I grew up in a small town in the east of Scotland, stumbling across photography when I was about 18. It was all I wanted to do for a few years, I shot mostly landscapes around the Fife countryside. Amazingly, all I now have of all that work is couple of boxes of Kodachrome! I was working in a camera shop when I decided to go to night-school and get some missing qualifications I needed to allow me to study photography at Napier University in Edinburgh. Eventually securing the grades, I found myself unable to sign up, having burdened myself with debt, ironically to buy cameras and lenses!
Work and marriage pushed photography out of the picture for many years, then when digital photography started, I bought myself a little compact camera! I soon got hooked again and as technology improved, I upgraded through a number of DSLR’s, but this time only buying what I could actually afford to buy!. I was never a prolific photographer, only really finding the time and inspiration to take half-decent pictures when I went on holiday. After a few years of doing that, I entered a competition run by a travel publisher and a national newspaper. I won the first prize of a commission to shoot one of their guidebooks covering Genoa and the Italian Riviera. During the past years I’ve shot many more books for that publisher so it would be true to say that winning that competition really motivated me to raise my game and get serious about improving my work.
As well as these commissions, and other jobs that occasionally crop up, I regularly go off on my own little photo-trips. Europe is such a visually diverse playground. The landscapes and the cultures offer great photographic variety. I’ve also recently been exploring South East Asia and Australia and I’m keen to return.
Travel Photography encompasses a large range of disciplines. Landscape, portraiture, street photography, food photography, interiors, architecture, macro, you name it, it usually pops up in a travel shoot. So the problem is you need a lot of gear, or it certainly helps anyway! After several years of carrying heavy backpacks with DSLR’s, often in hot countries, I decided to move to a lighter system and chose the Leica M9.
Its an odd camera, there’s no doubt. Great IQ, great lenses, stealthy in use and about as charismatic as any camera can be. But even with the best technique in the world, there’s a lot you can miss with a manual focus camera. The M9 is rubbish for long focal lengths, rubbish for macro, not brilliant for ultra wide angle shooting. So in the real world, it really needs to be supplemented with another system.
I’ve tested a whole bunch of cameras over the last few years including many micro four thirds models from Panasonic and Olympus and the APS format Sony NEX cameras. I’ve ended up choosing the MFT system mainly because of the superb range of quality lenses now available and because of the arrival of excellent Olympus OMD EM5 camera. I have now added the latest OMD-EM1 model which is as professional a tool as I could ask for. In fact its so good, I recently sold my Leica M9.
Improving and making the most of your photography
Whatever tools you use to make photographs, there are a few sure-fire ways to help you improve your work that I’ve tried to follow over the years.
1. Shoot the things you love to shoot! I’ve always been attracted to beautiful landscapes and they are relatively easy to access, but in the past few years I’ve realised that I love great portraits. So I’ve made myself, forced myself against a naturally reserved disposition, to approach complete strangers who’s faces look worth capturing. There’s something about a pair of eyes which can draw you to a photograph that a landscape will never do. It’s a human thing.
2. Study great work, not what others say is great but what you consider great. Its only by studying great photography, and by that I mean no more than simply looking at it and comprehending why you find it exceptional, that you can improve your own work. When you see great photographs, it gives you a standard to aim at. And just when you think you’ve taken some really great shots, it reminds you, you’ve still a long way to go. Constantly measuring my work against the greats, is the best way I have found to see it for what it is, and I find that helps me continually reappraise my development.
3. Make your own opportunities. Make connections in your community and in the fields that interest you. Contact people and organisations that can lead to interesting shoots. I don’t really adhere to the whole ‘go out and shoot everyday’ philosophy. I think its much more crucial to seek out and shoot the subjects that fire you up. An email here, a phone call there and you can find yourself with access to great image-making possibilities. Capitalise on your successes. If you’ve taken some great pictures, send them to the people who count, people who will like them! Its amazing how connections can flourish and one thing can lead to another.
But above all, it really is all about the work….
My ‘About.me’ page can be seen here which shows some of my other business and leisure interests