Mike Mezeul is an Extreme Nature & Landscape Photographer based out of Dallas, Texas. He sometimes likes to do pushups with a fully loaded Kiboko 2.0 30L backpack to stay fit. We caught up with him recently to learn more about his work
How far do you go to capture a truly unique moment? and what is the craziest thing you've done to capture a photograph?
First off, I’ve captured quite a few incredibly unique moments in between volcanoes and tornadoes, but no image is ever worth your life. I respect these subjects greatly, but it does take putting myself in precarious situations in order to photograph them. With that being said, one of my favorite images and craziest things I’ve done to create an image is driven up approximately 300’ behind a developing tornado and then ran across the road into the same field that it was in. This was a situation in which the conditions came together perfectly for me to safely position myself extremely close to a tornado...an opportunity that doesn’t present itself too often.
How did you get started in photography?
Oh man, that’s a longggg story, haha...but I’ll give you guys the cliff notes version! So back when I was turning 15, I received my first camera. I had zero interest in photography, but my dad said that it was his from the Air Force and he had no idea how to use it, so maybe I could. Now my dad and I have always had a competitiveness between us, so when he told me that, I knew I had to learn it. Now this was before the good ole internet, so I literally had to go down to my local library, check out photography books, and try my best to study up. I carried a little yellow notebook with me everywhere I went to go shoot and wrote down all my camera settings as I captured each frame, even though most of the time I had no idea what the numbers meant. I saved my allowance each week and had a local drug store develop the film, and I would always pay the extra 99 cents for the contact sheet so I could reference my notes to the images (remember, this is film). I would then try to understand how each frame could be improved and adjust accordingly the next time I shot. Through many years of trial and error, I grew. I’ve actually never taken a photography class in my life, so there was a lot of failure to get to this point. As I grew in my skills, doors opened, words spread, and here I am now...teaching and photographing around the world. A career I never expected to have.
Who are some photographers that have inspired you and/or continue to?
There are so many talented photographers out there now, but I think my top three are Michael Shainblum, Nick Page and Erin Babnik. Those three individuals continue to amaze me with their creativity, visions, and post-processing.
What was the first camera you ever owned?
It was a Yashica-MG1, and I still have it sitting on a shelf at my house!
What are you shooting with these days? Any reason? If you had to pick one lens could you? Which would it be?
Now I’m on the Nikon Z Mirrorless cameras...both the Z 7II and Z 6II. I was shooting on the Nikon D850 for a few years and loved it, but now that mirrorless is out, and Nikon has created some incredible cameras, I’ve transitioned over. The weight, compatibility, and capabilities of the cameras made it a no brainer. And picking only one lens...definitely my Nikkor 14-24mm Z. That thing is a beast, sharp as a tack, and excellent for storm / landscape photography.
“The Gura Gear Kiboko 2.0 has quickly become my favorite camera bag to travel with. The amount of organizational space, comfortable fit, and easy access make it the perfect bag for exploring the outdoors." Mike Mezeul
What are some of your favorite places to photograph and why?
I’m absolutely in love with the Canadian Rockies. The mountains up there are truly spectacular, and add in the glacial lakes, wildlife and moody scenes...it’s my photography Narnia. I also don’t think that I’ll ever sick of photographing in Iceland. There’s something incredibly special about that country, not only from a photography standpoint, but everyone there is just so welcoming and nice.
What or where inspires you next?
There are definitely some volcanoes in which I want to cover during their next eruptions. Without going into too much detail, there are a lot of active volcanoes in the world, haha. I find them extremely beautiful and each one is unique in its own way. So I think the next five years, you’ll find my heavily leaning into documenting more and more volcanoes.
What do you look for when creating a photograph? Do you go in any order like "light, subject, composition, action" or is it a different process?
I’m looking for light first and foremost...by definition, photography is the capture of light...so why not start there? Then I’m looking at finding a unique scene within my subject. Something that tells a story, shows details, opens my audiences eyes to the beauty of this world. A strong composition that has flow throughout it is my “third step” when out shooting. And finally, being patient...it’s key. I refuse to swap skies or anything like that, so if the image I have in mind doesn’t pan out, I’ll wait for it to happen...not create it.
How would you define your style of photography?
Pretty much extreme nature and landscape. I often find myself photographing the more extreme sides of nature...severe weather, volcanic eruptions, flooding, blizzards and more. When I’m not photographing those subjects, I’m out in some beautiful landscape trying my best to create images to share with the world.
What are some of the most interesting changes in photography that you've observed over your career?
Definitely how social media influencers have changed the dynamics of commercial photography, actually photography in general. Ten years ago, no one wanted photos of people in the shot, now it’s definitely a huge concept. I’m not really one to do it, although I have had series / images with models in the frame, but that’s mostly been to create a juxtaposition of some sort...not to see a product or an experience. Also, the amount of composites floating around out there now. Sky replacements, warped mountains, combined scenes, etc. I’m all for digital art, but be transparent about your work, don’t play off a scene that you created as one in which nature provided...that’s a slap in the face to those who put countless hours into creating a true photograph.
Where can we find more of your work?
Can you tell us about the project(s) you're currently working on?
For sure! I’m currently working on continuing my documentation of active volcanoes and I’ll be returning to Iceland later this month for Fagradalsfjall, and then back to Guatemala in December for a couple of volcanoes there! Besides those trips, I have workshops coming up in Arizona, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and that will wrap up 2021!