Paul Russell manager of Rohan Ambleside, author of Microview, the popular series on Rohantime brings us a new addition to the series, an interview with Dave Willis on his favourite subject Mountain Sport Photography
“KISS. Keep it simple, stupid! The simpler the picture the more power it will have. ..Simple Simple Simple” - Dave Willis
How did you get into photography?
I started out from school but here’s the thing; I decided I’d like to be an adventure sports photographer after reading an interview with a well-known mountain photographer back in the early 80’s when I was just leaving school. It looked like a cool way to spend your life. The only problem was that I knew nothing about photography and even less about mountains! I was just kind of “inspired” to do it! So I packed my bag, hitch hiked to the Lakes from my home in Brighton, got a job washing dishes at Wasdale Head and spent two years teaching myself to climb and photograph. Nowadays I spend time telling aspiring photographers that this is not the best way to do it – go to college, get trained, make your life easier. But that’s how I did it.
What landscapes inspire you?
Landscapes don’t inspire me. Light inspires me. When I go to the mountains or the desert or the coast or whatever, I experience the outdoors and all the possibilities that these places can bring and yes, that’s inspiring – what you can do in these places – but the landscape itself, that only comes alive for me when the light is turned on. Photography is all about light. My back garden looks fantastic in the right light.
What makes a good photo?
Personal vision is what makes a good photo. A photograph “speaks” to people when it conveys what the photographer wanted to say. Photography is a language – a visual language – and it can say very eloquent things or it can be meaningless and banal. We instinctively know the difference because when we look at a photo on a page it either connects with us and we look at it or it doesn’t, in which case we turn the page and move on. Having said that, there’s a right way and a wrong way to convey the message.
I have three simple rules for aspiring photographers:
Backgrounds ruin pictures. All your creative energy and concentration goes into your subject but you nearly always forget to look at all the crap in the background.
Nearly all photos have to have a strong, easy to recognize focal point. Most photos that fail don’t have one.
KISS. Keep it simple, stupid! The simpler the picture the more power it will have. I spend most of my time trying to take as much out of the photo as possible. Look at it this way; An artist starts with a blank canvas, adds paint until it look great, then stops. If the artist adds too much, it looks a mess. Photographers have to do the opposite. We start with the whole world in front of us and our job is take away and take away until we are left with a simple, direct picture that conveys what we wanted to say. Simple, simple, simple.
How long does it take to get the perfect shot?
1/2000th of a second. Or may 125th of a second. Or maybe 3 seconds. Or maybe 4 minutes, or maybe a lifetime.
What is the most remote location you have been?
I’d say around the Taitoe Peninsula in Patagonia. I spent a year working as an expedition photographer with Raleigh International back in ’89 and one of the projects that I photographed involved a self-sufficient 9 day/90km trek down a remote river valley called the Valley Expoloradores. I wrote about it in a book called “The World’s Great Adventure Treks” published by New Holland. It involved about 36 freezing river crossings, stranding due to glacial floods, running out of food and bush-wacking through solid bamboo. I’d do it again tomorrow.
Where have the most extreme conditions you have experienced?
The Cairngorm plateau in winter. Seriously. People die up there, all the time.
Who or what would you most like to photograph?
My great ambition is to shoot for National Geographic. It’s the home of the finest photography on the planet and the reason for that is their attitude. It can take a year and tens of thousands of photos to put one major NG story together. No other publisher gives photographers that kind of lee-way.
What piece of equipment could you not be without?
Nothing. There is no piece of equipment that is indispensable to me. If I haven’t got it with me I learn to do without. I improvise or re-think my approach. Kit is over-rated. If I haven’t got a camera with me, so what? Relax, use your eyes and just enjoy the moment. Actually, sometimes not having a camera is better – at least I can appreciate the reality of the situation and not be fussing over f-stops and shutter speeds. But I will feel guilty, not getting a shot.
Do you ever go anywhere with out a camera?
Yeah, all the time. See above!
What do you do in your free time?
Free time? Now there’s an interesting concept. I work, I have an 8 year old son, a do stuff with my family, I teach photography at Kendal college 4 nights a week, I write a blog, I look for the next job…what free time? I’d like to say that I go climbing and enjoy my mountain bike and I sail my canoe (yep, I built a sailing rig for it) and I go ski touring – and sometimes I actually do! But earning a living as an outdoor photographer is tough and it doesn’t give you much time to relax.
What is your next project?
Ah, well I could tell you but then I’d have to shoot you! However, my newest project is actually my on-line blog where I lift the lid and reveal the “behind-the-scenes” stuff that goes into my photo-shoots. Check it out, share it with your friends, add some comments – I’d love to hear from you all. And if you you’re interested in learning photography with me try logging onto The Complete Level 2 Photography Course for my completely free on-line course or sign on for my course at Kendal College.
Dave Willis 2012