LUKE AUSTIN WAS DRAWN TO PHOTOGRAPHY AS A MEANS OF CAPTURING HIS LOVE FOR THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT. SINCE THEN ONE OF NIKON’S FAVOURITE LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHERS HAS DISCOVERED NEW WAYS OF GENERATING AWE AND INSPIRATION EVERY TIME HE PRESSES THE SHUTTER.
Like most talented visual artists, Luke Austin’s desire to achieve has come at great personal cost.
Despite drawing both national and international acclaim after winning the 2015 International Photographer of the Year, the 2012 International Loupe Awards for Landscape Photography winner and headlining Australia’s own Head On Photo festival, the Perth-based landscape photographer says he struggles to ever give himself credit for a job well done.
“I not only photograph because I enjoy getting out and witnessing these incredible locations under dramatic conditions but I love the challenge of trying to push myself creatively to hopefully come away with something that does the location justice while still having my own spin on things.
“It becomes debilitating as I don’t feel satisfied or proud of my work unless I’m progressing with the craft and pushing myself creatively.”
Prior to getting into photography as a teenager, Luke says he was equally as passionate about skateboarding and DJing but was later forced to sell his vinyl collection to fund photography gear and travelling.
While he recalls studying photography throughout high school, Luke has few memories from his early days using film. He does, however, hold vivid recollections from the earliest digital landscape picture he took 13 years ago – an experience he says will forever be etched onto his brain.
“I’d just purchased a 6MP Nikon D70 prior to a 12-month trip around Australia. During the first outing with the camera I photographed some small waterfalls in the hills on the outskirts of Perth. I wanted to get that whole silky smooth long exposure thing going on with the moving water so I waited until the light faded and started tinkering around with some slow shutter speeds to get that veil type effect on the waterfall.
“I remember at the time I thought I absolutely nailed the shot and was pretty damn excited about the whole thing. I probably punched the air a few times and skipped back to the car. Little did I know the highlights were blown, shadows all blocked up and the fine details were soft due to the vibration of the water on my flimsy tripod legs.”
Clearly Luke has come a long way since those early days yet the one thing that hasn’t changed is his desire to share his passion for the genre with others.
Ever since he can remember he has always felt a strong connection to the outdoors environment and as a result, now uses the camera as a tool to create images that not only capture the physical location and conditions present but also as the means of communicating emotion, an experience or an idea.
While it comes easily on some days, on others he finds it more of a struggle, he says.
“There are a lot of variables at play and things really need to come together. How much of my emotion is reflected in an image really depends on what I am shooting. If I’m shooting for myself then it is all emotive, however when I find myself photographing something because I think others may like it, but in fact I don’t personally, then often that lack of emotion can shine through in the image. Then again that may be my take on the image as it’s completely subjective. I’d certainly consider myself an emotional photographer. It’s not like I break down and cry while I’m out shooting, but how I go about things really does depend on how a location and the conditions affect me.”
Yet there is much more to landscape photography than just the mind-set of the photographer taking the shots. Luke says there are always many different elements at play but the key for any photographer seeking to work in this field is that they understand the importance of light and the way the weather conditions affect how it interacts with the landscape.
“You want to be able to try predicting where the light is likely to fall, how the form and shape of physical features within the landscape are going to be revealed and which areas of the sky are likely to be bathed in colour. You also want to pay close attention to moving elements such as wind and water as they often add a tonne of drama and depth to a landscape image, be it long leading lines created by withdrawing waves or wind-blown clouds that can render themselves into converging streaks in the sky during a longer exposure,” he says.
In coastal regions the changing tides can sometimes alter what areas can or can’t be photographed at different times of the day. Not only are the elements of nature key ingredients to getting a dramatic landscape image but they’re also factors that need to be carefully considered due to personal safety, he says.
Despite the fact not all his images are a literal representation of the location, Luke says he likes to hope that by sharing his work with his thousands who follow him on social media as well as those who view his work across numerous commercial and editorial publication helps provide a sense of awe and appreciation of the natural environment.
Both individually and collectively, landscape photographers are extremely important for the conservation of wilderness areas and natural areas in general, he says.
A member of and keen advocate for high profile fine art photography group The Light Collective, Luke says he remains as passionate about his landscape work as he was the first time he picked up a camera.
“Each of us have our own strengths and weaknesses so working together on projects really helps motor things along. We all bounce images and ideas off one another which is great as you’re able to get objective feedback from fellow photographers whose work you admire.
“When I am on location [away from TLC] I try to relax in the environment and immerse myself in the surroundings. I am then able to absorb the intricate details, subtle light and form of the landscape. It is in these times when I am out and about with a camera in tow that I feel truly free. All the soppy stuff aside though… I just love taking and creating photographs.”
What’s in Luke’s bag:
- “At the moment I prefer shooting with the Nikon D850 camera body and use the Nikon D800E as a back-up body.
- As far as lenses go I currently own the following: NIKKOR AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED – I’d say I use this lens the most and a large portion of my portfolio was captured using this very lens. It’s great for wide angle landscape scenes where you can get low and close to accentuate foreground elements to add depth to compositions. I also use this for 90% of my astro images.
- I also use my NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR – This lens is a great all-rounder as it covers a nice focal range for everyday use.
- My NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR is perfect for travel as it’s light and opens up a lot of image opportunities in that lower-to-mid telephoto range. I like to use it to create images that compress the scene, giving the impression that elements are much closer in relation to each other than they actually are. The focus then is on shapes, lines and layers.
- My NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8 TSE (tilt shift lens) is ideal for high resolution stitched images. The beauty of tilt shift lenses is that you’re able to tilt the focal plane so that everything within the frame snaps into focus from near to far. I’ll typically orientate my shot in portrait format and then use the tilt function to manipulate the focal plane and bring everything within the frame into focus using the optimum aperture for the lens. I’ll then take a series of images that I can then stitch together in post-production to create a higher resolution square, standard or panoramic image with tonnes of detail from near to far. This actually saves focus stacking for each individual frame.
- I use the NIKKOR AF-S 85mm f/1.4G for wave/ocean photography as well as aerial photography. It’s an incredibly sharp lens which produces beautiful bokeh. Although I do not do any traditional portraiture I like to use this lens in the ocean using a shallow depth of field.
- My NIKKOR AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR is a completely new lens to me as I only got it very recently. I’m actually yet to shoot with it; however, I intend to use it to isolate intimate details and scenes within the grand landscape. Much like my NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR lens I will use it to compress the landscape and hopefully create images that are a study of lines, layers and patterns.”
[Words by Tracey Porter]