For this week’s edition of The Creative Journey, I’m excited to be featuring David Kingham. I came across David’s work last year and was impressed by not only his images but also the story of his nomadic lifestyle. He is very open and honest about his life on the road, including the challenges he faces and growth he has experienced along the way . Make sure you check out David’s website, Facebook page, and travel blog to keep up to date with his work! I want to thank David once again for taking the time to share his story.
Over the past couple of years you’ve made some major life changes and now live on the road, traveling and photographing across the American West. Looking back on your journey, were there any misconceptions that you had about pursuing photography full-time compared to how you view and value it now?
I have heard over and over again from other full-time photographers that when you start a photography business you will no longer have time to take photographs yourself, you only have time for the business and your creativity will likely flounder. I have not found this to be true with the choices I have made. How much time you spend on your business versus photographing is purely your choice. I have chosen a simple lifestyle that does not require me to work 24/7 in order to make as much money as I used to. If I were trying to live the same lifestyle I did when I had a well-paying job, I would be at my breaking point. It does not mean that you have to live on the road camping 365 days a year, but it does mean living without a nice house, car, and living the typical consumerist lifestyle. If you want to continue living this way, you should probably keep your day job. Because of my simple lifestyle, I am able to spend a large amount of time developing my photographic vision. There is a lot of time spent on the business, but I enjoy it because it is spent in between the times I am photographing or post processing.
What were some of the early struggles you faced in your career, do they still exist today and how have you managed or dealt with them over the years?
When I started out I was focused on how I could make money with photography rather than following what I was passionate about. I had experience in architectural photography—which I did not thoroughly enjoy—but I knew of other photographers that were making big money in the field, so I focused my attention on building that business. After a few jobs I realized how much I was beginning to dislike photography, but, in reality, I simply disliked architectural photography and the pursuit of the work. One day I watched a video on YouTube of an Alan Watts Lecture ‘What if Money Was No Object?’ which changed my life forever. It basically boils down to following what you’re passionate about, becoming a master of it, and the money will follow. At the time Nightscape photography was emerging and I decided to become a master at this. I spent all my time studying and practicing until I was considered one of the masters in the field, soon the demand for workshops, an ebook, etc. were enough to make a decent living. Although I still love photographing the night sky, I realized that my true passion was in landscape photography, so in the past year, I have transitioned into this field. Despite it being an incredibly competitive, overcrowded field, I am still finding success because of my devotion to the craft.
Inconsistency and self-doubt seem to be two of the biggest road blocks stopping people from reaching their true potential. Have you ever suffered from those, and if so, how do you push through the periods of time where you’re lacking creative or emotional drive?
Of course I have, we all do. This is completely natural and we should not let it bring us down as creatives. The greatest book I have ever read for these road blocks is ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield. A quote from the book:
“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What’s keeping us from sitting down is Resistance.”
Writing can be substituted for photographing, post processing, marketing—whatever it is that you need to get done to move your craft or your business forward, overcoming the resistance, and doing the work.
You talk about how before finding photography, you never had a burning passion for anything. You now live a life centered around following your passion, sharing, and teaching. What advice would you give to anyone who is hesitant or has doubts about making a change and following their passion?
It’s simple really, my life has meaning now. It may sound silly that taking photographs can bring any value to society, I’m not curing cancer after all, but the reality is that I have changed people’s lives through my photography. I know this because they tell me. I receive emails and phone calls telling me that it was my photographs or my ebook that helped them find joy or something they are passionate about. I don’t say this to impress you, but to impress upon you that creating art can have wealth well beyond any monetary value. For anyone thinking about making the change, you will know when it’s time. The burning in your soul to create will overwhelm you, and you will want to do nothing else. If you are not exceptionally passionate, do not pursue it. You will need this desire to become a master, without it, you will not succeed.
I was reading a post on your blog from 2014 where you talked about starting to follow your artistic passion and not chasing the ‘epic’ shots. How has your mindset developed since then and what have you learned from creating authentic work?
My views have changed slightly since then. I do enjoy creating ‘epic’ landscapes, in fact, they’re one of my favorite types of scenes now. I do not chase icons though, as I do not believe that is a great way to express creativity. I will visit iconic locations, but I will not take the typical iconic shot that everyone else is shooting. I try to create something unique from the location, or I typically roam and find something altogether different.
I believe there are two types of landscape photographers: those that try to re-create photographs of others from iconic locations, and those that create authentic work that expresses their creativity. Let me be clear that there is nothing wrong with re-creating the iconic photographs, I like to compare this thought process to music; there are a lot of amateur musicians that only play other artists music for fun, I include myself in this group. We don’t necessarily want to write our own songs because we are just playing for fun and stress relief. Those that create great music are those that dedicate their lives to it, this is the only way to become a master at your art, is to dedicate those 10,000 hours. Most photographers would rather not do this, which is okay when you’re just doing it for fun. There is no right or wrong, only a question of how far you want to take your craft. Do you want to create something unique and authentic to your vision, or do you want to create ‘covers’?
You talk about a point in your career where you started mainly shooting black and white photography and then later returning back to grand landscapes in color, realizing that it wasn’t for you. How important do you think it is to experiment with different styles and techniques and what did you learn from that experience?
It is extremely important to try new things to find out what you enjoy the most, and what doesn’t work for you. I still absolutely love black and white, it is something that I am very passionate about and I will come back to. At the time it was something I needed to explore creatively, but I still had a burning passion to explore color photography. Whatever calls out to you, follow it to see where it leads, but always be prepared to take it a new direction. The creative process is not linear, it will take you in a million different directions if you allow it to, which you should!
As an outdoor photographer, what are some of the ways that your connection with the wilderness influences the decisions you make while creating your images? How do you make sure that the process doesn’t kill the experience?
It can be very easy to get lost in the process of ‘getting the shot’. I learn by observing others, and I constantly see other photographers become incredibly discouraged when the conditions are not right, or they missed the shot. I no longer go out with any intentions of getting a ‘shot’, I go out with intentions of having a good experience. Yes, I will go out when the conditions are favorable rather than a blue sky day, but even when the conditions look good I will focus on enjoying the moment and not worry about the photos. Creativity is stifled when we are trying too hard to create, this activates the left prefrontal cortex, which is a barrier to creative thought. Last year I began practicing contemplative photography, which is essentially a form of meditation when you are walking around that allows you to see in a different way. You are not ‘looking’ for anything to photograph, but allowing your eyes/mind to see a ‘flash of perception’. When you are thinking less, through practice you become more open to seeing what is around you, rather than allowing the brain to filter out anything that is not important to survival.
What do you ultimately hope to accomplish with your images of the wilderness? Or in other words, why do you create?
I create because I must. There is a deep drive inside me that I simply cannot deny. I have often wondered if creating only for the sake of my art was a worthwhile goal? Should I strive for conservation or something more worthwhile? I have not found a clear answer for this yet, but I do not believe that creating for the sake of creating is an unworthy goal. I’m not creating pretty pictures that don’t achieve anything, I am creating work with depth and emotion that touches people deeply. I say this coming from a humble place, I do not think I am some profound artist, I only know these things because people tell me regularly how much my work inspires them, and sometimes changes lives.
It’s clear that teaching others is something that has become an important part of your photography career. What has been the most challenging part of that and what has been the most rewarding?
Like many other artists I am an introvert by nature, so being a good leader has not come easily. I have worked hard to overcome my preference for quiet and solitude when it comes time to lead a workshop. I have found that my clients appreciate my calm and patient nature when it comes to teaching. It has been extremely rewarding to see my clients excel, and when I see the look on their face after creating a great composition, or process an image beautifully, it makes all the hard work worthwhile.
It’s often easy for people to get tunnel vision when it comes to photography and the pursuit of becoming “successful”. Unfortunately, this can often lead to them ignoring all of the other amazing benefits that come from being a photographer. If you had to pick one thing that photography has provided you with that you consider the most rewarding, what would it be and why?
I see many landscape photographers get caught up in becoming popular on social media, which generally means following trends or copying others only in the vain pursuit of likes. This path may give you a rise in popularity, but you will be forgettable in the long term like Pop music.
Be authentic to yourself and your vision by following what you are curious about. Experiment and find out what it is you love.
Pursue that with a burning passion. What emerges over time will give you the deepest sense of satisfaction when you create something that you can truly call your own.
Pursuing a passion can easily consume a person, leaving them feeling like there are not enough hours in a day to accomplish their next goal. How do you balance your photography career with the other areas of your life and how important is that balance?
I have developed my business such that I only do things that I generally enjoy, therefore it does not feel like work most of the time. Quite frankly I feel like there are plenty of hours in the day. I enjoy my work and leave plenty of time for rest and play. It may not be the best way to become financially wealthy, but it is the best way to become wealthy on the inside. I am happier with a simple life that does not require me to work and stress 24/7.
Here at Image & Rhythm we’re all about showcasing like-minded people with the goal of inspiring others to chase their dreams and become more successful photographers. Who would you like to see us interview next and why?
I would like to see Micheal Shainblum, he has become incredibly successful while creating inspiring, authentic work.