s this HDR photography? Well there is actually a free tutorial on his website about it here. I also found a very simplistic definition by Diana Tula of

HDR is an acronym for High Dynamic Range. If you use some special HDR software, you can see all the light in the final photo that you can see when you are standing on the scene. Perhaps you’ve been in a beautiful spot and taken a photo and it comes out flat and disappointing. With HDR processing there is no longer a need for that — now the final image can be as truly evocative as it was when you were there. Article on 500PX here

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top photographers of 2013 trey ratcliff stuckincustoms - the park hdrThe Park – Trey Ratcliff

Basically it adds the WOW factor. Most of Trey’s work is landscapes and I particularly liked this photo (above), very thought provoking, kind of made me ponder about life’s crossroads. His photographs are like living paintings.

In addition to the free HDR tutorial, Trey also offers reviews of cameras and other photography related stuff like software, camera lenses etc, and there is a store where you can purchase his ebooks, tutorials or reserve a spot for one of his workshops.

He’s written for Smashing Magazine (10 Easy Steps To Advanced Photography Skills – read article here). Although most of the techy stuff went right over my layperson head (I’m one of those toy camera owners Trey talks about, *ducks head in shame), I was rather entertained by his clever use of sarcasm to get certain points across.

All in all it’s a well thought out informative and at the same time intuitive piece.

I particularly like his statement about kids:

Kids have this remarkable “membrane” between fantasy and reality. They can jump back and forth between the two in an effortless way. In fact, the membrane itself is wonderfully “thick,” in that there is a vast dream-state wilderness where the world is both fantasy and reality.

A touch of sentimentality in there some place I think. I read that Trey grew up blind in one eye. Hard to believe but true. His about page gives an impression of someone who is very positive, energetic, fun and generous. His work is exceptional and I think a source of inspiration to a lot of people.

Trey Ratcliff Landscape Travel Photography Tutorial

It Doesn’t Matter What Other People Think

“A wonderful eye for the eye-deal shot…
 and unselfishly guiding others to pursue their talent in the process… Kudos, Trey
 and thank you for the inspiration!” — Darby Bonsall via Google+

“Trey’s travels and work are inspiring. So much to see out there, and he brings it to our screens in living color -) Keep on shooting and pushing the limits.” — NikoGrapher Jon via Flickr

He’s also the Dumbledore to the online Hogwarts, The ArcanumMagical Academy for the Mastery of the Arts, where the master-apprentice system of old, wears an innovative new face. Here’s what had to say about it:

The Arcanum blends the old and the new by using the miracle of modern technology to connect Masters with multiple eager Apprentices online. In this way, beginners are offered one-on-one mentorship as they ‘level up’ until they ultimately prove themselves worthy of taking on their own “Mastery Cohort” of apprentices.

Last month’s Frederick Van Johnson also did a great interview on it with Trey Ratcliff, Peter Giordano and Bel Jones – The Arcanum Exposed.

Watching this video literally raised the hair on my neck. It’s that cool. I’ve always believed that technology and specifically the Internet can be used to impart knowledge and skills. I would love to be an apprentice at The Arcana. Hmmm… I’m thinking of joining the hand drawn art discipline.

top photographers of 2013 trey ratcliff stuckincustoms - burning man hdrBurning Man Last Day Night – Trey Ratcliff

Some of the photos in his “Burning Man” series are pretty out there, but brilliant none the less.

I was already quite taken in by him, then when I went further down his about page I found that he donates to small businesses in different parts of the world.

I have lent money to a small potato farm in Peru started by a 25-year-old mom named Elizabeth, a bicycle repair shop in Vietnam managed by a gal named Nguyen Thi Huong, a car mechanic’s shop in Lebanon run by a gentleman named Ali, a small livestock operation in Tajikistan run by a 47 year old gentleman named Tochidin, a small meat market in Ghana run by a 70 year old woman named Ama, a mom named Essi in Togo who sells dried fish, a 24-year-old gal in Ecuador named Cristina who sells rice, sugar, and tuna, and last, a 41-year-old woman in Nicaragua named Gladis who sells cosmetics and jewelry so her children can have a better quality of life. I do these things because I believe in capitalism and free trade more than government. As a strong libertarian, I believe the government typically creates more problems than it solves. Their intent is often to help people, but it rarely does a good job of it. What really helps people is other people, freedom, free trade, cooperation and competition…”

Read Trey Ratcliff’s full take on it here.

There’s a StuckInCustoms App too

Oops, I nearly forgot to mention his app, Stuck on Earth, which basically discovers great destinations for you to visit. You can check out the specs here. Like a lot of his stuff, it’s free. I just finished downloading it onto my iPad. The interface is awesome.

Is there no end to this list of his accomplishments and talents? That is one cool dude. If I wasn’t so in awe I’d be turning green with envy!

You can read Kate Russell’s interview with Trey Ratcliff about his financial success and social media presence here.

Subscribe to Trey’s YouTube channel here.

StuckInCustoms Coupon Code

Here is the StuckInCustoms coupon code. Use it to get 10% discount on all tools, tutorials or eBook purchases. Just enter coupon code SIC-1089 at the shopping cart.

What do you think?

I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day. – Abraham Lincoln


  1. […] I felt his photographs lacked the wow factor I so loved about Trey Ratcliff’s work but then again what do I know? I must say though, being fascinated (obsessed really) with the dark […]

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