Photographer of the Month Interview: Neal Prichard

Featured Photographer, November 2010:   Neal Pritchard

This month, our featured guest is professional landscape photographer, Neal Pritchard.

We want to thank Neal for his generosity and taking the time to answer our questions, and share some of his experiences and perspectives with us! Please visit his site links to see more of his breathtaking work, and to let him know you enjoyed his interview.

:: How did you get your start in photography? Give us a brief history of how you've come to this point in your career. Where did the name "spool photography" come from?

I guess the first seeds were sown when I made an early trip to the U.S. and Canada in 1993. Discovering so many stunning landscapes for the first time really made me want to see more. Then a few years later I was in Port Douglas at a Peter Lik gallery. At the time, he was still a local artist. I was really taken with his art and purchased my first print. I then came across a local photographer, Christian Fletcher, who was producing some stunning landscape prints from local areas I knew well, that really lit the fire within me to pursue the passion that had been building over time. Since those early days, the passion has grown more intense and these days I have more time to devote to my photography. I guess you could say it is my drug of choice.

The name "Spool Photography" came about from a tune that was playing at the time called "Spool" by one of my favorite bands, Queensryche. I am leaning more these days to using my given name, Neal Pritchard, as opposed to just Spool Photography.

:: Was there any piece of photographic advice you gained in your earlier years that you still adhere to today?

I have been lucky to have been given advice and tips from many photographers, but the main bit of advice I take with me every time I go on location is, "make it count." I visited so many great photographic locations before my photography days, and now wish that I had been taking better images back then. So these days I take no location for granted, as I may not get the same opportunity again. So the main thing that goes through my mind when I arrive at a location is, "do your best and make it count."

:: Why did you decide to make the transition into primarily panoramic and vertoramic-style images?

I love the look and feel of large vistas and that came from my first encounter with the two photographers I mentioned earlier. I love the impact a large wide panoramic has. Panoramic landscapes can make one feel like they have been dropped into the scene, not looking upon a scene. Similar to what one used to feel when they went to a see a movie at a cinema on the wide screen as opposed to watching it on their home television. I guess that has somewhat changed these days as nearly everyone has a widescreen flat tv at home.

:: Many moments are so fleeting and the process of shooting several images and having that moment show in the final product can be tough. What added difficulty does using this style as your primary image format create for the process of "seeing" an image in the field, or in setting up for a final shot?

Shooting stitched large panoramics has many drawbacks. As the light is always changing and most of my final images are up to eight images stitched together, I have to work very quickly. I do not always get the chance to take multiple exposures for blending, as taking upwards of 16-24 images, depending on exposure time, is just not going to work. By the time I get half way through the series, the light would have changed so much that the final image will be very uneven. Shooting beaches and flat shorelines also makes stitching very hard and a lot of times I come home with images that do not stitch. To overcome some of the exposure blending problems I sometimes double process a single raw file. Over time I have found it quite natural to see my final images in the 3:1 panoramic format. It has taken quite a while to achieve this with many failures but I think the more you do it the easier it becomes. When it all works, the positives are amazing. Utilizing the stitching method with around eight images, I can achieve final preproduction panoramics of around 50+ inches in length so producing large scale prints is not a problem, with the final print producing a nice "wow factor" when printed.

:: What is the worst day you've ever had as a photographer?

I can't say that I've ever had a bad day or a time when I have been afraid for my life when I have been out shooting. As happens to all photographers though, there have been countless times that I have been in the wrong location for the right light.

However, there was a time last year at the very end of a trip that was quite strange and had me thinking about my life in general. Early on my last morning of my 3 week trip through California, I was hiking a trail around Mt. Tamalpais State Park by myself. A little after dawn I came across a large coyote as two trails came to a crossing. I was on one trail and the coyote was on the other. We both looked up at each other at the same time stopping just short of the trails crossing. We both seemed to know or sense that we had different paths to take. There was no fear on my part and I sensed the same from the coyote as it looked up at me for a few moments, panted a few times and moved on its way on the trail. Once it had crossed my path, I moved on also. For a brief moment in time we shared each other's lives and we were on the same level making our own way in Mt. Tamalpais. For me that was an amazing experience and something I'll never forget.

Later that evening I was still hiking in the area and the day was coming to an end. Being a warm sunday evening there seemed to be quite a few people visiting the area for sunset — families with picnics and couples with bottles of wine. After taking a few shots, I decided to stop and just take in the atmosphere of my last days in San Francisco at my favorite place to view the city and Golden Gate Bridge. I stopped the car at a certain lookout point overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the city and Golden Gate Bridge, and spent a few moments thinking over my previous three weeks' travels in California and all the awesome places I had seen and photographers I had met and caught up with and how I would be home in a couple of days with my young family, which I had missed greatly. At the same time at sunset, 107.7 The Bone played the Journey tune, "Lights," which is about the City by the Bay. It was a perfect end to my Californian trip and the day. I had had a great day hiking alone meeting wildlife, I was in a city I love to visit overlooking San Francisco by the best location there is, the weather was warm and I was going home to my family in just a couple of days. It all seemed to fit perfectly and there was a strange sense of peacefulness and accomplishment. One of my best days.

:: What is your favorite spot to shoot in Australia? Which area of the U.S. has been your favorite so far in your travels abroad?

My favorite location in Australia at present is the South Coast of Western Australia around Denmark/Williams Bay. The beaches are quite stunning and there are some nice Karri forests to explore. As far as the USA, I don't think there is any comparison for landscape opportunities and variety anywhere else in the world. With so much diversity and stunning landscapes in the USA, one would find it hard to pin point a certain location. As I have not visited anywhere near as much as I would have liked, I would have to say Yosemite National Park is the most amazing place I have seen so far. I don't think there are the right words to describe just how stunning Yosemite National Park is.

:: What kind of photography plans do you have for the months to come?

For the remainder of 2010, I have a few really nice locations I am looking forward to shooting. First up...I will be heading to Tasmania, the last state in Australia I have not visited. I plan on heading to Cradle Mountain and the ancient rainforests as well as some of the more stunning beaches they have on the east coast. Then I am off to Hawaii with my wife to island hop for a few weeks taking in four islands. I really cannot wait to visit Kauai, as the landscape looks amazing. By year's end I will also have visited Rottnest Island just off the coast where I live, here in Perth, Western Australia, to capture some local scenery. 2010 has been a good year for my photography and I am looking forward to 2011 being even better.

:: In reading your blog and following your various social networking updates, I know you're a fan of going out to eat. What are some of your favorite places in your U.S. travels?

As a self confessed foodie, I love all types of food, be it a fine dining restaurant, cafe or diner. Even fast food like Carls Jr, Fat Burger or Inn-n-Out Burger. I love them all.

Being a bit of a burger hound, one of the best, if not the best, burgers I have eaten was at a burger place in Dunsmuir, CA, called the Burger Barn. I was getting lost one evening meeting up with Brian Reub, I stopped by Burger Barn to ask directions. The lady/owner there was so helpful and I made a point of going back the next day and having lunch there. I was so glad I did. She made simple, straight forward burgers, and damn they where so good I had two.

Whenever I am in the U.S., though, I try and search out diners, especially for breakfast. I don't think anyone does breakfast quite like a U.S. diner. I don't think I have ever been disappointed by a diner meal.

I have eaten at so many good places in the U.S. that it is hard to choose a favorite. Some places that come to mind right now are the Brooklyn Diner in NY on 57th Street (the Coney Island Lobster Roll was just sensational), a place that I forget the name of but the location is at Zephyr Point in Tahoe, right on the lake shore. They have awesome biscuits. Another few places would be Pearl's Diner in Mill Valley, the diner just outside Yosemite National Park on the Tioga Pass, just off Hwy 395, as they have really nice fish tacos, and Boudin for the Sourdough. I just love that bread, especially with crab meat. I also have a weakness for the stuffed french toast at IHop and any meal in New Orleans is always a treat, especially those Beignets. I could go back just for those.

:: What advice would you give to a photographer just getting started and wanting to pursue landscape as a primary subject matter?

Take photographs for yourself first and foremost. If you love the location, your passion will show through. Study the masters like Rowell, Adams or any photographer's work you like, etc. There is so much to learn about composition and light from good photographers. Finally, get out there in the field and shoot.

Neal Pritchard

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