In the second part of our profile of Matt and Agnes Hage’s travel photography, they take us through the challenges and adventure of shooting in some of the most spectacular locations in the world
To find out more on what inspires Matt and Agnes see These Five Things (and the answer to the movie question is at the bottom of this interview)
IMSO: What is your photography background?
I studied photojournalism at the University of Alaska in my hometown of Fairbanks. From there, I spent a year with a magazine in Colorado. Was a good intro to the editorial business, but didn’t do much for learning the craft. I returned to Alaska and worked as a staff photographer at a small daily newspaper for three years. Shooting six things a day on a deadline, from sports to portraits to news stories, was a fantastic way to develop as a photographer.
IMSO: How does it work as a team?
Matt Hage: We really love it, but we’re also kind of strange in that we don’t like to be apart. Like even running errands is a good time if we can do it together. This is a good thing as we spend a lot of time together in small tents. We believe in the division of labour and play on our strengths. My job [Matt] is the craft side of photography and marketing us to our clientele. Agnes takes on the role of producer and logistics; coordinating talent, permits, gear, wardrobe, transport and travel for each shoot. She’s also in charge of purchasing (aka shopping).
We collaborate more when we’re in the field. Both of us come up with ideas for the shot list and work together to make it happen. We don’t use professional models for most of our projects and having Agnes in the mix helps keep the talent ‘natural’ while taking some direction. It’s also been helpful to have two people paying attention to details during the shoot. We each catch different things.
IMSO: What kind of kit to you bring with you on a shoot? I imagine, given the terrain you would want to travel light?
Sometimes the terrain we’re travelling through will decide what is in our kit, but more likely it’s the nature of the project that is the deciding factor. We just finished a backpacking shoot for an outdoor equipment client’s spring catalogue. It was a two-week assignment that traversed an off trail route a couple hundred miles across the Sierra Nevada mountains. Not easy. But the work had to be authentic, capturing real moments, as well as high calibre. And we needed some redundancy in our system. We packed a full Nikon regiment on that shoot. Probably 100 pounds of bodies, supports, glass and batteries. Everyone in our six-person crew had at least one flash or lens in their pack.
The smallest kit we work with is a medium sized body (D700 or D800) matched with a full range zoom (24-120 f4), one specialty lens such as a 16 fisheye and a flash. We always carry a flash and means to trigger it off camera. This works fine for some topics, but is kind of limp for capturing fast action such as skiing, running or mountain biking. For that kind of work we really like having the Nikon D4 and f2.8 glass. Not exactly light weight.
IMSO: What originally inspired you to explore travel photography as a genre and who are your heroes?
We both really like to travel and get out in the mountains wherever we go. At some point we decided to come up with a business plan that would allow us to pursue this lifestyle. Most of our work at home is in the travel and recreation genre; Alaska is a he market for both of those. After proving ourselves to clients shooting for them in Alaska, we started doing that kind of work for them in Nepal, Patagonia and New Zealand. For inspiration we often find ourselves looking at the work of masters such as Steve McCurry, Galen Rowell and Beth Wald. I’d say they’re the heroes of adventurous travel photography.
IMSO: There’s a very old word that describes your take on nature – sublime. The 18th Century idea of being overwhelmed by nature. What is it that attracts you to the aesthetics of ‘scale’? And are there any special techniques you use?
Yeah, something about being in the middle of really big country makes the spine tingle. Camped high on the side of a big mountain with a clear view into the valleys below is probably our favourite. Or hiking beneath towering walls of rock definitely makes us feel small. One technique we use is to increase the subject/camera distance and work with a telephoto lens. The more fetch in the shot, the more dramatic the effect for the viewer. This brings them closer to how it feels to actually walk in our shoes.
IMSO: Your images also play with depth of field and our sense of perception. Is this what it feels like in ‘Extreme Nature’?
This is more of a way to emphasize what I want the photograph to be about. Where I want the viewers eye to go first in order to lead them into the frame. Even when I worked at the newspaper, I never really liked making literal images of events or people. Editors would sometimes scold me for choosing to use unconventional lenses for certain subjects. Never really embraced ‘f8 and be there’. Some of that has stayed with me. I just hope that I’ve gotten better at it.
IMSO: How do you settle on location?
Usually there is some sort of draw to where we want to work. This can be based on an activity we want to photograph or the spectacular nature of the place. Fitting topics to locations has become second nature to us. Most of our clients let us choose the location or trip that we’re going to shoot. Other times we work with the client to nail down the appropriate locale that fits their creative brief. Seasonal norms are always taken into consideration.
IMSO: Any particularly ‘hairy’, ‘difficult’ moments while shooting?
I’ve been working in Alaska for 15 years and that place can dish out some punishment. Especially in the big mountains of AK. We’ve done a lot of assignment work on Denali, the highest peak in N. America, and have been involved in a few hairy life-death incidents up there. The most difficult though goes to a very long Alaska mountain expedition that finally ran out of all provisions a four day trek from our out point. And the days before that were even lean on calories. I lost 20 pounds on that trip and now have a phobia of starving to death.
IMSO: Anywhere you would love to shoot?
Skiing huge volcanoes in Japan and trekking the surreal landscapes of Iceland. Both are on the calendar for next year.
Our portfolio site is www.hagephoto.com
The answer to the movie question in Matt and Agnes’ These Five Things:
“The pic represents the 1963 film Taj Mahal” says Matt, “one of the first big Bollywood hits and critical accomplishment for that genre.“