In Recess

Sand Dunes and Tripods

A Houston attorney's photography goes west

Interview by Eric Quitugua

Death Valley White Sands
Darren Inoff on shooting in freezing weather in Death Valley in California: “It was so cold that I had to wipe the ice off the back of my camera screen after I took a breath.”

Contrast and hyper detail are two immediately striking characteristics of Darren Inoff’s photography. Paired with his sharp knack for perspective, his lenses spit the viewer out into dramatic landscapes—recently the American West. With Canon in hand, the Houston-based corporate and real estate attorney has been in front of stacks of purple and grey mountains reaching an orange Death Valley sky; on top of a dune, watching pale blue lines ripple across the white sand; and standing right on the cracked, dehydrated desert floor. Inoff’s ability to capture details reveals every soft feature, every blemish of what is in front of him—a skill that also serves him well in law.

What is your current camera setup?
My primary camera body is a Canon 5D Mark IV and my backup camera body is a Canon 7D. I only use the Canon L lenses (professional series). I have a variety of lenses: 17-40 mm, 24-105 mm, and 100-400 mm.

If you’re just out in the city and you’re shooting some street scenery, what are you bringing with you?
If I’m traveling in a city, I tend to travel more lightly. I would most likely only bring my 24-105 mm lens because that will cover most situations. I almost always shoot on a tripod. It isn’t very practical because of the size and weight, but the sharpness of a photo is important to me. I figure if I am going through the trouble of hunting the best photo, there is no reason to be unhappy with the results because I was too lazy to carry the tripod.

Death Valley mountains
Inoff put his Canon to the test in the mountains of Death Valley.

How about for the more outdoorsy shots?
When I am shooting more typical landscapes, I tend to carry all of my equipment with me. Everything goes in a backpack that gets awfully heavy.

Where do you stand on film versus digital?
I used to be so against digital technology, but my attitude has completely changed now. Digital technology allows the camera to more closely see and interpret what our eyes see. There are certain limitations with film that have been reduced with digital technology.

Death Valley White Sands
Darren Inoff’s photo trips have spanned the globe: Here
the Houston-based attorney is on a hike in Iceland.

When you are shooting photos, what do you want to find in a subject?
I mainly concentrate on landscapes but also enjoy shooting wildlife. I am often looking for beauty, quietness, bright col-ors, and stark contrasts.

You traveled the West with your wife for your honeymoon and got to visit some amazing parks. How’d it go?
My wife and I got married a week or two after I graduated from law school. We deferred our honeymoon because I needed to study for the bar, and it was well worth the wait. We spent six weeks driving around the western part of the U.S., visiting national parks and several cities. We probably visited 10 national parks, mostly in California and Utah. It was a great trip. I was really learning how to be a photographer at that point. In fact that was the first time I shot with slide film. I was so unsure about my skills that I actually got a few rolls of film developed in Los Angeles just to make sure I was doing everything right before I spent the next six weeks tak-ing bad photographs. Some of my best work came from that trip.

Do you ever find yourself revisiting a place to capture something in a photo you feel like you missed?
I do. There have been a number of times I have looked at my photographs and wished I had captured something in a slightly different way. One of the places that we visit often is Aspen, Colorado. Our trips there allow me to revisit some of my older subjects and try to capture them in another way. One of the best ways to do that is to visit Aspen during its different seasons. It really allows me to capture more than one perspective of the same place.

What is your absolute favorite photo you’ve taken? What does it mean to you?
That’s a really hard question. I’m not sure I have a favorite. Each photograph I take has a story behind it. Almost every photograph takes a certain amount of work. I have to figure out where to go, what time of day to go, how I will get there, etc. For example, I was on a photography trip with two professional photographers a few years back in Death Valley, California. We woke up around 5 a.m., drove two hours to our first location, and spent about two to three hours shooting in freezing temperatures. It was so cold that I had to wipe the ice off the back of my camera screen after I took a breath. We then drove several hours to our next location: some incredible sand dunes. We spent a few hours at those sand dunes and drove back to the motel, arriving around 10 p.m. It was an incredibly long day but so worth it. Each of my photographs is littered with stories like that.

Is there any crossover between your love for pho-tography and love for practicing law?
You know to a certain extent I guess there is some crossover in that both require good technique and a meticulous atten-tion to detail. One doesn’t work very well without the other.

To see more of Darren Inoff’s photographs, visit his Instagram: @d_inoff. TBJ

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