Doug Landreth is one of the nicest people we have had the pleasure of working with. He has been photographing parts of the world and the Pacific Northwest for the past 25 years. He is well known for his complex, conceptual photo-illustrations, and his large-scale production, lifestyle and transportation campaigns, for which he has received numerous national awards. For the past ten years Doug has been focusing not only on his thriving commercial business, but developing a large following for his painterly, composited fine art images.
In 2010, Doug started teaching his “Scratching the Surface” workshops for photographers interested in adapting his techniques for their own work. This lead to the formation of “Photomorphis”, a company he started with his longtime creative collaborator, David Volkamer. Photomorphis is an online site designed as a resource for inspiration, education, and collaboration for anyone interested in taking their photography further.
Thanks for allowing us to interview you for the blog. Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been a lifelong photographer. The fever hit when my identical twin brother and I went on a two week tour of Europe with other kids our age from across the country the summer of our Junior year in high school. We bought our first real 35mm camera to document our journey and I’ve been documenting my journeys ever since. On our return from Europe, I enrolled in a photography class my senior year of high school and was further motivated by a great instructor. I quickly became the school yearbook photographer and continued as a school yearbook photographer for the 4 subsequent years I spent acquiring a business degree from the University of Puget Sound. I had quickly decided that I would pursue photography as a profession and wanted to gain some business acumen prior to attending Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara where I was awarded the “Outstanding Achievement Award” on graduation.
I moved back to the Northwest and began a 30 year career in Commercial Photography working with design firms and ad agencies on product campaigns across the country. I had a large studio in Seattle and gained notoriety for my layered and textural images utilizing analog techniques that spanned the gamut from multiple large format cameras, pin registered dupe transparencies, in-camera masks, Polaroid transfers and multiple exposures. I was also well know for my complex lighting and large production shoots. During this time, I used many of these same techniques to explore my own fine art work. These images are all done in camera on a single sheet of film before the idea of Photoshop or digital images dawned.
Before long, I was commissioned by Brandhammer Advertising to create images for their client Kenworth Trucks. David Volkamer was the agency owner and Creative Director and we began a long creative collaboration. Here’s one example from a Kenworth campaign.
We have both since sold our businesses and have been focusing on fine art photography. I had been encouraged by many people for a number of years to teach some of my techniques for using post production tools and eventually David and I decided to create a company that could serve that purpose. We started Photomorphis in hopes of creating a community of creative photographers working to expand their visions like we were. We’ve had a lot of fun creating and leading workshops in photography and post production, notably Photoshop and onOne’s Perfect Photo Suite over the past few years. We are continually striving to increase the content of our website with tutorials, inspiration, and other helpful content for the like minded enthusiasts.
My artwork is carried by a few galleries around the country and has been recognized with many distinguished awards and publishers. I also enjoy traveling up and down the west coast participating in some of the best art shows in the west.
Thinking about the course of my career, there has been a unifying driving force: to explore the medium of photography and create imagery that distills a scene into the pure emotional essence of an experience, and to then share both the process and the result with others. I am so fortunate to be able to do what I love to do for a living.
We are huge fans of your style and the unique qualities of each piece. Where do you get your inspiration photographing and processing these amazing works of art?
Many people have asked me who’s work provided the inspiration for my style of work. It always surprises them when I name painters and not photographers as my primary source of inspiration. Growing up I was totally captivated by the raw expressive tones and textures in Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, the way he composed his images, and his delicate use of light. They conveyed a sense of the place or person so strongly that you could drift away in the story behind the scene. I loved the dreamlike grandeur and rich colors of Maxfield Parrish’s work. The emotional power and grand scale of the painters of the Hudson River School of Landscape Painting such as Frederick Church and Albert Bierstadt, with their bold glorification of the American landscape. The impressionistic styles of Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper. I could go on.
Painters have an ability to condense all of their intent into a painting using light, color, texture, style, and then composing the appropriate elements into their scenes as they liked, not how they actually appeared. Their art was interpretive, rich and expressive, and I knew that’s where I wanted to take my photography. With this in the back of my mind I would always search for visual qualities that provoked a strong sense of place and emotion. For instance, I love going into antique stores and rummaging through the lost and forgotten treasures of people’s pasts. I recognized long ago that part of the attraction of, say, an old tool in an antique store was the rich patina of wear and tear that implied a history and backstory that would engage my imagination and cause me to reflect on the rich history of the tool. This same nostalgia and sense of history and place are lacking when I look at that same tool in the new tool section of a hardware store. The patina is lacking.
This is why for so long I’ve worked to incorporate a visual patina in my artwork. I like to think of a raw capture as a canvas and tell people that my processing of the image is much like creating a reduction sauce in cooking. I put a number of images into the “Doug” blender, mix well, and using the post processing layering capabilities of Photoshop and Perfect Photo Suite 8. I work to add and remove elements and reduce the image down until it is the pure essence of my emotional response to the scene, or create a brand new image from elements from other scenes that is a more pure expression of my memory of a place. I want my images to communicate how I felt about a place or subject rather than accurately depict the scene. When a subject or place provokes the impulse to pick up my camera and shoot, I need to continue to explore the scene with various choices of angle of view, composition, lens, depth of field, and lighting until it is the strongest presentation of the core of the impulse. The same is true in post processing. I continue to play detective trying to uncover the clues of what is significant in the scene and then do the work of displaying this evidence to the viewer. When I can no longer uncover evidence that something needs to be changed, the piece is complete.
It is a blessing to be a photographer working today. In this digital age, we now have the ability that painters have always had…to go beyond a single image capture and to create images that present our feelings and emotions in ways we could only dream about before. I tell people I’m a photojournalist of my mind. I want to share with people how my mind sees the world, not just how my camera sees it.
It sounds like your business name, Photomorphis was derived from your techniques and style. Can you tell us more about your mission as a business and how you are helping others creatively?
I have always enjoyed collaborating with David Volkamer. About 3 years ago, with our focus shifting from the commercial advertising world to our fine art pursuits, we discussed how great it would be to form a company that we’d use to create a platform for sharing our passion with other artists. We did name the company “Photomorphis” with the idea in mind that a photo is no longer just a photo, but can evolve thru thoughtful post processing into something much more. We began conducting Photoshop workshops up and down the west coast and have focused the last year on expanding our website to create a resource for fine art photographers. The site offers a lot of free tutorial videos we’ve produced on many topics revolving around the techniques I use in my work, blog posts showing new images and interesting techniques, and a store offering resources such as texture files, advanced tutorials, and a large selection of textures and onOne Software presets that they can use with your software to create unique art. It’s been a very rewarding journey. We’ve had a large number of people who’ve expressed gratitude for the inspiration and the tools we provide and I’ve seen some really great artwork as a result. The feedback we’ve received is a huge reward for our efforts and I’m always grateful for the inspiration and insights I gain from so many of the students and patrons of our site. Here’s an image I created with Perfect Photo Suite 8 as an example of what can be done with one of the Photomorphis textures.
We hope to continue to expand the scope of our site and have plans to add numerous destination location photography and post production workshops to our offerings, as well as bringing in new artists to share their insights and work as guest “featured artists.” So much to do…so little time.
To shift gears on you, what gear are you using? Do you have a piece of gear you couldn’t live without? What is the one piece of gear you would recommend to everyone?
Hmmm. A camera. :)
We saw that coming. :) What comes second?
Ha! Got ya. Sorry couldn’t resist. Actually, I shoot with a Canon 1DX and a variety of lenses, with much of my work in the longer focal lengths it seems. I love gear, like most photographers. I have to say though, that the choice of gear really depends on what is demanded of your gear by your artwork. It might be that a plastic Holga or an iPhone are all you need! I do a lot of pushing and pulling of pixels in my post processing so I like to get the best group of pixels I can to work with up front so I’m not disappointed or bothered by bad pixels. So good glass, quick focus, strong light gathering power, and low noise are what I require and what my current gear affords me. It’s therefore hard to recommend to others the kind of hardware they need. It needs to be determined backwards…from the art and not from an arbitrary number from an ad, like megapixels.
Also, the one thing that a fine art photographer should never leave home without is their own finely tuned creative filter…their vision. That’s what will make an image meaningful, not it’s pixel count.
Sounds like a great motto. What image (or images) are most meaningful to you?
Usually the one I’m working on at the moment. It’s like asking me which of my kids I like the best. :) There are some images that are significant to me for one reason or another. This floral image was one of my first digital composite experiments and laid much of the foundation for the direction I’ve taken.
This image I really like for it’s peaceful serenity and in my head it makes the statement about a graceful acceptance of being a small part of a much grander scheme.
And this last one is really the poster image for how I feel about photography and the magic we can create with it today. It’s called “Suspension of Belief.”
Wow, these are beautiful. In closing, is there any advice you wish you had been given when you were starting out as a photographer and businessman? What would that be?
I was fortunate throughout my career to have some great mentors and teachers and I received great advice, encouragement, and inspiration from all of them. In my Photomorphis classes and at the art shows where I exhibit my work I’m often asked for advice from photographers thinking about making photography their career . So, I have thought about this quite a bit.
First: Don’t make the viewer of your images do all the work. If there is something meaningful about the image it should be evident.
Second: Make your vision the hero of your image, not the technique.
Third: When asked if it’s possible to make a living as a photographer with so much competition out there, I point out that there is always room at the top.
Fourth: Making a living following a passion such as photography will provide a degree of happiness and joy that can’t be matched by a huge salary from doing something you only do for the salary.
I tell people that wealth is measured in many currencies (not just cash) and I’m very wealthy in many of them as a result of following my passion. So most of all, follow your heart.