David Oliver The Storm Seeker
He may be best known for his work as a portraitist, yet these days photographer David Oliver has found a new love in capturing moody landscapes and epic images of nature. His photographic journey began at an early age, when his favourite childhood pastime was thumbing through picture books. This quickly developed into a passion for photography, with unsuspecting family and friends as his main subjects; candlelit portraits were a specialty (often his aggrieved sister-in-law was the subject).
When it came time to choose a career, a young Oliver embarked on a photographic cadetship with the Elton Ward Group, shooting weddings and family portraits for the highvolume studio. It was here that Oliver earned his stripes, sometimes shooting as many as 30 families a week and a couple of weddings each weekend. “It really gave me a lot of experience photographing people and refined my shooting style,” he comments. Today Oliver is a much-awarded
photographer, (multiple AIPP winner and a Grand Master) whose penchant for portraits has earned him a stellar reputation. Yet the much-lauded shooter admits that what really inspires him to pick up his camera these days
is an “early morning mist or a moody skyline”. Oliver says he’s always loved shooting landscapes – though he prefers to call them “urban pictures”. “I rarely shoot pure landscape,” he says. “I prefer to add some kind of element in – whether that is a cow, a sheep, an old farmhouse – some kind of subject. When I shoot for myself I look for environmental pictures, and I do love the adverse weather, the early morning light.” Unlike many photographers that love shooting picture perfect blue skies, Oliver prefers more inclement weather, something he finds is perfectly suited to black and white photography. “I love black and white – it’s perfect for capturing the mood of a stormy sky – blue skies in black and white are flat and bland. I love the mood you can create in black and white – I love the deep rich blacks you get. Now the software has caught up, we can map those moody blacks that we used to be able to capture in a dark room.” Still, Oliver does realise that with the ubiquitous nature of camera phones and the rise in popularity of digital photography, many newbie shooters are unfamiliar with, or even a little scared of, the black and white image. Indeed many think if they just add a B&W effect on their image they have a usable print. “You can’t work that way,” says Oliver. “You almost have to see in black and white. See the picture first and think ‘that will work really well in black and white’ – it’s a pre-visualisation. Dark room knowledge also does help. When we were working in film, you didn’t have that much latitude. If you had a dodgy negative there was no way to rescue it. So you have to put the thought process in place beforehand. Compose the image so the shadows are in the right area. Really think about your composition, light and shade. You shouldn’t be adding things. You want to create a pretty straight print that captures the essence of what you see, not try to artificially layer it later on.”
Sound advice, but what other suggestions would Oliver give photographers wanting to tackle a black and white landscape? “I would study the great black and white photographers, the Bill Brandts, the David Baileys, the Lewis Morleys – photographers of that genre. Studying the work of other photographers will help you develop your eye.” Oliver also says to be unafraid of experimenting. He suggests, “Late afternoon is great, for nice long shadows,” adding that “this time of year is perfect”. And if you’re serious about capturing some unique and moody landscapes, set your alarm clock. “Early mornings… You need to catch the early morning light. The light especially at this time of year is fantastic and it really does darken down your image,” says Oliver. “Head to the country – look at valleys and riverbeds – you get the mist off the water, it’s fantastic.” He is also a big proponent of exploring new landscapes. “I think going anywhere new is inspirational. If you are always in your own environment you’ve seen it all before. Sydney is a beautiful city, but it doesn’t grab me that much anymore because I’ve lived here for 45 years. So it doesn’t do it for me.”
David emphasises that if you do want to shoot those urban landscapes you need to get up early. “It’s important to capture the right light. There’s no point going out at 11am, after you’ve had your breakfast. You want to capture the waking up and winding down of the city.” Oliver also insists that you should prepare for the unexpected – you never know when that perfect scene could unfold. “An awardwinning image is something you often just trip over. It’s often when you least expect it. You can’t plan it. It’s just little moments that come together. You have to have your camera with you and be ready. It’s called the ‘decisive moment’ – when all the elements come together, that was Henri Cartier Bresson’s terminology – and it’s so true…” Photographers keen to improve their photographic skills may be interested in attending Oliver’s upcoming workshops at Hamilton Island this August. It’s the 10th year that Oliver has run the sessions. Joining him will be renowned landscape shooter Peter Eastway and technical expert Bruce Pottinger. Oliver describes the workshop as a “great week”, saying a lot can be learned from spending time with and examining the work of other shooters.
“You will spend time with three professional photographers, and you will definitely learn a lot – everything from portraiture to wedding to landscape and industrial and commercial photography. The Whitsundays is a great location. The weather is constantly changing and there’s fabulous light, especially if like me, you love quirky pictures.” So how would he describe his perfect landscape? “I look for really interesting compositions, the way the light may hit the subject or waves of light slice through clouds – those are beautiful moments to try to capture…”
Learn more about David Oliver’s work at davidoliver.com.au
Great Landscape Lenses
- Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD
Released to coincide with Tamron’s 60th birthday, this EISA awardwinning lens serves up a professional quality build with an Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) AF motor, Vibration Compensation (VC) stabilisation plus full time manual focusing. Ideal for everyday use, it delivers great resolution across all focal lengths and is fast and responsive.
- Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD
Designed as an all-in-one solution this 15x zoom (APS-C compatible lens) delivers a focal length of 28-419mm (35mm equivalent). The Piezo Drive (PZD) provides fast auto focus and Vibration Compensation (VC) enables slow shutter speeds without camera shake.
- SIGMA APO 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM
Designed for use with full frame DSLRs, this fixed focal length telephoto zoom lens is a great choice for the serious landscape shooter. FLD glass elements prevent chromatic aberrations and multilayer lens coatings reduce flare and ghosting. A Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) provides smooth fast auto focus.