If you’re from Washington state, you’d be just as likely to see Prentis Drew on stage as a jazz drummer as you would be spotting him behind the wheel of his vintage Jaguar convertible sports car. Or, you might possibly find this modern day renaissance man patiently waiting for his stop on a bus headed to downtown Seattle, full Nikon gear in tow. A retired Boeing and Honeywell engineering manager, Prentis humbly describes himself as “an everyman photographer with a lot of learning to do“. 2 Guys Photo is pleased to introduce its readers to Prentis Drew. Again.
You may recall that we featured the amazing story (see here) of Prentis as a 13 year old who had an incredible experience, traveling around the globe for 66 days with his parents. Then, later in life, he painstakingly restored the photos from the trip and became somewhat of an internet sensation. The photos are wonderful… the story an inspiration to wanderlust photographers everywhere.
Well, it turns out that Prentis Drew is also an excellent photographer. Here’s his photographic story and a sample of his work.
2 Guys Photo: How did you first get started?
I have always been around cameras. My watershed event was the around the around the world trip as a boy that was featured here on 2 Guys Photo a while back. I took photography classes in high school which included darkroom work. I had a darkroom for a short while but found it too expensive for a starving student.
When I started my engineering career and finally had some money, I invested in a Canon system and photographed during my many travels on business and for pleasure here and abroad. I mostly shot slide film. I finally wore out that camera when Nikon came out with their N65 film kit for a very reasonable price. That is what started my collection of Nikon lenses and once I started collecting lenses I was pretty much stuck with Nikon, which is not a bad thing. Then the D70 came out. Oh my! The digital era has changed everything. Having the ability to see the results of a shot instantly accelerates the learning process by leaps and bounds. Also not having the expense of film frees me to experiment where I might have held back with film knowing the cost of every shutter release. I haven’t gone back to film since.
2 Guys Photo: What do you most like to photograph and why… and how would you describe your style?
I don’t tend to concentrate on any one subject. I find the world a wealth of photographic opportunities. I would say my style is “opportunistic.” I never know when the right moment will occur and I strive to have my camera with me when it does. Of course when traveling it is a target rich environment and I love to travel. Sometimes I just like to take the bus to downtown Seattle and see what shows itself for a shot. I am fortunate to live next door to a nature reserve wetlands park. I always seem to find something new to shoot there every time I go and I have walked that park for years.
2 Guys Photo: Our readers like us to ask… what’s in your bag?
I am very pleased with the Nikon D90 body which I have been using since it was first introduced. I upgraded from a D70 for the larger pixel count (allowing more cropping) and the larger LCD to preview shots but got much more than that in the bargain. Nikon has continued to offer “upgrades” for the D90 but I still consider it to be a design “sweet spot” that for a crop sensor body hasn’t significantly been improved upon. Generally it is a better camera than I am a photographer. So until I bump into limitations of the camera I will continue using it and I may wear it out before that happens. Because the D90 is an older model I think someone looking for a great deal on a very capable DSLR body should snap one up while they are still available.
Lenses are another story. I’m thinking of joining lens anonymous. It is an addiction of sorts and an expensive habit as well. We all usually begin with the “kit lens” that comes with the camera. They tend to be amazingly good for the relatively low price. However as I continued to practice the art and began to collect lenses I found that really good lenses made a very significant difference in the images I took. The camera after all is primarily a lens. The camera body is really secondary when it comes to getting high quality images. Fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be) the D90 will accept the new and older model Nikon lenses. I now have 9 different lenses and each one has its unique attribute. Of the Nikon lenses I have the 20mm f2.8D, the 35mm f/1.8, a 50mm f/1.4D, an older 35-70mm f2.8D, the 105mm f/2.8D macro lens, the 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR super zoom, the 80-400mm f4.5-5.6D VR birder lens, and finally the strange and wonderful 10.5mm f2.8 fisheye. To round out the collection I have the Sigma 10-20 f/4-5.6 wide angle lens. Before you think I robbed a bank to get all of those lenses you should know that I purchased almost all of them used on EBay. There is a very active trade on lenses on line and there are great deals to be had. In addition lenses are like money in the bank because you can usually sell them for pretty much what you paid.
So which is the lens I use most often? It depends on the shooting objectives. For general walk around I gravitate to the old 35-70mm zoom. It is a fast and very sharp lens with a modest zoom and yields great color. I would say it is the lens that is usually on the camera to start with. But if I am going for nature shots the 80-400mm is the lens of choice. For interior shots and music venues the fast prime lenses come into play. Landscape…wide angle. The 105mm macro doubles as a close-up lens and a killer portrait lens. The fisheye is just for fun and for some unusual perspectives. But when it comes to travel there is nothing like the all purpose 18-200mm super zoom. It isn’t particularly fast and there are sharper lenses, but you can’t beat it for convenience.
2 Guys Photo: Which photographers most inspire you?
Art Wolfe’s work knocks me out with his epic landscapes but of course he has a large budget to travel all over the place taking photos. Most of us can’t aspire to his life of photography. The photos that most grab my attention are from the many photographers that take portraits of famous people that are published occasionally in magazines like The New Yorker. Portrait photography I find to be the most challenging and I study those photographs intently. It is all about light. Once I came to appreciate the light in photographs I find myself studying photos that are all around me, in magazines, even in advertisements. There is a wealth of information to be gleaned from those images.
2 Guys Photo: What inspires you to shoot?
Color, lines, patterns, situations that tell a story, flora and fauna, weather, and above all interesting light.
2 Guys Photo: What do you do when you hit the wall?
I put a single prime lens on the camera and go out leaving the rest of the kit (particularly the zoom lenses) at home. The macro lens in particular inspires me to look for small things that I would otherwise not notice. That is true of all the prime lenses. Each one offers a different point of view. When I’m really stuck I bring out the fisheye. Now we are talking a really different point of view!
I joined Scott Kelby’s “World Wide Photo Walk” last year and found much inspiration comparing photos from fellow photographers who shot in the same general area of Seattle for an afternoon. It is a great thing to do and I would like to do it again this year.
2 Guys Photo: Where do you display your work?.
I have put together some print portfolios that are coffee table books in my house. I have some picture frames that I use to display an ever changing recent favorite. My computer “wallpaper” is usually something from a recent shoot. But mostly I enjoy sharing my photos on Smugmug (see here).
2 Guys Photo: What’s next?
Practice, practice, practice and keep on shooting. I want to work a lot more on my post processing skills and spend more time developing my skills in portraiture. I also have a closet full of slides and negatives from my film days that I plan to mine for gems using my film scanner. That is a long term rainy day kind of endeavor and we have lots of rainy days here in the Pacific Northwest.
2 Guys Photo: What advice do you have for a photographer who is just starting out or someone who wants to improve their skills?
The resources available today on the Internet are fantastic for new and experienced photographers alike. Sites like this one and the many forums on www.dpreview.com are a wealth of information and ideas. Books on photography can be useful as well. Scott Kelby’s “Digital Photography” series is very good. Some of my other favorites are “Landscape Within.” by David Ward, “Light Science & Magic.” by Fil Hunter, et. al., and “The Photographer’s Eye,” by Michael Freeman.
With these resources the photographer can develop his or her photographic eye to learn what separates a regular old snapshot from an artistic photograph. Of course artistic photographs can be taken with very simple point and shoot cameras but have limited control of the resulting image, particularly in difficult lighting situations. If someone starting out wants to go beyond snapshot photography he or she should obtain a camera that allows user control of shutter speed, aperture, ISO and focus point. Then turn off the automatic mode forever (except for when you hand your camera to a waiter to photograph you a memorable dinner). Do a lot of shooting and pay attention to the settings that work and those that don’t. The modern digital camera with its instant feedback is the ultimate teaching tool.
Finally, strive to post some of your photos on a photography forum on-line and invite constructive criticism. I can think of no better way to advance one’s craft than getting feedback from other photographers.
2 Guys Photo: Is there anything else about you that readers should know about you to better understand your work and style?
I think the practice of photography opens one’s eyes to the world around them. It has helped me to really “see” and appreciate the beauty around me that would otherwise go unnoticed, to stop and really look at the world. For me it has been a life changing endeavor.
Posted by Rey
Wonderful! I was so interested in reading your around the world trip, so it is great to see the ‘follow up’ to that and see your photography today. I didn’t realize that you had a smugmug website, so I will be visiting that! Love those cherry trees. 🙂
Wow! A very inspiring photographer. thanks for sharing this Rey!
Having seen a fair amount of “quick” shots of dancers, the band you play in, etc, and an outstanding set of promo pictures of the band singer, it’s a kick to see the “real” photo man at work. Very impressive, but after 30+ years of being around you, I’d expect as much.
Great interview and photos. I particularly like the dragonfly photo as I was out on a pond the other day and tried to capture some dragonfly shots… they do hover for a couple of seconds, but I must be even slower than that :0)! I only got one photo I deemed worthy and it really wasn’t special to be honest… I tried with a 200mm zoom and with a 18mm wide…. what were your settings for the shot above? You mentioned 400mm? Thanks. Rodney
Thanks for your comments. For the dragonfly shot I used my 80-400 zoomed to 175mm. If I had gone any longer I couldn’t have kept the subject in the field of view very easily so your 200mm should be fine if you want to try again. Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. This image is cropped from a larger image and like you is the only one of about 10 shots that I could use. The dragonfly was about 10 feet away and kept going around in the same pattern so it sort of posed for me multiple times, but only for a second each time. It was in full sun so my ISO was 200. The shot is 1/000 and f5, as wide as that lens would go at that length which isolated the subject nicely from the background. The shooting information is available on most of my Smugmug photos by hovering your cursor in the image and selecting “i.” Best Regards, Prentis
Thanks Prentis…. I will check out your site and hover over the photos!
These photos are absolutely amazing. The composition of the blue heron is nothing short of spectacular! The camera is magical, but the person behind it has a true gift.