Steamboat photographer retires, leaving a legacy in images |

Steamboat photographer retires, leaving a legacy in images

Jim Steinberg with his car Yeller, in Montana. Over the years, Steinberg has put more than 600,000 miles on Yeller, a 1980 Volvo 240 DL in search of the perfect spot, the perfect light.
Jim Steinberg/Courtesy photo

Since arriving in Steamboat Springs in 1975, nature and wildlife photographer Jim Steinberg has been creating amazing images using his vision to tell stories that are important to him.

“I told my photography students that every picture you take tells a story,” Steinberg said. “And if you can’t tell that story, then why did you push the button?”

Steinberg first came to Steamboat Springs as part of a University of Wisconsin ski trip. He moved to town a few years later and has enjoyed a long career that started with commercial, portrait and industrial photography before migrating to nature and wildlife.

“When I moved here, I wanted to get into photography, but the first thing I did was work at a coal mine,” Steinberg recalled. “I worked there until Rick Bear was crazy enough to hire me.”

Steinberg and Bear formed a partnership, and that’s where the aspiring photographer got his start managing retail operations while also doing portrait, commercial and industrial photography.

Together, the two operated Positive-Negative and later started the Portfolio Collection, and they ran the only commercial dark room between Denver and Salt Lake. Steinberg earned his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Wisconsin before heading to the University of Oregon, where he got his master’s and doctorate degrees.

However, he got hooked on photography years before that after his parents bought him a Brownie camera that he used to take family photographs.

“I was self-taught until I actually said, ‘I’m going to do this full-time,’” Steinberg said of his photography. “Then I started taking classes at the Texas Institute of Photography in Huntsville. … The industrial commercial stuff came to me very easily, but for the portrait stuff, I did have to go study.”

Jim Steinberg poses as a camel train of salt is loaded and ready for the 5-day trip from the Danakil Depression salt flats, better known as Hell on Earth, to market.
Lori Steinberg/Courtesy photo

After graduating from Oregon, Steinberg decided he wanted to move away from academia and return to Steamboat Springs after visiting town as part of college trips when he was at Wisconsin.

“We brought three buses of college skiers here the first year the gondola opened in December of ’70, and many of my friends ended up staying,” Steinberg said. “When I was casting about and telling myself I’m not going to live in academia, a number of my friends said, ‘Why don’t you come out here for a year and figure out what you’re going do.’”

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He listened and came to Steamboat, where he landed a job with Energy Fuels, an above-ground job. He worked that job until he connected with Bear and began his journey into a career in photography. 

One of his first jobs was documenting the construction of the Craig Station. In the years that followed, Steinberg’s portfolio grew to include commercial work, industrial photography and shooting portraits and weddings.

The sun coming through the morning fog provides a dramatic backlight for these lodgepole pines in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco’s Presidio.
Jim Steinberg/Courtesy photo

His big break came when he teamed up with Jane Kinney, an agent at Photo Researchers — now Science Source — and signed his first agency contract in 1979. It was a move that helped him transition to travel, nature and natural history photography.

“They were one of the biggest agencies in the world,” Steinberg said. “They did a little lifestyle, but primary nature and science, and that’s what they wanted me for.”

The agency was a perfect fit for Steinberg, who was doing a lot of landscape photography, and at the time, many of the textbook companies were using photo researchers.

This singular crepuscular ray creates a radiant beam of light seldom seen near Ouray, Colorado
Jim Steinberg/Courtesy photo

“A lot of the landscape we were doing worked well in textbooks,” Steinberg said. “The work fit into geography, geology, meteorology. For a while, there was not a geology textbook in North America or Europe that didn’t have our stuff in it.”

He has been published in National Geographic, Life, Newsweek, Sierra Club, U.S. News and World Report, National Parks, Audubon, Nature’s Best and The Nature Conservancy. Commercial clients include Ramada, United Way, Children’s Television Workshop WNET, American Museum of Natural History, The Wall Street Journal and numerous others.

He has several books to his credit and won the 2008 and 2009 Colorado Book Award (pictorial) and the Foreword Magazine 2009 Book of the Year (travel) for “Colorado Scenic Byways, Taking the Other Road.”

Lupine glow in the midnight sun of Iceland. Though beautiful, the Alaskan Lupine (lupinus nootkatensis) is a non-native species in Iceland.
Jim Steinberg/Courtesy photo

Steinberg has put more than 600,000 miles on his 1980 Volvo 240 DL, and his work has taken him around the world to places like Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, Germany, France, Switzerland, Great Britain, Italy, Ecuador, Chile and Patagonia. He’s done a lot of work in Canada, and the only continent he has not visited is Antarctica.

Still, some of his favorite places are in Colorado including photographs he took of light cutting across a mountain range near Ouray, fallen Aspen leafs covering a trail in the Uncompahgre National Forest and a shot of More Barn with the slopes of Steamboat Resort in the background.

Jim Steinberg teaches at Bow Lake in Banff National Park.
Harold Jerrell/Courtesy photo

He was also the first director of the National Geographic Photography Workshops, which were started in 1985 in Steamboat Springs by nationally known photographers Rod Hanna and Rich Clarkson. The workshops ran for eight years.

“I think it was either the first or second year that we did the workshop; Jim was one of the students in the workshop,” Hanna said. “As time went on, I was busy as the director of public relations at the ski resort, and I got Jim to help with the workshop.”

Hanna, an accomplished photographer himself, was the director of public relations and advertising for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. from 1975-1996 and senior vice president of marketing from 1997-2000.

We have all walked this path – in one place or another.
Jim Steinberg/Courtesy photo

Steinberg said he held the position as director of the workshops for a couple of years, as he was transitioning his own career to focus on travel journalism. He said he valued his time rubbing elbows with elite photographs, making connections and learning how to be a mentor for upcoming photographers.

Steinberg went on to teach for The Center for Natural Photography and to help Arizona Highways Photo Workshops expand by leading programs outside of Arizona. He has also taught workshops in Canada.

“Jim’s a very talented photographer, and he’s a terrific businessman,” Hanna said. “Over the years, he’s done quite well, and among other things, he has published several books of his photography. It takes a considerable amount of expertise to get that done and to do it successfully.”

After years of success behind the camera, Steinberg said he started to consider retiring during the pandemic, but soon discovered it wasn’t as easy as just locking the doors.

“We decided at the end of last year that I was going to try to close it down,” Steinberg said. “But that didn’t work because as soon as we started telling people, the phone just wouldn’t stop ringing.”

Late summer hay has been baled and is waitng to be picked up by the farmer in Routt County.
Jim Steinberg/Courtesy photophoto

Steinberg is still working to close some larger projects out, but he hopes to retire in the first half of 2023. He said he will sell a lot of his gear including cameras, lights, stands, tripods and backdrops. There will also be deals on prints — not custom prints — that line the walls of his business headquarters on Oak Street.

His hopes are to play golf and work on the gardens at his home with his wife, Lori, who is a Master Gardener and a talented photographer.

“Right now, I just want to just kind of wind down, get stuff done, take some time to relax and not have the pressure of deadlines, editors and quarterly reports,” Steinberg said. “It’s been a blast of 50 years.”

Jim Steinberg with a Rhino in the background in Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa.
Jim Steinberg/Courtesy photo

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