Visiting New Zealand with the new Befree Live

written by:
Philip Thurston


Visiting New Zealand with the new Befree Live

“Oh my goodness. Pull over!!” I shriek, as if a snake just popped out of the glove box! No snakes though, just an insatiable desire to eternalise these surrounding towers of rock with my camera and tripod. We were told that travel times were longer here in New Zealand, which startled me, 80km at 80kmph should take an hour right? Wrong, double it. It confused us the entire trip. It’s as if the landscape that envelopes the winding roads, seems to slow down time. We were only 1 hour into the trip. This was going to be an adventure!

What drives us to step out of the ordinary and expose ourselves to wonder? To walk a track for the very first time? To be free of routine, and give ourselves room to breathe again, to imagine again..

There is no doubt about the fact that Manfrotto make really high quality products. I was using Manfrotto gear for many years before I became an ambassador, because in my mind they are the best. One thing I really love about Manfrotto, is not just their great products, but their vision: “Imagine More”. Such a simple phrase, but so elegantly powerful at the same time. “Imagine More”, it is two words that resonate with the very core of who I am. I’m a big advocate on encouraging people to utilise their imaginations, it’s one of the most powerful creative tools we have. The technology that exists in our lives, first existed in someones imagination, it is the place where the future is conceptualised. And this concept of Imagining more is interwoven into the design and output of every product that Manfrotto creates.

I’d like to think it’s curiosity, a sense of wonder, that leads us into the wild, a genuine attraction and appreciation for this magnificent world we live in. These motives seem so pure and original, but the truth is, we live in an influential age, where one foot is on the path and the other, subconsciously set in a digitally generated world. For me, I stand between the two motives, nature and it’s marvellous wonders beckon me to step into its expansive beauty, yet more and more, I carry my own alternate motives with me. The pressure to perform is definitely a contributing factor to this, as the level of quality and amount of content being produced worldwide intensifies on a daily basis. But I just can’t help it, I can’t help but seek out “the shot” every time I set out into the field. For me, It’s like searching for treasure, little precious jewels, hidden amongst the vast landscapes and snow capped mountains. Sometimes it lays plain as day before you, other times, you must climb and crawl, scramble and scale, in order for that image to be revealed to you.

It’s important to find balance though, holding a camera can often diminish a moment. But after much time in the field, I’ve become aware that at the end of the day, I’m a lot more satisfied when I’ve eternalised that special moment in the form of a secure little file that I can use to inspire others with! It truly is like collecting treasures.

When I’m out in the field looking for these little treasures, the biggest factor to finding them is light. Light can be such an oxymoronic thing, it both soothes and stresses, it provides beauty and then takes it away again, as quickly as it came. Visiting New Zealand as a photographer is like stumbling into a hall full of gold. Instinctively, we want to grab as much as we can, but in reality, our pockets will only carry a limited capacity, a very small, dissatisfying capacity it seems.. and light, light intensifies this concept dramatically. Similarly, I found myself seeing a thousand amazing photographs that I wanted to take all at a specific time, yet I could take away only one, or maybe two if I was really quick on my feet. Reality had it, that we simply couldn’t be in more than one place at a time when the golden hour of daylight ignited the towers of snow and rock that stood tall around us.

It was overwhelming to say the least. Often the more valuable the shot, the more planning, forecasting, energy and resource you must spend to capture it, which often meant, sacrificing certain shots in order to gain others, as time was always a dwindling resource. Eventually I came to terms with myself and what I needed to take away from the trip. I needed to collect photos, but just as importantly, I needed to take home the moments and memories.

I became acutely aware of this one afternoon when my brother, who was also my assistant director for the film content we were producing, and myself were running through this long yellow grass in an attempt to outrun the shadow of the mountain. We had spent too much time on the mountain ridge shooting and our next shot was in the valley. We were convinced we needed this one shot, where the light on the valley path, and the light on the corresponding mountain came to a climatic photographic moment. We ran and ran, stumbling and tripping as if a mountain troll was in hot pursuit. We finally arrived at the scene, managing to out run the mountains shadow by just a fraction. Not long enough though.. before we could even set up composition, the path plunged into shadow, and the shot was lost. We both exploded into blame and reasoning of why this had just happened, our first and only argument on the trip. This is the reality of creating good content, here we were, surrounded in beauty, yet consumed in stress and pressure.

Before long we had both settled back into a creative mood and an acceptance that we had to work within our means. We simply can’t get every shot and that’s ok. Photography is as much about enjoying moments with your company at the time, as it is about materialising them. After all, that’s why we take our cameras isn’t it? So we can remember how amazing that moment we had was, and then be able to share it with our friends and family.

Creating a short film that tells a story in this kind of environment, certainly had it’s challenges. Having the right gear, is a crucial part of the process, in in that regard, Manfrotto was an invaluable part of the equation. There is so much to consider in the organisation of a shoot though, and an incredible amount of energy and resource is spent behind the scenes. Even if we had executed the planning phases flawlessly, we were still at mercy to the weather, which actually dictated most of our trip. No matter how well prepared you are on these trips, you must still always be prepared to chase the light, and be chased by the rain.

In review of our equipment, a good product is not just one that has a cool design and looks aesthetically pleasing, but it’s one that increases productivity, and decreases stress. It should enable you to create more, and achieve more, by minimising the amount of energy and resource used to do so. When Manfrotto creates a new product with the theme of “Imagine More”, it always translates into the ability to achieve more with less. The new Befree Live video tripod being no exception to that. It takes the future into consideration. When they asked me to field test this new tripod, I knew I had to put it under that kind of creative pressure. So, we took it to the test of tests: 12 days in New Zealand. I must have used it 100 times a day and my workflow for getting the shot; whether it was photo or footage, quickly became a streamlined operation. The mini half bowl for quickly getting the tripod level was beautifully systematic, allowing me to focus more on adjustments to the pan and tilt to quickly compose my subject. Set up was a breeze as well with the twist lock legs and centre column. Every time the shot was presented, I was ready to go, in a matter of seconds, which in New Zealand is a must, as it’s almost impossible to drive or walk for more than 10 minutes before the light illuminating the next mountain summit beckons you to stop and get the shot, again. In addition to its functionality, it also folded up into a very portable unit, and was light enough to take it with me everywhere I went. The Manfrotto Befree Live video tripod is truly a perfect little addition to the travelling photographers workflow.

The packs we used, were the Manfrotto ProLight Bumblebee 230L and the Manfrotto Aviator drone pack for our wings. To each a tripod was equipped, in addition to the Befree Live we were testing and shooting, we used the 190go Carbon Fibre Tripod, interchanging with a ball head and the 502 video head. The film was shot using Canon 5D4s with a variety of L series lenses and primes, the Osmo Pro and the Phantom 4 Pro. Collectively, we had creative freedom over almost any shot we required.

Philip Thurston


Philip’s passion for photography has developed from a lifestyle of living by the ocean and his adventurous spirit. “My goal with Thurston Photo is to create imagery and literature that provokes positive thought and inspires people to see life from a new perspective. Learning from my own experiences, I invest energy into inspiring others to live a purpose driven and meaningful life, to activate dreams, potential and purpose that’s worth pursuing wholeheartedly. I’ll happily spend hours straight in the ocean or spontaneously launch myself into the wild in hopes of encountering and capturing this beautiful world in a new and exciting way.”

Read more about Thurston Photo at www.thurstonphoto.com/pages/about

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