on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

David Ward – Webinar Transcript

A fascinating webinar with David & Tim - a really great read.

David Ward

T-shirt winning landscape photographer, one time carpenter, full-time workshop leader and occasional author who does all his own decorating.


Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

Flickr, Facebook, Twitter

Hello and welcome to On Landscape webinar, a question and answer session with David Ward.

Tim: Welcome David

David: Good evening, how are you doing Tim ?

T: I’m not bad, de-stressed after launching the exhibition yesterday. Whoever said exhibitions are a relaxing affair, they were lying! It’s completely stressful, but quite satisfying in a way as well.

D: It’s really nice to see your work up isn’t? I think it’s fantastic.  A really important part of the creative process is to share, otherwise what are we doing?

T: Absolutely.  If no-one has looked at the format for this evening, we’ve got a series of questions, via email, Twitter, Facebook and the webinar. We’ll be going through them, but if you have any questions you’d like to ask. You can use the interface on the right hand side of the screen and our able assistant Charlotte will be compiling those together and passing them on through. We’ve already got around 20 questions which will get us going! So shall we start from the top David ?

D:  Yeah, go for it, ask away !

T: Right, our first question is from John Dunne via Facebook:  Any insights David can share about his unique compositional approach of seeing the landscape in terms of 'graphical' elements would be wonderful. Oh and any news on either a reprint of "Landscape Within" or the ebook version would be nice too ?

D: It’s kind of interesting when people talk about my photography as I don’t know I recognise people’s descriptions of my photography. I don’t think of myself as someone, I suppose, who necessarily looks for graphical elements when I’m making a picture. I’m just trying to find what I consider to be the salient parts of a scene when I’m making a photograph.  Something will attract my attention and I will try and work out exactly what part of the scene is the most relevant. Then try and work out how to frame that. I don’t set out to think ‘Oh, that’s really graphical, what do I do with that?’, I just find out what is in the scene that interests me I suppose.

Merced evening 2048

Merced Evening

T: How do you actually learn composition in the first place? Is it something that came naturally to you or is it something that you had to work at?

D:  I think it’s something that we all have to work at. I think most people start from the position that the magazine encourages us to start from which is with a set of guidelines or rules. That’s, as I’ve said many times before, like stabilisers on a pushbike; it stops you from falling over and hurting yourself or making an idiot of yourself (or however you want to put it). I think that I very quickly decided that I should ignore that and find what I consider to be my own voice, my own way of interpreting the landscape. That’s what most people would describe as a style I suppose. I consider composition to be solving of a multi dimensional puzzle.  There are the three physical dimensions, and there is the fourth dimension which is time. We have other dimensions - colour and (if you’re shooting in black and white) tonality. All of these things need to be balanced with each other within the frame. By balanced I don’t mean that they need to be in harmony necessarily. You can make an image that has tension, that is perhaps uncomfortable to look at. But there still needs to be an internal logic. There needs to be something that makes it a whole, so you’re not looking outside the frame for answers.  That’s not quite right... I wouldn’t say that exactly as I like to make pictures that actually allow room for the viewer. That’s a slightly different thing, and is slightly different from composition, but I don’t want to actually provide a complete picture for people. I like the viewer to bring something to the viewing of the photograph.

T: Is that the element of intrigue and surprise that you’ve mentioned in the past?

D: Yes, intrigue, mystery or however you want to put it. I suppose, images that are illustrative just provide the viewer with everything that they need in order for them to understand the scene that before them.

Whereas an image that moves beyond illustration, that is provocative in some way, actually allows room for the viewer. This is something that’s incredibly well known and understood within art in general - the other visual arts, literature and plays. It is understood that you don’t spell everything out. As someone said to me not so long ago, the scenery on a radio plays was actually much better! It’s that. It’s allowing room for people to interpret and for the image to have a life within their own creative minds. Not actually telling them everything.

T:  Next question we got from Joe Rainbow via email: I wanted to ask David how he views the link between the photographers state of mind and the images he makes. Really about receptiveness to ideas, and techniques to become receptive when in the field.

D: I actually made a comment on the piece that you wrote about opportunity cost and photography, that I think that for me the most important thing when I go out to make a photograph is to be receptive. To be in a state of mind where I can be open to all the possibilities that are around me.

Minor White talked about being in a state of mind akin to an unexposed piece of film “upon which any image might be conceived” and that’s what I try and do. Frequently that means that when I go away for the first day or two, I don’t actually make very many images, because I need time to shed the cares of my everyday life and settle into a state of mind that allows me to make pictures. For instance, if I went out for an afternoon to make pictures, it would be very unlikely that I would make any pictures. I need to be in a meditative state or flow state and that’s something that takes time to achieve.

You can’t flick a switch and I’m there, so that takes some time. It’s about starting to connect to the place where I am, just really visually studying the environment that I’m in. Also, for a lot of the time, one of my major concerns is to look at the world around me and try to look at the differences between how the camera sees and how the human eye sees. Which is really about how the mind works. I don’t go somewhere with the notion that I’ll illustrate what that place looks like.

I’ll go somewhere and explore vision, my vision. I can’t explore how you see or how my viewers do, all I can do is try and see how I see it and try and make images that are questioning how that works. So the receptiveness is really important. And the techniques about coming receptive? Well, that’s really about being quiet, opening myself to what’s happening around me and really looking.

Most of the time we are using our eyes we take a visual shortcut, like visual shorthand. So, we use our vision so we don’t bump into things like lamp posts or trip on a kerb. We don’t actually really look at our surroundings because there is a huge overhead, an enormous cognitive overhead to actually looking all the time; it’s tiring.

You probably notice on workshops that people are tired. It’s not the physicality of walking up a hill or whatever it is. But they are tired because they are using their minds - not just to work through the puzzles of technique. They are using their minds because they are really trying to look the whole time. For most people really looking happens when they are in some form of crisis. People talk about the experience of being in a car accident and how everything slows down and how afterwards they can remember everything that happened to them in really tiny detail. That’s the state of mind that we try and get into when we make a picture, as it’s about seeing every detail around us and really trying to work out how things sit in relation to each other. Most of the time we don’t really understand the perspective of things, we just make shortcuts.

T: Next question is from John Lamont via email: When you’re at a planned location to shoot, and you’re just not seeing frames despite scouting/google earth/planning and the cost of time and money being there, what do you do? Give up and try later - drink lots of espresso - try harder and work with what you see - or buy a new camera - Joen King :)

D: Certainly not the last ;)

T: He’s joking

D: I see that he’s put a smiley on that !

Try harder? No, that becomes self defeating, if anything you have to relax. It’s more like meditation. If you try too hard, you end up in a state where you can’t see anything. It’s a bad thing to do. I’ve had that with participants, where they put themselves under a lot of pressure to make pictures as they’ve come on a trip to wherever they are. They’ve spent a lot of money to get there, and they have got to make pictures. Sometimes for the first day or two that means that they can’t actually make anything worthwhile, because they are putting themselves under too much pressure.

I know the same thing would happen to me if I did that, so I try and be sanguine about it. ‘I haven’t seen anything yet’ and I need to spend some time and look, tune in and just be quiet and see what’s going on around me.

T: I know you’ve said to a colleague of mine, Paul Arthur, that with the same problem, “Just sit down.”

D: Yeah, I think he thought, he thought I was telling him to go away, but I wasn’t! I said go and sit down for twenty minutes. That’s what I do on occasions if I can’t see anything, I’ll stand or I’ll sit, or I’ll look around me and just see what’s happening. I’ll take it in and absorb it and sometimes, you do that and you make a frame and you see what happens when you place a frame around reality. Most of the time I don’t actually bother to do that, I’m doing a frame inside my head. I know that does work for some people - to take a film out or cardboard with the right aspect ratio cut out from it. I think that works better than putting the camera to the eye as sometimes that causes performance anxiety again. ‘I’ve got the camera here, so I best take a picture now’... you need to just see it first. You need to see the picture before you get the camera out I think.

T: Somebody said to me (I can’t remember who it was), that it’s unlikely that the location around you is going to change, so you have to wait for your attitude towards it to change. You have to do something for that to happen and is the idea of sitting down or doing something else to get your mind in a different state for a bit before you look back at the location.

D: I think a lot of us have had the experience of going to a location and not being able to see a picture and “Why can’t I see a picture?!”  Especially when you go back a few days later and you can see pictures everywhere and you think, “This is mad! Suddenly I can see pictures everywhere!” It’s about your conscious state - in fact mostly about your subconscious state, as I think most of the visual processing is done in the subconscious. But of course, it’s the consciousness that we’re aware of all the whole time.  We’re having this dialogue with ourselves ‘I can’t see a picture’.

Sometimes you’re using your conscious state to control the technology and the camera and sometimes that’s what fails you. Sometimes you get frustrated because you can’t actually make the camera to do what you want it to do or rendering the way you want it to do or maybe even physically you can’t get the shutter speed you want, or whatever of those kind of things.

The most important thing in making a picture, I think, is your subconscious and as a rule of thumb - given that most statistics are made up! - is that it should be 90% subconscious and 10% conscious. It’s much more about being in the right state of mind, which is allowing your subconscious to dominate in a way. If you actively hunt for pictures in a conscious way then you’re likely to reach for solutions that have already been shown to you, in terms of a template or a set of rules. If you let your subconscious dominate, that’s where the notion of a meditative state comes from, you are just being receptive to what’s around you. You are not trying to impose yourself upon it. That sounds really hippy-dippy doesn’t it? It is really “out there”, but there are actually strong proofs, through cognitive behaviour study and through psychology studies, I have seen that this is how the creative mind works and that is the way to do it. If you are too conscious and mindful that stops you from seeing things in a novel or interesting way.

T: Nigel Williams asks a couple of technology/film questions: With 4x5 Velvia 50 almost gone, what would be your next 4x5 film of choice and why?

D: Well 4x5 is still being made in Japan. It is still available via the various websites in Japan. And still available via people who have stockpiled it and then decided that they don’t want to use it. I don’t kind of feel that for another year or two that I’m going to run out of Velvia. When I finally do run out of Velvia I guess I’m going to go with Portra, a colour neg film. That’s bit of a learning curve, but I’m hoping Tim that you’ll be able to help me with that, as you’ve already done it !

T: I’ll try! Certainly not as straightforward but it’s interesting

D:  Yeah, from what you’ve told me in the past, I don’t think that the colours are actually going to be exactly the same. But I think for me it’s the use of the camera that’s really important. It’s the way that the 5x4 works, it’s not the film, it’s not the medium. It’s what the 5x4 allows me to do and the workflow that goes with the 5x4 camera, that’s the thing that I want to hold on to as long as I possibly can.

T: Nigel also asked about would be your choice of current Black & White 4x5 film if you were to shoot with it and why ?

D: I am ignorant of black and white these days, I used to use FP4 and HP5 a very long time ago. I really don’t know anything about current black and white emulsions. I used to like using black and white but I would want to have a darkroom if I was going to shoot black and white again. It’s a huge part of the process, being able to do that interpretation. Whereas with colour, it’s about getting it right in camera and I do certain tweaks at the scanning stage. What I’m trying to do most of the time is make the scanned image look like the 5x4 original did. I think with black and white, the interpretation at the printing stage - and to an extent how you process it - is really important. If I don’t have access to my own darkroom, then black and white isn’t something I’m going to do.

T: Simon Bedwell via email asked: In many landscape scenes in which I 'sensed' potential I struggle to express feelings or connection with the landscape. Is there any process, checklist or approach you use that can help the photographer distil the essence of the landscape?

D: It sounds to me from his question that he has the notion that he can express feelings as if they were prose, through a photograph and it’s not like that at all. It’s much more ephemeral, it’s much more difficult to put your finger on it. You have to feel something but I don’t think that you can say a photo is  ‘what I feel about this is this, this and this’. It really is just that the place that you are, almost compels you to make a photograph.  Ernst Hass said “Beauty pains and when it pains most, I shot.” I think that it’s that kind of poetic connection, I suppose. I think that’s the really important thing to have. If you try to be too literal, ‘this place makes me feel happy’, I want to make a photograph that will make the viewers feel happy, it doesn’t work like that at all.

T: Do you think that comes from more that one picture or a series of pictures. Or your work as a whole in many ways? This emotive connection?

D:  I think it is certainly much easier with a series to direct the viewer's interpretation of the images. I think with a single picture it’s almost impossible because the viewers set of emotional connections with a particular subject or colour are going to have as much force as the photographers, it’s easier for the viewer's interpretation to be wildly different than the photographers intention. So, I think a body of work is much more powerful in directing the viewers’ interpretation of the image.

It’s not even like visual poetry, as in poetry we have a set of definitions of words, a cloud of meaning shall we say for every word. You put two words next to each other and the cloud of meaning expands, through ephemeral links - things that you can’t quite grab hold of between the words.

In a photograph, you don’t have that at all, there are no fixed meanings. So what people get from a photograph, what you get from looking at one of my photographs, and what I get from looking at my photographs, are unlikely to be the same thing. Through a body of work, people start to interpret this work within a particular space. You can’t even say ‘yeah that’s what I understand by so and so’s work’. I can’t look at Ansel Adams or Edward Western’s work and say I understand exactly what he was trying to say in a particular picture. It’s just not possible.

Do I have a checklist or an approach that I can use?

I don’t’ have a checklist. In Landscape Beyond I talked about beauty, mystery and simplicity but I don’t actually, at the point that I make a photograph, feel that I have to tick these boxes. It’s whether it moves me or not. How it moves me, varies hugely from place to place. In a way, photos a reflection of how I feel at the time. So something that moves me one day, will not necessarily move me another day. So I mean,  something that makes me want to make a photograph one day, won’t make me another day. That I suppose relates back to Stieglitz’s notion of equivalence. I think that’s a common part of the artistic process and I think painters and other visual artists have the same reaction to stimuli.

T:  Peter O’Neil asks: In some of your writings and posts you refer to our perception and the way the eye sees in relation to your photos. Do you study our cognitive and neuroscience in relation to your photos. Do you study our cognitive and neuroscience abilities? If so which areas in particular?

D: I’m a dilettante rather than an expert! So, I’m interested in these things. I read articles when I come across them and I’ve read a few books. Stephen Pinker’s, “How the Mind Works” is one that springs to mind. He’s got quite an interesting chapter on vision. I’ve read about the subject and I understand some of the issues - but I’m not an expert. I’m fascinated by the gap between how we see and how we think we see. Vision appears to be clear and straightforward and nothing to it - we just see! But actually, there are very interesting things going on and I suppose most of the time we don’t understand what’s going on. The assumptions that we make about vision when we look at visual puzzles such as optical illusions are an obvious example. I suppose that in some of my photographs I’m edging around that notion.

It’s hard to make a true optical illusion with a photograph of the outdoors because there are too many clues that give it away, that make you understand the perspective. That is something that I’m fascinated about. Certain aspects more than others - such as colour. That really fascinates me because the gap between how a camera sees colour and how we see colour is huge.

In fact, the gap between how I see colour and how you see colour is huge as well. We all assume that we’re talking from the same point of view, but we’re not.

T: Would you say out of the theories Gestalt theories are quite useful in photography, in terms of understanding lines and shape ?

D: I think they are, again it’s a bit like Simon’s thing about a checklist; do I think about all these things when I make a picture? No I don’t! The more widely we read about things - whether that is our subjective environmental concerns about the landscape or geology or weather or whatever it is - the more widely we try to understand the things that we’re photographing, the more the nuances creep into the ways we make photographs. So they become embedded with the image in an unspoken way.

T: So they are not conscious thoughts but subconscious recognitions that you’ve looked at things and studied things ?

D: I think that’s very much the way it works for me, I don’t set out to think ‘I’m going to make a set of photographs that explore this’. I know there are artists who do that... I can’t remember the name of the artist  - Eames I think he was called -  who made sculptures, which were sort of disassociated objects, to do with perspective. So, he made a sculpture of a chair and from a particular point of view it looked like a chair and you moved three foot to the right and realised it was all these separate elements. There are people who very deliberately set out to explore things to do with perception in that way. But I don’t do that. I’m interested in it as an underlying facet of photography, it’s something that’s taken for granted and I like to play with the fact that you can slightly disrupt it and you can show people that we don’t see how we think we see and that’s something I get feedback from people a lot of the time. They look at my photographs and they go ‘I don’t understand what that is’. I find it fascinating that I can make an image of something that is in a sense incredibly straightforward, it’s just written by the light from the subject. But when people look at it, they don’t understand it, as it doesn’t fit with how they perceive reality. A lot of that is to do with framing, that’s a really important thing.

T: Sarah Slade has asked two questions that are connected :

In my awareness that much of my landscape photography seems derivative/cliche'd/done before, and reading much in "On Landscape" about images that are said to show emotional attachment or empathy to the subject, this is something that I have difficulty in understanding, especially the "how to". Feeling a connection is the reason that I am drawn to the subject in the first place, but knowing how to put that across in my images, is harder. Any comments? Advice?

This is about how to express a connection in an image, which is what we just talked about.

D:  It is and I don’t think there’s a formula for that. I think that I’ve expressed this notion in the past, there’s a sort of alchemy that takes place in the visual arts. When somebody is really fascinated with a subject, what happens after a while as they really study the subject. They internalise the subject in a way, whatever it is that they photograph becomes a real part of the way that they look at the world around them.

I think what happens is that is that those people highlight subtle connections between things, which perhaps the rest of the general public don’t note or notice.  However, you want to put that.  So, they then make images - whether they are painted or photographed - they make images that make people go “Oh, I never thought of that before” or “noticed that before”.

So that’s how I think that we express our connection with a subject to people. Because of our fascination, we are then able to show other people that we have an emotional attachment to the subject via the revelatory nature of the photographs that we make. She talks about images being clichéd / done before, whatever, that’s when people follow stylistic cues or follow trends or however you want to put it. They have seen an image, which is really successful, and they think, ‘Oh, I’ll make another image like that.  A big thing in the last few years has been using the big stopper, using a 10 stop ND and photographing some seaside architecture with endless variations of groynes, and buoys, with blurry skies and blurry waves. It’s graphically interesting... But what does it say? I’m not sure it says anything really, perhaps that’s the problem?

How to show an emotional attachment? To show an emotional attachment by being emotionally attached, and making a series of images that show you’re fascinated by it. How you do it in a single image? I’m not sure you can do it in a single image. You have to do it through a series. That is photographic style; it’s a visual expression of what interests them, what their concerns are in the visual realm. Most of the time photographic style people have inherited, they found, they look at how someone else has made pictures and they say ‘I want to make pictures like that’ and they ape them, or - as I’ve said in the past - there’s an awful lot of ‘Cornish-pastishes’ out there. There are an awful lot of people who take pictures like Joe’s but they don’t’ understand that Joe has a very strong philosophical reasons for the way he makes his pictures. They are looking at the graphical elements in Joe’s pictures and trying to make pictures that are “like” Joe’s but they are not understanding what lies behind, the reason why he makes those pictures.

I was talking to David Unsworth when I was with you last nigt at the opening [of Tim’s Exhibition at Ryedale Folk Museum], and he was saying a lot of people think, “Well I make good pictures, I’ll go and get another lens.” And he said, “Don’t get another lens, get a philosophy!” Understand why you want to make a picture, what is it that you are trying to say and that really it has to be a heartfelt thing.

It has to be some subject that fascinates you, whether it’s mushrooms, trees, or architecture or man in the landscape or whatever it is. It has to be something that really speaks to your soul. If it really speaks to your soul, then you will through this alchemy of photography and be able to show that to other people.

T: So it’s an emergent property in many ways, it’s not something that you can find for yourself or manufacture. In fact, it’s quite difficult to see yourself I would have thought?

D: People tell me that I’ve got a particular style, but I can’t see my photographic style. I’m surprised at the way people that people describe my photographs a lot of the time. As to me, I’m just seeing: that’s the way I see.

T: It can’t be a photographic style as it’s naturally what you do, that’s why it’s a photographic style?

D: If it’s a true style, and it’s not something that you’ve interpreted from somebody else or inherited, then it should be clear as water. It’s just the way you see.

T: There are some things like the use of a film stock, such as Velvia or the use of a certain post processing style. But it can look like it is a style, but that’s a stylistic feature in many ways. Style can become how you choose to see things, and what you choose to include/exclude, and take photographs of.

D: Using Velvia has been very strongly described as being a photographic style, that in itself it’s a style. But I don’t think it is a style, it’s an attribute. It’s like using a particular pigment for painting. If a painter using a particular blue, does that make it a style? No it doesn’t, it’s a tool he uses, it’s a way that he uses the armoury of things that he has to express his visual concerns. It’s not in itself, a style. There’s been a lot of nonsense talked about the Velvia school of photography, but I don’t think it means anything.

Emergent is the right thing, it’s something that comes with experience. Your style isn’t something that you develop straight away. I’ve been a photographer for 35 years or however long it is now. It’s something that I’ve developed over a long time and I don’t think, personally, I would have what I would describe as a recognisable style until I’d been making photographs for probably 15 -20 years. Even now it’s hard for me to say what my style is, I know the kind of images that I like to make. I don’t make just one kind of image, I make a range of images. Do they all fit within a style ? I don’t know ? That’s just the way I see.

T: Almost the way people see Micheal Kenna at times? People say he has a style and then you pick up one of his books and you realise that half his pictures don’t fit his style.

D: Yes, some people criticise him for that, they say this isn’t very good, it’s not like the other stuff. This is isn’t the real thing? It’s all ways that he makes images! They are all part of the aspect of how he sees reality. They are all mediated through his vision, they are aspects of the way he sees.

People like to characterise photographers and other visual artists. They like to pigeonhole, so I’m the guy who does details and Joe is the guy who does vistas. It’s not how it is. We both do each. I do a lot of what you’d call detail photographs, which I suppose I feel most fascinating when I’m trying to bridge that gap between how the camera sees and how I see. It’s a very important part of the creative process for me.

I also love making pictures of vistas. I started off as a photographer just loving being in the outdoors - that was a really big motivation when I started out, just to be outside. Just to walk around and look at the landscape and try and make images that record it, how I felt about the landscape. It’s just that as time has gone on, the agenda for me has changed. The agenda for me now is much more about exploring photography as a medium and much less about trying to illustrate what I see.

T:  Question from Roger Voller. Do you always get good photos or are there times in which you return back home with empty hands? In these last cases, do you get frustrated?

D: Lots of times I don’t get a photograph at all, but I’m perfectly happy not to get a photograph. Well, I wouldn’t say I was happy but it’s something that I realise, that I won’t always get a picture. That’s just the way it is and some days you don’t.

T: Question from Ken Nolan. When I changed from B&W large format to colour, my first images tended to be along the same lines. This made me think would it be the same going the other way as in essence B&W is only two colours of varying tones. With my background of B&W, and looking at your printed work I often think to myself, I wish he would do a B&W version of that.

D: I suppose for me a dominant thing in what I do is trying to simplify things. So I think my trend in both directions, whether it was black and white or colour, it would be to simplify that. I think that there’s a lot of complexity, just because of the subjects that I shoot. But I try and make them as essential as I can. I don’t know of any relationship between a black and white work and my colour work.

T: Do you ever think that when you’ve ever done a colour photograph, “That might good in black and white ?” Or are you always committed to the colour version of it?

D: Very occasionally. I use to see well in black and white, I started off as a black and white photographer. Certainly, a piece of advice that I give to workshop participants is  “The light as it today and the kind of subject matter that we’re shooting, you should make that black and white and not a colour image” It’s something that I understand. For me colour is hugely important in my own personal work and I would always rather not make an image than not make a colour image. I’d rather walk away a lot of the time.

T:  Questions from Alex Winser: Many of your shots seem to have originated abroad, do still find shooting in the UK as interesting?

D: Yes I do!  At your exhibition opening last night, Paul Moon said ‘You never photograph here!’ I do photograph here in the UK! But I think there’s a psychological thing, which is I like the edges. I like to find things, which are novel experiences because I find it easier to make distillations in those situations within themselves are novel, I suppose. I still love photographing here, I love photographing Scotland and all over the UK.

T: The other part to that question was: Do you hunt out derelict/abandoned places specifically?

D: Yes.

T: The final part to that question was: As you mainly use large format, much like many contributors to On Landscape, do you think the same results can be achieved with DSLRs?

D:  Yes they can be done on digital! This time last year I went off to Iceland with a Canon 1DX and certainly for the first week or so I was using that camera, I was making digital versions of 5x4 images. The second week, as I got used to the camera, I started to make images which were more to do with the possibilities the equipment opened up. I think that using different cameras changes the way that you make pictures. Definitely, it changes the way you make pictures. I strongly believe that an important part of the photographic process is the restrictions you have imposed upon yourself by the medium you use. It’s about pushing against those restrictions, which really helps you to make images which are more interesting.  When everything is up for grabs, when you can do anything, you actually end up making nothing of any use.

T: So in many ways easy is bad? Hard is good ?

D: Yeah, I really do believe that.  The harder you make it, the more likely to make something interesting.

T: Question from Andrew Tobin: When arriving at a location, how do you go about finding a composition. Do you have some sort of process or do you just wander about until you are struck by something?

D: The latter, I’ll walk around somewhere 15 -20 minutes to an hour to two hours if I think it’ll likely yield something and wait till I see something. I have no set way of working when I arrive somewhere. I just try to be receptive to what the possibilities are.

T: A great question from Rich Rooney here: Given that workshops such as yours are a great way to learn/improve, how does one maximize the experience?

D:  I think that the most important thing for a workshop participant is to be open. Not to set off with an agenda of what they want to do. To be open to the experience and not actually to think its about making lots of great photographs either. It’s about the seeds which are sown on a workshop.  It’s about how they will blossom over time. Sorry germinate over time I should say, I’m mixing my metaphors horribly here!

I think one of the ambitions Joe and I have with workshop participants is that the old adage ‘Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him how to fish you feed him for life’. What we’re trying to do is to provide people with strategies rather than just give them the fish / this is what you do. So people need to take those notions on board and they need to interpret them in a way which is appropriate to the photography they are trying to do. This is not a quick fix thing, it’s about being as open minded as you possibly can be when you go on a workshop/tour and trying to take away from that experience that is relevant to you.

T: Paul Chambers asks: If out on a Landscape shoot how far would you walk?

T: That’s pretty arbitrary – so say you were going out for a landscape shoot from 8 in the morning to midday. How far would you end up getting ?

D:  I used to walk a very long way, I’m getting old now. I’m 53, almost 54!  I’m reminded of Edward Weston when he said ‘anything more than 500 yards from a car ceases to be photogenic’.

T: Phil King asks: Hello this question is to David and Tim, as most of my questions have already been answered. I will just ask what would be the best way to take up large format photography (5x4) and how many sheets of film did you waste (if any) when you first started? :)

D:  Do you mean waste as I didn’t expose them right or waste as in god that was a pointless photograph?

T: Bit of both?

D: Second question… probably thousands. Looking at the first question probably not that many. When I was learning photography I started off as an assistant with photographers who were shooting 5x4 all the time, so I understood the technicalities before I ever actually tried with any of my own film. I had very few failures from that technical perspective. From an artistic perspective, a lot! I was using it as my main tool to learn photography.  The great thing about digital is that you complete that circle much faster these days. You get feedback much quicker and you can progress artistically faster than was previously possible.

How much film did you waste ?

T: It’s a funny one, out of the first three photographs that I took, two of them are my favourites. I wasted more pictures after about a year, I think that what it was I was very selective and I was talking about an hour to take one picture because I was being really anal about getting the exposure right and as I thought it was very difficult. It turns out it isn’t that difficult it’s more forgiving that you think it is. What happened in the second year, I thought right, ok I’m going to take more chances on things to discover what works and what doesn’t. That’s when I wasted a bit of film but the biggest thing for me is that I shoot on film and digital alongside each other. That helps me as if I’m playing around with a subject I’d shoot digital just to see what’s possible.  And then when something got me excited I’d get the large format out, so I was learning to see a bit with digital and learnt to hone and select with large format at the same time.

D: I think that digital is fantastic for taking your photography forward much faster. It took me a long time to develop as a photographer because completing the feedback loop through 5x4 is a slow and expensive way of doing it.

T: I would have found it hard if I was just using large format from the start, definitely.

D: Stupid way to do it if I think about it!

T: Question from Andrew Tobin: How do you get over "location saturation" when you've run out of ideas for the places near you and feel you have to travel further & further away at more & more expense to get photographic satisfaction. You go to quite a few iconic locations ?

D:  I have been fortunate to travel to a lot of iconic locations. I don’t know I experience location saturation, I think it’s a state of mind thing. I can return to places where I’ve made pictures before and think there’s nothing else to find. I suppose it’s about leaving time and not going back to somewhere too often. If I go back a year, or 18 months after I last went I’ll find different things to photograph as I’ll have moved on in what I’m interested in photographing. That’s the most important thing for me, not to go to somewhere every day, every week, month, twice a year or three times as year… I return to places infrequently. There are lots of photographers who would say the absolute opposite of that. Actually, Joe might be counted in this, that the “point of return” - as he wrote about in First Light - that returning to somewhere and getting to know somewhere was an important thing for him. We’re all different in that. I like going back to places infrequently, and I find that I’ve moved on and I find different things.

T: From Phil King: The current theme of making a living with landscape photography seems to be taking out other photographers on workshops. Where do you see photographers making a living in the future?

D:  I’m tempted to say that I don’t see photographers making a living in the future! I’m not sure that there is a living to be made beyond education. There will be a few individuals who’ll make a living from selling their work as art. Photography, as the profession it was when I left college, isn’t there anymore and I think that’s a very sad thing. It may be that we don’t call ourselves photographers anymore, we’re just artists. Maybe that’s the way forward?

T: Question from me: Do you think if you had to make your living from selling your photography directly it would negatively effect your photographic output? Or you’d have to separate your professional from your passion?

D: I think that’s what I used to do, as I had two very distinct strands in my photography. There was the stuff I did commercially and the stuff I produced for myself. There came a point around 1999 that I felt that the commercial work I did - which I didn’t really want to do - was dominating my life and that was having a negative effect on my photography. I was starting to lose interest in photography as a medium, it was becoming just a job.  That’s a danger.

That’s why I became a workshop leader. I led a couple and I found that it really invigorated my interest in photography.  Actually explaining to people and having conversations with people about photography actually made it alive for me again. It also freed me to make just the pictures I wanted to make.

T: Stephen McGill asks: What was the last piece of work that David has seen that made him go “Wow I love that”

D: Mine or somebody else’s ?

T: I presume somebody else’s.

D: I don’t know, that’s really hard for me to say. There have been pictures that I’ve looked at recently and thought fantastic… but can I recall an individual picture and give it a name? I’m not sure that I can. That’s quite sad really and I feel really guilty that I can’t actually pick out a picture and say “Yeah! God this guys pictures are fantastic.”

T: Or books?

D: Books? Chris Bell’s work, Tarkine, I think his photography is fantastic.

T: He’s a Tasmanian photographer ?

D:  Yeah, but Hans Strand, almost anything that Hans does, I look at it and think WOW! I’m always mindful of something Ansel Adams said, “If I really love photographs that someone else did, then I’d be doing it.” There is an element of that, I think. I’m not trying to be snobbish and I do love lots of different kinds of photography, but I think I’m most interested in (and I know this sounds self centred!) the images that I make, which somehow seem to fulfil what I’m trying to do with my photography.  So the last image that made me go WOW, honestly, was one of my own.

T: Is that in your 2013 collection in the magazine ?

D: Probably stuff I’ve just got back from Yosemite. I’ll have to get them scanned by you and put them up on the web.

Editors note: here are some of David's images from his Yosemite trip with Joe Cornish

Leaf in ice 2048

Aftermath 2048

Burnt log 2048

T: Definitely! I think we’ve run out of time.  I’ve to think we’ve got through many of the questions. We’ve got room for one more which is the last one!

How does one get over shyness about displaying or sharing one's work? From Rich Rooney.

D:  Yeah! I had a long, interesting conversation with a participant on a workshop recently. I think there are two kinds of confidence that we have. There’s the confidence that we have succeeded within our own terms, that we have made images that we think work. Then there’s the confidence about whether we think other people will care a damn. I think most of us suffer a lack of confidence with the second one. I know I do and I’m constantly surprised when people say they like pictures that I’ve made.

That might seem like a completely stupid thing to say. But I am! It amazes me that people like what I do. I think a lot of people have that same thing.  They think David Ward’s not going to be like that or Joe Cornish isn’t going to be like that or David Clapp… They all know that they do good photos ! It doesn’t work like that.

The creative process is about self-criticism, the creative process is about doubting yourself. Fundamentally, that’s at the root of what we do and if you don’t have that self-doubt, then actually you’re not going to make anything that’s worthwhile.

How does one get over the shyness? Just do it! If people don’t get it, they don’t get it. David Unsworth, last night when I was chatting to him, said when he was at college he was taught that if just 2% of the population liked what he does, then he’s doing really well.  You can’t please all the people all of the time. If you get even remotely along the way of pleasing a majority of people that look at your pictures, then I think that you’re not doing very well. It’s actually fewer people that like your pictures the better you do. Personal view!

T: Thank you very much David. That’s wonderful. Thank you everybody for the questions.

D: There’s a fair number left, so maybe we should do this again sometime.

T: I’m sure people would be very happy about that. Till next time !

D: Thank you all for sending the questions in. Really interesting. Thank you.











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