Profile: Will Patino
From humble beginnings as a tradie with an eye for a good landscape, Will Patino has become one of Australia’s most promising up-and-coming wilderness photographers. All it took was a camera, a leap of faith, and a few thousand instagram followers, he explains to AP’s Mike O’Connor.
“Photography first came into my life in 2012,” says Will Patino, freshly back from a landscape photography tour to Canada, fitting in a quick interview with Australian Photography before he jets off again to New Zealand. “After a skateboarding trip I wanted to look at some of my mates photos and so I downloaded this new and relatively unknown phone app, Instagram. It turned out it wasn't even where they had posted them, but I kept it anyway and began taking photos on my phone – it evolved from there.”
“At first I found it was something that made me view the world differently, something I really needed at the time. I eventually dusted off a Canon DSLR we had sitting in the cupboard and after heading out for my first sunrise I was hooked. Four years later I'm still waking up every single morning to check the sky, and I still get excited every time I head out and chase the light!”
Since he first downloaded it, Patino's Instagram audience has grown, and grown some more. He now has a massive 158,000 followers, twice as many as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and more than three times as many as well-known Australian photographer Peter Lik. Add this to his Facebook, Snapchat and website, and more than 400,000 people follow Patino's adventures. It's led to work for companies including Apple, Tourism New Zealand and Samsung, but most importantly of all, after a few short years allowed him to leave a stable career on building sites to pursue his passion full-time.
His son Judah being born in 2014 was the turning point he was waiting for, explains Patino. “Once Judah came into my life I began to ponder the future and embraced the whole 'life's too short mentality',” he says. “Over the years I'd had a few opportunities come up shooting for certain companies as well as running workshops, but would often turn them down due to work commitments. I figured if the opportunities were there without seeking them, perhaps there was potential to make something work long term if I invested some time and energy.”
It was a big step for the now 29 year old from Illawarra, and one that many budding photographers will eventually face. “I had a fear of failure to overcome. It was scary and a leap of faith having a wife and son to provide for,” reveals Patino. But I trusted it would work out one way or another. It's been almost two years now and I think we've managed to have food on the table most nights!” he laughs. But having an app and a hundred thousand or so followers isn't everything. You have to love what you do and be pretty damn good at it too. I ask him about his best photographic experience.
“In 2014 my best mate asked me what was my bucket list photo, something I really wanted to capture before my last breath,” he replies. “I began pondering some of the amazing places around the world but kept coming back to the Cathedral Rocks at Kiama. I said that it would have to be a lightning bolt above the main spire there. Something I knew was achievable but might take the best part of a decade to capture.”
“Six months later we had an amazing line of storms roll through consecutively for a week and I found myself presented with a rare opportunity. I'd been following one particular storm as it moved from the west out to sea and had positioned myself right in the firing line. As the rain began to fall I was squatting down under an umbrella, heart racing and quite nervous. Shooting at 50mm, I only gave myself a relatively slim area of sky for a bolt to strike but the composition had to come first.
As I was in the thick of it all, I remember feeling fear, yet a strange calm too. Just before it all got too much and I had to run for safety, a large bolt struck directly south, right behind the spire. I think I held my breath for the remainder of the exposure before finally seeing the shot on the back of the camera. Words fail to describe what it was like to see it materialise. It was an overwhelming and powerful experience. I then ran into the small cave to hide from the storm but kept shooting for the next hour. It was a truly unforgettable night, alone and exposed to the relentless elements.”
Patino's images have an ethereal feel, elegant and timeless – the marks of great landscape photography. I ask him what he looks for in a shot. “I want to capture and experience places and moments that move me personally and hopefully that translates through my photography,” he replies. “Most often than not this will be a scene that has minimal human impact and a subject that naturally tells a story, like a lone tree, or mountain peak. A lot of my work has a solitary subject and a direct presence of light. Sometimes I know and plan the exact image I am after but most often I am reacting to an unforeseen passing moment.”
“My main inspiration for my work has always been nature, those humbling and fleeting moments that happen all around us yet are easily overlooked. I spent most of my life taking for granted the natural environment but now I see it for what it really is; so powerful yet fragile, old yet new, simple but complex. I'm moved everyday by the perfect design that surrounds us. I am truly inspired by other artists who stay true to themselves and produce from the heart with a distinct style. Mark Clinton, Ray Colins, Alexandre Deschaumes just to name a few. I also enjoy the work of the Romanticist painters Caspar David Friedrich and William Turner.”
Like all types of photography, a great landscape image comes from a special moment in time. “I think the key is having a vision and passion,” explains Patino. “It's all about exposing yourself to rare and powerful moments in nature and then knowing what to do once you're there,” he adds.
“The majority of my portfolio is made up of very brief moments that I could have so easily missed but I was driven by a vision and the slim possibility of seeing it fulfilled,” he continues. “Forsaking sleep, dealing with uncomfortable and intimidating weather and being isolated and alone for hours on end are all part and parcel of shooting landscapes. Most often I'll go home empty-handed but that's what makes it so special when it all works out.”
I ask him about a time when it did all work out. “There's not one photo of mine that I'm completely content with,” he replies at first, “But if I had to pick one, my image 'Arise' from a recent trip to Iceland immediately comes to mind.”
“I never planned on shooting Kirkjufell (Iceland's most popular location) however trying to avoid bad weather led me there one afternoon. I took some time and found this particular composition which I liked, but the light wasn't on my side and I never walked away with a shot. For days I was thinking about how special it could have been, particularly with an ethereal sunset or the northern lights over head,” he remembers.
“Fast forward to the final night of my 10-day trip. Rain is forecast for the entire country but after a blizzard, Kirkjufell had potential to clear around midnight with a strong aurora display. I've always been driven by the smallest glimpses of hope and the thought of 'what if', so my mate and I packed the car and drove half way across the country to the peninsula. An hour out and I began to question the move as the landscape turned white and the roads became icy and barely visible in the blizzard. We finally made it to the town and chilled over a meal and reflected on what was an amazing trip. We eventually went to bed (in the car) and waited it out. Around midnight we had a slight clearing but cloud covered most of the aurora. We got some shots anyway and were still stoked. We called it a night and got some much needed sleep but a few hours later at exactly 5am I awakened with a jolt,” he continues.
“I was wide-eyed and staring at a canopy of stars along with the undeniable dance of the aurora in a crystal clear sky. My friend Cameron remained asleep so I packed my gear and precariously ran in the dark back uphill with the snow and water glowing green beneath my feet. Exhausted and excited, it was hard to stay composed and not stop half way to get some other shots in case the show stopped but I pressed on until I finally made it back up the river. It was an emotional experience just having it all come together at the very last minute and also just being able to witness a scene that was so foreign to this little guy from the south coast of Australia.”
Tools of the trade
Patino's camera and lens choices are relatively simple. “Through running workshops I have used a vast range of camera brands and truly believe you can make any equipment work for you,” he says.
“Shooting landscapes and selling prints, two things I am after in my gear is high resolution and high dynamic range. At this point in time I am shooting Sony, which I have for the past two years. I still think Canon make some of the best lenses, but occasionally I do miss the rugged feel of a DSLR over mirrorless,” he adds.
There's few other additions to his bag. “Aside from when I shoot video, I don't use any filters. The only other gear I have is a polariser for when I shoot waterfalls and a 10-stop Neutral Density filter for when I want to create surreal effects in long exposures,” he explains.
“I've never shot composites either. My camera can handle a large dynamic range, but if it's too high I will manually shoot two separate exposures back to back and blend later. But really there's nothing more rewarding than seeing the final image on the back of your camera,” he says. “I've returned to some locations a ridiculous number of times over the years. It's all about the thrill of the chase and nothing compares to that moment when everything aligns, it's truly special.”
Before he goes, I ask Patino his advice for people who want to make the break into professional photography. “When you're starting out, your photography should come first and not necessarily the pursuit of a career,” he replies. “I think that was a big key for me, the fact that I was, and still am, so obsessed with creating better work and improving as a photographer. The only time I considered making photography a career was three weeks before I did. The years prior to that were spent creating images purely for the love with no motives whatsoever,” he says.
“The market is so saturated with copy-cat images, trending styles and people hungry to live off photography at the moment so I think it's crucial to spend time developing your craft and your vision first and foremost. The photographers that stand out to me are those who see photography as a form of art and are continually pushing themselves and their craft. They're the ones that will make it in the long run. That's the key. If you truly love what you're doing then I believe it will translate through your work.” ❂