• Blanca Fdez

Mercedes Catalan

Have you ever wondered, if given the chance, what would you ask to someone you admire? I am getting the chance to do so and this Photographer's Chat Series is just that.

If you read my bio, I got into photography as a way to express my creativity. So I opened a Instagram account back in 2014 in order to learn from photographers, be inspired and to put myself out there while learning everything there is to learn about photography; well that last one is a tall order!. And Instagram gave me that and more.

I had seen Mer Catalan page a few times in the suggestions tap. I stalked her page many a times with her beautiful images of wild life and stunning landscapes.... and she was a Spaniard like me, living in Dublin and loved photography as much a me, so that qualified us as best friends! right? lol. I really wished, and imagined that one day I could meet her and maybe chat to her about all things photography but I figured that she was far too professional and busy to have time for someone like me; who, in fairness, is still learning and far too much of a novice. But, if you wish really hard and manifest things in life, eventually they do become a reality. You see, a common friend called me on day, out of the blue, to go and take some photos. She had organize a meet up with other female photographers to take photos in the Phoenix Park. As we were driving towards the park, she asked me if I knew Mer as she had invited her along and she was hoping I knew her..... and so we met that day as they say the rest is history.

We met many times afterwards to go shooting around Dublin city, chasing and feeding squirrels in Herbert Park, mandarin ducks in Phoenix Park, the city landscape at sunset or night time and drinking hot chocolate to warm our frozen bodies after a long shoot in the dead of winter. She gave me the confidence to stop shooting using the program settings in my Nikon and to finally shoot manual and raw...... and there has been one or two tutorials in lightroom while eating croissants and drinking flat whites in a cafe around Dublin. It is fair to say, she has become a firm friend.

She has such mastering in landscape photography. Most people, shoot in the field and then will make changes in post editing lightroom/photoshop later on. But not Mer; she has a way to look at a landscape and see immediately the shot, what is the best composition and the angle to give the composition the best light and in doing so, to convey the beauty of the scene in front of her and the mood at that point in time, I find it magical. What you see in her page, it is mostly what comes out straight out of her camera. (disclaimer she DOES edit her photographs but she doesn't believe in over editing to the point you cannot recognize the original capture, just a few improvements to make the photo pop).

Her love for wild life is evident in the way she photographs animals, her sensibility and respect for the animal kingdom is clear to see: I often wonder if the animals are flirting with her or is it the other way around.

I could ramble on and be all wax lyrical about Mer's work but as they saying goes, a picture is worth more than a 1,000 words. But it is best if you see for yourself and visit Mer's stunning photography Mer Catalan Photography and Blog

What kind of gear do you use? Camera body – My main camera is a Canon 5D Mark IV. I've been using it for almost a year and I love it! My previous camera, a small Canon 1200D, is now my second camera when I'm travelling or I don't want to be constantly changing lenses. Lens – Right now I have a quite few, since I moved from a APS-C camera (the 1200d has cropped sensor) to a full frame camera. These days I'm using: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8LCanon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6LCanon EF 50mm f/1.8

Tripod –  As I am often in the mountains, I need something light. My tripod is a Manfrotto Befree Aluminium, small and light but sturdy. Filters – I'm still changing gear from the small camera to the "big" one, and filters are something I haven't changed yet. With the Canon 1200D I've been using the Cokin P system, and my favorite filter is the ND1024, or "big stopper", that allows you to decrease the amount of light that enters the camera almost 10 stops. You can make long exposures with daylight! And this is something I love! And it's also very useful to "delete" tourists from very crowded places... Hehehe

I also love the Polarizer for landscape photography... And I confess I lost mine while shooting a waterfall in Yosemite (it fell to the waterfall!!). I haven't bought another one yet but it's on my bucket list!!

Flash – Except for two occasions, I never had the need for flash while shooting landscapes :) Camera bag – I have three!! A small Canon bag (it came with the 1200D when I bought it) that I use when I carry only 1 camera and a small lens, very useful while shooting in the city. My Caselogic SLRC206 is my travel backpack when I want to carry more than two lens and the laptop with me. For hiking, I have a Lowepro Photo Sport BP 300: it's light and very comfortable for long days in the nature, I can carry the camera and two lenses and other things like tripod, water, hiking poles, some extra clothes... Mention others, if any. Too many things.... always extra batteries, wipe clothes to clean the lenses, cleaning pen and air blower, liquid to clean the sensor of the camera... remote shutter... 

Your favorite lens and why Difficult question!! But I would say the 24-70mm f/2.8, because it's very versatile! It's the one that I use more frequently for landscape and urban photography. The autofocus is super fast, the images are incredibly sharp and it has a very wide aperture, so it's super useful with portraits, bokeh and night photography. It doesn't have image stabilization, but it's compensated with the wide aperture and I can even use this lens when the light is low.

What does photography mean to you? For me it's almost a way of life. I always liked photography (taking photos and watching the work of others). Even before we had cameras in our phones, I was always looking around and thinking "if I had a camera right now, I would capture the beautiful details of this building, or this light, or this moment...". Then I moved to Sweden and photography became a way to capture my expat experience. In Ireland I got my first camera and since that moment, I focused on capturing all the beautiful things around me: from the little flowers at the beginning of spring, birds in the park, beautiful facades... Since then, photography is my way to find peace and balance in my life. It has made me more positive and patient and even a bit stronger (not only because the camera and lenses are heavy, but also because it pushes me to go out to the mountains, walk more and higher every weekend!!!)

What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer for you? I think there are a lot of very rewarding parts of being a photographer! One of the best parts is that I get to know a lot of people through it, and I made some great friends along the way!!

Is there something you always ask to yourself/think just before you push the button? Are you sure you took the lens cap off??? :P 

Your photos of the Swiss landscape are spectacular; Locations and weather conditions seem to be a crucial aspect to a successful picture. How do you handle these unpredictable factors? Well, the weather in the mountain is always unpredictable!! Even in summer, the weather can change very quickly and go from hot summer to snowy winter in minutes!! This is great, because these changes usually  mean dramatic sky and light... but you can also end up soaking and freezing! Every week, when I plan a trip to the mountains, I choose a location and I start checking the weather forecast (with two or three weather apps!) and webcams if there's any (in Switzerland, there are a lot of mountain restaurants or refuges with webcams and it's easy to check the conditions in live time!) days before the trip. I try to have a plan B, another location, just in case the weather is not good. And I always carry extra clothes just in case (waterproof jacket, extra sweater and gloves...)

If you were to choose 3 of your favorite photos you have ever taken, which ones and why? This one is difficult!! Not because I think one is better than the other, but because a lot of them bring me always good memories... But I'll try...

One of my favorite photos is one that I took in Malin Head, Donegal, in one of my last days in Ireland. I always though that Ireland has one of the most dramatic light I've ever seen. I took that photo in February, during a very cold and windy day. Suddenly,  the clouds opened and a golden sunbeam fell on the beach... I just fell in love with Ireland in that moment!!

Another of my favorites is the deer from Yosemite National Park. It was my last day in the Park, we were already driving to our BnB after sunset and I saw a small herd of male roe deer close to the road. I just jumped from the car and try to get close to the deer. It was very exciting for me! I love photographing deer and these ones were really wild! And they didn't run away from me... One of them was staring at me and I had the chance to take a portrait of it at very low light. I love the result so much that I have this photo printed and is hanging in my office!

My last favorite (right now) is one that I took a few days ago here in Switzerland. I was hiking in one of the most impressive valleys of the country, Lauterbrunnen. It was a cloudy cold day. And suddenly, the clouds opened a bit and started moving around the summits of the mountains around the valley. The light and shadows were very dramatic!! It was one of those moments when I'm not sure if I should just keep the camera away and enjoy the moment or I should start shooting in burst mode... Now I'm happy I did the later!!

Do you have any photographers whose work you admire/feel inspired/love? Before the Instagram era, I found the work of a cityscape photographer named Alex Holland (https://www.alexfineart.com). His long exposure photos of Stockholm and London fascinated me for years and were one of the reasons I wanted a DSLR camera at the beginning. Now I follow the work of many photographers as good as this one, but Alex Holland was one of my very first inspirations. I love how the Swedish Kalle Gustafsson (http://www.kallegustafsson.com/) plays with the light in his portraits, their stunning! Andy Parkinson (https://www.andrewparkinson.com/) is one of my favorite nature photographers. His wildlife portraits are one of the best I've seen and his work is always very didactic in many ways!! His instagram account is one of my favorites!! 

Whose work has influenced you most? This is a difficult question. With all the social media, I think I may be a little overexposed to the work of a lot of photographers. I wouldn't say that one photographer has influenced me more than other, because I see so many photos every day that I guess my brain keeps whatever it likes from one photo and another... and at the end, every photo I've seen influence the photo I'm taking or editing. 

Social media has also a darker side. If you worry about numbers, then you start focusing on what works for others and instead of being influenced by others, you start coping them. In that sense, I prefer not to be that much influenced... For instance, I know that capturing small things in landscapes is something that doesn't have much success on social media... But I love to do it! When I'm out, I like to capture the great landscape and a moment later, I start photographing small flowers and butterflies or whatever catches my attention. For me that's capturing the whole landscape and I love it! I won't stop doing it because these other images are not that successful as a beautiful lake or great mountain.

What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?

That this is such an expensive hobby!!! And that it's very time consuming!! This last one is not a complain, I love to dedicate great part of my time to this hobby. These days photography can be very frustrating, specially if you pay too much attention to social media and numbers of followers or likes... but if you forget about this shady part and focus on working with the kind of photography that you like, it's very rewarding!! Specially when you look back and see how much you have learnt, evolved and improved :)

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