My name is Mike Last, and I’m a photographer based out of Toronto. To be honest, it’s difficult for me to peg myself into a single genre of photography, I enjoy most any time I can spend behind the lens of my camera, rather than just pushing pixels in front of a computer. Most of my paid work comes through corporate events and weddings, but my real passion is adventures and the outdoors.
I first started with photography by shooting skateboarding with some buddies of mine in grades eight and nine. I had no idea how aperture and shutter speed were related, so just took a wild guess, and a few of the photos turned out. In grade ten, I moved to the UK, and I was able to take a black & white photography course at my new school. In that year, I learned all of the basics of photgoraphy and darkroom techniques. I was hooked. I hated completing assignments, but being set up with free TMAX400 for the rest of high school made it worthwhile. From there, I turned my photography into a business while still in school by shooting senior portraits and BMX riders.
I had been going to summer camp since the age of 7, enjoying the Canadian wilderness and traveling across Algonquin Park or Temagami by canoe for up to fourteen days at a time. I’ve always loved the outdoors, so I eventually found a way to capture those adventures on film to share my passion with others. I’ve got friends who love the outdoors as much, if not more, than I do and enjoy fishing in particular and so photography would be the perfect way to capture these moments. Catchandfillet.com is a good place to get started with learning all there is to know about the popular pastime of fishing, especially if you’re a newcomer.
It takes lots of research to find the ideal locations for landscape and outdoor photography. Often, I’ll ask other photographers who have been to the region. I’ll look up as much information as I can online, study maps, or use any of the iPhone apps that I have at my disposal – such as Star Walk or The Photographer’s Ephemeris). Actually getting out of your tent when the alarm goes off at 4:00am to catch that perfect sunrise is another important key to success.
I find inspiration for my outdoor and adventure photography from many places. The classic Ansel Adams photo books will always have a spot on my shelf. Tom Thomson, the famous Canadian painter and friend of the Group of Seven, has also been a great source of inspiration to me. I also enjoy some more current landscape photographers such as Peter Lik, Tom Till, Thomas Mangelsen, or David Shultz. Their pieces are truly one of a kind. Many people I know really admire the photography of Peter Lik and have been deciding about whether to buy some of his work to hang on their walls. If I was them, I’d tell them to go for it. Why wouldn’t you? All in all, these photographers are different and that’s what makes them unique. Those who mix incredible landscapes with action sports – such as Tim Kemple and Camp4, Sterling Lorence, or Jordan Manley – always inspire me to find a new adventure. Then there’s also the 500px Popular page; the quality of work there never ceases to amaze me.
I typically shoot with a Nikon D800, 28-70mm F/2.8, and 70-200mm F/2.8, and depending on where I’m headed, I’ll throw some other lenses into the bag from there. Recently, I’ve experimented with the Phase One IQ series out in the field and I love the image quality – but it’s not always the right tool for the job. I always have my sturdy Gitzo 3532LS on the side of my pack. Globo Surf has some good articles on outdoor photography so be sure to look on there if you’re wanting to see what else is on the market.
Staying safe when exploring the Canadian landscape is very important. Knowing what dangers lay ahead is key. What kind of wildlife frequents the area you’re going into? On a canoe trip, I’ll always hang food packs off in the forest and make sure the campsite is clean of food to prevent black bears from wandering in. Ice chests, or coolers, keep the food at a safe temperature but also stop odours from attracting bears and other wildlife. To make it easier, there are also ice chests with wheels. My three year old chocolate lab also tends to make enough noise to keep smaller animals away. Emergency plans are also important. If someone in your group breaks a leg on a trip, how long would it take to get them rescued? Depending in the group i’m with, we’ll usually have a satellite phone or SPOT locator for emergency rescues.
Protecting yourself is one thing, but protecting your gear is another. Most people may think I use Pelican products to product my gear during an outdoor adventure, but their size and weight make them impractical for lugging around on your back in addition to your regular camping gear. For day trips, I’ll use your standard photo backpack, but on longer trips I’ll bring a waist pack that sits on my front, with a traditional hiking pack on my back. If I’m traveling by canoe, I’ll put each item in its own Ziploc freezer bag. I’ve tried to use the traditional dry bags over my gear, but found it too limiting to actually get to my camera when shooting.
There’s really no clear answer when I’m asked why I shoot while on an adventure. For me, it beats buying souvenirs or collecting seashells. There’s nothing better than enjoying a sunrise of sunset far away from the usual fast pace of the city. I’ll usually share a series on my blog and post my favourite shot of a trip to Facebook and 500px.
On my bucket list of places to visit, Iceland is definitely number one right now. There’s incredible landscapes and golden light for most of the day. Nepal, Tibet, and the Everest base camp trail are an even number two on that list.
“Fortune favours the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur. My advice for aspiring adventure photographers is to always plan ahead, and to always have a backup plan. I read stories in the newspaper all the ime about people going into the wilderness completely unprepared, and running into unfortunate circumstances.
Thanks for taking a minute or two to check out my photos and read a bit about my photography. Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to plan an adventure of your own. You don’t always need to hop on a plane and fly somewhere exotic. Great photos can usually be found in your own backyard. Finally, a big thanks to Henry’s for sharing my story and to everyone that has supported my photography along the way.
If you have any questions, please feel free to send me an email through my website (or leave a question in the comments). Here’s some places where you can find me online: