Simon Wills is an amateur photographer who won the 2019 Imagine Auckland photography competition in collaboration between ATEED, Excio, and NZPhotographer magazine. We catch up with him 1 year on to find out how winning the competition changed his photography goals.
"Ohau Peak Sunset" by Simon Wills
Simon, remind us who you are and what you do!
I am a self taught amateur photographer from Auckland and father of one. For the last 25 years I have worked for Air New Zealand. I have been lucky to travel the world extensively until our lives changed dramatically this year. During my travels I had always taken photos without ever understanding how a camera operates nor knowing what is good composition, or how to use light. Generally, if the subject caught my eye I would point and shoot hoping for a good outcome. Then, about three years ago I saw some long exposure landscape images of New Zealand in a magazine and I was captivated, realising that I wanted to immerse myself in the process sooner rather than later.
I feel that my “Photography Journey” is still in its infancy and that I have a long way still to go however, winning the Imagine Auckland Photography Competiton in 2019 installed some belief that maybe I am on the right track.
What has changed for you since winning the competition?
I wouldn’t say anything has changed as such however, my mind has been opened to the amount of photographic content that is out there. I am constantly seeing the world differently now, often sizing up subjects/landscapes trying to envisage how they would look through a lens as opposed to the eye. I also have a greater appreciation for how skilled the top photographers really are. Some of the most intricate and subtle parts of their photography make an image stand out from the rest whether that be due to their use of shadows, light, or the position of a subject.
Did winning the competition change your photography focus in any way?
Yes. Prior to the competition I became caught up in the social media circus and was shooting what I believed the masses wanted. I was racing around exerting all my energy on images that did not resonate with me whatsoever.
The image I entered in the competition was of a children’s hamster wheel at sunrise close to where I live - It was a place my son spent hours playing at and put a smile on my face but wasn't a shot I ever thought had a chance of winning.
So, the competition taught me that you should first and foremost shoot for yourself (unless you are shooting for a client). You should photograph what makes you happy, content that stimulates you and that allows your creative process to shine. Whether it be landscape, portrait, astro, architecture, or even cardboard boxes, your image will resonate with someone out there who can relate.
"The Tor of Torbay" by Simon Wills
What words of wisdom can you share with photographers who hesitate about submitting their work to competitions because they're new to photography or think their work is not good enough?
The worst you can do is not submit your photo. I am definitely my own worst critic. I’ve learnt not to compare my photos with others, particularly those who have been at it for years. By submitting to a competition, or any publication for that matter, many others might see something in your image that you might not have seen yourself. A friend once saw an old photo of mine I had sitting around for a long time collecting dust. He asked why I hadn't submitted it anywhere. I said the obvious that, “I did not think it was any good.” He persuaded me to act on it and soon enough it was selected by a major publication in NZ.
Tell us more about your long exposures...
As you know, long exposure landscapes were the catalyst for starting my photography journey. In fact, they still are however, I was once told by a certain photographer that certain scenes are best left as they are. Not all images (in particular landscapes) suit silky clouds and ethereal flowing water. I now try to look at a scene and decide how best to capture it whether it be long exposure or with a wide angle or zoom lens.
I do love the creative process of long exposure - using ND filters, grads and slower shutter speeds allow you to create. The worst part is standing idle for minutes at a time watching the world go by praying that your settings are correct! For me the challenge is getting the exposure times on point during a short window of opportunity - the light changes so fast and what with the weather gods having an agenda of their own I have often gone home empty handed.
"Sunrise over Maunganamu, Lake Taupo" by Simon Wills
What's your favourite photo taken in the last year?
That is a tough one. I guess it's a couple of images taken around the south western shores of Lake Taupo. As a family, we have been visiting here for the best part of 45 years. There have been many changes to the area particularly the infrastructure and population increases. However, one long exposure image of the Tokaanu Wharf taken at sunrise stands out. The wharf is steeped in history and quite decrepit yet still survives the test of time. This wharf can be captured from so many angles at sunrise and sunset. Our family has such a strong connection to this area I will always return where possible.
"Tokaanu Wharf" by Simon Wills
Can you share some long exposure tips and tricks with us?
You bet!!! First of all, don't reach for your 10 stop ND filter straight away!!! Believe me, I have fallen on my sword many a time doing this and still do. Try to be selective in your mind of how you would like a scene to look. Look for movement in the clouds or water. Look for changes in light and where shadows are falling. You might only need a 6 stop ND filter or simply just a slightly slower shutter speed. If I'm shooting a waterfall now I rarely use a large filter. A slow shutter speed of just a second or even half a second will still give you that beautiful flowing water whilst retaining detail.
Secondly, and this is the toughest for me, become familiar with your exposure times and settings. I found this daunting and thought you needed to be a mathematician to solve each exposure time. There are some great apps that can help you like Photopills and your filters should also have a quick reference card.
Lastly, don't take things to seriously and just have fun. The more you practice the more satisfaction you will get.
"Small Waterfall, Aukland" by Simon Wills
What does #PhotographyForGood Mean To You?
Photography now plays a big part in my life. I find it so calming and therapeutic. The thought of being at one with nature is inspiring. Photographing a scene and sharing it with those around you hopefully opens people's eyes to the sheer beauty mother nature has created. I would eventually like to bring awareness to protecting our environment - photography is a wonderful starting point showcasing the beauty and the changes our landscape has endured over the years.
Remind us where we can find you online...