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Phototuts+ Reader Profile: Steven Davis

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In today's interview, we'll be talking to Steven Davis, a regular Phototuts+ reader. Web developer by day, Steven is an incredibly talented landscape photographer with plenty of advice to share. Read on to find out more, and see a series of stunning examples of his work.

Q 1. Please tell us a little about your background. Do you have a traditional education in photography, or have you moved into the field from another profession?

I have always been into Art and Technology, and have enjoyed documenting my life through pictures, but have always used a digital point-and-shoot and never really learned the tradition of photography other than shooting away randomly at friends.

I have a BA in Digital Graphics from CSU Hayward, so it somewhat applies, but I did that mainly because I am a web developer by trade. It did help me learn all the Photoshop skills that help with my post-processing, so I’m grateful for that.

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I still do web development for my day job, but I have really found a passion in photography in the past 2 years, and I’ve completely thrown myself (and my wallet) into it... buying equipment, reading books, going on workshops, etc. And this is how I’ve learned and got to the point where I am today.

Q 2. Are there any skills and talents that you gained at Opera which you feel now apply to your photography?

Working at Opera was a really unique experience for me. I got to telecommute for a company nine time zones away, got to travel to Norway and the surrounding countries a few times for several weeks, and made a ton of close friends from all over the world.

I discovered the world of DSLR photography through a friend that worked there and that got me hooked.

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Working at Opera, particularly the times I got to work at their HQ in Oslo, just in general opened me up to a lot of new experiences, cultures, and ways of looking at the world.

So while I don’t feel that I learned anything directly related to my photography, I learned a lot about myself and the way that I look at the world, and that has definitely benefited my photography and the way I compose my shots.

Q 3. The majority of seasoned photographers find and specialise in a particular niche. Which area of photography interests you the most, and why?

All forms of photography intrigue me and I can be humbled by amazing work of all kinds, but my particular passion lies in landscape photography. I’ve always loved the outdoors. I grew up in Boy Scouts and am actually an Eagle Scout, so I have that love of nature ingrained in me.

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I love moments where I can see amazing landscapes, and have the chance to capture those moments on a memory card for other people to enjoy. If I can convey the same emotion I felt at the moment of clicking that shutter button to a viewer of my photo on a wall or screen somewhere, that is just an amazing joy for me.

Q 4. Could you walk us through one of your images that you're particularly proud of, ad explain some of the challenges you overcame to capture the final image?

This is a photo I took during a workshop to the Mt. Shasta area with Aperture Academy. Often, just getting to the spot to get the right composition is a challenge in itself. This photo is of Castle Lake with Mt. Shasta in the background.

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Our group hiked from the lake parking lot a few miles to this spot, over rugged, rocky, crumbling terrain. I wanted to get a really good composition and not have to fight for the best shot, so I rushed to the head of the group and found this spot.

I had about 2 hours before sunset, so I spent a good hour figuring out the right comp, adjusting my tripod, exposure, aperture, etc. I used a 3-stop Graduated Neutral Density filter to even out the exposure between the sky and the ground and spent the rest of the time firing off a shot every few minutes.

This shot was about 30 minutes before sunset, when the sun was still hitting those trees in the foreground, creating the yellow chunk of color that I feel really adds to the contrast in the image and makes it “pop”.

I took over 100 shots over two hours in this spot, which I often do, and carefully whittled my selection of shots down until I ultimately chose this one. My instructor, Stephen Oachs, said that it was a “money shot” and it definitely has turned out to be one of my most popular prints.

Q 5. What do you do with your photography work when completed?

Once I have captured the shot on location, taken it home and done all of the post-processing work in Lightroom and Photoshop, I store the image on my computer’s hard drive in PSD or TIFF format, as well as a backup on an external hard drive.

I then keep these finalized files for creating and selling prints. I attend Art & Wine festivals, have live gallery showings, and also sell online at my website.

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Q 6. Could you outline your photography workflow? What photography equipment and software do you use on a daily basis, and why have you chosen this particular setup?

Since I tend to focus on landscape photography, my essential equipment includes:

  • An Induro CT-213 Tripod and BHD2 Ballhead -
    A tripod is essential for any kind of photography where you’re taking exposures of anything longer than 1/30 of a second to cut out blur due to camera shake.
  • A Remote Shutter Release Cable -
    Pressing a shutter button on a camera can introduce the risk camera shake and blurring of your exposure. Having a release cable greatly reduces this risk. If I don’t have my cable with me and timing of the shot is not important, I will use the 2 second timer delay on my camera.
  • A Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Lens -
    A wide angle lens is often important to get all the details in a landscape shot, especially when using a crop body like I do. I like the Tamron lens because it offers 2 extra stops of light (f/2.8-f/32), as well as 10 extra mm, compared to the Canon 17-40L, and the quality is comparable to Canon L glass. I’ve owned the Canon 17-40L and I prefer the Tamron for the cost, as well as these factors.
  • A Hotshoe Bubble Level -
    This is a cheap little tool, great for helping you keep your shots level.
  • A Circular Polarizer -
    Some people are purists and prefer not to use these, but most landscape photographers I’ve met recommend using one. They help blues and greens “pop” more and they reduce reflections, which is great when you’re shooting anything with water in it.
  • Circular Neutral Density Filters -
    These are great for slowing down your exposures. I have a 3-stop and a 9-stop. The 9-stop is great for getting longer exposures, even in the light of mid-day. They’re also great for shooting moving water, like waterfalls, slowing down your exposure and getting the nice painted look.
  • Graduated Neutral Density Filters (optional) -
    These are great for balancing out the exposure between sky and ground in a shot. I started out using these, but found them cumbersome to use over time. Also, as the light changes, you might need to use a different strength filter. I’m pretty good in Photoshop, so I prefer now to instead use Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) and blend the different exposure levels in Photoshop. This allows me to take more compositions in the field when I have limited time with changing light, and instead worry about the blending of exposures later when I have unlimited time. I have done photos using both methods and prefer now to skip using the GND’s.
  • Software - As far as software, I import my photos into Adobe Lightroom and do all my basic RAW processing there, then export to Photoshop and do all my detailed processing there.

Q 7. If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring photographers, what would it be?

I only got into photography about 2 years ago. If you’re curious about the hobby, buy or borrow some very basic equipment and start shooting. Practice, practice, practice. Read books (like Bryan Peterson’s amazing book Understanding Exposure). Take workshops.

Find what discipline you like - whether it’s portraiture, weddings, events, photo journalism, landscapes, or anything else. Once you get better at it, invest in some better equipment and keep at it.

Also, never get in a kayak in salt water with your equipment unless you like throwing your money away. I learned that the hard way!

More of Steven's Photography

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