Michael Breitung Nature Photography: From a Book of Fantasy

A Chat with the Nature Photographer

Horse Shoe Bend, Photography by Michael Breitung

Michael Breitung fell in love with nature photography nature in the latter half of the past decade. A software engineer by profession, Michael Breitung lives in Nürnberg, Germany. He is a regular writer for photography magazines such as Kwerfeldein and Landscape Photography Magazine. Michael loves capturing the many moods of nature through his eloquent photography.

You are a keen observer and a great appreciator of nature. From behind the lenses how do you perceive this relationship of man with nature?

It’s always a pleasure to be out in nature, to be at the coast or to hike in the mountains. I especially enjoy it when there are no other people around. I think that since I started with photography I got more aware of environment and nature. ‘Leave only footprints, take only photos’, that’s a nice term used to describe how we as landscape photographers should treat our environment.

It would be great if everybody would heed the first part of this statement when out in nature.

A Piece of Heaven, Photography by Michael Breitung
A Piece of Heaven

You are a self-taught photographer. How did you develop yourself as a photographer teaching yourself the finesse of photography?

The internet played a large role in this. Today it’s easy to learn something new. There’s so much information available to get one started. In the beginning, I watched a lot of tutorial videos and read many articles and blogs.

The first thing I wanted to master was technique. Besides acquiring information from the internet I practised and experimented a lot. Sometimes applying a new technique worked, sometimes not. I learned from both. Till now the technical side is an important aspect of my photography since I’m always after high-quality results. But this doesn’t mean buying expensive equipment. It’s more about the correct use of the equipment I have.

I also looked at many photographs of different photographers and with time built a list of favourite images. Looking at those I tried to find out what it is that makes those photos special and what I like about them. For example, I was always drawn to landscape photos with rich details throughout the whole scene, sharp from foreground to background. Also, it was colour photography that spoke to me more than b/w photography.

So the path was set and from there I started to develop my photography style. Throughout this process, it was important to always take a critical look at my photography. Some photos worked and others did not. Some photos I liked in the beginning of my photographic journey but lost interest in after time. Sometimes I try something completely different and see if this is a direction I should pursue or not.

It’s an ongoing process and I hope that in 10 or 20 years I can still feel the same joy when looking at my photos. After all, I’m still in the early phase of my photographic career.

Yaki Point, Photography by Michael Breitung
Yaki Point

Your love of nature and the urge of documenting it took you places as Ireland, UK, US, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, the Seychelles etc. Do you recall any anecdotal experience or story from all those journeys to share with the readers?

My visit to the Grand Canyon in April 2009, just half a year after I had purchased my first DSLR, was a defining moment for my photography. I still remember that first morning when I went to Yaki Point to photograph the sunrise. I had read many articles about scenic landscape photography, about composition, about planning, about photographing sunrise and much more. But till then I hadn’t really taken what you would call a spectacular landscape photo.

This morning I got up 4 am in the morning, I wanted to have enough time to explore the area and find my spot. In the pre-dawn darkness, I set out, walking along the rim till I found a spot where I set up my camera and waited. As nearly an hour later the sun broke through the deep hanging clouds my jaw dropped. I was so much in awe of what I saw, how the light transformed the landscape. This was what I was searching for, this was exactly what I wanted to photograph.

That morning I took the first photo, which had real meaning for me. Even after 4 years I still love it and I’m so glad that I didn’t screw it. The dynamic range was huge, the light lasted only moments and it was windy and cold. I didn’t possess the routine to photograph such moments. But still, I got the shot, which was a huge source of motivation over the following period of time.

Through your photography, viewers get to live those moments and places which otherwise may not have been possible for them. As a chronicler of moments and spaces describe your sensations?

Since that morning in the Grand Canyon, I have seen and photographed many spectacular landscapes. Seeing those landscapes for the first time is always something special. You can look at as many photos as you like, being there in person is always a completely different sensation. It’s much more than just seeing the landscape, I experience it with all my senses.

For example, if I photograph a colourful sunrise I sometimes feel so happy that I want to jump, scream and dance.

I somehow try to capture this in my photos (not the dancing part though ;-) ). Even if looking at a photo can never be the same it should at least create similar feelings in the viewer and create some sense of awe for the landscape.

First Snow, Photography by Michael Breitung
First Snow

Flowing water captures your imagination. Why this love for the sparkles of water?

I always liked the sea, rivers and waterfalls. Water is very dynamic. It’s the movement and sound of the water I like. When I’m near rushing water I feel really immersed in nature. I can even forget if there are people or a road nearby.

Also in case of photography water gives me so much creative freedom. Using different exposure times I can completely transform a scene. By using long exposures I can give it a mystic look, with short exposures I can show the power of the water and with exposures of a few seconds I can show it flows.

Bracelet Bay, Photography by Michael Breitung
Bracelet Bay

Depending on the location how do you choose the time and prepare for capturing the essence of the place? Do you also plan to diversify into other genres of photography besides landscape and nature photography?

To capture the essence of a place it’s important to have enough time. For example, if I want to photograph a landscape during sunrise I try to explore the area the day before and take in as much of it as possible. I try to imagine how it might look during sunrise, I start looking for possible compositions and take some test shots.

I also look up where and when the sun will appear the next morning, I check the weather, if I’m shooting at the coast I check the tides and when the morning of the shoot has come, I make sure to be there at least an hour before sunrise. I need enough time to relax and get into a calm enough state before starting to take photos.

It’s ideal if I have several days to photograph at the same location. Then I have the chance to photograph it during different light and weather conditions.

And to the second question, well I also like to photograph cities and might try some real estate photography in the future. But landscape photography will always be my favourite.

Describe a day when you were blissfully happy amidst nature photographing or for a project very close to your heart. Any specific exploration planned for the year 2013?

In summer 2011 I hiked up the Feldkogel Mountain in Berchtesgaden to photograph the Königssee, the Watzmann and the surrounding mountains. In the Alps, there are many cabins where hikers can stay for the night, which I also did. Then between 3 and 4 am I got up and hiked another mile to the top of the Feldkogel mountain. An hour later the dawn revealed the Königsee covered by fog. The scene looked as from a fantasy book and after taking some photos I just sat there for a while enjoying the view.

For 2013 I’m planning to do some more hikes in the Alps again and if possible also stay in some of the cabins up on top. Then I have planned a two week trip to the west coast of the USA, photographing the spectacular coasts between Seattle and San Francisco.

Portrait of Michael Breitung

Michael enjoys…

It’s hard to name one favourite place. I love to be on the coast but I also like the mountains. Currently, I’d say the Isle of Skye in Scotland is my overall favourite place since it contains both, spectacular coasts and mountains. But this might change as many travels are planned for the future and there’s still a lot to see.

In case of my favourite book, it’s easier: The ‘Malazan Book of the Fallen’ series by Steven Erikson was the best to read.

As for music, Heavy, Progressive and Death Metal are my favourites. I like the old Nightwish music or for example Children of Bodom. But I also listen to Ludovico Einaudi.

My favourite Movie is The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King. And I like a good steak or Lasagne.

Find more of his work at his website.

Image Courtesy: Michael Breitung