The Story Behind A Landscape Photograph (Part Two)
by Dave Mobbs – July 13th, 2018
In Part Two of our Landscape blog series, we caught up with three more Coloratti Ambassadors: Tom Mackie, Antonio Gaudencio, and Hugo Rodriguez. We found out what they love about their work, and what words of advice they would pass along to those just starting out in landscape photography.
I’ve been a photographer all my working life. I started my career as an industrial and architectural photographer in Los Angeles, fresh from gaining my degree in commercial photography. Travelling extensively through the vast, cinemascope terrain of the Western States during this period ignited a life-long passion for landscapes. I realised the confines of a commercial studio were not going to be enough.
In 1985 I moved from my native US to the UK to pursue a full-time career as a landscape photographer. Since then, I’ve produced award-winning work for a wide range of clients. I also write books and articles on landscape photography and run workshops in the UK and abroad.
Travelling the world and making images is what I enjoy the most. For me, the joy is in being out in nature capturing moments in time.
Perhaps my most memorable photograph is an image of a very unusual tree: a Divi Divi Tree. This tree was on a beach in the Caribbean (I say was, because it was blown away in a hurricane). I took this image back in my film days, using a Fuji GX617 medium format panoramic camera. The film was Fuji Velvia. It’s memorable because it breaks all the rules of landscape photography by shooting at midday. I shot images at sunrise, midday and sunset at this location, but the midday image had the most impact. At the time, I had no idea how popular this image would be and it’s been very rewarding in all senses.
My advice to people starting out in landscape photography is to spend the time mastering the basics of landscape photography. Too many people get sucked into investing in equipment before investing in them. Recognise that a better camera doesn’t produce better photos.
I first started taking photographs for practical reasons. In my fine-arts curriculum when I was 16, I needed to understand light as part of my personal development project and artistic reflection. I was eager to understand how it diffuses, transforms, reflects into matter and colours. Photography enabled me to become an observer of light, and to integrate it in my thoughts as a painter.
With a degree in fine-arts, I was admitted into the Gobelins, the renowned Parisian art school. This provided me with a solid training on the different shooting techniques and silver development. I then worked in picture post-production and digital retouching for many years. However, in 2014 I moved to Portugal to open my own photo studio. Since then, I have regularly collaborated with communication agencies, travel agencies and magazines, while also giving training courses.
I have always been attracted to the light. During my years as a retoucher, I worked on shots taken in studios, with artificial, stabilised lighting environments. In a natural environment, the roles reverse; light becomes uncontrollable, furtive and impatient. The photographer therefore becomes an observer, waiting for the light to offer itself to his lens.
To me, that is where the real richness lies. The essence of my activity as a landscape photographer lies in this feeling of uncertainty, of hope of capturing a beautiful light. I sincerely believe that this approach of observing and understanding the light, the colour, can only be beneficial to one’s creative desire and search for an identity, especially in landscape photography.
Becoming a landscape photographer requires many qualities, but the main one is to be passionate. Passion helps us overcome the disappointment of bad light or a bad shot. I have sometimes walked for hours with my backpack on my back, putting up with humidity or cold and come home without a single photograph. If you’re not passionate, you will quickly give up landscape photography.
I studied photography for five years to become a photographer, although I ended up teaching, mainly on photographic technique.
What interests me about landscape photography is being able to capture the feeling of grandeur that you get in front of some impressive landscapes. And that is so difficult to capture in a photograph! If I can impress someone and give them the feeling of ‘being there’ when they see my landscapes, I would be very flattered.
If I had to choose one of my most beloved photographs, I would choose the one I took in Urgup, Turkey. I took this picture in the central part of the country, in the middle of Cappadocia. I was using one of my first digital reflex cameras: a Kodak DCS-Pro 14nx professional, back in 2004.
It was starting to get dark and I realised that when the sun set, I would leave the whole town in the shade. At the same time, the mountain would be lit up with orange. So I set the tripod and waited patiently until that time came. I took several pictures as the light changed rapidly in a matter of seconds to ensure I got the best of them all. Then a good RAW develop with good colour management (camera calibration included) did the rest. I just darkened the sky a little and added some vignetting, and that was all.
I like this image very much because it shows clearly how you can get excellent colour in an image without getting too much into the retouching; simply by using quality colour management and waiting for the right time to let the light do its job.
For those starting in landscape photography, it’s a long-distance race that requires good technique and good aesthetic criteria. There are no shortcuts to good landscape photography. Only continuous training in both the technical and aesthetic aspects will be able to provide a photographer with the necessary knowledge to achieve excellence.