Through email, social media and obviously during workshops , I’m often asked similar questions about my photography, the gear I use, my career and so on. I figured I’d answer some of these common questions below, in this blog. If you have anything new to ask just leave a comment at the end. Cheers!
What camera gear do you use?
Without a doubt this is one of the most common question a photographer gets asked. I want to clarify now that I think the gear a photographer uses has little significance on the images they create. Despite unfathomable technological advances, great photographs have been made for over a century. With a modern, working camera and glass, you’re going to be able to make some nice work no matter the brand. I see the main differences in models and brands today being ones of convenience. Similar to cars, there’s so many companies and models available all of which can get you from A to B. The main differential generally being points of convenience.
As a landscape photographer, the main thing I’m looking for in a camera is a large Dynamic Range (DR), in-built stabilisation (IBIS) and high resolution (MP). A high DR means the camera can capture more of the details that the human eye can see, generally removing the need to take multiple exposures and blend together to capture the range of light within a scene. Just think of when you are inside your house and looking out a window on a sunny day. The human eye can see the interior and exterior details no problem at all but cameras struggle with scenes like this, often only being able to expose for the interior and completely over exposing the sky or exposing for the sky then silhouetting the interior. You can use your iphone on this example and tap the screen to choose where you expose. You should see the problem arise with not all the detail being able to be retained unless the phone uses ‘HDR’ mode which is ‘High Dynamic Range’ and means the iphone will take a series of images and combine them to try capture the DR. IBIS in a camera allows me to shoot slow shutter speeds handheld and generally remove the need for a tripod (except for night photography). Finally, a higher resolution camera allows for larger prints but also more adjustments in processing such as warping or cropping.
At the moment Sony and Nikon mirrorless cameras are the best bodies for my style of shooting which is generally handheld in the elements with scenes contains low/dynamic light. I’ve been using the Sony A7Rii for a couple of years now, the same body which has been hit by many waves, waterfall spray, negative temperatures and all round abuse from being in the field 300 days a year. I’m very happy with this camera and the only lenses I have/use are the 16-35mm f/2.8 and 100-400mm. That’s it.
Do you use any neutral density or grad filters?
No, not really. ND filters are useful in darkening an entire scene (kinda like putting sunglasses in front of your lens) in order for the photographer to be able to shoot at slower shutter speeds, most likely to blur water movement. With most of my photography being around sunrise/sunset or dark environments, there is little need for me to darken a scene further as I’m usually able to get the desired shutter speed and effects in camera by closing the aperture down. However I still carry 1-2 ND’s in my bag, just in case! Some people like to shoot ultra-long exposures for several minutes in order to streak cloud and completely smooth water but this just isn’t for me. I’ll still often use a polariser though, when shooting waterfalls and cascades – to remove glare. The guys at Gobe have great products and plant trees with every sale.
Do you edit your photos?
Although she understands now, I still remember years back when my Mum asked if I used Photoshop to edit my photos and the disappointment on her face when I answered yes. There’s a commonly misconception about how modern photographs are made and the role of post processing (editing) in digital photography. Fortunately my Mum gets it now, but it’s a common assumption that if Photoshop or any editing software is used, then the whole image must be ‘fake’. When we capture a photo on a camera, we can decide what type of format the file is made into, typically a compressed jpeg or RAW file. The main difference is that a jpeg is smaller in size and essentially contains less detail or information. The ‘editing’ is done in camera with whatever presets are tuned in. On the other hand, a RAW file is larger in file size, there’s much more information within the file however it will look very flat (or raw) straight out of camera. Just like how film had to be developed, so does a RAW file need to be ‘developed’ – digitally.
Now, there’s no set rules within photography or art and each person is going to decide for themselves what level of editing is needed for a photo, if any. Some people enjoy creating works of fiction, placing mountains from one country to the next, adding skies and manipulating however their imagination sees fit. On the other extreme, there’s a purist approach to landscape photography which shuns little, if any, adjustments made after the photo was taken. There’s no right or wrong.
For myself, I’ve always found fulfilment in pursuing and experiencing rare moments of light and atmosphere. Storms, rainbows, the northern lights, amazing clouds and unique locations are all what I strive to capture and witness first hand. For me to replace and add whatever I like into my images wouldn’t be fulfilling and wouldn’t warrant even leaving the house. I love the thrill of the chase and the elation of when it all comes together after planning, scouting and putting in the effort to make something become reality.
I use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and Photoshop for all my editing, with the workflow varying for every single photo. Adjusting tones (shadows, highlights, midtones) makes up the major aspect of my editing. Darkening corners, brightening areas of interest, diffusing the distance to create depth etc all to lead the eye through the image. Often I’ll shoot incredibly close to my foreground interest, which requires capturing multiple exposures and various focal points (focus stacking). Photoshop is a great tool to piece together photos like this and often when I’m in the field I’ll have post-processing in mind and shoot seperate exposures accordingly to piece together later.
I generally draw the line when it comes to composites – replacing entire skies from one location to the next or adding rainbows and lightning just isn’t my thing. Although, I’m not opposed to rendering some extra fog or cloud textures for atmosphere, if it’s all apart of my artistic vision and the emotion I want to convey. Nature will have always provided the majority of the scene in my photography.
As mentioned, there’s no rules and as photographers we each draw our own line on what we think is ‘acceptable’ or not. Personally, I want viewers know that the places I shoot do exist and I was indeed there in that moment with a smile on my face.
How did you learn photography?
Like many, I’m completely self taught, however over the years I picked up pieces of information (some good, some bad) from different people and applied it to my development. I read books, online articles but trial and error led me to learn the most. My initial photography was with an iphone for a few weeks and then I began using a basic Canon DSLR I had at home.
The enjoyment I found from photography and desire to learn meant that I became obsessed. Sunrises and sunset most days of the week, along with exploration along the coastlines of where I lived all meant I built up a lot of hours behind the lens in a short amount of time. I had no motives to make money from photography, it was pure enjoyment and I think this really helped me grow as a photographer.
Where do you find inspiration?
My main inspiration is found within nature. The thoughts and feelings that arise when I’m immersed in an environment is mediative and conducive of creativity. When I’m in awe or humbled by a place is when I’m most inspired. With the vast complexities within nature and unlimited possibilities that continuously circle my mind, inspiration and motivation is something I’ve never lacked when it comes to the desire to explore and create new work.
When it comes to other artists, I choose not to look at landscape imagery too much as it somewhat burns me out. Essentially, anyone excelling in their field is inspiring to me. My mate Mark Clinton always seems to blow me away with his commercial and sports photography and Matty Smith excels with his work below the surface of the sea. Within my genre, Marc Adamus has always been a source of inspiration for both his art, vision and relentless dedication. I’m grateful to have spent time with him on a couple of multi-day trips here in New Zealand and continue to see him as a pioneer in digital landscape photography.
Additionally, the work of some of the romanticist painters such as Bierstadt, Cole and Friedrich also inspire me because of the emotion that is felt in their work and their rendering of light and the pursuit of the sublime. Historical documents from early pioneers and explorers also stir me up to go outside and be within the natural world.
Do you shoot other things aside from landscapes?
Not professionally. I’m always photographing my family and I quite enjoy that, but my passion is for landscapes and wilderness. I don’t have any interest in trying to shoot other genres for a living.
Do you offer internships?
No, sorry. Although I sometimes have an assistant on workshops, there is very little structure and routine to my business to sustain having someone with me full time.
How can I get started in a photography career?
This depends on what genre you want to shoot. The photography industry is competitive and incredibly diverse, even within landscape photography there are various ways of making an income. My biggest advice here is to practice and create a strong portfolio for yourself which can be viewed online. Although I struggle with the desire to regularly use it, social media is a powerful tool in establishing your name and sharing your work with potential clients. If you’re able to build a solid body of work and an online presence, this will go a long way. If you’re just starting out, I strongly suggest not being too focussed on monetising your photography. This can potentially hinder your creative growth. Just enjoy the journey and shoot from within and you’ll eventually know if photography is something you want to try make a career out of.
Are you Australian or Kiwi?
I’m Aussie, born and raised in the coastal town of Wollongong, NSW. In 2017, at the age of 30 I relocated to New Zealand where I now live with my wife and two kids. New Zealand has always felt like home and after dozens of trips over the years, I had to follow my heart. We have no regrets and live in Te Anau, which is the gateway to Fiordland – my favourite place in the world.
Favourite place for photography?
New Zealand. The diverse landscapes and wilderness here epitomises what I love most about landscape photography and the natural world.