Insta Awesome

He spends his day taking photos of sunrises and sunsets. Yep, I suppose someone’s gotta do it! His life is full of the unknown. He never knows where he’ll be the next day – on the other side of town, on the other side of New Zealand, or on the other side of the world.

New Zealand-born photographer, adventurer and storyteller, Talman Madsen has gained a massive following over Instagram, gaining over 41,000 followers as a result of the amazing photographs he captures. He has travelled to each corner of Aotearoa and captured stunning shots of landscapes and starscapes, highlighting every facet of this beautiful country. In 2016, Madsen was awarded the Geographer Young Photographer of the Year, launching his name and art nationally and internationally. These prestigious awards were split into six categories, and he was the one who took out the biggest photo award (for his age category) in New Zealand. He even launched his first self-titled, table-top book last year. M2 talked to him about the man behind the lens, his art, and what he has planned for the future.

Tell us about the man behind the lens…

I’m a New Zealand born and bred Commercial Landscape Photographer with a passion for capturing the wild places; rugged mountains, braided rivers, remote coastlines, enchanted forests, freezing glaciers, if it takes your breath away, I’m there!

I’m the oldest of 5 and grew up rurally in Dairy Flat where sleeping under the stars (out on the water tank or trampoline) was a favourite pastime. Just over a year ago relocated to Christchurch to be closer to the landscapes that that have captivated my heart. I visit every region in the country pretty much once every 3 months, spending up to 80% of my time on the road – I’m yet to spend a full week at home in Christchurch this year!

I love snowboarding, diving, cheese, dogs, the Aurora Australis, and anything that gets me in the air. I’m constantly looking to push the boundaries, and am a thrill seeker at heart. I have a love affair with the stars that started long before I picked up a camera and have an itching desire to drive to the end of the road just to see what’s there. It doesn’t matter what I find, it’s always been just as much about the journey as it is the destination.

In 2016 I was humbled by being awarded the title of New Zealand Geographic Young Photographer of the Year for my portfolio of images, and around the same time I decided to jump in the deep end as a freelance landscape photographer. Recognition from such a well respected institution was monumental in developing my business to where it is today.I consider myself fortunate to work with a wide array of awesome brands such as Land Rover, Sony, LOWA, Further Faster and Tourism New Zealand.

Last year my first Landscape Photography book “Talman Madsen, New Zealand” was published and is currently available in PaperPlus store nationwide. To date this has to be one of my most fulfilling accomplishments – I’m not sure I’ve ever put as much time, effort, and energy into something as I did with my book. I’m incredibly proud of how well it represents my work and all the adventures involved in creating the images.

Things always look different when viewed from the sky. While gazing at this stretch of braided river the water twisting and turning reminding me of a tree – I call it the ‘Tree of Life’.
Where did the passion for photography start?

The outdoors. I’ve always been up for an adventure, whether it is a full on mission, or a Sunday drive. The game changed after a road trip down the West Coast of the South Island with my three brothers and my Dad. My eyes were opened to a whole new side of New Zealand and I was captivated by the raw beauty I encountered. I felt a strong desire to share what I was seeing with my friends and family in hopes of inspiring them to get out and see it for themselves – photography was the perfect medium to spread the word!

Did you get any formal training? Or is your work all from natural talent?

I haven’t had any formal training as such, most of what I’ve learnt has been through experimentation, getting out there and doing it, and making lots of mistakes. There’s no substitution for trial and error if you ask me! I took literally thousands of terrible photos that will never see the light of day while I was getting the hang of it.

Through social media I’ve made friends with a lot of photographers whose work I admire (both in New Zealand and around the world) – meeting up and taking photos with them has taught me a lot. Instagram was also a great place to get feedback on my images when I was starting out, and helped me develop my style faster than most; however these days I listen less to the feedback of strangers and instead focus on forging my own path and style.

Some people may choose to call it natural talent, I prefer hard work with just the right amount of luck.

There’s not many places left in the world where you can’t help but entertain a lingering thought that at any second you may encounter a dinosaur. Karekare Beach is one of those places.
Does capturing certain images affect you emotionally?

Deeply so, there’s nothing like the feeling of seeing something you imagined in your mind come to life before your eyes. Many of the images I share these days are the result of hours spent dreaming of a composition, planning how, when, and where to capture it, then countless hours getting there and waiting for the perfect moment to take the shot. Plenty of times it doesn’t happen, and that only ever motivates me more to get back out there and try again.

It’s always my intention to capture images that make people respond emotionally. If I don’t  experience these emotions myself, how can I expect the viewers to?

My million star hotel atop Mount Ruapehu, a cold night that was rewarded with more stars than some see in a lifetime.
Are their photographers who really inspire you?

There are a lot of photographers whose work I admire; when I first started I was enamoured with Chris Burkard and the sense of adventure he invoked as a person and through his imagery. Shaun Jeffers is a close friend who took me out on many of my early trips and encouraged me to pursue my craft – we have similar styles and I’d say a lot of that came down to his input as I was starting out. William Patino’s work is mesmerising and the level of commitment he has to getting the shot constantly inspires. Other incredible photographers whose work I am constantly drawn to include Daniel Kordan, Michael Shainblum, Paul Zizka, Marc Adamus and so many more.

What emotions do you want your viewers to feel?

My photography is an outlet, a reflection of who I am and the journey I’ve been on. At a big picture level I’d say my work is generally intended to inspire a sense of adventure, a desire to explore and then stand in awe of the world. I’d say my images are on the brighter side, with positive, inspirational tones captured in a way that uplifts and encourages people – a reminder that the sun will rise again tomorrow.

When you zoom in image by image it’s fair to say that while some days the energy is high and life is feeling good, on other days I find myself battling the rapids on the river of life and I find the images I take reflect what’s going on internally. And that’s okay, I think people can understand and can relate to that.

After many less than successful attempts of capturing a shot of the Remarkables I was eventually rewarded with this incredible view.
What have been the best places you’ve travelled to in your career?

While I’ve travelled all through North America and was blown away by places like Yosemite, and Yellowstone, there’s no place like home. New Zealand really does have a wonderfully diverse and beautiful landscape, and when you stop and think about it, it’s easy to see why so many tourists choose to come here every year.

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is a special place that I constantly find myself being drawn to in search of new adventures, I’m definitely a mountain guy! Fiordland is a place that’s barely been touched and holds a wealth of beauty unlike anywhere else in New Zealand. I spent 3 weeks travelling through all of the northern fiords aboard Pure Salt in January and barely saw a sign of human interference. In October I will be heading back to Fiordland to lead a 5 day photography workshop aboard Pure Salt in the Dusky Sound which has limited spots remaining.

Lake Ohau, the Catlins, Golden Bay, the Kaikoura Ranges, National Park, Great Barrier Island, there’s so many places throughout New Zealand that will forever have a piece of me! In fact, just yesterday I found myself entranced as I was flying over the Southern Alps and couldn’t help but be blown away by how many mountains, rivers, valleys, forests that are just right there, sitting barely touched or photographed – yet!

The new Land Rover Discovery Pioneer Edition tackling one of the many backcountry roads we explored together.
What have been the most dangerous places you’ve been to in your career?

Most places I find myself have the potential to be dangerous should certain elements align. I once had a freak accident where a boulder fell and crushed me and I was stuck from the waist down – similar to the film ‘127 Hours’. Thankfully I had someone with me to raise the alarm and the legends at New Zealand Search and Rescue came to my aid and after 6 hours I was extracted by helicopter!

I once spent the night above the snowline atop Mount Ollivier with a sleeping bag that decided it was the right time for the zip to completely break making for a very cold night. If I hadn’t been more prepared it may have turned out worse. I’ve been impaled climbing a tree trying to get a shot (end result 15 stitches to the groin), I’ve had eels wrapped around my legs while shooting in the inky black darkness of a cave, I’ve crossed a glacier with broken crampons, corked my thigh 5 minutes from the summit of a mountain, slipped coming down steep hills with precarious drops, and the list goes on.

Often the best photos come from locations and situations where an element of risk is overcome; the edge of a cliff, at the top of a waterfall, down a cave, in the middle of a glacier, during a snowstorm, when the weather’s closing in. Taking and managing risks is a part of what I do as a photographer, I’m not sure I’d still be doing it if this wasn’t a part of my adventures.

We were cruising through Milford Sound in less than ideal weather and I hadn’t seen much of anything worth photographing. All of a sudden, a gap parted to reveal the top of one of the peaks with a perfect waterfall tumbling down the face of it. Thee clouds’ shape gave me the impression of a love heart.
What technology/software/camera gear do you use as you photograph?

I shoot using the mirrorless Sony system, my ‘go to’ being the Sony A7RII with the 16-35mm F4. It’s lightweight which enables me to take more gear when I go backcountry, it’s high resolution sensors allow me to capture scenes in detail like no other camera and then print these in large format. The incredible dynamic range enables me to capture scenes in a way that enables me to process the images in Lightroom to best replicate what was seen with my eye. I’m constantly impressed with this system and the technological advancements that have been coming with each new camera.

I use a Phantom 4 Pro Version 2 when I’m not hanging out the side of a helicopter for my aerial work. The ability to revisit locations viewed a million times before and see them with new eyes is invaluable to me as a landscape photographer. Syrp motion control units allow me to capture dynamic timelapses. The guys at LOWA Boots supply me with all the footwear I need to get around. In terms of outdoor gear the crew at Further Faster have kitted me out with everything I need to battle the elements (and win!).

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Something that’s always stuck with me is “success is the result of preparedness meeting opportunity.” I’ve learnt I can’t always control what opportunities come my way, but I can control how prepared I am when they do come. Sometimes this looks like always having my camera gear packed up, batteries charged, and memory cards empty, other times it looks like spending days in a location scouting out all possible angles and compositions in various locations so that when the light is just right I’m confident I’m in the right spot and capturing the scene the best I possibly can.

For me it all leads back to the fact that the harder I work, the luckier I become (as my Grandad always said).

A fleeting gap in the mist and fog provided unrivaled views of the Hooker Glacier.
Where to next for you and your photography?

I’m currently shooting the last of the images for my second book (due to come out in October), which I’m very excited about. I’m looking forward to winter and capturing a wide array of snowy landscapes. I’m also looking forward to heading to Iceland in pursuit of the Aurora Borealis later this year!

As a photographer I’m constantly striving to improve and capture new images that honestly portray the places I travel to. I find myself no longer satisfied with simple images that are easily replicable and lack elements born out of a bold vision. This space I find myself in is pushing me to explore new places that are further off the beaten path and are developing my mettle and resolve while testing my creativity. I’m not sure exactly where this path is taking me, but the views are nice and I’m more than happy to be along for the ride.

Sunrise amongst the tussocks at the entrance to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park – also the cover image of my book, so look out for it!
Extra Question:
You recently took the New Land Rover Discovery Pioneer Edition out on a South Island road trip, how did taking a really capable off-roader change the shots you got?

The right vehicle is an important part of getting you to the best locations, especially if you’re like me and are keen to see some of the untouched places off the beaten path. Tackling the South Island in the new Land Rover Discovery Pioneer Edition was an absolute blast. In an effort to put this incredible car through its paces I took the longest route possible from Auckland to Aoraki Mount Cook and back, managing to rack up almost 5,000 k’s in 10 days! This incredible adventure took me through rivers, mud, inclines and declines of up to 25 degrees, countless gravel roads and never once did it show any signs of struggle. Having such a capable car enabled me to take a range of photos that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise – it also made the trip a whole lot more comfortable!