Rach Stewart

Published 15/11/2016

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Hi Rach! Where are you based? Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what got you into photography?

I'm based in the Bay of Plenty, by the beach! Even though I love the mountains, the beach will always be home. Before photography and my young family, my life was all about surfing, the ocean, hiking and traveling. Those were my great loves. I guess that is why photography fits in quite well with what I like to do.

Throughout my 20's I did a lot of traveling and hiking overseas throughout SE Asia, the USA, Malaysia and Borneo, Australia, the Islands, but of course I never had a good camera with me! Always the way! Photography started out as a passion for me, a hobby, I could not have imagined that it would grow to what it has.

I guess it all really started when I took a trip to Tonga back in 2010 with one of my best friends. She is a whale videographer and photographer and one of the most inspiring people I have ever met (@magentahydephotography). Her photos are absolutely amazing and she had wanted to go to see the humpbacks migrating in Tonga (me too!). We were going as a group, and in the group was Craig Levers (@photocpl), an award winning landscape and surf photographer who has published some incredible books here in NZ.

Funny thing is, I had admired his surf and landscape photography for a long time, but it wasn’t until we all sat down for a few drinks in front of the beach that we got to talking, and then I realised who I was in the presence of! That trip had quite an impact on me as I watched these two beautiful humans doing their two great loves. For Craig it was surfing and photography, for Magenta it was whales and photography. That really stuck with me.

It wasn’t until a few years later when I started taking a few sunset snaps when walking along the beach that I realised that I quite liked capturing moments that meant something to me.

Where do you get your photographic inspiration from?

Nature is my first and best inspiration. We can all learn a lot from nature, she is a great teacher. I always try to follow photographers that inspire me, who make me want to push my own photography further. There are so many amazing photographers out there, inspiration is everywhere.

You've seen a lot of New Zealand - Do you have a favourite part of NZ to photograph or a place you particularly enjoy returning to?

I always love returning to Mount Cook. There is something about that mountain that draws me back. That whole area is a photographers dream. I have also visited Fiordland and would love to discover that area more. It is so untouched and is such an incredible part of the country.

You work with long exposures and capture some pretty incredible sunrises and sunsets. Before you visit a place, do you already have an idea in mind for certain photographs you want to take or is it more spontaneous?

Depending on where I’m going, I try to do a bit of research on what the place looks like, what compositions are available. A lot of this is done through google earth. But it almost always looks different when you arrive, and conditions play a big part in that. Most of the time it’s arriving at the destination, then running around and exploring different angles, then waiting for the light to come. 
Of course other times (and so many times) it is getting taken by surprise, or running late, just scrambling to get to a good spot and use the right settings to get a photo!

You're sponsored by Lee filters. Do you have a favourite 'go-to' filter, or one you would recommend for photographers who are new to the filter range?

My favourite go-to set up is usually my Little Stopper (6 stop), 0.6 Med GND, and if I am working with water, the Landscape CPL. This set up seems to work best at sunrise and sunset, before the sun is in the sky. I rarely go outside of that set up, unless I am shooting during the day, then I will use the Big Stopper (10 stop) in place of the little stopper.

Tell us about your journey with Instagram. How does one go from zero to 90,000+ followers?

I’m still trying to figure that out myself! My account seemed to take off after my first visit to the South Island last year (those mountains!) .. I got noticed by quite a few of the larger hubs that share pictures from around the world, and since then have grown to over 85k. I feel my photography has come a long way from when I started, and I hope to keep growing and continue to develop in the landscape field. I always tag my photos to feature hubs, and if they get shared, that tends to draw in more followers.

The thing I appreciate the most about having a following, is the time people make to comment or like my photos. It really does mean a lot to me that people seem to like what I am doing.

It looks like you do a lot of solo traveling. Is that the case, or do you sometimes have someone else to press the shutter on your self-portraits? Any advice for photographers who are thinking of traveling solo?

Most of the time I travel with my other best friend @narellemikkelsen. We have been friends since we were teenagers and without her my life on the road would definitely be a lot less fun and she is my sounding board for any ideas I have. She presses the shutter for me if I need to be quite far away from the camera (out of wifi range), and has taken some awesome shots on the road herself! We make a great team and she is the greatest support I could ever ask for! We almost always try and catch up with others when we are traveling. I have been fortunate to meet some really amazing people through this app, and I much prefer to shoot with others than on my own.

There are occasions when I do have to travel on my own, and in that case, I always make sure I have great music, lots of good food and coffee, and again try and see people that are in the area. It is really important to have a self timer remote if you are travelling solo and want to take ‘selfies’, otherwise it’s almost impossible to do it. I have also found I need to get to a place early to assess the scene and take in all the compositions .. this takes me a bit longer when I am on my own discussing ideas with myself lol!

If you could give yourself one bit of advice when you first started taking photos, what would it be?

Wow that is a good question! One I haven’t been asked before! I guess I didn’t really know at all that it was going to grow into what it has, but if I had have known, I probably would have invested in good filters and maybe a full frame camera from the beginning. But I don’t think anyone is supposed to know where photography is going to take them.

I think with long exposure, you really need to splash out and buy decent filters right from the start. Don’t bother with the cheap ones, they just don’t do your photos any justice.

What's next for you? Some people are making a living with their Instagram photos. Is this something you've considered going forward?

I would love to make a living from my photos, doing what makes me happy. I am thankful to Instagram for the exposure it has given me, and the opportunities that have come my way. At the moment it isn’t enough to make a living, I have a family to support so I still work part time, but if one day I was able to give that up, then that would be great. I am just going with the flow at the moment and taking the opportunities that come my way, I am happy to do that for now.

For those that want to see more of your work, where can we find you?

Instagram: @rachstewartnz
Facebook: @rachstewartnz
Web: www.rsnzphotography.com
Email: rsnzphotography@xtra.co.nz


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