November 05, 2021 6 min read
Behind the Lens series 2: In this instalment of our Behind the Lens series, we caught up with Michael Lazenby (@michaellazenby), an outdoor adventure photographer and drone cinematographer based in the North of England. He has taken his passion for photography to new heights with the evolving medium of drone photography. The unique perspective provided by drone photography offers an infinite number of compositional possibilities compared to standing with two feet planted on the ground. I had the pleasure of discussing drone photography with Michael, and he has very kindly given us an insight into the background, rationale, and technique underlying his craft, and also shared some of his many beautiful shots with us.
Firstly, can you tell me a bit about yourself and the work that you do?
I’m a commercial outdoor, adventure photographer and drone cinematographer, based in Teesside in the northeast of England. I spend most of my time in the mountains, either in The Lake District or Scotland. I love being outdoors and feel at home when outside. It was my gateway to falling in love with photography and videography.
We love your Instagram and you take incredible photos! What got you into photography?
I’ve always had a connection with the outdoors, from an early age. I feel this allowed me to appreciate the benefits of being outside and just how important it is for mental health. This reached a new height a few years ago, when myself and a few friends began hiking the mountains in The Lake District. I knew that I wanted to document our adventures and the incredible sights we were seeing, which led me to purchase my first camera. I’ve been hooked ever since. Photography and filmmaking allowed me to form a much deeper connection with the outdoors.
Your drone photography and videos in particular are pretty awe inspiring. What was it that drew you to focus on drone photography as your niche?
In my final year of university in 2017, a fellow student and friend had just bought a drone. I was instantly intrigued and asked if he could film some material for me as part of my final year project. He allowed me to direct the shoot, I was instantly hooked on just how cinematic and unique the footage was. It felt so new and fresh. I pestered him a few times to use it again before taking the plunge and spending the entirety of my final student loan on my own drone. Probably not the most financially sound decision but here we are!
You seem to have travelled a fair bit and been to some amazing places. Do you have a favourite location to shoot?
Definitely Scotland. It's such a rugged and beautiful country. I feel very lucky to have it so close to home. I love the challenge of shooting there, the weather is rarely on your side and it forces you to adapt. Torridon and Assynt are two areas that I’ve really fallen in love with this year and I can’t wait to explore more of what they have to offer.
What equipment do you usually take with you on an adventure/shoot?
You’ll always find in my bag;
Canon EOS R
RF 24-105mm 4FL Lens
RF 35mm f1.8 Lens
Sigma 100-400 Lens
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
3x Drone Batteries
Polar Pro Mavic 2 Cineseries ND Filters
A pair of walkie talkies
Enough snacks to keep me fed and enough layers to keep me warm!
It's a very heavy backpack, especially when doing long, steep hikes that require a lot of endurance, but I feel everything in this list is necessary for me to shoot in whatever conditions are presented to me.
When you're using your drone, is it difficult to get the right angles and framing? What do you think it is that makes the perfect image?
My favourite images are ones that have a story to tell. As photographers, we’re constantly chasing the perfect shot, or the perfect scene without ever really knowing what it is. I spend so long analysing weather conditions, the potential of cloud inversions and where the best light will be, but often my favourite images are shot in the harshest elements. I feel that photography is a never-ending journey, because at some point every photographer will take an image they call ‘the bucket shot’, but our careers don’t stop there, they keep going, our next best image is always ahead of us. To me, the perfect images are the ones that hold the best memories.
Are there any particular photographers that inspire you?
I mostly feel inspired by the people I surround myself with. I’m very lucky to be friends with some incredibly talented people, who all have a unique style and approach to their work. Outside of my own circle, I feel very inspired by the work I see on Instagram and through different books or magazines I read.
My filmmaking has always taken inspiration from the likes of Wes Anderson, Denis Villeneuve and most notably, Steven Spielberg. I spent my childhood watching Spielberg movies. The one that has left its biggest mark on me is Jurassic Park. I love the sense of awe, wonder and adventure you feel from watching the film. I’ve always tried to invoke those feelings into my own work.
Where is a dream location you would like to go and shoot?
I’m very drawn to the harsh northern climates, especially around the arctic circle. It looks so beautiful and unforgiving. That being said, I have always wanted to visit the island of Kauai, part of the Hawaiian archipelago. The dramatic, mountainous landscape looks incredible. It's also where Jurassic Park was filmed, so it's a bit of a childhood dream.
What do you like to do when you are not taking photos?
Something I’ve learned this summer is that it’s okay to not be always out with a camera. I wanted to spend more time just being outside, enjoying the outdoors. I started wild swimming a lot more regularly, bought a paddle board and started learning to surf. I’ve always had a connection to the water, I grew up near the coast, so it just seemed like a natural step to take. That’s probably where you’ll find me if I’m not up a mountain!
Drones seem to be getting increasingly popular. Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to get started with drone photography?
My advice would be to just get out, shoot as much as you can and get familiar with your drone and what its capable of. Learn different angles, look for interesting compositions in the landscape. I always try and compose a subject in the centre of my image, so that’s something I always look out for when flying. The best time to shoot is golden or blue hour. Just have fun with it and don’t be afraid to take risks if it means getting a shot you really want.
If it's something you're really interested in pursuing, make sure people know about you and your work. Don’t be afraid to get it out there, because if your work is good, people will start to take notice and eventually opportunities will present themselves.
Why should aspiring photographers choose a career in drone photography?
Photography/Videography is a very competitive industry and it's important to stand out from the crowd, or offer something that others don’t. Having commercial drone cinematography/photography as part of my service allows me to provide my clients with a full-service production that many others don’t. For this reason, I believe it's a hugely important asset to have and many more people should offer it if they’re working commercially.
Take a look at Michael’s new film, which he’s been working on for over two years, of a stunning cinematic aerial journey through The Lake District National Park:
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