Australian landscape photographer William Patino is someone who’ve I’ve followed online since the early days of Instagram. It’s been incredible to watch him develop his style and become one of the top photographers out there. In this interview, he shares an insight in his life and photography, as well as some great thoughts on his photographic philosophy.
Can you start by telling us a little about who you are and how you got started with photography?
I’m a father, husband and full-time photographer that lives in the South Island of New Zealand. I spent my teenage years skateboarding with every spare hour I had and I really enjoyed filming my friends and making videos. As the years rolled on and I got older, I decided to try taking still shots instead of video, which was around late 2011.
I also happened to stumble across Instagram at the same time, and my love for photography and the outdoors really took off from there.
I made a career from photography at the end of 2014, when my son was just born. Since then, I now have 2 children and relocated from Australia to New Zealand. It’s been a wild few years! My wife does an amazing job as a mother and also helps behind the scenes with our photography tour business. I primarily run workshops through the year, make tutorials, license images and sell prints.
What do you look for in an image and how do you go about capturing/creating that desired atmosphere?
I’ve always been drawn to atmospheric, dramatic imagery and my first few years with the camera directly coincided with mental health issues I was trying to overcome. My camera became an outlet for this and I channeled the emotions and thoughts into my work, which typically produced a darker, atmospheric feel.
The weather plays a huge role in what I do and is what I’m generally keeping an eye on. When the right conditions arise, I try and place myself somewhere to complement what nature is doing. This is sometimes planned, can result from a little intuition or just being out often with my camera. My post-processing is also used to further emphasize this feeling.
You’ve managed to turn your hobby into a full-time career, at what point did you realize that this was meant to be more than just a hobby?
Years back, I was working a full-time job as an Air Conditioning mechanic and filling my spare time with photography, most days of the week before or after work. Eventually, I started to make some income from selling prints, running weekend workshops locally and even some ‘influencer’ travel trips.
When my son was born, I had too much on my hands and I knew photography would either have to be significantly reduced or made into my full-time career. Photography helped me view the world and myself differently and the thought of letting it go just didn’t sit right with me. I decided I’d rather try and fail then never try at all.
One day I began to look closely at what I’d have to do to make it work and realized there was a possibility but I wouldn’t know until I went for it. Once the seed was planted in my mind, I had to go for it. I’d spent years thinking I wouldn’t and simply couldn’t make a career from my photography, then my mindset suddenly changed and I quit 2 weeks later.
That was back in 2014. The prospect of not being able to be devoted to photography really gave me the inspiration I needed. I also wanted to live a lifestyle that brought out the best in me and allowed me to spend more time with my family.
What are some of the ups and downs you’ve faced since ‘turning pro’?
Thankfully there haven’t been too many downs. Upon ‘turning pro’, life changed so much for my wife and I because we once had two incomes with no children, to suddenly running our own business and having a child. Just one of those things alone would have been a huge life change, let alone both at once.
I’d say the hardest thing is when I have to run international tours. I just don’t like being away from the family too long, especially if I’m a few flights away in Iceland or Patagonia. I’ve limited my overseas tours and currently plan to leave the country only 1-2 times per year now, with the rest of my work being done in New Zealand.
There’s also a lot that goes on behind the scenes with running your own business and with my old job, I did enjoy being able to switch off at the end of each day, letting the boss find the work and deal with the admin. But, with this career, I work more than ever, every day of the week. There’s always something to be done but hey, it’s a small price to pay for being able to do this full time. I get to see my family a lot more than before and I thoroughly enjoy being my own boss.
It’s also highly rewarding sharing special places with people and helping them create amazing images. Every time I take someone on a tour, I get to relive the moment of seeing a place for the first time and I’ve formed some good friendships with clients over the years.
How has moving to New Zealand helped shape your photography, business and day-to-day life?
The move here was primarily for the change in lifestyle, and for the love of the land. My wife and I appreciate the slow pace here and all that comes with it.
I knew my photography and career would also benefit from living in NZ and it’s allowed me to expand upon my portfolio and creativity far beyond what I could do back in Australia. I’ve also been able to turn my New Zealand tours into a specialty and provide a variety of different options for clients.
I was already coming here whilst living in Australia but now I’ve been able to refine what I offer. I know this place like the back of my hand and adapt all my workshops according to the weather, to maximize people’s time here.
The whole South Island is one big canvas we can work with. Down where I live, at the doorstep of Fiordland, it has always felt like home. So coming here just felt like returning to where I’m meant to be. I’m very content and thankful for our life here and my children have been exposed to much more nature-based activities. We all live life at a different pace down here.
The majority of your portfolio consists of photographs from lesser-known places. Take us through some of the processes of finding and photographing these areas.
When I first picked up a camera what I enjoyed most what the exploration that accompanied my photography. I would look on the map at interesting formations and just walk along the rugged coastlines where I lived. I loved the unknown and finding things that worked well in a photograph, and I still have that same sense of excitement and curiosity to this very day.
It’s much different now but back then, much of the seascapes I shot were rarely photographed. I hadn’t seen photos of where I was going and I would be shocked if I ever saw another photographer out where I was. Curiosity kept driving me and every so often I’d be rewarded with something really special. It was like a treasure hunt.
I find it much more fulfilling from an artistic perspective, to create images I haven’t seen before and particularly to view places that very few people have. Photography aside, I think I’m most in love with the moments I encounter in nature, those ones that bring tears to your eyes or make you burst out in laughter. I find this happens more regularly when I’m seeing new places and not going to a well-known location hoping to get the best light.
The main tools that help me find potential locations are topographic maps, Google Earth and occasional aerial scouting. Or, just going for a walk and seeing what I find, which is what I often do in the forests or even in expansive valleys.
After finding a potential location, it’s then a matter of determining what time of year would be best to shoot it, whether it’s a morning or afternoon shoot and what type of weather and light would best tell the story of the place. Or, sometimes the exact moment is right then and there. I live in Te Anau, which is the gateway to Fiordland National Park, and 99% of Fiordland is wilderness and rarely accessed. So I have an amazing ‘canvas’ to work with when creating my photographs.
You’ve also got an impressive portfolio with aerial photography. What are some of the differences photographing from an aircraft compared to ‘regular photography’?
Thanks. I’ve really come to love aerial photography and they definitely make up a good percentage of my portfolio.
I’ve learned many things over the years regarding both planes, helicopters and the locations themselves. In regards to your question, one of the main differences is that you are collaborating with someone else to compose the scene.
Normally if you’d like to tweak your composition in the field, you’re able to simply move around and nail it, but in the air, you need to have a good relationship with your pilot in order to correctly align and compose a shot.
You’re also constantly moving and having to use fast shutters in low light. It’s almost the opposite of what a landscape photographer wants but it’s all very normal to me now. It’s important to stay flexible when capturing aerials and adapt to the prevailing conditions. It’s not uncommon for me to charter a flight with one specific image in mind but then the idea quickly gets thrown out the window because conditions aren’t right or perhaps they’re better facing somewhere else.
You need to let the land speak to you and be ready to listen and react to what it’s presenting.
Share with us some of your philosophy when it comes to ‘technically perfect’ versus ‘getting the shot’.
Well, I don’t use a tripod (unless it’s for the northern/southern lights), so my workflow and approach to capturing images has changed a lot over the years.
With the data we can retain in RAW files these days, I’m not fussed if I have to underexpose a scene and then bring it up in post-processing later. Or, perhaps I need to take two exposures to get the right water flow and then blend that into a sharper exposure for my background.
I’ve just developed little workarounds that allow me to travel lighter and be way more flexible when composing. I love to move through the landscape without limitations and a tripod greatly restricts my creative flow. As long as the light, composition and focus are right, then the rest can be pieced together later. Of course, it’s most enjoyable when I can point the camera at a scene and get everything ‘perfect’ with a single click, but that’s not always the case. I think the end result is all that matters.
What are your top 3 pieces of advice for someone who’s just getting started with landscape photography?
The greatest art and images I’ve seen have been created from something deep within, like an expression that had to escape regardless of how it would be perceived. The vast majority of landscape photographs are of the same places, with the same compositions, using the same formulas. Once you start trying to appease what the general public might want to see on social media or comparing yourself to others, you’re only going to cripple your growth and vision. Of course, when you’re learning, you will study and replicate what others have done but don’t be afraid to explore new ideas, get lost in the landscape and experiment with whatever fulfills you.
Building up time behind the lens is also important and I’m a big advocate for getting out as much as you can with your camera. The more familiar and comfortable you become with your gear, the less it will restrict your vision and growth and allow you to truly connect with the land.
Lastly, don’t become obsessed with gear. I haven’t used a single filter or tripod in years. All I use is a body and three lenses. Don’t fall for all the marketing out there. The best photographs have nothing to do with gear but instead the right location, at the right moment, composed well. Invest your money on travel or educational resources. Keep it simple!
What’s one piece of equipment that’s always in your backpack?
Aside from a camera and three lenses, I have a large microfiber towel that I love. It’s actually a camping towel but I use it on rainy days to cover and clean my camera when I’m out shooting. It’s common for me to go shoot in the fiords during storms and I really couldn’t do it without my handy blue towel!