On assignment in Yosemite – by David Jordan Williams

April 18th, 2012

David Jordan Williams is a Professional Advertising Photographer based in Los Angeles, CA and is also a part of our Pro Team. Not afraid of experimentation, David’s innovative work can be found on album covers, music posters and in numerous print ads. With an extensive stock portfolio represented by Corbis and Getty, as well as art exhibitions across the country, Williams Studio is a force to be reckoned with.

Recently, David made a trip to Yosemite for an assignment and walked away with powerful, lasting images and an incredible experience. Read on to hear about his experience and how to always be prepared, even for the unexpected.

On assignment in Yosemite: Prepared for the Unexpected – by David Jordan Williams

Every year, as a ritual, I go to Yosemite as a prime source of nature-related work, and this year was no exception. I usually try to get to Yosemite the first week of November to take advantage of the color turning and maybe the possibility of catching one of the first snowstorms of the season. I’ve done this for many years now and can count on one hand the number of times I have hit a decent snow condition with enough impact to truly come away with memorable imagery.

This last November I drove up from Los Angeles with my wife, son and his girlfriend, expecting to find the foliage turning, but little else due to the very dry year we’ve been experiencing in California. I did come prepared for any possibility though and brought my full compliment of Nikon equipment and lots of enthusiasm – Yosemite does that to me in a big way. We arrived and I immediately did some checking of the weather conditions, discovering that there was little chance of any inclement weather happening any of the four days we would be there, so I settled into not shooting snow, my prime desire.

Day two started early, at 5:30AM, in hopes of catching the magical light that gracefully spills into Yosemite Valley in the morning. Much to my surprise it had snowed the previous evening and as I walked and looked around one of the most spectacular spectacle was slowly revealing itself. There was a mist rising in the meadows and a clear light like I’d never seen before in Yosemite Valley. It felt like I couldn’t have been in a more perfect position to create almost anything that came into my mind.  Just to give you an example of the impact this morning was having on the environment I was composing a frame and happened to glance to my right where I saw another professional photographer rubbing his eyes. I stopped for a moment and turned to him only to discover that he was crying. I asked if he was alright and he just motioned toward the mist shrouded meadow.

Use your camera’s presets. There was so much unfolding before me that I had to consciously keep my composure, I was literally getting giddy.  I began shooting through a stand of trees at the edge of the meadows and experimented with exposure.  One thing I really appreciate about working digitally is the control of the dynamic range with exposure and the ability to work with color balance so precisely.  I have a tendency to dial to the cool side and to the warm side of normal temperature when shooting and I have presets on my Nikons set to help speed things along in conditions like what I was experiencing that day. 5000K being normal daylight can obviously work for most standard daylight conditions but I never see the scene in front of me as “normal”.  I try to push the look in some way at all times, to shift the look somewhat towards the unusual or more dramatic. Cooler temperatures, below 5000K, somewhere around 2800K and shooting with daylight gives a strong bluish cast which can be emphasised or de-emphasised in Photoshop or Lightroom to a beautiful effect.  I sometimes find myself dialing warm, up to 8600K with the camera just to see what resonates most and very often I will just go ahead and shoot the subject several ways with color balance and sort out the emotions in post production to see how best to draw out the emotional content.  My Nikons have great ways of storing a broad range of color temperature settings that I can assign a name to and just dial around to on the fly. This comes very handy.

Stick with a theme. It’s important to keep a theme or a set of criteria that I can present to my editors at the stock agencies, which helps them find suitable placement for the new images. Usually the theme is a spin off of something the editors are looking for to expand or fill out the collection. I’m usually notified by what Corbis and Getty Images calls a “micro brief” that marks trends in the industry for imagery and current photographic styles. When I shoot, I find that if I don’t have a set of goals written down to draw from or to spark a way of approaching a subject, I can draw a blank or get lost.

Get creative. There was an added benefit to shooting the images I came away from Yosemite with this year. I’ve been working from a fine art perspective with much of my recent work, meaning that I come at my work from a conceptual viewpoint, just allowing my mind to go wild and explore my imagination. A fine art sensibility is very freeing by definition. The structure is looser and, in my case, it allows just about anything to enter into the realm of possibility with image creation. I think many photographers rely on the client to form and determine the concept of a project and it’s very important to me to bring a lot to the creative table, which in turn enriches the experience for both the client and the photographer.

Keep an open mind. My advice to other photographers is to expect the unexpected and keep your mind open to all possibilities. So many things can change with shooting… light, atmosphere, the dynamic between model and photographer, and the elements in a scene or the props in a shoot so expect to improvise and work with what’s happening organically. Photography is a very technical medium, but you must get proficient technically and then work intuitively and challenge yourself.  The beauty of shooting digitally is that you are filling up a card and not rolls and rolls of film and you can just “capture it” and not hesitate. With the subject I’ve been talking about here, nature, it’s wondrous, changeable and always surprising, not to mention life changing… and isn’t that really why we’re in this business anyway?