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David's Photographic Style & Philosophy page 1 of 3
Style & Philosophy page 2
A Photographer out in the Natural World
My work is about the outdoor natural world where I live. I am ever amazed and excited by our Earth and have a keen interest in understanding its nature. I am not a nature photographer of animals and creatures although if one avails itself in one of my frames, I am happy to oblige. In other words I don't use expensive heavy telephoto lenses and faster films expert nature photographers that seek creatures use. What I do use currently is a 4x5 Wisner Expedition view camera exposing slow speed, fine grain, color accurate films with a heavy tripod. My work has been about making outdoor images with good resolution and color fidelity, able to be printed large, resulting in prints that reasonably represent moments in time naturally captured. I also use a compact digital camera for close-up work, mainly for wildflowers, and market their smaller sized digital image files. See this link for David's style and ethic using digital camera's for close-up work.
Living within a few hours of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, I have backpacked an average of about five trips per year for three decades. And I also take several multi-day road trips and dozens of day trips each year just working front country areas carrying my 30 pounds of camera gear about with a daypack. Favorite destinations of mine are alpine and timberline regions of the High Sierra. But I also have a keen interest working in other aesthetic natural locations of California whether they are mountain forest, foothill blue oak savanna, spring desert wildflower landscapes, fog shrouded redwoods, or the rugged Pacific coastline. Outside California, I love our classic western scenery in the Colorado Plateau. In fact there are few natural places I don't enjoy sans camera at least on a personal level. I've also been an enthusiastic advanced skier over those same years. And that experience allows me to take the big camera out into difficult backcountry mountain winter snow conditions.
The issue of photographing wilderness has always been one of logistics carrying not only the usual backpack and gear a person needs in the backcountry to overnight but also camera gear. That is why for many years I was content using a lighter weight 35mm system without serious commercial concerns affecting my style. Either my 6x7 and 4x5 gear add over twenty pounds to carrying weight. When I shot 35mm my carrying weights were usually at most in the high fifty to mid sixty pound range. With medium and large format, carrying weights are usually over 70 pounds. And I am just a thin wiry person at 133 pounds. There are a considerable number of categories and disciplines within the photographic artform. In this article, for the sake of brevity, when I use the term photography I am more narrowly referring to color nature and landscape photography, and am specifically emphasizing not black and white.
Style for Body of Work
Since I began photographing landscapes, I have had an orientation to produce images, that as closely as is reasonably possible given available technology, represent a faithful reproduction of my experience out in nature. It is not that I believe other landscape photographer's more post image creative styles are invalid, just my own choice pursuing the art form. It does represent how I wish my body of work to be viewed by the public. If someone else wishes to manipulate photographs to present something possible in their mind's eye, such is also a valid style, as long as they are honest about such with their public audience. However it is neither my choice for the way I prefer to work nor what I personally value as much in other's work. For instance I want the public to have confidence that my images of alpenglow or colorful sunsets are reasonable renditions of what occurred in nature and not a result of something artificial like use of overly saturated film, warming filters, or creative post processing. In other words I would rather have my images look as I saw them even if that makes them less commercially attractive, results in less money in my own pocket, and is not as appreciated by some as artistically strong as it might be. Some photographers would be quick to point out that could mean visiting some natural locations a great many times over the years before weather and conditions cooperate. Such is true and such stories accompany some of my images.
I have a firm belief that there are a great many people though not all, who value reasonably accurate captured photographs that represent moments in time more than those that are artistic manipulations. That is the essence of what people have generally considered unique about photography versus other created visual art. Not something people need to debate because it is something that makes sense without elaborate explanation. Such does not imply the enhanced, manipulated, or more post creative image has any ethical problems but merely that it is less intrinsically valuable because of that fact. Unfortunately today that choice of style conflicts with the status quo as I address below.
Camera Equipment and Film Choices
Therefore for landscapes, I don't use lens warming filters or polarizing filters that may change hue and saturation. A graduated neutral density filter on a bright landscape in order to balance a darker deep blue sky, may not be an issue because it has the potential to improve capturing what our eyes really see. Close-ups of for instance wildflowers, are a different category of my own choice of style, for which I will use artificial flash, reflectors, or a polarizing filter. And I state so on any images I market. In fact I'll state right here that I don't have accurate color fidelity for my small Coolpix digital images because such does not exist on any current digital cameras. At a minium, in post processing, I have to decrease reds more than 10% even though I've selected the minus saturation setting on the Coolpix. And there are other minor color imbalance issues I won't describe herein. Pretty normal for inexpensive digital cameras. One will note there are noticeable color differences between models on Internet sites that provide thorough camera testing reports. Software lookup tables attempt to balance average sensor issues, however the results at least on less expensive consumer cameras, is not likely to be too impressive.
Though color rendering on DSLR images can be reasonable depending on one's camera settings, without high-end commercial calibration, results have a ways to go to match Kodak EPN100 or Fuji Provia film. The day manufacturers bother to offer such cameras with individually calibrated sensors to color standards, I'll be the first in line. Notably as a minimum, most manufacturers do provide important white balance settings. The higher dynamic light capture range of digital cameras significantly reduces limitations of capturing higher contrast and dim light situations and is the leading advantage of DSLRs over film. A cetain reason I will migrate to such cameras sometime in the future when other concerns are met. Manufacturers know many customers prefer high contrast, high saturation images versus natural, so for normal default settings on cameras, they provide what sells. Ever since saturated color films appeared, I have chosen not to use them because resulting images often have a relative lack of color fidelity. The Kodak Kodachrome I used on all my 35mm work is considered one of the best of the previous generation of films for color fidelity, small film grain, and resolution. For my medium format and my early large format work, Kodak EPN100 was and still is the commercial standard for color fidelity. However I moved to Fuji Provia 100F because it has nearly as good color fidelity with superior small film grain and resolution.
About in the Field
I don't manipulate natural elements for the sake of an interesting foreground. But if I did so for a marketed image, would clearly state such. In particular I don't place objects, even small ones, and props in my subjects. Thus no bag of leaves, bag of pretty stones, or moving around natural features like pieces of wood. Again, nothing intrinsical unethically with such practices as long as a photographer represents the results as having done so with their public audience. It is a reflection of how they expect their audience might react that those with such a manipulative attitude almost never volunteer such information. However generally my attitude is pragmatic and not rigid. If a tree branch or blade of grass etc is in the way of a close-up subject, I may temporarily bend such out of the way. In an aspen grove, I may knock a small dead branch off a tree that is blocking my lens position. If a jet contrail is in the sky, I wait till winds move it out of my frame or it dissipates because I won't post process such elements out of my images; likewise with people and vehicles. Hence I try to avoid situations where other people and photographers are likely to be within my frames. Just my own rules of how I choose to play the game.
Additionally I have a considerable environmental ethic and work to tread lightly moving about the landscape since I am so often traveling about at lightly visited and pristine areas. In fact on Internet forums I have been a vocal advocate of usual wilderness ethic including not walking about in various fragile environments like crytogamic soils and vegetation while preferring mineral soils and rock. In heavily used icon locations that have fencing to keep visitors off fragile areas, I don't cross such barriers regardless of how special a perspective might be offered. And likewise in our dense wildflower areas, I have considerate concerns to not destroy for following photographers what I might be aiming my camera at today. Trampling some wildflowers is simply unavoidable. That is especially so in places like the Carrizo Plain when it blooms. However one ought to minimally keep a careful eye on where to walk and where not to walk so as not to trample obvious more aesthetic groups of flowers.