Dan Ballard Q&A with BlackRapid
Dan Ballard is an internationally known travel and landscape photographer from Colorado. His images take you on a visual journey to some of the world’s most beautiful and far-reaching corners. Dan has visited nearly 50 countries on five continents around the globe, and his work has attracted the attention and praise of some of the biggest names and companies in the photo industry.
Dan’s images have been on display around the U.S. in museums and galleries, and he has sold images to clients around the globe, including The National Geographic Society. He is proud to be on the Zenfolio Pro Team, and to have strong working relationships with the most trusted names in photography, including SanDisk, ThinkTank Photo, LEE Filters and Really Right Stuff. His images have been published in magazines and calendars, and he has won or been a finalist in numerous prestigious competitions. Large, framed prints of his western work can be found at gift and furniture stores around the country. Dan’s image ”Let ‘er Fly” was recently featured in a Smithsonian Channel episode on what makes an award-winning image.
Dan sat down with BlackRapid to talk about his five-month journey throughout Southeast Asia, his R-Strap and who’s got the best food.
(A women walking on a path through rice paddies to mountains in mist. Vang Vieng, Laos, Asia)
BR: Hi Dan. You’ve had an exciting year of travel. This last March you left for a five-month journey through Southeast Asia. What was the main element that drew you there?
DB: One of the key elements of my work is blending landscape and travel photography together, often adding the human element to add a sense of culture or place to a scene. Southeast Asia is one of the best places I’ve found in the world to accomplish that. There are beautiful and unique landscapes everywhere, often with local people working or passing though, or other man made elements that give the image a sense of place.
(Layers of karst mountains in early morning fog with the sun rising. Gulilin, Guangxi, China)
BR: How do you like taking photos of small peaks like Karst Towers around Guilin, China vs. large epic mountain ranges like the Canadian Rockies in Banff?
DB: I love both for different reasons. The Karst formations in China are truly a wonder of nature and seem to go on endlessly! I love shooting them with a telephoto lens from above to showcase their form, picking out details and patterns to create a powerful image. Grand landscapes like those of the Canadian Rockies are epically beautiful and vast! It is the challenge of trying to capture that stunning beauty and vastness in a photograph that I love.
(Sunrise from a ridge overlooking a mountain valley. Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada)
(Mt. Bromo volcano erupting with strong god rays in the foreground. Bromo, East Java, Indonesia)
BR: To ensure you get to the best locations for your shot, do you hire a guide, plan exactly where you are going, or rely on the kindness of strangers?
DB: It is really a combination of all three. For the most part I do a lot of research and planning for a particular area before I leave home, and then I try to spend quite a lot of time at the location scouting and shooting to really learn it. I don’t use guides all that often, but there are many situations when time is an issue or the location demands it (think Amazon Rainforest in Bolivia) where I definitely do. As far as the kindness of strangers, as an independent traveler you are basically at the mercy of locals for help with directions. This is a great thing, as you tend to meet the friendliest people on earth while hopelessly lost!
BR: Some of the places you have visited are pretty far out of the way. One of your images “Cormorant Fisherman” taken near Guilin in China is a very unique experience. How did you get to be on location with those men at that particular time of day for the shot?
DB: There is a small village on the Li River not far from where the image was taken. To get to the village you take a bamboo raft down an incredible stretch of river winding through karsts and small Chinese villages. It is then possible to stay in a small hostel or local hotel in the village and either arrange to shoot the fisherman or to walk along the river and find them in the river or on the shore.
(Two fishermen on bamboo rafts with a bird spreading it’s wings. Li River, Xingping, Guilin, Guangxi, China)
BR: No one can predict the weather, but it seems like you’re always at the right place at the right time to capture the perfect sky with your landscape. How much time do you spend location scouting and planning the correct time of day to capture your shot, like your image of the rice terraces in Yuanyang?
DB: The truth is I am at the right place at the wrong time much more often then not! I normally spend as long as I need to in an area to get the shot I’m after, and that can often be a long time! Sometimes it can take a couple of weeks scouting during the day and shooting every morning and evening to get the image. Other times like in the case of Yuanyang, it only took three days (six shoots) to get the shot I wanted. I got the Moraine Lake shot I wanted on the first morning, yet there is a lake here in Colorado that I have shot around 16 times and I still haven’t came home with the image I have in mind.
(Rice terrace field full of water before planting with rolling fog and the rising sun in the background. Yuanyang, Yunnan, China)
BR: OK, let’s get into photography gear talk. We all want to know what went in your camera bag with you on this trip.
DB: I like to travel light and fast and I pack my bag accordingly. Nikon D700, Nikon 16-35mm, 50mm & 70-300mm. BlackRapid RS-Sport Strap, SanDisk 16gb memory cards, Really Right Stuff tripod & ball head, LEE grad ND filters, Nikon SB-800 flash. Travel umbrella, extra batteries, small flashlights, lens cloth and compass. All in a very small ThinkTank camera bag. I also carry a backup camera body, several small portable hard drives, a small travel laptop, senor cleaning blower bulb, battery chargers, etc. in my main bag. Because I pack very few clothes and very few unnecessary items I travel with only a small backpack on my back and the small ThinkTank bag on my side.
BR: How did your RS-Sport perform for you on this trip?
DB: Excellent! After traveling with the strap for five months in some pretty harsh conditions I can honestly say that I love it!! I spend a huge part of my time walking around when I travel, and not having a camera around my neck bouncing against my chest and drawing attention to the fact that I am a photographer is amazing! At the same time my camera is still extremely easy to reach. In the past I would often wrap my normal strap around my wrist and hold the camera at my side to accomplish the same thing. The BlackRapid set-up puts the camera in roughly the same place as holding it at your side without the strain of holding your camera all day or the worry of dropping it.
(Dan Ballard with his RS-Sport in Southeast Asia)
BR: Can you share one people skill for photographers encountering different cultures while travelling?
DB: Be extremely friendly and outgoing! It is amazing how far a smile and a little courage can go to getting you a great travel portrait. Of course my biggest travel photo tip when you’re after people shots is to go to areas that are not touristy. Your chances of getting a great image and your overall experience will be much greater!
BR: You’ve been to 49 different countries on 5 different continents around the world. What’s on your agenda next?
DB: I don’t have a ticket booked yet, but it’s really looking like South America. Most likely Peru and Bolivia. I have been to the area once before, but I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked and I can’t wait to go back!
BR: Who’s got the best food?
DB: Hmmm…..tough question!! Thailand would have to be at the top of the list I guess, but I also love Danishes in Denmark, Baklava throughout the Middle East, and meat pies in New Zealand (of course don’t forget croissants in France, fish n’ chips in England, or chocolate in Switzerland!;)
Find out more about Dan’s photography at:
“BlackRapid makes the best camera strap I have ever used by far! The concept is excellent, and their straps are extremely effective in demanding real world conditions!”
~ Dan Ballard, Zenfolio Pro Team, international travel and landscape photographer