London-based photographer Luke Stackpoole doesn’t shy away from getting up close to stunning landscapes and wildlife, and his beyond breathtaking images of the Nordic regions are loaded with atmosphere. Stackpoole shares his tips for capturing nature in all of its glorious beauty. Follow him @withluke
What inspired you to get into photography?
I got into photography primarily because of social media. There was a particular gentleman named Mikko Lagerstedt on Instagram, and he had some really stunning starscapes. I just really wanted to create artwork like him when I grew up — it hasn’t quite turned out that way, now that I’m focused on landscapes, nature, and wildlife, but I still try to do starscapes occasionally.
Learn more about Stackpoole and see how he brings nature to life.
What’s your favorite location to shoot?
Probably the Icelandic Highlands. It’s only accessible in summer, because in the winter the snow is so deep you can’t cross the roads. They’re all closed. It’s quite a remote location, and that just helps to add to the experience. And the scale there is crazy. You’ve got volcanic peaks and huge black sand deserts — it’s just an alien-like landscape I haven’t really seen anywhere else on Earth.
How would you describe your style?
It’s quite niche, and it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but the mood I try to create tells how I was feeling when I took the image. It’s typically very dramatic scenery — peaks and mountains and really dark skies or really foggy, moody scenes. I try to avoid bright, vibrant colors and happy images, as it just doesn’t fit my style.
Left: A dreamy sunset on the southern coast of Australia. Right: A curious visitor that wanted a close-up.
What makes a great nature photo?
I think it’s something that wows the viewer. That can be through something unique, whether it’s a rock formation or black sand beach — something you don’t typically see day to day that inspires the viewer. Or it could be something dramatic, such as mountains or amazing clouds, or the colors during sunrise and sunset. That’s why photographers tend to focus on these dramatic locations. I really try and bring the viewer with me on a journey to where I was in the moment.
The otherworldly landscapes of the Icelandic Highlands.
Do you have a favorite story from a recent shoot?
One of my favorites was when I took a sunrise photo of Mount Fuji. I had to get up at 4am and cycle across town in time for the sunrise. I could see the sky was pink already. I was just racing against time with one hand on my Google Maps, and the other hand on the bike. I made it to the site just in time to catch the golden light hitting the peak of Fuji. And it was only for about 30 seconds, but it was a really good moment.
What do you like to bring on a shoot?
Obviously, the camera. I take a couple of memory cards just in case something goes wrong with one of them. I like to take a telephoto lens just to give a bit more reach, and a wide-angle lens. That should cover all of your bases for a mix of landscape and wildlife. Filters aren’t so much needed on an everyday level, but they can help in harsh light. If you want to slow down the shutter speed to create some movement, you can use an ND filter. For everyday shooting, I don’t use it. A tripod is a key piece of the kit because it allows you to have a much sharper shot than you would with handheld, especially going into evening around sunset, or even morning at sunrise where the light isn’t full, and you may need to use a higher ISO or a slower shutter speed. A tripod is key to keeping ISO to a minimum. Another key piece to have is a lens cloth. The amount of times that I’ve been shooting in rain and I’ve had to wipe it with my t-shirt — that’s not the best.
What’s in your camera bag?
See Stackpoole’s favorite things to bring on a shoot.
Left: Early evening rays in Washington. Right: Mystical waterfalls in Indonesia. Both created with Stackpoole’s presets.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Don’t focus too much on gear at first. Everyone seems to be obsessed with what’s the best camera or the best lens, but you can create really dramatic and imposing images with a basic camera these days. Hone your craft with editing tools such as Lightroom, work on your compositions, and learn how lighting affects your images. Another tip is to keep learning. You’re not going to be perfect on day one. It takes time like any other skill to perfect. So just keep at it and make sure you’re enjoying it while you’re doing it.
A beautiful morning in Madeira, Portugal.
What are your tips for capturing wildlife?
First, get a longer lens. A telephoto lens would be most suitable as it allows you to get closer to the animal without being in their space. I think you obviously need a bright lens (a lens with a low f-stop) to let more light in, as animals are often in motion and you need a fast shutter speed. In terms of planning the shoot, choose a location where there’s the most chance of wildlife being around. Be as still as possible. Let the animal get used to you. Once it’s comfortable with you and it just ambles along, that’s the perfect moment.
Make it more eye-catching.
Bring out the whites and darks using custom presets in Lightroom for mobile and remove distracting elements with the Healing Brush — to create images with a more distinctive look.
How do you connect with wildlife?
I had a moment like that in Iceland on the Westman Islands. It’s where all the puffins migrate to in the summer. I was on my own on the cliffside, sitting really still, and these puffins were all flying in. They were wary of me at first and they wouldn’t come closer, and then I sat there for about a half an hour. Then one of them decided I wasn’t a threat, and he started waddling towards me, and then all of them started landing and I had about 30, a whole colony basically, around me. It was a really nice moment just to be one with nature, and I probably got some of my favorite images ever from that time.
What’s your editing process like?
I often take an hour or two on one image just to get things right, and that’s mainly through a process of color changes, light changes, and a lot of graduated filters that help add a mood. As amazing as cameras are these days, they don’t always capture exactly how you were feeling in the moment. Lightroom really helps me achieve a true-to-life image, and then lets me take it a step further with my own vision.
Add light where you want it.
Create dynamic light with Radial Filters and remove unwanted noise with the Masking tool.
Any regrets about leaving your finance career?
I definitely don’t regret the career change. It’s so much more freeing to be working for myself. Just being able to travel and see all these amazing landscapes and environments. You get to meet so many people from different cultures and work with people from all over the world. Being out in nature, it just helps clear the mind. You’re a lot less stressed than a city job. I think back to where I could be now, and I’m really glad that I’m here instead.
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