INTERVIEW about Landscape photography
Landscape photography is a deceptively difficult genre to master. While there are potential subjects everywhere for any photographer to enjoy, actually crafting an effective and timeless composition is no easy task. Expert landscape photographer Pawel Zygmunt (500px.com/pawelzygmunt) has first-hand experience of all the major challenges and has learned how best to overcome them.
What got you started in photography? Tell us about your early career.
I always dreamed of taking photographs and my first fascination was with black
and white street photography. That was 17 years ago, in Poland, in a time where there was no access to fast internet, to get all the information required to even start learning. I didn’t have much money to spend either, as I was at university.
I remember getting my first camera, which was a Soviet Union-manufactured Zenit. I also bought black and white film for it with 12 frames to shoot. As I didn’t know anything about composition and light, I wasted that film and had only two photographs exposed more or less correctly. That discouraged me for few years until my access to [training materials] became easier. I tried again when I emigrated to Ireland in 2005, and got my first digital camera, a Nikon D200. I discovered that travelling and landscape photography was my destiny.
What are your favourite landscape subjects and why?
I don’t have a favourite landscape subject, but most of my shots are seascapes. This could very much be caused by the fact that
I live on an island! I absolutely love places where the ocean meets with land, especially Western and Northern parts of Ireland’s coast. From massive sea stacks, sea caves and blowholes to ripped cliffs or even mountains falling into rough waters; from waves crashing onto the cliffs or washing stones on the beach, to calm turquoise waters and calm bays – you find all of that in Ireland, as well as beautiful mountains, lakes and places so secluded and rugged that you’ll forget you are living in times of globalisation.
What cameras and lenses do you usually use for your photography?
I now use a Nikon D810 and I always have two standard landscape lenses with me, which are a Nikkor 16-35mm f4 and Sigma 24-70mm f2.8. I am planning to buy a Nikon 70-200mm f4 and Samyang 14mm f2.8 in the near future.
What are you trying to say with your images? Are you trying to tell a story?
Since I mostly photograph landscapes of Ireland and Scotland, my photographs are about the beauty of these two countries. My message is clear – you have to visit these places to feel their power and you will never forget the experience. Light is the power in photography and light in Ireland and Scotland can be amazing, which is what I am trying to show.
How do you decide if colour or black and white will work best for an image?
I always shoot in colour and then change into monochrome in post-processing. I prefer colour photographs however and when out on location, I can usually predict what will work better in black and white. It has to do with how much light is in the scene or what kind of weather I’ve got. For example when
I get harsh morning light or a fully overcast, stormy sky I will quite often decide to go for black and white.
What challenges do you find in your line of work and how do you overcome these?
Building strong compositions is still something I am trying to improve. When I’m out there I sometimes struggle to find a decent frame and start panicking right before sunrise or sunset, afraid I won’t get anything. If I’m in a very good location, I try to do too much, instead of focusing on one particular shot. While stressful, I’ve learned how to handle it better – I already mentioned that I always have my main subject in mind before I go on location, so all I have to find is something interesting in the foreground.
Do you have a favourite image from the selection you sent us and why?
The stag image I photographed on my recent trip to Scotland. It was an adventure to be so close to a wild animal. It was so unexpected – I was just passing and as I don’t really have a proper wildlife lens, I didn’t plan it at all. He was just sitting there and resting when I got out of the vehicle. I slowly approached it to a few metres and took a photo handheld at 35mm. The deer composes so well into the beautiful Scottish Highland scenery and looks like he is watching over his land.
Is there a location you’d love to visit with your camera and why?
I’d really love to visit Iceland and Norway one day, mainly because I have never experienced an aurora show. That definitely would be the main attraction, but Iceland and Norway are also known for fantastic landscapes. On my first trip I’d like to go to the most iconic locations and another trip would be to reach deeper.
What tips would you give photographers new to your favourite genres?
Landscape photography can be a bit frustrating at the start but don’t get discouraged – it will all come with time. To start, get tips from other photographers, social media and YouTube. There is so much material that people can learn from and with such easy access to it, you can make very quick progress. Always plan your trip by checking [everything from] weather, tides and wind speed to light direction. If you come to the spot well prepared you minimise your chance of failure. Enjoy discovering new places and take photography as an extra to it.
What is next? What are your photographic ambitions for the future?
I’d love to try myself in astrophotography and because it involves learning new post- processing techniques, it could improve my editing in general, helping me in producing better photographs.
It would be nice to get to know other places in Europe and maybe even on other continents. The world is so beautiful and is just full of spectacular things, waiting to be discovered.
Planning is power
Creating unique landscape compositions can be difficult, especially when you’re spoiled for choice A big challenge faced by landscape photographers is isolating a single subject, amongst the plethora of framing possibilities you might find at a location.
Pawel adopts a classic strategy to solving this problem. “I always try to be on location as early as possible, at least two hours before sunrise or sunset, so I can enjoy the place and feel it before I start taking any pictures,” he explains. “I have time to walk around, to look for some point of interest or to just sit down and watch the changing light.
I usually know what I am going to photograph before I go, as I do some research at home. Knowing my main subject, I look for something which can lead the eye to it. Sometimes, when I find myself in a situation where it’s difficult to find a strong composition, I try to make it up by catching great light.”
By leaving time to explore all of the possible perspectives, Pawel is able to better match his pre-imagined creative vision, resulting in a more efficient and less stressful photoshoot. This demonstrates how good use of time yields more successful shots. His approach also enables him to better enjoy his surroundings and create a connection with the scene.