Can you introduce yourself to us?
My name is Mike, I am from Auckland and I am a self-taught amateur photographer.
I have always been a keen sportsman however since turning the big 5-0, I have had to re-evaluate my interests and at the same time, remain active (age is a great leveler). I have been able to better my photography skills, visit parts of the country I have not seen and revisit places I have enjoyed before and at the same time, maintain a reasonable level of fitness. I find it rewarding to capture my place in time.
How and when did you get into photography?
I purchased my first camera in my teens, a Pentax SLR with two lenses and all I really wanted to do was take images of race cars. My goals were to achieve a good depth of field and freeze the action. Due to most shots being taken from behind wire fencing, I had more misses than hits and, in the end, the cost of buying a processing film curbed my enthusiasm.
My first DSLR was a Sony A200 with two excellent stock lenses purchased in 2005. I was given a book, ‘the 35mm photographer’s handbook’ which became my bible. Even though it was written for film cameras, it contained everything you needed to know about general photography. That book inspired me to take my photography to the next level.
Nowadays, with numerous YouTube tutorials available, let me confess that I spend a lot of time in front of the computer. I now own a Canon 70d and a Canon 5d mkiv and a range of lenses covering most focal lengths. I know there is the adage of it’s not what you use it’s how you use it but, I hold the opinion that if you want to do something properly, do it right and so, I consider my camera equipment an investment.
So is motorsport photography still king for you?
Yes, my interest in motorsport remains. I love having the ability to control speed and communicate that in my photography. Whether it be a panned image of a race car resulting in a sharp vehicle and blurred background, a glowing brake rotor frozen inside a spinning wheel, a macro image of a tyre tread, I challenge myself to grab ‘that piece of the action’.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the same mindset extends to a passion for recording landscapes and water. We are fortunate to have such a beautiful, varied, and accessible environment in NZ- it is in abundance depending on your particular interest. At first, the challenge for me was not to photograph everything for the sake of it. I was drawn towards longer exposures and as a result my photography has taken this direction. In using it, I attempt to deliver a sense of peace and tranquillity, to calm an otherwise noisy, somewhat violent, hectic scene like a waterfall, a river, or a seascape. If I am photographing a sunset or sunrise, I typically look for vibrant colours or cloud patterns that will pull the scene together.
What photography equipment do you have?
I'm shooting with:
· Canon 70d/Canon 5d MKIV
· Canon 24-105mm f4
· Canon 70-200mm f2.8
· Sigma 18-35 f1.8
· Samyang 14mm f2.2
· CPL/Nisi Filters
What stories you are trying to tell with your photos and what's your thinking process before taking a shot?
My story depends on my scene, a sense of speed for motor racing, a sense of calm when taking images of water, the colours in a sky or a landscape. As an amateur photographer my ethos is to capture what I see, or I would like to see it and how do I achieve it.
Waterfalls or a rushing sea do not have a soft satin appearance but they are aesthetically pleasing to me when I can generate that picture in combination with the surroundings and environment at the time.
In contrast, motorsport is fast and emanates excitement and danger and I attempt to capture that on my canvas by selecting the right depth of field and shutter speed.
Black and white images in my opinion still have a place in modern photography, so I am not necessarily looking from a colour only perspective. Their ability to make a scene more dramatic or even sharper is so effective and are good at hiding some imperfections too.
As for my thinking process, my personal objective is to take the best photograph by reminding myself that the landscape or waterfall will as a rule, always be there, but the mood, the aura around it, might only be brief and to photograph it, I have to feel an emotional connection. I will ask, does this genuinely interest me? If so, I decide if I can do my subject justice using the skills I have learned, the equipment I have, or am I able to learn something by photographing it?
I take a number of photographs at different focal lengths and angles and I expose for the shadows allowing me room to move in post to get my correct exposure. I will always use RAW format for the sake of maximising my camera’s capabilities. Except for the rule of thirds which I think balances an image, I am not too interested in leading lines or alike. While I understand its role, I have always likened that rule to being a driver on a road; you miss out on what you have passed to get to the destination. Maybe I think differently, but similarly as I see the world, I like to see the whole picture before I concentrate on one particular aspect of it. I also tend to shoot wider so that I have the ability to crop the scene for a better composition. The cliché it is better to have too much than too little has its merits in the photography world.
With the exception of motorsport, other than knowing I could end up in a place that I like the look of, I generally do not prepare myself to go out and shoot a particular photograph or scene. As a result, I always take far too much gear. I will know the area I want to visit but following my nose has been better than any google map on a lot of occasions. Being a shift-worker, I am able to avoid the masses and I have a partner that supports my interest; there has been many a time I have told her that I might be taking an overnight tiki tour tomorrow. I find being out on my own I can take my time and if not picking up my camera, just enjoy the peace and solitude of the moment. Photography is so relaxing.
Do you have a favourite photo?
Some of my favourite photographs are of the Marokopa Falls near Waitomo, taken shortly before the second lockdown in August 2020.
A friend had painted the area on a canvas that hangs on our wall and I always said I would get there - I was not disappointed when I finally did.
There were only 3 other people there when I visited and they did not stay long so the viewing platform became my personal easel. For a different perspective, I considered taking my chances walking down to the river and base of the falls, but recent rain had the steep ground looking mighty slippery and damaging my equipment or worse still myself made me see sense; I can always return when the ground is less slippery.
I ended up taking about 20 photographs of the falls that day in both portrait and landscape modes. I also used a CPL which gave me 2 stops of light, a tripod and a 2 second timer to avoid camera shake. Of the three that I posted on Excio, my point of focus in two were the rocks at the base with the water falling like a curtain. The green moss adds depth and a mood to the rocks and the water behind. The image to me suggests waterfall, you are powerful, but I found a piece of you that I could tame.
What tips can you share with new photographers?
My advice to others wanting to take up photography is – do it for you, take photos of what you like, and take plenty of them. If you are happy with the end result, then it is a good photograph. Unless you are a natural, be prepared for every failure known to photography, but consider it a failure every photographer has learned from.
Also, consider purchasing a CPL or a variable ND filter which are good things to have in your bag so that you have the ability to control light - I have destroyed what I thought was a good photograph by blowing out my highlights.
Where can we find you online?