Find your con­cept | Chris Mor­ton

Land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher Chris Mor­ton shares the decade-long process of dis­cov­er­ing and re­fin­ing a pho­to­graphic con­cept for his lat­est pub­li­ca­tion, Aotea, Great Bar­rier: Land and Peo­ple

New Zealand D-Photo - - CONTENTS -

There are many el­e­ments that most com­bine for suc­cess­ful pho­tog­ra­phy — skill, equip­ment, in­tu­ition, tim­ing, chance — but the nu­cleus of truly great work is your con­cept. The ‘con­cept’ is an idea that holds all these dis­parate parts to­gether, mov­ing the pho­to­graphic ex­pe­ri­ence be­yond sim­ply cap­tur­ing im­ages to the cre­ation of mean­ing.

Im­por­tant as a con­cept is, com­ing up with a good one isn’t al­ways easy. Auck­land pho­tog­ra­pher Chris Mor­ton’s lat­est project took him over 10 years to com­plete, with ideas and ap­proaches shift­ing all the while. But the time and ef­fort were well worth it, as his beau­ti­ful new book, Aotea, Great Bar­rier: Land and Peo­ple, has fi­nally found a place on book­shelves through­out the coun­try.

“For me, just pho­tograph­ing for the sake of mak­ing good im­ages is par­tially sat­is­fy­ing, but I like to have a fo­cus for why I’m do­ing it — some broader con­text,” Chris says. He shares his wind­ing jour­ney to find the con­cep­tual soul of his work, in the hope of guid­ing oth­ers to dis­cover their own pho­tog­ra­phy con­cepts to fall in love with.


The eas­i­est way to dis­cover a pho­tog­ra­phy con­cept that will hook and com­pel you through the in­evitable cre­ative frus­tra­tions that will arise along the way is to fo­cus on what you are pas­sion­ate about. For Chris, a long-time sailer and moun­tain climber, his zest for the out­doors was an ob­vi­ous start­ing point. “I’m re­ally fa­nat­i­cal about the out­doors and the land­scape, and that pas­sion has never dimmed,” he ex­plains. “I’m in­ter­ested in shoot­ing a lot of things, and I’ve pur­sued a lot of dif­fer­ent av­enues, but it al­ways comes back to land­scape: the thing that gets me out of bed is the land­scape. I’m end­lessly fas­ci­nated with the earth and how we re­late to it.”

Ex­plor­ing this pas­sion through pho­tog­ra­phy ever since he started shoot­ing se­ri­ously in 2004, Chris has pro­duced thou­sands of im­ages and two books prior to the lat­est project — all ded­i­cated to his love of the out­doors. But, with Aotea, he has taken the con­cep­tual un­der­pin­nings of the project fur­ther than be­fore, and that comes about par­tially due to how well the pho­tog­ra­pher has got to know his sub­ject. “I have a piece of land on Great Bar­rier and I started go­ing out there, plant­ing trees, and be­com­ing a lot more at­tuned to the land­scape. Re­ally, it was just me get­ting out there, do­ing what I like do­ing, pho­tograph­ing the land,” he says.

“Af­ter a few years, I thought, I’ve got quite a body of work here, this is get­ting big; what am I go­ing to do with it?”


Pho­tograph­ing what you know is a great start, but a strong con­cept can com­pel you be­yond your com­fort zone to cre­ate im­agery that you hadn’t pre­vi­ously thought of. For Chris, this meant ex­plor­ing Great Bar­rier Is­land more thor­oughly, broad­en­ing his scope to in­clude the whole is­land, and trav­el­ling to places that he hadn’t be­fore.

The pho­tog­ra­pher con­tin­ued in this vein for sev­eral years, un­til he started to feel the project tug­ging at some­thing even more mean­ing­ful. He be­came less in­ter­ested in sim­ply cre­at­ing a beau­ti­ful book of land­scape im­ages and, in­stead, wanted to ex­plore the deeper con­nec­tions that he him­self felt to the land.

“I thought, it’s not enough to do a pho­to­graphic book on the Bar­rier; peo­ple will go ‘that’s re­ally nice’, and that’s not enough. I started think­ing, what is there about this project that’s deeper? And I thought my own re­la­tion­ship to land, but I’m also fas­ci­nated by other peo­ple’s re­la­tion­ship to the land­scape, so [I won­dered] how can I cap­ture that in a project like this?” This train of thought led Chris to the idea of speak­ing with 12 di­verse res­i­dents of Aotea

— young and old, fe­male and male, Maori ¯ and Pakeha, ¯ ¯ landown­ers and ten­ants — and ex­plor­ing the way that they ex­press their own con­nec­tions with the land­scape. This led to an ex­pan­sion not just of con­tent but of the peo­ple that the pho­tog­ra­pher brought on to help cre­ate the project.

His first re­cruit was a lo­cal med­i­cal ex­pert on the is­land with con­nec­tions to ba­si­cally all the res­i­dents (Aotea’s pop­u­la­tion is around 1000). She was able to pro­vide a ju­di­cious se­lec­tion of 12 sub­jects and help con­vince them to par­tic­i­pate. Next, Chris se­lected a jour­nal­ist, Peter Mal­couronne, to talk with these peo­ple and un­cover the sto­ries of their favourite places on the is­land. Fi­nally, work­ing with de­signer Cameron Gibb, he was able to bring the book to life in ways that he hadn’t pre­vi­ously imag­ined. “I was re­ally hum­bled to see how he could take my work to an­other level,” says Chris of the de­signer. “The as­pi­ra­tion is that the sum of the parts is greater than the el­e­ments in­di­vid­u­ally.”


When shoot­ing a sub­ject about which you are pas­sion­ate, your per­sonal knowl­edge will be an in­valu­able tool. Not just know­ing your way around a cam­era but what­ever deep ex­pe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge that you have on a sub­ject will greatly en­rich a project. Hav­ing spent so much time on Aotea, for in­stance, Chris has de­vel­oped some­thing of a sixth sense for the weather there. His ex­per­tise on the seas and trekking the land has given him a solid un­der­stand­ing of how weather be­haves, and his in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the is­land’s ge­og­ra­phy al­most al­lows him to see ahead in time.

“Some­times, I’ll wake up, and I’ll know that this is what the weather is go­ing to do, this is where the clouds are go­ing to be, this is where the sun is go­ing to be,” he ex­plains. “It doesn’t al­ways work out, but, over time, you do get a lot bet­ter at it, re­ally feel­ing that land­scape.”

This al­lowed the pho­tog­ra­pher to travel to the area he needed to shoot, find a com­po­si­tion that worked, and wait for the weather to come through and de­liver the feel­ing that best suited his con­cept.

An­other im­por­tant as­pect is work­ing with the right gear to com­pli­ment a con­cept. For Chris, this meant shoot­ing on a tri­pod for much of the project, even though, a lot of the

time, ISO sen­si­tiv­ity be­ing what it is, many of the shots could have been done in a quicker, hand­held fash­ion.

“I like to slow down and be care­ful — watch­ing and feel­ing and in­ter­act­ing with the land,” he says.

Time is an im­por­tant el­e­ment in bring­ing any con­cept to fruition; the more time that you can give a project, the more it will blos­som. The writ­ing of the Aotea book took longer than Chris needed for the bulk of his pho­tog­ra­phy, but he in­vested that time in learn­ing about drone pho­tog­ra­phy and us­ing that new tech­nique to fill in a few gaps that his land-bound shoots had left. In the end, Chris says the most im­por­tant part of your con­cept is that you hold fast to it and don’t let go. You’ll run into frus­tra­tions along the way, but, in the end, those hur­dles will make the project stronger as long as you keep your con­cept at the heart, as Aotea, Great Bar­rier: Land and Peo­ple beau­ti­fully il­lus­trates. For more in­for­ma­tion on Aotea, Great Bar­rier: Land and Peo­ple, as well as Chris’s other work, visit chris­mor­ton­pho­tog­ra­

CANON 5D MARK II, 17MM, 1/250S, F/8, ISO 100

CANON 5D, 28MM, 20S, F/11, ISO 100 CANON 5D, 34MM, 1/50S, F/11, ISO 200

CANON 5D MARK III, 55MM, 1/200S, F/6.3, ISO 1600

DJI PHANTOM4 PRO, 8.8MM, 1/200S, F/5, ISO 400

CANON 5D MARK III, 40MM, 1/160S, F/8, ISO 200

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.