The Photo That Changed My Life By Dave Williams

My Journey to Photography

I’m Dave Williams, also known under the pseudonym, CaptureWithDave, and I’m a travel photographer and writer from the UK. My specialty is traveling to places with cold weather, but I’ll go anywhere! My journey into photography began when I was 14 years old and I woke up on the morning of my birthday to be given a Nikon F40 by my parents. As I was growing up, my artistic creative side obviously shone through and I spent a lot of time drawing and doodling. Buying me a camera was the best decision my parents ever made!

I spent my time learning the craft, experimenting with light, learning what an f-stop is, working out what happens when you shift shutter speeds, how to balance everything out to get the exposure just right (which was a lot harder back then with film rather than a screen). I was shooting the stars, water drops, flowers, animals, I was on a massive mission of trial and error, which developed over time until I eventually arrived at the type of photography I most enjoy, and which carried through to today – travel.

My journey in travel photography began slowly – I reached the age of 28 and had a shake-up in my life which was beyond my control. Things changed quickly and unexpectedly, but I could not do anything about what happened. As a result, I reconsidered every aspect of my story. I had previously lived in South Africa, but aside from family holidays, I hadn’t traveled much so I decided to embark on a little mission to see 30 countries before I reached 30 years old. I had 16 countries under my belt at the time, so it wasn’t going to be a simple task by any stretch, but I started my planning and got on with it. On my left arm, I have a tattoo which says, in Latin script, ‘either find a way or make one’ and I try to live by that as much as I can, letting nothing stand in my way if I set my sights on a goal.

By the time I hit 30, I’d hit the 30th country, and now I stand proudly on 43, but in my quest to reach these heights I found that I fell in love with a few places and just keep returning, time after time. Iceland tops the list as being my favourite country in the world, and it’s closely followed by Norway. There are other places that I keep revisiting, too. Italy, France and the USA, are all repeat visit locations for me. The thing about travel photography is that I get to show the world through my eyes, through my lens. I established a motto, “Let me show you what I see,” and I absolutely live by it. I work hard to make a living from photography, but I’m also keen to share and show the world through my eyes, and this is part of what inspires me to keep at it.

Location and Gear

When I find a location I want to visit I hit the research hard, trying to find a new spin on locations that have undoubtedly been seen countless times in our age of social media and instant gratification, with people sharing what they see all the time. It makes my job challenging, but also very fun and rewarding when I manage to capture new angles and previously unseen views of familiar sights. A lot of photographers say that social media is making their job hard, but I see the multitude of shots out there on Instagram, Pinterest, 500PX, Flickr and the like, and I use this to my advantage when planning my shots because it allows me to see what’s popular and what’s been done before so I know how to show it differently, making my images stand out from the crowd.

Every location is different, and even if I’ve been somewhere before there’s a constant dynamic flux, so I prepare myself properly each time, even if I’m going back to the same location. Part of that planning involves my gear, and so often when photographers talk about their gear it’s all about the body and glass. I’ve just made the switch to mirrorless, having been using the Nikon D810 for a few years, and I tend to use the Nikkor lenses in the ‘holy trinity’ of the 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm f/2.8 range. Behind the scenes I have hunted high and low to find the things which support me, and most notably of this collection of gear is my BlackRapid Sport Breathe strap which tethers the camera to me when I’m busy exploring the world, the Platypod Ultra which gives me stability when I need it, my Sony memory cards, and the tandem outfit which is my MacBook Pro and Drobo 5N2 to process and store my images. I’m all about finding decent gear and sticking with it when I know it does a great job, and all of these things do a great job.

Part of my job is to make people want to visit the locations I take photos of, and that means I need to stand out and make an impact. I can use many methods to achieve this, but ultimately if people want to be there, then I’ve done my job right. The ideal position to be in is to have people spend longer looking at my photo, perhaps also evoking other senses than vision, and to have people use awesome adjectives like ‘impactful’ or ‘captivating’ when describing the image. This can be achieved by shooting something in such a way that the viewer can interact with the scene, with their eyes wandering across it and picking up on something that they may have initially missed. Good harmony of colours as well as good composition and playing off certain colours against others does amazing things to us and our emotions. Sunsets are a great example of this – the balance of cool blues against warm reds is representative of positions of the colour wheel which are proven to be complementary and evocative, and that’s why sunset photos are so attractive.

The Story Behind My Most Impactful Photo

When I think back to all the photos I’ve taken there’s one which stands out among the others. In fact, it’s two shots. As I said, when I started to shoot travel I quickly learned of my love for the cold. One of my favourite things about the Arctic winter, and something I’m now addicted to is the Northern Lights. I was on a trip to Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago way up near the North Pole when one evening I was sitting in the lounge of a hotel in Longyearbyen going through the shots I’d taken that day when a chap ran in to tell everyone that the aurora was out. I folded my laptop and ran to my room to grab my gear, then headed straight outside. The hotel was right on the edge of town and I got as far away from the lights as I dared to in the pitch black of night, very much aware that people aren’t allowed to leave town without a firearm because of the threat of the roaming polar bear population which far outnumbers the human population. I set everything up and was wrapped up nice and warm to protect myself from the sub-zero wind. I don’t know what that chap had seen because I was staring a black sky for quite a long time, but then the horizon behind the mountains started to glow a grey haze, which then grew towards me and turned green, and then all of a sudden the entire sky exploded in greens, pinks and purples. The aurora was dancing and putting on an incredible show for me, and I was getting so many shots of it that I started to experiment a little and stood in front of my camera with my hands above my head in a heart shape. Unbelievably, just as I had done that and was firing off my next series of shots, the aurora gave me a heart back. I couldn’t believe it, and at the time it was the best light show I had ever seen and reinforced my love for nature, travel, and the northern lights.

These photos are backed up, safe and sound on my Drobo 5N2, and if I lost these photos, I know I’d be heartbroken. The importance of good data management goes without saying, and it’s a lot simpler than people think. So long as you have a copy of your data, you’re good, and if you have a second back-up of your data in another location, you’re bulletproof.

The biggest thing I’ve learned as a photographer is that actually you never stop learning. Things change constantly, from methods and techniques through to styles and tastes. To grow in the world of photography it’s important to stay on top of all of this, and there are a few great ways to make sure you do. Learning from peers and shooting with friends is one such way and taking lessons and advice from the pros through training companies is another. However, you choose to do it, make sure you realize that you’ll never know everything there is to know, and the ceiling will keep getting higher, so keep learning and practicing at every opportunity.

Learn More About Dave Williams