#WhyCV Photo Spotlight: Sam Okamoto

“When clouds cover the sky after sunrise it creates a very different atmosphere, sunlight color is so brilliant and beautiful. I just cannot stay home when the mountain range has such a gorgeous silhouette and is calling me.”

Each month, in 2020, we highlighted a local photographer whose views of Carson Valley, and beyond, expand the way we look at everyday things around us. We couldn’t just stop in 2021. Each photographer shows the patience to capture the perfect shot, or their unique view of the everyday that transports us for just a moment, into another time and place.

To say that Sam Okamoto has lived a varied life could be a great understatement. After a French cuisine apprenticeship at the Imperial Hotel in Hakata, Japan, off he went to Quebec, Canada to spread his culinary wings. Between opening restaurants in Canada, Washington and California, he also managed to write the book ‘Sam Okamoto’s Incredible Vegetables’ published by Pelican Publications. Not to mention he lent his vegan expertise to the tofu burger and wiener industry. 

Since retiring, Sam has developed a passion for traveling around the globe, getting out in nature photographing storms, and is learning watercolor painting. His pen and ink watercolor pictures of scenes in Japan, and horses and cowboys are jaw dropping. 

Scroll through his gallery of images below, to get a sense of the world through his eyes, what he sees behind the camera, and the story behind the photographs. Be sure to check out Sam’s Facebook page to keep abreast of what he’s up to, and follow along on his travels at his website

Sam Okamoto spring evening

“Spring Evening at Carson Valley”
Living in major cosmopolitan cities in Japan, Canada and US, it is great to watch grand, massive scenery without concrete building or structures. During the Summer at Carson Valley, I check my weather map and to see if any storms are forecasted in order to create a beautiful back drop of the Sierra.

Sam Okamoto Storm Coming

“Storm is Coming”
It is easy to observe the weather pattern in Carson Valley.
Since I am fascinated with clouds, I tried to observe where is the best spot to catch the clouds. I didn’t have to go far to get this shot from home in Gardnerville. Just gorgeous sunrise in the morning.

Sam Okamoto valley morning

“Beautiful Morning at the Valley”
When clouds cover the sky after sunrise it creates a very different atmosphere, sun light color is so brilliant and beautiful. I just cannot stay home when the mountain range has such a gorgeous silhouette and is calling me.

Sam Okamoto “Warm Evening Sun”

“Warm Evening Sun”
The clouds have been hanging around Carson Valley all day and the sun is almost going down; the sunlight changes the color, which creates a magnificent, dramatic sky.

Sam Okamoto “Painting of God”

“Painting of God”
You often see virga over a desert, where low humidity and high temperatures can cause rain to evaporate shortly after being released by clouds. This photo was taken on an early May morning, facing South from Gardnerville.

Sam Okamoto “Peaceful Carson Valley”

“Peaceful Carson Valley”
Warm, late morning sun lifts the clouds, creating soft cumulus fluffs. This photo was taken from Pine Nut Rd., east side of Hwy 395.
It is such a gorgeous peaceful afternoon.

Sam Okamoto “Rainbow after the Storm”

“Rainbow after the Storm”
Carson Valley had a light storm and first snow of the season, sprinkling snow on the Sierra Nevada. Morning sun hit the sierra early in the morning creating a double rainbow.

Sam Okamoto “Snow over Gardnerville”

“Snow over Gardnerville”
Beautiful sunny day after a light, first snow of the season. Mt. Siegel and the mountain range are covered with snow. We see these mountains everyday but right after the snow, we revalue the beauty of their nature.

Sam Okamoto ”Cloud over Jobs Peak”

“Cloud over Jobs Peak”
Jobs Peak and Jobs Sister Peak are covered with snow from last night. The photo was taken from Pine Nut Trail East of Hwy 395. The scenery is so incredible. Jobs Peak is visible above the cloud and this incredible weather will continue until this afternoon.

Sam Okamoto “ON A WINDY DAY”

“On a Windy Day”
I love bad weather. Bad storm, bad wind, heavy snow and rain come down off the mountain heights and, for me, that is the best time to get a chance for good photos. It could get miserable; wet, cold and scary. On the day I took this photo, it was very windy and cold, but these weren’t the worst conditions I’d ever been in. Just keep on shooting photos, and hopefully I get couple of good ones.

Sam Okamoto “On a Beautiful Evening by the Sierra”

“On a Beautiful Evening by the Sierra”
I love these old trees. I always ignore these trees when they have the full bush of leaves, but in the winter the contrast of bare trees reminds me of old people. It’s almost like trees are talking to me, “Hey I am still here, don’t ignore me.” Okay, I will not.

Sam Okamoto “Stormy Weather”

“Stormy Weather”
Most of the time if I see the photo, I can tell where I shot the scene and whatever goes with it: how was the weather, what sort of gear I was carrying and so on. Meanwhile, I don’t even remember what I ate last night. Entire Sierra Nevada as far as I can see was covered with clouds, nasty weather some say, but not for me — it is just perfect.

Sam Okamoto “Sierra Sunset”

“Sierra Sunset”
November sky is very moody, it changes all the time, sometimes quickly, just like someone I knew. I have to be ready with camera gear when sun is going down on the Sierra. If successful maybe I will get twenty good photos or just one, or worse — NONE.

Sam Okamoto “Coleville After Snow”

“Coleville After Snow”
It is my favorite drive on Hwy 395 from Gardnerville to Coleville, then on to Monitor Pass, where in the Spring, where snow still remains on top of the Sierra. Then I learned Monitor Pass was closed due to snow, oh well, this is good enough for me.

Sam Okamoto ”Magnificent Sky”

“Magnificent Sky”
Something about a summer storm, the color of the sunlight is very different from Autumn or Winter. The color changes so quickly and a variety of colors appear. This is very close to home and I could see the clouds gathering, heading to dark and angry weather.

Sam Okamoto “Elegant & Furious Sky”

“Elegant & Furious Sky”
When clouds gathered in the West side of the Valley, I collected all my gear and prepared to take off as soon as I saw that the color of the sun was good. I got several good photos that evening, it is very handy for me to know where the good spot for sunset and sunrise shooting is.

Sam Okamoto ”Summer Sunset at Carson Valley”

“Summer Sunset at Carson Valley”
The wind moved very slowly this evening and held the clouds in a perfect position. I finished shooting in five minutes and felt guilty leaving. It may have a better color, contrast or cloud movement if I wait longer, maybe not. Those are the thoughts that come to my mind when I leave the beautiful scenery like this.

Sam Okamoto “Summer Sunset at Gardnerville”

“Summer Sunset at Gardnerville”
In Summer, I don’t have to worry about getting cold in Carson Valley, it is not a high mountain summit. Camera gear and weather-proof clothing is not needed. Tonight, was a just perfect night, light breeze and beautiful color contrast over Sierra East.

Sam Okamoto “Summer Storm”

“Summer Storm”
Summer and Autumn sky is very high and in Carson Valley you have a good chance of getting good cloud photo shooting. The Old Japanese saying, “Heaven is High, and horse get fat in Autumn”. I never saw horse in Japan while living for 20 years.

Sam Okamoto Left Behind

“Left Behind” one of the drawing from “Once Upon a time in the West” Bodie State Historic Park, California 270, Bridgeport, CA

Sam Okamoto Dream

Colorful Dream III

Sam Okamoto Dragon


Sam Okamoto Ine, Kyoto, Japan

“Fishing Village, Ine, Kyoto, Japan”
This fishing village is located on the Japan Ocean side, also called “Venice in Japan.” All the population in this village is associated with the fishing industry. It has a long and rich history as a fishing village, and is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in Japan.