The 30-Second Rule: David Patterson on Snapshots and Community

David Patterson ( has specialized in the photography of architecture, interior design, and related projects for twenty years, creating images for firms in the built environment and illustrative images for editorial and advertising clients.  Based in Colorado, he works throughout the nation with a concentration in the Rocky Mountain region.  His work has been published nationally and internationally in magazines and books.  We spoke with him a few weeks ago about his professional work, but wanted to follow up in a second part to discuss his personal work, a variety of snapshots and well-composed pieces that appear to range from Polaroid film to iPhone photography.  

David:  "My personal work is so different than my professional work in architecture and interior photography.  In architecture, everything is very linear and it's about sharpness, technique, and workflow.  A long time ago, I used to shoot a lot of Polaroid Type 55.   When I was traveling a lot I used to shoot a "30-second rule."  I had my 4 x 5 field camera, and if I would see something, I would stop and give myself 30 seconds to stop, drop the camera, do a quick focus on it, close the shutter, put the polaroid in, shoot it, and leave.   The photographer was left with a Type 55 negative and a print, and the idea was that I was always trying to respond to that intuitive nature of image-making where you are seeing something happen and you are trying to work on it through a much more subconscious level.  I wanted to respond to it without the formalism of using a big camera.   The focus wasn't always as good as I wanted it to be, but I wanted to change it up and challenge myself.  My personal work, therefore, which is on my website, is all an outgrowth from that concept where I limited myself with a slower format but in a quick, intuitive way.

"A lot of the newer images in my personal work are from the iPhone.  When I saw the Hipstamatic app come out, I thought, "Wow, this is thinking in the same way I do." I think the iPhone has liberated a lot of photographers in that same way, much in the same way the 30-second rule did for me. You can take the shot because you have the phone with you all of the time. This has allowed the development of a language in snapshots that is so much richer than it ever used to be.  If you look through instagram, you can really see a lot of great photographs (among many not-so-great photographs).  The iPhone photos that I include in my personal work were very much an extension of that same concept of the 30-second rule.  Even now when I shoot with the Canon and a Tilt-Shift lens, I go out and shoot the landscape with that same feeling of intuition and responsive to the landscape.  Now I shoot a lot with a Carl Zeiss 35 mm f/2, and that lens has become popular to use as well for these landscape or architecture shots.

"It's interesting how the photographic communities have changed over the years.  I hate to talk in the past tense, such as "back in the days of film…" but you used to see people at the lab every day.  You'd go and see everyone you knew because everyone went to the lab virtually every day.  Everyone would also order film and you'd be down at the shop picking it up.  You had an interaction with the community, and you felt part of a community. I do go to ASMP meetings, but I no longer have a daily interaction with people.  You get a little dose of community when you read some of the blogs, which is now what we feel.  Luminous Landscape or Pictureline or whomever, and that's awesome to feel like you have some community, albeit online. Sometimes that brings the community together.  The other way I feel that I remain in the photographic community is teaching in college. It brings you back to the reasons why you shoot."

Stay connected to David:  Website | Personal Work


Photographer Joshua Caldwell Talks Architecture Photography
Eric Meola: Travel Images Since "The Last Places on Earth"
Shooting the Pool: David Patterson on Commercial Location

CanonCarl zeiss 35 mm f/2ColoradoDavid pattersonHipstamaticIphonePersonal workSeptember 2012