This week I welcome David Beckstead. David is a photographer I highly admire, his images are stunning and his passion is addicting. His use of light and lines is what sets him apart from the rest. Last year I attended David's intensive workshop in London which was brilliant. In 2007 he was listed as one of the top ten wedding photographers in the world by American Photo magazine. He is a super nice guy and is always helping other photographers take their image and business skills to the next level as you will see by reading the interview.
Tell us a little bit about David Beckstead?
David is an outdoor enjoying, world travelling, wife adoring, Asia loving, passionate man with a heavy right-sided brain and size 15 feet!
Where is home?
Out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere NE Washington State. On the boarder of Canada and Idaho. See next question!!
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home?
Where I live now!! On a lake, with a view, in a house we gutted and creatively rebuilt. Aspin, tall green grass, bear, deer, turkey and a wild, large 2-footed Beckstead running around loving every bit of our 25 acres!
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?
A mixture of ‘let it all go and play in the snow’ and ‘a mess of too many things to do and where do I start’.
Did you go to school to study photography?
Nope! I do best when I study on my own. I end up doodling strange space drawings and geometric abstracts in a classroom setting! I am consummate schoolroom daydreamer.
How long have you been a photographer?
Started my pro career in 1997. Camera in hand from 1984 on.
How long have you been a wedding photographer?
My first wedding shoot was in 1997 and it was easy! A nice overcast day with sun coming though like a giant softbox. All my shots were right on for exposure. I said “I can do this. This is easy!”. Then came the next wedding in full sun. I got the images after and said “ I can’t do this. I am really bad!”.
What or who got you started in wedding photography?
No one did. Shooting in a small town of 14k I figured I would have to do it all to survive. I took any job that came my way. I mean I really did take it all! Legal, aerial, babies and a massive long list of many strange and fun jobs. I had a magnet on my truck that said “Any Photo, Any Time!”. My wife hated that saying!!
How would you describe your style?
Loose and fun with a love for things unseen and unplanned. Shooting from the hip and a passion for composition. I love to mix up the letters and never get to Z by the same path! Maybe never get to Z at all! 😉
How many weddings do you average per year?
Do you have a few images you can share with us?
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
Canon 5D Mark II
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?
My wife! She shoots weddings with me and she kisses masterfully!
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
16-35 2.8. Because I can shoot this without looking through the viewfinder. I love shooting without pressing-my-face to the camera! I get such interesting things that way!
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
Three flashes and one videolight. They only come out at night! They are afraid of the light! I make sure they are safe and sound in my dark case until it is safe to come out and play. They appreciate that about me!
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding?
Off-camera flash at the reception. Videolight comes out for creative b&g stuff and detail highlights.
Natural light? Man that is a book worth of info. But, no matter what, I find the natural light first, above all, before I ‘see’ anything else.
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
Lightroom. It has changed the way I edit and really sped things up in my workflow.
How important is Photoshop in your final images? It is very important that you don’t see the effects of Photoshop I use on my final image. I want the composition to be what you see. Some ask me if I use it at all. That is a complement because I do. Photoshop is important to me!
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?
Nik filters are by far my must used plug-in. Tonal Contrast is a great tool within Nik. I love Curve adjustments in PS!
Are you a MAC or PC lover?
I am bi! My home unit is PC. Mac laptops are amazing!
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on?
Thinking about the new 24 1.4 lens that Canon is putting out. Can’t find it yet.
I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow, can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding?
I toss my backed-up Raw shots (We average 600 images per hour at weddings) into Lightroom. I star my favourites, select by star, and do most of the post work in Lightroom. I send a few to Photoshop and I am done. I send them to Pictage who does all the rest of my workflow: printing, sending to clients and more.
I use Queensberry albums, what wedding albums do you supply your clients with and do you design them yourself or outsource the design?
I could design a mean album but I have no time for it. I let Graphi Studio design and make my albums.
How do you feel about cropping an image?
I feel the ultimate goal is to get the crop in the camera: that is called good composition. But, I will crop if needed for sure. The final image is what counts.
I choose photographers for these interviews because their work really inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery? Movies! Cinematography! I am amazed by the restricted horizontal format composition they have to work with, yet some of the best visual artists are cinematographers. You have got to see these movies!
The powerful complexity of Seven Samurai
The wonderful balance and color of Hero
The compositional wonderment of Aguirre, The Wrath of God
The lines and light of Once Upon a Time in the West
If you could shoot a wedding with someone who would it be and why?
A very focused PJ wedding with Denis Reggie. 80% of my wedding day shoot is PJ now, yet Denis intrigues me. I don’t know him and would like to get to know him by watching him work. Plus he gets cool weddings!
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on wedding assignments? My wife Kassandra. We also have a 3rd shooter: Asia, our 2 year old daughter! She can squeeze off a plastic point & shoot better than many pros!! 😉
How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients? 6000 total from both of us on a 10 hour shoot. We deliver 1500. I want the story to be filled in with many PJ elements some photographers pass up. I get bored if I am not shooting. I will experiment when there seems to be nothing really going on. I am an unabashed speed-shooter who will challenge any low-count shooter to a duel in the sun! The heavy experimentation accounts for the 4500 images not given to the bride. We take a lot of risks and many images just don’t work. But 1500 do and that is way more than most photographers give their bride. I give more because I want too!
Where would be your dream destination wedding?
Iceland! Out in the volcanic rock and ice. Or underwater in the ocean.
How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your Canon 5D Mark II? Just have an ‘up’ attitude and let them be themselves. Set them up and let it kind of fall apart in a fun way and keep the shutter going. When they are interacting with each other, they love it better than a pose.
Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it?
I realized that 90 shots on my Fuji S2 did not record because I set the camera wrong by accident (this feature has not been on any of my cameras since. Bad feature to have on any camera: Your shot shows on the LCD but does not record!) I had to compose myself and see if Kassandra backed me up. This was at the ceremony. I realized I also shot with my Nikon D1x and Kassandra did back me up with her own shots. I was saved!!!
What is your favourite image you have shot recently? Can you describe its creation in regards to location, lighting, composition etc, also your thoughts when creating the image and what it means to you? Escalator Brides!
This image was made on location in Corvallis, Oregon. It was on a stationary escalator under the bleachers of a football stadium. I was teaching a workshop on how to ‘see’ and frame (in camera) something different out of ordinary situations. Looking down from the top I had that ‘wow’ moment when the reflections came into my understanding. Most of the time, there is something more, something dramatic, some concept or object that will take your subject and composition to a new place. This ‘new place’ having keywords such as: dynamic, art, different, out-of-the-box, power, ect.. ‘Seeing’ in the key! These reflections and the ‘X’ style lead-in lines gave me this ‘new place’. The lighting from the high left came from natural cloud defused sunlight. The rest was ambient light bounced within the stadium architecture. I shot this composition with a 70-200 2.8 on 70mm. No flash or other lighting was used. The image was shot in Raw with a Canon Mark II. The image workflow was Photoshop CS3: cropping, using a Clone and Patch tool to clean it up and then finished the artwork with my favorite Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 filter, ‘Tonal Contrast’. I also darkened the edges a tad to help draw your eye to the center and the light. The model reached up to fix her flower and I told her to stop and leave her hand there. It seemed so natural and much better than any pose I could have come up with. Nice!
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings?
Marketing. It is very challenging! But I like the challenge and I am working on marketing concepts daily. I want to be different in my branding also.
What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now? I love where it is now! Brides are seeing our work as ‘Art’! I have been working hard for years to educate clients to see our service not as a ‘necessary evil’ but as an art form.
In 5 years the lines drawn between a photographer and videographer will be very blurred. We as photographers will have to embrace video. Think of it this way: when some of you shot film in a medium format camera, you shot slowly and calculated: every shot meant $2 dollars each. You shoot way more now with digital because you are filling in the story gaps you didn’t before because of technology. Film was very limiting! Digital SLRs are better at filling in the story gaps but they still have limits. Video is a lot less limiting in the fact that you fill in the entire story wherever you point your video. The future is some kind of continoues filming. Looking through a video viewfinder and framing composition is the same art form as when doing it with a camera. There is no difference! Those that embrace new technologies will win! But there will always be a way to niche back to film or older technologies. But it will have to be a marketing religion for those that niche that way. That way lies madness!! Or the new way lies madness!! Being a photographer is madness!! 😉 This interview is way too long and I am going mad!!!
A wedding photographer who inspires you?
Gary Fong was my biggest inspiration while he shot weddings and is still a great inspiration as a business man now. The guy has an amazing mind! I read his blog every day. Yet, his high-pitched cackle will send you running…and giggling!
It’s almost that time of year for a Taylor family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say - he took my portrait?
I like the abstract quality of Jesh de Rox stuff right now. I want to hire him. Great guy too!
A website and/or blog you visit often?
www.digitalweddingforum.com Just the best wedding forum on the net!
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Grant Oakes out of Denver! Just a flat out nice guy and willing to help anyone. And he calls me all the time!! 😉
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
My own workshop in Alabama! Alabama has got this old steel mill that that is a blast to shoot at!
Do you plan on attending any seminars in the near future?
I plan to do some office management seminars. I want business workshops. I am looking into some now. Also public speaking seminars. I have taken public speaking training and I would like more. You should never stop learning!
Last year I attended your Shoot With Beckstead intensive workshop in London. It was such a great experience and my inspiration and creativity was taken to another level. I applied a lot of what I learned to my own weddings with great success. I also made some great friends who I still keep in touch with. Can you talk a little about future Shoot With Beckstead workshops and do you have any planned for Europe this year? Thanks Crash! It was fun having you there! When you showed up a little late with an arm bandaged up, we then understood your name!! I think it is a cool name man!!
I love these workshops! They are new and exciting for me and I have learned to love teaching! I have workshops in S. Africa (Cape Town and Johannesburg), the UK, Scotland, Norway, possibly Slovenia and other overseas locations I am working on. A few in the states also like Tampa and Denver. Check out the workshop links. This year they are all 3 days and some 4 days. I have some great marketing concepts for tougher economies everyone seems to be dealing with. It is a competition for work! The better you are with imagery composition and business, the more work you will have. But helping each other in small photo groups is the best way to give and except support. We all need support in hard times! I shoot weddings around the world. My business is successful! I will share all I know and willingly!
What photographic organizations do you belong to?
WPPI, SWPP, DWF, and I am about to join PPA.
One way you market David Beckstead Photography?
Facebook has been amazing marketing tool for me lately!
Do you advertise? If so where?
Facebook, Google, DWF, SWPP, Rangefinder
How important is an awesome website for your business?
So important that I have many websites! It would take a page onto itself for me to describe how important websites have become. I don’t know anyone who can do their photography business without one. That is amazing when you think that most photographers in business for the last 10 years did not have one in the beginning.
If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a marine biologist studying the great white shark. What would you have been?
A mountain tour guide or fly-fishing guide. Some type of outdoor guide service.
I realize that each great photographer has a particular penchant or love for photographing a particular subject whether it be nature, portraits, sea or landscapes, shadow and light, etc. as a result I would love to have you talk about and share whatever images you feel appropriate of your own private obsession in the magical world of photography.
1. I flew over to Slovenia to shoot models in bride dresses with Milos Horvat, a great photographer from that country. This was a fun personal project! We shot for 7 days in 20 locations including Venice and Vienna and all over his country, Slovenia. Of course you can hardly take a bad image in Venice, but I was looking for something different. Rosa, our model, was in the natural light as Milos shot from the side. I glanced over to this shop window and could not believe my eyes: the depth of the masks was incredible and then I could not believe I did not see this at first, Rosa was seemingly floating among the masks and the abstract quality of this scene made me fumble for my camera at record speed. The reflection added layers of depth to the composition. I used ISO 250, 2.8 f-stop, 60th of a second shutter, 29mm from my 16-35 lens with a Canon Mark II.
2. The preparation stage of a wedding in Sicily had the bride checking up on last second makeup in the bathroom. Both Kassandra and I were in serious competition for unique imagery! In fact this was a small bathroom and we were having fun trying to get into each other’s way! I asked the bride if she would be willing to look out the frosted window. I was looking for a minimalist natural light image with lots of complementary negative space. I got the shot with 1 stop overexposure at 31mm and ISO 640.
3. Then with this next shot Kassandra nailed a great reflection essentially doubling the drama. I like the simplicity of my shot and the complexity of her shot. I dig that girl! She was at 1/3 stop overexposure, ISO 800 at 2.8.
4. It was a cloudy day in Ireland and Dromoland Castle was looking kind of dark and dingy…not a bad thing if that is what you are looking for. I had scouted this stairway with the wonderful stained glass the day before the wedding. The sun came out while I was there and I hoped beyond hope for a repeat performance. The wedding day was full of rain. After the ceremony I walked with the couple to the hallway and around the corner to the stairway, challenging the sun to come out. A miracle occurred and the sun blasted through the glass and danced around joyfully onto my CCD. I purposefully flared the lens and gave the scene some cinematic drama. I used ISO 800 2.8 f-stop, 19mm. I overexposed by 2 stops.
5. The clouds were so dramatic rising up from the ocean coast of the Grand Bahamas! I moved myself to a lower angle and placed the b&g on a high walkway. I deliberately did not include the b&g’s feet in the camera crop so the ground would not affect my desire for less depth. I compressed the couple into the clouds by including only what was important in my crop, thus creating a nice illusion of the couple walking in the clouds. I have always loved the story of a woman leading the man, so I asked the bride to take his hand and walk. I used my 70-200 2.8 lens on 70mm. ISO 100, f-Stop 4, I underexposed by 1 stop.
6. Kassandra photographed this great scene in Sedona Arizona. It has similar compositional concepts as the last Bahamas image. Using a 28mm focal length and an unusual crop, she was able to subtract a little depth to make the couple feel like they are part of the backdrop of this fantastic landscape. F-stop 13, and ISO 200.
7. I’ve trained myself to seek out lead-in lines. I like to exaggerate an object (by physically bringing my camera closer to the object), such as this bench, to draw your eye directly to the subject. The bench has created dramatic lines to help with my composition. I tilted the image to give the bench and lines more impact and more importance. Using my Free-Shooting Techniques, I set the shutter on ¼ of a second. I did not look through the lens and held the camera at arms length running it along side the bench to create movement. My lens was set on 16mm and ISO 1600.
8. I could see by the amount of diffused light around the cake that I would choose a 50mm lens at 1.4. It was dark yet I felt the look I wanted could be accomplished without flash. I use ISO 1600 and shot many images of this cake cutting. The fun looks on the b&g and the overall feel with lines and negative space makes this image my favorite of any cake shot I have done. I used 2 stops overexposure.
9. Kassandra got this amazing shot with strong depth and reflection and saturated color. She did not look through the lens, but positioned the camera on the floor and angled the 16-35 mm lens to include the painting and reflection. The lines of the painting, wall and reflection, help guide your eyes to the subject. She increased the illusion of wider depth by including the reflection. She used ISO 1600 with an f-stop of 2.8 and a shutter speed of 1/50th.
10. In this image the color version drew your eyes around the subject…lips, eyes, skin and veil. When I turned it to b&w, I put much more emphasis on the veil shadows. This is where your eyes are drawn. This is what I had in mind when I took the shot. I used a tone in Photoshop to help bring out the Spanish veil and shadow. I used ISO 320, f-stop of 2.8 and focal length of 150mm.
11. In this image I used depth to create layers, however, I compressed the layers in the reflection instead of pulling them apart in separate plains. I shot through stained glass with a 200mm lens. This lens, by using a close crop is great for compressing depth. The window behind the b&g and cross behind the window created an optical illusion in front of them. Both of the reflections have overlay effects with abstract results. The b&g were seeing each other for the first time before the ceremony. I don’t require this but I love it because this gives me more time to be creative with them. I always suggest it. I used ISO of 1000 and an f-stop of 2.8.
Lately I have wanted to photograph models in Iceland and great white sharks in South Africa. Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?
I agree with you on Iceland! I would love to shoot there! Want to go?
When I was 2nd shooting I was picking everybody’s brain, I still am actually. That’s why I love these interviews so much. Every interview I learn something that makes me a better photographer. What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue wedding photography?
Make websites a top priority in your business. Never ‘just’ repeat what others have done. Learn from others, and then make your own style and brand. Never stop shooting!!
At the moment I’m finding a lot of my photographic inspiration from cinematographers and French fashion photographers. Personal inspiration is my family always. We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?
I desire to live an amazing life, now, not some dream of a great life when I retire. My wife Kassandra lives this passion to make dreams happen with me every day. For the last 17 years of marriage we have travelled to 65 counties and done everything we wanted to do. We want to do so much more, together! She is my inspiration to keep this dream alive and not just a dream, but a lifestyle.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
I would have worked with someone first before strutting off on my own. I just did not have the understanding right off to make a profit. I should have tried to learn from others first. Being from a small town was hard, there were no others!
Name one photographer you would like to take a portrait of?
David A Williams because he is a character and it would be a blast trying to figure out what to do that was unusual and fun with him!
Name one sports player you would like to take a portrait of?
I dislike sports! But…I think shooting Lance Armstrong would be cool.
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera...
Shoot wild animals close-up in Africa.
I’ve learned the most from…
My grandfather who passed away in 91’. He had a hand in shaping my life and I will never forget his kind and thoughtful words.
What talent would you most like to have?
Something you’re still learning?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Who: Kassandra and Asia! My brother and mom!
What is your greatest fear?
Something that is overrated?
Fear is overrated!
Something you’re saving up for?
A kayak trip in the Baja or above the Arctic Circle somewhere.
What item do you wish you had designed?
I designed a typeface but it was before computers. I did not follow up and now there are many typefaces like the one I did. I am sad I did not hire a draftsman to get it finished. I learned a valuable lesson with that.
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be? Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin
Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?
Doing work on the computer or watching a movie.
Your favourite film (movie) of all time?
Seven Samurai, it just has it all!
Who would play you in a film (movie) of your life?
My brother, he looks like me.
First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
I don’t play so I will never win! So if my mom won the lottery and was kind enough to give me a little of the winnings, I would use it to travel of course! But if I had enough for everything else with some to just throw away; I would buy some type of muscle car. Don’t know what make. Just so that it looks just like how it did off the line when it was made.
Which five words would your friends use to describe you?
Fun-loving, honest, open, crazy (in a good way), talented (I hope!)
What ambition have you not yet achieved?
I have a new ambition (just decided a few days ago): win some top print competition awards.
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
Something I am passionate about!
And the last question, if you had one wish…
I would wish that I did not need sleep. There are just too many cool things to do and sleep is a waste of time! It is overrated!!!! Naps are yucky! I would tag on a rider to that wish of ‘no boogers’! Who that heck invented boogers anyway?????!!!! 😉
Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next David Beckstead?’ What would you say?
Don’t even try! I own that name! Be yourself and create your own style! Have a blast doing it! Don’t wait for retirement to see the world and do what you love…love what you do!
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