CD: You have an interesting history on how you came into commercial photography. Tell me about working with Nissan, teaching and how that prepared you for automotive photography.
David Westphal: I just had a conversation with an Art Director today about timing and luck. We talked about how timing and luck really play a role in success. I told him that we make our luck to a large degree and that if you continue to strive to move forward, you will be successful. Upon graduation, while trying to figure out what I was going to do, knowing it was going to be in photography, I worked at a camera store. I helped a couple of guys buy some lighting that they needed for a project. During the course of our conversation, I found out they were from Nissan Design International based in La Jolla. I told them that if they ever needed help to keep me in mind. About 4 months later, the camera store got a call from Nissan looking for the guy whole sold them the lights. They had a long term model evaluation project in which they needed a photographer. It was corporate and I knew just enough squeak by and get in the door. I was trained to shoot ¼ and full scale models for design evaluation in a specific type of light and angle to the vehicle. So for the next 6 years, I would shoot these models as well as any other project that came up. Concurrently, just as I was starting to shoot for Nissan I also landed a job as an assistant. One of his main clients was Taylor Made golf clubs. What I learned was to light brushed metal, polished chrome and polished wood surfaces, lighting up to 3 clubs at a time with perfect tone and shape. It was at this time, I really fell in love with shape and design and how light affects our perception of it.
I happened to tire of assisting at about the same time that digital photography was gaining a foot hold in commercial photography. As luck would have it, I was already familiar with digital photography and capture software from working as an assistant. I started a digital tech business at just the right time. I bought my own digital back and camera system. What I took away from this part of my career was the interaction with the agency. In the early days of my business, as everyone was finding their way in this new digital world, the tech served as both my normal digital capture services as well as an educating agency and liaison with photographer feedback about the shot from the agency. One additional goal I had in starting my teaching business was using my equipment that was paid for though my business to transition into commercial photography. So my capital expenses were already covered.
CD: You have a methodical approach to your work. Like you, I also use the Alpa and H cameras. How does slowing down and shooting with an Alpa allow you to create your images versus approaching a shoot with a DSLR?
David Westphal: Even when shooting film prior to digital, I lugged my 4X5 camera everywhere I went. I found the process of shooting large format the most appealing and rewarding. The advent of digital did not change that. The process of creating an image using a technical camera is still the same challenge that I loved 15 years ago. It’s not even something that I can verbalize because it is an internal process. It’s my conversation with myself about what is the correct angle, best lens, and the time of day to capture the scene. The process is the reward.
CD: Tell me a bit about your history, when you first picked up a camera, who if anyone influenced you and if you would consider in the future teaching workshops or in a university setting?
David Westphal: My dad was in the military. I spent a significant amount of my childhood living abroad. During the more formative time in my life, we lived in Germany. My mom and dad were adventurous people who liked to explore. So every weekend we went someplace. I remember seeing the postcards of the places we visited. The images always seemed so perfect. I wanted to see those pictures in real life. So when I was 10 my mom and dad got me a Kodak Instamatic 126 as part of my easter basket. From that point, I always had a camera in my hand. It wasn’t until I was in College that I found the inspiration to become a photographer. One of my professors was one of the most pivotal people in my life. He gave me the strength to follow my heart and dreams and become a photographer. He taught me how to have a conversation with myself, how to reach deep into myself, to find my honest self, and to develop my creative voice from there. To know that there are things I know, things I know I don’t know and things that I don’t know I don’t know. And it is that thing that I don’t know I don’t know that drives me because my journey is about discovery of those things. Shooting large format allows me the time to have that conversation.
I hope that someday, I can share my thoughts, ideas and experiences with aspiring artists & photographers. That would be the way I would like to end my career.
CD: Your stitched landscapes have this wonderful pale color to them. How do you decide to grade an image. Is it while shooting, in pre-pro or after you have lived with the photograph a bit.
David Westphal: My biggest challenge is the timeline to complete commercial projects. It’s getting shorter and shorter. I have to let my personal work sit, sometimes up to a year before I can really appreciate it. As I gain more experience, I think more and more about the final look while planning and shooting. That’s helpful to help me execute each image. But in the post, I’m always trying new things, taking a slightly different approach. I try not to have a formula per se but let the image itself speak to me as to what the final look should be. The general look and feel is consistent but I try to make subtle changes to images over time to advance and evolve my final look.
CD: Are there any particular landscapes in your area of the world that you would like visit and shoot as a personal project?
David Westphal: I have spent a significant amount of time in Iceland. I still feel like I haven’t gotten the essence of that landscape there, so I hope to visit it again. I am waiting for my son to be old enough so that when I return, he can come with me and we can experience it together. Right now, I’m very interested in Scotland after a family trip this year. I’ve always wanted to shoot in North Africa. I have a weird desire to travel to what I call middle earth. I think I consider it middle Earth because it’s a mysterious part of the world to me. That geographic area is triangulated by Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Iran.
CD: What advice would you give a young photographer about to embark on a career in commercial photography?
David Westphal: You must take a leap of faith and hold tight to it. Never let it go and most importantly, believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. You must also be willing to take pictures for yourself. And you must continue to take pictures for yourself. Never stop taking those pictures.