Sony Alpha Imaging Collective member Mike Meyers (@mmeyers76) is known for his standout urban and natural landscape photography. With a following of over 132K on Instagram, he has a special talent for creating images that captivate his audience. We talked with him to find out more about his process for making such dynamic photos, including more on his favorite Sony Alpha lenses and his focused but flexible approach to finding the best compositions.
With a following of over 132K on Instagram, Sony photographer Mike Meyers (@mmeyers76) has a special talent for creating images that captivate his audience. Here’s how he does it.
Before: Research & Gear Prep
Before Meyers sets off for a landscape or cityscape shoot, he researches the environment he will be shooting in so he can prepare accordingly. Some environments are more forgiving, while others might include shooting in the rain or near splashing waves. He always makes sure he has a general knowledge of what he might encounter to determine what he needs to pack and which size bag he needs to fit everything.
“You have to do your research before you go out shooting,” says Meyers. “If it’s going to be cold, make sure you’re properly dressed. You want your batteries to be charged and have chargers with you. Make sure all of your lenses are clean and have anything you might need to keep them clean. If you're going to be somewhere that's really wet, you're going to need to make sure you have lens wipes or cleaning cloths because if your lens isn't clean your shots are going to suffer.”
While packing his bag, he also thinks about the location and how difficult it is to reach. If it’s far away or not easily accessible, he wants to make sure he doesn’t overpack and make his bag too heavy. He thinks ahead about the shots he wants and tries to be smart about which lenses he needs to pack to get them.
“You might have to temper the weight of your bag depending on how long of a hike in or out it is, with the type of shots that you think you're going to be getting. For instance, I have an 85mm prime that I'm not going to bring to a lot of spots because it's a portrait lens. I'm going to probably be shooting super wide stuff, and then I'm probably going to be shooting something with 70-200mm or 100-400mm. You need to be a little bit smart about the lenses that you bring.”
Lens Selection & Camera Setup
“I have the Sony 12-24mm f/4 G lens. I primarily use it pretty close to 12 when I'm shooting with it because it creates a really dynamic shot. It allows you to capture certain things that basically that no other lens that I'm aware of allows you to do, just because of how wide it shoots. If you're getting something that's very interesting in the foreground, it will also capture something way off in the distance. It's just a really smart landscape lens to have for natural landscapes and for places when you're in a city and you're in super cramped quarters. Where you're trying to get as much of a building or a foreground in the shot as you can, and you're only able to be close to a building or in a tight spot when you're shooting. It allows you to bring all of that into the shot. It's a situation where other lenses aren't going to be able to capture it, or you'd have to do a pano. It gives so much more of a variance than what your eye normally sees, so it can create some really cool shots.”
“Then I have the 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master and it’s a workhorse lens. The lens works in many different situations, so you're able to capture a lot of different types of shots with it. It's kind of around the range the human eye sees, so it doesn’t necessarily create as dynamic of shots as the 12-24mm or a 100-400mm, but it’s a lens that I always have with me because you can use it for anything. It's just a sweet spot that allows you to capture a variety. Very wide you can capture a cityscape and if you move closer to 70, you can drill in on certain individual elements like isolating a specific building. Being able to bounce between those two looks with one lens is really convenient.”
“I currently have the Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G and I also love the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G Master – so that's the next lens I'm going to buy. (He had the chance to test out the 100-400mm while capturing close-up totality shots of the 2019 total solar eclipse.) As far as focal distance it's the same lens, just the 100-400 is a much higher quality lens. Both of them allow for a tremendous amount of compression and bringing something very far away, very near in the shot and compressing all of the ground in between. The farther away you go from what the human eye naturally sees, the more dynamic the shot is. If it doesn't look like something you see with your eyes, it becomes a more interesting shot to the viewer. It just allows you to reach stuff that you can't see with your own eyes alone.”
“Then as I said before I also have the 85mm f/1.8 lens which I don’t use for landscape and cityscape shots, but that lens is bananas for portraits. It's so good and tack sharp, I love it. I don't shoot a lot of portraits so I really only need this one. It's super lightweight and if I’m going somewhere with my girlfriend I can throw it in my bag just in case I want to snap a portrait of her.”
He uses his lenses combined with the Sony α7R IV for his photography. He has different settings for each mode on his camera so that he can easily flip between 1) normal landscape, 2) night shooting and 3) portrait photography. He usually shoots in full manual mode for everything unless if he’s doing time lapses where he will use aperture priority for a sunset or a sunrise.
“I always shoot RAW and I use the dual card slots. When one card fills up, it just moves over to the other card and that’s a really nice feature to have. I also love how much I can customize my settings. To be able to have settings for different styles of shooting ready to go so I can just switch from one to another is a major advantage. You can’t beat having that quick access to different modes.” (Learn more about his camera settings for epic landscape shots.)
During: Focus & Flexibility
With all of his gear ready to go and a plan for where he will be shooting, Meyers sets out to his location. When he knows what he wants his composition to be, he double checks his camera to ensure he has his settings just the way he wants them.
“Sometimes you can swear your settings are right, but maybe you forgot to switch something. Double check your focus and make sure that if you’re focus stacking something you've got enough different shots at different distances from your camera depending on how open your aperture is. Depending on what you're shooting, vary your shutter speed, especially if you're doing something like shooting water. I might think that ⅙-sec looks good and then I don't realize until I go down to ½-sec. that the water looks so much better there. Or, if you're shooting into the sun and you're shooting at f/8 because that's the sharpest your lens probably gets, maybe you can go up to f/16 to get a starburst that might make for a cooler shot in this particular instance. It’s just important to be aware of how your settings can affect the end result of your shot, and give yourself enough options so you don’t feel like you missed something."
Missing shots is something that Meyers avoids at all costs. He considers himself a chronic over-shooter, something that’s both a blessing and a curse when editing. He always wants to get a wide variety of compositions so that he’s not regretting anything later. His advice is to be focused on what you want to get, but be flexible enough to look outside your planned composition in case there’s something even more interesting you didn’t think of before.
“I’m never going to be in this spot with this exact sunset again,” explains Meyers. “Once you've walked away and you’re done, that moment has passed. You can never go recreate that moment and shoot it again. I think that leads to my chronic over-shooting of a shot. I want to make sure that I've captured everything. I also try to keep an eye out for other shots or comps that I might not have planned for – that I didn't see until the light hit something a certain way. Be agile enough where you can get the shot that you came there for, but if you’re seeing something that is beautiful that you hadn't planned on, you can get that too.”
“It's important to be focused on what you’re doing, but also to be aware enough of what's going on outside your composition. Sometimes the photo you want is behind you and you never would’ve known. So take a breath every once in a while and look around. Take a break from the shots you have planned in your head and look around for something unexpected.”
After: Editing & Sharing
After Meyers has wrapped shooting for the day, he often transfers his shots immediately over to a Gnarbox to back them up. Since he’s often outside and without access to a computer, storing everything on this rugged device immediately gives him peace of mind and he doesn’t have to worry about something getting wet or ruined for any reason. If he’s just shooting cityscapes, he’ll take his memory cards directly back home or to his hotel and put the images on an external hard drive. Then he starts a catalog in Lightroom to begin the editing process.
“Generally I create a folder in my external hard drive and name it with the date,” Meyers explains. “Then I’ll take that folder and dump it into my Lightroom catalog, so I've got everything organized by date folders in Lightroom. Then I’ll go through all of my shots and batch edit them with the same preset that I’ve created for those shots. Once I’ve batch edited the shots, I'll take all of them and import them as smart objects into Photoshop. I'll have them all as layers and auto-align them – then that's where I start editing.”
“I use the different layers and different masks to brush in certain parts of shots that I like the best to create a composite of something that I'm really happy with. Then I do the fine-tuning. I’ll do some dodging and burning, sharpening, and any focus stacking or exposure blending. Sometimes I’ll revisit my shots in Lightroom to make sure that particular sky that I brought in is edited correctly. Once I’m happy with what I’ve created I can decide which I want to share on social media.
Meyers generally chooses what he considers his best shots to post to his Instagram, noting that he’s most critical of those shots because he wants them to showcase his best work and for people to like them. Sometimes a shot is extra interesting because there’s a story that goes with it so he’ll post that. He tends to post around 10 p.m. every day to challenge himself and to keep his Instagram active. He does think it’s important for people to know the work that goes behind each shot he posts and that every shot he takes isn’t good.
“I think that it's just really important point for people to understand that every shot that comes out of somebody's camera isn't awesome. For every shot that you see of mine that you really like, there are probably 500 shots that sucked for a variety of different reasons. Just go out and shoot as much as you possibly can. Watch editing tutorials on YouTube. It only takes an investment of your time. I think people are really quick to expect that their photos are going to come out of their camera looking amazing if they go out and buy a really nice camera. What really makes a great photo is the investment of your time. It's not necessarily easy, but if you want your stuff to stand out, it's just part of the process. Trust and invest your time and know that eventually it will pay off.”