Michael Blann is one of those rare people who united his two great passions and created something wonderful. His love for cycling and landscape photography came together, and out of this emerged beautiful works of art depicting athletic endeavors in gorgeous locations from high above. Michael Blann spoke with Phase One about his journey from Tour de France dreamer to capturing the dream in photographs.
The course of Michael Blann’s career
“I grew up cycling (when it was unfashionable), watching the Tour de France and I even raced seriously in Australia when I was 19-20 years old. I wanted to turn pro but it didn’t quite happen. It took another 25 years before I connected my two passions, cycling and photography together when I started a personal project on the famous cycling climbs. This eventually evolved into a 3-year project and a coffee table book Mountains: Epic Cycling Climbs. Like many personal projects, it’s not always clear why you start them, but this becomes apparent over the course of the project. There was certainly a process of mapping these climbs geographically which was linked to my childhood memories of watching the Tour de France on the TV.
“I love both landscape work and sports but it’s a sense of place and human behavior that really interests me.”
I love both landscape work and sports but it’s a sense of place and human behavior that really interests me. I’m drawn naturally to the viewpoint of the passive observer looking over scenes, which is why so much of my work is shot from high vantage points or from cherry pickers. It creates a unique view where you can see the action and all the human mannerism while being detached from the scene.”
Developing from 35mm to medium format photography
“I had always been interested in art from an early age but didn’t take it seriously until I went to art college. My focus turned to old photographic processes such as cyanotype blue and Vandyke brown printing and naturally I started to take more original photography. Medium format was always a natural step up from 35mm and suited the way I liked to shoot which was slower, more considered. The difference in quality is also more apparent when you print work which is something I have always strongly advocated. Like many professional photographers, I experimented with a few different cameras systems but always used Capture One for processing. Over the years, I have progressed from a P25 to IQ250, which I use now. The IQ series backs were a game changer for me in terms of effective ISO which have allowed me to shoot scenes I wouldn’t have tackled previously.”
What’s in a landscape photographer’s camera bag?
“I like to work light, especially when shooting mountains. I have an XF body with prime lenses and IQ2 50MP Digital Back. I prefer to shoot tethered but it depends on the logistics of a shoot and if I have an assistant. Recently I did a shoot in Svalbard in the Arctic Circle. It was minus 20 degrees and while the camera was fine operating at these temperatures, the laptop soon shut down with the cold. Luckily the digital backs are so good now, you can leave a scene knowing the image is exposed correctly, sharp and well color balanced.”
“…the digital backs are so good now, you can leave a scene knowing the image is exposed correctly, sharp and well color balanced.”
Preparing for a shoot
“I tend to do a lot of research on the web before – there’s so much information out there now that you can plan a lot before you go. I even use satellite images to work out potential vantage points to shoot from. Once on the ground, I will do a recce before a shoot, working out where the sun will be at different times of the day. Unfortunately, the weather in the mountains is so unpredictable so you have to be prepared to change your plans! I’ve always been lucky with my career but I think it’s important to follow your own path.
“I have a mantra which is ‘do what you believe in and disregard everything else’. If you do something you believe in, eventually, someone else will like it too. It’s important not to follow trends!”
Michael Blann’s photographs are taken with the XF Camera System, IQ2 50MP Digital Back and Schneider Kreuznach lenses. To see more of Michael’s work, including his latest book, “Mountains: Epic Cycle Climbs”, visit his website at www.michaelblann.com.