Time for another landscape photographer interview, this time featuring the talented David Lenhert. David goes into quite a bit of detail on his background and how he shoots, so I’m sure you’ll pick something up from it. Enjoy.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in California. Much of my childhood was on a farm nestled in the foothills of the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains a short distance from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and not too far from Yosemite National Park. My best memories were spent in these grand places and no doubt that contributed significantly to my present love of capturing iconic images of these very special places. I’m a software engineer by training and entered that field in the late 1970s, eventually working for a company that was the first to produce commercial computer generated graphic applications. Although not photography related, that experience has greatly benefited me in my current post production work. That company was later purchased by Computer Associates Intl. which I remained with until I took early retirement from a bit over 10 years ago in order to pursue other interests.
What inspired you to get started in photography?
I had played around with photography some in my youth, eventually getting a little more serious about it in college. I even briefly considered it as a possible career. I owned a couple different SLR cameras in the 70s and 80s, but it was really just a hobby for me. Although I was an early adopter of digital cameras, the end results were always disappointing to me. I didn’t start to get really excited again about photography until 2006 when digital cameras were beginning to seriously compete with 35mm film. I guess my enthusiasm really got launched after I left the computer field and joined my wife in her business selling wholesale jewelry and fashion accessories. I built her website and started taking pictures of her products for the online store. Eventually, other people found out what I was doing and asked me to do the same thing for them. That eventually led to other jobs like producing real estate and business virtual tours, which I still do a lot of. It had always been a dream of mine to somehow make a living doing something I really loved doing, like one of my hobbies. When I realized that I might be able to, I started getting more serious about photography by taking classes, attending workshops, reading books and through personal experimentation.
What gear do you take to each shoot and what lens can you not live without?
The gear I use depends on my destination, the subject, and the client I’m shooting for. I have different gear bags set up so I can just grab and go depending on the assignment. My passion , however, is fine art landscape and nature photography, so for that, my gear includes a Nikon D700 with a set of Nikkor lenses, Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff ball head, a set of filters and other accessories. The lens I love to use the most is my Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8, but my 16-35mm f/4 comes in a close second. I’ve had an order in for a Nikon D800 since it was first announced, but I’ve still yet to receive it. When I go hiking, an important part of my gear includes a comfortable photo backpack. I’ve tried several over the years. My current favorite is an F-Stop Loka.
How do you market yourself and has social media been an important part?
I haven’t embraced social media as much as I should, or marketing either for that matter. It is on my list of things I need to do and/or improve upon. To some extent I use Facebook and Linkedin. I still rely a lot on sending emails. Most of my commercial business is word-of-mouth and repeat. Bottom line, it’s something I need to pay better attention to.
What’s your favourite photo that you’ve taken and does it have any significance?
I guess my all time favorite photo was one I took in the Narrows of Zion National Park in southern Utah. It was my second time hiking there and I specifically wanted to capture something really special. I had been inspired by some images of that area taken by a couple different local photography pros that live just outside of the park, so I had in my mind what I was hoping to come away with and I had prepared well for it. Although I didn’t get exactly what I had originally envisioned, I was very happy with the results. That image has turned out to be my best selling landscape print and has won more than one photography contest.
Select a photo you have taken, explain how it was taken and how did you edit it?
It’s hard to pick one in particular as my approach can be so different depending on the scene, the lighting, etc. I do seem to like to take a lot of low light and waterscapes. One of my favorites is of a waterfall I saw in Outside Photographer Magazine about a year ago. I was intrigued by the color of the rock which had warm tones of red and orange. There were also cool color tones of blue and green in the moss. I really wanted to capture something equally impressive. It was a 10 hour drive from where I live followed by a 3 mile hike to get to these falls in SE Utah. In preparation, I started looking online for photographs that I liked of the falls and examined the exif data to get an idea of what was a good focal length to use and the best time of day to arrive there. I made sure I brought my tripod, a polarizer, and some ND filters. In the late afternoon, the falls are completely in shadow, so exposure was easy. I played a bit with shutter speed using the filters until I got exactly what I wanted in the way the water looked. This image was shot at ISO 100, for 1/2 second at 36mm. As it turned out I needed to do very little in post. I boosted contrast and color saturation a bit, especially in the cooler tones and then added some overall sharpening in Photoshop CS5.
What processing tool do you use and do you believe in the camera doing all the work or in post?
I believe that it is always favorable to get the best possible image in-camera. However, I don’t think an image reaches its full potential without at least some post processing. I find it odd that this is often an area of controversy. That is, an image that has had some software post processing is somehow less valued. It seems forgotten that in the film days, photographers, Ansel Adams for instance, often did considerable manipulation in the chemical darkroom. Since I almost always shoot RAW, I find that I usually need to add some contrast, saturation and sharpening at a bare minimum. I often dodge and burn, remove dust spots, and even more depending on the image. I do most of my post processing with Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS5. Occasionally, I’ll use NIK software and Topaz Labs plugins. When I create an HDR image, I prefer Photomatix.
Whats your favourite photography accessory other than your camera?
Without hesitation, I can say my favorite photography accessory is my tripod. I actually have several. Initially, I bought a tripod that I thought could do it all. I discovered, however, that I often left it behind because it was a little too heavy. I currently have four tripods, each for a specific purpose. My smallest is a Gitzo GT1541T with a RRS BH25 ball head. It’s so light and compact, I never have to go anywhere without a tripod. I don’t even bother with a monopod anymore. Some people don’t understand why I’m so enthusiastic about using a tripod. My answer is, that without a tripod, I wouldn’t easily be able to blur moving water, capture night and low light images, bracket for HDR, produce panoramas, paint with light, keep images tack sharp, and more.
Where do you prefer to post your photos online and why there?
Right now I have two photography websites; www.DavidLenhert.com and www.LuxFire.com. The first one is a Zenfolio site, which I’ve had for about 3 years. I recently upgraded it to a premium account, however, I haven’t gotten around to taking advantage of the new features that offers. Zenfolio a great value for all that it can do and I highly recommend them. The second site is a WordPress site which I started as a photography blog. I may let this go at the end of the year as Zenfolio recently added blogging capabilities.
Do you ever get photographers block and if so what do you do to get inspired again?
Since I shoot commercially nearly everyday, I don’t really think I get blocked. I have my system and routine that works pretty well for me most of the time. When it comes to my landscape, nature and travel photography, however, that’s a little different. Even though San Diego is a beautiful place, I find it hard to get motivated to go out and shoot locally. It’s when I travel to exotic places that I get aroused and creative. When planning a trip, I often go online to photography sites and see what other photographers have already done, noting the time of day and any other information I can extract. There is an incredible amount of talent out there, especially among amateur enthusiasts. I’ve discovered a number of photographers, many not very well known, that greatly inspire me and I follow them regularly.
Is there anything you wish you had done when you first started in photography that would of made a difference?
I don’t think so. As I didn’t get really serious about photography until later in life, I had the advantage of a lot of general life experience, and some financial security that allowed me to pursue my passion in a deliberate way. Having the Internet to refer to for best practices, equipment reviews, and so forth, kept me from making serious mistakes I might have otherwise made.
Any advice for new photographers wanting to go pro?
Its difficult to make an actual living in photography, or the arts in general. If you have a good job, I’d suggest not giving it up until you’re certain income from photography will replace it, or at least provide some security for yourself and family. The other suggestion I’d make would be to try and find a unique niche and specialize in that. Although many traditional photography jobs are disappearing, newspaper staff jobs for example, there are all kinds of new opportunities for photographers. Try to find one that suits your particular interests and skills, and see if there’s a market for it. Someone that really loves what they do will always out perform others which may look upon it as just a job. Follow your dreams, prepare, and be wise about it.