To kick things off, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself, your work and your photographic journey?
I'm 40 something, I live in Broome with my wife and two beautiful children. My start in photography came in the form of my first job, I worked on Saturday's in a busy professional camera store in Perth CBD at the age of 14. It was a real baptism of fire, I was employed to sell photographic equipment and if I was to make ‘a sale’ I had to know what I was talking about. I was interested in photography and had some really knowledgeable people around me to learn from and was lucky to have had success. What started out as a job grew pretty quickly into a love of photography and a long successful career in the industry.
At 15 I also did work experience (via school program) with one of the best commercial photographers in Perth, we shot everything from corporate shoots, location shoots with models and the big studio set up to do product shots for catalogues. I remember at the time thinking I had chosen the best work experience option ever, but as fun as that was at the time, commercial photography didn't seem to be my calling.
In those early retail years I developed a passion for wildlife photography, I was a massive fan of Jonathon Scott's work in Africa (of Big Cat Diaries fame) and an American wildlife photographer Joe McDonald (Africa & Hoot Hollow fame). These two had a really big influence on my photography and helped me decide where I should journey on my first ever trip outside of Australia - to Africa. I had an opportunity to tag along with a mate for two months who was doing some work with Southern Parks in South Africa relocating Buffalo and Rhinos, so I got to holiday and photograph some pretty amazing things for a first ever trip outside my home country.
Working with Southern Parks in South Africa very late 90's relocating buffaloFilm Camera Fuji 200 ISOme on the right.
After doing about 13 years of hard time in retail I was lucky enough to land some really great jobs with Fujifilm as their Area Business Manager (2.5 years) and Canon (4.5 years) as their WA Pro/Photo channel representative. My day to day included visiting photographers and companies like the West Australian Newspaper showing them the latest pro camera gear and also coordinating and hosting events for those brands.
Working for Fujifilm and Canon I had almost unlimited access to all their camera gear, this was fantastic for me as it helped fuel my passion for landscape and wildlife photography. I got to play with cameras like the Fujifilm GWS 690 and some pretty mean Canon telephoto lenses too, so I was lucky to have access to some of these more exotic cameras and learn shooting landscapes a more traditional way and wildlife with some of the best lenses for that genre.
I left Canon almost 9 years ago for a sea change to Broome, I was a bit worn out from 20+ years working in the photographic industry and thought a 12 month hiatus might recharge the batteries....they must have put something in the water and 9 years later I haven't wanted to leave!
But the 'photography bug' bites you for life and when you live in a town as beautiful as Broome it’s hard not to grab the camera and go explore. Whilst the wildlife might not quite be as prolific as I'd like there are some pretty spectacular landscapes right on our doorstep.
These days I work for WA Country Health Service 4 days a week and spend my spare time between enjoying family life, traveling and photographing our beautiful country we call home.
We have seen examples of your landscape photography and of course sharks photographed from the air, what made you decide to take this unique approach to your photography?
I used to scoff at the idea of drones for photography, even thought it might be a passing fad - been caught up in a similar type of argument before, cue the B&W vs Colour film argument, film vs digital, darkroom vs Photoshop! But seeing our land from above is breathtaking and even more impressive is being in a plane or helicopter, it's so exhilarating. However, the cost to charter one of these beasts is somewhat prohibitive of course, so when I was offered the use of a drone for a couple of weeks I was immediately hooked. The flying element of drones is addictive enough...throw in photography and what chance did I have!
DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone: Overall Winner - Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year 2019
Like all new styles of shooting I also wanted to see what was possible from this technology, there was and still are so many types of shots that are yet to be seen and made only possible by the use of drones. However, much like the cost to fly in a helicopter being prohibitive, so is the sensor size of drones. Sure, you can stitch a couple of images together to get a resolution to match the GFX50r but the noise and dynamic range is awful when you compare them both, the 50r absolutely kills it! So, I've found myself shooting from a chopper on more occasions recently to maintain the highest quality of image I can.
My style of late is really from a love of photographing simple compositions and keeping it somewhat minimalist too, the colour and patterns that Mother Nature shows us from the air is stunning. I have found that shooting aerials has also influenced my photography on the ground in a positive way too, it has really made me pay more attention to colour, tonality and of course what ends up being left in the frame or is excluded. Also the current trend seems to be a love of all things aerial and exploring this perspective is now more accessible than ever, so this has had an impact too.
GFX 50r w/32-64mm Approx 1000ft
What opportunities have you had to shoot from aerial? What was your first experience and was that in a helicopter or plane?
My first aerial shoot was in Africa during the working holiday, in the Okavango Delta - Botswana. It definitely wasn't a planned shoot, more a spur of the moment joy flight in a really small plane (a 2 bench seater for 4 people), just the pilot myself and my mate. I'd taken a couple of shots but was really just blown away by the sights I was seeing. I wasn't prepared mentally for photographing from the air, back then aerials didn't have the same popularity as it does now and as a 20 year old visiting his first country out of Australia, I really just wanted to take it all in! I was so in awe of flying really close to wildlife but also thrilled by the joy of flying. I'll add that back in the film days you had to set yourself a strict image ‘budget’ because of cost as well as carrying and protecting exposed films when you travelled, which meant shot allocation for this unplanned flight was definitely at a minimum!
Since then I've flown a few more times and in a few more countries, but my first couple of times photographing from the air was in a plane. My preference is from a helicopter, I find the manoeuvrability of a helicopter to be a critical element for me getting the shot. You get more time in the air with a plane for the cost and get to cover more ground, but I find that is why the helicopter is a better option, to really be able to hone in and concentrate on certain areas you plan to photograph as you have more immediate control over your location/altitude.
How would someone go about getting airborne for an aerial shoot? (charter plane? helicopter, etc.)
Planning a joy flight with a small group is a low-cost outlay and will give you an initial feel for shooting in the air. It also makes sense to fly in an area that is of real interest to you, don't just fly for the sake of seeing what it looks like from above, try to set yourself a photographic goal from the flight too.
I generally research an area pretty thoroughly, work on a flight plan with the pilot but also have a back up plan of some nearby locations just in case the researched 'hero' area is not yielding the results. It can be really costly if you have only chosen one specific location and you find it not in ideal condition.
I had planned a flight to photograph the upper reaches of some creeks at low tide. There had been a fresh and very unexpected downpour on my drive out to the hanger but I really didn't think it would impact the area I'd chosen to shoot. Needless to say the area was in no condition to be photographed, I was really disappointed. I had my heart set on this area and looked forward to it for so long, all I could do was go to my back up plan which was out in the nearby mudflats...this proved to be a blessing. The fresh rains had created a bit more colour in the run off tide and created some amazing colour contrasts on the flats.
GFX50r w/32-64mm. Approx. 1300ft
Once you have experienced shooting form the air I believe you will either love it or hate it. Word of warning; The pilot I use took her first joy flight in a helicopter when she was an office bound worker...needless to say her first flight significantly altered her career trajectory and after landing immediately sought out how to become a helicopter pilot!
Flying from a plane, helicopter or other means comes down to personal preference and of course access, the more remote a location then it is likely you will need to fly in a plane. This is also where a drone comes in really handy if some of the places are accessible by 4wd, the drones allow you to commit more quality time to an area and of course revisiting them is far easier too if you want to explore the location at different times or seasons.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro Drone.
What have been some of the greatest vistas you have had the ability to shoot from the air?
The Okavango Delta is definitely unfinished business and I plan to revisit in the coming years. The Grand Canyon and Hoover dam were also pretty impressive, but Western Australia has by far some of the best and most prolific aerial locations in the world. From the beautiful beaches of the Great Southern, the salt lakes of the Wheatbelt, Shark Bay and surrounds and of course the Kimberley region...it is something else!
The single most impressive flight I've ever taken and been lucky to have done a couple of times is the one that takes you to the Horizontal falls. This is more for the whole experience rather than from any major photographic expedition. You fly out on a seaplane over some pretty amazing country and then to finish it all off you fly directly over the Horizontal falls itself then land on the water out the front of them! Whilst it's generally not a 'doors off' flight you can still get some shots to take home.
Joy flight with a small group in a light plane - cost effective
Have you ever been required to shoot commercial work have you shot from the air?
Yes, there have been a couple of opportunities but it's not something I actively pursue, I'm pretty happy just getting in the air to shoot for myself. It can be really difficult sticking to the task at hand when you see so many awesome things whilst flying!
If you're lucky enough to get commercial aerial work and you are able complete a job with a bit of time left in the air, you may be able to sneak in a quick shot or two on the way back to base.
If you had the chance to fly over any location in the world to capture that winning shot, where would it be?
A great question and one I think about often and is really difficult to answer! First of all a winning or award winning shot can be captured from your own home town, sometimes you can get really lucky just by natural events unfolding and being in the right place at the right time. Other times it requires more diligent planning, but you still need to be really open to what you are witnessing when you are up in the air. Sometimes you get to the location and it can be so overwhelming you just want to shoot as much as you can...and whilst that helps with the cost of flying per shot equation, if you don't look out and see whats coming you can miss the opportunity to frame the scene right.
It makes sense of course if you are in a 'photogenic' location that will provide you with more chances of nailing one of those 'hero' shots. With that in mind I see and hear Iceland is somewhat of a holy grail for the aerial photographer and at some point I hope to get there. I also like the idea of heading over to our neighbours in New Zealand and having a good look around, but I'm really drawn to revisit Africa. There is so much I didn't get to explore and I will definitely head back to Botswana where there are salt pans, the Delta, Victoria Falls nearby and some mining towns that would make for some interesting aerials. This destination also satisfies all the genres of photography I'm interested in, the traditional landscape, wildlife and of course aerial photography.
What is your typical Fujifilm kit that you would take up with you on an aerial shoot?
Excellent, the gear question! Have you got a few days to discuss/read this? I still love talking gear, it was my profession for over 20 years after all!
I do loan equipment from Camera Electronic when I need to, possibly the best rental department in Australia! Also being a member of the Fuji X Aus community has seen friendships develop over time and this has lead to loaning of equipment to each other too!
If I'm able to access a 2nd 50r, then the primary weapon is the GFX50r with the 100-200mm OIS on it, the other with the 32-64mm. If I don't have the 2nd body then that is substituted with an XT2 and usually with the 16-55mm. The 100-200mm at the moment is the lens of choice and if I had to choose one or the other then the 100-200mm gets the job over the 32-64mm....plus I am happy to have shots on the XT2 with the 16-55mm as the wide lens kit. My preference is to have two cameras up there just so I don’t miss something through poor lens choice from using one camera.
Gold Award @ AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards 2019
GFX50r w/100-200mm at approximately 1000ft.
Once you start using 50MP and the awesome dynamic range of these medium format cameras it is quite difficult looking at shots from the X series....and the X series are such awesome cameras in their own right! Of course, the image sharpness and megapixels is outstanding from the GFX but it is all in the dynamic range for me, it really is that good.
On the GFX lens roadmap there is a GF45-100mm F4 OIS WR planned for release next year, which I'm thinking could be the go to lens for aerial work. Wide enough to get a decent FOV and hits the sweet spot for aerials around that 80-100mm on Medium Format....plus F4 (over the 100-200mm f5.6) and will have OIS! So looking forward to when that is available.
GFX50r w/32-64mm. Approx. 1300ft
Finally what's next on the radar & where can people follow you?
The next planned flight I hope to shoot with the GFX100 and the 63mm and my GFX50r with the 100-200mm.....just waiting on stock to land in Australia so I can get in the air!
Thanks for taking an interest in my work and also thanks for building such an awesome community that is the Fuji X Aus group!
MAT BEETSON APP - 2019 AIPP Western Australian Nature Photographer of the Year