Photographer of the Month Interview: Destin Sparks | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, June 2018:   Destin Sparks

We are happy to have Destin Sparks as our featured guest photographer this month. We appreciate that he gave us some of his time and generously shared his beautiful photography with us! Please visit his links to see more of his work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: How did you get your start in Photography?

One of my first jobs right out school was working Design ‘back of house’ at a camera store. This naturally put me front and centre among the photographic community. I was surrounded by cameras and photographers for a few years before I ever discovered I had an interest in photography.

It wasn’t until a co-worker of mine challenged me into it that it sparked an interest. From there things just kind of snowballed, I moved into a position as full-time photographer working with a Real Estate company, but the built environment wasn’t for me. I wanted to capture our natural landscape, so I handed in my resignation and went solo. This was one of the scariest and best things I have ever done.

:: What drew you into working with the panoramic style of camera? What challenges do you think it has that a more traditional sized frame has?

The panoramic format has always seemed most natural to me, the elongated ratio resembles our vision and I feel we’ve become rather accustomed to it. From 16:9 in our theatres to wide screen televisions and LCD screens. I’ve always felt that square-ish formats look unflattering, at least in the landscape world. I tend to associate square formats with symmetry and it stifles my compositional creativity.

I have adapted well to the 3:1 ratio but it is not without its challenges. One of the largest by far is online content, everything from Social Media to news sites have place holders for more traditional formats. This often means cropping a photo or adding unsightly borders for display purposes. While ‘the thumbnail’ is the panorama’s worst enemy, there’s no denying a panorama’s place is on the wall.

:: When it comes to fine art printing, how do you decide what makes it into your portfolio, and then how do you decide whether it’s a limited, signature, or open edition?

For a photograph to be included in my portfolio the scene must ‘wow me’, if an image doesn’t inspire me then there’s little chance of it captivating the viewer. From there I’ll decide on how ‘rare’ I believe the photograph to be. If I feel I’ve captured something truly remarkable, never to be witnessed again or in perfect conditions (even if cliché) I will limit the edition.

The Signature Edition is a level below the Limited Edition and consists of photographs whereby some elements may be repeated ie a geological event, weather pattern or cloud formation. Whilst they’re still unique, there’s a chance the spectacle can be witnessed again thus reducing the rarity. Everything else is relegated to the Open Edition. They are well executed and high-quality photographs, but it is likely the exact scene can be witnessed time and time again. Open Edition’s provide an affordable entry point to owning a high-quality print.

:: Your work reminds me of another Australian photographer who shoots vibrantly colored panoramas…being a fine art landscape photographer who deals with selling a good deal of prints…do you look at other photographers like Peter Lik and try to get bits of wisdom from their approach?

Analysing your competitors in any industry is all part of running a healthy business. Sure, I sometimes stalk the real big guns, but I certainly don’t dwell on what they’re doing now or what they’ve done in the past. What works for some doesn’t necessarily work for others.

:: When you first got started with photography, what did you find most challenging? After several years in the business what do you still find challenging?

Shameless self-promotion; as an emerging photographer who wishes to be successful you almost certainly need to learn the art of self-promotion. As an introvert and someone who tends to be rather shy this has always been something I’ve felt awkward about. It’s not always easy to toot your own horn.

While I’ve never gotten used to the idea of self-promotion, eventually you rely less and less on it as you make more of name for yourself and people begin to recognize you. The two things I still struggle with is writing and marketing. They don’t come naturally to me. This is not something most people tend to relate to photography but ‘taking pictures’ is a very small part of running a successful business.

:: What is your favorite piece of non-photographic equipment?

My smart phone, I realise how that might be a bit disappointing coming from someone who is so fond of Mother Nature and the great outdoors. However, my phone has helped facilitate every one of my journeys if even in a minute way. It’s the source of rhythm and music when I need inspiration, it has been my aid when I’ve lost my way, it helps me track the sun and stars, and it’s also my connection to the outside world when I’m in isolation.

:: How does social media play a part in marketing for someone who really deals with fine art prints as the primary source of income? How do you think it differs in how other landscape photographers use it?

Social Media for me has always just been about building an audience, I’ve never felt I use it any differently from anyone else. Sure, some people are more active, some less active and some aggressively push their paid content, be it workshops, editing presets etc but I’ve never felt Social Media to be all that effective as sales platform. Maybe I’m doing it wrong?

:: One thing I’ve noticed with photographers who deal with selling prints, is that they spend more time working on getting amazing images of very recognizable and iconic locations. Do you find that finding images that drive sales forces you to maybe shoot more compositions that are very popular as opposed to trying to find new and fresh locations that people might not identify with?

We all want to be unique and capture something different, but as a landscape photographer it’s already difficult getting the best light, the best conditions at the scenes we know ‘work well’. Trying to always be fresh reduces the odds of getting a great shot. With that said, my hat goes off to creators who keep it fresh. Sure, I’m guilty of capturing those iconic scenes but they’re popular for a reason. Often, they’re National Parks or world heritage listed because they’re deemed the world’s most beautiful and precious.

I do agree though, it’s the stereotypical scenes that will sell the best. They’re relatable and well recognised, it’s often the places people go to see on their vacations. I should point out that it’s never my intention to capture images that are ‘sales orientated’. I will take some marketing considerations in when I pick a subject but ultimately, I photograph something because I’m passionate about it. If sales follow that’s a great thing.

:: What’s the scariest thing you’ve had happen to you on a photo shoot?

I have had my fair share of close encounters, I think as photographers we have a habit of putting ourselves in precarious situations to get ‘the shot’, some more than others. I certainly don’t condone the latest craze of rooftopping etc. for the sake of social media likes. I’ve walked in the dark to the rumbling tune of a nearby avalanche, I’ve watched in awe as my rental car slides down the icy road with no-one in it, but there’s one event that remains especially clear in my mind; watching my camera bag as it slowly rolls end on end and over the edge of a cliff, I dived after it with body placed half on, half off as the bag slips between fingers falling… thankfully it snagged on branch a few metres down and I was able to retrieve it relatively unscathed. It’s a very graphic memory nonetheless.

:: You work primarily with film…so how much weight do you put into developments in the digital realm? Do you do much with digital cameras? What would it take for you to switch from film?

I’ve been shooting with medium format film for a few years now, 12 months ago I invested in the most expensive digital camera money can buy. It can do marvelous things, but it just lacks the authenticity of film. I use it from time to time but it’s not my ‘go to’ medium. For me to switch permanently to digital it would mean that film is no longer manufactured or developed. I would like to see a true Panoramic digital camera developed but I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

:: How do you want people to remember your work when they view it?

So long as I leave an impression on people I’m happy. As an artist that’s all I can really ask for. The landscape photographer in me would like viewers to remember and walk away with an ‘experience’ like what I experienced as the photographer, standing in wonder and marvel at the scene. Admittedly this doesn’t transpire particularly well with small media and online content. Pieces need to be printed and experienced large so that immerses the viewer.

:: How do you set about finding an image to create? How much of your images are created with a preconceived idea in your brain of what you want to come away with?

I draw a lot of inspiration from social media and publications. Quite often I will flick passed the work of others and secretly wish I had captured it. While admiring their work I think to myself how I would do it differently, this is generally where the idea is born.

From there I will begin to research the best time of year, the tides, the snow depth, weather, road access etc. all while knowing exactly what I want to capture. Never has my preconceived idea of the perfect photograph worked out like this. There are just too many variables with Mother Nature and I end up capturing something entirely unique, if I manage to capture anything at all. I’ve often said; ‘being a good landscape photographer is knowing how to increase your chances of getting lucky’. Landscape Photography is 80% luck, 15% persistence and 5% skill.

:: If you could script the future of landscape photography what would it look like?

If I could script the future it wouldn’t be about photography as a technology or landscape as a genre but rather a solution to our energy problems. One of my largest concerns is global warming and the preservation of our natural landscapes. Already in my lifetime I’ve witnessed changes to our landscape and frankly it frightens me.

:: What’s on your photographic bucket list?

I like to think I’m a relatively young photographer. Unlike those who have been around a little bit longer, I haven’t had the opportunity to venture too far, thus, I have a rather large list. If I could narrow it down to just 2 places I would say Iceland and Italy.

Mountains and snow are always high on my bucket list. I find it fascinating the way mountains contain their own micro weather climates and the way clouds form off the top as the snow heats and cools.

Destin Sparks

...being a good landscape photographer is knowing how to increase your chances of getting lucky... Landscape Photography is 80% luck, 15% persistence and 5% skill.

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