Travelling the world photographing wildlife has taken Michael Schaake to some of the world’s most incredible places, and it was in doing so that his passion for landscape photography grew.
I am driven by curiosity," he says, “as it pushes me to go out and see new landscapes and explore things. I know I may not be the first person to discover the location, but for me it is the first time and that excites me.
“When I first started photography as a hobby,” Michael tells us, “I was mainly focused on capturing wildlife, but as I was travelling, particularly in northern Europe and Scandinavia, it gradually became more and more about landscapes, but it would completely depend on where I was. This year I’m planning to travel to South Africa, Namibia or Botswana, so wildlife photography will again become my focus - it all depends where I travel to.”
Whether Michael is photographing wildlife or landscapes, part of his motivation is the discovery of something new, and the adventures that brings. “I am always searching for lonely places,” he says. “I love to be somewhere where there is no noise and you can only hear the wind, and if you are lucky you can also see some wildlife – that’s amazing to me.”
For Michael, it’s experiencing moments like this that has changed the way he observes nature. “It is really something,” he tells us. “I see things today that I wouldn’t have 10 years ago, and I often think how lucky I am with the moments that I get, but if you spend a lot of time outdoors, and you keep your eyes open, then it is not only luck, it is also the observation of everything.”
Another element of nature that Michael loves to capture is the dramatic conditions, something that he discovered while travelling in northern Europe. “The weather changes so fast and it really is amazing to see, so I go out whatever the weather - there will always be something there that is special. Even if you’ve been to the same place 20 times on any given day, the light and scene can alter completely and it’s then that I capture imagery I am most proud of.”
When it comes to camera kit, Michael uses a range of Sony lenses depending on what he is photographing, and he pairs them with the Sony α7R III or the α9.
For landscapes I always use the Sony α7R III because of the incredible 42.4 megapixel resolution,” he explains. “I sometimes also use it when I’m photographing animals grazing, when there is less movement.” He continues, “but if they are moving, I switch to the α9. Everything about the α9 is fast - the AF, the continuous shooting speed, the memory writing speed, everything. So when I need speed the α9 is my ‘go-to’ piece of kit.
When it comes to lenses, Michael opts for those which are most practical when he’s travelling and hiking. “Size and weight are the most important things for me when I’m on the move, so I most often use the FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS lens,” he says, “and it’s stunning even when paired with my 42.4 megapixel α7R III.”
When he goes on longer hikes on his travels, Michael also takes the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS lens as the two of them are light enough for him to carry around all day and be his whole kit. Occasionally, he’ll also take the FE 16-35mm f/4, as it’s a great lens for landscapes and at f/8 it’s pin sharp.
However, when it comes to shooting wildlife it’s the FE 100-400mm GM OSS lens that’s best for the job. “I use it with the 1.4x converter,” he explains. “The 100-400mm lens may be larger and heavier compared to the other lenses in my kit, but it is essential for wildlife, and the image quality is unbelievable.”
Having to hike in the often-freezing cold conditions of northern Europe, or the intense heat of an Africa safari to take photographs may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but for Michael it genuinely is, and the adventure is all part of the creation and story behind the image.
“What I really like about landscape photography is showing people the location and telling them the story behind it,” he explains, “I like to share the experiences that I have with other people, and now with social media it’s even easier. That’s why the images that I like most are the ones where there is something I remember and the story behind it - that’s what makes it so special to me.”