Southern California Moments
Q&A

'I try to capture the humbling, awesome power of nature'

A conversation with Doug Santo, photographer of the day of #SoCalMoments

Reader Doug Santo caught our eye with his stunning images of Yosemite National Park and California natural landmarks. His black and white landscapes show the raw wildness of a scene in a way that color doesn’t, he says, while reflecting the photographer’s admiration of Ansel Adams.

A Pasadena resident and engineering geologist, Santo works on the side as a photographer specializing in architectural photography and as an independent author/publisher in the Western genre. He has completed two historical novels with a third in progress.

Describe your photographic style.

Contrast, saturation, clarity. These aspects of an image separate the exceptional from the mundane. Point of view and framing are important, but secondary. That may not be a recognizable style, but it is what I do. I guess you could call it realism pushed to the edge.

Who inspires you?

I have many inspirations; in photography, it is Ansel Adams and Julius Shulman.

The Ansel Adams photograph that first caught my eye was his shot titled “Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada from Manzanar.” A framed print still hangs in my den. At once, the image captures the broad expanse of the Sierra landscape and the close up physical nature of the rocks and land. This image had a significant effect on how I viewed nature photography, and what could be achieved with a camera and a careful eye. I have aspired to this level of photography in my own work.

Finally, and most importantly, inspiration for everything I do comes from my wife of 22 years, Lesley.

When did you start photographing nature?

I have photographed nature for most of my adult life. My early photography was to document climbing routes or favorite hiking spots. I cared little for the nuances of a good photograph. Later in life, I took serious interest in photography as a skill and art. Digital photography made advanced photographic techniques accessible to everybody and it renewed my interest.

I photograph nature because it is what we have. The natural beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains cleanses the mind and refreshes the spirit. I try to capture the humbling, awesome power of nature.

Do you have a favorite photo you've taken? Why do you like it?

I have many favorites. The photo that comes to mind is one that I took at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, in Los Angeles. I called it “Corner.” I am not a religious person, but I am drawn to religious architecture.

The photograph was taken from the exterior of the building near the main entrance of the sanctuary and highlights the vertical acute intersection between two huge walls of concrete. I converted the image to black and white using a heavy red filter.

The filter caused the concrete to go white, like stacked blocks of limestone, and caused the cloudless sky to go almost black—I love the contrast. The building is huge. A small door, stair rail and benches provide human scale at the foot of the soaring walls and mirror the stark contrast between building and sky. The human installations at the base of the building also lend a surreal aspect to the image.

What do you carry in your camera bag/kit?

For most nature photography, I carry two camera bodies, two lenses, a tripod, and a remote shutter release. My main body is a D700. I use a D200 as backup. The lenses are Nikkor 14-24/2.8 and Nikkor 24-70/2.8. For bird photography, I use a Nikkor 300/2.8, sometimes with a 1.4x teleconverter.

The 14-24/2.8 is the sharpest lens I own and a personal favorite. The 24-70/2.8 is the lens I use most often for all types of work. I use a Manfrotto 475B tripod with a Manfrotto 3047 three-way tilting head.

For more of Doug Santo's work, visit his Flickr page.

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Each week, we're featuring photos of Southern California and California submitted by readers. Share your photos on our Flickr page or tag your photos with #socalmoments or #californiamoments on Instagram and Twitter. Follow us on Twitter or visit latimes.com/socalmoments for more on this photo series.

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