Mieke Boynton - From the Kimberley to North East Victoria.
Mieke, thanks for taking the time to chat to Vagabond Photographic. We certainly appreciate your time and obviously, love your work.
VP: Tell us a little about yourself, what is your background and what type of photographic work you do?
I loved Art when I was at school, but I had sensible parents who steered me towards more financially-stable occupations, so it took me a fairly long time to “discover” photography. I moved to the vast and remote Kimberley region in 2008 for work (teaching), and I was utterly captivated by the vividness of the colours and knew that no one would believe their intensity unless I took photographs. I quickly got hooked on exploring the region and started to concentrate on developing my photographic skills as part of that. I think that this introduction had a huge impact on my photography in terms of both what I photograph (almost exclusively landscapes), and how I photograph (as a dialogue, not a monologue). Kimberley Aboriginal people know every inch of this region, and the way that they interact with the land has had a significant impact on the way that I work as a landscape photographer. I like my photos to reflect what I see rather than what I imagine.
VP: You have been overseas a number of times. Where have you travelled to and what were the highlights?
In the past few years, I’ve visited Northern Norway (to photograph the Aurora Borealis), Namibia, Patagonia (both Chile and Argentina), New Zealand, and Indonesia. There were so many highlights, but if I were to narrow it down to a handful, I’d have to say… seeing the blackened, skeletal trees reaching up out of the bleached claypan of DeadVlei (Namibia)… the night we perched on the side of a hill overlooking Mt Bromo in Indonesia, while the full moon lit up the clouds below us, making the volcanic mountains look as though they were floating in a white, billowing sea…. the single dawn that we spent at Laguna Torre in Argentina, watching in awe as the distant spires lit up with the alpenglow, perfectly mirrored in the lake that the day before had been a mass of seething white-caps… photographing the white sands that whisper through the deserted buildings of Kolmanskop (Namibia)... the impossibly-blue glaciers of Patagonia… the braided rivers of New Zealand from the air… the spiky silhouettes of the boab-like Quiver Trees against the endless expanse of stars in the night sky (Namibia)... but the one that brought tears to my eyes (literally) was being alone on a pitch dark night, out on a snow-covered hill in Norway gazing up at the thousands and thousands of stars while the “Nordlys” (Aurora Borealis) danced and then formed a corona directly above my head. That was only a few weeks ago, so I haven’t processed those shots yet… but I’m still in awe of that night!
VP: How much work goes into post-processing? Is that a significant part of your workflow?
I enjoy processing my photos. The camera isn’t as sophisticated as the human eye, so most of the time there’s a difference between what you can see and what the camera can capture. Processing allows you to minimise this difference – if that’s what you want to do. I do think that editing photos are an intrinsic part of landscape photography – equally as important as the photographer’s eye for composition and proficiency with the camera. Photoshop is an incredibly powerful tool and it takes a lot of skill to use it well. It can be very intimidating and frustrating in the beginning. For months and months, I couldn’t figure out how to make a layer. Then I went on a workshop with Christian Fletcher, Tony Hewitt and Peter Eastway and learned all about layers (and plenty of other handy stuff) and then I was on my merry way. There is so much valuable information on the internet now, and I’m excited to finally have some time to learn how others process their photos. I’m looking forward to trying out lots of different techniques this year!
VP: For all the gear junkies out there, what is your go-to setup for photographing landscapes?
I primarily shoot with a Nikon D810, which is an awesome camera for landscape photography. My favourite lenses are the Zeiss 21mm (wide angle), the Zeiss 15mm (ultra-wide-angle), and the Zeiss 100mm (it’s a macro lens but I use it for aerial photography because it’s a great focal length and you don’t need extensive depth of field for aerial work). Zeiss lenses are expensive but they are incomparably sharp. Also, for both the 21mm and the 15mm, infinity is actually where the focus ring maxes out, which is fantastic when you’re doing night photography and you don’t need to muck about getting your focus right.
The lens that’s on the camera most of the time is actually the Nikkor 24-70mm because it’s more versatile. It also has auto-focus so it’s always ready to go. (The Zeiss lenses are all manual focus.) The NiSi circular polarizer is on that lens most of the time too – it’s a really clever set-up and it’s so easy to add the filter holder if you need additional filters. I also carry the Nikkor 70-200mm in my backpack. Most of the time, I don’t need to photograph something that far away, but for the rare occasion that I see something magical happening in the distance, it’s worth the extra weight. I always have a tripod with me too - I use a Manfrotto tripod with a ball-head (nice and sturdy).
For my aerial work, I use the Nikon D810 with the Zeiss 100mm as the primary camera, and I also take a second camera – the Nikon D800 with a Nikkor 50mm (f/1.2). It’s so much easier to switch cameras than to switch lenses mid-air!
VP: Is there any locations on your hit list to photograph, what type of environments inspire you?
I’m really attracted to vast, sparsely-populated areas where you feel like you’re all alone. Antarctica would be incredible, and I’d love to do a trip through the Canyonlands of the USA. It would be an amazing experience to photograph Yellowstone in Winter when all the people are gone. The countries in the Arctic Circle have always fascinated me and I’m sure I’ll go back to Norway. The Drakensberg escarpment in South Africa looks like somewhere I’d love to hike. Anywhere with un-vegetated sand dunes. I also love abstract aerial photography – I’m inspired by the endless variety of shapes/patterns/textures/colours from above - so the braided rivers of Iceland are definitely high up on the list. And there are so many places I want to visit in Australia! The Blue Mountains, Kakadu, Mungo National Park, Kata Tjuta, and the Flinders Ranges just for starters!
VP: In 2017 you made some massive changes in your life, becoming a full-time photographer and moving from Broome WA to Victoria, what advice would you give to someone that is thinking of making their passion into a career?
That’s a tricky one! Firstly, I think you need to recognise that having a passion and a talent for something is completely separate from developing a successful business. They require different skill sets, and I think you need to really examine your situation carefully and critically to determine whether you have both skill sets… or not. And you also need to think about whether taking photos for other people or teaching people how to take their own photographs will make you as happy as just taking the photos YOU want to take. When there’s financial pressure, it really changes the dynamic, and I know photographers who have felt really trapped by having to pump out commercially-viable work when they really want to focus on their own artistry. I have been working towards being a full-time photographer for a number of years… but I’m also realistic about my chances of success and if it doesn’t work out, I know that I have fall-back options. My advice is to have a clear picture of what you want to achieve AND how you’re going to achieve it. If either of those two elements is a bit vague, hold off until you can describe it clearly. This is especially true of landscape photography as there are so many talented photographers out there so you probably need more than your passion to make a successful leap!
VP: What have been your most significant challenges with all the changes?
I think the most significant challenges are probably still to come. My biggest challenge at the moment is that my new house has abominable internet reception! So much of what we do is online these days, so having fast, reliable internet is crucial. You don’t realise how much you rely on it until you don’t have it!!
VP: What plans do you have over the next few months?
I’m really excited about the next few months! I’m working with some amazing photographers at two different Workshops – one in the Victorian High Country with Vagabond Photographic and the other at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. Having lived relatively isolated in the Kimberley for the past 10 years, it’s exciting to finally meet photographers that I’ve admired for ages, and both locations are outstanding for landscape photography. I’m also involved in an exciting exhibition which opens on March 1st, organised by the Melbourne Camera Club, celebrating Women in Photography. And in May, I’m off to Madagascar!
VP: How can we see and purchase your work?