Here’s the first part of #awayn interview series celebrating our own home state, the beautiful state of Arizona.
It was an absolute pleasure to chat with Michael Wilson, an Arizona native and one of the best landscape photographers around about his work of art.
I grew up in Prescott, Arizona, which is a relatively small town in the mountains of Northern Arizona. With a mile-high elevation, the seasons are relatively mild. Growing up, my family didn’t go hiking much, but I loved visiting my aunt and uncle who lived on a farm in the mountains of Colorado. Exploring the wilderness in Colorado made for some very memorable experiences. I went to college at Arizona State University, graduating with a degree in Civil Engineering. A couple years after graduating, I returned to Prescott, where I currently live. I work as a geotechnical engineer to pay the bills and do photography in all my free time.
I got into photography in the beginning of the digital camera age. I’ve always liked technology, and thought digital cameras were so cool. Looking at other photos, I recall trying to figure out why some people’s photos looked so great when compared to the rather bland photos I was taking. I started learning and experimenting with different programs and techniques, and quickly got hooked.
I definitely have a geeky side which drew me to the technical aspects of photography, composition, and especially the world of digital post-processing. Seeing the final image, and realizing that I can create something artistic that actually looks good has made it a real passion for me.
I grew up in Arizona, but I never really explored the amazing and diverse natural landscapes found throughout the state. Since I lived here, places I initially thought to visit and photograph were in the state. I soon realized how much Arizona offers for a landscape photographer. Arizona has some of the most unique geology in the world, such as the Grand Canyon, which is completely with the state, and the other-worldly rock formations throughout the Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. Arizona has rivers and pine forests with mountain elevations over 10,000 feet, to deserts with forests of saguaros.
For a photographer, a lot of southwest landscapes tend to be less cluttered with vegetation, offering so many more unique compositions. The landscape also completely changes with snow in winter months, and thunderstorms during the summer monsoons.
I’m always looking at other artists’ work. There are so many great photographers these days, I’m always seeing great photos from people I’ve never heard of. I do think that consistently looking at great photos really gets you in the right mindset when setting up your own compositions and making decisions during post-processing of your images. The depth and breadth of information available digitally from photographers across the world is such a great resource to take advantage of.
I currently use a Nikon D750 DSLR, but see myself switching to mirrorless in the near future. I usually only carry two lenses: A 14-24mm lens for most landscape shots, but also often use a longer lens whenever I’m not shooting wide. The wide lens does make using filters more troublesome, but I just really like the effect a wide angle lens has.
I always carry my Really Right Stuff tripod with a rather heavy ball head. It’s very tall, and bulky, but when standing on a boulder and needing to reach the ground, nothing beats a big, tall tripod.
In the last couple years, I will also pack my DJI Phantom 4 drone along with my camera gear, if I think it might come in handy. The drone acts as a flying tripod and allows me to get a camera in positions I never could on the ground.
The biggest challenge is how bulky all the gear can be, if you’re trying to be prepared for all situations. It’s definitely a challenge on longer hikes, but I try to stay in shape, so that I don’t have to leave any gear behind.
We usually have some compositions in mind when heading to a location, but always be on the lookout for something interesting. I’m always looking around trying to see the scene as I would through a wide angle and/or telephoto lens. My goal is to always try and find a photograph that is unique and unlike anything else I’ve seen. Definitely be open to changing your plans on the fly. Think about changing locations if the weather looks like it will be much better in a different area. If you can, allow yourself some extra time, so that you can further explore an area that may provide more opportunities.
I pay attention to my surroundings more, seeing more of the details. I’m always looking at my surroundings, the sky, and the little things on the ground. Always visualizing how different perspectives might look in a photograph. Before photography I would just pass by so many beautiful views, almost taking them for granted. Now, my head is on a swivel, and I pay more attention to everything around me.