David Kaplan a man on a mountain

Mount Nageli: Stars over the Alps

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Recently we shared a photo by David Kaplan on our Facebook page and it got a lot of attention, so we decided to ask him a few questions about his craft. David is a photographer from Switzerland with a love for the Alps and HDR photography. David has to deal with sub-zero temperatures and heavy gear, not to mention the climb to the peak of the Alps in order to take stunning images like those shown below.

Moon and Venus Over Switzerland

What was your first camera?

It was a Cosina Hi-Lite with a 55mm f/2.8 lens. I got it from my father when I was 7.

What kind of camera do you shoot with, and why did you choose it?

I’m using a Nikon D800. There’s nothing better for my kind of photography. Amazing resolution and good high ISO values for night-time-shots, and all this in a more-or-less compact body. And don’t forget the Nikon 14-24mm – I’m using it 90% of the time.

Who inspires you, did you have a mentor?

I guess it was mostly my father. Nowadays he’s shooting very different stuff than me,  but I would never have gotten into photography without his example.

Self portrait of David taken Gries Lake in Switzerland

What got you into HDR photography?

I wasn’t fully satisfied with the dynamic range of my camera. My photos just didn’t look the same as seen by my own eyes. So I tried several different methods to increase the dynamic range, like Active De-Lighting, gradient filters – and HDR. The last technique was the one that achieved the best result and that worked on the most occasions. So I decided to always use HDR because it’s important for a photographer to have a consistent style.

What kind of challenges does shooting in the mountains present?

There are many different types of challenges in the mountains. Most of them do not have anything to do with photography. The most challenging thing might be the decision of how much equipment you want to carry. I know that I cannot carry more than about 60 pounds over a difference in altitude of 6000 ft. So it’s nearly impossible to have my camera, a sleeping bag and a tent up on a summit when I travel alone. Whenever possible I don’t sleep when I stay a night on a summit. In winter time it’s hardly possible to survive a night on 6000 ft or more without at least a sleeping bag. But you don’t need a tent if weather’s going to be good. So for every trip there are many decisions to take.

Fence in the snow. Photo by David Kaplan.

What came first, your passion for photography or your passion for the mountains?

It was photography. I always preferred landscape photography. But I soon realized that flat landscapes aren’t that interesting. You need to have a higher viewpoint and interesting landscape marks for a fascinating picture. So nothing comes closer than going into the mountains. And in the meantime I fell in love with the mountains – even if I haven’t got my camera with me.

When you go out, do you have a plan of what type of photograph you are going to shoot, or do you let the environment inspire you?

Yeah, I usually exactly plan where I want to shoot. I spend hours in Google Earth to find the best spots. There are lots of things to take into consideration: position of sunset/sunrise, field of view, position of moonrise/moonset, artificial light sources, position of the Milky Way and so on. Sure, Google Earth isn’t the holy grail of getting the best spots. But it’s a good tool to get a nice starting position. But sometimes the best photos are the ones that occurred spontaneously.

What is in your camera bag?

Usually I’m taking my D800, a 14-24mm f/2.8, a 24-70mm f/2.8, a polarizer, nd filters, a Feisol tripod, several batteries and memory cards, a headlight, walking poles, lots to drink, good clothes and sometimes something to eat, a sleeping bag or a tent. Always as few things as possible.

Survival trip at 10,000 ft: The tent. Taken in the Swiss Alps.

How did you make the jump to full time photography?

I’m actually a software developer. Photography is for me more like a mix of hobby and moonlighting. I don’t want to be a full-time photographer because I couldn’t do what I want then. Status quo is just great because I do what I like the most and I’m still able to make a little auxiliary income.

What project are you currently working on?

I’m planning to go to a very nice 9000 ft. summit. But it’s going to be difficult to get there this year. Always bad weather at the weekends and lots of work to do in between. It would be too bad if I can’t start this trip until 2013.

Klausen: Sunset on field. Photo by David Kaplan.

Do you have any tips for people just getting into photography?

Yes: Just keep on going. Don’t give up when you realize that your photography just sucks. You will go through there if you just go ahead!

Where is the one place in the world you would love to photography?

South Georgia. I would love to stay a few days on the island! But it’s about impossible for a non-scientific reason to get permission for that. And even if I had the permission it’s just incredibly expensive. The cheaper alternative might be Greenland.

If you were to choose one of your photos to be remembered for, which would it be and why?

I do not publish my photos to get famous. So I do not feel the urge to be remembered by anyhow. I’m just glad when I can show people how beautiful god has made our planet. There is so much more to see than most people know. Even in your homeland!


Wells Gray Provincial Park. Photo by David Kaplan.

Thanks to David for taking the time to talk to us, you can check out David’s website at Kplan.ch and his flickr. If you have any suggestions for other photographers you would like us to interview, tell us in the comments.