Capturing the Moment
Photo by Matt Rose
It’s very likely you’ve seen Dave Allen’s photography and did not know it. The 40-year-old Hendersonville resident’s fairytale depictions of Carolina sunsets and waterfalls have been used widely in calendars, catalogues and magazines. Recently, his image “Highlands Sunrise” appeared on the cover of the May issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine.
But since he’s licensed through numerous high-end stock-image companies, Allen is more often surprised by chance encounters with his work.
“I was in Barnes and Noble the other day and I happened to see one of my pictures on the cover of a book” — the travel guide Off the Beaten Path.
“I didn’t know about that one,” he says with a laugh. “But it happens fairly frequently, and it’s kind of a neat feeling.”
A self-taught photographer, Allen came into his craft while working as a freelance Web and graphic designer. He purchased his first camera with a simple objective — to make screen savers for clients. Almost immediately people responded to his work and started requesting prints. That’s when Allen knew he was on to something, so he acquired as many books as he could find on the subject. “I’m the kind of person who really enjoys throwing myself into things,” he says. “You might say I’m addicted to learning.”
Allen’s mission is to find epic locations during extraordinary conditions — the side of a mountain at the peak of a rhododendron bloom, for example, or one of South Carolina’s boneyard beaches on the eve of a hurricane. To find his subject matter, Allen tirelessly researches locations using satellite images and Google Maps. He even researches weather patterns to determine the best conditions of an area. “People don’t realize how much planning goes into capturing that magic moment,” says Allen. “There may only be three days to get that perfect shot, and I want to make sure I’m there for it.”
After scouting out a location online, Allen hikes out to it and “lays eyes on it.” He’ll spend days in one place determining the best lighting conditions and setup for his camera. “Sometimes I’ll sit in a place for over two weeks just studying it,” says Allen. “I’m prepared to spend a substantial amount of time and money for a single image.”
He grew up in Saratoga, N.Y., in the Adirondack Mountains and later moved to Central Florida, where he owned a studio recording business. Missing the mountains and four seasons of his hometown, Allen moved to WNC in 2001 with Jennifer, his wife of 17 years. “There are so many great things to see around here,” says Allen. “I’m so blessed to be able to do this. My job is what a lot of people do on vacation.”
Allen refers to himself as “quite a purist” when it comes to his work, refusing to use any sort of digital enhancement. “I really pride myself on capturing what’s there,” he says. While he has dabbled in time-lapse photographic series, Allen is reticent to delve into the video world, saying that video seems to “miss that moment — that special second — that only a still image can capture.”
Allen exhibits his work in a variety of WNC galleries, including the Cherry Street Gallery in Black Mountain, Local Color in Brevard, Framing Arts in Hendersonville and Aesthetic Gallery in Asheville. Aficionados from all over the country, who find him via his Web site and social-media sites, collect his prints. Allen’s fans are also quick to sign up for the workshops he offers each season — “WNC Waterfall Tour,” “Spring in the Smokies,” “Blue Ridge Parkway Autumn Landscapes” — where he leads students to photogenic hotspots based on his extensive knowledge of the local landscape.
“I put people in the right place at the right time.”
A self-described conservationist, Allen hopes his photos will raise people’s awareness about the beauty of the WNC landscape and ultimately be a positive force in preservation efforts. “A lot of people don’t even know these places exist,” he says.
“I really hope my photography can bring attention to these areas and help people to be more aware.”