Interview: Photographer David Hibbard

The Sky Beyond -- by David Hibbard
The Sky Beyond -- by David Hibbard

I met landscape photographer David Hibbard in 2003 during one of Brigitte Carnochan's portfolio workshops. David consistently presented beautiful prints of his quiet, contemplative coastal landscapes. I was impressed with both the images, and his meticulous craftsmanship. Eventually the conversation turned to workflow -- David was shooting slide film with a Pentax 6x7 camera, scanning on an Imacon, and using either Epson or Lightjet output for prints (depending on the print size). Recently David has added a Canon 5D digital SLR to his toolset. I currently shoot with a 5D and 6x7 film as well, and David agreed to conduct an interview to talk about cameras, workflow, and his forthcoming book. The interview was conducted via IM on 3/5/2008.

Joe: Let's start with your Latest Work gallery - the abstract, moody street work is a departure from the more quiet coastal and forest landscape images I've seen from you in the past. Is this work a product of your recent plunge into the digital world?

David: It really is a return to work I did when I was much younger and just getting into photography. Back then, I lived in SF and wandered around the city a lot, armed with my trusty Nikon F. Acquiring my Canon 5D brought me back to that type of work. It is a great camera for taking quick, visual impressions. The image-stabilized lens I got with the camera helps a lot in that regard.

Joe: Sounds like you're using the 5D for street and travel photography, and sticking to your Pentax 6x7 workflow for serious landscape work?

David: Yes, that is how and I working now. I love the resolution of fine detail that I get with the 6x7 system, and that is what I need for my landscape work. The 5D does not quite match that level of resolution. Although I love my Pentax 6x7, and I love working with film, I don't know how much longer I'll stay with that. I'm very tempted by medium format digital.

Joe: Your largest print size is 32x40 from a 6x7 chrome. How large have you printed from the 5D, and have you done side by side testing against 6x7?

David: I've gone as large as 13x19 so far and I may try some bigger enlargements soon -- maybe 17x22 or even larger. I haven't done any side by side comparisons yet. That's probably because I tend to use one system or the other when I'm in the field -- but not both at once!

Joe: You're wiser than I am - I've been shooting with a 5D and a Mamiya 7II in the field, and carrying two tripods hurts after awhile. I've found I don't like printing bigger than 20x30 from the 5D.

David: How do you decide then which camera to use? I did take both systems down to Point Lobos the other week and having to decide which to use drove me crazy.

Joe: That's part of what I was going to ask you! I've been immersed in digital since 2002, and only last year started shooting more 6x7, due to the long exposure advantages and look of Fuji Tungsten slide film. So I'm mostly shooting 6x7 at night. My choice is easier because I have a full 35mm digital kit, but only one lens for the Mamiya 7II (a 50mm).

David: It sounds like you have a specific reason for using 6x7. I would think that the decision as to when to use it would be fairly easy for you.

Joe: Yes. But seeing the results on the light table makes me want to use it more. Even though scanning gets tedious, and paying $10 per roll for the combined cost of film and processing can add up.

Have you been keeping an eye on the 1DS Mark III and rumors of a new big megapixel Nikon dSLR? Seems like a more affordable alternative to medium format digital.

David: I'll start with your last question and and then get to your previous points. Yes, I am keeping up with what's been happening in the industry. The 1DS Mark III looks tempting to me, but now that it's out, I want to see what Canon will offer as a successor to the 5D. I'm impressed by what I've heard about Nikon's D3 and its high ISO capability -- if Nikon can retain that performance in a 22-24 MP full frame camera, that would be a truly impressive achievement.

Like you, I love looking medium format chromes on the light table. Even though I've been shooting medium format for over 15 years, the experience of viewing film that I've just shot is still magic for me. On the other hand, scanning and filing chromes is a huge time sink for me that is only getting worse. This is what attracts me to an all-digital workflow. If I do get a system to replace my Pentax 6x7, it will probably be a Phase 1 39 MP with a Mamiya 645 body and lenses. Yes, I'm certain that the 1 DS Mark III is an awesome camera, but I would like more resolving power than I think it can offer.

Joe: I'll be curious to see howthe 22-24MP cameras hold up against 6x7 in a 32x40" or larger print.

Let's shift gears -- I'd like to hear more about your forthcoming book, Natural Gestures. Still scheduled for late Spring/Early Summer?

David: I hoping for late Spring, but Summer may be more realistic at the rate I am going.

Joe: How many images -- and are you doing the design work yourself?

David: The book will be a monograph of my best -- or what I think is my best -- landscape work. I'm planning for 30 to 40 images at this point and will make the final cut soon. I'm also including a short essay on the craft of landscape photography, based on my experiences in the field. Gitta Carnochan is going to write an introduction. The book will be approximately 96 pages, 10x10", clothbound -- and yes, I'm doing the design work myself, which means that the design will be relatively straightforward, no fancy layouts or adventurous typography. I will probably publish 250 copies, 50 of which will be a limited edition that includes an original print.

Joe: Will this be published through ModernBook?

David: No. I'm funding and publishing the book myself. I expect that ModernBook will carry it and I'm hoping that they will host a book signing party (I have not asked them about this yet).

Joe: Who will be doing the printing, and what method (inkjet, HP Indigo, etc.)

David: Edition One in Berkeley. They use a high end laser printing process (not sure whether it's HP). The quality is excellent -- I have done some test pages with them.

Joe: I've recently talked to Brad Evans about Edition One, and also Susan Friedman -- both had wonderful things to say. I'll be curious to hear your feedback - I'm about 1-2 years away from a similar process.

Any exciting photography trips planned for later this year?

David: I just got back from Oaxaca. I had a great time there and took a ton of pictures with the 5D. I will have some of these up on my website soon. I have plans to go to Kauai in August. I will probably take the 6x7 system on that trip. I have already a growing body of work from Kauai from previous trips, all done with the 6x7. The subjects I photograph there -- the walls of Waimea Canyon for example -- really benefit from the higher resolution I get from the Pentax. I also have tentative plans to go to the Olympic Peninsula, either this summer or in early fall. That also will be a 6x7 trip.

Joe: Sometimes it's difficult to decide which kit to bring, and with other locations the choice seems clear.

David: Often what determines for me which system to take on a trip is the degree of mobility that I want to have. For example, when I went to Cornwall last year, I knew that I would be doing a lot of hiking and that I wanted to travel light. That made the decision a no-brainer -- it had to be the 5D. Even though I found subjects there with would have been fantastic on 6x7 film, the hassle of schlepping all of that gear around would have been too much. So I went lighter with the Canon and still got some great pics!

Joe: 5D and 24-105/4L IS I take it?

David: Yes, the 24-105/4L was the lens I used most of the time. I also took on that trip the 24 Tilt/Shift 3.5L, which I used for landscape and architectural subjects, and the 180 3.5L Macro (a bit of a lug, but I lugged it) which I used for close up studies of stone walls and hedgerows. (I knew in advance that I would encounter those subjects. That made the decision to take the 180 -- it's weight notwithstanding -- easier.)

Joe: I appreciate you taking the time for an interview - and your willingness to do it via IM.

David: Joe, this has been both educational and fun.