Polish-born and London based, Michael Tomas is a freelance photographer and time-lapse cinematographer specialising in skyline and cityscapes. Self-taught, and taking his first ever images on the 0.3MP camera on his mobile phone 16 years ago, in 2014 he joined Instagram as a platform for his skyline photography hobby, simply to showcase the images he loved. Within just 18 months, despite never being featured by Instagram, he had gained over 100,000 followers, along with his first skyline commissions.

Michael now produces content specifically for social media networks, alongside online and offline media for a range of respected brands, including Marriott, Hilton, Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts, Jumeirah, Transport for London, Timeout London and The Shard. His @LondonViewpoints Instagram page ranks at ninth in the most engaging photography-post category in the UK. He now shoots on a D850 that “does pretty much everything I could possibly want a camera to do” and his large collection of classic NIKKOR lenses.

How did you get into photography?

My first real camera was a 1MP model and I’ve since worked my way up to the Nikon D850 – a bit of a difference! I started taking photographs around 2002 on a mobile phone with a 0.3MP camera. I’d never had a film camera as I couldn’t afford the cost of buying and developing the film, so digital imaging was a revelation. I decided it was the best thing since sliced bread – it wasn’t costing me anything to take loads and loads of pictures, to try and retry and eventually learn to do what I want to do, so that’s where my love of photography started!

After a second camera phone – all of 0.8MP! – I got a “proper” digital camera, a small compact. As prices of digital came down and my photography improved, I moved onto a bridge camera and finally my first DSLR. Being able to change lenses, shoot in RAW and manipulate images was amazing, and I saw real possibilities from what I was doing.

Although photography was very much a hobby at this point and I was working full-time in the construction industry, in finance, I started doing some gigs on the side – photography and videography for weddings, holy communion, sports – but skylines have always been my passion. I’d be driving somewhere and spot a view and think, I could get a great shot here.

What was the turning point for your career?

That started when I set up my Instagram account four years ago. I was quite late to it, and I’d look around and see these people with thousands of followers and I’d think, hey, I can’t compete, so I’ll just post what I like and enjoy doing in my spare time – the skylines. And after a couple of years I started to get lots of enquiries. I’d explain that I hadn’t done skylines commercially, but they’d say, fine, we’re happy with that.

So I started picking up architectural work, interiors, hotels, shooting views and time lapses. My work was being picked up by lots of accounts and featured by magazines, online communities and websites, and that’s where it transitioned into a much bigger thing. However, I still do have another freelance business to fill up the gaps between my photography work. Unless you are absolutely packed with work, it’s hard when you’ve got a family, children, a mortgage – you need to make sure all the bills are paid.

I have regular clients – some are major London skyscrapers, some are residential and commercial developments, others are companies. Initially I got work from them because they needed skyline photography from their rooftops – from there I showed them I could do interior and exterior photos, so then I’d start doing architectural shots for their brochures, websites and marketing campaigns, and it’s gone on from there.

Why skylines?

I’m from Poland, and I’ve always wanted to live in a hot city by the beach with great big skyscrapers down to the sea and behind them mountains covered in snow. Which is not quite London, where I’ve ended up. But it’s still a great place for skylines. People have this impression of London being predominantly a flat city, when actually it’s not, and there are cool places around it where you can get a great view of the skyline… so wherever I was working, I’d pick an area to explore nearby, study maps and terrain and try to work out where a particular road might have an enough angle to open up the skyline. Then I’d post the pictures online and explain where they were taken from, as a bit of value added for the people following my Instagram account.

As I progressed, I started going to rooftop bars and galleries to shoot those views, and people were following me because they wanted to go to the viewpoints I’d explained how to shoot. So it gained momentum, and then I began to getting invited to places that weren’t usually open to the public, so on Instagram I’d explain that this wasn’t accessible, but if you’d ever wondered what the view might be from it, here it is…

Do you have any particular favourite views?

One of my favourites is from Shooter’s Hill. There are a couple of roads where the London skyline just opens up in front of you – you can park, get out of your car, frame up carefully and get an amazing photo. If you go too wide, obviously you’ll see the surrounding buildings and houses, which isn’t so good, but zoom in decently and you get Tower Bridge in the middle separating the south from the City. It’s a bit out of the way but completely free.

…and any bad experiences?

I was quite disappointed by the view from Strata Tower at Elephant and Castle that I always wanted to go and visit – it’s the one with the turbines at the top that won the Carbuncle Cup in 2010 for being the ugliest new building in Britain. When I got to the tiny, residents-only viewing gallery, all the windows were angled at 45°, so although you could use a telephoto, you couldn’t shoot any wide photos through it.

What’s on the bucket list?

Not just views, whole cities – Hong Kong, Dubai, New York, I’ve never been to them. It gets easier in London as I can now show that I’ve worked commercially with some of the highest buildings and biggest developers, but if there was one place I’d go it would be the BT Tower. I’ve tried and tried but never managed to get in. I’d also love to do a photography, time-lapse documentary adventure about the ten highest skyscrapers in the world; that would be pretty spectacular.

When did you start using Nikon?

It was a few years ago with the D500, which I decided to use for the low light/low noise capability, the superior autofocus and the fact that it shot 4k, so I could use it for video as well as photos. The resolution in the crop mode was particularly useful for me when I was really far away, as it had so many pixels that it effectively doubled the length of all my lenses. The low-light performance was great so I was able to use a faster shutter at night rather than a long exposure, and the colour was something that Nikon always just get so right. The dynamic range was also a big factor for me – I didn’t have to bracket, I could just shoot one photo and capture the highlights as well as the shadows.

Which camera are you currently using?

The D850. It’s perfect; it does pretty much everything I could possibly want – high-resolution photos as well as two modes of 4k and slow motion. I can shoot 4k videos in full frame as well as in crop mode in the exact same perfect resolution, and the slow-motion features are in 1.5 crop mode so I still get a decent wide shot. It handles noise incredibly well. I’ve shot slow-motion video at night when you absolutely have to crank the ISO up to 6,400 or 12,800, and that video is totally useable. Not many cameras can film decent quality 4k in full frame, but the D850 does. It’s got a built-in intervalometer for time lapses, so I do that quite often. The photos speak for themselves; 45.7MP resolution is plenty! It’s got so many bells and whistles, it really is one camera that does it all. To get the same spec from different manufacturers you’d probably have to buy several different bodies.

What are your favourite lenses?

Funnily enough, even before I switched to Nikon I had a large collection of NIKKOR lenses, vintage legacy glass I’d been using on different brands with adapter kits, and now I can use it all on my new Nikons, which I love. I tend to shoot with wideangle lenses, but the 105mm f/1.4 is amazing if I need to get any night shots. It’s got massive glass, looks like a bucket and I can use it handheld at night at f/1.4 and get incredible depth of field, then you use it during the day at f/2 and it’s so sharp, it resolves so much detail, it’s insane. It’s the sharpest lens in my bag. The other lens I really like is legacy glass from 1982 I think – a fully manual, 35mm f/2.8. AI-s perspective control lens you can shift. It’s ridiculous considering how old it is, but the glass is perfect. It’s an amazing lens. I use manual legacy lenses for my time-lapse work, too.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to progress their own photography?

I’ve learnt so much from other people’s blogs, from YouTube, from articles, and from going out and trying to put it all into practice, making mistakes, going back and redoing it… but something that’s close to my heart is Instagram, for the communities you join, the meet-ups you go to, the networks you create – it’s quite unlike any other social media. Through it I’ve met some incredible people who specialise in genres I want to learn more about. You get together with people who have similar interests, and between the conversations you’re having, you can learn faster than you would by watching a tonne of YouTube videos or reading a tonne of magazine articles. It can really accelerate your photographic learning curve because you’re learning from people that are willing to help and share.

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