Marissa Knight – Promised Landscapes
This Sunshine Coast photographer works in harmony with the weather to make scenic magic.
Marissa Knight loves the land. Even more, she loves immortalising it within a frame. In the face of competing responsibilities, the Queensland mum of 2 takes any chance she can get to jump in her car and head somewhere potentially picturesque, usually when the sun is waking up or retiring for the evening.
Despite a full-time job as manager of the family business and another full-time job as a devoted mother, Marissa still boasts an impressive portfolio of images that make online audiences itchy to get out of the house and into the world. Through socials and an online store, those images sell like hotcakes as prints to lovers of nature or photography, or both.
As she continues to find and frame up new and breathtaking moments around her home –an area that she confidently claims “has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world”- Marissa is further exploring her passion for teaching budding photographers how to do the same thing.
We sat down with Marissa to get the lay of the land.
Do you remember your first experience with photography?
I think probably the first real time was when I was working as a dive guide at Fish Rock. That's where I grew up. I used to guide the divers around the site and through the cave, and the boss used to make me take a little point-and-shoot camera around for the guests. I actually used to hate it because it would get in the way and float in your face. That was sort of my first experience.
Between that and as a dive guide, I was tasked with taking photographers around the area, usually one-on-one. Sometimes, I used to get a bit frustrated with them, you know, because they’d have tunnel vision or disregard things or scare animals off. So, in the beginning, I was actually sort of anti-photography. That was around 2009, and it wasn't until late-2018/start of 2019 that I actually got a an SLR camera.
Before you upgraded to a DSLR, you were already quite interested in your compact digital camera?
Yeah. Whenever going away on holidays, I was taking photos. Of the beautiful scenery, stuff like that. While I was up in Cairns, I saw the work of a really good photographer named Peter Lik and it pulled me more into getting serious about it. We bought a couple of prints of his work for our home. This was about 17 years ago – one of them was of a sunrise over the ocean and the Antelope canyon in Arizona.
I guess what I’m saying is that seeing the work fuelled my interest in photography. It was about a few months later that I bought a full setup – camera, tripod, lens. I think I was broke for a while after that!
What about back when you were a child?
My parents always had compact film cameras. We lived in the outback, and Alice Springs for a few years in my early teens. I always had an interest in taking photos – I’d always be the one picking up the camera. My brother also used to race motorbikes and I’d take photos. I remember my mum framed one of these really nice big prints of him riding his bike.
You still have the photo?
My parents still have it on their wall.
And you took it on a film camera?
Yeah. Would have been about 31 years ago. Before digital started taking off. I remember having so many small compact digital cameras too over the years. I remember one was like 4 megapixels. My first DSLR, I think it was 10 megapixels or something like that. I still have those cameras in the cupboard. It was different back then.
And with the film cameras, you never really knew how it was going to turn out. I mean I was probably just shooting auto mode, not manual or anything, because back then it was just more an interest in taking photos no matter what – of holidays, nature, family, stuff like that.
Where did you grow up as a child?
Barossa Valley is where I was born. At about age 10 or 11, we moved to Alice Springs because my dad was offered a job working on community housing. I started riding horses just before we moved, which continued on and off through my teens, 20s, 30s. I won many championship awards across numerous disciplines. I mainly just trail ride around our property now. I have always loved being outdoors, I don’t remember spending much time indoors.
So, you’ve lived in Barossa Valley, Alice Springs and Sunshine Coast. Is it safe to say you’ve always been surrounded by pretty landscapes?
It is. With Alice Springs, we were only there for four years, but we spent our weekends and holidays on camping trips and exploring the many hiking trails. I remember climbing Uluṟu and taking photos at the top, walking through the Olgas and hiking to the lookout overlooking Kings canyon. This was all mixed in with my horse riding competitions. It kept me very busy as a teenager haha.
The landscape out there is very different to the Sunshine Coast – barren with beautiful rockscapes like Stanley Chasm and Glen Helen. Those rock formations, gorges and water holes it’s amazing. It’s been so many years since I’ve been. I keep saying to my husband I’d love to go back now that I’m more into photography, into the more technical side of it now and know so much more than I did back then.
I’m making an assumption here, but I’m guessing that more Australians would have been overseas than to Alice Springs, so most impressions of the area would be through photos…
Yeah, it’s just so different in person. My memory of it is that it’s so beautiful and so raw. The rocks, towering gum trees, it’s such a ruggered Landscape and all that red soil. So different to here. You really have to go there and experience it how different it really is.
You’ve said that the Sunshine Coast is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Can you elaborate?
Yeah, I guess it does. I love observing the finer details of the animals and being close to them and just taking everything in. Underwater, if you're too far away, you lose that so that's why I love photographing with wide angle lenses such as a fish eye lens because it gets you right in amongst the wildlife getting the details of the subject while also capturing the wider scene In just one shot.
But it's very difficult to do and you need a lot of patience to find the right subject. For example, I might move past 15 or 20 turtles through the week, because they're the wrong turtle to be able to move in close to. You can usually tell from a distance as they are alert to your presence, swimming slightly away, have their shells tilted towards you, watching you closely etc. You just sort of work your way through and eventually when you see one that feels comfortable. You begin to work your way in, spend 45 minutes or an hour with it, just relaxing. Once it knows you pose no harm and accepts you as just another reef resident then you can capture some of those more intimate and close up photos. You have to remember that every animal in the ocean is prey for something else. If you act like a predator then the subject will treat you like one.
Can you tell us about the journey from that moment when you bought a DSLR to when photography became what you wanted to do with your life?
About six or so years ago, I became more serious about my photography. I started posting on Instagram and Facebook sharing my work. Then I designed my own website, started selling prints. That kind of fuelled my passion even more. Capturing golden light, the changing colours of sunrise and sunset – it all really sucks me in. It’s exciting. Seeing how things play out – I really love that feeling.
I also get a bit of time to myself to focus on and do something that I really love. I’m a very busy mum and have a busy family life.
Marissa's older work.
Marissa's recent work.
So, posting on Instagram and social media in general gave you the motivation to get into photography more?
Yeah, to share my work with other people - because I had a lot of interest from people wanting to buying my work. I’ve sold images to tourism bodies over the years. And a lot of people are like “can I buy your prints?” - that made me get more into building the website.
I also purchased more professional gear. Until then, tripods had let me down a lot when I was out in the field. They weren’t stable enough for windy weather. I’d come home and realise my images were ruined from the water vibrating through the tripod, or from the wind affecting the sharpness.
I bought a sturdy professional tripod and I fell in love. I can put my gear into a creek and capture images in windy weather and not worry about camera shake. It helped me progress and get better quality images.
I just love getting my work out there and sharing. I do a few one-on-one workshops with people too. I’ve had numerous people over the years ring me and ask me to teach them what I know about, long exposure, slow shutter and using filters. I love showing people how to capture the sort of images I do – settings, framing, etc.
You said you’ve sold prints to tourism bodies. Do you often get commissioned or is it mostly online sales?
I’ve sold some to magazines and websites, mostly of Noosa and the Sunshine Coast, but not actually commissioned. I’d like to, though - that would be nice!
I'm curious about the process of setting up a store to sell your prints on your website?
I just designed it all myself. It took quite a bit of time to set up the website and to keep putting recent work on there. I'ts evolved over the years.
What's good about Instagram, and social media and your followers, they will just go “oh, I really love that new image. Can I buy that as a frame print or a canvas?” So, I've actually sold a lot of my work that way.
I had someone see a photo on my Instagram and contact me and say, “oh, look, I actually gave birth on that day!” And it was taken near where she lives on the day her baby girl was born. So that was like, wow, the most meaningful print I've sold. She’d been following my account for probably three or four years.
On your website you offer rolled, stretched and ready-to-hang canvas, framed, and acrylic mount. I’m guessing you print-to-order?
Yeah. On Friday, I had someone buy a fine art print without a frame. Rolled, no frame. And the picture that they purchased was of Maleny’s One Tree Hill - I’ve sold quite a few prints of that location. They purchased it straight off the website – the sale just pops up on your phone. It’s always a nice surprise.
But as I said, many sales haven’t even been through the website, just people contacting me through Instagram or Facebook. One canvas recently went to Western Australia, that was seen from an Instagram post. The power of social media, the reach to so many people and places. It’s helped me to spread my work out there. Social media is great like that and I’ve also loved connecting with other like minded people and photographers. I’ve met so many people through social media.
There’s a lot of competition these days. Everyone takes photos.
Like you said, so many people take photos. There are so many people that sell their prints. I keep doing my own thing, concentrating on improving my skills and keep sharing my work. I love photography and I always have had a love for capturing nature. It wouldn’t matter if I didn’t sell any prints, I just love getting out there capturing that magical light at Sunrise or Sunset.
We would love to travel more, unfortunately our work in the family business limits this. It pays the bills but my dream would be travelling full time and photographing Landscapes and wildlife throughout Australia to places we haven’t been yet.
Your images are quite bold. Do you do much post-processing?
Some photos, it only takes five minutes of editing and then I’m pretty much done. Others, I need to spend a little more time on getting them how I like. Most images I wouldn’t spend longer than 20- or 30-minutes tops. Some only require a few tweaks to get them perfect. It really depends on the image.
What kind of tweaks do you most commonly make?
I play around with the white balance, highlights, shadows, colours to get them right. I’m trying to think of how to best describe some of my photos [looks at Instagram on her phone]. There’s this one, the autumn photo…
The pinned one?
Yeah. I have adjusted the white balance, colours and contrast. Also, there were a few holes in the leaves of the trees that revealed patches of sky. I filled them up so there were no big gaps and to not detract from the overall image. I removed a couple of people that were in the image. If you looked at the image before, it sort of draws your eye to the areas of the image that you don’t want to look at. You get distracted from where I actually want your eye drawn which is through the trees and into the image.
And what tool or feature would you use to fill the gaps?
Content aware tool to fill in gaps, then the radial and Lineal filters in Lightroom to adjust light, colour tones. I use both photoshop and Lightroom, depending on what I want done.
Some of that kind of editing takes a lot longer, whereas with most sunrise and sunset images – five, ten minutes max.
It was quite foggy that morning which really helped with the mood. At first it was quite moody and dull, then once the sun started shining through the fog and trees, it lifted the whole scene and gave a nice golden glow.
Another photo that stood out was one that had an opposite feel to most of your work. Most are quite bright and crisp and then you have one that’s quite dark and moody. The one featuring the Kangaroo, where the ground almost looks like it’s on fire?
That particular morning was very foggy and dark. I was actually with my husband, I was testing out the new Z 8 and the NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S lens on loan from Nikon, we were waiting to capture sunrise, then for the fog to clear and to take photos of birds. The light started shining through the fog, creating an amazing golden glow and with the fog then moving across the water, it was amazing to see and then I saw the kangaroo jump out of the bush, out of nowhere, to that particular spot in the open.
We weren’t even facing that direction originally, but I’ve learned over the years to always look around in different areas and spots. In a matter of minutes, that kangaroo was gone. So, if I fixated on one direction, I would have missed it. Always pays to look around you, the light changes so quickly.
With those images of the kangaroo, I barely did any editing at all. Just adjusted the highlights, shadows and contrast a little. But not much was needed for that image. ABC Australia shared that one on Instagram. I had a lot comments from people to say that image was really different from me.
Amazing, really amazing. So, let’s say for some unknown reason all your photos were going to be destroyed and you could only save one, which one would that be?
Oh, God. That’s a hard one because I have so many favourites haha!
It could be for reasons beyond just being a great photo. Could be the significance of it, or the story behind it…
One photo comes to mind. It was taken a little while ago. I put it as the main photo for a reel more recently. It’s of a little lone tree.
That photo comes to mind for a few reasons. One, is because that tree doesn’t look like that anymore. Two, is because I could tell while I was driving toward the location (about an hour away) that it was going to be a colourful Sunrise from the amount of cloud and the pre sunrise glow, so I was rushing to get there so I could catch the colours building up and hopefully some nice reflections on the water, I had checked the tide. I was hoping it would all fall into place and it did.
Yeah, wow. The composition, great foreground, background. The tree is almost abstract. Great stuff.
That tree’s been washed over and it’s gone. There were a few other trees at that location but that lone tree was always a standout at the spot.
What can aspiring landscape photographers do to be a little bit more prepared when they go out?
Planning is so important. I used to go to locations and just hope that the clouds and everything would fall into place. Now I look at weather apps and Photo Pills. What direction does the sun rise and set? Is it going to be raining? Sunny? Is there going to be mid-level cloud or higher-level cloud? That helps me pick the right spot at the right location, where the conditions are more likely to work in my favour. Years ago, I’d just wake up with a spot in mind and hope everything would fall into place, without any planning.
What camera are you shooting on at the moment?
Is there any function on the Z 7II, whether new or new to you, that has helped you improve your craft?
I use the histogram a lot on the camera. There’s a little button on the back of the Z 7II that lets you flick through your menu. And that shows you during sunrise and sunsets – that the light could be really bright and without it you could overexpose the image. And it just helps you make sure you get the right exposure. If you don’t get the right exposure and you’ve blown out the highlights, you can’t get that back and It just ruins your image.
I also like the levelling tool. Even if things might look level on my tripod, I always press the button and check on the camera if it is level. Because if you don’t have to crop the image later due to it not being level, you’ve got more detail to work with.
One great thing about the Nikon cameras is they’ve always had amazing dynamic range, such great cameras to bring out shadows in more detail. The first Nikon camera I had was the D810. And then it was the D850. When it first came out. The D850 was an amazing camera. Just loved everything about that camera. Then once the Z 7II came out, I made the switch to mirrorless, it’s so nice and light and still the same great dynamic range. It’s a bit smaller and easier in my backpack as well. The Z series lenses, they are so sharp. Then we bought the Z 9 for birds and wildlife, the 3D tracking and eye focus has been great.
Nikon D850 DSLR Camera
Nikon Z 7II Mirrorless Camera
Nikon Z 9 Mirrorless Camera
You said you’d be practicing photography whether or not you were selling prints, because it’s your passion. That passion is clear as day. But is there anything you dream about doing with your craft in the future?
I would love to hold some location workshops and teach groups. I will be doing a Nikon School workshop soon, which is going to be great. Teaching is something that I've just always wanted to do more, since I got a taste for it while teaching people that have contacted me one-on-one.
So yeah, in the future I’d like to do more workshops on location,, where I can teach people about what I look for when I'm framing up a photo, composition techniques and long exposure settings and all that sort of thing.