*The following interview was to be released on a popular travel website, however was dropped at the last moment. Rather than let it go to waste, I am posting it here for your reading enjoyment!
How long have you been into photography?
My first entry into the world of photography was about 6 years ago when I purchased my first ever DSLR, which was essentially my first ever camera. It was a Canon 1000D with an 18-55mm kit lens and it was fantastic. Initially, it was just for vacation snapshots with friends, but as I started to travel a bit more solo, it slowly developed into a serious hobby where I wanted to document the world around me in an artistic sense, and I wanted to do it well.
A while ago I came across a funny graph showing the various stages people go through in developing their skills as a photographer. I actually wrote a short blog piece about this as it shows all the silly things we do when starting out and trying to develop our skills. I went through all of those stages before slowing refining my skill set and continually striving to improve the quality of my work.
How would you describe your style of work?
I think like a lot of photographers, our style slowly develops over time as do our interests in certain themes or subjects.
For me, I am very drawn towards the abstract. I love playing with shapes and angles and am often drawn towards very dark thematic night scenes. Aside from documenting colorful travel locations and my own personal interests in street photography, I would describe the majority of my most popular cityscape work as being inspired by the works of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner in terms of feeling, and I borrow a lot from the framing styles of Stanley Kubrick or Wes Anderson when thinking about composition.
Patterns, Density & Repetition
It seems you like to travel a lot, whats the craziest thing you've seen or done so far on your adventures?
I think seeing weed smoking hippies at the top of Mt Fuji has to top it for me on the crazy scale. Having struggled through a grueling 8-hour trek to the summit of the 12,000ft peak, almost caving into oxygen sickness and limping the final 3000ft with an oxygen bottle superglued to my mouth…being greeted at 6 am by a group of long-haired hippies complete with an acoustic guitar just casually puffing away, sat on the summit of a mountain.
I’ve also witnessed some other cultural oddities. During rush hour in Tokyo, people are physically squeezed onto the trains to way over capacity which is hilarious to watch as an onlooker, but also daunting as you know that train is your ride home too. Some other noteworthy mentions, I once stayed at a notorious Los Angles hotel whilst a dead body was floating in the hotel's water tank, swam with sharks out in deep water in the Galapagos, ate live octopus in South Korea, and accidentally boarded the wrong plane once which was headed to Vietnam.
What are some of the highlights of your trips and favorite places?
My trip to Italy 2 years ago still holds strong in my memory. Visiting Cinque Terre and the tiny fishing village of Manarola has been one of the highlights of the past few years traveling. I can't recommend it enough as a place that should exist on anyone's travel bucket list.
One of my favorite travel locations though has to be Kyoto, Japan. There is something very special about this ancient Japanese city, that is deeply steeped in history. There are countless photographic opportunities to be had, from spotting Geishas in the old district of Gion as they come and go, to the thousand red gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
A lot of your images are highly processed HDR's. What is it that attracts you to this style?
The process involves taking several bracketed exposures to gather the full spectrum of luminance that may otherwise be unattainable with a single exposure. Then in post-processing, these images are layered together to create a more balanced image from dark to light.
HDR (High Dynamic Range) seems to take a lot of flack in the photography community, as it can be very easily abused resulting in cartoonish looking images. The style I try and aim for is closer to what can be achieved by post-processing a single image as you would normally, and then painting over the extremely under or overexposed areas manually with my other bracketed exposures.
HDR is simply just another tool in the digital workflow for me. I like the knowledge I have that redundancy when it comes to editing, as shooting bracketed exposures provides me with much more headroom when it comes to adjusting my shadow and highlight detail.
An example of three bracketed exposures. Under (-2) Average (0) and Overexposed (+2)
What is your favorite image taken so far as a photographer?
Very difficult to pull out a favorite. I know I am extremely happy with some of my most popular images. However, I consider the majority of my photography to be replaceable, that is to say, ‘re-photographable’. For that reason, it is one of my lesser known travel pictures that I am most proud of as I could not see myself getting a shot like that ever again.
This is an image of a Japanese bride on her wedding day. I was on a day trip to the island of Miyajima near Hiroshima which is famous for its giant red torii gate. Nearby a traditional wedding was taking place, the bride and groom were setting up for various photographs. I stood aside and in-between setups I politely asked if I could take a few quick portraits. This image from the side on with the face partially obscured turned out to be one of my favorite images from my entire Japan trip that year.
'The Bride of Miyajima' Japan, 2012
What tips can you give people wishing to improve their travel photographs?
Regardless of the type of camera you have, the first thing you have to do is start thinking about what you are putting in your frame. A question I usually ask myself is ‘Would I want to look at this again?’ If the answer is a no, then I usually don’t bother taking the picture.
Something I always do at a location is making sure I get 6 versions of a scene. A wide, medium and telephoto (for detail) shot. Often the super wide angle shot you think works best on location suddenly doesn't feel right when viewed back on the computer. Sometimes the closer more detailed shot is the better fit. Also, did I mention 6 versions? Shoot the scene again 3 times to capture it in Portrait orientation.
It's also important to make a list of specific locations you want to photograph, and research beforehand to see if there are any better or special vantage points away from the hordes of tourists. Speaking of tourists, try your best not to frame them in the shot.
Aside from photography, what else do you like to do when travelling?
Catching up on Game of Thrones of course!
Peter Stewart is an international travel and fine art photographer with a focus on Asian culture, landscapes, and bustling cityscapes. Originally from Australia, Peter is now based out of Hong Kong as a gateway to travel in the Asian region. His works have been featured in numerous magazine publications and online media, including National Geographic, Practical Photography, GEO magazine, Vice News, Huffington Post and Travel + Leisure magazine.
Peter’s most popular work is the ongoing project ‘Stacked - Urban Architecture of Hong Kong’, which presents the density of the modern cityscape under the themes of pattern, symmetry, and repetition.