A professional photographer with a passion for the outdoors, David Culp travels the world capturing the scenes around him. He leads photography workshops and is also a new contributor to Outdoor Photography Guide. We sat down with David to learn more about his work and his approach to photography. Read on.
Outdoor Photography Guide: How did you get started in photography? Specifically how did you make the leap into doing it for a living?
David Culp: Denali National Park stirred my passion for photography. During my first trip there over 10 years ago I had a point and shoot camera. It just did not replicate what my eye saw. I swore if I ever went back, I would have a good camera and know how to use it. Years later, I planned a second trip and before I traveled, I went on a workshop and found my passion! I then worked very hard for a couple of years in my day job to save enough money to make the jump to full time photographer.
OPG: Do you have any formal training in photography?
DC: My only formal training came in the form of a couple of workshops with high caliber photographers. The best advice I can give someone exploring photography is to learn from a pro and then shoot like mad until you find your calling and your own style.
OPG: You’ve traveled to some amazing places – do you have a favorite location?
DC: I have been lucky enough to visit over 25 countries and experience their remarkable beauty. They all have their own character and allure. I think a better way to answer this question would be to say if I had to chose only one country to visit, it would be New Zealand. The South Island takes the best parts of many destinations and compiles them into one drivable location. You can see broad mountains that liken the views in Northern Alaska; go over a pass or two and the hills and rivers of Scotland come to mind; around the next corner is a black sand beach of Hawaii; and back inland are the sharp peaks of Patagonia. If I could only visit one location, New Zealand would be my choice.
OPG: What subjects do you enjoy shooting most?
DC: I don’t find that I have a favorite. I like to live in the moment and take what is offered. Often I go out to shoot a grand landscape only to get distracted by some fascinating wildlife. Or maybe the day is just not conducive to a nice sunrise so I look for a more compact composition. I find the seduction of photography to be capturing a compelling image when there does not appear to be one available.
OPG: What’s in your camera bag?
DC: Currently I’m shooting Canon products. I find the glass to be the most important aspect of my kit so I tend to upgrade it long before I upgrade my camera. Right now my bag consists of a Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 70D, Canon 17-40 f/4L, Canon 24-105 f/3.5-5.6L, Canon 70-200 f/2.8L, Canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6L. I also carry a number of extenders and extension tubes.
If you don’t have the budget for top notch glass, consider renting. If I only need a specialty lens a couple of times per year, I chose to rent and save my money for travel. I’m currently waiting on pins and needles for the specifications of the soon-to-be-announced 5D Mark IV as I am due a camera upgrade!
OPG: What’s your favorite lens and why?
DC: While I love shooting wide angle grand landscapes, I think my favorite lens is actually my Canon 70-200 f2.8L. It is sharp, fast, and offers a lot of flexibility when combined with a multiplier such as a 1.4x.
OPG: How important is post-processing to your photography?
DC: My time is more important than post-processing so I spend as little time as possible in the digital darkroom. That being said, we are shooting RAW files so some post processing is necessary. Capturing a properly exposed and composted image and having a good understanding of Lightroom and Photoshop actually reduces my time spent at the computer.
OPG: What is it about photography that drew you to it as a creative medium?
DC: For me, I love to travel, but I also like having new experiences and challenges. To obtain a great image, one is often required to go to great lengths and I find that challenge intoxicating.
OPG: What is the goal of your work? What do you aim to convey with your images?
DC: I like to inspire others. Whether that means to inspire them to climb a mountain, or to hike by headlamp at night, or just to go out to their local park. I want people to see my images and put down their phones and turn off their computers and get outside and have experiences. I want my images to be the reason others overcome their excuses to not push themselves.
OPG: Why nature photography?
DC: I grew up in the mountains and on the lakes of North Carolina and I have that in my blood. I am addicted to nature and the outdoors. Photography is just my means to sharing the sights I see while on my adventures.
OPG: If you could describe your photographic style in one sentence, what would that be?
DC: I strive to create an image that’s intriguing and realistic such that the viewer is immersed and moved as though they were standing at the location.
OPG: What motivates you to teach others about photography?
DC: I love seeing the “ah ha!” moment – that moment when someone finally gets it. I think many instructors over-complicate photography and it turns some people away. I find it very satisfying to have a client come back to me later to say I helped them understand an aspect of photography that had previously escaped them.
OPG: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in photography, or just starting to develop their eye?
DC: I suggest seeking out a workshop where you can learn from a pro who captures images you find compelling and interesting. Learn the basics and what to look for. Then get out and shoot! Every chance you get with whatever camera you have. Seek out constructive criticism and be honest with yourself and you will always improve.
OPG: Where are you planning to go next?
DC: I travel quite a bit so I’m always planning the next four or five trips down the road. My next large trips are the Canadian Rockies, Indonesia, and Turkey. When not on extended trips, I frequent the mountains and coastlines of the southeastern US offering workshops or individual instruction. As we speak, I’m packing for a trip to the mountains of North Carolina for some astrophotography later tonight! Wish me luck!
Visit David’s website to see more of his work and to view his upcoming workshop schedule: David Culp Photography
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