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Interview with Photographer Stuart Mackenzie

His friends call him Disco which has always struck him as odd because few of them have seen him dance. You can find him on Twitter, his blog and now offering photography services at weymouthphotography.com

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got interested in photography?

Stuart MackenzieWell I just see myself as pretty much an average Joe who works hard to trying to make the ends meet. I’m a pretty sociable person (in a social network kind of way), I love creating things, and have a real passion for good design and good images. Photography floats my boat the most and I’m now trying to make this a source of income so I can spend even more of my time doing it.

I’d love to tell you I picked up my first camera when I was 3 years old and have been shooting ever since but in my case that would be a lie. I have however always loved pictures, they speak more to me than words. I’ve been interested in photography for years but until the advent of digital cameras it was always something I couldn’t really afford to get into. I’ve had a digital camera in one form or another for about eight years now. In that eight years for many reasons I’ve become slowly more obsessed with image making and photography, I now eat, sleep and breathe photography in one way or another. If I’m not shooting it, I’m talking about it or reading about it, or blogging about it and if I can’t do any of those I’m probably still thinking about it!

Is there any particular subject or place that really inspires you to want to take pictures?

People, I love to photograph people. Landscapes are fine, architecture brilliant but for me I’m happiest trying to get great pictures of people. Whether it be a posed portrait or a candid shot or someone on a bench who will probably never know they’ve been photographed by me. I think its really interesting the way that a person can really connect and gain insight from a photograph that contains an image of another person (that they may never have met) and I also really enjoy interacting and trying to get the most out of a subject when shooting (a hard skill to master).

Photograph by Stuart Mackenzie

How would you describe your style?

Hmm that’s a tough one….. I spent a whole year shooting a creative self portrait everyday as part of a project on flickr called 365days. During that project I really developed my technical skills and looking back on the year I can now clearly plot a shift in my style from the beginning when my images were heavily processed to the end where my results were much more natural (trying to create the magic with the camera rather than software).

I have really got into using flashguns (speedlights) off-camera and this again is influencing the style of my pictures. I’ve also found that since I’ve stopped taking pictures of myself and am now back on the right side of the camera that again my style is changing.

It’s in constant flux which I think in some ways is admirable. Just as you would in a web design context need to keep up with current trends and adapt your style to new technologies etc. I think photographers need to do this also. One thing I do like to do is shoot around particular themes. I tend to come up with an idea- sometimes a slightly strange or comical idea and then shoot a set of images around that theme.

Photograph by Stuart Mackenzie

I really like how original a lot of your photos are. How do you come up with your ideas for your compositions?

Sometimes I’ll have the seed of an idea and when I start to shoot it, it builds and builds and evolves through trial and error to become the finished photo. I do love that organic process but sadly I find as my life has become busier and I do less personal projects and more client focussed work then this is less of an option. Lately I’ve started doing much more planning and sketching on paper and then I try and realise the sketch. This also allows me to develop ideas wherever I am….bus journeys are a particular favourite of mine. Inspiration comes from various places but I’m not a reader of fashion magazines or design periodicals, I tend to be more struck by movies and music and the hair brained schemes of my young daughter.

Do you have one photo from your portfolio that you prefer above all others?

Photo by Stuart MackenzieI have lots of favourites for a variety of different reasons. I don’t think I could pick just one above all others and who knows what great stuff I’ll shoot tomorrow but a recent favourite would be this image.

It’s a shot of my daughter that was taken during the school holidays when we both had a day off together. I like it because we had great fun, designing and building the set together, and it reminds me that as fast as my skills grow so does my family (she thinks she’s Britain’s next top model now and she’s only seven!)

What kind of camera equipment do you use?

Compared to the current standard I have nothing that fancy. I shoot a Nikon D80 and have a very small collection of lenses, mostly primes. As I said earlier I also love to use strobes (speedlights) and the great bonus of shooting Nikon is the inbuilt creative lighting system (CLS) which lets you trigger flashes wirelessly from the camera (without the need for extra gizmos).

Since really getting bitten by the photography bug I really like shooting on film for a bit of light relief. I find not being a slave to the LCD screen on the back of a camera can actually be a really good exercise both technically and creatively and for this reason I have a collection of old film cameras of various types and sizes that I try and shoot with when time and money allows.

Apart from the camera itself, is there one essential accessory you couldn’t live without?

That is a difficult one. Photographers rely on so many gizmo’s and gadgets. Everything from tripods and gorillapods to battery chargers and light modifiers….I think the essential accessory (and this might sound a little cheesy) I couldn’t live without these days is an internet enabled mobile phone.

Photographers like anyone in a creative industry these days need to be connected! Whether that is to clients or friends on the telephone, mentors and peers on twitter or conversing with the readership of my blog by email. I love being connected to the web and the social interactions it brings me. The connections I’ve made have not only helped me improve my photography skills and marketing potential but brought me some really good and close friends. The ability to connect to these networks whilst on the move is probably more of a personal choice but that’s why I’ve made it my accessory of choice.

Photograph by Stuart Mackenzie

Is there one bit of advice you have been given (or that you give out) that will help people improve their photography?

I guess my advice is shoot often. Make using your camera part of your daily routine and you will over a period of time take better pictures. There is so much good advise on the internet. Read it all. Try it all. And above all ENJOY IT! If you don’t enjoy it – don’t do it.

Would you like to work in photography full time? If so, what kind of services would you look to offer?

Well almost not so coincidently (shameless plug warning) I have actually just teamed up with my long term friend and fellow shooting partner Darren Rogers to start offering photography services in our local area (Weymouth & Portland). We’re not giving up the day jobs just yet and we’re using this initially as kind of a proof of concept period for us to see how viable the business premise is and start to build a base of clients. You can check the site out at http://weymouthphotography.com to find out more and see what services we are offering but essentially it’s likely most of our work will be portraits and weddings. One thing we’d really like to do though is grow a client base of business orientated and corporate clients – shooting promotional material etc. for print and the web.

Weymouth Photography

What do you think of the use of photos on websites? Is there too much generic stock photography about? How do you think businesses could improve and stand out from the crowd by using professional commissioned photos on their websites?

Photography on websites is very important. It might be the shot of a bloggers head on his profile page, the stock photography used on the corporate contact page or the product shots in the shopping pages but most sites use photography somewhere. I see examples of good photography and bad used everyday on websites.

I think stock photography has it’s place. In fact I even sell some myself through Getty images. Sometimes it seems that stock photography is used on sites without much thought as to whether it’s the best option to accompany the content the photograph supports.

I often come across sites which I feel would have benefited from something more personal and unique. I mean what does stock photography say about you or your company? Well nothing it’s stock, it’s generic. People are much more internet and marketing savvy than they used to be and can spot stock photography a mile off. Sites that use real pictures of their staff or premises are making a personal connection with the reader/viewer and I think as a customer that speaks volumes! But again this is the real world and like all design decisions what photography is used will depend on a number of factors such as audience, budgets and time constraints etc.

I believe what companies should consider is that if they shop around they could probably get a much more striking, creative, personal and professional product from a photographer for not much more money than they currently spend on stock photography. That is if this stock has been paid for at all? I’m sure on many occasions it is merely stolen from the web rather than licensed properly. Which obviously is a mistake in itself and could be the cause of many legal problems later down the line.

Hiring a photographer and detailing exactly what photographs are needed for a project in my opinion will always yield better results. Especially if these images are needed for web design use as you can ensure that photographs compliment a design rather than have to tailor your design to fit around the stock photography.

I’d also add that as much as I’m not the biggest fan of stock photos, I’d rather see a stock photo than a BAD photo. Just because Aunt Mabel has a digital camera doesn’t mean she can use it to take the head shots for the local recruitment companies website, does it?

Photograph by Stuart Mackenzie

Thanks for such a great interview Stuart!

You can find Stuart on Twitter, Flickr, his blog and now offering photography services at weymouthphotography.com

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  1. A interesting read, in particular the question about photography on websites. I use a lot of stock images and I spend a lot of time trying to make sure that my images are relevant to the content and think that there is a place for them if you spend the time getting it right.

    Photography can really make a website and sometimes I have such a nice example of photograph that I build me website around it taking influence from it so I agree with how important photography is.

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