Tomáš Neuwirth is an international award-winning photographer that specializes in drone photography. He was born on the 22 of July 1972 in Rýmařov in the Czech Republic.
A major milestone in his life was the year 1995, when he began to devote himself to paragliding. As a pilot, he was fascinated by taking pictures of the bird’s eye, then still on the 35mm film camera. The following year, he moved to the USA. But his stay here after three and a half years ended the paragliding incident and with serious injuries of the spine, he returned to the Czech Republic. He then spent eight months in a sanatorium, learned not only to walk again but also met his future wife Gabriela. The acquisition of aerial footage continued to attract him. With the advent of unmanned technologies, new possibilities were opened. His first drone folded in 2011, it was a kit. However, the desired shots were made by commercially produced drones in the following years.
Presently, Tomáš is actively engaged in professional drone and classic photography. By selecting unusual locations and fully utilizing post-production processing, he is shifting drone photography from landscape into the field of fine art. As one of two Czech photographers, he won the gold award twice in a row in the MIFA / Moscow International Fotography Awards (2019, 2020). And as the only Czech photographer, he was one of the finalists in the All About Photo Awards (2020). Tomáš’s pictures have been exhibited in many countries in addition to Europe, including Mexico, Japan, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates. The Paris online gallery Singulart has included his photographs in its curatorial selection repeatedly. In 2019 he was nominated for the Personality of Czech Photography.
Hello Tomáš. We’ve talked about what inspired you to become a photographer in our previous interview. But when did it all start for you, what are your earliest memories? Tell us more about that.
Tomáš: My brother and I got our first camera when we were about ten years old. It was a Russian SMENA 8M, I still have it. Even after forty years, it is fully functional. I don't remember my first picture, but I have a few photos from the summer we got the camera. They are from our weekend cottage, where my brother and I photographed various comical situations. Later I bought a SLR camera Minolta XT, which I took pictures with for quite a long time. I also still have it at home. I’m a bit of a hoarder and won’t throw anything away 🙂
What does a typical day look like for you?
Tomáš: I have my studio in the house where I live, so I don't have to travel to work. In the morning, I
look at the mail and deal with e-mails, which is probably a common routine for most people. I spend the rest of the morning at the computer because I'm currently preparing calendars for printing. I select and edit photos, I also create the graphic part of the calendar. If I have a drone photoshoot planned in the afternoon, I start with pre-flight preparation in the studio. I check that the place I’m going to photograph is not in a restricted zone where it is not allowed to fly a drone and I also look at the weather forecast. If everything is in order, I go to
the location. Pre-flight preparation takes place there at the launch site. Then I launch the drone and look for the ideal composition for the intended images. The capacity of the batteries is enough for about an hour, so there is nowhere to hurry and I would rather fly around the place, viewing it from several angles and take a larger number of shots. Then I go back to the studio, I’m usually curious about the shots I’ve taken so I immediately download
them to my computer. I mostly take pictures of landscapes and I use exposure bracketing, i.e. taking photos at multiple exposures, mostly five shots. I then compose them in the editing program and create the final photos from them.
Could you walk us through your process? How much planning do you do before you jump into creating photography?
Tomáš: Some photos you do not take without preparation, and some others just cannot be planned. However, most of them are planned. Sometimes, I wander the landscape with my eyes wide open looking for interesting locations to take pictures. And sometimes I look for them in advance, for example via the Internet according to aerial maps. Then I plan the shot itself, in particular with an eye to the weather, find out how the sun rises and sets there, which places remain illuminated etc. Sometimes it is necessary to wait for snow, because it is a
crucial element for the location, without which the photo would be incomplete.
What is the best project you have worked on and how did you get involved with it?
Tomáš: I will mention two recent projects, both of which are related to the region where I live – the Jeseníky mountains. The first is the forthcoming book ” Čti Jeseníky” (“Read the Jeseníky Mountains”). It is a pictorial encyclopedia with collages of historical photographs and interesting stories of places and personalities. A team of historians and graphic artists is preparing it for publication, which should be before Christmas. I was invited to be involved in this project to enhance the book with contemporary images of the Jeseník landscape. The other project is called ” Art and Alcohol”. My friend Kyle, the owner of a local distillery, and I have created a limited series of four herbal liqueurs (including Absinthe) that have my photos as labels. We spent a long time choosing suitable images, ones that would reflect the focus of the liqueurs and Kyle’s relationship with the region. We created the series for Jeseník town and the liqueurs can only be bought in the information center there, nowhere
else. It may be interesting to you that Kyle is American. He liked the local region and found a new home there – and he’s not the only American who has settled here.
What does the term creative mean to you?
Tomáš: I consider creativity to be an absolutely essential element of original work – and not only in photography of course. For me, it means finding my own style, looking at the world from my own novel perspective. Pablo Picasso said that good artists copy and the best artists steal. I think that the more thorny the path to the final work leads, the more lasting is its value.
Share some interesting stories with us.
Tomáš: A drone photographer must also be a bit of a meteorologist. He has to know, for example, that at high humidity and low temperatures, the leading edges of the drone propellers freeze, which can lead to a reduction in a lift or even a crash. If you want to photograph an inversion and fog, you have to be very cautious. Last autumn, I took a collection of images of an autumn inversion in the Jeseník mountains. I launched the drone into the fog and it was necessary to fly through it quickly and get above the level of the inversion before ice formed on the propellers. I knew the approximate height of the cloud from the webcam shots, but that could quickly change. Soon after the launch, the display turned white and I couldn’t see anything on it, but after a few seconds I was over the inversion and everything was fine. You lose visual contact with the drone and the control of the whole flight and landing has to be only via the instruments. It takes a little courage and confidence in the technology. However, the photos taken were worth it.
How has your photography evolved over the years?
Tomáš: Probably the development of technology has influenced me the most. I think the main shift came with the advent of digital photography and the subsequent possibility of editing images on a computer. I literally consider this a revolution. Another big shift and change in the way I took photos was the development of unmanned systems – drones. This equipment opened up completely new possibilities. I would say drones have freed the photo, given it wings. Pictures from an airplane or helicopter don’t have the same impact. Drones can get to inaccessible places and much lower altitudes. As a former paragliding pilot who was fascinated by the bird's eye view, I can fully appreciate it. As for my style and focus, it’s basically still the same – mostly landscape shots and sometimes sports documentaries. In recent years, however, I have discovered a passion for minimalism and fine art and I am trying to move my drone landscape photography in this direction.
Who are your biggest influences?
Tomáš: I have two role models in photography. The first is the German mountain climber and paragliding pilot Uli Wiesmeier. The fact that he actively pursues the sports of which he takes photos is significantly reflected in his pictures. His photographs are very authentic, you feel that you are a part of them. When my friends and I did paragliding, his book ” WING OVER ” was literally our bible. My second role model and inspiration is the Czech sports photographer Markéta Navrátilová. I still follow her motto “Trek required to capture the moment”. She is the only woman since 2002 to document the bicycle race Tour de France. You can recognize her photos from the Tour, they are simply different.
You also make videos. Tell us more about that.
Tomáš: I have been shooting videos for approximately 20 years under the name SKYART studio. I usually work alone, doing the actual filming with a camera or drone and then post-production on a computer, editing, sound, coloring, etc. I have a second cameraman for larger projects. I have more than 200 videos on my video channel, see https://vimeo.com/skyart. There are videos commissioned by companies, sports documentaries, video clips, or videos shot just for fun. As an example, I would recommend the video for the song “Hold Me Now”: https://vimeo.com/channels/playing
Also, last time we’ve spoken you’ve talked about your ”A dozen outdoor sports in the Jeseniky Mountains” project. It sounds very interesting, what is going on with that?
Tomáš: This project is more complicated than I originally thought. I am working on it with my friend Iveta, who is a multi-sportswoman who actively participates in all those sports I photograph. But taking photos with her is not easy as she serves in the army at the opposite end of the Czech Republic. She goes home only occasionally and also spends time abroad on multi-month missions. So I focus on the project only occasionally and it looks like it will take a long time. However, I think the idea is good and I’m looking forward to the result.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time and what are you going to do in the next 6 months to get closer to that goal?
Tomáš: In ten years, I see my photos in the Sotheby’s auction house and myself in the World Press Photo jury. I’m just kidding, even though it would be nice. Ten years is a very long time, I don’t even plan that far. I believe that photography will still join my hobby and work in 10 years’ time. And that he will make me a living. In the next six months, I plan to enter my photos in several prestigious competitions. For example, to the WPE International Awards, where I am 22nd among the TOP 100 photographers after two rounds this year. The final round at the end of the year decides the final ranking. Good placement in such competitions guarantees publicity and the interest of the professional public.
What advice would you give to people wanting to be a photographer?
Tomáš: I would tell them that the basis is to master the technique and to understand how the so-called exposure triangle works – aperture, time, and ISO. That they are interconnected containers and if you take it from somewhere, you have to add it back elsewhere and vice versa. You need to have a clear idea of what is going on in the camera and how it affects the exposed image. Mastering the technique and shooting in manual mode is the basis of a good photo. You don’t need an expensive device to get started. If you’re in the right place at the right time, you can take an exceptional picture even with an average camera. I would also advise them that, before they go out into the world to discover unusual places to take photos, they should first take a good look around their locality. I took my most successful photos about 10 km from where I live.