Cameron Davidson is an editorial and commercial photographer based in Virginia. He focuses on making supremely beautiful aerial images for a variety of advertising, editorial and corporate clients. When not photographing in the air, Cameron likes to photograph on the ground as well. His portfolio is so expansive that he has no fewer than six books published of his photography. He was recognized in the 2014 Communications Arts Photography Annual, the 2015 Graphis Photo Annual, and was included in this year’s Luezer’s 200 Best Advertising Photographers. This week Cameron talks to atlas about his interest in aerial photography, how he uses drones in his work, and who inspires and influences him.
When did you first become interested in photography?
Cameron Davidson: In tenth grade, I found an old Agfa camera in the closet of our house. My mother was dating a photographer and he gave me initial guidance along with twenty rolls of Tri-X film and the much needed critical critique. Those initial explorations set my path for me. I was torn between playing guitar or creating images.
Are you self-taught or do you have a formal education in photography?
It is a mixture of both. I religiously studied the yearly photo annuals and photography magazines of the time, e.g., US Camera, Popular Photography and Modern Photography. After high school, I moved from Michigan back to the Washington D.C./Northern Virginia area. I attended both Northern Virginia Community College and the Corcoran School of Art. NOVA and Corcoran had excellent photo programs and instructors. After NOVA, I worked in a camera store in D.C. for a bit and started to network with the pros of the area. I assisted three well known D.C. photographers primarily Ross Chapple (who is an excellent architectural and interiors photographer), Fred Kligman (lifestyle and advertising) and David Sharpe (Studio). My real education in photography started when I left the assisting nest and ventured out into the editorial and commercial world.
You make photographs in various genres. Which genre do you enjoy shooting the most?
I have always been an outside type of guy. I love shooting aerials and landscapes. I am drawn to the interaction of mankind and nature. As long as I am outside or in a light-filled environment, I am happy. For personal work, I enjoy long-term projects. For the past few years, I have been venturing into the far north. Last year, it was Newfoundland. This year, I am headed to Greenland, Northern Ontario and the Faroe Islands.
You are one of the few photographers who capture amazing and brilliant aerial images. How did you get into shooting aerial?
I have always been interested in the abstract image. I started shooting aerials for a personal bird project that I took to National Geographic. I was hooked. National Geographic liked what I produced and encouraged me. That was a different time and I doubt they have that sort of flexibility these days. I shot aerials of a rookery. For me, it was the perfect combination of a unique perspective (at the time) and the desire to show the world a new viewpoint.
How is making aerial images easier or harder than photographing people or landscape?
Aerials can be as hard or easy as you like. The mechanics of it are not that different than landscapes. However, knowledge of airspace, weather, and working with a pilot are critical. Of course, there is also handling cameras with gyroscopes attached and aerial safety considerations. It is easier to shoot aerials now — just load up in to a helo, put your camera on auto and hope for the best. It is a team effort and you are working in a fluid environment that is often bone-chillingly cold. Last year, I shot a part of a car-campaign from a Twin-Star helicopter over Central Park at 9500 feet. The temps on the ground were 16 degrees and at altitude they were minus 79 plus the windchill from an open door with sixty knots of forward airspeed. You have to know what you are doing and it helps to understand aviation. (I have a pilot’s license.)
Do you use a drone?
Yes, I recently was granted my FAA 333 exemptions for drones. Great little machines for what I would call ‘low and slow’ aerials. Drones work in an area often called “deadman’s curve,” that super low altitude where it is dangerous for a helicopter in case of a power failure. Recently I photographed two solar farms in North Carolina with my drone and it was perfect for showing the expanse of the farm. Being able to place the drone at twenty or sixty feet above the panels was an excellent way to tell the client’s story without the expense of lifts or of a helicopter.
Have drones changed photography?
No, I do not think so. It still comes down to knowledge and vision. I use a mix of gear to get the viewpoints needed for the client. Everything from a twelve foot Gitzo Beast of a tripod, to a twenty-five foot mast that I use a Cam Ranger with to drones to 120 foot snorkel lifts. Drones have made the aerial perspective a little bit easier for people to achieve.
Are there any photographers who inspire you?
Not really. I tend to be more influenced by travel, graphic designers and writers. I have several friends who are stellar photographers and their work sometimes haunts me because it is so good. Check out the landscapes of Julian Calverley, extreme weather images by Eric Meola, and Jackie Roman’s look at Rock and Roll in New York City.
If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?
Don’t listen to the internet gurus for advice. Find your own vision by reading, writing and exploring the world. I feel that there is way too much copying of other photographers’ work these days. My friend Julian studies great British painters and you can see the influence (somewhat) in his work. The best advice I can give is to say true to yourself and explore your own vision. It comes back to that old saying: ”question the source.”
Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Cameron!
For more information about Cameron, visit his website. All images © Cameron Davidson.