Interview with Mike Hagen
All right, next up is a photographer from the local area here in the Seattle, Washington area, Mike Hagen. And he is, he does a lot of things but they're also very similar to what I do. I feel like I'm almost gonna be interviewing myself here. He teaches classes here at CreativeLive, he writes books, he photographs, he hires out on occasion. He does workshops and tours. And so, we don't have a studio audience but everybody at home, please clap your hands. Bring on out Mike. Mike, come on out, thanks a lot.
Thank you, thank you John.
All right. Let's grab a seat and talk.
Yes. It's good to be here today.
Good. All right, so for people who don't know who Mike is why don't you give us the snapshot view of Mike Hagen, the photographer.
Sure, yeah. So I've been a professional photographer since about and went full time with my craft in 2005, and since then I've done just about everything you just described. I'm an author, I've written eight books so far with my ninth and 10th boo...
ks coming out this year, really looking forward to those. I've led a lot of workshops around the world. Take people to Africa, Galapagos, Iceland, those places. And then I've taught hundreds and hundreds of classroom-based workshops for different companies I've run over the years. Additionally, I do all the stuff that professional photographer does. I photograph for corporate clients and I photograph their construction projects and just about anything. When someone says, "Hey Mike, "do you shoot this as a photographer?" The answer's yes.
Nice. So what would you say is kinda your favorite area or what would be the favorite assignment or the favorite project you've put yourself on?
Well, there's no doubt about it, my passion and I love the outdoors. I just love being outside and photographing wildlife and nature. And so I spend a lot of my time shooting in crazy places around the world, shooting animals and wildlife, landscapes, that type of thing. So if I could make a living doing that for the rest of my life, that's what I'd be doing.
Nice. Now I know you do a tour in Africa, right? What do you do there?
Yeah, so we go to Tanzania. I've been going to Tanzania for about 10 years now and I take folks, photographers, it's all specifically around the world of photography. So I take photographers, we go in safari vehicles and spend the whole time photographing lions and leopards and cheetah and elephant, and about two weeks on the ground on each of my trips.
Sweet, so and I'm just gonna kind of disregard everyone at home here because I just have a chat here because I gotta tell you, I'm actually going to Africa. I'm going to Kenya and Tanzania this summer and what I'm doing is I'm scouting, I'm gonna do my own tour. And so, yeah because there's--
Yeah, I mean, you know, you do this, see I gotta do that and so, you know? And so, I know lenses and cameras as with the best of them but I still haven't decided on what to bring. And so, part of me and for anyone that wants to go to Africa on safari it's, bringing the right equipment is a chore. And so here's my problems is part of me wants to bring the 100 to 400 and using it on a cropped frame body because it's got a huge reach and it's like, I really don't, anything further than that it's just too much air out there. And so I think that would be a nice setup but I also have a 300 2. and I have all the converters that could go with it and so I can shoot a big lens, that's wide open, that can focus really quick and I can get shallow depth to field, but I'm afraid I'm just gonna be changing lenses too much. What do you shoot? What do you recommend for your clients?
Yeah so, what I always tell people is never go to Africa without bringing at least two bodies, two camera bodies.
Or three. So, personally I always travel with three. And so, we're always thinking about dust and changing lenses and for me the dust isn't that big a deal, the most important thing though is you wanna be able to move quickly. Africa, especially East Africa where you're gonna be going, the scenics and the landscapes are fantastic. So I always have one camera with like a 24 to 70 on it, okay?
Then my next camera I've got a 70 to 200. And then I've got one more camera, typically a cropped camera like you're describing and I'll have my long lens on there.
And so that way I can just set one down, bring up another one and I'm shooting, I'm not changing lenses in real time. Now lenses, you have to make a decision. Do you wanna photograph mammals? In which case your 100 to 400, perfect.
Okay, elephants, zebra, all the mammals, no problem. But if you wanna photograph birds, you got to be out there minimum 600 millimeters, more like 800.
More like smaller. Yeah, they're so flighty.
Yeah, yeah and quite literally. So I always tells people if you wanna photograph birds you have to bring that long lens, minimum 600 millimeter with a teleconverter even on a crop sensor.
What do most of your clients bring? Is there kind of a typical set up?
Most people who come on my trips aren't professional photographers. Most people are enthusiasts and they wanna take great photos. So very few people actually own a $15,000 600 millimeter f/4.
Really, really why is that?
Yeah. So most people actually bring the 100 to or in the Nikon world there's like the 200 to 500. Those types of lenses from Tamron, Tokina, Sigma, Nikon, Canon, anything in that kind of 100 to 500 zoom range is perfect but make sure that you also bring another lens like a 70 to because I've never been on a trip where someone didn't drop a camera or something didn't break. And your trip it would be a bummer to be out there with no lens.
Yeah, Yeah, no I won't leave the country with one camera.
I have to have two cameras, sometimes there's a third depending on the situation but yeah. No, I was thinking 70 to 200 and then on one and then the other one's got the longer one. So I'm still gonna, I'm gonna be raking this over until the last, until the night before I go. Should I do this? But another big problem that we should talk about is airplane flights and regulations about how much stuff you can bring on board.
So, the last time I went was last November. Stuff is so dynamic. The airline industry is changing so rapidly. So for example, if you have to fly through Europe, most likely you're not gonna have any issues with your flight, but if you have to fly through the Middle East, now there's this laptop ban that we have to deal with.
There's electronic stuff that you can't take into the airplane.
And they're talking about expanding that.
To all European flights now.
Yeah, exactly. So now you're thinking, well am I really gonna put $20,000 in camera gear in the hold of the airplane versus carrying it on? So, at this point I don't check anything under the airplane that is electronic. I put my tripod down there, I put a lot of stuff like that but all of my camera gear I take on the plane. The thing weighs a ton but I never let the agent at the desk weigh it.
Check it. Oh right.
Weight it. I never even let them pick it up because if they picked the thing up, they're like, "Sir, this is a little over weight."
This is gonna cause our compartments to fall down.
And so, but I think if you're going over there now you better be prepared for having to check it. And so, I'm just trying to think what I would do is maybe
Have couple of t-shirts and stuff them around the lenses just for extra padding in there, and potentially little TSA locks on there as well.
Yeah exactly. So you know, someone who's determined to rip your stuff off is gonna find a way around any type of preventative measures you put into it. But yeah, wrapping your stuff well. I mean, I've traveled a lot, you've traveled a lot. I've actually seen baggage guys literally throwing bags across the tarmac landing on the pavement.
Makes you shiver. (laughs)
Can you imaging your camera doing that?
I know, I know. It'd be terrible.
So, one of the things I wanna talk to you about because you do a number of Nikon classes, what are your Nikon classes that you have currently at CreativeLive?
So actually, I don't have, well you know what, I think I do have one currently at CreativeLive.
Yeah but don't (mumbles).
It's on the Nikon autofocus system.
Yeah and so, that's based on a book that I wrote actually and my second edition's coming out. But yeah, so the Nikon autofocus system and then another class on the Nikon flash system, the Nikon wireless flash.
Right and Nikon has what I would determine the best flash system on the market, all the companies.
Yeah, they have the best of stuff.
But it's also very complicated too.
Yeah, it is.
The interesting place that we're in right now is Nikon and Canon have been producing really good SLRs. And you got Sony coming around with some really great mirrorless cameras.
And Fuji and Olympus and Panasonic are producing things and it's just no doubt, that at some point Nikon and Canon are gonna have a mirrorless SLR. And there's been interesting talk on the internet recently and one side says keep it the same lens mount, that way we can use all of our lenses and you know? And Nikon's been so good, I mean because when they went autofocus they kept the same lens mount. Now granted not everything worked 100% and as I explained in my Nikon classes is there's an evolution and like if you reach 20 years forward or backward from a product, it may not be 100% compatible. But Nikon's been really good about bringing that compatibility forward. But on the other side, if they were to put on a whole new mirrorless system, they could design all the lenses and the focusing system and everything around that new system. What are your thoughts on this?
Well, so, being a professional photographer I need my gear to work and I need it to work well. And I love mirrorless, I love the idea of mirrorless, I like the size, the weight saving, everything like that around mirrorless. But I've been using DSLRs for a long time. And for example, just to use a specific example, my Nikon D500, I was shooting sports this week with it and it blew my mind. I mean just focused on everything. Literally I shot 1200 photos. I went through them picture by picture and like 10 of them were not in focus.
So, for me the reason to keep going with the DSLRs is because the autofocus systems have achieved this very high level of proficiency and technology. And I think part of the reason why Nikon and Canon are holding off going with like their full frame systems is because I think autofocus is probably holding them back. And I know using the mounts and the lenses that we currently have, the autofocus systems and mirrorless won't perform as well because they're based on a different technology.
You're focusing on the sensor, right?
Yeah, it's the contrast system.
And so it's this balance of the mirrorless is technically more accurate 'cause it dials it in and figures it out exactly.
But it takes more time to do that.
But Nikon did just a tremendous job with their one series okay, as far as focusing.
Yeah, yeah. (laughs)
There's a lot of other things that I think they stumbled on on there but if they could take that technology and just scale it up I think that would make a really good camera.
Yeah, I agree. I like the Nikon 1 system. I shot with the very first ones. I brought them to Africa actually one year. It was the Nikon 1 V1 and I was stunned, blown away with the performance. But it was a really tiny dinky small sensor and there's some dynamic range issues there. I would love for Nikon and Canon to produced some mirrorless cameras. I would welcome the weight reduction but as we both know, I'm gonna hold this up, full frame lenses to go with full frame sensors, you're not gonna save any weight in the lenses.
You're saving weight in the camera body. So there's still some technical stuff that I know that Canon and Nikon are working through. I think they'll get there. I don't know if they'll use the same mount. Honestly, for me as a professional, it doesn't matter so much if they have the same mount or not. I gotta buy my gear to do the job I'm gonna do. And so, I wouldn't mind buying a couple of other lenses to go with a nice Nikon mirrorless camera.
I could very well see them coming out with a new mount system, has an adapter that allows you to use the older lenses.
Because I think, my theory is they're waiting for the autofocus technology to improve and they're also kinda waiting to see what the other one does.
And it's like and I don't know how that changes what they do but they love, there is this competition between Canon and Nikon that is just to the point of ridiculousness, you know? You know, when you mount a Canon lens on a body you turn it like this.
Oh, I know.
When you mount a Nikon lens you do this. When you focus this way it's infinity for Canon and infinity this way for fo or for Nikon.
And they've tried to do so many things and if you go through the manuals and the other data, they just, like every term they can use, image stabilization, vibration reduction. (laughs)
Well, competition is really good for the industry. I don't know, for my world, you know I'm a Nikon guy and I really started my career teaching all things Nikon and writing all my books on Nikon. So for me it's a little bit scary to see other people like Sony coming into the market and honing in but I think competition is good.
And to be honest, the Sony, the new A series cameras are phenomenal. Can't wait to get my hands on an a just to play with it, you know?
Yeah, yeah I know, it looks like a very good sports camera. The big problem is all the sports photographers are like 100 to 400, that's not what we shoot sports with.
I mean, that's a great wildlife kind of an enthusiast lens but when it comes to professionals, f/5.6.
Not even close.
We need them 2.8.
And so yeah, they're gonna need definitely faster lenses but they're doing some amazing stuff with that camera.