Youtube's favourite Automotive Photographer
Mike from Northborders gives the Drivetribe community an insight into his history and a look at his life
Typically, I stick to the written word and still photos – that’s what I know and that’s what I am comfortable with. Sometimes you just need to extend yourself, especially when special opportunities come about. One of my heroes was kind enough to give us a big chunk of his time, have an in-depth video conversation and give us a bit of an insight into his life. Given his charisma and how comfortable he is in front of the camera, I thought I would use the video here also, despite being out of my comfort zone. The full video is at the end of the article and I highly recommend watching it, not because of my lame excuse for a video interview but because of Mike. He is a champ, a very wise young man with a good head on his shoulders. He knows what he loves, wants to be honest with himself and his audience and really carries this conversation - it is a great snapshot of his world. If you don’t have the time to watch the whole interview, read on for the rundown of our awesome chat!
For those of you who don’t know the Northborders name, let me introduce you…
Northborders is currently a well-known YouTube channel when it comes to the world of automotive photography and tutorial style videos. Tens of thousands of people come to watch him and his mates create excellent content and see some pretty cool cars along the way. Whether it’s the tutorial style videos, PoV street photography or their experimental shooting techniques, Northborders is a name that pops up all over the internet when cars and photography are mentioned. Mike’s videos are extremely watchable as he comes across as a very down to earth bloke (not shy of some coarse language) just portraying his journey through the creative realm he lives in and sharing what he loves with the rest of the world. Most of all, he is honest, pure and relatable.
Cameras and wheels for life...
Before there was Northborders...
Although Mike is only 21, looking at his gallery and portfolio you would expect that he has many years' experience behind a camera. I wanted to hear about his time before all the YouTube & Instagram and find out when it was that his love of cars began.
“I know there are pictures of me when I was really young, always hanging around cars and playing with Hot Wheels and driving the little remote-control ones or whatever.”
“My parents always said I was always drawn towards car toys and stuff before I can even remember, so I think it's ingrained.”
I think many of us can relate; I know from watching my two year-old boy grow up that somehow, kids are often attracted to cars prior to being able to walk.
Really, not much longer after this, when Mike was 12, he got into skateboarding. He and his young mates wanted to film themselves and document their skating adventures. He explained that they grabbed anything they could that had a recording feature – their first major recording device being the iPod Touch. For those of you who remember it, it was a slim little MP3 player that also (for some reason) had a small camera on the back. The footage from this was then edited and put together with one of the boys' father’s Mac Book.
This lasted a while until getting runover or dropped or whatever 12 year old skaters do to things and an upgrade was needed. Luckily, Mike’s mum was involved in media creation and marketing and sourced them another gadget to help the boys along. The “flip camera” was adopted as the camera of choice –it was a simple device that looked like an old flip-phone with just a small screen to be able to see what you were doing and a red button in the middle to start/stop recording.
how good does this look....
The flip eventually got the flick, as Mike was chasing better quality. The Nikon D3200 was employed and things got a bit more serious – serious enough that these boys created a Youtube channel called “Sherwood Skate” which mostly focused on longboarding. This also led to the crew making a pilot episode of a skate show that aired on the local community tv channel…and that was all they did.
The young Mike on camera...
So, shooting skateboards eventually progressed to cars, with a pretty seamless transfer. Although the skateboard is an extremely simplified vehicle compared to the automobile, this was where Mike's mechanical mind started to develop, then bloomed into full-on automotive photography and love of the car scene. I also found it interesting that Mr. Northborders went for video format first and then to still shots, not the other way around. Mike explained that although loving video, he began to find more enjoyment in photography due to the ease of shooting. The reduced set-up times and planned shots, editing/processing time and the ability to grab a camera and run around just taking stills was much more attractive to him. Finding more fun in taking still shots, he focused his efforts on this rather than video, slowly building up an arsenal of lenses for his Nikon. This led the young Mike to getting his first part-time job in the media department of the company that his mum worked for.
Mike was now fully committed, taking every opportunity to shoot, literally taking photos every day. He explained that in his local area there was access to picturesque wetlands and wildlife parks where he could experiment with different techniques such as long exposures and landscapes. It was at this point in his young life that he realised he was “in-love” with photography. I asked Mike if any of his friends were also into photography at this time and he said that in his group it was just him – he was “the camera guy”. It wasn’t until the end of high school that he began to connect with other photographers.
Come towards the end of year 12, around late 2016 he started the Instagram thing, and the benefits of social media really opened up his world. Being able to see other photographers' works and finding artists that he admired, he decided to reach out to another local photographer who he began following - 7thEra.
Not knowing who was behind the Instagram account, Mike just flicked out a message asking if they would be interested in meeting up for a shoot together. Surprisingly, it turns out they were of the same age, lived within 10 minutes of each other, had similar friends and just clicked. 7thEra is Liam (<--check out his channel).. and today 6 years later, they are best mates and business partners. Each having a massive influence on each other’s development, they have a special relationship that enables them to bounce off each other and push one another to the next level.
Amazing content pumped out by this gentleman...
The story behind the name...
Back when Mike first got onto Instagram, the trend was to have a “cool” name that was completely separate from your real identity. Some of the other artists he admired had names like 13th Witness, Nightshift and Trashand and he tried to come up with his own. Scrolling through his Facebook feed one day, he spotted an awesome image taken somewhere between France and Switzerland. It was a photo of a group of cars separated only by a yellow dividing line forming the border of each country. The caption of the image was something like “this image was taken North of the Border” – which immediately sparked Mikes imagination. Here he decided to go with the Avatar name of “Northborders”! Disappointingly for Mike, when he entered this name into Instagram, it appeared there was another photographer who was already using this name – doh! Making do with “Northborder_” for a while, intermittently checking to see if it was still in use, he finally snagged it, locking in “Northborders”. Mike explains he is very glad he ended up with it, and not some silly name you generally choose for your email account when you are a kid; I am sure there are a few “Dark_Shadow_Lord86”, “OG_Gang-Stars95” and “MafiaGodfather1989” floating around the InterWeb.
All about the fun...
Deciding to leave school...
I asked Mike about year 12 – and he said he decided to pull out before finishing. When discussing this subject with Mike, I was blown away with his maturity and extremely wise attitude towards decision making. This man has a very sorted head upon his shoulders. I think back to my last year of high school and wish I had his outlook on life at the time. I remember being envious of the few kids that already knew exactly what they wanted to do in life, and listening to Mike’s story it was clear he had found his life-passion by this young age.
Already possessing years of experience, and the dissatisfaction with the way school was going, Mike trusted his gut and believed he could progress faster out in the real world. Deciding to leave school and learn “on the job” he set out to walk his own path.
One day in amongst Mike’s daily travels, he came across a car dealership opening up on his trainline. Sticking his head in the door, Dutton Garage was full of amazing dream cars worthy of drooling over. For those Australian readers, the name “Dutton's” would be familiar to you. Dutton Garage is one of Australia’s most prestigious and well-known dealers for exotic and rare automobiles. Having some legendary cars come through their doors, such as a hen’s-teeth (road converted) Porsche GT1, Ferrari F40s and McLarens, the dealership was no doubt going to catch Mike’s eye. Getting his camera out, he began to snap away at these amazing vehicles, showing them the awe and respect they deserved. A bit of a case of “right place, right time” Dutton’s general manager was on the sales floor and spotted Mike. An introduction and a bit of a conversation later, Mike found himself with a part-time position managing the social media feeds and creating content for Dutton's one day a week. Given the talent that poured out, this actually developed into a full-time gig for our man and created a stepping stone for his next professional decision.
Porsche GT1 street conversion sold by Dutton Garage. I managed to snap this weapon at The Bend Motorsport Park
Quitting the fulltime job...
2019 was a big year for Northborders and 7thEra. After many collaborations, hanging out and helping each other grow, the lads decided to leave their full-time employment and begin working for themselves. Mike, Liam and Hayden all seemed to share the same vision of content creation and sharing their art – their own way. The boys gave travelling a massive nudge – Japan, Dubai, USA, Sweden, USA again, Singapore and all-around Australia are some of the destinations ticked off the list. These epic trips really expanded their horizons, forced them to improve and grow in their art and gave them lifelong memories and friends. The boys kept themselves immersed in the creative world joining photo-walks, getting invited to the YouTube Vidcon Events, running competitions and just increasing their network.
Having such an amazing 2019, Mike said that he was filled with motivation and excitement for the future, the plan was to make the following year even bigger and better! The universe had different plans and dropped one big-fat-steaming-2020 on Planet Earth.
The COVID period...
Speaking on behalf of all the creators, Mike told us that this really had a negative impact on his work. As the world knows, this was (and still is) a massive hurdle for everyone to jump over and work around. I was curious to hear how Northborders was able to keep his output continuing during this period and what he found himself doing to improvise and come up with new ideas. A benefit of photography and videography was that it is safe to do on your own. Getting into his car, going for drives and testing out new gear and techniques was a godsend. Unfortunately, Mike gave himself an added obstacle during this time, doing naughty things in his car also caused him to lose his driver’s license. He explained this really tested him mentally but coming out the other side of this period, his attitude to the whole experience makes it obvious that he is wise beyond his years.
Just an ordinary Covid night, going out light painting in a carpark?
Mike describes his vison of the future like a wave; he doesn't necessarily have an end goal, more that he has goals along the way whilst riding the swell of life. His appreciation of the "now" was evident whilst I was chatting to him - he really makes the most of every moment. I was again amazed at the maturity behind some of his ideas on the universe and how his appreciation of life and belief in the law of attraction governs his attitude.
When the world situation settles down a bit, some of his next few goals are to do more travelling. Mike wants to experience more of Europe - visit the Porsche and Mercedes museums. He wants to get back to the US and visit some good mates, visit the neon meccas of Seoul and Tokyo. Who knows what antics will be in store for him over there but one thing I am sure of - we will be blessed with some amazing visual delights conjured up on his travels.
Mike's night shots are truly standout!
Mike draws inspiration from all areas of his life but I was interested in other artists who inspire him and activate his imagination. Top of his list, someone with whom he would even love to collaborate, is Khyzyl Saleem (<--check him out). Khyzyl is a 3D artist who does photorealistic renders of modified cars but he is also handy with the camera. Mike reckons he is his biggest fan, following him from before he was 3D-modelling cars. Next on the list is Aaron Brimhall (<--check him out too), an amazing grungy, gritty style of photography that captures very dramatic moments, usually involving cars, bikes and dirt. Karl Ndieli (<--check him out three) is one "hectic" artist who curates his feed with an amazing style. More of a lifestyle photographer than automotive but Mr. Northborders says his work brings up all sorts of emotion and feeling, generating inspiration from deep down. These guys are some of his biggest heroes who he admires and really looks up to.
Having people to look up to and aspire to is a massive deal to Mike. He even gives the advice to people starting out, to go out and mimic their techniques or try out similar ideas that your heroes have done. Although not an original idea, you will always learn something, it will allow growth in your art and allow variety in your work.
Ideas come to Mike often, so he keeps a notebook by his side at all times. He mentioned that he is a big planner, jotting an idea down in his book then growing it and building it up to then realise. With his videos, he likes to portray a bit of a story and a goal to work towards or an aim to present in the video.
Mike mentioned that he doesn't photograph enough muscle - so internet family, hit up Mike for a muscle car shoot!
The $50k car & other fun stuff...
I put the question to Mike, that if he had a spare $50k, what car would he get? The BMW E46 M3 was the first choice, then he mentioned an older BMW V10. We reminisced about cars that we used to own and how much more valuable they are these days which brought Mike back to one of his previous rides - 2010 RX-8 GT "Australia's cleanest RX-8". In the conversation following this, he decided that for $50k he would buy it back off the new owner. Everyone has a pride and joy that they had to let go...
The BMW Drive Day - Mike got invited to this event and got his hands on the new BMW M3 and M4. Being taught how to drive them really hard and have a go on the skid pan, his time with these cars made him easily look past the controversial "front grill". In his opinion, the performance of the new "Bimmas" outweigh any issues with the styling. We also mentioned a similar issue with the new Toyota Supra; once behind the wheel, any concerns about it being made in Austria but having a Toyota badge go out the window and are replaced with a broad smile across your face.
More nighttime goodness with a great twist of creativity
The car community and being a bit of a celebrity...
The community and making friends is one of the most important things to Mike. He loves seeing how people's passion and interests bring others together. We discussed car meets, talking to like-minded people online with social media and the sense of community that we are involved in as car lovers. Having this sort of support network helps keep you inspired and immersed in your passion. He loves being able to organise photo walks in Melbourne or Sydney and seeing the attendees create new friends within a circle of people who all love the same thing. Whether it is the wealthy business man with the Porsche GT3, the young JDM fan boy with a Toyota 86 or the car-lover who can't quite afford a fun car - you see all these people come together and talk as equals about what they love.
Now that Mike is a bit of a well-known persona, his community has grown exponentially. Being recognized in his hometown is one thing, but being noticed in the airport of Sweden or the streets of Chicago still blows him away. Being able to experience this large-scale car community is something special to him and it is obvious that his fans and followers are a motivation to him and his art.
Top notch quality all over...I may have dribbled a little bit
Where is the Video?
Right here - please be warned, I am a goober and there could also be some mild coarse language within.
A massive thanks...
To the man himself, Mike - for being so generous with his time, being so honest, creating amazing art and also providing so many images for this article!
To Yenero Media for helping me with the footage and doing a mad job editing the video. Cheers man!
To my editor and wife Kate, you put up with a lot...Date night at the roll racing Saturday?
The Drivetribe Australian Creators team, thanks for the advice and support you always offer.