The remarkable diversity of New Zealand landscapes is quite astonishing. It's hard to think of any other place on our planet, which can offer such an exhausting range of sceneries and photography subjects what New Zealand can.
From paradise like beaches of the northern parts of the North Island, across vast, volcanic and tundra-like planes of the Central North Island and its living geysers and volcanoes, to the rainforests of the South Island, alpine highlands, untamed, crystal clear rivers and streams, wild, remote coastlines, prehistoric lakes, permanently snowed up peaks of the Southern Alps, glaciers, fiords, wetlands and so much more. Even more astonishing is the fact, that all these wild landscapes are often within a day driving distances between each other to reach. No wonder then, that New Zealand is regarded as a photographers' paradise. As for me, the wild West Coast of the Southern Alps, which stretches all the way down to Fiordland, is closest to my heart.
Living on the border of Westland Tai Poutini National Park, Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand - UNESCO World Heritage Area, I feel very humbled and privileged to be able to work as a landscape photographer in this extraordinary region and country; trying to capture scenes and magical moments of its incredible landscapes.
It would be hard to be on this journey without a support of my partner and soulmate Kristina but most importantly without you, my clients and supporters who are on this road with me. It is my delight and reward when I can share and present to you all the wonders of my beloved New Zealand landscapes and what they mean to me.
My passion for wild landscapes and nature came about very organically, as I grew up in a tiny village in the middle of the Czech Republic, right on the edge of the large bohemian forest, where I spent most of my childhood playing.
The Czech Republic unfortunately doesn't have the wild wilderness areas, similar to those what New Zealand has, but I've always had a strong affection with southern parts of my birth country, the SUMAVA National Park, which is as close to the wilderness as you can get in central Europe. I even ended up serving my 2 years of military duties there, which only strengthened my love for the wild outdoors; and it was there, where my landscape photography began.
I remember admiring wonderful images from landscape photographers showcasing these parts of the Czech Republic in its best but as my interest in photography grew, my eyes were searching also for landscapes elsewhere. It was in late 80th when I was discovering names of the Czech landscape photographers, such as Karel Kuklik and Martin Milfort who were capturing my favourite part of the country. From abroad, it were mainly the flawless compositions and colour of Ernst Haas, Ansel Adams, Clyde Butcher and wonderful, great light and colours of David Munch and Galen Rowell's photographs, from which I drew my inspiration and I still do today.
I immersed myself into these photographers' books and begun learning about compositions, light, exposures and all important aspects of a great landscape photograph. I also took a couple of courses to make sure my "understanding of things" is right. Fuji Provia colour slide film became my film of choice but because I couldn't afford a large format camera, I had to try my best with a standard 35mm Nikon SLR film camera - Nikon F100 with a couple of Nikkor lenses eventually became my workhorses.
The Fuji Provia 100 was a fantastic film with a great dynamic range among transparency films and I loved using it. I even preferred it to the hugely popular Velvia for its more natural look.
When the digital age started to creep in, I was very reluctant to consider it since I've been so comfortable using my film where I knew what to expect, besides, I loved looking at the trannie's on the light table, but it was Nikon D200 which got my attention. I had an opportunity to work with this camera for quite some time and I started to see some great advantages over the film. The quality of digital files was on the rise but I still kept exposing my Fuji film alongside of digital files, ending with 2 identical frames - one on film and one digital. This habit of mine lasted for about a year when I realised that for my reproductions, I was using only digital files out of those duplicates. It was in 2008 when I put my newly purchased 20 rolls of the Fuji Provia into the freezer, not yet realising that they were my last rolls purchased and that I won't take them out of the box since.
My last exposure of this great film was on 19 April 2008 and those 20 rolls are still in my freezer even today, with my trusty Nikon F100 resting in the cupboard.
Learning photography foundations and practicing it back in the days of film, allowed me to develop certain perspectives on making a photograph and also helped me to find my style and vision.
In my early photography days, except early versions of Photoshop which was expensive and not easy to get accustomed with at that time, there weren't many readily available softwares to process image scans as it is possible today, at least I wasn't aware of them, let alone being capable of using them if they existed. Therefore, to produce a quality image, one had to be accurate in the field - what was in the frame, stayed in the frame; testament to ones' eye, skills or no skills... and of course, often, not always ending with a desired result. But it is this fact of keeping landscapes natural as they were, which is etched in my work.
Of course, as the technology develops, as professionals, we need to try to keep up with advancements and embrace it.
The huge benefits of freedom in digital capture result in much better technical image quality, together with possibilities of capturing what was un-recordable before.
There is an endless stream of opinions on what's right and what's wrong when it comes to this bi-polar subject and I'm not going to engage in this discussion here. Instead, I'd like just to outline MY level of image optimisation and why some of it has to be done.
Digital cameras in our hands today are technical wonder machines and it's up to each of us to decide how we use them and what of their offerings we'll utilise the most.
For a landscapes photographer, two most obvious factors are the camera's dynamic range capability and its resolution. It's these two factors which allows me to apply certain levels of adjustments without degrading the image file quality, while capturing the file in RAW format is a must for the best results, as we know.
Because today's cameras allow us to record a quality information not possible only a few years ago, we are able to photograph scenes with huge luminosity contrasts like never before.
Being able to capture these data however, doesn't mean that we have the image. The data have to be processed to be readable by our computers and further used as needed. Once processed, the image file is very neutral, not reflecting the reality of the scene and therefore, the file has to be optimised. And it is here, where my film days kick back in, I love naturally looking images of my landscapes without any significant modifications - what I saw and witnessed - that's what I share with you in my photographs.
In the film days, due to the film emulsion characteristics, we were used to to slightly under expose the positive film and slightly overexpose the negative to record the best colours and contrast of the scene in the image. Similarly today with digital capture, the well known term of "exposing to the right" without loosing the highlight detail, has it's place. I'm not going into the technical detail here which has to do with optical sensor and its micro lenses' characteristics of light reception, but by simply doing so, our camera sensors are able to record the maximum information from the scene in front of us. Yes, the image file will end up overexposed before its processing but at the same time we record the maximal tonal and dynamic range which also results in very clean shadow detail. Further, the sensor records amazing hues of the colour spectrum, which we often not even perceive with naked eye. The benefits of exposing this way are incredible, resulting in great reduction of noise, especially in shadow areas, and in wonderful detail, colours and tonality throughout the image.
In my basic image adjustments workflow, I commonly adjust exposure, often dialling it to negative values, I would adjust black and white points and overall contrast adjustment. I seldom use saturation or vibrancy slider because I get all my colours from "exposing to the right", so no need to introduce new colours.
My main hub for image processing is Photoshop Lightroom, which also serves as an image management software of my archive. I would also use the Photoshop CS to help me in optimising my images to achieve the most natural, "as I experienced it" result. Commonly and if needed, I'd use variety of techniques, from normal blending images or using luminosity masks but always trying to reproduce the real scene with light and colours witnessed in reality on location, not to change them. I don't use any dedicated HDR softwares, but if I work with image with huge dynamic range, I would merged images together manually to constrain the dynamic range. Sometimes in the field, I may also use a ND Gradual filter to register this range but when I'm sure my camera can record the data, I prefer to apply filter in the software or blending images together. The resulting image has a better quality using digital filter or processes then plastic or glass placed in front of the lens. Sometimes, simply even our most advanced cameras can't capture what our human eye can and needs a bit of a hand, at least for now.
I'm not a hard core purist, though. I do admit digitally removing a tiny branch or stick on the ground rather then braking it on location, but that's about all I'm willing to do and accept in physically altering my images. I don't remove skies, clouds, mountains, roads etc... equally I don't add them into my frames either. This is MY way of thinking and working with my images without saying what's wrong or right, and I'd like to think of myself as being a photographer and not an illustrating artist.
In my view though and despite of the history of image manipulation since photography beginnings, Mother Nature around us, its magical, pure wilderness of places, is here for us, photographers to photograph and not to change it. The nature is most beautiful in its raw conditions and I just love those spectacular landscapes as they are, they don't deserve to be altered and under normal circumstances, it shouldn't be our right either. It is and always has been my goal to photograph the scenes when the nature is in its best mood, at least for me and my intended photograph, which can often be very challenging. It requires a lot of planing, countless days and weeks of camping out in the wild, facing/enjoying the elements, waiting for the right time and light in any weather, climbing the mountains and wading rivers to get the frame. Sometimes though, the luck can be on our side and if we're prepared, we can capture stunning scenes spontaneously, impromptu.
When I'm with my clients on my workshops, I try to communicate my view on landscape photography from not only technical angle but also from the "bigger picture".
Every photographer has it's own, unique style of capturing the great landscapes.
I enjoy making images with colours - but colours that play a part in the photograph. However, as I progress through my career, I'm finding myself more and more on the side where the colour doesn't need to be overwhelming the image or be there just because it was on the sky, rather, it has to be complimenting the image, it has to be in harmony within the scene.
In my work, I pursue composition, light and shadow, subtlety, purpose and this harmony. Composition of the colours, their relationship and how they compliment each other, textures and lines, they all are on my mind when I make my image. Because I think that it's only then, when all elements are in a great harmony, when the landscape photograph can evoke a mood, emotion, stir up feelings and make sense to me.
Composition is the most important quality of any photograph. One can have the most beautiful, dramatic light in the landscape but if the composition is wrong, the image is spoiled.
On the other hand, one can have the most mundane light of the day but if the image is strongly, meaningfully composed, the photograph works, especially in B&W.
The light, however, is the holy grail in making the powerful, memorable image and it is the combination of these two qualities, composition and light, which make the photograph unique, remarkable and special.
As the wilderness around the world continues to be relentlessly attacked for economic benefits of a few, it's our responsibility, and we as photographers have a great role in it, to protect these treasured lands for future generations; despite that this phrase became such a cliché. But it became a cliché thanks to callousness of the exploiting corporations, in spite of desperate, repetitive calls of the general public for protection of these environments.
Without even realising it, we take wild places for granted - because we need them. Subconsciously, in our mind we know they're there - somewhere, and that comforts us hugely.
They give us an option of an escape if we need to. But if we would ever allow to loose these places, we would have failed tragically as a human race and perhaps the life on Earth as we know it today, wouldn't exist any more. We would all have chips and programs in our heads telling us what to do, living in a grey world, and, we wouldn't even realise that these wild places once existed.
We just can't afford to lose these re-charging stations, the soul healing wild environments, they're part of our existence.
But I'm positive as there are few good signals that suggest that we, as humans, are recognising the need for these untouched and hard to access areas. Their existence keeps us calm and comforted even without ever going there. It's a psychological perception of this fact, which has an enormous effect on our life. We are part of these landscapes and that gives us humility and thankfulness that this wild nature allows us to share this beautiful Planet with it, these places make us humans.