Dutch photographer, Max Niessen’s first foray into photography began when he was just 10 years old. His dad took him to an airport and he started filming videos of the planes coming and going. He also tried taking photos and figured out that it suited him even more. Soon after that experience, he bought his first DSLR.
He realized out in the field that taking good photos wasn’t just about clicking the button. He says “I realized that there were so many tips and tricks that I could still learn. Some say Google is your best friend, it sort of was mine back at that time. Most of what I learned was off YouTube tutorials and by myself. For a 14 year old, photography was (and unfortunately still is) an expensive hobby. So, I spent all my hard-earned money on camera gear.”
Aviation photography is all about the aircraft. For Max, the traditional simple photos of airplanes against a plain blue sky just to have that one particular aircraft in frame wasn’t enough. He didn’t find it creative at all. The task he set himself was capturing them in the most spectacular weather conditions, challenging environments, and special lighting. He says “just as probably any other photographer would say, you have to work for your shot, for this type of photography the saying: ”being in the right place at the right time” is very much true. Quite a bit of luck does help.”
After working in aircraft line maintenance for roughly a year, aircrafts just weren’t as interesting of a subject for photography for him anymore. With that came a change in his photography. After 7 years of happily using Canon he swapped to Nikon and he started trying other types of photography. In particular, landscape and astrophotography captured his interest.
Max says “taking photos of outer space was not possible until a few decades ago, besides having the opportunity and camera technology to capture constellations several hundred light years away is amazing. During my trip to Australia and New Zealand I realized that my interest in landscape and travel photography could really be put in to practice and I was eager to learn more about it.”
Max, where are you from?
I’m originally from Zeist, a town near the big city of Utrecht in The Netherlands.
Where do you currently live?
At the moment I live in Amsterdam. The reason for this is that I’m currently studying aviation at the University of Applied Sciences.
What genre of photography do you specialize in?
Over the past few years my interest has changed quite a bit. I pretty much like to do every type of photography that catches my eye. Ranging from nice cars to wildlife, sports and architecture. I used to do primarily aviation photography but for the most part its now landscape, astro and travel photography these days. This change also meant I had to change my camera gear to be more suited to the type of photography I do now.
Describe your style of photography?
Good question. You may have the most expensive camera bodies and lenses but that doesn’t determine what photo is going to come out. It’s not the camera itself but always the person who is behind it. I find it difficult to describe my style of photography but what I can say is that If I have shot in mind, I will do everything I can to achieve it. I also like depth of field and good framing. I do think editing your photos can really bring out the best result, but up to a point where it doesn’t affect the image in a way that it loses its original story.
What are you working on at the moment?
I would like to have more free time on my hands but my studies take up a lot of my time. Recently I started making time lapses and invested in time-lapse gear. I’m curious to explore it even more and try out different options. Time lapse is relatively new compared to photography, and I think there are countless situations where it gives you a unique point of view in ‘lapsed time’.
What is your next project or assignment?
I’m trying to compose several time-lapse clips from different locations under different conditions all taken in The Netherlands. Apart from that I am planning a trip to Thailand and Vietnam which are both very photo genetic countries.
Are there any photographers whose work/style you admire?
Regarding aviation photography, there are 2 people that come to my mind instantly. Lars Veling was and still is a pioneer when it comes to taking creative and mind blowing aviation related photos. In the military section, Slawek Hesja creates mesmerizing images of raw fighter jets.
In other fields of photography, a fellow Dutchman, Albert Dros takes amazing landscape images from our own backyard. Jordan McInally, Mickey Mack and Michael Shainblum are for me, the kings of landscape photography. No wonder they have so many publications!
What is your favorite memory from your experiences?
There are loads of favorite memories so it’s very difficult to choose! If I had to choose one, it would be the kangaroo shot.
I spent a week with a good friend of mine in the Perth area of Western Australia. We went to have a look on a stretch of empty grassland right in between two residential areas where he knew there would be kangaroos. It had been raining the night before so there were puddles everywhere. After taking some photos I wasn’t satisfied with just a static shot of the group. I asked him, is there any way we can get them to jump? With a little hesitation, my friend gently started to run through the puddles towards the group, resulting in the kangaroos hopping in every other direction. Because I wanted some movement in the photo, the shutter speed was a bit on the slow side but that made for a difficult photo since the kangaroo itself was also moving. Eventually I tracked a pair of two halfway across the field.
Out of a sequence of 46 images there was only ONE that had the kangaroo’s head sharp, an image that was well worth the effort. I still owe him some new shoes!
What’s the biggest photographic challenge you overcame?
That would be the long exposure photo on a jumpseat ride in the flight deck of an airliner.
I managed to arrange a seat in the flight deck with a friend of mine who was a first officer for a European airline. I had seen similar images before but wandered how the camera could be still for such a long time in a moving aircraft?! Nevertheless, I decided to take a travel tripod with me and started looking for some sort of anchor point for the legs to secure. The plan was, to set up the tripod and camera from an angle that you would be able to see the streaking lights as well as part of the flight instruments and the pilot himself. As I wanted to take photos of the landing process from the jumpseat at the destination, I only had one chance of doing it right when arriving back at the airport. This is because during take-off the with plane lifting off and rotating up, it would be too much for the tripod to stay in its position.
During cruise I tried to find corners where the tripod legs would be secured in their position. I figured that I had found a good position and I was hoping for a smooth approach and landing. With manual settings, I started taking shots with the remote shutter button locked. The end result was a dynamic long exposure of an aircraft landing at night time with a sense of movement created by the streaking runway lights.
What’s in your camera bag?
As mentioned before, I changed from Canon to Nikon so I already owned a few lenses and bodies from before.
Nikon 14-24mm F2.8
Nikon 70-200mm F4.0
Nikon 50mm F1.8
10 stops ND filters
Syrp Genie Mini-Rotating time lapse device
Several tripods and monopod (Redged, manfrotto)
What photographic equipment would you never leave home without?
Everything above! It all fits in my bag with the tripod on the outside.
What advice you would give anyone who is starting out?
Start looking at different portfolios for inspiration. Then do some research and find out what makes you take “that one photo”. I don’t encourage you to copy other photographer’s ideas but try to improve them or give your own twist to it.
Any pitfalls they should avoid?
Learn to shoot in RAW. You won’t believe how many people are missing out on the post processing abilities of raw format. Taking photos in jpeg format is easy and doesn’t need a lot of editing but compare the two side by side and once you start editing them, you will discover the possibilities of RAW.
Lastly… if you weren’t a photographer what would you be doing?
I actually wouldn’t know. Photography is a big hobby but I can’t imagine myself without it….
Images by Max Niessen. All rights reserved. No usage without permission.
Interview by Kav Dadfar.