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Interviews

October 2008

To pursue his photographic dreams Tomas Micek had to turn his back on the land of his birth and become ‘illegal’. He chose to flee communist Czechoslovakia over three decades ago so that he would have the freedom to travel to some of the world’s most naturally beautiful regions with his camera. CPN’s Steve Fairclough spoke to him about his career and his recent experiences with the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III camera.

Having secured a masters degree in physical geography from Brno University in the old Czechoslovakia Tomas Micek made the decision to turn this back on a career in science to pursue a dream. That dream was to shun science and travel the world with a camera in his hand. “I decided science was not for me but instead I wanted to create photographic books about nature and the people of the world. In communist Czechoslovakia it wasn’t possible for me to travel free in the world to realise my photographic plans. So, for this reason I went illegal to Austria,” explains Tomas.

Tomas’ interest in photography and nature dates back to his teenage years. “I started when I was about 15 because my father was a very good photographer and he taught me. He organised different circles of young photographers and he took many pictures of the region where we lived. His pictures are in the regional museum – shots of people, the region and nature.”

© Tomas Micek

Free running horses photographed in Austria.

He adds: “My interest was always in nature, people and adventure. My mother was a painter, so creativity is in my blood. She was a doctor of science and taught and also painted many, many pictures of nature.”

Tomas’ passion was travelling but he found this difficult under the communist regime in the old Czechoslovakia and initially travelled within the country’s borders to photograph landscapes, forests and nature. He funded this travel himself and began to get his images published in magazines and newspapers. However, wanderlust kicked in and Tomas made his decision to leave the country of his birth.

In 1973 one of his first journeys was to the Italian islands of Sicily, Lipari and Stromboli: “I went there because there are two very nice volcanoes to photograph – Etna and Stromboli. A publisher commissioned a book for the whole region. At the time I hadn’t much money but I took a job for half a year and then I travelled the rest of the year.”

Year by year Tomas built up a picture archive with main themes such as volcanoes, horses, flowers, rocks, trees and canyons. He recalls: “I had more and more good material in my archive and then I found a good agent in Switzerland and my first publisher was in Berne.”

© Tomas Micek

Uluru at sunset.

He began to build a reputation for producing pictorial photographic books with horses being the subject of many, including a series on ‘Magnificent Horses of the World’. Tomas reveals: “Horses are very nice animals in terms of their movement in the landscape. My second book was about horses and my next book after that was about Greece. Now I have had more than 25 books published.” Tomas specialises in shooting breeds of free running horses and his books have included tomes on Arabians, Andalusians, Palominos, Lipizzaners, Friesians, and Icelandic ponies.

His pictorial photography books have now been published in eight different languages, by publishers in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. As well as his series of horse books there have been Tomas Micek photo books about nature, and the culture and peoples of different countries. They include books about Sicily, Lipari Islands, Hawaii, south-west USA, Greece, ancient alpine forests, the dew, and the sun.

One of his favourite locations is the USA: “I find the landscapes are fascinating. I went with a native American Indian guide to secret locations and canyons. I have never said where this is as if many people come to visit it it is bad for beauty of the area. I love Hawaii as it has nature, volcanoes, water, people and earth – all the elements are there,” he reveals.

© Tomas Micek

Poppies and insect.

From the beginning of his photographic career Tomas has been a habitual Canon shooter. He explains: “I chose Canon after a bit of thinking and testing of Canon cameras. I asked some friends for advice and I chose Canon because of the lenses – there are no better lenses in the world. The handling of the Canon cameras and the lenses were the reasons.”

Tomas adds: “I have been happy with Canon from the beginning of my career to today. Canon is the best for practically working in nature – the quality is better against its competitors.” At the outset of his career Tomas was shooting with manual focus Canon EF SLR cameras, then he moved on to the Canon A-1, then the F-1. Later on he progressed to shooting with T90 bodies and then the EOS-1 and EOS-1N cameras.

Tomas recalls: “In the beginning digital quality was not so perfect. As the quality got better it was a more simple choice to move to digital. Before on my expeditions I would carry 200 or 300 films with me and take five or six exposures of each subject due to difficult light. If I was in Australia or Canada I couldn’t see the work straightaway, so with film it used to take a very long time to choose the shots.”

He adds: “For the past two years I have been using the EOS-1D Mark II and EOS-1Ds Mark II digital cameras although sometimes I still use a T90 body with an FD800mm f/5.6L with extender to take it to 1600mm.”

© Tomas Micek

Big stones in the River Verzasca in south Switzerland.

A typical ‘Tomas Micek year’ will involve embarking on several photographic expeditions throughout the world – 2008 has seen him shooting in Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Australia, and Iceland. Tomas adds: “I am always travelling with my girlfriend, who is also a good photographer, so we get more good pictures from using two cameras. Last year we were in China and Anatolia to shoot landscape images.”

During 2008 much of Tomas’ time has been spent travelling whilst trying out the EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR. He reveals: “I have taken pictures in Greece and Italy of olive and platan trees, wild flowers (poppies), rocks (including the Metéora); big stones in the River Verzasca in south Switzerland, and in Austria I photographed free running horses. I have also been to Australia.”

Tomas’ experiences travelling and shooting with the EOS-1Ds Mark III have been very positive. He explains: “It was very good to work with this camera. For me it was more simple and better to work with compared to the 1Ds Mark II. In Australia I took pictures of Uluru and Kata Tjuta – they were taken mostly at sunrise or sunset. When the sun was going down I used the EOS-1Ds Mark III and I have to say it shoots well in low light - the pictures are fantastic.”

© Tomas Micek

Macro shot of dandelion (Löwenzahn).

Tomas adds: “I have never worked with such a good camera before. At Uluru after sunset the camera was able to capture colours that made it look like I’d used flash. The colours seemed to come out better than what I’d viewed on the LCD display. In the dark lighting I would shoot at ISO 200 or 400 but it was very good to work with, and with analogue I’d probably have had to change films in that situation.”

Another key feature of the EOS-1Ds Mark III that Tomas appreciated was the LCD display. “The LCD display is large and I found this very good. Before if I was travelling using this camera I would have to use my MacBook to pull up and show pictures to people, but on the Mark III you can actually see the quality of the picture on the back of the camera. You can touch controls on the body and get information very quickly on the display – in my opinion the Mark II is not so fast as this,” he explained.

During his recent shoots overseas with the EOS-1Ds Mark III Tomas tended to use exposure compensation from -2/3 to -2 depending on the image situation but he did prefer to manually focus when using the EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens for images of flowers and insects on flowers.

He reveals: “Except for macro photography and my photography of horses I have always used a tripod. I have used various Canon lenses from the EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM to the EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM. I always pictures in RAW format because I’m taking pictures only for publishers. The publishers can work with the RAW format if they want to make it creatively better. It allows you to work with the pictures but, of course, sometimes it’s not necessary at all.”

Another major benefit of the EOS-1Ds Mark III over the Mark II is the sensor cleaning system. Tomas admits: “The automatic sensor is very good. I have the Mark II and I’ve sometimes had to clean the sensor, which is not a simple act in itself. I think this is a very good thing on the Mark III. I am very careful when I’m changing lenses. I change lenses very fast and make sure the whole of the body is situated down to avoid dust. From time to time on the Mark II you have to clean it.”

© Tomas Micek

The famous Metéora rocks (Metéora is Greek for 'suspended rocks') photographed in Greece.

For around 35 years now Tomas Micek has proven to be a prolific picture taker of the natural world - landscapes, the sun, macro photography, canyons, people, free running horses, and volcanoes. Each year he publishes between 40 and 50 photo calendars and his books and calendars are sold in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France, England, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Russia, USA, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. Indeed the pictorial book Tomas produced on the horses of the Camargue secured him a Kodak Award.

Although when quizzed about it he is a little coy about his exact plans, but Tomas has a number of new natural world book and calendar projects in the pipeline. His drive and thirst for travel and photography is as strong as ever as he is travelling the world shooting trees and is also planning some work on geothermic landscapes and glaciers. With a head full of ideas and unstinting ambition it seems the reality is that it’s Tomas Micek who is the true force of nature.

Technical

Tomas Micek’s equipment:

Cameras:
EOS-1Ds Mark III
EOS-1Ds Mark II
EOS-1D Mark II

Lenses:
EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM
EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
EF35-350mm f/3.5-5.6L USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM
EF75-300mm f/4.0-5.6 IS USM
EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
EF100mm f/2.8 USM Macro
EF200mm f/1.8L USM

Biography: Tomas Micek

Tomas Micek

Born in Czechoslovakia Tomas Micek secured a degree in physical geography and then fled the communist regime in his homeland to Austria to pursue his dream of photographing the natural world. He specialises in photographing wild horses, volcanoes, trees and flowers. His images have been published in magazines such as GEO, Star, Vogue, L’Europeo, and Observer and he is a prolific producer of pictorial photography books and calendars.



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