Photographer of the Month Interview: Dylan Fox

Featured Photographer, July 2011:   Dylan Fox

This month, our featured guest is Dylan Fox.

We want to thank Dylan for sharing his work with us, and taking the time from his busy schedule to answer our questions! Please visit his site links to see more of his exceptional work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: Being as young as you are (compared to us), how did you get your start in photography?

I remember being on a family trip in the US when I was a little kid (maybe 8 years old or so) and at every opportunity I would grab Mum's Canon SLR and take photos of anything. I was always happy to roll off some film at someone else's expense. I just loved holding the camera and capturing anything back then, and not a lot has changed. In my early high school years I would always take that same SLR out skateboarding with my mates. I started to realise that I enjoyed taking photos as much as I did actually skateboarding.

I didn't get to take photography classes at school until my final two years and this is where my passion for landscapes came about. Each year, the year 12 photography students would go on a camp at Rottnest Island (about a 45 minute ferry ride from Perth). One of our tasks was to capture a few landscape images for our portfolios, so that first morning I was up at sunrise and that was it, I was hooked! The rest of that trip I would leave the group and my classmates to go take landscapes. That was in 2007 and it has become an addiction!

:: When you were getting into photography, where did you go for inspiration? Have you found more local, or overseas, influences to learn from?

On that Rottnest trip we had to conduct our research before the trip in class. We were shown Christian Fletcher's website and I must have spent hours flicking through his site. I was intrigued at how awesome locations, that I was familiar with, looked under great light. What's cool is that I am now mates with Christian and over the years have gone to him on numerous occasions for advice.

There is a really strong blogging community of photographers in Perth (and Australia for that matter) and I have become mates with some really nice people and everyone is honest and willing to help. I've always thought that setting up a blog was one of the best things I could have done at this stage cause you get real constructive feedback from amateurs and pros, and that really helped me develop.

:: What is your favorite location in Australia, and why does it draw you back over and over again?

I actually have done a lot more international travel (particularly the US) so far and haven't seen enough of Australia. I loved shooting in a small town about an hour's drive outside of Melbourne. The town is called Woodend and is at the base of Mount Macedon. I always love driving around there just looking for new farm barns or windmills. Mount Macedon regularly is covered by cloud and driving around in the thick fog is something I love because it makes for very interesting photographs, and we don't see a lot of heavy fog here in Perth so it's something different for me.

Next year I hope to travel a lot more within Australia seeing as I will be done with my degree.

:: Where is the best place you've photographed outside your homeland?

Pine Valley! Hands down. It's an amazing valley in the Colorado Rocky Mountains a couple hours' drive outside of Denver. A few years back on a day trip into the mountains with my Uncle, he drove me up this valley that he knew of off the highway and I was absolutely blown away. I didn't have my camera gear on me for some reason (rookie mistake) and I was absolutely gutted. The next day I pressured my cousin into making the drive back into the mountains with me. We spent hours walking through Pine Valley and I felt like I was in photography heaven. I love waterfalls no matter how big or small.

Lucky for me, my cousin didn't seem to mind being out in the mountains and has always been supportive of my passion.

:: Any place you're planning on heading in the future?

For the last few years now I have been itching to get up to Karijini National Park in my home state. I have so many mates that have amazing photographs from up there and they always rant and rave about it and I really can't wait to see it all! That's gonna happen sometime next year.

In the states, I cant wait to visit the Grand Canyon and all the slot canyons. Death Valley is certainly on the list too. Similarly to probably every other landscape photographer on the planet, I can't wait to visit Yosemite. I've seen a lot of photographs from there and am just blown away every time at the beauty of the area.

:: A lot of your images seem to purposely lack any major recognizable icons? Can you talk a bit about what you look for when photographing?

I haven't really visited too many iconic locations I guess as far as popular photography locations go. A lot of the travel I do is family related so a lot of the places I go aren't planned specifically for photography purposes, but I love getting away from big cities and everywhere I go, on American trips in particular, there are always things to photograph.

My cousin (that I previously mentioned) and I have done a few camping trips in Colorado but we haven't really thought 'Okay where are the best places to shoot.' We just look into a few places that we hear or read are beautiful and get to driving. Last year we spent a few days camping in the mountains, which was an amazing experience. We headed to a town called Ouray about a 7 hour drive from Denver. The town was so stunning. Since we didn't have any places to go in mind we just headed out of town into the mountains to set-up camp. With no research, we managed to set up just above a stream running through some flat land away from a mountain peak and I waited for the next two or three days for a break in the afternoon clouds to let the sun hit the mountain peak, and when it did it was unreal!

I always like to keep my images simple. I've always worked around a less is more approach. Usually I can see something and I just get so stoked on it even something as simple as a jetty (pier) on a lake that I just have to get a photo of it. At the same time I can see something that others may think is awesome but in my mind if I don't get super excited about it for whatever reason, then its just not gonna photograph well. It's hard to explain really, if I don't get that feeling when I first see or visit a location, no matter how hard I try I tend not to walk away with a good shot.

:: What is your favorite shot, and what is your creative process when capturing it?

I think my favourite photograph changes pretty regularly as my collection grows. At the moment though it would have to be 'Bay of Dreams', which was such an amazing moment. [Editorial note: see Bay of Dreams at right, directly below Dylan's portrait image] My mates had headed out camping for the weekend and it was the first time I had missed out on one of these regular trips because I had a lot of Uni work to get through and I couldn't afford it because I am living the life of a struggling student. Anyway, they had all been texting me and sending pictures off their phones of an unreal sunset up there that looked phenomenal. What's worse is that over the entire countless trips we have made to that same location, it has never produced great light, but it did the one time I didn't go. It was killing me to know what I missed out on and that's what gets me pumped the most to take photos. If I miss an opportunity or keep coming home with throwaway shots I have to keep going without rest till I get something I'm happy with.

So the following afternoon I was gonna be out on Perth's beaches taking photos no matter what, but as it got closer to sunset things started to look really promising. So I headed to a little bay that I had visualized a particular frame for the last year or so and was just waiting for the right conditions. I never expected the conditions to be this perfect though. The sky lit up and the ocean was so calm, so it reflected the intense reds in the sky. At the time I didn't have a filter holder for my new Lee ND grads so I had to exposure blend a frame for the foreground and one for the sky. On top of this, I wanted to shoot it in panoramic format, which meant I had to line the crashing waves up perfectly otherwise it simply wouldn't work. This also meant I couldn't use my pano tripod head because the waves were in sets of three or four and using the pano head meant capturing about 8 frames. So I ditched the pano head and went with a three images stitched exposure blend and when I got into PTGui at home I was stoked to see the crashing wave line up perfectly. The light was so insane it didn't look real. It looked like I took it into Photoshop and turned the saturation up to 50!

I'll never forget that night.

:: What is your best piece of non-photographic equipment you take with you?

That's tricky... I don't really carry anything extra because I don't read books and I don't listen to music or anything like that when I shoot. So it's pretty much all camera gear. I reckon taking a camera phone is handy because if a scene is tricky to visualize in panoramic format I use the panoramic camera function on my phone to give myself a preview and then I can alter camera angles or lens settings accordingly.

I'm tempted to say that my thongs (flip-flops) are the best real non-photographic thing I bring because quite often walking around on the limestone formations along Perth's beaches I go barefoot so not to get my shoes wet. So when I bring my thongs it means no more cut up feet. Sounds simple but they certainly help! I like to get in the water a bit too, and I'm not one for being on the beach in wellies.

:: The best piece of advice you've received from another photographer was...?

'Less is more!' Sometimes it's tempting to capture the whole scene because it is all so amazing, but just because it looks great in person doesn't mean it will look good jammed into one frame.

:: What information would you pass on to someone getting started in photography?

A couple people I know that really are passionate about their photography, I have suggested that they start up a blog and start reading other photography blogs. If you can hack it, people will give you great feedback and will be honest. If the majority of the readers think the photos are junk they're probably right and the constructive criticism is worthwhile attending to. Your starting out by gathering technical knowledge is of great importance. However at the same time, don't believe everything you hear regarding composition and exposure techniques for example, be your own photographer, and try to express what you felt or what you saw through your photos the best 'you' can, not how someone else thinks you should. As Ansel Adams said, "There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs."

:: You're still in school, so what are the plans with your future? Are you studying for anything that will relate to a photography career?

I'm just finishing up my degree in Marketing and Advertising. I had a gap year after high school and even then after less than a year of shooting landscapes I knew that was what I wanted to do for a career. I applied to RMIT University in Melbourne for a Bachelor of Arts degree but after the interviews I knew I didn't want to make photography this structured chore, where I had to complete assignments and what not, so I declined their offer.

I had heard a lot of photographers say that where a lot of great photographers fail, is in their marketing skills. So with little knowledge on marketing I enrolled in a Bachelor of Commerce degree with a major in Marketing.

I get some funny responses when I tell people I am just about to finish my degree in marketing and advertising but have no desire to go work at a marketing/advertising agency. It's all for my photography... and provides a good backup.

When I finish, hopefully I will just work for a while so I can start to travel more and invest in my photography and ultimately set up my own gallery.

:: What has been the scariest thing that's happened to you in the field so far?

I haven't really had anything to scary happen so far, thankfully. Not to say I haven't been rather concerned while taking photos. On the same camping trip while I was capturing the mountain we camped by that I mentioned earlier, we had heard a pack of coyotes the night before so I knew they were around and I had my eyes and ears peeled for bears. I'm used to worrying about snakes and sunburns. I was in an open patch of land at the edge of this stream and all around me was forest. So not being familiar with the area or bears I just hoped that I didn't come across one.

:: What is your favorite piece of camera gear (lens of choice, filter, etc.)?

My tripod. A good set of legs is paramount because no matter how good the 5D mk2 might be it can't replicate the effects of a tripod!

:: How many days can you go into the wild photographing without the comforts of home?

The most I have done was about five days I think. Which I was fine with, cause I was always occupied with photography and really didn't want to leave. I think I would be fine for longer than that but it sure is nice to have a shower after a week or so without one.

:: What do you find as the biggest challenge in photography so far in your career, and as you're moving forward?

At this stage it's just the financial aspect of traveling. There's so much I want to see and photograph. Once I'm working more, there will be a lot more traveling on the menu! I have had people invite me on trips up to Karijini or down south maybe, but a student wage doesn't always accommodate those luxuries. If it were possible I'd be traveling every other week to amazing locations! All in time I guess.

Dylan Fox

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