As a Colorado native, Kevin Williams feels a spiritual connection not when he’s in cities, but when he’s hiking in the natural world. A self-professed introvert, he feels at home with a camera and no roof over his head. “I look around me and I see asphalt, concrete, streetlights, cookie cutter houses, shopping malls, and parking lots,” he says. “I find this kind of stuff distracting and ugly. I want to focus on sharing and exposing people to the wondrous things that we have while we still have them.”
Concerned with preservation of the wild on many levels, Williams is all about capturing the beauty of landscapes. “We’re over seven billion on the planet and growing,” he continues. “There isn’t going to be room for it much more at this pace and we’re going to have a mall in Yellowstone if we’re not careful.”
Now living outside Denver, Williams is never far from the beauty he not only thrives on personally, but relies on for his moving photography. Working as a computer programmer, Williams rediscovered photography several years ago. “I realized I was getting older and couldn’t do some of the more extreme sports I used to do as a kid. I needed a new hobby,” he says. “Photography was a good opportunity to have excuses to go hiking and get out amongst nature as well as be visually creative.”
A self-taught programmer, Williams is also a self-taught photographer. Looking to shooters like David duChemin for inspiration, whom he credits with showing him how to not be obsessed with gear, but more concerned with individual photographer’s vision. Williams also does Internet research, regularly applying new techniques and judging the value of their results.
The landscapes Williams is responsible for are moody, silent, and exquisite. Whether it’s early morning fog burning off a waveless lake or two fence posts, one fallen among high prairie grass, his vision of the outdoors is not only beautiful, but lonely in the best sense of the latter. There’s a solitude he presents viewers that is comforting. With not even a bird in the distance of his landscapes, we cannot help but become connected to the earth. The land and the sky beyond and above it is what Williams demands us to consider. Although much of his macro work is also impressive, it is landscape photography where he seems to be most in his element. Shot digitally, on film, and even with a little subtle, tasty HDR, these are places Williams makes us want to visit.
In synch with his main subject of nature, Williams has embraced an almost holistic approach to his art. “I’ve got Chris Orwig’s book, Visual Poetry, which is also really shaping my perspective on all this and how we view this primarily for the love of it. If you don’t enjoy doing this that’s kind of a sorry state, if you ask me. We do this because we love to and then we share with everyone else. Let’s be generous with it.”
Williams is currently primarily shooting a Nikon D700 with a wide range of lenses, although he finds himself drawn to his 70-200mm more often than not. In addition, he says, “I’ve found using a telephoto lens for landscapes is really opening up things visually for me I hadn’t noticed when I shoot with the wide angle lens. I use the Nikon 16‑35mm as my wide angle lens, which I really enjoy. It’s really sharp—great colors, and those are my primary lenses.” He also occasionally employs two Nikon speedlites.
Primarily a digital shooter, Williams has explored film work. “I’ve been doing some film, just for educational purposes, because it’s fun and interesting and different,” he explains. “Digital is so pervasive now, not to mention my background with computers, that film is kind of interesting, because it’s the old way of doing things, not the new way. I can scan an image and get a much bigger digital file than I can get out of my Nikon.” His film camera is a Mamiya RZ67.
Being a programmer, Williams has carefully and linearly thought out his technical process, but is also open to the organic flow of his art’s evolvement and creation. “Details not too hard to capture,” he declares. “The luminescence in an image happens pretty quickly. But with tone, really you need time. Even the photo journalists and the portrait shooters have a term called dragging the shutter, where they will personally shoot at a relatively slow shutter speed so they get more ambient light, more saturation, and more color into the shot. If you set your camera to 1/50th of a second, you need all this flash power. All you’re getting is light from the flashes, and you’re not getting the ambient. The same is true in nature where you get more detail and color in the shadow areas and more richness to the brighter areas. I started shooting with an ND filter over the lens a vast majority of the time, just to get more time—light over time—into the camera, and it really saturates better.”
To get many of his impressive images, Williams employs Induro tripods. “I’m pretty sure I got the first hint of Induro tripods from Scott Bourne’s, Photofocus,” Williams says. “He mentioned he had just sold his last Gitzo tripod, and switched over to Induro. I think I had a Flashpoint tripod from Adorama, which was pretty decent, but, there was a piece in one of the legs that broke, and I needed to get a new tripod. It was a fortuitous recommendation. Everybody needs a good tripod. Don’t waste you’re time paying the newbie tax of buying the cheap tripod and then buying the next cheapest tripod, on and on. Go ahead and get a good tripod. I saw his recommendation and that he had been shooting for thirty‑some odd years and knew a good tripod when he saw one, not to mention using big glass. I looked at the site, read the specs, and tried to find some reviews online. I ordered one and I have been extremely happy with it. I’ve actually ordered two now.”
Williams uses his Induro gear in all types of conditions. “They’re all weather. Snow, heat, mud, sand, ocean, whatever,” he says. “When I get home, I will wipe it off with a cloth. I might get in with a toothbrush, if they got some mud or sand or something like that in a spot where it shouldn’t be. But, they don’t require kid gloves. They’re great.”
With the inherent nature of his landscape work and macro photography, Induro is integral to his workflow. “I couldn’t do most of the shots that I do without it,” Williams states. “It’s either I do a lot of long exposure, or I’ll do some HDR, or I’ll do something where I just do not want to raise the ISO, and I’m fine with the half‑second exposure. So, the tripod is crucial.” He also cites the issue of the carbon fiber weight. “They’re not really heavy. I’ve got a pretty big one and so you do notice that it’s in the pack but, it’s not a big deal. The benefit of having it outweighs the two, three pounds, or whatever it weighs. I am really impressed with the rigidity and strength and light‑weight balance they’ve achieved; the way they did the carbon fiber and the materials. I’ve got the CT314, which is kind of the big, fat legs, and I think it’s four section. I use the short center columns. I like to get the camera low and spread the legs out so it’s really stable. It might not even move if you kicked it. It’s so stable. That’s why I use the short center tripod. I just got back from Hawaii, and I bought the CT113, which is much lighter, but it is still sturdy enough to do all the long exposures of the ocean and all of that kind of stuff. The bigger one I use if I’m using a bigger lens, or if I use my film camera, which is really heavy. The smaller one is great for hiking, and weighs a lot less, but it’s still very sturdy.”
Williams isn’t done with his Induro collecting. “I can’t wait to get a monopod, too,” he says. “That’s on my list. Definitely. If you’re hiking, you could probably get a one second exposure with the monopod, if you had a stabilized lens. Or, if you’re shooting telephoto, where your hand movements are magnified so much, even though you might wiggle a little bit, the monopod can give you a shot, where you wouldn’t get it otherwise.”
When asked about his future, Williams is full of direction. “There’s definitely going to be some changes in the results of my work,” he says. “You’re shooting to convey a message and to tell a story. How do you shoot to tell the story you have in your mind, and how do you process it to lead the eye through the photo? I think my end product is going to be much improved in terms of a clearer vision of what this picture is about. It’s going to be improved quite a bit. I’m building a collection of prints to show. Then I think I want to branch out in other ways of trying to share what I’m trying to put together. I might add some computer wallpaper downloads on my site. I’d probably do different screen sizes, as well as iPhone and iPad types of sizes.”
Before wrapping up our conversation, Williams is asked about advice for new photographers. He surprises even us. “I couldn’t recommend Induro highly enough,” he says. “I think for someone doing nature work or landscapes, you can just get a cheap camera, but get some decent filters and a really good tripod and you can make much better pictures than someone hand‑holding with a fancy camera.”
Written by Ron Egatz.