In­ter­view

His pho­tos of sum­mer fog in Cal­i­for­nia and the North­ern Lights in Scan­di­navia have made Lorenzo Mon­teze­molo a favourite on so­cial me­dia im­age-shar­ing sites. He shares his story with Keith Wil­son…

NPhoto - - Contents - See more of Lorenzo’s stun­ning work at www.el­mo­foto.com

Land­scape supremo Lorenzo Mon­teze­molo dis­cusses the shots that helped put him on the map

On 17 Au­gust last year, Lorenzo Mon­teze­molo made a long-ex­po­sure im­age of wave-like fog creep­ing over the forested hills of Marin County in Cal­i­for­nia. After he posted the im­age, Fog Fin­gers (pre­vi­ous page), on his Flickr page, it went vi­ral, and it has since been pub­lished on the front pages of Red­dit, Pe­taPixel,

BoredPanda, Bo­ingBo­ing and even The Wash­ing­ton Post. But this sud­den wave of pop­u­lar­ity and so­cial me­dia at­ten­tion has not gone to his head – pho­tog­ra­phy may be Lorenzo’s pas­sion, but it re­mains very much a hobby…

You live in a very pic­turesque part of the United States. What is the area like and what pos­si­bil­i­ties does it of­fer for your pho­tog­ra­phy?

I live in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, about 30 miles south of San Fran­cisco – which is re­ally beau­ti­ful it­self – and I’m within an hour of Marin County, where I spent a lot of my time last year shoot­ing fog up in the hills. Within an hour Ican also reach the coast, where I have this rocky coast­line that is beau­ti­ful to drive along and take pic­tures of. A few hours in the other di­rec­tion I have the Sierra Ne­vada Moun­tains where you can find Yosemite Na­tional Park, King’s Canyon, Mono Lake, Lake Ta­hoe, places like that. I’m re­ally blessed to have all of these dif­fer­ent kinds of cli­mates and sub­jects re­ally close by and so ac­ces­si­ble.

You men­tion Marin County and the pic­tures of low-ly­ing fog that you’ve taken there. Is this a theme you are still pur­su­ing?

It is. Over the last few years I have con­nected with some pho­tog­ra­phers who live up in Marin County; it’s about an hour and a quar­ter from my house, so it’s not dif­fi­cult to go there, and two sum­mers ago I sort of got hooked on the fog, which is a more preva­lent phe­nom­e­non dur­ing the sum­mer months. I went out shoot­ing four or five times in sum­mer 2015 chas­ing the fog, and then this past sum­mer – and Au­gust in par­tic­u­lar – was just amaz­ing for fog. I don’t know what hap­pened with the at­mos­phere, but it was just a re­ally in­cred­i­ble month.

We had a great swirl of fog al­most ev­ery day. In Au­gust I think I shot 25 days out of 31 up in Marin County, and I have thou­sands and thou­sands of these amaz­ing long ex­po­sures.

Since I started shoot­ing up there on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, it has re­ally be­come my favourite shoot­ing lo­ca­tion, even though the fog has dis­si­pated a lit­tle now. I still man­age to get to­gether with the same folks on a weekly ba­sis, mostly on week­ends. That’s how I got into shoot­ing up there orig­i­nally, and it was the fog that drew me up again and again, and got me hooked.

Has it taught you about how to read a weather fore­cast and know what type of con­di­tions to ex­pect?

Ab­so­lutely. I have a whole page of book­marks in my in­ter­net browser which are ded­i­cated to our lo­cal weather. Ihave a fog fore­cast and pro­filer that give some idea of how high the fog will be, and all kinds of other radar and sonar read­ings for the weather.

Sounds like a lot of detail?

Yeah, get­ting into this in­volved a lit­tle bit of a crash course in me­te­o­rol­ogy!

How did your in­ter­est in land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy be­gin?

Well, there were a cou­ple of fac­tors that came to­gether. One of these is my gen­eral in­ter­est in pho­tog­ra­phy that got re-sparked about 10 years ago when I got my first dig­i­tal SLR cam­era. I had done pho­tog­ra­phy when I was younger, in high school, then I took a 15-year break from it after high school, when I went to col­lege and started work­ing.

You got a proper job, you mean?

I did, and I still have one! Then a fam­ily friend bought a Nikon D70. Up un­til then I had been re­ally scep­ti­cal about the qual­ity of dig­i­tal cam­eras, but Iwas re­ally im­pressed by what came out of his cam­era, so I went off and bought my­self one and started tak­ing pic­tures non-stop. With dig­i­tal, that im­me­di­ate sat­is­fac­tion of see­ing the photo on the back of the cam­era re­ally helped me to im­prove my skills rapidly – I was able to im­me­di­ately see what I liked and what I didn’t like. Also, I think liv­ing here in Cal­i­for­nia, with all of these beau­ti­ful land­scapes and seascapes sur­round­ing me, made it hard to re­sist.

Did you have a men­tor, or was there some­one’s work that par­tic­u­larly in­spired you?

I wasn’t in­flu­enced by any­one out in the main­stream pho­tog­ra­phy world, no, but I did get heav­ily in­volved with Flickr. I started fol­low­ing some folks on there who Iwas re­ally im­pressed by, but there was no­body well known out­side of the so­cial me­dia, in­ter­net world who in­spired me. I en­coun­tered most peo­ple through so­cial me­dia and photo shar­ing, but Flickr was where

One of the most crit­i­cal things that a lot of peo­ple over­look in long-ex­po­sure pho­tog­ra­phy is the stur­di­ness of their tri­pod

I got a lot of my in­spi­ra­tion early on. I spent a lot of time post­ing pho­tos there, com­ment­ing on pho­tos and get­ting feed­back. I also met peo­ple in real life from there and went out shoot­ing with them. These things all helped me to im­prove my tech­nique and my eye for com­po­si­tion.

Have any of those work­ing re­la­tion­ships con­tin­ued to this day, or have other plat­forms evolved for you?

I have tran­si­tioned over to con­cen­trat­ing more on In­sta­gram re­cently, on build­ing re­la­tion­ships from there. One of the things I re­ally love about In­sta­gram is how strong a lo­cal com­mu­nity we have here in the San Fran­cisco area. In­sta­gram is big through­out the world, but in the San Fran­cisco area there are so many peo­ple who are on it, so many tal­ented pho­tog­ra­phers and artists. And there are meet-ups, In­stameets, things like that, so be­ing part of that gives me the abil­ity to get out and be face-to-face with pho­tog­ra­phers, shoot along­side them, dis­cuss tech­niques and gear. The re­la­tion­ships I built through Flickr are still vi­brant, but I have now moved my fo­cus to­wards In­sta­gram.

One no­tice­able qual­ity to your work is the de­gree of front-to-back sharp­ness. What do you do to max­imise this in your pho­tos?

Well, there are a cou­ple of things. I think that one of the most crit­i­cal things that a lot of peo­ple over­look, par­tic­u­larly when do­ing long-ex­po­sure pho­tog­ra­phy, is the stur­di­ness of their tri­pod. About four years ago I ditched my alu­minium tri­pod and picked up a re­ally solid car­bon fi­bre tri­pod. I think even within the non-car­bon fi­bre world it would be con­sid­ered heavy, but it is in­cred­i­bly sturdy, very wind- and vi­bra­tion-re­sis­tant, and that’s a very crit­i­cal com­po­nent for me.

I also use the cor­rect aper­ture. Gen­er­ally, shoot­ing be­tween f/8 and f/11 tends to work out fairly well. I fo­cus on some­thing that’s about one third of the way be­tween me and the back of the scene, and then I check my work af­ter­wards. After I take the shot I look at it on the back of the cam­era

and mag­nify it to make sure that both the fore­ground and back­ground are as sharp as I like them to be. If they’re not, I make ad­just­ments and re-shoot.

What about fo­cus-stack­ing?

I don’t do any fo­cus stack­ing, though I know peo­ple use this tech­nique. There are some shots where I think it could be ben­e­fi­cial, but I haven’t used it and pre­fer to do ev­ery­thing in-cam­era. It’s just eas­ier that way, and there’s less edit­ing re­quired for a nat­u­ral look if you do as much as you can in-cam­era.

What typ­i­cal edit­ing and pro­cess­ing will you do?

The bulk of my edit­ing and pro­cess­ing of im­ages I do in Adobe Light­room, but I do also use Pho­to­shop some­times. If I’m go­ing to use some lu­mi­nos­ity mask­ing, for ex­am­ple to make an im­age pop a lit­tle bit or to tar­get cer­tain ar­eas of the im­age, Imight do that in Pho­to­shop.

I have a cou­ple of other tools I use from the Nik collection too – there’s a pro­gram called Viveza, which en­ables you to add pop to your pho­tos, or in­ten­sify them and sharpen them up a lit­tle bit. I’ve used that on quite a few of my pho­tos – the more vi­brant ones. But 90 per cent of the edit­ing I do is in Light­room.

What about dy­namic range? How do you get the fin­ished re­sult in those in­stances?

Well, I have to say that this is an area where the tech­nol­ogy has helped the art form, be­cause I now shoot with a D810, and my back-up cam­era is a D800, and the dy­namic range on those mod­els is just in­cred­i­ble. I can al­most just ex­pose for the high­lights, shoot, then bring up my shad­ows and dark ar­eas. The dy­namic range is so in­cred­i­ble on those cam­eras that you can al­most pull it off in a sin­gle shot.

There are a few sit­u­a­tions where the sun is just too bright, so the dif­fer­ence be­tween the brights and shad­ows is too much for the cam­era to over­come. In that case I some­times do some ex­po­sure blend­ing, but it’s very rare. I’m more likely to pull out my neu­tral den­sity filters and use those to even out the light in a scene. Be­cause the D800-se­ries cam­eras have such a wide dy­namic range, I don’t need to put a huge three-stop neu­tral den­sity fil­ter on; usu­ally a cou­ple of stops is enough to get the im­age to where I need it, to edit it with­out hav­ing to do any kind of ex­po­sure blend­ing.

I will say that my pho­tos from New Zealand [on my web­site] were from a time when I was do­ing a lot of HDR pho­tog­ra­phy. In New Zealand I went on a work­shop on land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy with a gen­tle­man called Trey Rat­cliff, who’s from the US, but who’s been liv­ing in New Zealand for the last four or five years. He was one of the peo­ple be­hind the rise of HDR pho­tog­ra­phy, so a lot of my New Zealand pho­tos are HDR-blended.

What do you take with you on a typ­i­cal day’s shoot?

I gen­er­ally take one cam­era body with me, un­less I’m trav­el­ling over­seas specif­i­cally for pho­tog­ra­phy, in which case I will take both of my bod­ies.

But if I’m go­ing out for the day I’ll take my D810 and three lenses – pri­mar­ily for land­scapes I have the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and then for re­ally wide-an­gle shots I use the Nikon

Pho­tog­ra­phy is a hobby. In re­cent years it’s ac­tu­ally be­gun to pay for it­self, but it’s not my goal to turn this into my pri­mary work

14-24mm f/2.8. That’s my main kit, and of course my tri­pod and my neu­tral den­sity filters.

Which make of ND filters?

I use a mix­ture. I have two Lee neu­tral den­sity filters – a 6-stop and a 10-stop – and I have a bunch of Singh-Ray grad­u­ated neu­tral den­sity filters, and a For­matt-Hitech Firecrest 10-stop fil­ter that Ihave been us­ing a lot in a tran­si­tion away from my Lee Filters 10-stop, be­cause it doesn’t leave a colour cast like the Lee fil­ter does.

Were you us­ing Nikon kit back in your film days too?

I may be age­ing my­self, but my first cam­era was a Mi­randa, and then in high school I in­her­ited Mi­nolta gear from an un­cle of mine. When I was in col­lege I got away from pho­tog­ra­phy for a while. Then be­fore go­ing dig­i­tal, I did buy a Nikon film cam­era for a trip I was tak­ing. So I went with Nikon on the dig­i­tal side be­cause I had some lenses al­ready. I’m very happy with my Nikon kit.

Where are your favourite over­seas lo­ca­tions to shoot?

First and fore­most, I’d say north­ern Nor­way. The Lo­foten Is­lands [pic­tured above] are def­i­nitely a favourite place of mine. I’ve been there twice now, and I’m plan­ning my third trip there this com­ing Fe­bru­ary. The land­scape there is stun­ning, and I have caught the North­ern Lights bug too, so ev­ery year I’ve tried to go back to spend at least a week in the win­ter months chas­ing the North­ern Lights.

I re­ally en­joyed Ice­land too. I went there a cou­ple of years ago on a short trip and I would def­i­nitely like to go back in the next year or two.

And New Zealand. I went there three years ago and ab­so­lutely loved it. That’s cer­tainly on my radar in the next year or two as well; re­turn­ing to the South Is­land of New Zealand.

You’ve gone on the record as say­ing you want to keep your pho­tog­ra­phy as a hobby rather than as a pro­fes­sion. Why is this?

Well, I think that to be suc­cess­ful in pho­tog­ra­phy as a busi­ness you re­ally have to be fo­cused on the busi­ness side of things. I think it can turn out to be a lot less about the pho­tog­ra­phy and a lot more about the mar­ket­ing and the sales. Quite hon­estly, that’s an area of very lit­tle in­ter­est to me, and I’m not very good at it.

The truth is it’s hard to make a good liv­ing at pho­tog­ra­phy, so I have a day job, a pro­fes­sion I’ve been in for the last 20 years, and that is what pro­vides my main in­come. Pho­tog­ra­phy is a hobby. In re­cent years it’s ac­tu­ally be­gun to pay for it­self, which is nice, but it’s not my goal to turn this into my pri­mary work.

So what is your day job?

I’m a com­puter net­work engi­neer, so I man­age the com­puter net­work for an in­sur­ance com­pany that’s based here in San Fran­cisco.

All of your prints are for sale – do you have any best sell­ers?

The photo that has been very pop­u­lar in the last few months is the one that I took in Au­gust of the fog creep­ing over a ridge in Marin County [main im­age, page 90]. It ended up be­ing picked up on so­cial me­dia and go­ing vi­ral. In par­tic­u­lar it’s been very pop­u­lar with peo­ple who live in that area, who live in the fog all sum­mer long. They are

happy to fi­nally have a beau­ti­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion of it from above!

I should also men­tion that one other source of in­come for me from my pho­tog­ra­phy is li­cens­ing. That’s ac­tu­ally made me more money than sell­ing prints has. I work with Getty im­ages, and a par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar im­age is a shot of Venice with this gon­do­lier in front of one of the big churches [called When in Venice – see link below]. That’s re­ally pop­u­lar on the li­cens­ing side.

What’s the best piece of ad­vice you’d pass on to some­one who is just start­ing out?

There’s a com­bi­na­tion of things that helped me out. For me, get­ting on­line and in­ter­act­ing with pho­tog­ra­phers helped. Ini­tially it was with Flickr, more re­cently it’s been through In­sta­gram, but def­i­nitely in­ter­act­ing with other peo­ple, get­ting their feed­back, get­ting some in­spi­ra­tion from them, learn­ing about new lo­ca­tions and tech­niques boosted my pho­tog­ra­phy a lot. So in­ter­act with peo­ple on­line and in real life! Go­ing to photo meet-ups is great. I’ve got in with this group of peo­ple who I shoot with reg­u­larly be­cause they were big on Google+ and I met them through there.

Also, get ed­u­cated. There are a lot of tu­to­ri­als on­line and in mag­a­zines for learn­ing dif­fer­ent shoot­ing and edit­ing tech­niques. At­tend­ing in-per­son work­shops is great too. You’re stand­ing there with some­one who is very fa­mil­iar with the area and they’re prob­a­bly more skilled than you are and you get some great knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence through that.

swirl tide, Mal­ibu, Cal­i­for­nia, USA Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, 0.4 secs, f/10, ISO 50

Siz­zle, Wood­side, Cal­i­for­nia, USA Nikon D800, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, 61 secs, f/5.6, ISO 50

Aurora Swirlealis, Ham­nøya, Nor­way Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, 30 secs, f/5.6, ISO 400

hek­se­hatt, Lo­foten Is­lands, Nor­way Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, 131 secs, f/11, ISO 400

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