“Years after I am gone, when all my other works are forgotten, I am hoping someone will look at one of my photos and be able, for a moment, to see the scene through the eyes I was using when I captured the image. I have often done that when it comes to one of Ansel Adams’ shots. For a second, I feel like I can witness the moment through his eyes. I am motivated by the thought that perhaps one day someone will do the same with one of mine.”
Milky Way over Mountains at Queenstown – Nikon D810, f/2.8, 30 sec, ISO 3200, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED at 14mm
Snowcapped Reflections, Glenorchy, New Zealand – Nikon D810, f/8 1/125 sec, ISO 64, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70 mm f/2.8G ED at 24mm
Having grown up in a blue-collar manufacturing town in the US, where he believes there was not a great deal of natural beauty, William Toti wandered around the world actively seeking artistry through diverse cultures and nature. He had a lavishing career in engineering, taking him to countries with scenic landscapes that one only sees in postcards. He cites the time he left the technical field, for his passion in photography.
“I have always been torn between the sciences and the arts, creating a bit of a split personality. The first part of my adult life was dedicated to mostly engineering. That job took me all over the world, I lived for a long time in Hawaii, spent over a decade bouncing around Asia and the Pacific, and those experiences caused me to greatly appreciate the beauty of natural landscapes.”
As he got older he found himself becoming less drawn to the technical side of his brain and more towards the artistic side. About four years ago he decided to get serious about photography, enrolling in a series of workshops with noted American landscape photographer Marc Muench. That is where the technical aspects of photography began to intrigue him, and the confluence of the technical with the artistic took hold of his life. “I now try to visit as many beautiful areas of the world as I can.”
Trees and clouds, Bulguk-sa Temple grounds, Gyeongju, Korea – Nikon D800E, f/8, 1/350 sec, ISO 800, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED at 27mm
Pagoda over pond, with reflection – Nikon D750, f/8, 1/60 sec, ISO 100, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR at 70mm
William’s efforts have enabled him to develop a strong relationship with his camera and surroundings. His devotion to nature is seen through his photos, and seem to persist a common linkage between the land he is drawn to and the marks it leaves behind.
“For us Americans, particularly those who grew up in the Midwest, Asia is a land of mystery and enchantment, not just visually, but intellectually as well. Before I became a serious photographer I spent many months over the course of several years in Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and elsewhere. Visually, Asia is full of places with stunning imagery. There is no single image, or even collection of images, that can capture the vast differences in geology, life, and culture that exists there. Japan during the cherry blossom season, bamboo forests in the east, and Hindu and Buddhist temples in south; the list goes on and on.”
As striking imagery of picturesque landscapes become a central theme, it is not hard to find an image that one is deeply drawn to in William’s portfolio. He finds harmony and balance within nature, where his viewers experience a variation of sentiments, struck by artistry of man made and nature’s claim. With Nikon’s D800 series, he says, he was able to achieve great stability in his works.
“I try to produce photographs with a ‘hook’— something memorable that draws the observer in. Prior to the release of the Nikon D800, with its incredible dynamic range, I would occasionally rely on HDR to produce this, reconstructing the dynamic range that was something close to what my eye was seeing. But the problem was after making the HDR photo I found myself trying my best to “de-HDR” it, to minimize that ragged HDR look and feel. This problem was solved by Nikon’s D800 series of cameras. With the D800, then the D800E, and now the D810, I find that I do not have to rely on HDR to capture the full dynamic range of a scene as often anymore— I can capture in a single exposure what used to take three.”
With total immersion, William says it is hard to think about other things when he is “in the moment”. He compares the experience to scuba diving, a great escape to unfamiliar planes and an all-encompassing experience.
William always has a camera in hand, never quite knowing when the next great photo opportunity may present itself. He will usually do at least two exposures of a scene; one that reflects the “mood” he is trying to create and another to capture the full spectrum of photons as viewed in his histogram. If he needs more than one image to grasp the full extent of his image, he will do an under-and over-exposure, usually 2 stops on each side. He stresses just as no two people see the same scene in a particular way, no two photographers or camera capture it the same. His intent is to create something emotionally appealing as he checks off his list of fundamental images he desires to interpret.
Covering all his bases to gain complete control, William aligns himself using different cameras and lenses to capture the perfect moment, what ever that setting may be. In his backpack he always carries his Nikon D810 and D750 for backup.
“When I am shooting urban scenes or buildings like the Taj Mahal, I will usually pull out my PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED perspective control lens. I also use the shift feature of that lens to shoot panoramas, so it is not just for perspective control any more. On the rare occasion where I am shooting people I will likely pull out the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, although for landscapes I carry the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR instead, simply to save weight. For star shots or nighttime shooting it will either be the AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED, or more likely the absolutely superb AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED. I just love that lens! But I would have to say that for the vast majority of my landscape images, it has been my venerable AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED.”
Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, Korea – Nikon D810, f/8, 1/90 sec, ISO 64, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED at 44mm
Temple grounds, Changdeokgung Palace, Seoul – Nikon D800E, f/8, 1/60 sec, ISO 200, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED at 35mm
The spirit of the land exists in every one of his pixels, conveying as much power of emotion as he can muster for the viewer. Inspired to interpret nature, William’s photos invite us to understand our own depiction in his images. He says he has a long way to consider himself a great photographer but that is the very thought that inspires him to keep pushing his craft further.
“When a photographer is doing his or her job properly, that moment becomes frozen in time. I am not after ‘pretty’ pictures. An image must be compelling enough to induce someone to look, but once they do, the value lies not in what they see, but in how the image makes them feel. That is my inspiration. The knowledge that my photographs will outlast me is my motivation. I do not always know where I am going, but I usually know when I have arrived.”
William Toti is a landscape and fine arts photographer based in Leesburg, Virginia, USA. His goal is to find a unique perspective for what might otherwise be common themes— creative but not surreal, slightly impressionistic, yet realistic and vivid enough that viewers are able to immerse themselves in the image.