Field Test; On Location With David X. Tejada

Through the viewfinder David X. Tejada saw Bart Simpson strangling Saddam Hussein.

"It was at the time of the first Gulf War, and I was shooting at a mining site in Nevada," David says. "I've got a 300mm lens on the camera, and I'm directing a surveyor out in the field by walkie-talkie. I'm having him look through his surveying scope. Then his vest parted and I see he's wearing a white T-shirt with Bart Simpson strangling Saddam Hussein. I thought, well, from this day on, I'll be bringing primary color T-shirts along on the job."

He later decided to throw in some brightly colored slickers, too.

All Photos © 2005, David X. Tejada, All Rights Reserved

David's an industrial and corporate photographer who specializes in annual reports, and since he started his Denver-based business in 1983 he's handled everything from boardroom portraits of the guys in the ties to on-site shots of the hardhats hard at work.

What he likes most about his job is the creative freedom it offers. More often than not his annual report clients have concepts in mind, not shot lists in hand. "They may want images to illustrate a capital asset they have or a service they provide," David says, "and then it's my job to create something that will illustrate that concept for them. Mostly, after 22 years doing it, people say, `I need you to go in and make some pretty pictures that we'll design around.' And that's what happens. I create a variety of images and the designer or the client finds a way to use 'em."

Easy as pie. Go to wonderfully photogenic spots like construction sites, manufacturing plants, and mining excavations and make "pretty pictures." So, you see, the "field test" of our title has nothing to do with the equipment David uses. What's being tested is David's creativity and adaptability, and his prime resource is composition--simply how he places elements within the frame, and how skillfully he excludes those things he doesn't want you to see.

David says that although he's seeing things in three dimensions, he has to think two dimensionally because the end result, the photograph, will be a two-dimensional object. "I use a long lens quite a bit in order to flatten things out to get more of a two-dimensional feel to things."

The rest is a matter of balancing elements, light, and contrast within that two-dimensional world. Viewing David's photographs, you see recurring ideas and themes in how he uses curves, angles, framing devices, silhouettes, cropping, and color.

But before any of that comes into play, he has to know where to stand. "When I arrive at a location the first thing I need to do is figure out my orientation. Where's the sun? Where is it headed? Where will it be when I want to shoot? Everyone wants to shoot in early morning or late afternoon light, but so much depends on where you are. Way up north in the winter months I may have good light all day long. If I've got foul weather--foggy, rainy--I'm going to focus on things that don't show any sky, and then I can boot up the contrast. In the old days I'd push the film or use warming filters; now I'll do it digitally with the camera's white balance or by making adjustments after the shoot. Like the vertical blue tank picture and the white pipes and vapor--both were taken at a liquid natural gas plant in Savannah, Georgia, on a day when it was pouring rain. I didn't show the sky in either photo, and I warmed up both of them by adjusting color balance and adding contrast."