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May 2021 Issue
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First among equals

Photography was a hobby for Rachel Stewart until photos like that of Lake Marian went viral. Photo: Rachel Stewart

Kiwi landscape photographer Rachel Stewart is a bonafide Instagram star with more than 300,000 followers and is instantly recognisable by her signature long exposure landscape images and those of herself wearing a hat amongst epic landscapes. She talks essential kit, saving kauri and her top photography tips with Alistair Hall

You’ve got a massive following on Instagram. How did you become such a star?

It all kind of happened out of the blue, really. I took a trip to the South Island in 2015 and the photos that came back with me from that experience went viral on Instagram. This was before the Wanaka Tree and Roys Peak were super popular and Instagram was a little different and not run by an algorithm so photos were always seen and in chronological order. I was lucky enough to start my account while that was still the case and my photos were seen and shared by millions of people. It was never my intention to be anything more than a hobby, but here we are!

You’ve got a distinct photography style, what can you tell us about this?

I was intrigued by long exposure photography right from the start. You are recording an image by leaving your camera shutter open and the result is usually quite different to the scene in front of you. With a long exposure, you can streak out clouds and skies, make them look dreamy; smooth out water, create reflections on a rippled lake … all in-camera and without Photoshop tricks.

I don’t practise it as much as I used to as I am usually hiking or in difficult places, but it is still something I love to play with especially when I come across a lake or beautiful sunset/sunrise with a lot of colour and clouds.

Rachel Stewart

Do you have a favourite hat?

Haha, I do love my Will & Bear hat from (shhh) Australia.

How do you find unique photos at locations that get lots of photo traffic?

It’s tricky because usually the photos you see from popular locations are from the best spot or composition available. There is a reason those shots are popular, and sometimes there aren’t many other options available. But I do always try to get something a little different; usually, if you scout around enough and find difficult or tight spots to get into, you will come out with a pretty cool and different shot from the rest.

What essential gear do you pack?

Photography gear: My Canon 5Dmkiv and 16-35mm lens, tripod, lens cloth and filters.
Hiking gear: My Lowa Badia hiking boots, a torch, chocolate, a celebratory beverage (ha!), thermal long sleeve top.

Can you share your top landscape photography tip?

Try not to overthink it. And this advice someone once gave me still stands up: ‘Not every scene makes a good photo’. If you’re trying to make something work that just doesn’t, don’t stress about it.

What is your involvement with Kauri 2000, the group restoring kauri on the Coromandel Peninsula?

New Zealand’s history with deforestation isn’t a pretty one. The felling of 99.5 per cent of kauri is most likely our worst ecological disaster and nothing can bring back those ancient giants from the past. But there are so many good people and organisations out there that are trying to restore New Zealand’s giant kauri forests, and Kauri 2000 is one of them. My love of native flora and fauna is very strong, and kauri in particular has a special place in my heart. I don’t have any formal arrangement with Kauri 2000 but this year I decided to donate part of my print sales to the planting of new trees in the Coromandel. So far 10 trees have been planted from my donations and I hope there will be many more in the future.

Rachel’s favourite boot:

Lowa Women’s Badia GTX
Rachel’s preferred boot is designed to keep feet supported and protected while trekking over moderate terrain. It features Lowa’s comfort details such as X-Lacing, which keeps the tongue centred, and roller eyelets that are set on free-moving tabs to reduce pressure along the top of the foot. Durably waterproof and breathable, they’re made on a women’s-specific last. $549, 1100g.