Friday, January 27, 2012

Off The Beaten Track -- David Townsend, Photographer

This week's Off The Beaten Track contributor is David Townsend, a professional photographer from Denver, Colorado. A self-taught photographer, David's journey started fifteen years ago when he captured the beauty of nature and landscapes in his home state.  He later became an accomplished portrait photographer and master of the digital darkroom.  Portrait photography eventually led him into photographing weddings, and now he and his wife, Lynn, own David Lynn Photography, a thriving wedding and portrait photography business.  David also teaches his skills to new and aspiring photographers with his Shootshops Photography Workshops. Travel and photography have always remained David’s true passions, and he takes every opportunity to combine these whenever possible.

David’s travels have taken him all over the United States, and to three other continents and fifteen countries: Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, Italy, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

 Next week David will return and take us on a photographic journey to South East Asia.

Life is an adventure.

I've ridden my bike at 20mph, steering with one hand and firing off shots with the other.  I've strapped a camera to my ski helmet.  I've drowned a camera 40 feet underwater in Belize.  I like going and being everywhere with a camera.  That's where my life is, that's where my fun is, and that's where the photo opportunities are.

There are plenty of times I don't have a camera with me, and it always allows me to sink fully into the experience.  Even then, my mind's eye is firing away.

I know it sounds a little clichéd, but the simple fact is that beauty is everywhere.  Nothing makes me see that more than photography, and recognizing it has become such a part of my everyday life that I don't even think about it anymore.  I just see it -- in the plain, ordinary and everyday.  It's a simple concept, and when you get it into your consciousness things don't seem so ordinary anymore.  It's all about perspective... lying on the ground in the middle of the woods, a meadow, a street, or in front of a bride and groom with my camera and seeing the world from inches high.... getting up close and personal with things I'd otherwise walk by... then creating art from it. That totally does it for me, and is one of a million reasons why I love to shoot.

The images below can also be found at ~ world galleries

I had the great opportunity to take a two-week overland safari through South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia. We drove caravan-style with Land Rovers equipped with rooftop tents, visiting National Parks and Game Reserves to experience the wildlife of southern Africa.

TIP:  a tripod is essential piece of equipment for night photography.  It allows you to keep the camera perfectly still and create long exposures.

We spent one day and night at a lion rescue camp in Botswana, and we had a chance to get up close and personal with these amazing animals.  These images capture both the intense and majestic nature of the lion.

TIP: Especially on safari, a telephoto zoom lens is essential to get close to your subject.  It allows you to exclude things that are unnecessary to your image.

We spotted a pride of lions taking their afternoon nap on a grassy hill on the savannah, and we moved in to see how close we could get to the resting pride. This female stood watch as I was able to get a few shots from about 100 feet away.

TIP: Placing your subject slightly off-center in your image creates a little more dramatic feel to your image.

The giraffe is one of the most unique animals in the world, and it is a rare experience to see these animals in the wild.  With these two images I tried to create the very zen-like feel that these animals convey.

TIP:  Use environmental features to add another graphic element to your image, or look for particular patterns, shapes, or (in this case) alignments that add an interesting perspective.

The zebras were always found in herds, often with a group of ostriches nearby (they help the Zebras search for predators with their keen eyesight.)  I caught the attention of this lone zebra while moving around the vehicle.  He turned and faced me and created the perfect image for me to capture.

TIP:  Keep it simple.  This image is very straightforward, linear, and symmetrical, all adding to the overall artistic look.

The elephants were always fascinating to watch for hours, and we spent a long time observing their playful nature and dedication to the family unit.

TIP:  When photographing animals, look for interactions, as those images are not as common as just a solitary animal standing and doing nothing.

The hippos are notorious for being the most dangerous animal on the continent, but when we visited a watering hole with 30-40 hippos, they were doing what they do best…relaxing.  Every once in a while they would all erupt in what sounded like a group of old men laughing together over a glass of brandy.

TIP:  Use a foreground element to add a dynamic feel.  I shot this image through the grasses to give a sense of place while still maintaining focus on the hippo.

Some of the smaller monkeys around the game parks and reserves have developed a bad (human-inspired) habit of raiding campsites for food.  We even witnessed a giant baboon climb inside one of our trucks and steal a 5-pound bag of potatoes.  Although annoying, it did afford some great photo opportunities, like this one.

TIP: Shooting images with low aperture settings (f/2.8, f/3.5, etc) gives you shallow depth of field and soft blurred backgrounds, letting your subject stand out.

This image of a red hartebeest is a more iconic image, with the lone silhouette of the animal surrounded by the expanse of the African savannah.  I found myself absolutely awestruck at the simple beauty of the savannah and other parts of southern Africa.

TIP:  Use a wider angle lens to include parts of the environment to give a sense of place and perspective. 

This is how you transport vehicles across the mighty Zambezi River from Botswana into Zambia.  We went over to visit Victoria Falls and it was amazing.  Footnote: a couple months after returning home, I read that one of these ferries capsized, killing multiple people.  Wow.

TIP:  Always be on the lookout for interesting perspectives from which to photograph.  Shoot from down on the ground or, if possible, from up above your subject.

The Baobab Trees of southern Africa range in diameter seven to eleven meters, and reach a height of 30 meters. Carbon dating has found some baobab trees to be over 2,000 years old.

TIP:  Sunrise and sunset are the ideal times of day to photograph when the light is softer and warmer.  It creates more dramatic colors and shadows.

The acacia tree is the iconic tree of Africa, and makes for the most interesting images.   There was no shortage of beautiful sunsets while we were there, so I felt compelled to include one.

TIP:  Silhouettes are a classic photographic technique.  Keep it interesting by placing the silhouetted subject off center or in a smaller part of the frame.

Words just can’t describe the enormity of the Salt Flats in Botswana, but if I were to try, it would be the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. Just walking out onto the flats makes one feel completely alone, in a most peaceful way.

TIP:  Use negative space to create an artistic view of what you are photographing.  In this photo, the vehicles are very small and the sky dominates the scene, giving a sense of the salt flat’s vast expanse.


  1. Thanks for sharing these excellent tips with us, David. Your photographs are breathtakingly beautiful! I learned about the tripod the hard way. A few years ago, I went to a Kurdish wedding in Western Iran and took lots of photos of the women dancing in their lovely jewel-toned dresses. Unfortunately, the shots came out as blurred outlines.

    1. Hi Heidi - thank you! I know what you mean, a tripod can be invaluable on so many occasions. It can be a chore to drag around with you sometimes, but when needed it really makes all the difference in creating a potentially great image!

  2. Beautiful images, David! Thanks so much for the great advice as well. I particularly loved your rich black and whites, and of those, the giraffes next to that knobby! Any tips on how to get such richness from the b&w's, or is that next week?

    1. Thank you Supriya! For these images, I did a custom sepia tone and increased the contrast (brighter highlights, darker shadows) to achieve the rich quality. Many DSLR cameras have custom "Picture Styles", whereby you can set your preferred amount of color saturation (or B/W), contrast, brightness etc. when shooting. Then you can shoot great, rich contrast B/W images right on your camera without any post processing. Good luck!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful photographs. It's so lovely for our readers to have a chance to experience your work. I'm wondering, what is the hardest subject for you to photograph?

  4. Thank you Alli, it's a real honor and pleasure to have my travels featured here! Hardest subject? That's a tough one...a screaming two-year old child?...a REALLY dimly lit wedding reception hall?...maybe tonight's below freezing outdoor concert in Colorado? There are many levels of difficulty, and there are lots of challenges with whatever I photograph, but that's what keeps it fun and interesting. Never a dull moment!

  5. What fabulous photos. I especially love the drama of the black and white images. And so many tips! Thank you. I look forward to next week's post.

  6. This was a great post. I'd read about you and your wife's photography in one of David duChemin's books. Wonderful shots. What a great trip that must have been!