Every Image Has a Story


David Downs

It was our last day in Rome. We spent 3 weeks bouncing around from Venice to Lake Como, Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast, and now, Rome. There was a church not far from our Airbnb and, because I HAD to shoot just one more church, I was hurrying along the sidewalk and rushed by an elderly man with a significant beard standing quietly in a small alcove with hat in hand. At a point roughly 50 yards past him, I suddenly knew I had to go back. Something about him resonated in my mind and so I listened to the call of my inner voice.

After returning and grabbing several images of him and dropping 20 euros into his hat, I resumed my rush to the church. Once again, though, I turned back after realizing I still didn’t have what I needed. Upon my return, I positioned myself where I had first noticed the man and began capturing images once again. After taking 4 or 5 more exposures, I felt I had what I needed. When I glanced at the gentleman, he indicated he was getting uncomfortable.

While taking those last images, I could clearly see the B&W portrait that would emerge from the RAW material I had captured. So, church forgotten, I returned to our lodging to pack for the long flight home, knowing there was something special on my card. This image received an Imaging Excellence Award at PPA and received Best Portrait of a Man in this year’s TPPA Competition.

While driving through the beautiful landscapes north of Phoenix, we found ourselves on a curvy blacktop road, winding through a fall draped Peeple’s Valley.

Cottonwood Stables
We were returning from the completion of a bucket list item for me, an Ironman Triathlon. The successful conclusion of the training for the event resulted in the self-appointed reward of a new, “modern” DSLR, a Nikon D5100. While driving through the beautiful landscapes north of Phoenix, we found ourselves on a curvy blacktop road, winding through a fall draped Peeple’s Valley. The cottonwoods were glowing yellow with a patchy blue sky above and green hills beyond.

After 20 minutes of jaw-dropping scenes, I knew I had to turn around after speeding past an incredible view of trees close to the road with fence lines and distant hills as a backdrop. I quickly grabbed what I would now call a very poor raw image. No, I wouldn’t even call it that because, at this point, I didn’t even know about RAW files. So, I grabbed a poorly-framed JPEG with a crop sensor camera. It didn’t matter. The RAW material was there in the image and, with some editing expertise, I was able to take that RAW material and, with some polishing, created a piece of art worthy of Imaging Excellence by PPA.

Metro – Washington, D.C.
Upon first entering the Metro station in Virginia, just across the river from the Mall near the Nation’s Capitol, I knew I would be back with a camera (and a tripod, which I later discovered isn’t allowed). It had so many elements that make a great image: leading lines, patterns, complementary colors, textures. It didn’t matter that my vision (listening to the voice inside) looked substantially different visually. The structure was there for me to build on. Late that evening, after midnight, I made my way back to the location that drew me to a halt earlier.

I captured multiple images but rushed through the process as I felt odd in such a normally busy place with no one around. After taking a few shots from up near the entrance, I descended to the platform and went to the far end to capture some of the amazing patterns created by the roof arcing overhead. Shortly afterwards I heard yelling from the direction I had come from and realized a guard was rapidly approaching. I was in trouble. No tripods in the subway…. got it. I was glad to get out with my camera gear and at least one image that, in my opinion, could be transformed into the vision I had seen the day before. This image was awarded Imaging Excellence at PPA.

Poetic Solitude
Leading workshops is one of my absolute favorite things to do. I love putting other photographers in a location with a lot of potential at the best time of day we can manage. Then, I do my best to help them “see” what is there. Sometimes it takes multiple trips or multiple images.

I’ve been to White Sands several times, and this past August was the first time a true windstorm moved through kicking up a lot of dust and creating wonderful soft outlines along the edges of the dunes.

It was thrilling to see what I had dreamed of each time after preparing for the journey to the White Sands. I added some vibrance and made sure to maintain texture in the shadows.

For a finishing touch, I took a lesson from Joe McNally, who told me in last year’s DPS about needing a person in my image. The tiny, silhouetted individual in the distance is my business partner and that element in the image was taken in 2022 when we were there together. This image was awarded Imaging Excellence by PPA.

Lonely Man
The long hallway echoed with hundreds of footsteps. It was about midnight, and I watched from the second floor of the underground tunnel connecting the train station and the Oculus with the One World Tower.

I knew the image I wanted and had seen it two days earlier during a quick visit to the area. Now, I just needed all these people to go away. I thought that by midnight there would be far fewer people in the tunnel. Only one was necessary. Finally, over an hour later, a small group of people passed beneath me leaving one man walking toward the far end of the tunnel. His footsteps echoed in the cavernous space. I captured his image, immortalizing his lonely stroll to who knows where. This image was selected for the cover of my book, “A Voice Expressed,” and will always remain one of my favorites.

Barcelona Harbor at Sunset, Florence Nights, and Ufizzi
After becoming more aware of my artistic voice, I’ve begun trying new techniques and exploring different visual representations. Barcelona Harbor, along with some similar images, represents my efforts at portraying, through ICM, an impression of a moment.

It allows the VIEWER’S imagination to control the end result rather than mine. The piece becomes more collaborative, requiring effort by both the maker/creator and the participating viewer to reach the artistic completion. Even then, it’s never finished as the interpretation can continue to morph and reform over time. To extend this idea, I collaborated with a local painter who took two of my ICM images printed on canvas frames and painted over sections of them to bring out details, colors and textures.

Caddo Color
This is one of my favorite images from one of my favorite places to shoot for fall color. Most folks envision the brilliant colors of hardwoods when considering their autumn images, but Caddo Lake can provide similar color tones in a much more unique setting. Throw in the wonderful opportunities for bird life and it’s no wonder all our fall trips there sell out every year. Often, we’ll have a person come back year after year due to the beauty, peace, and emotional impact of the environment. Take one boat ride on a crisp, cool morning across a mirrored surface with the sun setting the morning on fire, and you’ll never forget your trip to Caddo.

The images were very popular at my show and sold quickly. So, last January, I began entering Print Competitions at Dallas PPA. The entire process has been enlightening, frustrating, rewarding, emotional… and extremely educational. It opened my eyes to my own work. I can now see the forest… AND the trees.

To ANYONE wanting to improve their photography, my advice is to begin competing. It makes you more critical of your own work (as if we, as artists, weren’t already our worst critics) but in a good logical way. It will help you become a better photographer… and artist. I challenge anyone to give it a sincere effort for one year and see if you don’t walk away with more confidence in your photography and your editing.

At the very least, it will help you focus on the areas of your photography and editing skills which need the most work. Most importantly, I believe, if you do this through a club or affiliated group with PPA or TPPA, you will build great friendships to support you when you are down and celebrate with you when you are successful. Let’s face it, for most of us, our spouses will be glad we have someone else to talk to about photography.
My book, “A Voice Expressed – The First Ten Years,” is available via my website. There are two editions. Let me know if you want more info.

I’m tentatively scheduled to do another show next year in June and it will likely be a foreshadowing of my next book. I’m occasionally asked to present a talk and I’ve been doing this for three or four years. It’s entitled “Exploring The Artist Within.”

It is about SEEING what you’re going to create BEFORE you ever take the shot. Sometimes we envision something that isn’t a place or a thing as much as a feeling, an emotion, or a mood. We are motivated to share that with others because we want THEM to feel what we feel, to experience the moment of awe, joy, love, or perhaps melancholy.

The challenge becomes to create that moment utilizing a piece of metal, electronics and glass together with learned skills in editing. For some, the camera is the easy part. For others, it’s the editing. For a rare few, it’s effortless. Not so much for me. It’s taken years of practice and probably several hundred thousand discarded images to get where I am now. I can capture a good enough image occasionally and I’m finally reaching some minor level of competency with editing. The key to all of it, however, is listening… listening to the artist within. Like “seeing” the Gentleman Beggar before I had even taken the image, I could SEE the possibilities… well, the artist within me could. I just had to listen. I could have ignored the voice, ran to the church, and taken 100 more images of a ceiling that looked a lot like the other 50 churches I had photographed.

But, no, I listened. Then I explored that subject my artistic vision was focused on. I kept photographing, looking for the right capture, the right moment, the right angle, until I felt I had what I needed… what the artist within needed. Listen to your own internal artist and capture images that you can convert into your own Voice Expressed.

David Downs, of Plano, Texas, is a Certified Professional Photographer known locally and across the country for his beautiful landscapes and images of nature. He has been capturing images for 12 years and has seen success through the sale of his work as well as his educational programs and workshops. David had 4 of his images make it into the distinguished group of images found in the Professional Photographers Association Imaging Excellence Collection and won a silver medal in the Texas Professional Photographers Association competition. Learn more about David Downs at daviddowns.com.