By Ed Heethuis & Lisa Morgan

Receiving a camera as a present wasn’t uncommon for a teenager forty years ago, but when an innocuous gift ignites one’s life’s passion, the real recipients of this gift are those who see the resulting passion and photographs. David McChesney not only developed his talent with a lens, he learned to become one with nature, capturing stunning wildlife shots as well as celestial and meteorological wonders. He shares his images freely on his social media sites allowing us all to fall in love with this unique desertscape over and over again.

These shots don’t come easy. He spends tireless hours preparing to be in the right place at the right time day after day, careful to keep his presence from disrupting the wildlife as they go about their day. McChesney is constantly keeping an eye out for dangers, as well as opportunities. Celestial events require an equally strategic and methodical investment. His passion shows through his body of work, and his body of work is abundant.

Born in Hawthorne, California, McChesney’s first attempts to capture wildlife with his lens began with selling photos of rock concerts back in early 70s. “That’s when I first realized I could make a buck with my camera.” He photographed weddings and took head shots before spending years in commercial real estate photography. It was during his time in the real estate industry that he first took steps toward a career in nature and wildlife photography (the other wildlife). Many miles were invested travelling to various national parks, preserves, refuges, and the like. Today, he finds himself “immersed in wildlife” at his home on the border of Joshua Tree National Park. McChesney fully enjoys the benefits from the continuous photo ops while fulfilling book, print and notecard orders. He personally restocks his printed artwork to retailers. And when he’s not creating new pieces, he’s playing music (McChesney is a highly respected harmonica player). He also enjoys the celestial events in the stunning night skies.

The magical life he enjoys now didn’t happen on its own. In its earliest days, it was the result of what would be considered a painful event for any 12-year- old kid. “My parents divorced when I was 12 years old, and I ended up with a pretty nice camera and lenses,” McChesney reflects. “The compliments and sales of my work offered lots of inspiration to carry on. But I credit my grandma Muir as my greatest influence. She lived in Snow Creek at the time and was a true animal lover. She nurtured my love of nature and the critters. Since then, I have always enjoyed creating a visual history of my interests and experiences.”

“My first formal training came at Fullerton College. When I first became eligible to enroll in photo courses, I was already the photo editor of the school newspaper and selling to publications. I had an instructor, Clay Miller, who was chief photographer for the Santa Ana Register. He was influential in my career, helping me get published after a bear photography trip to McNeil River, Alaska. He gave me a business perspective at the time and taught me that photography was more than ‘just fun.’”

McChesney has traveled to places like the Galapagos Islands, Pribilof Islands, Patagonia, Hawaii, Alaska and well over one hundred national parklands in the Western Hemisphere. He worked with photo agencies in New York, London, Chicago, and Los Angeles while directing his travel towards particular species, grandeur, waterfalls and natural occurrences. “I was doing this while performing in and hosting thousands of musical entertainment events in the greater Los Angeles area. Never a dull moment!”

From Our Partners

“I always enjoyed the desert and Joshua Tree, so when I could afford to look for a vacation home, I considered it, along with South/Central Idaho and the St. George area of Utah. An old friend used to have property near the park and we used to camp there. I remembered telling folks, ‘I’d love to live there, if only I had a refrigerator.’ I finally decided on Joshua Tree because it was close to my home in Orange County. I bought my home in 1998. It became clear that the level of stress in my life diminished when I was here rather than in Orange County, and eventually my body told me to move here full time in 2003.”

“I grew up watching the desert on ‘Death Valley Days’ and knew in my heart that the great offerings of the desert were deeper and more widespread,” McChesney recounted. This need to dispel the myth that the desert was a wasteland, inspired his book, “The Mojave Desert: Miles of Wonder.” McChesney further achieved his goal with is most recent publication, “American Birdlife: Treasures of the True Southwest.” “I knew that no photographer had ever published a book with so many avian species of the Southwest,” he shared. “Books with even half the number of species contain a list of photographic contributors, and the assemblage of desert birdlife in Joshua Tree is unmatched anywhere. Understand that I maintain a large collection of bird books from artists like Sibley and Peterson. They have created fantastic publications. But I’m a photographic artist and not an artist/illustrator. I am proud to use my photography to assist in land conservation efforts that protect species.” McChesney has gone so far as to travel to the nation’s capital and Sacramento to help advance issues and legislation that will help educate audiences. He serves as an ambassador for Joshua Tree all around the country.

Today, after a huge career of booking appointments and having to be at a specific place at a specific time, McChesney savors his life in Joshua Tree. “I like being where I want to be, when I want to be there,” he shares. “One can’t produce the images I do without going to some pretty wonderful places and seeing an enormous amount of beauty and wilderness. I enjoy how my imagery gives rise to others to vocalize their favorite visual moments and wildlife experiences. There is a shared respect and appreciation for the wild and its critters with so many of the people whose paths I cross. It is not only satisfying but rewarding. I enjoy the quietude and solitude that my life allows today. To hear the great horned owl and the coyotes howl, to live amongst artists, musicians, and environmentalists, and to collectively strive to create magic in this little piece of Heaven we call home brings me great joy.”

McChesney’s works are available for sale. He does various art shows and exhibits, and he sells his books, prints, notecards, and other photographic art at nearby storefronts such as Cactus Mart in Morongo Valley, the Welcome Center in Yucca Valley, Office Supplies Plus in Twentynine Palms, and Coyote Corner in Joshua Tree. “Most often I sell books and imagery through Facebook to folks around the world who message me to order and ask questions.” McChesney also has a website:

From Our Partners