Interview with Astrophotographer and Videographer Mark Russell
Kia ora, I'm Mark Russell, a professional Photographer and Videographer, who runs our company Renegade Peach with my wife Sophi.
How did you get into astrophotography?
I first started taking photos of the night sky in 2010 shortly after I purchased my first DSLR. I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in my life on Aotea / Great Barrier Island, and as the island has some of the best dark skies in the world, two of my favorite things collided. I have been taking Astrophotography images ever since.
New Zealand has some of the best dark skies in the world. Which locations have been your favourite to shoot?
My favorite places to image the night sky have been on or around coastal environments. You get so many compositional options around the coast, with headlands, rocky outcrops, sand dunes, trees, hills, rivers, creeks, and the ocean itself all lending themselves to be a feature in your image. I've also been lucky enough to photograph the northern lights in Iceland which was a beautiful and very exciting experience simply to see it with your own eyes.
The amazing thing about the deep night, is that you never know where the next surprise will come from, whether it's bioluminescence, incredible reflections, unexpected high clouds amplifying certain stars, meteors, the phases of the moon, you have so many variables, that I am just super happy every time I'm out on Aotea / Great Barrier Island.
What camera gear do you use? What is your favourite piece of equipment for Astrophotography?
I use Fujifilm cameras, the X-T3 and X-T4. I have many favorite lenses, but some of the key ones I use are the Fujifilm 8-16mm f2.8, and the Fujifilm 16mm f1.4. There's just something special about getting such a large area of the Milky Way in your image, and that's why I love the width of the 8-16mm. For time lapse work, the light gathering ability and beautiful rendering of the 16mm 1.4 gives me the speed to capture multiple stunning timelapses in one night. I generally would shoot with both cameras out with me imaging at the same time, one timelapsing, the other picking off specific compositions and moving around a bit more.
What / who are your main influences and inspirations?
Nature is my main influence. It all comes down to enjoying being there in the moment, observing a completely different environment than that which we enjoy during the day. Often a great astro night is still, silent, cold, but full of imagination, wonder and enjoyment.
Astrophotography has certainly grown in popularity over the years, why do you think this is? Can you talk a little about the evolution of Astrophotography as a hobby?
Firstly, camera technology has improved dramatically. Where you might just be able to get away with using an ISO of 1600 a decade ago, now you can push ISO 10,000. Basically any camera bought in the last few years will be able to take stunning astro images, so it's a lot more accessible. Post processing has also become huge, with better computers and more specific software, allowing images to be rendered in exquisite clarity, and detail.
Secondly, the instagram / photo sharing side of things has become so popular, you are constantly presented with great images to get you motivated, and realise, hey I could probably do this myself if I put some effort into it.
What is your best advice for someone interested in your field?
If you think you'll like astrophotography, the chances are you will. Get a good weather forecasting app and planning app such as Photopills which will allow you to pick the best time and weather to get out there.
Wrap warm and pack a few treats with you to get you through the night. Get a head torch that can shine red light so your eyes can enjoy the night while still seeing where you're stepping. Put your camera on a tripod, let in as much light as you can, with the widest lens you have, and manually focus on the brightest star you can see in your image. Take a photo with a 20 second exposure and congratulations - you've just become an Astrophotographer!
Get creative with your composition, as composition is key! But if you enjoy cameras, and you enjoy the stars, you will love Astrophotography!
Are you currently working on any projects?
I'm currently up in Northland in Pēwhairangi / Bay of Islands capturing the Matariki festival up there, along with teaching an Astrophotography class as part of the festival. Apart from Astrophotography, I am very active in the New Zealand music scene, documenting many of our touring artists across both video and photography.
Matariki marks the beginning of the new year in the Maori lunar calendar and is a time of remembrance. What does Matariki mean to you?
Matariki is a time of the year that we can look to the indigenous knowledge that surrounds us in this beautiful land. It's a deeply special time in the te ao Māori world view, that connects those that are living, with those that have passed. It is a time that we can all take to reflect on the important people that have been influential in our lives, and an invitation to learn more about the wonderful world of te ao Māori.
Photo by Mark Russell