Interview with Grant Twiss
Grant Twiss is a local outdoor photographer who was born in Evansville, IN and moved to Harrisburg, IL at a young age. After attending Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg, and then the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, he has now started a family in Harrisburg and continues to focus on landscape/nature photography.
EM: Tell us about the moment you decided you wanted to take photos.
Grant: I've taken lots of pictures with cheap cameras/phones, etc, and I think I've always been conscious of composition, though I was entirely ignorant of other aspects of photography. I do know that there is a picture I took, last May (2018), that made me think twice about maybe investing in some gear and going deeper into the tech and art of photography. I took that picture with my phone at Heron Pond. I remember looking at it again and again, and wishing it hadn't been taken with my phone.
EM: People underestimate the cameras we already have but it is hard to replace a proper camera. Do you have any mentors or someone who taught your photography?
Grant: Not really. Google and Youtube, I guess. I took a photography class or seminar or something in high school, I think. My memory of it is very fuzzy. I remember learning about the rule-of-thirds and that we did some dark room work. This was before digital cameras; I thought it seemed intriguing, but the dark room stuff was intimidating.
EM: Do you have any big influences in photography or otherwise?
Grant: I actually haven't thought of myself as a photographer until very recently, so I'm still wading around in this seemingly vast an unending sea of images online, and drawing ideas from them constantly, most of which I have no idea how to execute. I signed up for 500px early on and there are a couple of people on that site that have inspired me; I don't know if they are well known outside of that platform. Michael J. Kochniss who does these ridiculously epic landscape compositions, and Iain Jack who shoots more intimate high contrast forest and flowing water shots.
EM: What appeal did you have to landscape and or outdoor photography?
Grant: I sort of quickly evolved into it. I originally bought my camera to take candid pictures of family events as my daughter was growing up. I was intrigued by the idea of bokeh and bought a fairly fast vintage portrait lens, My first few decent pictures were of my animals. I like to hike and I knew I would take outdoor pics, but I thought it would be mostly flowers, macro work. Then I went out to Giant City with my camera on my lunch break one day and found the Indian Creek waterfall. The whole bluff was entirely covered in icicles. That experience of running into something entirely unexpected out in the forest galvanized my drive to shoot landscapes; I switched to a more wide-angled lens, and became obsessed. I started thinking about promoting the region, especially the Shawnee National Forest, which I feel is quite underrated, and that in turn has turned me into somewhat of an explorer, although I still haven't seen a hundredth of everything there is to see.
EM: What is the key to making a great landscape or outdoor photograph? Do you feel it's the same for other forms of photography?
Grant: There seems to be four primary variables of a photograph: subject matter, light, composition, timing. With some other forms of photography, especially in a studio, you can control most or all of these, but with landscape/outdoor photography, you can really only control the composition, and as a sub-variable of that, perspective. So being thoughtful and creative in regards to perspective and composition are key. Always have your camera with you, too. I can think of many times I wish I had my camera when I saw something extraordinary just going out for a quick drive, or conversely when I took it on a whim and found something very cool that I didn't expect.
EM: Similarly do you have any guiding principles that you follow?
Grant: Learning manual mode on the camera, or at the very least, aperture priority and working your way up to manual exposure. It's important to be in control of all aspects of your exposures and to understand what each adjustment does, especially when working with long exposures, night shots, harsh or dynamic lightning, etc.
In regards to composition, rule of thirds is as important with landscape as any other form of photography. Always use a tripod, whenever you possibly can. They suck to haul around, but they really make a huge difference. Also, give some love to your foreground. With landscapes, I find that the shots I prefer have not only beautiful skies, vistas, or backgrounds, but also something interesting going on right in front of the camera. If you are having trouble getting the foreground in the shot, stitch a panorama from vertical exposures. Natural framing and leading lines can spice things up, and shooting at the right time of day is very important because it's going to affect the color and dynamic of your shots. As I said above, always have your camera with you!
EM: What are the greatest challenges in making great outdoor photography?
Grant: I shoot with prime lenses; I don't own a zoom lens, so I create my own challenge in that regard, but I like the simplicity. Digital cameras seem very sensitive to overexposure. I have had a few good compositions ruined by blown highlights that I didn't see on my LCD screen, usually the light through trees or something like that. I have made a habit of taking multiple exposures of everything. This is good practice, but I find I almost always use an underexposed image and fix anything too dark in post. I still have times where I don't underexpose enough, even trying to; this is mostly due to shooting in harsh light. I've had a hard time getting out at the right time of day; ND filters have been a must!
EM: What are you looking forward to over the next year?
Grant: Oh, man. I am very excited about fall. I hope the weather cooperates and we get some good colors this year. Fall is my favorite time of year, and this will be my first fall with a good camera, so I'm stoked about it!
EM: Would you like to briefly talk about the gear you use?
Grant: I use a Pentax KS2, DSLR. My main hike-around lens is a Pentax-K SMC 28mm f/3.5. It is 41 years old, so it will always be just barely older than me. I've also shot with an vintage Asahi Super-Takumar 28mm f/3.5 (1960s build), and I have a modern Pentax DA 35mm f/2.4 for auto-focus, if I ever need it. For "macro" work, flowers mainly, I either use the Pentax-K 28mm, (which creates some wild bokeh, but usually it's all I have with me) or preferably an Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8. I have a set of Gobe ND filters and a Goya Polarizing filter. I think my tripod is a 62" Vanguard.
EM: Thanks so much to chatting with us. In closing any tips for someone looking to get a start in outdoor photography?
Grant: Keep your gear organized and protected. Buy a weather-sealed cam and lenses. Don't walk a mile or three into the woods without your SD card or extra batteries. Buy a sturdy tripod, use a lens hood, and get some ND filters. Most importantly, be safe!! Landscape subject matter will be around longer than we will. No need to rush things or take chances.