Recently we had the chance to have a talk with MIOPS Ambassador Simon Phillips for an interview where he shared his experiences about how he became a photographer, what setup does he use or his tips to today's photographers..
Q. How did you become a well known nature photographer?
A. I think how this came about is that I’ve brought over some of my skills from my motorsports photography days which I had done professionally for 6 years. O left it due to an accident that ended it all for me when I broke my back in 2016. But that sudden change allowed me to learn new skills and venture into a new side being landscapes, when I was able to walk again I would venture outside again. I would take my camera out to near by places and also explore new places I have never been to before. What this has allowed me to do is learn new skills and in the process of sharing what I’m doing on Instagram it’s allowed me to group and connect with others on a visual viewing platform. It doesn’t matter what language you speak because artwork only has one main underlaying language.
I believe if you don’t engage much on social media you won’t get far, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have either so long as you get onto it. Also a great place to market what yourself and a portfolio based platform. More people ask for my instagram account than a business card these days which I find really cool, as you can get to building up a connection with that person instantly. Also being genuine and helping people out with advice on gear or how to take certain photos they have seen you produce, so they can understand what’s involved and they can try for themselves and just being nice.
Q. What does photography mean to you and what was the reason you became a nature photographer?
A. Photography for me means more than just taking a photo for me it’s a way of life, I do enjoy the whole process of planning where to shoot, I often go onto PhotoPills to fine tune my plans days, weeks and months in advance, looking on social media of photos of the location or getting inspiration try something new to keep mixing it up to keep it interesting, going out to these places I most likely wouldn’t have gone to if I wasn’t into photography.
Photography for me is also a way to help deal with my anxiety and depression, as someone who has Autism I find it hard to connect with people but photography is a great way of engaging with others in my community and worldwide! If it wasn’t for me getting my first camera when I was just four years old in 1994 I think my connection to it would be very different.
I’ve met some amazing people through photography and the opportunities are endless! It’s all about how much you want to put in and this will control how far you go along this journey.
What made me also pick nature photography was I love being out amongst it compared to urban places ie. cities I just don’t like, This comes from when I was a kid and going out for walks amongst nature in England in my younger years. Also watching what goes on everything seems to have a simple way of life, this natural order which is really quite relaxing. It makes you think about what’s important in life, this is something I do anyway great for self reflection :) In a built up environment you can actually feel really lonely but once you get out amongst nature you don’t feel lonely, I know it sounds weird but there’s been proven studies on this.
Q. Briefly talk us though what a shooting day is like for you...
A. What normally happens is the day before I go out and shoot I check the weather forecast for where I’m planning to shoot and prepare my gear so that involves:
* Charging of batteries
* Formatting memory cards
* Cleaning gear like lenses, tripods so the legs and head works smoothly, sensor cleans if required (I do myself) and filters.
* Pack everything into the bag or case I will use
* Make a mental check list of everything I need in my bag or case. Such as spare batteries, memory cards, cameras, lenses, tripod plates, Miops Smart and mobile tiggers, shutter release, tripod, filters, basic cleaning stuff (hand blower & lens cloths), rain covers if required,
warm jacket, plenty of water, flint firestarter, multitool, if I know I will be away from a power source for a while I’ll bring a compact power bank to charge my phone. Also pack a fully charged torch and some snacks with my Jetboil for hot drinks on the go.
* Before I leave I check over the car to make sure everything is right and do necessary top ups if required on fluids and tyre pressures.
* When it comes to getting to a location I like to give myself 2-4 hours of time prior to the planned shooting time, this allows me to work on the composition as this can often change as I’ll look for something better and also learn the environment in how it behaves. Spotting patterns this way is very handy when shooting near or on the coast so you can make sure you’re putting yourself in a safe location. Also being there you can enjoy yourself as taking the photo is only part of the process the other part is enjoying these places.
When I get home I off load the images onto my computer and put the cards to one side until I have a second back up of my images onto my external drives in RAID, before using the cards again in case something goes wrong. It happened to me in the past and I lost everything! Very annoying!
Q. What is the most difficult part of being a photographer for you?
A. I think for me is when you get those days when you start looking at your work and think it’s rubbish and you don’t feel inspired to shoot, You look at others work and what they are doing and compare yourself to them and think you’re no good but this is normal and is called the creative rut and often a hardest thing to break. To fix this try going out somewhere you wouldn’t normally go and shoot it, doesn’t matter if you delete the images later on it just gets you into that creative flow again thinking about what you are doing.
I honestly believe the those like myself who have been doing photography for years find it tougher as we have shot a lot and have experience behind us and we turn things down much quicker. Where as someone who new it can be often overwhelming and chooses not to do it as they think they will fail as they don’t have the experience or skills yet... Heck I still fail time to time as there’s areas I’m still new to after doing photography for 15+ years.
Failure at the day is a good thing and shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of! As even the greatest creatives we look up to fail still, it’s how we improve and learn from our mistakes. I know I would much rather fail than not have attempted it at all resulting in regret for not doing it as it could have lead somewhere.
Q. What kind of tools do you use for post processing landscape photographs?
The main tools I use to process my images is Lightroom as it just works for me, I am looking to learn Photoshop more so for finer editing and when I want to focus stack. I try and make my images look natural most of the time but occasionally I just try something different to see if it works and play with my style.
There’s some people out there that don’t believe in editing photos. I used to be one but honestly taking the photo is the first 50% and the other 50% is adding your own style onto your images to make them stand out and make it look it's best. Editing was done in the dark room in the film days.
Q. What MIOPS products do you own, and what challenges do they allow you to overcome?
A. I own a few of the MIOPS products such as two smart tiggers, mobile remote tigger, splash kit (I’ve not used this much yet but I will soon), pan-tilt pack also the turntable. I think this is everything and what this has allowed me to achieve is get images I wouldn’t otherwise be able to get and also makes getting the timing just right instead of taking heaps of photos trying to get it. Also the creative possibilities are huge and it’s something that excites me when it comes to creating something new, plus it also takes some of the stress away.
Q. What is your setup for a photo shoot?
A. For my camera I use a Canon 6D mark II for most of my shooting and lenses I only use Canon currently and those are the 16-35mm f/4L IS, 70-200mm f/4L non-IS and 50mm f/1.8 STM. I recently sold my 24-70 as I just didn’t use it. Theres a lot I can do with these 3 lenses and I like to keep my setup compact.
My other camera is a recent purchase and that’s a Hasselblad X1D-50c medium format system, I’m still in the process of getting that kit sorted as I plan on using my old Hasselblad lenses from my old kit. But for the mean time I’ll be using the XCD 45mm f/3.5 lens it came with. The reason for this camera is for when I want to capture the finer details and there’s much more image data for me to use during the editing process plus great for large prints that I’m planning on doing. I still love my Canon kit just both have there strengths and weaknesses.
For lighting I use two Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed AS packs and two Ranger S heads I love this system for my flash photography, I also have some cheap speedlites which I use for when freezing action as they have a much faster flash duration on lower power settings.
Camera supports I use are Promediagear tripods, heads and accessories. If you’re interested in this, check me out on instagram at SDP Photographics and if you have any questions feel free to message me :)
That’s pretty much my main setup plus I have various bags and cases for different jobs and storage options.
Q. What camera settings do you need to create a long exposure photos during the daylight?
A. To achieve long exposures during the day there’s a few things you need gear wise and what to do | a remote timer I use the MIOPS Smart for this as I can dial in the exact shutter speed | A sturdy tripod if you don’t you will get a blurry image once the exposure is done | A fully charged battery | a ND filter something like a 10 stop or higher as this will allow you to control how much light gets to your lens (I have a 6,10 and 15 stop ND) you could do anywhere from 20 seconds to 1 hour or longer during the day depending on the filter you use | Shoot in bulb or manual depending on your shooting time | Focus in manual what I also do is put tape over the zoom and focus rings to prevent them from moving | You’ll also need to cover over your view finder if using a DSLR as light will leak through that and ruin your images | Last of all do a test exposure without any filters to get your framing right and with the correct exposure you got use a long exposure calculator to give you your exposure you need with you ND filter in place, I use LE Calculator for Apple but there’s also Lee Filters - Stopper Exposure which I think you can get for both smart phone systems.
Q. What’s been your proudest moment as a photographer so far?
A. There’s many things that have happened over the years but my biggest compliment I get is when people say how much my work has inspired them to go out with their camera and collaborations with brands and businesses. I feel so honoured of being a face of a brand such as the awesome crew over at MIOPS TRIGGER and ProMediaGear, I never thought anything like this would happen.
I think my next thing is looking back at where I used to be when I started and seeing the learning process along the way and remembering those enjoyable and not so enjoyable moments :) its just apart of it.
Q. What makes a good picture stand out from the average?
A. I think what makes a good picture stand out is a story line, if an image can talk for its self without the need for words then you have done the right thing. Also leading lines, layers within the scene and keeping your work images balanced. Using negative space of an image as a room for the image to breathe, this isn’t easy to do because if done wrong it won’t work and your image will fail. Don’t be afraid to break the rule of thirds, that’s only a guide :)