The Grampians are the heart and soul of Marty Schoo’s photography.

Hollow Mountain. The Wimmera Plains seen from within a cave in Hollow Mountain. Grampians National Park, Vic. (See extended caption below).

‘In winter in particular, the Grampians are a very dramatic landscape,’ said landscape photographer Marty Schoo. ‘You get a lot of cloud and there are dramatic shifts in weather. In the west beyond the mountain are only plains. Because of that, often the best light happens when the sun’s setting and for five minutes the light pokes through under all the cloud and lights everything up. You’ll get columns of showers falling on the landscape but not raining where you are and you’re able to capture that drama of weather. I do like my seasons.Weather’s your friend as a landscape photographer.’

Rolling Storm. Storms roll in over the Victoria Range in the Grampians National Park. Grampians, Vic.

When he was just four, Marty’s family immigrated to Australia from the Netherlands. They settled in Bendigo where he would grow up in a household in which taking photographs was the norm. Now based in Halls Gap in his beloved Grampians, Marty earns a living as a professional photographer specialising in on-location wedding, commercial and portraiture work. As a Master Photographer with the AIPP, he’s earned numerous awards for his landscape work – much of which he’s captured in the Grampians.

Asked where the interest in the landscape began he said ‘it was largely from growing up travelling. We all had our own cameras when we travelled with Mum and Dad. We had a lot of outback travel as well as overseas, so it was normal to have a camera.’

As a kid his early acquaintance with photographic principles meant, he said, ‘we knew how to take a correctly exposed photo from a relatively young age. But processing film wasn’t cheap and being Dutch, I grew up a bit tight in that regard,’ he chuckled. 

A colour negative film user from the beginning, Marty said, ‘I relied on the local lab down the road. I’d hop on the pushbike, ride my film into town and get it processed, eagerly awaiting my last month or two of photographs from a couple of rolls of film. I’d get it all processed at the same time — and wait for the magic to happen.’

Financial constraints being what they were, he couldn’t afford to cultivate a relationship with any particular emulsion. ‘I was young so it was whatever you could get your hands on,’ he laughed. ’It was pretty much whatever I could afford. Fuji 100 was probably my favourite. But me being colour blind, I couldn’t really tell the difference anyway,’ he laughed.

‘When I tell my clients I’m colour blind they have a few questions about what sort of photographs they’re going to get back,’ said Marty with another chuckle, adding that in his case the deficiency is most evident in the way he sees blues and purples as well as greens and browns. ‘I’ll sort of have a guess at those. If there’s a big sea of green trees and one has little red flowers, I probably won’t notice the blossoms.’

‘The best way to describe it,’ he explained, ‘is they just get lost. But when someone points out that there’s some red flowers on that tree and I get my eye in, then I will see them. So, it’s a tricky one.’

Happily his workflow takes his visual deficit into account. ‘I do need some assistance at times with colour casts. As most photographers will know, it is relatively common to get a red or green cast across an image. I rely a bit on software to do an auto colour cast correction, but I always get prints double-checked before they get sent out to clients.’

Bushfire #7. Bushfire erupts, Grampians National Park, Vic.

Despite the family background in photography and a long-standing love of the landscape, it took a natural calamity to turn Marty into a professional photographer.

At university he’d specialised in Outdoor Education and Nature Tourism, so when he finished the course work, he began working in the local Grampians adventure touring business. Unfortunately, he said, ‘a big natural disaster event made me lose my job in the adventure industry. A bushfire essentially annihilated the Grampians and there was no work very quickly. So I spent the next two years doing short contract work in whatever fields I had some sort of experience in.’

His wife’s livelihood was similarly impacted, so, he explained, ‘in 2009 we decided to quit everything and basically get the four wheel drive and camper trailer and to travel around Australia for 12 months.’

At the end of their year on the road, Marty said ‘I really decided I’ve got to make a go of this and see if I can make a profession of being a landscape photographer.’

What he’s learned is that a professional photographer based in the country needs to be flexible. ‘I don’t really have the luxury to be too specific in what I do,’ he noted, ‘but, having said that, I would still say that 90 per cent of what I do is landscape influenced. Both my commercial and wedding clients are mostly landscape based. I target my audience that way as well. Most of my wedding clients are the outdoors adventurous types and landscape style weddings are becoming more common these days. Years ago it was [unusual] to have a wedding on a hill with the sunset in the background and so forth, but I guess that’s what I’ve done from the beginning — attracted that sort of clientele with my landscape background.’

Although it’s a small part of his business, Marty also gets great satisfaction from taking photographers into the environment he loves and teaching them how to improve their craft. Combining his photographic skills with his adventure industry experience and intimate familiarity with the Grampians means the experience is as rewarding for the teacher as the student.

When he worked in the adventure tourism business, Marty taught people how to abseil and rock climb. It was, he said, often a matter of getting people outside their comfort zones in a physical context. He still pushes his students, only now the comfort zones in question are those about changing their camera settings.

Before he dives into the finer points of landscape photographic composition, Marty ensures his clients have a firm and confident grasp of the basics. He introduces them, for instance, to the art of spot metering and then shows them how getting off the Auto setting allows them to take control of their photography.

‘It’s all about consistency,’ he said. ‘If you can get consistent results, if you are able to use your camera to capture what you’re seeing 99% of the time, that’ll be a good experience and you’ll use your camera more.’

Car on a Pole. Mini mounted on a pole, outback NSW.

Learning to see the world the way an accomplished landscape photographer does is a particular teaching challenge. Along with fundamental concepts such as the rule of thirds or leading lines, Marty also helps his students to look more deeply into what it is that first catches their interest.

‘When something makes you think “wow, that looks great”,’ he said, ‘I think the sooner you can narrow down what specifically it was in that landscape that caught your eye and then grab the long lens and capture that, the better.’

Imagine, he says, seeing three hills and on one of them is a tree casting a long shadow. It isn’t the three hills, it’s the tree and its shadow that are the picture. As he puts it, you are picking out the ‘landscape within the landscape.’

‘I’m a big fan of less is more and making the subject of each image clear,’ Marty said. ‘In a desert landscape it might be a little tree and the focus is on it. I try to declutter as much as possible.’

One Tree. Mallee region, Vic.

Landscape photographers often seem to fall into one of two groups: the patient types who will happily wait hours for the light to be just right on the one hand; and those with a more restless bent on the other.

‘I’m patient at teaching people, but I’m very impatient at waiting for a landscape,’ Marty  laughed. ‘I find that I shoot as I see it when I’m there. I don’t sit around for two hours waiting for the light to change. You hear of some photographers – and good luck to them because they produce amazing images by sitting there for three hours – waiting for that magic hour to arrive. I can’t do that.

‘I guess it’s that travel that I’ve always done. If I’m driving 400-kilometre days then when you get to these points of interest, you’ve got to capture it in the light you’ve been given.

I think that carries through in a lot of my photography now. I find a way to capture it at its best while I was there.‘

Mallee Storm. Huge storms build over the mallee plains dwarfing farmyard buildings. Mallee region, Vic.

When asked what it is that keeps him coming back to the landscape with his camera, Marty joked, ‘It’s a good question. I know I don’t like being on the other side of the camera, so that probably helps. I guess it’s that artistic expression. And I like capturing places that plenty of people will never get to see. I like documenting it and getting that wow factor.

‘Like any artist, you go through moments. I have times when I don’t pick up the camera for weeks. That’s not necessarily falling out of love with it or anything. I used to worry during those times, but I think it just ebbs and flows – as anything in life. Other interests take over your time, but then you only need one little outing and all of a sudden you’re shooting every day again.’

(Extended caption for Hollow Mountain, Grampians NP)

‘My goal in post production is to make it look like it did to me while I was standing there,’ said Marty of his award-winning Hollow Mountain, Grampians NP. ‘I could see the shadows, I could see the light bouncing off the rock inside. And I could certainly see all the detail in the cloud out there. Trying to capture that in one frame is the challenge. I don’t like focus stacking and I don’t like adding skies into images. So this particular image is only one capture, one frame.’

Describing his approach to image editing as ‘selective persuasion’, Marty explained, ‘I use Photoshop to be very selective in areas of the image to persuade the eye there. So being very clear on what my subject matter is and then using gentle selective desaturation or, maybe a little bit of brightening or contrast – but very selectively here and there just to help the eye move around the image.’

‘Hollow Mountain is in the northern Grampians and the image was taken only three weeks or so before a big bushfire went through this section,’ Marty said, adding ‘on this particular trip I was just taking some relatives up there, and I only had two little prime lenses with me. I wasn’t expecting to be able to capture anything. This was photographed in the middle of the day, highlighting the fact that you can shoot in what other people say are not ideal circumstances. 

‘I deliberately kept the foreground out because the rock we’re standing on is bathed in very harsh sunlight. Essentially I’ve used that foreground as a big reflector to light up the rock. I happened to be wearing a white shirt that day and it was helping a bit too. I’ve obviously used the RAW capability of the camera to bring out the shadows while keeping my highlights in check.

‘It wasn’t until I was in there, thinking how cool would it be to capture this rock, that I noticed the clouds were kind of mimicking the shape of the cave. I moved to the right a bit and deliberately framed it to have that cloud  mimic the shape of the cave. That was more good fortune than planning, but when those two things aligned, I thought okay, there’s an image here. If the cloud wasn’t there, the image wouldn’t exist.’

Article by Don Norris  

Excerpt from  Photo Review Issue 74  

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