Adam Williams’ journey of discovery

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Part educator, part photographer Adam Williams is always open to the experience of learning whether inside the classroom or 1500 metres in the air.

Adam Williams admits that when it comes to his craft he will never stop learning. An award-winning AIPP certified professional, Adam makes a living from photography education, specifically teaching landscape photographers how to utilise software to transform their current photos into high impact images. Yet there have been several times since when he has found cause to question his professional capabilities.

In 2010 he and his wife mapped out what they thought would be the trip of a lifetime. Selling all their possessions including a beautiful home in Sydney’s northern beaches the pair planned to travel around Australia, using the trip as a spring board to boost Adam from a weekend photographic warrior to a fully fledged photography professional.

“As we left on our life-changing trip, I was of the opinion that I was the next big thing in landscape photography but only three months in I was to realise that not only was I not the next big thing but my level of photography wasn’t that good at all. I [spent] the next 18 months of our travels studying online and [attempting to better] my photography in every way possible.

“Although I didn’t return the professional photographer I had hoped to be, I did return a vastly improved photographer with a much better understanding of what was required.” Clearly, he has come a long way since those heady days, having recently been invited to challenge himself further by undertaking his first aerial shoot with fellow members of the collaborative group The Lost Collective (TLC).

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Adam says owing to his relative inexperience of this type of shoot, his fellow professionals gave him a crash course of recommended settings after the plane had taken flight.

He had no choice but to learn on the job. “The boys gave me the run down of the ideal settings for the fast pace of aerial photography, shutter speeds of 1500+ 2000 if you can manage it, aperture fairly wide – F5.6 was my starting point, getting out to F8 as the light got brighter. [They also told me to set] my ISO to auto with a threshold of 800. The Auto ISO is the link between manual shutter speed and aperture giving me the freedom to shoot without being too concerned about getting the exposure correct.”

Yet while admitting his abilities as an aerial photographer still require a little fine tuning, Adam has built an impressive body of landscape work in recent years with the highlight having his scenes viewed as part of the AIPP print awards. His success resulted in him representing Australia in the 2015 Photography World Cup. In addition, he was named APPA Australian Emerging Photographer of the Year (2014) and took out the 2015 NSW Landscape Photographer of the year and NSW Professional Photographer of the year titles.

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Freely admitting to struggling with bouts of depression and anxiety, Adam says while he has never consciously joined the dots between his emotional state and how that impacts his images at the point of capture, he is “almost always” in the best headspace when out shooting.

“It’s what I love to do and the peace and solitude of landscape photography is a great relief from the hustle of big city life. In the field I am trying to capture the best photo I can, including subject, composition and atmosphere. Most of the emotional influence comes during the processing stage, I find immersing myself in the creative processing to be great therapy for anxiety and depression, many of the images I produce are directly influenced by my struggles with my own emotions.”

A true landscape photographer at heart the 40-year-old says he is not overly concerned with presenting the landscape precisely as it was on the day. Instead, he views himself as a visual storyteller who uses landscape scenes and processing to tell a story. And for this, finding the right tools are essential.

Adam says he often reflects on how ahead of its time the Nikon D800 was for landscape photographers and yet as a proud owner of its successor, he is even more impressed by the capabilities of the Nikon D800E. He says he had the good sense to switch from a competitor brand in 2011 and has had the Nikon D800E by his side ever since.

It is, he claims, an aerial photography “weapon”. “The quality of the files at 800 ISO is so good [as it] allowed me to shoot the high shutter speeds making sure the details were sharp without even the slightest concern for image quality from high ISO noise.”

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In terms of his favourite lenses, Adam says his go-to lens is the NIKKOR AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR which he says works optimally at all apertures and focal distances. Its versatility makes it perfect for both everyday uses as well as for those occasions where the stakes are higher. “I have completely fallen in love with the both the NIKKOR AF-S 35mm f/1.4G and the NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR.

The NIKKOR AF-S 35mm f/1.4G shows sublime detail right out to the corners, which is perfect for landscape photography, and the NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR is one of the most beautiful zooms I have ever had the privilege to shoot with – beautiful detail [and] super fast. Meanwhile, the range of NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR makes it a great landscape photography lens for all occasions.”

Adam says he elected to use the NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR when on the aerial shot as he considered that the best option owing to its extensive focal range. He says there is plenty at the wide angle end to capture the broad scenes and the 70mm provides that “little bit of extra range” to get more intimate with some of the finer details.

“Ideally, you don’t want to be changing lenses in the air, so if you have only the one body the NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR would be an excellent choice. To be expected the image quality is excellent, and with the maximum aperture of F2.8 means that when shooting aerial photography at F5.6-F8 the lens is right in its sweet spot for IQ. The autofocus was snappy, reliable and accurate which is ideal for the fast pace of aerial photography.

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“Coupled with my Nikon D800E it proved to be an excellent combination. The high quality of the files produced by the D800E at ISO 200-800 allowed me to shoot at 1/1500th of a sec coupled with the fast and accurate autofocus resulted in almost every single image having perfectly sharp crisp details.

I also used the NIKKOR AF 35mm f/2D lens, which was also superb, incredibly sharp from corner to corner which is perfect for the abstract nature of aerials. Once again very fast and reliable autofocus and the small low profile of the lens meant it was easy to handle in the high wind speeds of shooting with the doors off.”

Adam’s aerial work, shot as part of TLC, will feature in an upcoming exhibition Kati Thanda which opens on November 3. Projects such as this have given him renewed energy for his craft, he says.

“I don’t have too many lofty aspirations other than to produce meaningful work and I’m happy with whatever path that takes me down. My photography has seen huge improvements in the last two years, but the biggest benefit is these guys constantly remind me of how much fun life can be.

“I can tend to take life a little to seriously, and through TLC I have rediscovered how good just having fun, doing what you love and hanging out with your mates can be.”

Adam has a landscape photography education group on Facebook where members share tips and information about creating better images. To see more of his photography go to www.australianphotographer.com

In Adam’s bag

Words: Tracey Porter