David Aguilar is a Spanish landscape photographer whose work I’ve been enjoying for a long time now. He is well known for his epic and easily recognizable style, which has gained him a significant online following.
In this interview, David talks about his creative journey, his vision, thoughts on creating your own style, and more. He also shares three important pieces of advice for those wanting to become better landscape photographers themselves.
Start by telling us a little about who you are and how you got started with photography.
Hello, thank you so much for having me here!
My name is David Aguilar and I’m a fine art landscape photographer based in Seville, Spain. I started photography 6 years ago, after traveling through some incredible natural destinations in Europe and helping on some environmental volunteer projects.
I was studying biology so I couldn’t afford great gear, thus I bought a Nikon D5300 back in 2016 after realizing I needed a tool to document part of my travels and adventures. I began learning on YouTube and other free platforms, and one year later I won a big contest that gave me the opportunity to travel solo for three months through some of the most amazing landscapes of South America, creating content for the Latam Airline’s magazine and blog.
Since then, I took landscape photography way more seriously and it quickly became my main passion.
Has your background as a biologist affected your vision and path as a photographer?
Definitely yes. When I started I was really inspired by some legendary biologists and wildlife photographers like Paul Nicklen, Tim Laman or Frans Lanting. Despite I didn’t have great gear, I was really into wildlife photography. As a biology student, I was fascinated by the wildlife and the environment that surrounds them. I wanted to photograph wild animals to tell a story about them or to tell a message about their conservation, so biology and my passion for the natural world pushed me forward to create images in my beginnings.
But as I was traveling my tastes were changing, I also wanted to express what I felt in the places I visited, so gradually I was more and more passionate about landscape photography.
A big part of your portfolio contains what can be referred to as “epic wide-angle photography”. What is it about these grand landscapes and wide perspectives that intrigues you?
The places I normally visit are vast: massive mountains, big alpine lakes, rivers, forests, etc. But the main reason I love shooting wide angles is because with these kind of images, I can put the viewer into the place and the moment I’m shooting. I can create depth by separating layers: foreground, midground, and background. With the wide angle, I can get very close to the foreground and therefore it adds tridimensionality. It’s a perspective that really put the viewer into the huge and vast scenery, with all kinds of elements I want to integrate into the image.
Also, when composing correctly, a wide angle helps the visual flow. I usually take advantage of the distortions as it helps to accentuate the look towards the center, especially if there are lines in the frame.
You’re someone who’s managed to create their own recognizable style in both composition and post-processing. Can you take us through some of your thought processes when creating an image?
Thank you so much! I think my current style is driven by three characteristics: bold colors that complement each other well; a composition that makes the viewer follow a visual flow with depth; and a kind of dark atmosphere to draw the eye to an area with more light and interest.
When I’m in the field, I always try to focus firstly on the foreground. I try to find interesting strong elements that balance the background or the main subject. Then comes the most important part: the composition. I place the camera in the right spot. Sometimes just a few centimeters can make a huge difference, so I use to take my time. Then I take the picture by applying some shooting techniques: focus stacking, bracketing, panorama, etc.
In the editing, I always try to follow the same steps so that the pictures will have a similar look. I always start in Lightroom with some basic adjustments, then I bring the image to Photoshop and start applying some destructive adjustments like warping or removing distractive elements. Later on, I start adding mood, contrast, atmosphere, light, glow and some other effects. Then I let the image rest for some hours before deciding the image is ready.
The editing of course will make the image recognizable, so having a good editing workflow is essential to developing our own style. But the style not only depends on the editing. It also depends on what we usually like shooting and the conditions we prefer. It depends on how we photograph it and the kind of composition we generally choose. And it’s also based on the feelings, emotions and stories we normally want to tell to the viewers. The more unique this process and workflow is, the more recognizable the style will be.
How important do you believe it is for a photographer to develop their own unique style?
The satisfaction that someone tells you that they recognize your photos without looking at the author is huge. It means that we are on the right path. Having our own style is what will give us recognition and success in our photographic career, it means a personal brand and a way to make our work unique. I think this should be the biggest goal of every learner.
If we copy another photographer’s style we are moving away from that personal brand and our work will be lost with the work of other photographers who also copy that style. It is important to have other artists as inspiration, but be very careful not to copy their style as we will be ruining our own.
That is why I think it is key to have several sources of inspiration and thus build a more personal result from all of them.
What role has social media played in your journey?
Since the beginning, I have been sharing my pictures on Instagram and Facebook so I consider social media an important part of every artist’s work, and for a few reasons.
Obviously, it’s where most people will see our work so spending some time every day is key to growing and getting better known. Also, during my journey, it has helped me to know the work of other talented photographers who have been inspiring me for years, so it’s a great source of inspiration.
Thanks to social media I’ve personally met some photographers who are now friends and we have been learning together from each other. And in addition, social media have helped me to improve and to find motivation after receiving constructive feedback and positive comments.
But not everything good looks pretty. There are also negative aspects to social media. When we use it in excess it creates a dependency that can distract us from our goals as an artist. When we receive many likes on a post our body secretes dopamine that translates into a state of pleasure and satisfaction, therefore making us want more and more… we enter an addictive loop, sometimes focusing on the taste of our audience and not on our personal taste as an artist. So we have to be careful that our photographic career doesn’t change course due to social networks.
You’ve also created some incredible drone and time-lapse videos. What was the inspiration behind these?
Since I was a child, I’ve loved watching nature documentaries about remote natural locations or incredible wildlife species. So, when I got my first camera I started to shoot some time-lapses of the landscapes I visited. The change of a landscape produced by the passage of time has always fascinated me and, when composed correctly, it looks absolutely awesome. I’ve also been inspired by some talented time-lapse filmmakers, such as Martin Heck or Morten Rustad, who I recommend to check out their work.
I still consider myself a time-lapse noob as it’s very challenging and hard work, but since I got my first drone four years ago, I also combined those time-lapses with drone clips, showcasing a visual cinematic journey of the places I have visited.
In 2018 I was fortunate enough to win the “Drone Video of the Year” Award at Airvuz with my video from Iceland. As usual, the main inspiration for these videos comes directly from the destination itself.
What inspires you to keep creating?
That’s always a hard topic, as there are periods that I’m not inspired and can take weeks without creating. But I think that’s something completely normal for every artist because the lack of creativity is also part of the creative process.
Creativity is often limited when I feel under pressure, so during that time without creativity I try to find inspiration without pressure, by scouting new compositions, visiting new places, trying new techniques, reading some new fantasy books, watching some epic series, films or nature documentaries, listening to music or looking at other artist’s work.
What is your top 3 advice to someone who’s just getting started with landscape photography?
- Practice and learn as much as you can. Invest in training. Learn composition and post-processing from other landscape photographers who you like their work. Know that a good camera is not going to mean good pictures. What will make you take great pictures is your ability to find good compositions, the light and conditions you have, and your editing skills.
- Try to be in the best places at the best moment. For that, you need to scout a few hours or days before, you may need to visit the same place a few times and you also need some planning knowledge.
- Try to create your own particular style by finding a unique and original workflow. The more unique your work is, the more successful it will be.
What’s next for David Aguilar?
This year I’m going to start leading photo tours so it will be a great challenge for me. I’m quite excited as I love teaching photography and these photo tours are where I combine my passion for teaching others and landscape photography. Seeing others achieve their dreams, smiling, and crying with emotion is what fills me the most.
I’m also currently recording a brand new editing course about a different topic than my previous course “Moody Landscapes”. But there is still a lot of work left so I think it will come by the end of this year.