Starting his experimentations with photography from the world of macro photography, and now to a much, much bigger picture, Scott McCook has experienced a wide spectrum of subjects before landing on the goldmine of landscape photography. It did not take much for him to be led outdoors. With the fast-paced tempo of everyday life, he found much comfort in the arms of nature, enjoying wide open spaces, being amongst an echoing silence, altogether an escape from the noise of life.
From above, he seeks abstract realities from below his plane. His lens focuses in on the world, in a way we would usually never perceive. From such great heights, the world’s elements are quickly distorted into a picture that almost seems to exist on canvas. From composing the image to editing, Scott creates painterly images, vivid with colour and bold in shapes that speak to your eyes.
“Since taking up landscape photography, it’s the beauty that is held within it that inspires me to keep shooting and creating images that people haven’t seen before. I sometimes have no words for what I’ve seen from a beach, forest, desert, or wherever it is that inspires me to come back with an image that can do this for me. I want to share that moment with the world,”
“An aerial landscape flipped and turned into an abstract industrial wasteland.” – Nikon D810, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 400, f/5, 1/2000th seconds, 60mm
Scott can spend hours then manipulating imagery. After seeing the images right before his eyes, he finds that playing with his own work strips away its literal form to become the abstract form we see. Like unlocking a door, he begins to see shapes of animals, textures of leather or even ice cream. The moment an idea appears, he will chase it down mercilessly, whether he is on location or editing in post.
“I think the key to finding an abstract landscape is to let your mind go, and not be afraid to try something new or explore paths that lead to nowhere. I’ve sometimes failed 100 times on one image before I finally crack the perfect mix of abstract and solid composition. Sometimes it may take me weeks and months of not being able to crack it before I find that one composition that works,”
To get his images from the ground up, it is no surprise that he spends most of his time shooting out from a plane.
“I normally try to take off about 30 minutes after sunrise or about two hours before sunset. This will give you nice shadows and soft light on the landscape, making for in my opinion far more interesting images.
So I’m about to jump in the plane, it’s 7.30am and I’m ready to go. I’ll do my pre-checks on the camera gear, and check that the memory cards are set. I’ll use around 64-90 GB of cards with my Nikon D810 on an one hour shoot, check the batteries and that the Nikon D810 is set up correctly - focus mode is locked in, camera is shooting RAW, white balance locked to daylight and anything else you may personally want camera setting wise.
I’ll then dial in my settings ahead of time, I normally start with 1/2000th of a second, ISO 400, f/5 and then do some test runs on the ground by running up and down the runway shooting at the ground and then checking images. It’s a great little trick to just make sure everything is running perfectly and setup correctly before getting in the air,”
His favorite of the series is ‘Phoenix’, an aerial image of a tailing pond located in Western Australia. The image holds great importance to him for several reasons, and in his opinion, does everything an abstract landscape image should do.
For Scott, the image carries an environmental message, as it is an image of a tailing pond which is typically used to separate mining materials and potentially impacts environmental impact to the landscape. It is critical that he uses something visually pleasing to bring attention to important causes, and in a sense, giving beauty to an ugly issue.
It also has a strong message within the image. The man-made lines on the top left of the image seem to be going against Mother Nature’s veins trying to claw back in the bottom right, signifying the fight between good and evil. He also holds this image dear for its shapes, patterns and textures, which he likens to seeing fire and almost the head and wings of the mythical phoenix.
Shot on the 36.3-megapixel Nikon D810, it gives him the freedom to publish the image in large print, striking viewers with its visual power, high detail and terrific colour reproduction. Scott has said that the instant visual impact of the image has often opened up a conversation about the environment and how humans have affected it.
“The Boranup Karri Forest in the South West region of W.A” – Nikon D810, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 100, F11, 1/60th seconds, 40mm
“An aerial of the beautiful part of the Kalbarri coastline in W.A” – Nikon D810, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 400, f/5, 1/2000th seconds, 60mm
“An aerial perspective of the Hutt Lagoon located in the mid west of W.A” – Nikon D810, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 400, f/5, 1/2000th seconds, 60mm
“An aerial of Hutt Lagoon or "Pink Lake" near Kalbarri W.A” – Nikon D810, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 400, f/5, 1/2000th seconds, 60mm
His biggest challenge is without a doubt the wind, as hanging off the side of a plane is bound to bring about some struggles. This is where camera choice is king, and Scott chose the Nikon D810 for that very reason; its body is not too heavy yet has just enough weight to allow a firm grip on the body. This is key as working in these conditions mean winds can reach up to 200km an hour, making it challenging to work with gusts of wind flying towards Scott and his camera.
“I’ve been shooting with my trusty Nikon D810 since its release, and it has by far become one of the most impressive DSLRs I’ve used. It has handled every condition I’ve thrown at it - snow, rainforests, deserts, out of an airplane and in the pouring rain - and performed amazingly well and given me stunning files to work with.”
From here on it is all about the ‘wow’ factor. For Scott, it is all about enjoying the moment, taking a second to stop and take it all in, which was the very reason he ventured outside in the first place. After that, the stunning brushstroke on the earth appears with ease. “Be prepared and then go out to enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer. I find that when you’re at peace and enjoying what you’re doing, the photography follows naturally and in a free flowing way.”
Scott McCook goes by his alias Scott Jon photography. He resides in Western Australia, where most of his images are shot. Since the age of 14, he has had a great passion for photography but it was not until his trips to Vietnam and Cambodia in his adult years that his imagination finally took hold. An outdoorsman, he is passionate about the Milky Way, the country coasts and breathtaking forests.
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