Meet Paul Michael. After living in Australia for several years, this talented photographer from Rotorua, New Zealand, put his bags down in Heidelberg, Germany, four years ago. His work with both camera and drone brings a fresh perspective on life seen from high above. We had the pleasure of discussing with him, learn more about his creative process and hear about his many adventures!

How would you introduce yourself in a nutshell? 

I think people often picture me as a laidback person, but I think there’s a side of me that they don’t know. I’m much more serious and ambitious than I look. I hide it by trying to be funny. There are many things that I want to achieve in life, and I’m serious about my photography. I always want to improve myself and learn new things. At the moment I only work part-time as a photographer, because of my visa here in Germany. But I want to do it full-time, and I’m hoping to do that soon. For now, I spend the other half of my time working in a coffee shop. I enjoy the social interactions that it implies, but I would rather spend 100% of my time doing photography. 

What is your professional background, and what motivated your move to Germany?

I lived in Australia for seven years before moving to Germany. I was just traveling and working, living in the outback and on beaches. At some point, I felt the need to do something different. That’s how I ended up coming to Europe with my bike to cycle from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. Once in Germany, I met a girl who was studying there, and we stayed in touch for the rest of my trip. I came back to visit her before going back to Australia. She was committed to her studies in Germany and I still had all my stuff in Australia. But I didn’t have any real connection back in Australia, so I just thought I’d move to Germany and learn a new language. I didn’t expect to stay here for four years, but here we are!

How did you first get into professional photography?

It’s pretty random, but when I was in Australia, I ended up working as a barista in a town called Broome, in the northwest of Australia, miles away from anything else. A friend of mine was managing a camel tour company on the beach, and they needed a photographer to take photos. Broome is famous for sunset camel rides. He knew that I had some interest in photography before and was convinced that I could do it. And I was like, « sure! ». So I started, and six days a week for three years, I was running up and down the beach and taking some camel photos! 

 

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Une publication partagée par Paul | Heidelberg (@paulmichael)

The thing is, I learned so much from it. I was running with the camera every day and changing the settings on the go. And it taught me how to use the camera instinctively, manage the light, pick the right settings, and work with camels, which is far from being easy. It was a lot of pressure! I had to do a little speech before each ride, explaining to tourists what I was offering and they kind of had to commit to buying the photos. Then I had to take the photos and rush back to the truck where we had a little printer, print some photos, and show them, with the hope that they would be good enough to be purchased. 

What is the one thing you miss the most about New Zealand?

My family. All my immediate family lives there. But outside of that, I miss the ocean and the open spaces. The part of Germany where I live is far from all that! I love how New Zealand has beaches, forests and you can just be there by yourself. Also, New Zealand doesn’t have autobahns, so you can just drive on the open road and wind along the coast or through the forest. I miss this sense of freedom. I went back to New Zealand for three months with a camera last year. It was the most time I spent there in the last ten years, and I was obsessed with the scenery. It’s like I needed to leave to appreciate how beautiful my homeland is.

 

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Une publication partagée par Paul | Heidelberg (@paulmichael)


What do you like the most about Germany?

It’s not German-specific, but I love the history here in Europe and the ability to go to another country so quickly. I could go to Rome or Paris for the weekend. Culturally speaking, people are so different from one another too.

You do a great job at capturing sceneries from a high point of view. What is your process? How do you choose the locations and the best spots to set up in? 

One thing I learned from doing drone photography is that anything looks cool from above. But the viewer can easily get lost in the image. What I try to do, is look for the subject of the photo. Whether it’s a landmark or a particular building, I focus on it. For instance, in Heidelberg, I often photograph the Old Bridge. I make sure that I take the photo at the right time of the day and with the right angle so that there’s enough light and the shadows look nice. A drone photo often looks cool, but attention to detail is what provides it with contrast.

Whether I take photos or videos, with a drone or a camera, I think images look better when they tell a story, so I try to do that too when I’m in a new place. I was in Majorca a few weeks ago, and the Cathedral was an obvious landmark, but there was also a body of water nearby, so I chose my angle with the horizon in sight, in a way that would show the Cathedral’s reflection in the water. My goal was to make sure that people don’t get lost in the cityscape, but stay focused on the main subject.

 

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Une publication partagée par Paul | Heidelberg (@paulmichael)

How long have you been working with a drone?

About 4 or 5 years, I bought my first one when I was working in Australia. It was just unbelievable to be able to capture Broome’s white sand and crazy blue sea from above! At first, it was hard for me to go from this type of landscape to city photos, but now I have a soft spot for city photos. I like having to deal with crazy architecture, especially in Europe. There’s so much more going on, it’s a true challenge. In Broome, it’s almost impossible to take a bad shot. You just know that it’ll be sunny, so you don’t have to worry about the light. If you just go out at sunset you know that the beach will look amazing.

I used to fear rainy days in Heidelberg, but now I relish the opportunity to take photographs in different conditions. I get excited about the reflections caused by water on the ground. Working in conditions that aren’t always reliable just forces you to be more creative I guess. That’s what leads to using puddle reflection or long exposure for instance. 

What are your favorite cameras to work with and why? 

The DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone that I use is perfect for me, because it’s compact but still performs well. I’ve been working with a Canon 5D Mark III camera for a couple of years now because I wanted to have a smaller one and do more video work. I also really like the Sony a7 III for its range: you can use it for portraits, landscapes, or videos without changing the lens that often. 

Try and name the photo or video that you’re the proudest of!

There’s a video that I posted as a Reel, that I’m quite proud of. It shows a rainbow over the city. And to think I didn’t even want to go out that day. It was pretty miserable, the light was rubbish, and I thought it would be a waste of time. I still decided to set the drone on hyperloop mode, suddenly the clouds parted, and this rainbow came out over the city… And I was like JACKPOT! So many people watched it and shared it! That was pretty cool!

 

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Une publication partagée par Paul | Heidelberg (@paulmichael)

What is the craziest thing that happened to you while shooting?

There was a time in Broome, during the wet season, where there was a storm over the beach. My best friend and I went out, and we started taking some photos, but then it started moving towards us, and the lightning hit the water right in front of us. I was genuinely scared and ready to go, but my friend thought it was awesome and wanted us to stay. I didn’t want to seem afraid, so I reluctantly stayed there Ahah. By this time, the lights were repeatedly hitting all around us. I just thought to my self « Yep, that’s it. I’m gonna get struck by lightning! ».

 

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Une publication partagée par Paul | Heidelberg (@paulmichael)

You work on different types of content. Why and how did you start to diversify?

Well, believe it or not, but camel photography is quite a niche! So I couldn’t focus on that forever. However, through this job, I found other opportunities. Tourism Australia shared a bit of my work, and it got me to think that I could maybe do some promotional stuff. I was invited on an 11-days cruise in the Kimberley region to take some photos. I didn’t get paid, but the cruise was free! It was a great deal, especially considering that I didn’t have any real experience.

The region is incredible: it’s immense, untouched, and has fascinating rain forests and waterways. It made me want to work on similar missions more often and try to get paid for them. That’s when I bought a drone and got into this type of photography. Later, when I arrived in Germany, I got along really well with my boss and was asked to take some photos and videos for their new restaurant. From there, people asked me for different things. They knew that I did photography, and I was open to trying new things. I also did some weddings and portraits.

If you had any advice to give to someone interested in a similar professional path, what would it/they be? 

I would tell them to get out and use their camera. There is only so much you can learn from reading or watching Youtube videos… You’re better off just being out there and playing with the settings of your camera. Also, set your camera on manual. 

What are three things you hope to accomplish in the next few months?

I’d like to go back to New Zealand, at least for Christmas, to see my family and spend a bit of summer there. Professionally speaking, I would love to secure a brand ambassador gig with a camera or drone brand. I also want to keep working on my portrait photography, and I’m seriously considering organizing some workshops online or in real life. I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and ask if I ever teach, and I enjoy teaching the people I know the little things that I know. I find it rewarding.