By: Alyssa Laube
About: Rod Preston is a talented Vancouver-based fine art and portrait photographer. His work can be viewed at:
What is it about Vancouver specifically that inspires you as a photographer?
Clouds, crows, trees, reflections in puddles and 300 days a year of beautiful soft light.
How does editing play a role in your work?
Photoshop is such an amazing piece of software that has opened up so many creative alternatives for me as an artist. However, I try to use it sparingly in my fine art photography. I like to remove distracting objects, crop, mute colours, and increase contrast. Other than that, I want a mostly realistic look.
When choosing whether or not to keep a photo, what do you look for?
First, proper exposure. I like to see detail in the highlight and shadow portions of the photo. After that, it becomes much more subjective. I like stark images that convey a feeling of loneliness or neglect.
How do you pick subjects for your photography?
I try not to have too much of an agenda. I’ll just shoot whatever interests me in that moment, but I’ve noticed that people are conspicuously absent from my recent work. It’s a phase, but I’ve done lots of portrait work in the past, and I’m sure I will again.
What are the differences between photographing a person and a scene?
There’s a huge difference. With people, it helps to photograph someone I know so that I can choose images from the shoot that reflect their manner and personality. There’s often pressure during a portrait shoot to meet the subject, get a sense of their character, set up the shot, and produce a great image very quickly – which is not easy. By contrast, “landscape” photography is much more methodical and solitary for me. I have lots of time to really take in my surroundings and experiment with all kinds of ideas. I enjoy both, but they are very different skills.
Describe your work with publications.
In 2008, I was commissioned to create a portrait series for a book about addiction by Dr. Gabor Mate: “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction”. It’s a bestselling book about a topic that has relevance to all of our lives. I encourage everyone to check it out. I have worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside since 2000, so I knew many of the subjects of my portraits quite well. I’ve also done lots of assignment work for The Medical Post when they have featured Vancouver-based doctors in their articles.
What are your favourite things to photograph?
I’m often drawn to subjects that illustrate the interaction between humans and our natural environment – the eternal cycle of destruction and reclamation shown in rusting ships, abandoned spaces, and fabricated objects that represent living things. I also like to take everyday objects and make them look slightly surreal. I’m always happy when a viewer of one of my photos asks “What is this?” or “Where was this taken?”.
How did you get started in photography?
When I was in grade 4 or 5, I was in an advanced class called “Enrichment” for a few hours a week. We did all kinds of cool, alternative things in these classes and photography was one of them. Then, I didn’t touch a camera for about 10 years. When I was 20, I took a semester off university to drive across Canada and back. I took a simple point-and-shoot camera with me and really started to enjoy the process. After getting my degree, I immediately started to study photography at Langara College.
What is your favorite camera to use?
My Nikon D700, and I have an old Ricoh GR1 for shooting film that fits nicely into my pocket if I don’t want to lug lots of gear.
How does the use of lens change the photo?
Focal length is probably the biggest factor. A wide angle lens includes much more in the frame than a zoom. Faster lenses are great for low light situations, creating a very nice background blur.
Do you have any favorite local photographers?
Robin O’Neill, a Whistler photographer.
Who is your favourite photographer, in general?
It’s a toss up between Ansel Adams and Ed Burtynsky.
What inspires you?
I’ve recently been looking at some 365 projects that other photographers have done. That involves producing an image every day for a year as part of a series. I’m inspired by that dedication, discipline and creativity. I plan to do it myself (maybe in 2015).
Has your family had an effect on your work?
My mom, dad and sister have all been very supportive and I really love showing them my work and hearing their feedback.
What do you love about B.C. as a whole, in terms of how good of an environment it is for photography?
For a guy who grew up in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, I have to love the diversity of landscapes that we have in BC. I could travel for the next 10 years in BC and never see the same thing twice! We are truly lucky to call this place our home.
How do you manipulate the use of colour in your work?
I like to mute colours a bit for a hint of “surreal”, but more than that is too much for me. The colour treatments in the movies “Saving Private Ryan” or “Three Kings” are good examples of what I’m talking about, but overall, not much.
Explain how weather influences what you do.
I love cloudy days, and that is the biggest determining factor in my decision to go out and shoot. I like even, light and saturated colours.
Have you spent much time photographing other places? What was it like?
That’s a big question. Yes, I’ve travelled the world: Southeast Asia, Canada, the U.S., Central and South America and the U.K. It’s such a pleasure for me to feast my eyes and camera on things I’ve never seen before. I’ve had many long days of hiking around with my camera in faraway places. It doesn’t get much better than that!
How do you try to improve your photography?
Creativity is something that needs to be constantly nurtured. I have a notebook where I write down ideas and take notes, but the best way to improve is by doing.
Which is a favourite photo in your own collection?
Hard to pick just one, but I really like an image that I took just off the highway between Merritt and Kelowna. I drove up a logging road and found a seed block in the middle of a clear cut. A group of skinny trees standing all by themselves gives such an eerie feeling. I titled it “The Last Stand”.
Which settings do you prefer to use?
Aperture Priority. I choose the aperture so I control the depth of field (i.e. how much of the scene is in focus) while the camera automatically chooses the shutter speed to give proper exposure.
What advice can you offer to budding photographers?
Set achievable goals for yourself. Plan one photo project per week. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you stick to it, your skills will improve considerably.