Guy, tell us a bit about you and how your passion for landscape photography started.
I was lucky that I grew up on a medium-sized dairy farm in North Taranaki and learnt the usual skills with livestock, machinery and infrastructure. I was very popular as a teenager - most of the neighbours wanted me to help relief milk, help with haymaking, dock lambs and other stock work. I enjoyed the work and tore around our rural neighbourhood on my 2-wheel motorbike, earning real money doing real adult work. High risk, high skill, adventure and teamwork were part of my daily life, but all the while I dreamed of escaping to places where I could photograph and explore while climbing, kayaking and hiking
What I realise now is that I was building a foundation that put me in a good position as a landscape photographer. I learnt how to start work early, how to get my gear organised and how to keep myself fed and working in cold weather. I spent countless hours moving stock or driving tractors early and late in the day or walking through the native forest checking my possum traps. I would watch the shadows form on the hills, or a brewing storm form over Taranaki maunga, or listen to the forest come to life at dusk as darkness fell. This connection with the land is the core of my landscape photography.
I realised that to pursue my interest in photography and adventure, I wouldn’t be able to farm full time, so I studied rural valuation at Massey University to allow me more regular hours of work as a rural professional. I joined the Massey University Alpine Club and met other members who were on the same journey with their photography. We would show each other our slide photographs and give constructive feedback, it was a very supportive learning environment and pivotal to my success. I also formed a good relationship with the staff at the local camera store in Palmerston North - they were an endless source of knowledge. After graduating, I worked for AgResearch and found myself using microscopes and other technical equipment, during this time I read many books on photography and put the knowledge into practice in the field. I was away adventuring 3 weekends out of 4 and saw some incredible country and had some amazing experiences, always photographing and striving to improve.
So when did you first pick up a camera and what were you working with?
During my teenage years, I saved for my first camera, an Olympus XA2, which I took on many adventures. I began to experiment with compositions and different films and took my first role of slide film with it when I was 19 years old. It was Kodachrome 25 and I waited 3 weeks for the processed photos to come back from Australia! This was a pivotal time for me as I could get accurate feedback on my exposures, and offer the photos to publications for sale. However, the optical quality of the lens proved to be insufficient and I had to upgrade my gear to a second hand Olympus OM2n SLR to get optical quality that met publishers’ expectations. I started using Fuji Velvia 50 iso slide film soon after its release in 1990 and eventually switched to Canon SLR equipment.
How would you define your photographic style?
My style is colourful, dramatic and attention-holding, that’s it in a nutshell. I always strive to create photographs that have strong graphic elements and beautiful light and colours. In fact, I’m fascinated by the light show that happens during sunset and sunrise, these times of the day are what bring me back to landscape photography. I always consider my compositions carefully before taking the photo, especially checking around the edge of the frame to check for distracting objects, but at the same time making sure as much of the frame as possible is jammed packed with relevant subject matter.
What is the inspiration behind your images?
Once I left home, my dream came true and outside of work I became an outdoor athlete, I completed adventure triathlons, small scale expeditions and volunteered as a kayaking guide at club level. I realised that some of the places I was visiting were so beautiful and unique that I felt compelled to join my passion for photography with the need to protect, share and champion these wild and remote areas. I have been inspired by many other professional outdoor photographers and they have shared their knowledge to help people like me succeed. American nature photographer Art Wolf is my biggest influence, his work is very beautiful. Also, American photographer and author John Shaw has been instrumental in my journey - his books are excellent references. Now I have the equipment and skills to go out and capture images that are better than anything I have taken before and that’s where I get my biggest inspiration - the idea of creating new and exciting images.
What gear are you using to achieve these results?
I have Canon DSLR gear now and will often use a polarising filter and a 3-stop hard edge graduated neutral density filter. I do use HDR technique as well, but I prefer the look of a graduated filter for most scenes where there is dark shadow and bright highlights. I always strive to get the exposure and composition right in the field and that often means taking quite a lot of gear, especially a heavy tripod. One of my tripods is a Manfrotto 055B, which isn’t light to carry on multi-day hikes! I have bigger tripods which I use when shooting close to the car. I also have an electrician ladder which I use to get extra height - it’s made of fibreglass, which makes it easy enough to carry a few hundred metres.
I use Adobe Lightroom to process my images and occasionally will use Photoshop to remove unwanted subject matter. Processing images is an integral part of my workflow and is important to bring out the best colours in a photograph. Most of the work I do on an image is in the Basic section of the Develop Module. I have just recently started Panorama stitch photography and that has been a steep learning curve, but has been a perfect tool for many of the places I am currently visiting.
Do you follow any particular process when taking your landscape photos?
Firstly I put down the camera and spend some time looking at the subject in front of me. The more I study, the more I feel the uniqueness of the scene. I study the texture of the surface, look at the light direction and ask myself many questions about what makes the scene unique, I think about the tonal range within the scene, the angles each focal length would yield and reflect on what other photos I’ve seen of this type of subject. I call this phase “the dance”- it’s a beautiful moment where art, creativity, technology and experience all combine to create an image in my mind. It’s also the most important part of my landscape photography and often takes 5-10 minutes. To do this well, I need to be alone and without distractions and once I have decided on an image, I will work quickly to secure the shot and then keep shooting. Often subsequent photos are better than the first and being persistent often pays dividends.
What is the hardest part of capturing landscape photographs?
Finding time to get to remote locations, especially in good light! Forward planning is a big part of my landscape photography. Autumn and winter are the busiest times of the year for me as I chase the beautiful light and take advantage of the shorter daylight hours, often shooting through the middle of the day.
It’s also a challenge to keep yourself working in bad weather, but with some training and good gear, this can be overcome quite easily. I enjoy being out in the elements, it’s the connection with the outdoor world that makes landscape photography so enjoyable.
Do you have any tips for amateur photographers wanting to take better landscape photos?
Before heading out, learn more about the place you want to photograph by doing online research and check other photographers work. Once there, experiment with different lenses and angles to create interesting compositions and all the while use good technique and a sturdy tripod - remember, the best photos are usually taken in low light.
To be a successful landscape photographer you have to consistently produce high-quality work and this means having to learn the principles of optics and light. For example, you need to know how to read a depth of field table, how to work the exposure triangle, how to accurately meter a scene in complex lighting and how to use techniques like hyperfocal focusing. Knowing this information means less time fumbling with camera equipment and more time securing quality photos in those fleeting moments at the start and end of the day. The easiest way to learn these techniques is to spend time in the field with a skilled photographer or enrol in a specialised course.
Ultimately, you will have to have good equipment, but thankfully the gear required for landscape photography is quite affordable compared to other genres. As a minimum, I recommend a full-frame digital camera and a good wide angle lens like a 16-35mm. If you combine this kit with a good tripod, you are set for 80% of your needs. Producing high quality, saleable images does take several years of practice, that’s the commitment that is needed, but it’s a fun journey and the rewards are incredible.
Do you have any favourite photos you can share with us?
This image has a late summer day feel to it and we can all relate to the feeling of the sand under our feet as we stroll along a vast open beach with minimal effort. The cool and warm colours work well together and there is enough texture to hold our attention.
By using a polarising filter and a longer exposure I created patterns in the water that complement the natural patterns in the volcanic rock formations. There is a high degree of closure in this image -the scale is not clear and that adds a sense of mystery and holds the viewer’s attention. The scene is very unique - I haven’t seen anything else like it in New Zealand.
This was one of the most dramatic light shows I have ever seen in the outdoors, a few minutes before this photo was taken we were standing in fog, wondering if it would clear. The painterly effect of the layered clouds combined with the mix of cool and warm colours with low angle side lighting makes this image special. Having a reflection in the still tarn also added another element to enhance the composition.
This scene blew me away as soon as I saw it, full of the most magnificent alpine plants in full summer bloom, with a perfectly sculptured waterfall that made for a lavish photograph. A subtle colour balance reflects the mood of the scene with plants that have to adapt to survive in a harsh alpine environment.
I like the layers in this image and with a slight sense of unbalance to the composition along with a lack of surface detail, it makes it quite artistic. It’s a very simplistic photograph that relies on colour, form and line as its main elements, yet we can recognise the subject straight away.
This image is a classic “grand landscape” which shows the foreground detail of rocks and alpine plants sweeping away to the distant mountains. There is also a strong human element - the huts and track next to Lake Mackenzie show how insignificant we are in such a wild place. The texture in the mountains and sky works with the primary colours of blue and yellow to make the image successful.
What else should we know about you and your photography?
Photography is a life-long apprenticeship. I am several decades into mine and it’s a very exciting time to be a photographer! With current digital technology and powerful editing and photo management programmes, we can achieve efficient workflows. I have just started offering my services as a wedding and portrait photographer and I am also doing some personal work on urban architecture which I hope will lead to more commercial work.
Where can we find you online?