Western Natives

BEHIND THE LENS: DEREK HELMS

EXPERIENCE  >>  CREATORS OF THE WEST

“My content is something I want to evolve every time I hear the shutter click. I want each new picture I capture to be better than the last.”

Creator » Derek Helms

Creator » Derek Helms

Derek has been taking pictures and creating videos since he was just a young boy. He found his roots in outdoor photography by aspiring to be like his late great step grandfather, Ansel Adams. Like many photographers who grew up praising the work of Adams, Derek found inspiration in his original prints growing up and was captivated by his photographs. Unlike the other fans of Ansel Adams, he connected with his work even more so due to his family heritage. In this feature we showcase Derek’s work behind the lens to display the creativity he bring to his photos elk hunting, duck hunting, working with veterans. The following Images and words are by the ever so talented Derek Helms. (Follow all of Helm’s work on Instagram at (@leafdropproductions).
My career in production started when I was rather young. My buddies and I would hit the terrain park at the local ski hill, and I would film us doing “crazy stunts.” Then I would edit them on iMovie and share them on Facebook. Only my buddies would watch them. However, they loved them which was all the motivation I needed to keep making more.
When I moved to South Dakota for college to study Wildlife management and Fisheries Sciences, is when I really began to enjoy capturing human interactions with the great outdoors. Filming duck hunts and taking pictures of big smiles and a few piles here and there was all I would think about; it truly became an obsession and a passion.  I chased every opportunity possible that had to do with me, Mother Nature and my camera.
Leaf Drop Productions™ came to me late one night when I was alone with my dog Fergus, sitting around a fire. I had driven outside of town to study for finals, needing to be alone with no distractions so that I could study. I started a campfire and pulled out my notes, and began reading over my material. The sounds of geese across the lake and the bright moonlight got the better of me. All I did for the next 3 hours was walk around and take pictures of the fire and the moon and the reflection on the water. That was when I realized this was the only thing in my life I have craved for, taking pictures and capturing the beautiful life around me. I began to brand my content with Leaf Drop Productions™ and the rest is still in the works!
Hunting for me has always been the biggest part of who I am. Growing up chasing ducks with my father in the flooded backwaters of southern Minnesota I learned so much about life. Getting a few birds during a single hunt or over a weekend was humbling. Battling over pressured public land and not having a major flyway above, taught me patience and it taught me that Mother Nature owes you nothing.
You could battle the mud, rain, snow, and cold for hours and get one opportunity to harvest an animal. Now many would ask why you would settle for such hunting standards? However, my father taught me that harvesting an animal is not supposed to be easy. He taught me that you could be rewarded for your efforts with other things besides having a full strap of birds.
He admired the silence of the river bottom being interrupted by wood ducks buzzing up and down whistling the water awake. He saw rewards in the sunrise and having time to tell stories of the past or reflect upon yourself as the day awakens. I really cherish that now more than ever. Being able to capture these “other” rewards I grew up appreciating so much.
The photos that I have chosen to showcase are from several of my trips volunteering for a non profit organization called Military Mobility. This company saw a need to create an inspirational home for higher learning amongst the veteran community and believe in providing opportunity and instruction where high level individuals can rejoin a team, jumpstart passion, fuel teamwork, navigate operations, gain traction in leadership, align strategic goals, and recover potential.. The 5 day resiliency course is held in austere locations outside of Moab Utah.

“The men I’ve met on these trips are truly inspirational American heroes and that is why it is my favorite subject to capture. As much as I love hunting and fishing, the satisfaction of being able tell these incredible stories is what I find truly rewarding.”

Military Mobility is a nonprofit organization that is changing veteran’s lives. This five-day resiliency retreat is tailored to each group of veterans and the austere terrain around our campsite. The instructors teach trust, leadership skills, self-development, self-discovery, and so much more all while having a great time off-roading in some of the most beautiful locations in the United States. I have learned so much about others outlook on life. One of the veterans said in this last course. ” In life, there is the way it is. And the way you wish it was. Once you realize that you can only control your reaction to the way it is and not the way you wish it were. The sooner you will live a better more fulfilling life”. He also went on to say “with each roadblock comes to an alternate route that still gets you on the path to where you are going in life. A detour doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.”
Something all these veterans have in common is their desire to be part of a team again. They have the common thread of not letting their teammates down and wanting to support them. After being medically discharged or retiring from their service our veterans are in search of a new team. During their career, they have men and women standing by them with the same goal day after day. Losing that aspect of a person’s life can be difficult for some. Military Mobility is helping to rebuild the team environment. They give the veterans purpose again and help them find their next path in life.
If you wish to help save a life that served and protected yours, you can head to militarymobility.com. The website has several testimonials about past course members and their experience with Military Mobility. It also has a shop where you can get apparel and help send a veteran to the next course. Most importantly you can hit the donate button and give however much you can donate. Any amount affects veterans wanting to take part in the course. Thank you for the interest in learning more about Military Mobility and please visit their website as well as check them out on Instagram/Facebook (@militarymobility).
My partners at Leaf Drop Productions™ Alex Saxen and Keaton Rowe and I are always looking to line up our next project. We are in the process of editing footage from this winter’s crazy blizzard hunt in Colorado. A limit of snow geese, Canadians and Mallards were harvested in the middle of a brutal blizzard. We are excited to share this experience with our followers. Our goal as a company is simple. Evolve with every picture or video we take. Our next shot needs to be better than the last. With this mindset, I believe we can continue to grow and earn the respect of the awesome community we are lucky to be a part of.

“My advice to anyone wanting to pick up a camera is this. You don’t take pictures to get on a magazine or win a contest. You should take pictures to capture the pure moments of the adventure.”