All images by Iwan Groot. Used with permission.
“Experience is better than theory–go out and shoot regularly and you will get better, and the more you get to know nature the more enthralled you get by it and learn what to show off to others.” says photographer Iwan Groot about how he’s learned photography in the past couple of years. “Even on days when you are not photographing pay attention to when the sun sets or rises, when is there atmospheric darkness, how many clouds are too much for what you like, how light hits mountains or the clouds and the colors it makes in different situations.”
Iwan grew up in the Ivory Coast and Senegal; and he’s travelled a lot in area where there is much to do after work. So he went about finding new places to take pictures. Iwan took a specific interest in Astroscapes–photos of the earth and the night sky that create compelling and beautiful sights. From that, he’s also a highly capable landscape photographer.god
He tells the Phoblographer that his talents came from constantly trying new things, learning and embracing post-production while creating realistic images.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Iwan: Ive always been into art, drawing, painting, sculpting but mostly painting. In the last year of High School I already had four periods with art related subjects and another period free, so that got divided to being an art TA and photography/videography.
There I learned the basics of digital compositions, how to use a DSLR and the basic functions. We had lots of homework at school and it was no exception with art and photography. There was always stuff to be done during my own time and at school, and projects.
I graduated and didn’t think more about photography, but since I was going to go to the UK for a year and my mom convinced me I needed a camera to be able to document the good times with the friends I would make. So I knew I had to have a DSLR since I really didn’t want to go back to point and shoots. I also justified the purchase with a way to document my paintings for my internet portfolio and being able to take my own stock shots for painting. but in that year I purchased two more lenses and a tripod, the creativity began to unleash. so I had the two kit lenses 18-55mm and 55-250mm and 50mm f1.8 mk II. took around 10k shots that year but none of my photography shots are ones I’m proud of now.
After that year I had several friends that got married. I got to photograph four weddings the next year and I loved it and thought that is where I would direct my photography.
Then I went to Norway after that, and I fell more in love with the night sky than ever. And we also got great views so daytime photography was also great. I got a 10-22mm f3.5-4.5 USM and started doing a lot more camping, hiking, and photographing. That year I got some shots that are still in my portfolio but as I’ve been shooting more and more will be phased out eventually.
I would say I developed the most in the last two years. Where I lived in a small town and after work there wasn’t much to do, so I went out often to a small little island–a 20 min bike ride and other surrounding areas and shot to my heart’s content. I also purchased a Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 HSM Art lens and is the one I have exclusively for the moment though these past two years I used the Canon 10-22mm a lot as well but recently sold that and will get another wide angle again sometime.
Now I mainly do nature and fine art portraits and If I do regular portraits I like to incorporate High-end Retouching and if it were to be a wedding I would like to incorporate my nature photography style and have a larger focus on the photoshoot rather than just documenting the day, I would get bored with that.
Phoblographer: What got you into shooting landscapes and the night sky?
Iwan: I like exploring nearby places, for ease, curiosity and to motivate people around me to enjoy the beauty nearby and not feel like they have to travel the world to see beauty. I also like going out for bike rides or walks and breathe fresh air and be alone away from the distractions of internet and technology.
1) I have many friends around the world and part of the reason I shot so much was I wanted to show how pretty much country was a place friends would eventually want to visit.
Hehe, and make them jealous.
2) I’m a believer in God and that it was him that created the world. So I love going out and admiring what he made as well as exploring, being reminded how large the universe is as well.
3) I’m an art Junkie so not making art makes me restless so I go out a lot to photograph.
4) Norway is astoundingly beautiful
5) The clear nights here are really clear, so I love star-watching and seeing the northern lights when they come out, especially since I grew up in West Africa and hadn’t seen them growing up.
Phoblographer: When you go about shooting images, what inspires you about a location and how do you end up choosing scenes to photograph?
Iwan: When I shoot a scene I usually try to get something in the foreground and a nice background and if I manage to get something in the middle that is great! If the scene is amazing but I can’t find something great for a foreground I make one often by standing in the scene with a specific pose or I just stand back and enjoy the scene without taking a photograph. I make sure I also take time to just take things in and enjoy them. I usually use manual focus and as far as settings they vary a lot depending on how much time I get to photograph a scene. But if I got lots of time I like to focus-stack, and HDR a bit to get even and sharp images.
A lot of my stuff is planned though there is quite a bit of spontaneity. I often camp, so I look at the weather a lot, wind, coldness, sun or cloudy, or at night clear or cloudy. is the moon out, where will the sun set, rise, and the same with the moon. When is the golden hour, the pink minutes, blue hour, and
atmospheric dark. I check Aurora Alerts often and try to go out on nights with more than 4 or 5KP though the Northern Lights are visible with 3Kp.
I also check Google Maps before I go to a new place and also the Photographer’s Ephemeris as well as trying to stay updated on the celestial events for night photography.
I look at the Phoblographer, PetaPixel, FStoppers, and more almost on a daily basis and learn lots there.
As far as Scenes I like and choose often, I’ve always lived by the ocean so I love images with the ocean in it, waves, reflections, and the idea of the Open Ocean really speaks to me. and there is lots of
exciting things to find down by the tide pools, low and high tide. I think this is also because It can be annoying to go up a mountain with 10kgs of photography gear and 10Kgs of camping gear. speaking of which I mainly use public transport and biking to get from place to place. I quite enjoy it, even in the winter.
Some photographers like looking for places with just nature, While I do like raw nature I do also like seeing civilization and nature coexist so I don’t limit myself there.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use and why you pick it?
Iwan: Starving Photography is partly my story, not that I’m poor but as far as gear it is limited and I don’t have lots of money to spend on gear since I started with more nature photography.
The camera I started out with is the Canon 1100d with the 18-55mm IS f3.5-5.6 kit lens. I got the 50mm f1.8 and the 55-250mm f4-5.6. With those three lenses I kind of found out what I liked and disliked and the problems with it. I don’t own any of those lenses now. About two years ago I did some weddings and it was either upgrade from the 550d which I already had upgraded to or get a second body, I was under a time crunch and got a second body and had two 550d which was also great for nighttime photography. I also bought a 50mm f1.4 USM and Canon 10-22mm f3.5-4.5 USM in the same year. Also had Magic Lantern on both which was great. I tried to upgrade again but didn’t go as
planned and currently own a Canon EOS 550d with a Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 Art HSM which I love more
than any other lens I’ve used and a sturdy Sirui tripod.
3 Yongnuo Flashes, a camera bag, Zeiss cleaning kit, a few filters.
I’m also saving up for the Sigma beast 120-300mm f2.8 OS HSM sport lens.
I don’t need to convince you guys that Sigma Art’s series are amazing, extremely sharp and I love the constant f1.8 on this lens. I wish it had weather sealing though and a bit better lens flare control but
easy enough to get rid of with the proper techniques and I have a raincoat for my camera and lens if I want to go out in bad weather.
Part of it is because right now I don’t have extra money to buy tons of stuff but also the 550d does the job and the Art lens from sigma is great. I also like showing people that you don’t need to best professional equipment to make great results. if I were to upgrade my camera it would only be to get more frames per second larger buffer and possible better ISO but not a must.
I’ve got my eye on the Canon 70d and 7D Mk II. I also wouldn’t mind switching to Sony or having both. But since I’m going to get more into fine art portraits and wildlife photography I don’t know how Sony holds up to Canon’s fastest focusing cameras.
Phoblographer: When you go to shoot at a location, what are some things that you’ve learned to specifically keep in mind in order to get the image that you envision to be the final one?
Iwan: Since I’ve had my camera for a couple of years and have developed a workflow that works with me and know generally how I edit shots afterwards, that helps a lot.
“I also like showing people that you don’t need to best professional equipment to make great results.
Since I use Photoshop to stitch panoramas I make sure in the field to get 30 to 40 percent overlap so it has stuff to work with. I really like detail and grandeur so I’m often making panoramas and sometimes HDR is combined with it.
If there are bright lights and I don’t want them to take too much focus I often make an HDR and I use luminosity masks rather than HDR software. So I know how to blend images also helps with knowing what images to take.
Sometimes I do a lot of planning and sometimes not. but if I’m going to a new place I always try to see what images there are of the place on the internet so I can plan a similar image with own twist or try to also know what is already done and while on location try to get a different image.
I’m a sucker for turquoise waters when there is so I’m often looking on google maps to see if there is any around where I’ll be going as well.
I feel that also having a little experience with Portraiture also helps me try to think about lighting as a subject, like rim and catch lights on nature and fill light as well. If I’m after a sunset shot I try to get there half an hour earlier or maybe even more because being prepared for the perfect moment can make a big difference. There is golden hour which is great and changes the whole time but if you want those pink moments before blue hour you need to be ready since they only last a few minutes.
But when it comes to Astroscapes, the last year I was out a lot and didn’t do as much planning for the position of the milky way but since I know its path now quite well I have quite a few planned–which I’m excited about.
“I’m a believer in God and that it was him that created the world. So I love going out and admiring what he made as well as exploring, being reminded how large the universe is as well.”
I would say to people starting out, be patient–plan for lots of time, come early and leave late, bring a book, music or something if you feel that it is too much time waiting for the shot. But I don’t bring
them anymore since I keep moving and that helps to get varied shots, your planned shots aren’t always the best ones. Get to the most exciting view. Don’t use the same height on your tripod all the time. Sometimes the best view is right down to the ground, sometimes it is higher than eye level and sometimes it is eye level but rarely the case, so usually going low is the best option.
The thing is people are always seeing things from eye level so it excites people to see pictures from another perspective. Bring snacks, and drinks, I often have some chocolate and salty snacks with me because working hungry is awful even on the short trips. I like both warm and cold drinks so I have both. I feel a comfortable person is a more creative person.
If you want to shoot at f16 for example and don’t want to focus then stack focusing on the horizon will get a lot more in focus than focusing on something really near so that is something I often consider when I do not have so much time.
Phoblographer: How much Post-Production is typically done with these images?
Iwan: Here is what I generally do In Lightroom.
Since I underexpose a lot I bump up the exposure sometimes up to +2 even, since I shoot in RAW. Bring the Highlights all the down and shadows all the way up and then bring the whites up and blacks done to get a bit more natural look. A bit of clarity and I don’t touch the saturation or vibrance.
Add a little bit of contrast in tone curves and make sure the histogram doesn’t hit both sides, I like darkening the blues in the day and in the night I like to lighten the green, turquoise and blues. or other colors in the auroras or milky way. I do a little bit of saturation with the channel mixer, a few other
corrections. Basically I try to bring it close to what I remembered from real life when I was there.
Sometimes when Lightroom isn’t sufficient I bring it into photoshop, where I make HDRs with luminosity masks and sometimes manual blending, a few effects stitching and spot removal, final noise reduction and selective sharpening. and play a bit with tones to bring the image to life. Usually I
darkened a lot of things in photoshop to give a dark and mysterious mood while maintaining some details in the shadows.
So I do quite a bit in post but not to lie, but to help viewers see what I remember when I was on location and feel the magic of nature and weather. I take my time in photoshop and make sure I dont overdo things and work on everything in layers. and keep the before and after to see the difference and change the opacity and saturation at the end to be a bit closer to the original image.
Phoblographer: Over the past year that you’ve been shooting and creating images, what are the biggest lessons that you’ve learned that have made your photography better?
Iwan: I’ve learned the importance of inspiration from the likes of Adrian Sommeling, John Wilhelm the Photoholic, Max Rive, Marc Adamus, and Daniel Kordan whom are my biggest inspiration. To name a few When it comes to portraiture there are a lot of others as well.
There is always stuff to learn and being eager to learn more helps you grow and there are ideas from people way less experienced than you that might have great ideas, don’t feel threatened. Be yourself, don’t compare yourself to others, just learn from them otherwise you will be disappointed.
I also look at plenty of online tutorials even stuff outside of nature photography. Focus stacking is something I learned from macro photography and can make sharper landscapes, dodging and burning I learned from portraiture, some lighting techniques from product photography.