David Swindler & Action Photo Tours

David Swindler & Action Photo Tours

Camera Adventures For a Lifetime

story by Laurel Beesley

photos by David Swindler


One of the fun things we did during our Escalante Workshop was to photograph Dance Hall Rock during the blue hour. Although it was easy to get down in the hole to place the lights, it was much more difficult to get back out. Next time I go down there, I'm definitely bringing a rope. It took about 15-20 tries each time before I could climb back up the slippery sandstone.

It’s one o’clock in the morning, and several clients with Action Photo Tours prepare for the next amazing venture in their nearly non-stop forty-eight hour photo trip. The trips are for those who want to seriously invest in an exceptional experience photographing the wow of southern Utah. When you book with daring David Swindler of Photo Action Tours, the expected sometimes turns into the surprisingly unexpected.


Weather forecasts the day before one planned trip promised to make the excursion particularly challenging. But despite heavy rain, the group set out to find one of the most exceptional rock formations in southern Utah – White Pocket. Swindler was determined to dare the weather gods and asked his clients to do the same. Nothing ventured; nothing gained. The weather gods decided to smile on their daring that day, and as the group arrived, the clouds lifted and an exceptionally long and bright rainbow stretched across the sky, splashing the landscape with amazing color. When that happens, it is truly astonishing. The little pockets of rock that White Pocket is named for were filled with water and reflected the rainbow and scattered clouds in the broken sky above. Perfect. Absolutely perfect for photography. You can’t plan for the perfect photo op; nature takes its own time. But for the lucky who are willing to wait, it shows off and hands you a very big reward in return.


“Some days the weather gods are just with you,” Swindler reflected. “And it didn’t end there. As we were setting up for sunset, some clouds rolled back in, just enough to set off an amazing sunset. That night before bed, the clouds cleared again. It was a perfect night for photographing the Milky Way. We were able to photograph an amazing night sky. We were up until four in the morning, but everyone felt satisfied!”  Profile Photo D Swindler


David does not hail from Utah, although his Action Photo Tours business is solidly planted in Kanab, Utah. He is not a born photographer, and this is not his first career. He has been an avid outdoorsman since his first backpacking trip, and has been fascinated by photography since first discovering it as a Boy Scout. Born and raised in Iowa, he initially went into chemical engineering and worked ten years in the semiconductor industry. His specialty was in photolithography which involves using photo-sensitive  chemicals to image very small patterns that later become microchip circuitry. The job was fascinating, with the latest and greatest in lasers and optics, and great people to work with. Life was good.


August on Mt. Rainier in Washington state brought a new picture into focus. Backpacking during wildflower season, he began to question how willing he was to spend the rest of his life in a cubicle staring at a monitor. The tentacles of doubt crept through his mind, and he returned to work, restless and preoccupied. Coincidentally, when he returned to work on Monday, he heard his fellow workers discussing a new VSP, voluntary severance package, being offered. To the surprise of everyone, he accepted the VSP, turned in his resignation that very day, and took off for an unknown career. Opportunity spoke, and he listened.


The next challenge was combining his skills and interests, and reinvesting them in a new career. His strengths were composition, detail, great technical skills, and a keen desire for outdoor adventure. He loves being outdoors, mountain biking, climbing, backpacking, canyoneering, and about every other outdoor sport imaginable. (He also loves the piano.) During those early decision-making days, he noticed that travelers were interested in their photography, but lacked the technical expertise and the confidence to visit places they dreamed of seeing. That Eureka! moment resulted in Action Photo Tours, a company that helps people produce great photography in stunning places.


Compared to my old job staring at a computer all day in a cubicle, I get much better views running this business!  Here's one from a client outing to Coyote Buttes a couple days ago. Aren't these stripes and swirls amazing?
Compared to my old job staring at a computer all day in a cubicle, I get much better views running this business! Here’s one from a client outing to Coyote Buttes a couple days ago. Aren’t these stripes and swirls amazing?

Initially, David tried to boil the ocean, taking photo clients everywhere from New Zealand to South Africa and across the globe, including photographing polar bears in the Arctic. Eventually he zoomed in on the place where plenty of people wanted to come, and where his heart was. Two years ago, he refocused the business in Kanab, Utah. “It’s great to travel,” he reminisces. “But there is so much here in the U.S. that is beyond comparison. And the most spectacular destinations are right here in southern Utah!”


Since then, he has focused on bringing clients to those elusive and very special places just outside Kanab.  He caters to the varying capabilities of his clients, teaching anyone at any skill level who wants to further their skills and enjoy astounding places. Most importantly, he is a dedicated and remarkable photographer himself and committed to sharing his talent. He takes the photography experience of his guide trips very seriously, and individually plans each trip around exactly the right time of day to produce exactly the right light and shadow. As he attempts to explain, “To be a good photographer requires patience, dedication and an understanding of both the art and the subject. A big thing is going out at exactly the right time of day for the location, and going after that special light. It’s not just about the settings on the camera and all that technical jargon, except for the night sky photos; it’s about composition and timing. Move the camera a few inches and it’s a different photo.”


His favorite places, those magical places only locals know, include White Pocket, the Paria, Buckskin Gulch and other unusual places outside Zion National Park. If you want to step outside the familiar places, he knows where to go.


His dark sky photo sessions are exceptional. With over ninety percent of Americans unable to see the Milky Way and other galaxies, southern Utah is highly rated on the nine-level Bortle scale measuring night sky brightness. *Unique now in America, a growing number of the national parks and national monuments here, including Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks National Monument and the Grand Staircase National Monument qualify as International Dark Sky Parks. David’s acute knowledge of this area allows him to choose the best locations and lead clients through the technical challenge of dark sky photography. March through October, he observes, are the beauty months for shooting the Milky Way here.Dramatic Sunset


In the long run, he is dedicated to assisting clients, from early learners to extreme pro’s, explore through the wonder that is simply southern Utah. Also on his immediate list of must-do’s is a book on White Pocket – It’s Moods and Many Secrets.


For more information go to: www.actionphototours.com.


*David Swindler will be making a presentation on Sunday, May 14 at Amazing Earthfest 2017  where the theme will be “Protecting our Night Skies.” Go to: www.amazingearthfest.com


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