When internationally-acknowledged landscape photographer agreed to our request to be interviewed for MBF Blogs, I thought it would be just that, a question and answer session.
In fact, it turned out to be a far-ranging conversation, as he chatted about his work, techniques and we debated issues around photography.
On a day that turned out to be wet on a Biblical flood scale, I found his house in Norwich and was warmly welcomed in. Tom was just a few hours for a departure on a 17-day trip leading people on a photography exhibition into Italian mountains. His giving us time was very generous.
The Early Days
Tom is a much-Anglicised American who always thought he’d be a photographer and went through high school with that in mind. He majored in commercial photography at college thinking he’d work in a studio doing product photography.
The course taught him every aspect of photography except landscape, which was regarded as something people did on holiday.
Working as a commercial photographer in Los Angeles he continued to learn about the industry and found himself drawn to large format landscapes. ‘There were a few guys shooting that and I just loved the clarity of the image.’
Personal circumstances led him to the UK in 1985 where he found the big skies of East Anglia very much to his taste and eye for compelling images. He said landscape is seen in Britain ‘as just a picture, in the US, it’s art.’
The Digital Transition
Tom went digital around 2006 but in a sense it was ‘too early.’ A traditional picture contained a great deal of data that he worked with to achieve his results, but digital has a finite amount. He used Canons at this time, starting with a 5D before moving to the 5D MKII. The need for higher pixel cameras was paramount as there were always quality issues.
Fuji Velvia (daylight balanced colour reversal film) with its fine grain and high colour saturation was his film preference with a quality that made it the professional industry standard in the late 90s/early 2000s. He needed to replicate that through digital, but what was around a decade ago wasn’t as ‘punchy as Velvia.’
He said that people don’t always need more megapixels, ‘it depends on what the end use will be.‘ His current camera of choice is a Nikon D810 with 36 megapixels and a D800 as back-up.
He says that the beauty of photography is that he is always learning new things, both technically and aesthetically.’ It keeps photography fresh and interesting. He described the key to his commercial success is having both great field and post-processing technique.
Tom Mackie is a brand name that attracts people to his workshops about which he said, ‘the art of photography is a mix of the technical and the creative. These workshops embracing both digital and classic film photography will give you a full grounding in the mechanics of how your camera works, so that technically you are as proficient as you need to be.’
He believes passionately that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ in photography. He works with each person’s ‘individual ability to achieve visible improvements. The overall aim of the photography workshops is to make you a more creative and better photographer.’
His products from posters, books and canvas prints to fine art photographic prints are on sale online. I was privileged to see his 2015 calendar from which we have used one image to head up this blog.
His book, Photos With Impact (2006) is a commentary ‘covering composition, lighting, colour and form and filters, as well as digital photography. Practical instruction is accompanied by 200 stunning colour images, encompassing a worldwide collection of landscape, architectural and travel subjects. Mackie helps readers to see subjects that others might miss, and to simplify images down to their basic elements, as well as exploring the use of strong colours and shapes, lighting and filters.’
But he also has published Tom Mackie’s Landscape Photography Secrets (2008) and Digital SLR Expert: Landscapes – Essential Advice from the Pros (2008).
Tom met Steve Barber about a year ago when he wanted a new developer for his website After a selection process, Dessol won and now enjoy a good working relationship with Steve, ‘a nice guy” and his team.
Truth and Lies?
We discussed the old adage/fallacy that the ‘camera never lies’ and how digital manipulation has destroyed that absolute. In fact, he pointed out, decades ago Ansel Adams, for example, achieved technical perfection in the darkroom that made him successful. His son said that if Ansel were around today, he would embrace Photoshop and Lightroom.
Adams (1902-1984) was a black/white landscape photographer and environmentalist who shot the American west through his large-format cameras with their high resolution and image sharpness. He famously said, ‘I hope that my work will encourage self expression in others and stimulate the search for beauty and creative excitement in the great world around us.’
Moonrise Hernandez (1941) was a classic in the art of ‘what the artist saw’ rather than a dogged moment in time of abstract accuracy, warts and all. ‘It still is’, said Tom, ‘the artist in his darkroom accomplishing an end result that is a work of art.’
Tom’s view is that digital photography has opened the field up to almost anybody, just like now people can make movies, write books and do so much themselves and publish it all online. In a way, digital has devalued photography, yet art needs an image taken for its own merits, and that can be a very subjective thing.
He works by not making major additions or subtractions in what he sees, ‘that’s a no-no’, but for example, with his commissioned work, he has to make a living and deliver what the client wants.
He showed me an example of work for the Scotsdale Business Bureau, Arizona who wanted desert shots with spring blooms. When he got there the flowers had burned dry, so he found some in less exposed areas and added them. The client was happy, ‘you have to deliver the goods.’
Jack of All Trades or Specialise
Is he ever tempted to take photos of people? Yes, he is drawn by interesting faces and does some. ‘But it is difficult to market for me, you have to keep in your own market to a large extent.’
It’s better to be known for being strong in a particular genre rather than mediocre at many.
What about the colour versus black and white debate? Tom always maintains, ‘if there isn’t the light, make it black and white.’ I am enjoying B&W more and more, but you have to train your eye to look at a world of colour in B&W.
And what about the thorny topic of copyright especially in this digital open age? He has suffered many losses where people have just stolen his work. He said ‘its’ difficult to monitor though you can get searches sorted for breach of copyright.’
He does his best. At the foot of every page of his website is the warning:
No Images are Public Domain. All images on this site are the copyright property of Tom Mackie and protected under United States and International copyright laws.
No copying, saving to digital file, reproduction or manipulation is permitted unless with express written authority of Tom Mackie. Fair use is not an excuse.
Usage of a image for the basis of any form of creative concept is also in violation of our copyright. THERE ARE NO ROYALTY FREE IMAGES HERE.
It all takes time, time he wants to spend observing the world and showing us its beauties through his creative and original eyes.
It was an inspiring morning with a master craftsman.
See more of Tom Mackie’s photography at www.tommackie.com
Other photography and art-related MBF Blogs:
Learning About Truth, But Not Through a Camera Lens, 4 August 2014
Striped Icebergs Tell a Colourful Winter Story, 15 January 2014
Look Up and Smile, You’re on Drone Camera, 28 August 2014
Which Direction Now for Movies in Terms of Technology? 29 July 2014
Neon Art Gives New Meaning to an Illuminating Idea, 16 April 2014
Good Quality Art in the Streets Would Be Better Than Tailored Adverts, 9 April 2014
Art to Admire for Art’s Sake in the Digital Era, 29 January 2014
Time-Lapse Photography Is a Form of Time Travel Accessible to All, 20 November 2013