personal photography & personal projects

David A Williams is one of those photographers who influences everyone who meets him. And I mean everyone. On the Digital Wedding Forum, he is one of the few photographer who gets unanimous praise for his workshops. Stating it blandly like that now, doesn’t quite describe the impact David has on the individual photographers who attend his workshop. The impact often extends past the work and art of the photographer, to the point where it can even affect your views on life. I know, it sounds dramatic, but that is as under-stated as I can manage to be about David.

So there it is – I would urge any photographer who wants to learn, to seek out David A Williams’ work and photography and writings, and if possible attend one of his workshops.

Back to this guest post by David: I was really honored when David offered to write the foreword to my book on flash photography. And I am just as thrilled that David has this guest spot on the Tangents blog today.

personal photography & personal projects

a guest post by David A Williams

Something I’m often nagging on about, are that we as photographers should be doing private projects – something away from the normal work we all do.

This below above has been germinating away within me for years. It’s a photograph in the style of the ‘Glorification’ paintings, stained glass and mosaics popular after the First World War as memorial or evocative pieces.

The image is 30 inches square and printed onto canvas. As the machine gun in the picture was a fully operating model, I could not photograph at the studio without considerable clearances and permissions and guards, so it was made in between racks of clothes at the military supply area.

I blended the clothes using (I think) Dry Brush in PS and used various layers of normal and textured and desaturated to produce the final image and the cross in the background. Lots of the images and sculptures from that period had a certain ethereal them to them.

The frame was built by myself and my framer out of old fencing, topped with rusty wire. The bottom edges of the frame aren’t quite as clean cut as they seem….

The subject in real life is the brother of one of my brides who had the ‘right’ face that I was envisioning – again influenced mainly by the sculptures I had seen from the 1920’s.

Who it represents is my Grandfathers brother:
Victor Albert Edward Wogan-Browne
Killed in Action – Hamel – 7th July 1918

So, I’m hoping it may inspire some of you to do an image – just for the sake of it – or maybe for a cause – or maybe (like me) it was something that I just had to get out…

Where do I want it to end up?…well my Cousin John Wogan-Browne is currently working on a military history of his family and we would like to get either the Canberra War Memorial or the Victorian War Memorial interested in taking it on. Otherwise a Returned Soldiers League Hall.

The important part for me is the gesture.

Similarly, photographs will quite often gain real importance over time, becoming something historic and important within the family. It’s a connection to the past. Sometimes it is even a photo that was deemed a snapshot at the time …

(From: Ed Wilson of Phoenix)

My dad was a very busy doctor who loved cameras and everything photographic. Back in the mid fifties, he bought a rangefinder Leica to take with us on a family train trip to Chicago for the American Medical Assn meetings.

Believe me it was a big deal… People in our neighborhood were gossiping about the huge adventure of our leaving Salt Lake City on a train to travel across the country to Chicago. It took 2 nights and three days to get there.

When we got to the train station in Salt Lake City, my dad got out his new leica, and lined us all up for a photograph. He grabbed a luggage porter and asked him to take the picture. The porter, obviously had no idea what to do, so dad pre-focused the camera and showed the porter the button.

Dad hurried back and didn’t notice his tie was all askew. The porter took a single frame. No other pictures from that trip survive. And, as far as I know not many more pictures were made with that camera. But in 1/100th of a second an iconic image for my family was created.. .

My parents are long dead, and I inherited the camera… Whenever I hold it in my hands, I think of that day. The camera is over 50 years old and the best picture it ever took was on the first roll… taken by an anonymous stranger with no camera skills. Make pictures … not just of your kids … but with your kids.



Here’s an interesting thought!

What if great photography WASN’T about the equipment – what if it was about the vision and execution of the photographer – WHAT an interesting concept. It’s not the gear itself, but it’s about HOW easily the gear allows you to get to your vision!

This portrait of fellow photographer Walt Palmer was made in a church in Pueblo CO during an ‘Almost Alone’ seminar.

I used the Nikon D5000 with a Sigma 50mm F1.4, the Nikon SU-800 in the flash shoe remotely triggering a Nikon SB-900 flash unit – on a monopod, held by a participant – bounced off a pillar a little behind me. The exposure was manually set to 1/200th @ f2 @ 200ISO @ TTL.

The Nikon D5000 doesn’t have a built in commander unit – so I had to buy the excellent SU-800 commander unit that sits in the hot shoe and can control a veritable battery of Nikon Speedlights.

But, I still ended up with a compact and quiet, respectful kit.

This file is straight from the RAW into PhotoShop and a tiny tweak on levels to ‘pop’ it a little – that’s it.

The important points to note here was that the flash was behind me – not line of sight. There ARE limitations with these systems, but I have to say I am so pleased with the ability of the Nikon system to deal with TTL flash requirements that are NOT always line of sight.

We see a lot of posts on various websites that say ‘you can’t do this’ and you can’t do that…my suggestion to you is TRY IT FOR YOURSELF.

I am amazed at how often I come across participants on the ‘Almost Alone’ workshops who are forced to use flash systems (which should be wonderful) on manual JUSt to make decent flash pictures…(no wonder so many folks don’t like flash – it’s seems so difficult)

My big quote this year (borrowed) is: ‘Don’t drink the Kool Aid’…..In other words – just because someone tells you that you have to do something, or that it doesn’t work – prove it for yourself – first.

Empower yourself.

David A Williams

9 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1 says

    Well said, David. Sometimes we get so caught up in all the stressful work of running a photography business, that we forget about why we fell in love with photography. Personal projects are a fantastic way to get back in touch with what I can only describe as “that tingly thrill” of when you know you are creating an incredible image that has worked out to say exactly what you wanted it to say.

  2. 2 says

    @ Ed Wilson…

    What a beautiful and inspiring story with a fantastic portrait to punctuate your point; “Make pictures … not just of your kids … but with your kids.”

  3. 6gt says

    I understand and agree with David’s point about “try it for yourself” and “don’t drink the cool-aid.” Nevertheless, I do think he’s giving a bit of mis-information here. He makes it appear as if the line-of-sight requirement of this type of trigger is a myth that he’s dispelling — this is only a half truth.

    It’s true infared cls (through the SU-800 or through a commander flash unit) will work without line-of-sight indoors — but line-of-sight is required outdoors. He might call it “drinking the kool-aid” for you to believe me, but I have tried it myself and it is a real limitation of this type of technology.

    That being said, I agree with his overall point. Try try try. In fact, any experience shooting is better than reading about it.

  4. 7Laura Wilby says

    I just came back from a trip to Europe and I have become very intersted in WW1. I think that you have a workshop in Italy sometimes, so I want to suggest the museum in Kobarid (Caporetto), Slovenia if you are in the area. It is very well done, full of photographs and selections from letters, and there are also many hiking opportunities in the area to areas of preserved trenches and other WW1 sites.

    Thanks for sharing your WW1 project, your frame with the barbed wire reminded me of the area and the museum so I thought I would post this.

  5. 8Stephanie Zettl says

    gt – I found your comment interesting.
    “He might call it “drinking the kool-aid” for you to believe me, but I have tried it myself and it is a real limitation of this type of technology.”

    I don’t think David would refer to this as drinking the kool-aid, but rather an instance of trying it out for yourself. It’s great that you have tried it out and you know the limitations (and I agree that there are some.) But unfortunately, may people do not try things out, test it or figure out for themselves what the limitations are. This seems to especially be the case with flash.

    Which in reality is sad, considering how inexpensive and easy it is to test and explore in a digital world. I remember trying things out with film, being limited to rolls of 36, having to pay for processing and not getting the results for hours or even days. We have no excuses now for not testing and exploring what we can do with our cameras.

  6. 9 says

    Thanks to all for the kind words. Both Neil and David are more or less mentors to me (however remote) I have become increasingly passionate about the connections between people. At a recent speaking event I challenged the audience to name all their great grandparents and their ethnic history. Not any could do it. No wonder our culture is fragmenting.. nobody knows who they are.. A hundred years ago it was commonplace for three generations to live under the same roof.

    I then asked “how many of you have a nice picture of just you with your parent as a child?” “As an adult?” The answer is sad, and appalling to me. My final question was “If that parent has passed…what would you give or sacrifice for such a photograph?”

    My personal project going forward is going to be called the “generations project”. Depicting Grandmother, daughter, and grandaughter.. and permutations of that theme with dads, grandads, daughters etc.

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