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We talk landscapes with David Clapp - Landscape photographer, David Clapp talks photography, Devon and guitars.
"No, not at all. I wanted to be a spaceman like all healthy boys that grew up on Star Wars films, but being serious I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be until I left water engineering and became a guitar teacher at the age of 32. I just crashed into things. I have been a skipper on a pleasure cruiser, a guitar technician, a water engineer, so you could say I had absolutely no intention to become a photographer, never a professional photographer."
|Bantham Beach in South Devon - "Coastal sunsets this intense are rare indeed. Processed in LAB mode for true colour rendition."
1DsIII, Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 at f/11 ISO100– exposure blend of two images.
"It began in 2002, when I bought a film camera, a Canon T90. Guitar teaching became my first inspiring job. Without a hobby, I picked up a camera as a way of fuelling my flagging coastal hikes. The next four years were total bunkum, filled with frustration and built on luck more than anything. There was lots of learning accompanying these mistakes, but it felt solitary and painfully slow as I was shooting slide film. I was lazy, I never wrote down my settings, most of the time I just guessed. I just couldn’t afford full frame digital, and I had fallen in love with wide angle, so a cheaper crop sensor body was not an option. Courage leads way to confidence, so I took a huge risk and bought an EOS 5D. The guilt of paying £2000 for a camera suddenly made me extremely serious about my images. Then, rather unexpectedly, a picture researcher at Photolibrary gave me something I couldn’t have dreamt of - my first agency contract, in August 2006, and it firmly pointed me down the runway. I was desperate to gain some money back to fund trips and buy more quality equipment. I enjoyed the limitless world of digital photography so much it started to make me glow, but it was the feeling of self worth and acceptance in a business sense that really started me moving. The fusion of computers, cameras, creativity and business got me hell bent.”
Did you have any formal training?
"None at all, it’s all come from reading and discussing photography on the internet. I transposed I guess, like all musicians, taking models and creativity methods from other fields and apply them into my photography. Even my office days in the water industry are the basis of my computer data management. It all just fell into place by adapting skills I had developed in other fields. I learnt how to scrutinise my work and keep motivated. It’s important to build a detachment from your work and blast it with criticism routinely or just join the queue of bleeding heart artists. This teaches you to trust your intuition, to turn it into your co-pilot. It’s fishing in the rivers of possibility. Think think think…always thinking and thinking about my computers, camera technique and business ideas often whilst driving in silence. No-one can teach you where that pathway starts, but you know you are in the right job when you find it."
|The Cliffs of Moher – "Battered with stones and dust by gale force winds, perched on the edge of a cliff ledge some 600ft up. The dots on the cliff top are people."
5D, 17-40 f/4L at f/11 for 1/40th sec ISO100.
Why landscape photography?
"It’s less about landscapes now and more about adventures these days, but it was initially because it doesn’t require a lot of equipment, only a camera bag, some transport and a little petrol money. I like being outdoors, like most healthy adults. I am not a landscape purist, I am so far from it as it happens; I can’t stand the drivel that goes with it either. I don’t 'immerse myself in the spectacle and beauty of pure light, capturing fleeting and precious moments in time for others to enjoy', it's so contrived. All it translates to me is - 'I am a manager with a passion for photography, who in the week (once the kids are in bed) spends most nights actively working on new pictures of weekend sunsets that I hope I will soon be selling.' Surely that is a better stance to take? Please, there is no longer a need for this biographic dysfunction, everyone can see through the smoke. I shoot landscapes because I love being outside and because it sells. I do it for the money, to escape a normal existence, to keep myself far away from the dull working life that drained my life force in my late twenties. I grew up in a council house, we had no money. I played around in school. I didn’t go abroad until I was 25 - Light is ‘sunshine’ if you catch my drift. A 50cc Yamaha motorbike and no hope of a girlfriend got me into the outdoors."
|Egyptian Sufi Dancers – "Using slower shutter speeds and timing the shots with the rhythm of the music. Brilliant fun."
5D, 70-200 f/4L at f/8 for 1/4sec ISO100 tripod mounted.
"Ireland, without a shadow of a doubt. It’s probably the most incredible place I have ever been to. The people, the community, the Guinness and oh yeah…the landscape; just try and stop me talking about it. New Zealand’s South Island also leaves me aching to return and I will next summer as I am not wasting another holiday watching rain run down the windows. I got such a wealth of winter imagery in just ten days, it’s was utterly inspiring. Closer to home, Devon and Cornwall will always remain dear, but just like Dorset, it's getting overrun with pro photographers off 'composition collecting' and plastering it with saturation. It's time to look elsewhere for me. It's a big world out there, with so many other places yet to explore, but I will always hold Dartmoor close to heart. It's a difficult shoot to say the least, but rewarding once you learn to stop moaning from the car seat and get out walking."
Where has your work taken you?
"All over the world, and I can’t believe I am typing that all things considered, as its such a short time. I was working it out the other night over a pint of ale, I have travelled through or photographed in 31 countries in just three years. Photography has taken me to many wonderful parts of the UK too, but also as far as Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Indonesia, Canada and beyond, all paid for by my camera. If you mean in a career sense, I am a regular contributor to many UK photography magazines and other media. I have eight agency contracts that sell my work and globally and also license imagery from my own mountain of RAW files around the world. I am soon to start work as a tour leader in Yunnan in China, meaning three trips a year into the Himalayas and Tibet, all from this little converted bedroom office full of guitars and amps in sleepy Devon."
"I am on the inside looking out, so it’s difficult to decide. The pictures are often hiding mistakes, ones that I, unfortunately, remember all too well, so what others may enjoy I feel very differently about. If I had to choose my favourite it would probably be the above shot taken in North Devon. A set of blustery conditions and perfect timing made this one of the most dynamic images I could ever have hoped for. I finished my tea in the campervan, stepped out onto the beach, put my camera on the tripod and pressed the shutter. It was effortless for a change. This image was recently bought by Microsoft."
How do you decide what to photograph?
"Well, I do lots of extensive online research. I use Google Earth quite often and follow leads from web searches and other online sources. My partner, Rachel, is an avid traveller too, with many of the decisions being based upon cities and historical subjects she is desperate to explore. Other ways I have found out about new and exciting places is through my rather unconventional ‘Non-Workshops’ page that I publish on my website. Teaming up with other photographers is a brilliant way of spinning the bottle. I now have firm friends all over the UK, Ireland and in many foreign countries that continually inspire me to visit and explore. I have plans to shoot India, return trips to Canada and the US as well as the Italian Alps, all built from online communication and trust."
What equipment can you not be without and why?
"My range of quirky manual focus lenses. I have a range of older Contax, Olympus, Pentax and Nikon gear that I use on my 1Ds III. These lenses pull the very best quality out of my cameras, beyond any glass I have used. So many photographers have no idea that their £1000 lenses are in fact rather average, far from neutral looking and lacking in micro contrast. There are adaptable lenses over twenty years old at a quarter of the price, that will humiliate their modern equivalents. That alternative philosophy aside, I use an adapted Nikon 14-24mm extensively as there is nothing to touch it in those focal lengths, prime or zoom. Yet for sheer creative freedom it has to be the 24mm TS-E Mk1 that has inspired me the most this year. From ridiculous amounts of depth of field using tilt, making stitched panoramas and square images to perspective correction, there is nothing like it to inspire landscape and travel photographers… except the Mk II version which I hope to be reviewing very shortly if I can get my hands on one."
Do you do any post-production work?
"I have lots of home made ninja techniques born from experimentation and adaptation. I will do anything to capture how it looked without compromise. Again I don’t hide behind a purist ‘in camera’ façade, that’s nonsense and any successful pro digital shooter who says this is simply bending the truth. It’s all about building contrast without overdoing it, so I exposure blend, as for me, it’s the only way to capture what you see. I am a keen user of LAB mode, but I am not interested in colour treatment, more about accurate or pleasing rendition. To me, it’s always been about using cameras and computers together, symbiotically. I hate graduated filters as many now know; photographers don’t need an overpriced piece of plastic with a straight line on it anymore. Come on people it’s the 21st century. Then I want lasers firing out my glowing, tripodless, plasma hover camera, you get the picture…haha."
Best thing you've hear someone say about your work?
"My mum: 'you're getting quite good at this.' Nice one Mother!"
Visit David Clapp's website for more information.