Chris Morrison - Interview

Welcome to our series of photographers who inspire me. This time it’s Chris Morrison, an Australian-based landscape photographer who I originally stumbled upon quite by accident. I was blown away by the detail in his images and careful compositions. It’s rare to find photographers who can so seamlessly switch between film and digital, but Chris is one of them. You only need to look at his monster list of awards to realise the universal appeal of his images, including AIPP ACT 2012 Landscape Photographer of the Year.

What are the greatest/most extreme lengths you’ve gone to for a photo?

Photographing “Alpenglow on the Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia”. It may not be in the “Bear Grylls” category of story, but for me it was a big challenge and very rewarding.

To start with, I was about 40,000km and 70 days into a 60,000km, 92 day round the globe expedition – although I love travelling and photographing, you do get tired if you don’t get enough rest and look after yourself.  The trip took months of planning and I was also 60 rolls into my 80 rolls of 617 velvia film – hard to acquire at the best of times, let alone in Patagonia.

It was day 3 of the trek, and I had heard word there was one bed left at Refugio Chileno, the mountain hut I needed to stay at in order to get up to Torres del Paine for any hope of a sunrise shot. Luckily I secured that final spot with some negotiation, got up at 2:30 the following morning, and started the 2.5 hour walk up to the mirador lake. Some people kindly warned me “there may be pumas around this area, but don’t worry, there has only been one recorded death a few decades ago”.

When you’re backpacking completely alone in the dark in the middle of Patagonia with only a few metres of light from your head torch, and only the sound of your footsteps, your mind can certainly conjure up some fear of pumas at the sound of some leaves falling from a tree! I got up to the mirador about 30 minutes before dawn. As it was still very dark, it was difficult to walk over the bouldery terrain as they all had snow on them. I got down to the lake, and set up in an awkward spot where it was neither comfortable to stand or sit. I then had the frustration of seeing the beautiful light begin to appear and try and take light readings, calculate long exposures taking filters into account, and change film, all with freezing fingers.

I shot two rolls of film (only eight shots, and really only four shots, as I bracketed) before the magic light disappeared, but was quietly confident I got the shot. The worst part of it all was having to then wait another three weeks to get home, and a further two weeks, to see the developed shots on the lightbox, and a further two weeks to have the shot drum scanned, before I could process it to the final result I had visualised at the time of capture, over two months prior.  I suppose in hindsight, it was a whole combination of factors which were satisfying to overcome for the final result, as I had eyed off this location for years and managed to capture it as I wanted with only one chance.

 

What’s on your current Australian location ‘hit list’?

This is always a tough question for the landscape photographer! I did a phenomenal trip to the Flinders Ranges last year and came back with many more images than hoped for, sometimes the weather is kind to you and sometimes it’s not – this time it was. As for a hit list, you start making lists, as the more you see, the more you realise you don’t even know about. There are so many beautiful areas in Australia beyond the tourist brochures that the majority of people never know exist, or even bother to explore or notice. To answer the question, however, for a short trip I’d like to see the Great Otway National Park in Victoria, and I’m going there in two weeks. For a medium length trip, I’d love to see much of the Kimberley region, and Karijini National Park. I haven’t been to Western Australia yet, but this place is amazing on all accounts and it’s at the top of my aussie list.  Apart from those two ideas, I plan to explore and capture more of the alpine region (both NSW & Victorian alps), Tasmania and the NSW South Coast.

 

You use both 617 film and also digital. What do you find are the specific challenges associated with each?

617 film: film presents its own challenges, and medium format film multiplies these challenges. 617 format, although shot from roll film, is really large format. As mentioned above, the fact you have four shots on a roll before changing (which takes time) is certainly a burden. When shooting with other photographers who primarily shoot digital, it can be frustrating hearing their shutter go off constantly, while I’m still feeding my film delicately through the holder and rolling it on, taking light readings and doing calculations in my head – you get into mental head space where you really have no idea what’s going on other than the task at hand. Having said this, this is a both a constraint and a blessing. Being limited to four shots means you better make sure that when you press that shutter, you’re photographing something good. Don’t bother with light that’s almost good enough. This forces an extremely selective approach to subject and composition, and has improved the way I see. This approach has benefited me when shooting digital, as I think my ratio of keepers:trash is surprisingly high compared to other photographers. However, when I want to experiment, then digital wins hands down for freedom. On the post-capture end of the challenges, everything continues to be slow in the process. As mentioned above, the process of developing, selecting slides on a (physical) lightbox and having them scanned is expensive and time consuming.  However, when you see a final, well exposed, sharp scan (800mb tiff file) the result is amazing and much more detailed than my 5D2. It really is amazing. Additionally, the colours you obtain from sunrises/sunsets from velvia are almost impossible to replicate with digital. One more thing, carrying all your film in lead film bags when travelling overseas – takes up a lot more room than a few CF cards!

Digital does have its own challenges too, for instance, shooting star trails on film is great as there is no noise from the sensor and no battery – you just leave your shutter open as long as you want (but do have to remember to close before sunrise!).  So that’s one thing the 617 has over my Canon 5D2.  The other challenge, and probably less obvious, is composing 3:1 ratio panoramas. With digital, I find this very difficult when merging photos as you can’t put a frame around it.  With my 617, I can walk around with my ‘finder’ (a small attachment about the size of a miniDV tape) and frame exactly how I want to compose the 3:1 panorama. They are custom made to the lens and the camera by Linhof, and unfortunately cost about $1,000 each (should give an indication to the price of the actual 617 schneider lenses)!  Additionally, as you’re shooting the 3:1 composition with one shot, through one lens from one fixed position, the perspective feels very natural, which is difficult to achieve when merging digital files. Also, I have multiple finders for my 617 camera, so I can instantly choose which composition I want for two different prime lenses, as opposed to having to put both lenses on my DSLR, and having to switch lenses, just to see the difference. They really have made the difference Not having these on a DSLR is a definite frustration for anyone shooting prime lenses, for which there is no solution other than to have a finder.

 

What’s involved with your post-processing workflow, and what tips do you have for readers in regards to post?

This is a very important part of the process.  I take an approach that I remain true to the original scene whilst allowing my creative expression to come through. I also believe in the value of hand-crafting as much of the process as I can, to make the image unique. This means I have few automated actions where I apply the same processing to all my images. I’ll usually start with the raw image or raw scan, and think about where I want to take the image, which means each workflow varies and prevents repetition and all my images looking the same.  The main rule is not to overdo it, and always ask for feedback on the image, as it’s easy to go too far. Another tip is to process an image and come back to it a few hours or a day later, as you may have a different take on it. Your mood can also affect the way you process it. I love to listen to specific music as I find I can lose myself in the creative process and enter a good mental ‘flow’, but this may not work for everyone.

 

What can we expect from you in 2013?

A new set of images released shot during 2012, including some shot on the Phase One IQ160 which are beautiful and detailed. More trips, including an international trip (destination TBA) and possibly an exhibition in conjunction with the Canberra centenary celebrations, among a few other things in between.  I’ve also expressed interest in becoming a landscape category judge at the AIPP state awards late next year.

 

You can check out more of Chris’s work via his website www.chrismorrison.com.au

Tim Wrate - Interview

I discovered Tim through Flickr. He’s one of those annoying photographers who every time he posts a photo you go ‘damn, this guy’s just too good’ and hang up your gear. He has not only an excellent sense of composition, but a love for his surroundings, which I think filters down into his photography. As yet another master medium-format Aussie landscape shooter, he was a shoo-in for our interview series.

1) What’s the most challenging photo you’ve taken to date and why?

The concept of what defines a ’challenging photograph’ is an interesting one. Many of the images in my portfolio were challenging for a number of reasons, including adverse conditions, technically difficulties and challenging journeys to capture the image. I will take the liberty to explain a couple examples below.

 

Technical Difficulties

I principally use a medium-format film camera, a Fuji GX617 with slide film. As a consequence of using slide film, which inherently has a narrower dynamic range than digital camera, I frequently face a myriad of challenges detached but still akin to the challenges faced by a digital photographer.

Technically, the most difficult image I have captured is my image of Sylvia Falls in the Blue Mountains entitled ‘Nature’s Veil’. Shooting a fixed focal length lens has its drawbacks: when a zoom lens can go from narrow to wide, I must use my feel. In this image, I found myself knee deep in cold water with wild rain and fog being blown off the valley causing a range of metering headaches. During my exposure, the ambient light changed about 2 stops (from 4 minutes to 1 minute) combined with the added complexities of reciprocity failure (the film’s exponential inability to record light during long exposures) I was looking at a change in shutter speed from approximately 10 minutes to 2 minutes. I did some quick calculations (read: guessed the exposure) on the fly and released the shutter at six minutes. Thankfully the image turned out. The fog blew off the valley, and I only had one opportunity to capture this scene. Thankfully, it worked.

Challenging Conditions

In regards to challenging conditions, my image of Craig’s Hut entitled ‘Stockman’s Ride’ is near to the top of the list. This was the third time I actually attempted to shoot Craig’s Hut as it has always been high on my list of locations. The first two attempts ended short of the goal due to road closures from snow and flash floods. My third attempt almost ended the same way with the main access route closed for the winter season. Thankfully, with a little bit of initiative, we found our way in via a 4×4 trail. After a bumpy and sometimes treacherous journey we found ourselves at Craig’s Hut just as a snow storm was blowing in off the mountains  As the sun dipped and the incredible light stretched across the scene, the snowfall got harder and harder, and the temperature dropped below freezing. I reached into my bag and found an old plastic shopping bag that I modified into a raincoat for the camera and a umbrella shielded snow from hitting the lens. Despite the conditions, it certainly was a rewarding shoot and I came away with one of my personal favourite images.

Challenging Journey

As far as challenging journeys go, it’s hard to beat my recent 18-hour canyoning expedition that almost ended in disaster. Ever since I saw the incredible images by National Geographic photographer Carsten Peter, I had an insatiable yearning to photograph Claustral Canyon in the Blue Mountains. The day started before dawn and we reached the entry point at 7am to find the entry route closed by private property. Unperturbed we ventured in the style of Bear Grylls, wildly bush-bashing through the eulcytpus forests and abseiling down cliffs. We reached the canyon proper just before lunch and were immediately met with three 10m-15m abseils down waterfalls in the narrow constrictions of the canyon where the ambient light was almost nil.

Once we hit the bottom of the canyon, the landscape was like nothing I’d ever seen; like the canyons of the Antelope slots meets the Amazon. Due to time constraints, we only managed about 30 minutes of shooting before we had to start the exit. This is where the story turns pear shaped. We took a wrong turn at the exit ravine, and soon faced a cliff. Naturally, we thought, we had to climb it. Once at the top, we quickly realised it was a mistake and we were bush-whacked. After consulting the map, we quickly figured out where we had to be, but it involved a 60 metre abseil with 30 metres of rope (we had a 60 metre rope, but when abseiling you double the rope on itself). Thus, we had to abseil half way down the cliff, then pendulum swing across 10 metres at the bottom of the cliff to a tree where we rigged up another abseil. We hit the bottom of the cliff just as the light was fading into darkness and were faced with a 600m vertical climb (over 5km) out of the canyon to the safety of the road, in the dark. The climb was utterly exhausting and the track at times non-existent as our supplies of food and water dwindled. We finally reached the safety of the road at 1am the following day.

… all that for 3 rolls of film. I haven’t had the images scanned yet, but they will be uploaded in due course.

 

2. How did you find the transition to medium-format film photography? What are its advantages/disadvantages?

As I alluded to above, shooting on medium format slide film presents its own set of unique challenges, but for this very reason I find shooting film enriching and more rewarding than shooting on digital. The most apparent challenge I faced when I initially started using medium format film was the inability to review images on-site. The modern convenience of hitting a button and reviewing the image for exposure and composition was lost and I was forced to shoot on instinct. Understanding the concepts of appreciating light, the mechanics of exposure (aperture, ISO and shutter speed), reciprocity and the aesthetics of film became critical to developing this instinct.

The advantages of medium format film photography are obvious. The aesthetics of Velvia 50 (my film of choice) hallmarked by rich saturated colour and crisp contrast are hard to replicate in Photoshop. It all makes sense upon seeing a well exposed transparency on a light table. Furthermore, the image clarity and sharpness are second to none, not to mention the huge file sizes.

It wouldn’t be a fair comparison without mentioning the cost of film photography. It’s expensive, very expensive. The costs are not limited to film and processing costs but also the cost of scanning the image for digital production and display.

Learning medium format film photography certainly was a steep learning curve but I feel that I have crafted an approach to my photography that emphasises the interplay of light and form within a landscape.

 

3. How has your post-processing style developed?

Despite shooting on film, post-processing is still central to my image making. Digital post-production techniques range from simple image improvements at one end of the scale to outlandish and imaginative image alterations that bear no semblance to reality at the other. My approach sits firmly in the former, not the latter.

Many film photographer think it’s ‘cheating’ when you use digital techniques to change an image from its original capture as it augments reality, however it is my opinion that this is not a logical argument. No film-based photograph truly represents reality, so why should photographers limit themselves in a digital world, despite the method of capture? A photographer must possess a combination of skill, patience, knowledge and a vivid imagination to create wonderful vistas and striking landscapes. It’s my opinion that digital post0production allows me more creative bandwidth to transform my observations into my visualisations. I don’t use wholesale digital editing techniques; rather I use my digital post-production to enhance my photographs through minor contrast, colour and exposure alterations.

 

4. What’s on your ‘to shoot’ list?

Like many photographers, my ‘to-shoot’ list is a dynamic list: it grows longer by the day and rarely shrinks as for every location I shoot another two are added. While I have ambitions of photographing some of the world’s most striking landscapes, I want to concentrate on building my portfolio of Australian images first, thus locations in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Tasmania are high on my list.

 

5. What can we expect from you in 2013?

I have a 10-day trip to Cairns booked in March 2013, so (weather and conditions pending) I’d like to come away with an array of images from the Tropical North, including plans to shoot the Great Barrier Reef from the air. Furthermore, I have plans in the works to photograph the Snowy Mountains in winter, so hopefully I get the opportunity to capture some unique images of Australia’s alpine region under snow.

Chip Phillips - Interview

There are some scary, scary good landscape photogs in the US, and right up there is Chip Phillips. I would go as far to say that he is one of the best not only in the US, but the world. I came across Chip through the Photocascadia website, a fantastic resource for landscape photography, and was blown away by his attention to light, detail and composition. Chip has also recently released a series of instructional videos via his website. I would strongly suggest you check them out, as they offer a keen insight and great overview of how he works. Chip was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us:

1. Hi Chip. How did you get started in landscape photography?

I have always been active in the outdoors. I have hiked many miles with my dad in the Alpine Lakes Region of WA State. About 6 or 7 years ago, my wife showed some interest in my dad’s old Pentax film SLR. We got it rebuilt by a local camera shop and I began using it. I was immediately hooked. I had no idea how much creativity and control was involved in “real” photography, as opposed to point and shoot. From there, I just kind of went with it purchasing a digital SLR soon after. Shooting in the outdoors was a natural fit.

 

2. What locations are still high on your ‘to do’ list? What are your personal favourite locations?

I have always wanted to shoot deep in the Southwest and probably will this season. I am also always trying to explore new areas closer to home such as “off the beaten path” spots in the Palouse and Cascades. Rockies as well. I recently backpacked in the Wind River Range of Wyoming and have to say this was a highlight. I can’t wait to go back. I also made it deep into the backcountry in the Tetons and loved that as well. Two of my all-time favorite locations are Banff National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. (And now the Wind River Range as well).

 

3. Is there one particular ‘shot’ you find forever alludes you?

Not necessarily one particular shot, but abstracts in general. I am constantly shooting them, and seldom do I get ones that really speak to me. When I do, I really feel I have accomplished something special.
It is easier for me to shoot the grand landscape. I like to try and challenge myself to look beyond that as often as I can.

 

4. How has the reaction been to your video tutorials? Are there plans for more down the track?

My videos have been a great success – more than I had imagined. I am so glad that so many people are finding them useful. I definitely plan on making more sometime early 2013.

 

5. What can we expect to see from you in the future?

I have many more adventures planned and am constantly shooting, so expect many more images, and more learning material in the future.

 

To see more of Chip’s work, and to download his instructional material, visit www.chipphillipsphotography.com

Brent Pearson - Interview

Brent Pearson is a prolific, Sydney-based photographer that not only takes great images but is extremely generous in what he gives back to the community via photo guides, tutorials and instruction. He’s forever pushing the boundaries and looking at new techniques, including exploring light-painting, off-camera flash and night photography well before the masses. He’s also been lucky enough to travel the world and we caught up with him after he’d just arrived back from the Burning Man festival held annually in the Nevada desert, USA. He was kind enough to answer a few quick questions.

1. Hi Brent. What landscape photographers inspire you?

I really like Christian Fletcher’s work in terms of ‘traditional landscape’. I also love some of the minimalist B&W photography from photographers such as David Fokos and Michael Kenna.

 

2. What locations are still high on your ‘to do’ list? What are your personal favourite locations?

DefinitelyIcelandis high on my ‘to-do’ list. Hopefully I will do that in 2013. Also,South America. I’d love to travel and photograph many places in that continent. I haven’t yet photographed theKimberley… but I will get there one day.

My personal favourites? Namibia is one. Karijini NP is another.

 

3. You’ve said you love photography too much to make it your day-job. Do you think trying to monetize photography takes away from your enjoyment of it?

No, I don’t think it is the act of monetizing photography that takes away from the enjoyment, I think it is about photographing because you have to, not because you want to.

If you are taking assignments to pay the bills, you can’t be too fussy unless you are very, very good at what you do. That inevitably means that you are doing work that you wouldn’t choose to do, and there is a good chance that it doesn’t inspire you artistically… so it becomes ‘work’.

I’ve met quite a few professional photographers who have lost the ‘love’ of photography… and some of them have even said they don’t even take their cameras away with them when they go on holiday because they want a break from it.

When I pick my camera up, it’s always because I want to, not because I have to. Big difference!

 

4. What are some of the specific challenges you’ve found shooting and light-painting landscapes at night?

Specifically, I found understanding the quality of portable lights challenging — even-ness, colour temperature, power, quality. Also, estimating the exposure as you are light painting and getting it right.On top of this, you have to blend it with a well-exposed ambient image.

 

5. What can we expect to see from Brent Bat in the future? Are there any new techniques you’ve recently discovered that have you excited? 

I’ve been getting more and more into off-camera flash lately… and enjoying the control and creativity that strobes can bring to photography. I like to use flash out on location rather than in the studio, and in situations where flash is not typically used. The work I have just done in Burning Man is a good example of that.

 

To see more of Brent’s work, visit his website and blog at http://brentpearsonphotography.com

Colin Bates - Interview

I follow a lot of photographers on popular photo sharing site Flickr. One that has always stood out to me is local photog Colin Bates. For me, its his minimalist B&W images that really stand out. They always look so effortless, so well-composed. Colin has a style you just recognise right away, a signature  if you will, but he’s not just limited to B&W, producing great work across a variety of genres. Here’s what he had to say.

1. What draws you to minimalist black and white photography?

Just the pure simplicity. As the saying goes, sometimes less is more.

 

2. What are three photographic tips or tricks you wish you’d known about five years ago?

- Always make sure your horizon is straight.
- Knowing what ND grad filters are and how to use them.
- How to open Photoshop, let alone use it.

 

3. What photographers do you look up to?

That is a hard one, as there are so many talented photographers out there. You only have to look at Flickr or 500px. But I would say some stand-outs would be:
- Peter Eastway: His landscape work and post-processing really appeals to me, so much that I purchased his masterclass workshop. Money well spent.
- Christian Fletcher: An amazing landscape photographer, and his Photoshop skills are brilliant.
- Brent Pearson: His seascape work is fantastic which inspired me to contact him for a private lesson.
- Andy Brown: A master of the B&W long exposure. His minimalistic work is just breathtaking.
- Ian Bramham: Creates some amazing images in colour and B&W. A class act indeed.

 

4. Where are your favourite spots to shoot and why?

I absolutely love shooting the NSW south coast. This coastline and countryside holds a special place in my heart. I still remember my first sunrise shoot at the Glasshouse rocks in Narooma. It was just before first light when I walked onto Cemetery beach and saw these two huge rocks. I felt a real presence and it still sends a shiver down my spine. As the Blue Mountains is right on my doorstep, this is another place I enjoy taking the time to explore, discover and shoot. It just has so much to offer – from the windblown peaks to the gorgeous waterfalls, canyons and rainforests.

 

5. What can we expect from Colin Bates in 2013?

2013 is shaping up to be a good year with quite a few plans and ideas on the go. Some adventures planned so far are a two-week shooting fest in New Zealand’s South Island, Hill End in the Autumn, as well as a trip to Lightning Ridge and Tasmania.
I am also planning on advancing my skills in natural light portraiture as well as strobist work and upgrading to the Nikon D800E.

 

To see more of Colin’s work, visit his Flickr page here.

Dylan Fox - Interview

Dylan Fox (http://dylanfox.com.au) is one of those local young guns that makes me want to cry. One of his recent images popped up in the Canon Australia FB feed and I was totally blown away. Further investigation showed me a varied and full portfolio, including some really unique comps I hadn’t seen before from popular Western Australian destinations. Check out what Dylan had to say in his own words below.

1) What’s a favourite image you’ve taken and why?

My answer will change on a fairly regular basis. Usually it’s one of my most recent photographs. As my style is tweaked and evolves my views on older photographs will have changed. As with most artists (or at least photographers), I am very fussy with my work and always evaluating pieces, which is I guess is why we progress.
Right now my favourite piece is ‘The Reward (see first image in slideshow above). I had previously captured a very similar composition to this photograph but under very different conditions, but when I arrived back at this beach I couldn’t resist setting up for this frame with the clouds looking like they would provide a colourful sunset and the tidal and swell conditions were right to shoot it again. The shoot was exciting to say the least. A number of times the water rushing through the channel was completely engulfing my tripod as it was set very low and only falling shot of reaching the camera by about 10cm! Not only that, but incoming waves were splashing at me so I had to keep an eye on them to ensure my gear didn’t cop any of them! Then to my surprise, as the colours were peaking lightning started striking regularly, landing right at the end of the channel! I was so stoked with the distant strikes, but when the bright one landed so much closer to shore than any of the others and I captured it, I was thrilled!
I wanted the photograph to be a fairly soft image with the lightning strike interrupting that calm feeling of the photograph. I love to photograph with a ‘no risk, no reward’ attitude, and this photograph in particular I considered a reward.
It was such an awesome night knowing I had captured lightning strikes in a colourful sunset! Lightning shots were something that had eluded me until recently.

 

2) If someone was visiting Western Australia for the first time, what spots would you consider photographic must-dos?
I would always suggest the south-west. You can look in any direction down there and find something amazing. I love visiting the Cape Naturaliste area. The coast is stunning with brilliant rock formations. I have so much shooting I still want to do down there. Every time I visit the area I go down with one particular shot in mind that I want to capture, so there will be many trips south in the future! You can also head further south and visit Esperance and other towns. I am yet to get there but cannot wait to make the drive down!

 

3) How does your post processing differ from other landscape photographers?
I really don’t know… I don’t really read or research all that much when it comes to post-processing techniques, so I don’t really know what a lot of other photographers do. If there is a certain look or feeling to a photograph that I want to achieve I will often just work out a way to do it on my own. There are so many different ways to go about creating similar effects. If there is a technique that I really want to know I am not afraid to ask a photographer who does it well, and more often than not they will tell you how they do it or point you in the right direction. I would simply suggest trial and error. If you know your way around Photoshop and know what you want to achieve, you will often be able to achieve that result with a bit of patience.

 

4) How successful have you been monetizing your photography, and what advice would you give to others looking to do the same?
I am quite proud to call myself a professional photographer now. It was a title I held off on. I am a full-time photographer keeping busy with shooting landscapes, continuing to build my print sale figures on a yearly basis, and picking up contract work. The dream is to one day not have to take on the contract work and only shoot what I love. I have a commerce degree with majors in marketing and advertising, so I am going about things in regard to my landscape work in a very strict manner, which I guess could hurt the pocket in the short-term, but I am making these decisions for long-term gain.

 

5) What can we expect from you in 2013?
I am excited about 2013. So far it has been a great year. I have a list of goals that I want to get through. I have a trip to the States in June/July and hope to get a number of trips in around Western Australia. I am wrapped with the direction my photography is taking and really can’t wait to get out in search of my next shot! If I can add 12 or more photographs to my collection that I am proud of I will be thrilled. I plan on doing a bit more night photography this year as well. I have a number of photographs in my head; just waiting on the right conditions for some of them. Some of them have to wait until I get to the US.

 

Be sure to check out more of Dylan’s extraordinary work via his website.