We’ve caught up with Drew Hopper, a young Australian landscape photographer making a big name for himself with his stunning photography. A childhood spent on the open road in the family motor home gave him an appreciation for the great outdoors, which he’s put to good use with his self-taught photographic talent. Based in New South Wales, Australia, Drew’s work captures the soul of a landscape, revealing a pristine natural beauty that seems to glow with vibrancy.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your childhood on the open road.
I grew up living the gypsy life, travelling around Australia in the family motorhome for the majority of my childhood. It was a very adventurous and interesting lifestyle, one that I miss now that I have found my passion in photography. My parents loved the open road and I guess it has brushed off onto me over the years.
I’m now currently situated on the picturesque Mid North Coast of NSW, Australia in the Coastal town of Coffs Harbour. I’m addicted to caffeine, eBay, traveling and chasing the light. I enjoy the great outdoors and exploring the many amazing national parks and hidden gems up and down the East Coast. There isn’t really much more to say, I am a photography and nature lover who is constantly searching for new compositions and forever chasing the light. I take photographs to define my experiences, to encapsulate these moments and share Australia’s most extraordinary places with the world. I’m very passionate of what I do, but am most passionate about this beautiful place we call home. Through my images I express my feelings for the places I’ve adventured and the beauty of nature that I encounter along my journey.
I honestly don’t remember when exactly I become interested in photography. I’d be lying if I said a certain photographer inspired me to pick up a camera for the first time, and I never knew this interest would transpire into passion, so there isn’t really an answer to that question. I like to think that my upbringing of traveling the country with my family has influenced my passion for the shooting landscape images, and has most definitely fuelled my goals and journey behind the camera.
Where do you draw your inspiration from and what does your photography mean to you?
The simple answer is ‘Mother Nature’ — I find nature to be more compelling, mysterious and overwhelming than any facial expression, any man-made structure or materialised subjects. Nature inspires me to get outdoors and be creative with my natural surrounds. I find this to be the most precious gift life has to offer and this is why I share this sentiment with you. Photography to me is an escape from reality, an incredibly limitless escape that sees me on some of the most amazing, challenging and fulfilling journeys I have ever experienced. Every photo expedition is unique and special in its own way. This is what keeps my passion alive and holds many opportunities ahead for the future, whether the future be tomorrow, a month away or a year’s time from now. I suspire for those picture-perfect moments which transform this beautiful planet into the unprecedented wonderland it truly is. Both my love for photography and nature just seem to flourish when I’m out in the field.
Can you pick a recent shot of yours and tell us a bit about it, from where it was taken and how you got there to how you photographed it and then how you processed it?
Although not my favourite recent photo, it has been one of my most popular images of 2013 reaching over 15k hits in 24hrs. I’m not convinced it’s technically perfect, there are many flaws but it’s original and is a perspective not everyone is fortunate enough to see. The image was taken in the middle of a sunny day in harsh light which I don’t typically like shooting, however to capture these split level underwater images you need direct sunlight to reflect through the waters surface and illuminate the underwater half. I used my Sony Nex camera, custom built housing and headed out in the ocean, not expecting to come home with anything special. It’s difficult shooting in the water especially out in the ocean. Incoming waves and currents make it challenging, not to mention keeping water drops off the top half of the lens (dome of the housing). Not being able to really see what you’re doing in the glare from the sun, it’s basically just dunk, shoot and hope for the best. After importing the files onto my computer it was clear this was the shot of the day, and editing it was as simple as boosting saturation, adjusting levels and correcting white balance. I was very pleased with the image quality from this outstanding mirror-less camera, and I am looking forward to experimenting more. If all goes well I should have an underwater collection to post on my website, but for now it’s just an experiment and a bit of fun on the side from my fine art landscapes.
What kind of gear would we find in your bag right now? How important do you think your photography equipment is to getting the shots you do?
I’m not the type of photographer who gets overly caught up in gear, I have what I can afford and I make do with it to the best of my ability. To be honest, I couldn’t think of anything more boring than to talk about cameras and lenses, these days it’s just as deadly as talking politics and it usually ends in a debate. In saying that, I have spent more than enough money on tools for my trade and I am a strong believer in buying the highest quality glass (lenses). I’m a Canon shooter, but that is irrelevant in my opinion. Just to name a few things I keep in my backpack; Canon 5D II, 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, graduated ND filters, circular polariser, cable release and my trusty lens cloth.
How much of your time goes into marketing yourself, and is it something you enjoy? You’ve built a huge following on your Facebook page — did you have any particular strategies to get so many fans?
If I’m not out in the field shooting you can find me in my other office. The majority of my time is spent in front of a computer screen marketing my photography business, whether that is social networks, photo communities, blogging, updating website content or filling out an interview like this one, marketing is key to a successful photography business. Utilising social media as part of my digital marketing strategy i.e; Facebook, Twitter, Google+ has enabled me to reach a large audience, not just national but international. I don’t think there are any real secrets to marketing that I’ve found, but definitely keeping on top of emails and posting new content will always keep your page looking fresh. There is nothing worse than a stale blog or website. I notice a lot of other photographers really spam their pages with print giveaways to gain more followers, and I can say I have done my fair share of giveaways in the past. However, I used to think numbers were important, but I have come realise numbers aren’t always sales in this industry. I like to think my followers are following my journey as an artist because of the quality of images I produce, not quantity.
Your photos show an obvious love for the Earth – are there any environmental and conservation issues that you feel strongly about? Can photography help to preserve the wild places we love?
I am all for protecting ecologically important lands and waters for nature and our future generations. Two causes I feel strongly for are protecting Australia against Coal Seam Gas Mining (CSG), and supporting Sea Shepherd Conversation Society. I’ll try keep this brief… and why everyone should be supporting this incredibly worthwhile cause. In Western Australia way up north is a wonderful area called ‘The Kimberly’, it’s a completely pristine and untouched environment by human development. In the western part is a massive humpback carving ground, it’s the biggest one in the world, and right in this location a big Australian company called ‘Woodside’ along with multi-national partners and the Western Australian government are proposing a mega gas facility, second biggest in the world. This development will displace the whales, pollute their waters and introduce thousands of ship movements every year. As this is an extremely important breeding ground for the humpback whales this would impact their ability to grow. It sickens me because there are only so many breeding grounds on this planet for these whales to populate, and the Kimberly is one of them. I have recently started getting into some oceanography myself since the purchase of an underwater housing for my Sony Nex, and this is one of the reasons I have decided to take the plunge. Living on the East Coast we are so fortunate to be surrounded by a diverse range of marine life, and this is a beautiful reminder to me as to why we must protect our oceans, and also our rivers and creeks. Through my underwater images I hope to convey this passion and inspire others with this message. It’s the same deal with CSG in all of Australia, they’re telling us it is going to create jobs, be clean and healthy, but what they aren’t telling us is the hard scientific evidence proving the exact opposite. I could write and talk more about this, however this probably isn’t the place or time. I recommend you research both these great causes and support in any way possible.
Can you tell us a bit about the photos that are your current favourites?
I have many favourite images from over the years of shooting, but there’s only a handful that stick in my mind that hold strong memories. These photos connect with me both physically and emotionally on so many levels. I often come home from a shoot without any worthy images for the gallery, however sometimes everything aligns and I am rewarded with those great captures that I refer to as my ‘money shots’. They may not be my number one sellers on my website, but they mean more to me than dollar signs. All images that I am fond of can be found in my ‘Personal Favourites’ gallery on my website.
Your rainforest photos are especially beautiful and seem to resonate with a special glow — can you tell us a bit about what it’s like to shoot in the rainforest and how you go about getting this unique effect in your photos.
There aren’t really any secrets to my rainforest photos, they are more or less straight from the camera. The ‘glowing’ effect is created by a number of different elements and techniques out in the field, as well as my post-processing style. I will never visit the forest on a sunny day, I only ever make the effort if the skies looking overcast and when rain is predicted. With rain comes mist, and when there’s mist in the air you get incredible light. I always use a circular polarised filter in front of my lens which helps capture the forest atmosphere, this eliminates any unwanted glare on the water and saturates the foliage making it lusciously delicious. When people ask me “why would you want to go trekking in the rainforest in the rain”, I laugh to myself and explain that it’s not called a RAINforest for no reason. Think of the clouds as a blanket that diffuse the harsh sunlight that creates nasty shadows, and if the rain does come you’re in for an amazing experience.
Lay down on your stomach on the forest floor, get wet, feel the earth and view the land from a new perspective. This is basically my rule for shooting most of my rainforest images. I do very minimal editing in Photoshop, basic curves, levels, contrast, white balance, saturation and web sharpen. Mother Nature is the true artist, she deserves the merit.
Those of us who live outside Australia are often fascinated by the tales we hear of giant spiders, snakes, and lizards — many of them deadly! Have you ever had any encounters with Australia’s wildlife while out shooting?
Leeches are the main critters I usually encounter in the forest, maybe the odd spider web, and if I’m really lucky I’ll walk into the web with the spider in it. I haven’t greeted any snakes on the trail, but I’ve seen a few snake skins. I often come face-to-face with kangaroos and wallabies, they are strange animals and make the weirdest noises.
Besides your fine art landscape photography, are there any other genres you enjoy photographing?
As much as my passion is with natural light and capturing fine art landscapes, I do enjoy experimenting with a bit of light painting on the side. Painting with light is a fun technique that gives great results. It is called ‘light painting’ or ‘painting with light’ because this is what you are actually doing while taking the shot. In other words I take photos in the dark using various light sources to create unique images by manipulating the light during a long exposure. This effect is always interesting and the results are always different, this is why I enjoy the challenge. I guess all photographers are light artists, we all work with light in some shape or form, but for me getting out and creating the light for yourself is a challenge in itself.