David Arment and his wife Pam are photographers living in northern Indiana.
In today’s Q-and-A, David discusses his craft, including how he takes his photos and what life is like in one of America’s largest Amish settlements.
I also asked David to share the stories behind a selection of his photos. I love the behind-the-scenes info he shares here.
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A Q-and-A with photographer David Arment
How did you start in photography?
I was the high school photographer in 1968 -1970. Obviously the equipment was much different then. It was a good time to learn and understand how a camera works because we used light meters and had to figure out in our heads what the exposure settings should be. We also had to focus “by hand” (which I think maybe I preferred).
The high school sent the film off and magically and mysteriously pictures would return.
I bought my own camera when I went to college and have had it as a hobby “off and on again” ever since. I’ve had a dark room in years gone by as well. That also teaches you a lot… more about cropping and dodging and burning than maybe anything else that will translate to the new digital age we are in.
I DO like the digital age we are in. And I hate the digital age we are in.
I LOVE the manipulations you can make to a photo. I love being able to take a trash can out of a scene where the Amish buggy is so as not to distract from that subject. And I love the background and textures that can be used. I use Photoshop (of course) and Topaz Labs “plug ins”. I use the later pretty extensively.
I shoot RAW format almost exclusively and that requires you to then post process every image you want to move forward with. RAW captures a lot of data and allows you to do a great deal with the photo. Because of this post processing of every image then Topaz Labs is a part of almost every image.
… and I hate the digital age because everyone has a camera in their phone. They have no idea how it works. Or they have a cheap digital camera and they have no idea how it works. Or they have a new DSLR and they have no idea how it works. BUT they have X number of mega-pixels, which is obviously good because it is better than some number less than X… but they don’t know what a mega pixel is or how it works.
As an Amish lady once told my wife “we have to stay up with the times”!
How do you take your photos?
Sometimes I read things posted on photographer’s bios. They talk about metaphysical things like their soul, or the soul of the building they just took a picture of… they have lots of big words that really are very amazing in terms of how they describe what they see and how they take their pictures.
I am not so elegant in my response.
Seeing a picture is fun and it is both easy and hard. I like seeing the small detail, a portion of something that others may miss. On the other hand, you have to “stand back” and be sure you are not lost among the trees and forget to see the forest… almost literally. For example, I have a really good picture of a grizzly bear asleep. He is snoring. Zonked. Gone. Good picture. But when I pulled back I realized I could get this sleeping bear AND Mount McKinley in the background. The second image is entirely different and a much more impactful image.
There is an advantage of knowing how the camera works when you take photos. My wife can see the composition but she doesn’t know how to get both the foreground subject and the background subject (if there are two subjects) into focus.
Sometimes the subject just surprises you and appears and you don’t have time to make adjustments, but that is rare, so knowing how the camera works helps get the picture you want.
Knowing how the software works (it used to be how the darkroom works) helps you know that if you underexpose the image (and are shooting RAW) that you can pull out the detail later. Such is the case with the picture you asked about…
It is underexposed out of the camera so the pants on the line are siloutees, but I was able to paint in some detail on the corn crib and other subjects on the ground that would otherwise (in a normal JPEG image) lost in shadows.
The subject of the photos reveal themselves… normally. You just have to be open.
What is it like living in one of the largest Amish communities in America? Any interesting stories?
I grew up in Missouri. I moved to Northern Indiana several years ago and worked in a business in Elkhart, IN and did not interact with the Amish.
My wife divorced me several years ago and I remarried. My new wife had a house in Millersburg, IN and had Amish neighbors all around. Her dad was Amish as a child. So about 6 or so years ago I got to start to know Amih people personally.
In fact my wife and I were shunned. She was divorced by her husband and I was divorced by my wife, but that does not matter. The Amish bishop was our next door neighbor and he put the world out that we were to be shunned because we were both divorced and then remarried. This shocked a lot of Amish because they had never heard of Amish shunning non-Amish. As time went by the bishop next door softened up and we more or less got things back to normal (whatever normal is). But it was an interesting turn of events.
Just a few days ago we were invited back to our old place (15 acres with a big house in the woods) where the new owners continued the tradition of the Summer neighborhood get together. All the kids go into the pond; they feed the fish and generally just run around. It is always fun to see the young ones who talk to their parents in German and just look at us funny when we speak to them.
Most or many of the Amish around here work during the day at the RV plants. They start early and get off early. They farm from about 2:30 in the afternoon until dark.
Recently an Amish guy who lives here in town (my little gallery is in town) came up to me and started telling me about his trip to Ohio to a funeral. He told me how backward the Amish there are. It simply struck me as very funny how Amish look at others as backward.
Also, as you may know, here the “rules” evolve. Rules on phone usage have changed. Now phone huts are spotted here and there and used by households. If you own a business you may be allowed to have a cell phone, or even a phone that rings in the office.
And here some can use “skid loaders” or “bob cats”. Once the bishop says that is okay then there are no skid loaders to buy for miles around. Then you get to see how inventive one can be farming with a skid loader.
So as you can see, “yes” I have lots of stories.
Who are your customers?
As you know we opened a little gallery in downtown Shipshewana. The idea was to offer primarily Amish themed pictures to tourist as souvenir of their visit to Shipshewana.
So they are our current and growing customer base.
Having said that, the gallery is selling a lot more non-Amish pictures than I expected. So the current course correction is to increase the proportion of non-Amish pictures.
BUT, it is best to be known for something and to have a niche. As photographers we (my wife and I) are trying our best to niche ourselves as offering high quality Amish – themed pictures.
As a gallery, the idea is a little different. We want to offer not only photographs but other goods made locally. There is one other gallery here in town and they are a very popular destination, but they do not offer locally produced art.
The town itself has its tourist roots in the “flea market”. This is not an “artsy” town. The flea market was local folks bringing in their wares (handmade what-nots) or spare and unwanted things to sell. As the numbers of people increased then the “made in China” products increased in number. Now the “flea market” is in decline as the tourists did not come to buy the latest antiques made last week in China. Go figure.
So that gallery will take time. Lots of time. And we will need to be patient, which is not one of my natural tendencies. (God will need to help me.)
Our gallery is at 125 N Morton Street in Shipshewana, Indiana.
The other place to find our photos is “on line” at either
Other Subjects… other than Amish
I think we gravitate toward anything old. Old Barns, Old Bridges, Old Houses, Abandon Churches, and anything having to do with being out of doors.
What is something people may not know about Shipshewana?
There is a little lake west of town fittingly called “Lake Shipshewana”. It has a plaque where the road goes down toward the lake. It has the story of the local Indian tribe that lived on the little lake. It is a sad story.
I don’t think most people know there is a lake.
More Photos by David Arment
This is simply a picture of a very cold horse and a very cold buggy on a very cold day. There is a tree that was removed from the picture that didn’t add anything.
As you may have noted, I have lots of winter buggy pictures because I like the contrast of the black buggies and the white snow. And sometimes I like the starkness of the open fields and this lone buggy out there all by itself battling to get home.
This is “Paul’s Windmill”. Paul went to church with us in Millersburg. He said people often asked him why he never took the tree out. He said the tree is what saved / saves the windmill. So I guess the windmill and the tree have a symbiotic relationship.
In this same field there is another tree and there used to be a red tail hawk who sat in it. It must have been the center of his territory.
This is a recent photo. Many of the Amish here have pulley systems that raise the laundry from the house way up high to the barn. I don’t know why this is any better than hanging the laundry on a line that you can reach from the ground.
I always wanted to get a good shot that shows this. Up until this shot they were all just “informational”, there was no beauty or interest to the picture. This one was taken at sundown. Everything was dark and the pants were silhouetted. We were able to pull out the detail in the other subjects by dodging them in with a history brush.
This is Lancaster county PA. There was a produce auction near the bed and breakfast we were staying at. So we got a few pictures of the Amish leaving the auction.
So this farmer sold all his produce and is heading home. He had the presence of mind to bring along a chair to sit on for the drive home.
This was a trip I made with my wife some time ago to Southern Indiana. This is when I learned how “Amish” she was because she pointed out how the Amish hats were different, the buggies were different, the girls dresses were different. “Different” come out in her discussion as “wrong”. They had somehow just gotten it all wrong. Only the Amish in Northern Indiana know how to dress correctly.
Anyway, this fellow was driving his “wrong” buggy, with his “wrong” hat past this filed of yellow. I think the yellow field was “right”.
This sign no longer exists. It has been replaced by a new and improved sign.
Most of the Amish here work in the RV factories during the day and farm in the afternoon until dark. Some who don’t have large plots of land do other things. Like repair washing machines, or make wooden toys, or sell this or that. There are lots and lots of small, home businesses. This one I would guess is an Amish lady who is making rugs to sell and this was their rather rustic sign.
This is one of my favorite photos, but I like the black and white version better.
I like this photo and others like it, where you see the general subject, but then you also see that there are kids waiting at the top of the hill. And you then look again at the size of the small horse… there are just a lot of things that are going on that draw you into the picture.
I wonder where the rope is that is pulling the second child on his inner tube?
I like the B&W version because the inner tubes they are being pulled on upset my visual balance. In the B&W version everything is more “even”.
A couple of things about this picture. First, it is a newer picture.
Second, note the different colors of the road. Here they oil the gravel roads that are around the houses to keep the dust down. It works really well. I wonder why they don’t do the entire road?
Finally, you can push things too far with the software and this one is on the edge of being too detailed in some of the foreground and the tree leaves. And, although no one cares… there is also some adjustment to the neutral density to get a darker effect on the edges to lead your eye to the subject, without using a vignette effect.
I love taking pictures of Amish plowing. It is hard to do so and not get their faces… so this picture is a “home run” in my book.
He must have just turned the corner and headed back across the field as he was close to the road.
Did you see the vice grips? I love this picture.
A year ago we were in Alaska. We went on a day trip from Seward to see the glaciers. About 15 minutes into the 8 hour day my wife got sea sick. For the remainder of the trip if you said the word “boat” she would turn green.
This is a picture of a glacier Aialik.
The boat in the foreground is suppose to give you an idea of how massive the glacier is… but it does not, because that boat continued toward the face of the glacier, and it got smaller, and smaller and smaller, until you could barely make out the people standing along the railing.
These glaciers are massive.
And out in the water are little sea animals laying on the ice as content as can be. The ice water is warm to them I think.
This is an old coal truck, and an old picture… maybe 6 years old.
The truck is alongside the highway on the Illinois side of the Missisppi River North of Quincy, IL.
I like the telephone number, and how the sun has faded the blue.
View David and Pam Arment’s image galleries at Arment Photo.