Newbie Photographer & Impressive Long Exposures

Here’s an interview I had with Mykal Hall. He’s a photographer I met in Sydney a couple of weeks ago when I went down for the Google Plus photowalk. I’ve been following him online for quite a while. He’s a great photographer.

Mykal Hall


Podcast Highlights

0:32 Who is Mykal Hall?
2:24 Online Education
5:42 Equipment that Mykal Uses
23:25 Mykal’s Favourite Images
34:24 Post-Processing Techniques
41:20 Best Advice for Beginners

Who is Mykal Hall?

Brent: Mykal, can you give us a little bit about your background? Who you are and the things you’ve done in the past when it comes to photography?

Mykal: Well, with photography, I have been doing it for almost three years now. So I’m still pretty new to it. I fell into it by accident. I was listening to a Psychology Podcast and I come across the TWIP (This Week In Photo) Podcast and I thought that sounds pretty geeky and I do like a bit of tech. What happened next is, I bought a camera and that’s where it all started from.

All my training comes from online. I don’t have any formal training. I never picked up a camera up until three years ago. So it’s all relatively new to me.

 I never picked up a camera up until three years ago.

Brent: That’s amazing. You’ve only been photographing for three years and you’re creating these unbelievable photos. That’s just incredible for someone like me who’s been doing this professionally for ten years now or maybe longer. It shows how much you can learn if you’re willing to go out there and learn it.

Mykal: I spent a lot of time listening to podcasts and going online for tutorials.

Online Education

Brent: So, you’ve learned everything online. You got your inspiration online. What websites would you suggest where you can get some really good information and further the education when it comes to learning photography?

Mykal: Okay, you’ve got the main one, there’s Kelby Training. That’s just a treasure chest of knowledge.  They have great instructors. You’ve also got, and YouTube. There’s so much free information out there. Of course, there’s your training as well. We’re so lucky these days. The community is just willing to share the knowledge.

Brent: I’ll second that, because most of my education came from online too. Even back then when the Internet is not as fast as it is now. What I did was that, I actually emailed great photographers that I was following, whose work really inspires me. I ask them questions like what lens are they using? What aperture? What shutter speed? So that I could get as much information as I could. That’s how I learned. That’s one of the reasons why I like to give back to anyone out there who wants to learn too, because everyone that I’ve learned from has been so forthcoming and sharing their knowledge and experience.

Equipment that Mykal Uses

Mykal: I shoot with a Nikon D7000, but it’s not a full-frame camera; it’s a crop factor camera. I use it mainly with a 12-24mm Tokina lens. I like shooting wide. For my lenses, I have 28-300mm, which is my general lens.

Brent: I notice that you do a lot of the long-exposure, slow shutter speed images with a lot of cloud movement. Tell us a little bit about your hitech filters kit. I remember watching you working your filters, photographing next to me with your tripod. And also, can you tell us a little bit about your electronic device that you were working and trying to figure out when we were photographing at Bondi in Sydney?

Mykal: Okay. The filters that I use, they’re hitech filters. They’re only resin filters and not glass. I’ve got three grad filters. I’ve got a 1-stop, 2-stop, and 3-stop graduated neutral density filters.

Brent: For people who don’t know what that is, can you explain what those filters are?

Mykal: It’s a gradual darkness in the photo. It brings the exposure down so you get a range of light that’s more controllable. It’s an easier aspect to control.

Brent: That’s kind of like your windscreen, where you got the tinted part at the top to stop the really harsh sunlight from coming through. And then it gets more opaque as it goes down when you’re looking at the road, when it’s a little bit darker.

Mykal: I also have four Neutral Density Filters.

Brent: For those who are just starting out, Neutral Density Filter is just basically a darken piece of glass. It’s just like a piece of sunglasses, darkening the light; darkening the light from coming in to the camera. So, Mykal, what do you use these for?

 I want to try to get a slower shutter speed so that I can capture the water movement

Mykal: Usually with the Neutral Density Filters, I want to try to get a slower shutter speed so that I can capture the water movement. To capture water movement, I try to get around 0.6 sec. That’s my go-to timing. But it depends on how fast the water is moving. I may vary it from there, but that’s the shutter speed I use on the first attempt. And most of the time, it’s fine.

Brent:  So when you’re photographing these landscapes and seascapes, your whole focus is blurring the water just enough to show some movement but also you can still see the wave in the background and the cloud seem pretty still to me. With me, I take the opposite approach. I want the water looking all blurred looking like milk and I want the clouds moving. So I go for much longer shutter speed than you. I go for 2 minutes or 30 seconds.

Brent: So, what other things do you use to create these images? What other things do you need?

Mykal: You’ll need a remote shutter and a tripod, unless you’re very steady with your hand.

Brent: When it comes to a remote shutter release, you can either use a cable rod that’s just plugged straight at the side of your camera and you can actually press the shutter on the cable and it’s going to expose your camera in bold mode and it’s going to keep the shutter open for as long as you press it. That’s probably the cheapest way to go. But you have something else. Tell us a little bit about that.

Mykal: My previous remote shutter sort of died, so I thought about moving away from a cable remote. I needed a wireless remote. So, that’s when I picked up a relatively cheaper, wireless remote. It’s Phottix Aion. It has a wireless remote and another unit that fits into the hotshoe.

Brent: So they’re two black boxes about a size of old, small mobile phone. One is a bit bigger than the other. The other one has a screen on it, which is the remote piece. The other piece, it slots in to your hotshoe and doesn’t have a cable that actually goes into the side of the camera, doesn’t it?

Mykal: Yes. It does have a cable and I can control the shutter speed. I can control the number of shots to be taken. I can also do bracketing for long exposures.

Long Exposures

Brent: So you’ve got a camera, a wide-angle lens, filters, sturdy tripod, and a remote shutter release. What’s the whole mindset behind all these equipment? What’s the outcome that you’re looking for?

I just love long exposures

Mykal: For longer exposures, I like to portray the movement of time in over 30 seconds or two minutes, which is my general long exposure time.  All the movements that happen within that period is going to be blurry. I just love long exposures.

I like going out there. Being out there with nature, it’s like a meditative feel. Everything else just disappears  You’re in that zone and nothing else matters. It’s so relaxing and brings you back down to earth and all your worries disappear.

It’s like you’re sitting out there and you meditate. At the end of it, you hopefully have this wonderful photo to show around and share with the world.

Everything else just disappears  You’re in that zone and nothing else matters.

Brent: How long did it take you from when you first decided you want to become a better photographer and you got your equipment to where you could actually pre-conceived an idea and really enjoy the creative process?

Mykal: When I first started learning photography, I learnt full manual mode. I think that helped a lot. I learned very quickly. I think it was up until I went out with Giuseppe Basile, he’s a great photographer from Google Plus. My first meet-up was with him and he lent me his 10-stop filter, which is very dark. I tried it, looked at it, and I was like “wow!” He said “You can take shots but this is being creative. This is being an artist. You’re not seeing this, but you’re making this.” And I just fell in love with that. That was probably a year after I picked up a camera.

Mykal’s Favourite Images

Brent: Can you walk me through some of your favourite images? I think the first one was Avalon Beach? Can you tell us about the feeling and the story behind the actual photo when you were taking it?

Avalon Beach-1

Mykal: This is at Avalon Beach, one of the Northern Suburbs beaches in Sydney, Australia.  I’ve been photographing around the centre of the beach. The sun had set and I had moved around to the rock pool, the light was getting dimmed, and I can see this image in my mind of the chains and the pool is just swirling and this water is flowing out of the overflow outlets. I just see this image in my mind. It actually has the sodium lights from the pool that’s why it’s got a bit of a yellowy tinge to it. It’s just a longer exposure and then edited in aperture and then into my favourite photo editor program; the Perfect Photo Suite 7. It can be a plugin to Lightroom or Photoshop, or just a standalone program.

Brent: This is definitely your style as I can see it with the others. You have that really moody, dark cloud. You have the water movement. I see that you shot it at 2 seconds f16 with a 16mm camera lens.

Mykal: I just like having weird objects at the beach instead of just rocks.

Brent: Okay, so let’s jump to the next one, the Mona Vale Beach.

Mona Vale Beach -1

Mykal: The main feature of this is there’s a storm water outlet there, which is another oddity on the beach that I sort of honed into. Normally storm water outlets are round structure, but this one has more of a surf board shape.  The clouds were looking moody and you have that nice break in the background as well. This happens to capture the waves crashing over those rocks at the right moment.

Brent: What I really like about this image is that, you have the wave really coming through. You got a surfer kind of sitting out there. He’s obviously waiting for the right wave and it wasn’t enough for him. I like how you used the rule of thirds; your horizon in on the top third of the image and you’ve got the storm water drain in the bottom third of the image coming in from the left. Your eyes flow in from the left.  You’ve got the moss on the drain and you got the water that’s really milky and I can see the movement. So you got the beach, concrete, water, and you got the sky.

Mykal: I like lining images up. So you got the storm water drain and the rocks sorts of points towards the surfer. I didn’t do that intentionally, but when I edited it, I noticed that there’s a leading line.

Brent: Composition is really important when you’re photographing landscapes. And the next one, this is Coal Cliff.

Coalcliff Beach-1

Mykal: Yes, this one. This was a Google Plus meet-up. Michael Sutton, another photographer, organized a meet-up down at Coalcliff, which is down south of Sydney. We went out, we shot the sunrise and I just happen to look over my left shoulder and happened to see these magnificent clouds. I just had to take that photo.

and I just happen to look over my left shoulder and happened to see these magnificent clouds.

Brent: I noticed that these are all landscapes. What attracts you to the landscape photo instead of portraits or other area?

Mykal: I suppose being new to photography I started off with landscapes. I also find it like a meditative process as well; being close to nature. It just sort of energizes you when you’re out there. At this stage, I just love landscapes.

Brent: I agree with you. Getting out there to nature, it’s very relaxing and it’s good to the spirit too. Let’s jump to the next one; the Sydney Harbor. It looks like a sunset. It’s just beautiful. You got the opera house and you got the harbor bridge. You also got some rocks on the foreground. Tell us more about this.

Sydney Harbour-1

Mykal: This is taken at Kirribilli, it’s a northern suburb foreshore of Sydney Harbour  It’s got some great jetty formations with these beautiful rocks.  Once they’re wet, they just look magnificent. I just find it odd that you have this modern structure of Sydney in the background and then you have rubble in the foreground. I just like the image.

Brent: Yes, the contrast between the rubble and the modern glass. And we got the last one, the landscape.

Step Into Serenity

Mykal: This is one of my favourite beaches to shoot. It’s called Turimetta Beach. In winter, this place is probably one of the best beaches to photograph. The rocks go all green. You’ve got lovely flat structured rocks at different levels. You’ve got channels. When the surf comes in, the sand moves so much you could go there one day and take photos and you go back the following day, it looks completely different.  It’s really a great beach.

Brent: This looks like a very long exposure to me because you’ve got lots of milky water. I can see the layers of the rocks in front. You’ve got some of the layers that are quite dark because they’re sticking out of the water. As you go lower, they get mistier and kind of disappear into the mist of the waves coming back and forth. Do you remember how long the shutter speed was?

Mykal: Actually, this photo has a lot of meaning for me because this the day I met up with Giuseppe Basile. This was my first Google Plus photoshoot. We went out and he lent me his 10-stop filter. I used it, composed my shot and once I saw this, that’s when I fell in love with the creative process.

Brent: I just had a look at the Google Plus photo details, this is 80 seconds. That’s a pretty long exposure. Tell me a little bit about the post-processing techniques that you do on these images. Obviously, you got something in your mind, you go out and photograph it, but what happens in the camera is only part of the final creative process. Tell me about the editing that happens afterwards.

Mykal:  I have only just moved into Lightroom and this photo was taken into Aperture then boost colours a bit, just a nudge, just a little bit more than you see in nature to create the mood, feeling and to attract the eye to certain areas. In Lightroom I just drag the highlights down and the shadows up, clarity, sharpening then move them into Perfect Photo Suite for colour stylisation, dodging and burning.

Brent: Do you shot in RAW mode?

Mykal: Yep.

Brent: So you shoot it in RAW mode in your camera, you then download everything into your computer, process them in Lightroom then into Perfect Photo Suite for your final touch ups.

Best Advice for Beginners

Brent: What’s best advice you can give to people reading this; people that are starting out with photography. They have a digital camera and they’re trying to learn the basics of how photography works. Or people that know the basics and they rediscovering photography and they want to get out there and take better photos. What’s the best advice you can give them from your experience?

Mykal: The best advice is to shoot what you love. Don’t try to emulate someone else. Just feel it in your heart what you love shooting; if it’s nature, people, architecture. Follow that first.  I suppose the next would be meeting up with some photographers. Go to local meet-ups. I think that’s probably one of the best ways to move your photography forward, by hanging out with like-minded people.

…feel it in your heart what you love shooting; if it’s nature, people, architecture. Follow that first.

Brent: To hang out with these people, I want to give some action points, some things that they can do after listening to this podcast or after reading this blog, if you’re listening or reading this three or four years ago when you first started photography, what is the first thing that you would have done when you were back then? What is the first thing that you would do to get them to the maximum bang for the action?

Mykal: Well, check and see if there’s a photography club in your area.  I joined up first with a photography club in my local area, just to get contact with other people. There are many people online, it’s quite easy. Talking to other people, that’s what they should get out and try to do.

Brent: I think that’s a really good piece of advice; finding a photo buddy. Someone who can go and shoot with who knows a little bit more than you do. That’s awesome, Mykal.

Thank you so much for letting me interview you and passing on all these great advice. How can people get hold of you or contact or follow you if they want more information?

Mykal: They can follow me on Google Plus Mykal Hall or they can follow my new website called I’ve got a few images up there and a blog.

Please comment below if you have any questions for Mykal or Brent

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