David Swindler is a passionate landscape and wildlife photographer and outdoor enthusiast. After working for 10 years, he quit his day job to follow his true passion: photography. As you’ll find out, David does amazing work utilizing natural light and avoiding over-the-top digital effects. David has also recently launched a successful workshop program. We got the inside story of why he quit his job and what it takes to start leading workshops.
You graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering and worked for 10 years as a semiconductor engineer and now you’re a photographer. How did that happen?
Yes, it’s certainly a big change of pace for me. My specialty in the semiconductor industry was photolithography where we use multi-million dollar optics to print small patterns that later become the circuitry on computer chips. While working in this capacity, I began to see many parallels with photography. Thus, photography came very easy to me with my background in optics.
When I wasn’t at work, I loved to explore the great outdoors. While visiting spectacular locations, I would often wish I could share it with my friends back home. I got an entry-level camera and started taking it with me. It wasn’t long before I realized I needed better equipment and skills to truly convey the beauty of outdoor landscapes. I became an avid photography student and it wasn’t long before I was traveling around the world with my camera gear in tow.
During the last recession, my company offered a voluntary severance package. I decided that I was done with the desk job and wanted to pursue my photography more aggressively. Since I really liked teaching and helping other people, I quit my job and started offering guided photography trips and workshops.
What is it that draws you to landscape and wildlife photography?
My love of the outdoors is what draws me to landscape and wildlife photography. I’ve been an avid outdoor enthusiast ever since my days as a boy scout. There is just something so magical about dramatic scenery, vivid sunsets, roaring waterfalls, deep canyons and majestic mountains that keeps me coming back again and again. The fact that I can capture that magic with my camera makes it just that much better! Mother Nature is so amazing – sometimes I can scarce believe the beauty I witness around me.
With wildlife, I’ve always enjoyed the challenge. Everything has to come together just right – you have to be able to get close enough to the animal, the light needs to be good, and the foreground/background should be non-distracting. You have to be patient, quick on the draw, and have solid technique. It’s always such a rush for me when I nail a good wildlife image!
What are three of the most important things you have learned from your experiences?
1) Prior planning is essential. The weather doesn’t always cooperate, so having a backup plan is essential. What time of year is best? What gear should I bring? Should I go for sunrise, sunset, or night? Are there particular behaviors about the wildlife I need to know? I could go on and on. Most of my best photographs weren’t accidental – they were planned with a particular vision and Mother Nature just happened to cooperate!
2) Post-processing skills are essential to success as a nature/wildlife photographer. I’m constantly learning new post-processing skills and techniques. I’m often shocked how much better I can make an image look now compared to what I could do a few years ago. If I had the time, I’d love to go back and reprocess a lot of my old images.
3) Get off the beaten path and don’t be afraid to experiment. With so many people toting around cameras these days, you need to find unique ways to express your vision. Try a new lens or lighting technique, find a unique vantage point, hike somewhere that’s less accessible, go during a different season of the year, etc.
Who have you looked to for inspiration? Why?
I’ve always looked up to many incredible landscape photographers – whether it be following their work online or meeting them at a local camera club meeting. Photography is definitely a collaborative effort as we seek to inspire and educate each other.
You started leading workshops in 2014. What were the hardest things about getting started? Do you have any advice for photographers trying to do the same?
You’re definitely right that it’s hard to get started! The most difficult thing is figuring out how to market yourself effectively without spending a ton of money. I’ve learned a lot about marketing and still have much more to learn. Next, there’s plenty of red tape you have to go through to get commercial permits from agencies like the NPS, Fish & Game, BLM, etc. It can take considerable time and expense to secure necessary permits to conduct tours. There were many places where I wanted to do tours, but ended up not doing it because the permit requirements and expenses were too rigorous. Finally, many of my tours are nearly all-inclusive. That means I also have to be expert in planning lodging, food, and transportation. There’s much more to doing tours than just being a good photographer and teacher!
What upcoming workshops do you have?
Scotland Highlands and Western Isles: April 26-May 10.
Palouse Harvest: Aug 11-16
Mt Rainier Wildflowers: Aug 17-21
Alaskan Polar Bears and Artic Wildlife: Sept 24-Oct 3.
Dates To Be Announced Soon:
Utah Wildflowers and Wildlife (first week of Aug)
Canadian Rockies and Wildlife (mid Sept)
Alaska Bald Eagles and Dall Sheep (mid Nov)
Wyoming Bighorn Sheep Rut (early Dec)
I always offer private tours to Utah and Alaska upon request.
You can learn more about David’s workshops and see more of his images at: actionphototours.com