I’m really excited to share this months Photographer of the Month interview. American Landscape Photographer David Thompson is one of my personal favorite photographers and I often sneak through his website in search for inspiration. I hope you enjoy this interview and David’s beautiful images.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to do this. Can you start by telling the readers who you are and how you got started with photography?
First off, I’d like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this interview, Christian. Thank you. So…about me…my name is David Thompson. I live in Las Vegas, Nevada. I consider myself a normal guy who likes to take pictures of the landscape that surrounds us in nature. I first got into landscape photography in 2008. I had experimented with film for a few years prior but failed at that miserably. When my son was born in 2008, I purchased my first digital camera and the rest was history from that point on.
How has growing up and spending time in nature as a kid impacted your photography and views of the outdoors today?
Living in New Mexico you really had no choice but to appreciate the outdoors. As a kid, all we did was play outside! My friends and I were always riding our bikes in the deserts and foothills of the Sacramento Mountains. On the weekends my parents would take me to White Sands, or fishing at Elephant Butte if the weather was nice. If we wanted to get a break from the desert heat, we’d head into the nearby mountains and go camping. I’d visit my grandparents back east quite a bit as a kid and in the summer my grandfather would take me down south to Alabama. It would be the same as if I was running around in the deserts at home but it would just be in the woods. Having an appreciation for the outdoors and nature was like second nature to me as a kid. Now, as an adult, the camera has made me have a deeper appreciation for what’s out there. I’d say that the camera has opened my eyes even more.
Despite often photographing rugged landscapes with harsh weather, your images have a sense of calmness. What do you wish to convey through your photography?
When I look into the viewfinder of my camera and capture a particular scene, I want the viewer to be able to get a piece of what I experienced, what I felt and what I saw. The landscape speaks in many different ways. Sometimes the landscape speaks loudly and other times soft and gentle. For me, it’s always challenging to convey what you saw and felt in an image. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. With my imagery, I hope the viewer can get a small glimpse of ”that moment” or “the sense of calmness” if you will.
Following up on the previous question; what are you looking for when creating an image?
When I go out into the field, the two main things I look for is composition, then light. From there I try to build off of that. Patterns, shapes, sizes, colors, contrasting colors, textures, overlapping layers and the arrangement of elements within the landscape is my go to formula when creating my images. Simple with a flow.
I’m a big fan of your intimate and minimalistic galleries. Can you talk a little about your approach to these types of scenes?
The concept of my intimate and minimal scenes is pretty simple: look down, look far and put away the wide angle lens. It’s that simple. Where it becomes challenging is finding those scenes, because they aren’t the scenes that just jump out and say “hey come shoot me!” It does take effort and sometimes you have to be willing to sacrifice a big wide grand landscape to do so. Over the years I have become more drawn to these scenes because they are harder to find but the payoff is much more meaningful to me.
How important is post-processing for your photography?
Post processing plays a significant role in my imagery. The light doesn’t lie and I like to let the light dictate how I process an image, but with my own artistic touch. I try to keep the processing as simple as possible. Some images I have to do very little and others I just completely torture the RAW files! I try to stay in the middle with my processing. Not too much, not too little, a nice mix of the two, with an elegant touch.
What’s your opinion on social media and current photography trends?
Whew!!! Social media and the current trends? Well now…..where to start with this one? I’ll start off with this: you better have thick skin! The second you post an image, make a comment on a post or even create your own post, it’s all out there for people to see and say whatever they feel/think regardless if you think it’s right or wrong. As we all know, social media has its pros and cons. Everyone uses social media for one reason or another. Some good, some bad. Ultimately I think all intentions of using social media are for the good. Somewhere along the way, there’s a bump or snag in the road where the ego takes over and then social media becomes negative.
For me, when I first got into photography, image sharing websites was very limited. I think there was Flickr, NPN, Photo.net and Deviant Art. Landscape photography was popular but not at the level it is now. The reach of people seeing your work was minimal at best. You’d give and get honest critique from people with no issues. The drive and pursuit for better image quality was more prevalent with aspiring artists. People really wanted to just be great photographers and that was it! People didn’t care about how many people were following them or didn’t care about the favorites and likes. The photographers weren’t crying about how people didn’t like or comment on their work. I can tell you, back then I would have been happy with one person saying an image of mine looks awesome or great. People didn’t start to comment on my images until the images got much better. I received a lot of critique. Some of the critique was positive and others negative. But it pushed me to try/work harder and study the work of others and pay attention to what I was doing. The access to workshops and processing videos was very limited. Ultimately, my work improved over the years and notice I said YEARS! But this was a ton of patience, trail and error, and just being persistent with the journey. Through social media, I have met some of my closest and best friends. I’ve been able to meet and converse with people all over the world through social media. It’s been a valuable resource for me over the years. I’m also glad to see that photographers are able to make money and make a living from photography through social media. I think it’s cool that you can do what you love and make money as well.
Now, the not so good about social media. Egos… not good. I see it time and time again, people comparing their work to others, the self-entitlement, blatantly comp stomping without giving credit and the one that is pitiful to me, is posting images for likes and popularity. So not cool! I just cringe when I see people do this. I’m like, are you shooting for them, or yourself? I look at it like this. You get 100k, 400k or 900k people following you across social media and what does that mean? Are you better than the next guy? Does this validate your work? What does that mean at the end of the day? There are plenty of well-established photographers that have been around for ages. I’d go to call them legends in their own right, that don’t have a strong social media presence and their work is absolutely stellar. It seems like the growing trend is guys shooting for the popularity rather than the art. 1 or 2 years of someone shooting landscapes in your area, a couple processing/video tutorials, then one, maybe two workshops in, and 50k followers later you’re a workshop instructor teaching the same stuff at the same locations where you were once taught six months prior. I don’t know but it seems a little backward to me. With so much information out there on social media, locations are getting popular along with the photographers at a faster rate. More people are exploring these areas, which is awesome. Unfortunately, there will be people out there that will show no respect for nature and the areas/landscapes they visit. They treat some of these areas as playgrounds. It saddens me because it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.
As far as trends go, like any other form of art, there’s going to be trends. Trends come and go. Some aspects of those trends will stay and others will go. I’ve seen so many since I first started. I remember HDR programs like Photomatix was popular, now you don’t even hear of it but yet there’s a process that similar to that program in Photoshop. Then it was all the different types of warming/cooling filters and graduated neutral density filters, to the huge jump in high dynamic range and high mega pixel sensors. Then the wide low in your face compositions are in now. I believe trends are good to some degree because it does show that the art of photography is evolving in some type of way.
Do you have any exciting projects or plans in the near future?
I don’t really have anything planned for upcoming trips per say, most of my trips are last minute, but I’m definitely looking forward to the summer monsoons here in the Southwest. I absolutely love those dramatic storms during that time! I also can’t wait for the fall, which is my favorite time of year! I love fall colors in the forest, so there could be another trip to Colorado, or maybe even to the Northeast. I’d love to get back to the swamps down south this fall as well. I’m sort of a scatterbrain when it comes to places I want to visit. I tend to be all over the place with my ideas and where I want to go, so there’s no set plan as of yet, but I’ll be getting into something.
Who and/or what inspire you?
The landscape that is out there is what inspires me. The landscape is always changing, the light is never the same. Just the unknown… not knowing how the landscape will speak is what keeps me going. It’s like I want to see how the landscape will come to life… like peeking around the corner and not knowing what’s around it. I absolutely love the art of image making and everything that comes along with it… the journey itself.
There are so many people that I find inspiration from and for many reasons. Guys like Hans Strand, David Muench, Ron Coscorrosa, Sarah Marino, Floris Van Breugel, Guy Tal, and Adam Gibbs for their intimate and all around complete bodies or work. Charles Cramer, David Chauvin, Lars Van De Goor, Dag Ole Nordhaug for their amazing eyes to capture the craziness of the forest. Miles Morgan, Cecil Whitt, Ryan Dyar, and Alex Noriega for their creative/smart vision for compositions and processing. I know there’s some others I forgot but these guys have helped me with my vision, creativity and journey along the way over the years.
What are your top 3 tips for someone who’s just getting started with landscape photography?
The three tips I’d give to someone who is just getting into photography would be this:
1. Learn the “art” of photography, this is very very important to young artists. This will help you throughout your photography journey. Learn the basics of landscape and nature photography then build off of that. Read books on composition, including the ones that don’t necessarily involve landscape photography. You will be amazed how much this will help your eye. There’s a process to image making, take the time to learn it, then embrace it.
2. Be patient – it takes time to become good in this medium, regardless of what social media is telling you… both positive and negative. Like anything else, what you put into it, is what you’ll get out of it. It’s going to be hard, it will be lots of frustrating moments but if you can just be patient with the process, things will fall into place and eventually come together.
3. Shoot from the heart, and shoot for yourself. You have to connect with your own work before others will.