Australian born photographer, Brad Grove, didn’t catch the photography bug until late in his life. Although he was reasonably well travelled, he was more of a typical holiday snapper even though his eldest son is a professional photographer.
It was late 2008 after returning home from a trip to Canada, Alaska and a little of the United States that he decided that he was just not happy with the “holiday snaps” he had taken. He says “In fact, I was so disappointed, that I had to do something about it. I accepted that I had to commit if I wanted better results”.
That meant he had to educate himself and invest in better hardware. Consequently, he purchased his first DSLR (Canon EOS 7D) in early 2010 and his journey began. In fact, his eternal regret is that he had wasted opportunities, as he had not taken this direction many years before given the amount of traveling he had done.
It wasn’t long before his commitment became an addiction. He says “Quite simply, I read and learnt as much as I could. There is a wealth of easily accessible information and instructional material available these days. Given my technical background and my preference for self-learning I didn’t find it too challenging to understand the theory. But you need to get out there and take photos, learn from your mistakes and learn from other people”.
Brad, where are you from?
I was born in a small country town (Ayr) in North Queensland (Australia) but I spent most of my pre-teenage years in Brisbane. My early high school years were on the Gold Coast and then Ingham before moving to Bundaberg (a Queenslander through and through).
Where do you currently live?
My working life has primarily been in Bundaberg, initially in heavy industry before a move into Information Technology as a computer science graduate. I am now semi-retired in Bundaberg (or “Bundy” as the locals refer to it).
What genre of photography do you specialize in?
I have dabbled in most genres of photography but landscapes and street portraiture are my special interests. I particularly like capturing the street culture of third world countries such as India, Cambodia, Vietnam and other regions of Asia.
Like many photographers, my photography interests go hand in hand with my love of travel. I like nothing more than seeking out and photographing the wonderful landscapes this planet has to offer. I am happiest when I am isolated from humanity (with the exception of my partner and travel buddy) in the middle of nowhere with my camera, tripod and back-pack. It can take me hours to photograph a single tree but the process provides an opportunity to slow everything down and soak up the natural world.
How did you get to your speciality?
Initially, I was so obsessed with photography that I would photograph pretty much anything. I think that is probably a common trait amongst beginners and I also think I spent a lot of time learning what other people liked and probably spent more time than I should of trying to copy styles and trends which I thought were popular. I don’t necessarily think that was a complete waste of time but eventually, after a while when the technical aspects aren’t as challenging and you become quite comfortable with the equipment, you settle into your own rhythm… you find your own style.
I am not a photography club type of person. I have been on enough “outings” with supposedly ‘like- minded’ photographers to know that it is not my thing. I see my photography as a pretty selfish and most often solitary pursuit. It is not that I haven’t enjoyed many of the well organized photography trips I have taken with others but I am at a point where I would rather sit around and chat with other photographers over a coffee or beer than be trying to work around them on location (if you know what I mean). That’s just me…
Describe your style of photography?
I realized very quickly that the camera does not reproduce images that exactly match your mind’s eye or your recollection of the experience. Unlike a camera sensor, the human eye has varying degrees of sensitivity to different wave-lengths of light. I don’t subscribe to the old-school purist view that the objective is simply to reproduce what the camera has captured. It is not just about whether your exposure is represented nicely on the histogram. How boring is that?
Photography is an art, the objective of which is to create images. The creation of images requires an artistic eye, camera skills and post-processing skills. I only shoot in RAW and my camera settings are generally very neutral.
Images must include emotion (particularly landscapes). It may at times be an artificial element which I introduce or an existing element which I can exaggerate. There are a number of ways to do this, some compositional (e.g. placement, spacing), some in camera (e.g. exposure, depth of field) and some in post processing.
Part of the emotion one feels when viewing a landscape is the yearning or desire to be at that place represented in the image. To imagine yourself there as if it was an experience you had yourself. Consequently, images also need depth and realism (or even some hyper-realism).
For this reason, I often use high dynamic range techniques for my landscape images and make sure I capture a lot of exposure data on location so that I have enough to work with in post if I decide to take that route. I also like moody (often dark) images so if the subject is suitable I’ll often take the processing in that direction.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have only recently returned from a three-week trip in New Zealand (South Island). This trip was originally scheduled for April but health issues forced a delay so the timing wasn’t quite in line with my planned photography objectives. Regardless, I just couldn’t wait any longer and needed that landscape fix (with my partner Tracey) so we made the best of it. I came home with a dozen or so images which I think are reasonable and have only just finished processing and publishing those.
What is your next project or assignment?
Good question. I am a self-critical person. I tend to become quite dissatisfied with my own work the more I analyze it retrospectively. Of my entire portfolio, there are probably only a handful of images which I can say I really like a lot and even less that I can honestly say I have nailed. Maybe it is that drive for perfection or something better than what I have already done which keeps that journey alive.
Consequently, we only have a small number of my images hanging on walls at home and I am almost always planning or thinking about the next trip or project. I’ve recently given up my day job (now semi-retired) and the plan is to spend more time travelling and shooting whatever feels satisfying.
Over the last couple of years I have become more and more appreciative of panoramic images (and the process of creating them). I will be doing a lot more in that area and in fact this is reflected in the images I brought home from my last trip.
I am still selling the odd license or print here and there but it has never been my focus. This is not a business for me and I don’t really ever want it to be (not in a targeted way). I just do what I love and if others like it enough to hang my stuff on their walls then that’s nice, but it’s certainly not what drives the passion.
Are there any photographers whose work/style you admire?
I think that the work of people like Ansel Adams is probably now regarded as core study material for any want-to-be landscape photographer. And there are a handful of current photographers whose work has had some small influence on me like Trey Ratcliff, Elia Locardi and Jimmy McIntyre.
But nowadays I am not influenced as much by other photographers and I generally just concentrate on my own work. Sure, I have a passive list of people I follow via online communities and social media but I don’t have that hero list of people that I constantly keep track of obsessively.
What is your favorite memory from your experiences?
That is an extremely difficult question as there are so many. If I had to pick one, then it would probably be the day spent walking the back streets of Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh (India). This place is so rich in culture and activity; you just don’t know what is going to happen next or what you will encounter around the next corner. It is spine tingling for a street photographer.
If you think of how old Rome is (about 753 B.C) and then add another 400 years… you get the idea. We are talking about the 11 century B.C. It is possibly the world’s oldest continually inhabited city. From the burning of the bodies on the banks of the Ganges River to the AARTI festival, this place is the ultimate culture shock for the spoilt western traveller. It is fabulous!
What’s the biggest photographic challenge you overcame?
I’ve had many situations where I have had to keep returning day after day in order to get close to the shots that I had envisioned and many occasions when I have missed out completely because of the weather (and not able to return) … but every landscape photographer endures this. It is to be expected.
If I think about technical challenges, one that comes to mind would be a visit to Lake Wanaka (New Zealand) in June of 2012. Many people would be familiar with the solitary willow tree which sits in the lake and is photographed almost continually on a daily basis by one and all. I shoot this little tree whenever I am in the area (it just feels good). It was the beginning of winter and my schedule meant I only had one chance during a brief stop (about 1 hour) as we passed through the area.
Well it was pretty miserable when we arrived. The wind was blowing at about 25 knots. The surface of the lake had erupted into waves (with white water) and my little tree was swaying back and forth. Initially I didn’t even bother to get the camera gear from the car. Instead we just found some shelter and grabbed a coffee and some biscuits.
While sipping the coffee and contemplating the situation (and my disappointment), it occurred to me that I might be able to take a couple of exposures with each compensating for the conditions and then blend the two together in post. So, that’s exactly what I did. I grabbed the gear and took one exposure of less than a tenth of a second (enough to freeze my hysterical tree) and then took a much longer exposure of more than 10 seconds using a Hoya ND400 filter which flattened out all those waves and resulted in an image which actually looked like the lake had frozen. Here is the result of the blend (in monochrome).
What’s in your camera bag?
Over the last 6 years I’ve managed to collect quite a lot of stuff. If I am honest I think it is fair to say that at one stage I did suffer from gear lust. While that is now under control, there is way too much stuff to list here. I have several tripods, various stands, backdrops, diffusers, triggers, clamps, speedlites, filter, bags, harnesses, straps and of course lenses and camera bodies.
When I first started out I invested in Canon and initially purchased an EOS 7D and EF-S15-85 kit lens. Those have long gone but I have stuck with Canon gear and now primarily use a 5D Mk III and 7D Mk II for the bulk of my work. My lenses include…
- Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM
- Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
- Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
- Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0L IS USM
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L USM II
- Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM
- Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG Art Lens
- Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC
About 2 years ago I converted everything to Arca-Swiss mount and invested in an RRS (Really Right Stuff) series three tripod, levelling base, ball head, panorama head, L brackets and nodal slide. Needless to say, my other tripods hardly ever get used any more.
What photographic equipment would you never leave home without?
I have separated my main gear into two separate bags (Lowepro Magnums). One is setup for landscape/portraiture and the other for everything else (sport/wildlife). I generally keep my lenses in a pelican case but I try to have at least one or two lenses in each of these two bags so they are ready to go. The landscape bag is usually in the back of the car.
When we go abroad, it’s a little different. We identify the gear we need for the specific trip (depending on objectives) and split that between two back-packs which we can carry on to the plane. My main tripod gets packed into my check-in luggage and my Enduro travel tripod gets packed into my partner’s check-in luggage (as backup).
What advice you would give anyone who is starting out?
You need to separate the technical side of photography from the compositional elements and focus absolutely and completely on the artistic aspects that make you feel good. Shoot exactly what you like and what you would want hanging on your wall. Don’t shoot something solely because you think others will like it if it does not interest you to do so.
Any pitfalls they should avoid?
Invest in glass! We have heard this a thousand times but it is true. When you start out you just want stuff and you want it now. But you can’t really afford the good stuff so you compromise. Hold off and buy the good stuff if you can. I have unloaded every single bit of equipment I initially bought because it was well… ordinary. It is that simple. The stuff that costs the most stays with you the longest and produces the best results.
I am actually sick of reading blogs from professional photographers who over-emphasize the view that “gear does not matter”. It doesn’t take long before that kit lens just does not do what you want.
Lastly… if you weren’t a photographer what would you be doing?
As previously stated, I consider myself a serious hobbyist. As such I have had a normal working life like most people well outside the bounds of photography. We all have to pay the bills right? The first 20 years of my working life was spent in heavy industry (agricultural). I completed my apprenticeship as a “Fitter, Turner and Welder” in 1980. Over the next 16 years I found myself working as a Machinist, Fitter, Boiler Maker, Auto-Mechanic, Spray Painter, Mechanical Draftsman and CNC Programmer.
In my late thirties I went back to school (University of Central Queensland) to study Information Technology. In 1997 I secured employment as a new graduate with a clinical software company. I worked my way up and held a position as software development manager before resigning early this year. Now semi-retired at 57.
To view more of Brad’s work or get in contact with him visit www.bradgrovephotography.com
Images by Brad Grove. All rights reserved. No usage without permission.
Interview by Kav Dadfar.