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Page last updated at 16:48 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 17:48 UK
Tom Mackie: A life in photography
Martin Barber
By Martin Barber
BBC Norfolk

Turf Fen Windmill at sunset (photo: Tom Mackie)
"Light is the key element to any photograph," said Tom Mackie. Turf Fen Windmill

Tom Mackie has been a photographer all his working life. He travels the world to capture Mother Nature at her finest, yet is proud to call Norfolk home.

His latest exhibition comes to Fusion at The Forum, Norwich, from Monday, 14 - Saturday, 19 September, 2009.

Whilst immersing yourself in his latest landscapes, you can also pick up tips on producing your own panoramic views.

"Instead of spending all your money on the most mega-pixels, invest it in the lenses," said Tom.

The Norfolk scenery is what captures Tom's imagination the most and it inspires him to pick up his camera and go out shooting.

"Norfolk has a wide variety of landscapes, even though people think that it's very flat," he said.

"The reed beds, the boats, the water, the windmills, the coastline - there is such diversity," he added.

World's finest

Tom moved from Los Angeles to the UK in 1985, to pursue a full-time career as a landscape photographer. He's now widely respected as one of the world's finest in the genre.

Tom Mackie in poppy field
Tom recommends using a tripod for landscape photography

He admits, that living in Norfolk, we're somewhat spoilt for choice when it comes to photographing the landscape. So where do you start?

"Definitely the Broads. There are key places that I go back to as they are the iconic shots of the Broads," he said.

"Also I love the coast. If you start at Hunstanton you have the different colours in the cliffs with the really strange rock formations at low tide. Then continuing around the coast, it changes.

"At Happisburgh you have the sea defences that have been battered away, then down towards Horsey Gap it levels out and you have this nice low sandy slope. There's more than meets the eye to Norfolk than most people think," he added.

Pit falls

The influx of digital cameras to the market has changed, in part, the way Tom works. While sticking with traditional film and plate techniques, he also uses a digital single lens reflex (SLR) camera.

However, picking up a swanky digital camera doesn't instantly mean you'll be producing pro-quality work. The digital format comes with its own pit falls.

"One of the downfalls of digital is that it does create a sloppy, lazy photographer," said Tom.

"I find myself saying, 'I don't need the tripod for this' and I hand hold it. Then I get the image back and some of it's not in focus. The auto-focus captured part of the scene I didn't want in sharp focus.

"I would recommend buying a good tripod with a ball head. The type of head is a personal choice, but I find that the ball head to be very quick and easy to use.

"Using a tripod structures the way you compose a landscape.

"When you can take your hands away from the camera and look into the viewfinder, right away various things become clear.

"Elements that might be coming into the frame from the top corners such as a part of a tree branch or those power wires that you didn't see when you were handholding the camera.

Steep learning curve

"A tripod will slow you down, but to create a good landscape takes time. Snapshots take a second, but a good landscape photograph is created with time and patience.

Villa at Belvedere in Mist, San Quirico d'Orcia, Tuscany (photo: Tom Mackie)
Villa at Belvedere in Mist, San Quirico d'Orcia, Tuscany.

"It is a steep learning curve. You spend maybe a quarter of your time taking pictures and three-quarters in the studio on the computer.

"Light is the key element to any photograph, then it's the composition. If you don't have good composition but great light, it's not going to hold together and vice-versa.

"But foremost it's the way the light plays across the landscape and then spotting that composition, that's the other key."

Unique opportunity

In addition to his photographic work Tom is also a published author and teacher of photographic techniques.

He has worked on several books including Photos With Impact, Tom Mackie's Landscape Photography Secrets and he's also written numerous articles for photography magazines in the UK and abroad.

His latest book is a collaboration between four other professional photographers each writing a chapter on various topics to do with digital photography.

"It was a unique opportunity to work on a book with other photographers and to find out each one's take on the pros and cons of digital photography," said Tom.

Buying a new camera

When thinking about buying a new digital camera Tom advises it's not always about the number of pixels.

"It's the quality of the lenses that are paramount to the image quality," he added.

When considering buying a new camera, the first thing to think about is what you hope to achieve with it.

"What people should determine first is what are they going to be doing with the pictures," said Tom.

"Are they going to be printing them out, are they going to be making pictures larger than 10in x 8in. That should determine the size of mega-pixels," he added.

Tom also recommends doing your research before visiting the shop.

"I would say, if somebody wanted to start seriously, a good starting point is to read the reviews in the magazines," he said.

"They know more about the cameras than anybody else, so you'll get a better idea of the features, pros and cons of each camera that way," he added.

While creating that perfect shot is much more than just pointing and clicking, Tom's photos prove that it is worth the time and effort.

In pictures: Tom Mackie's world
30 Apr 09 |  Arts & Culture
In pictures: Yarmouth harbour
05 Mar 09 |  People & Places
In pictures: Norfolk from space
04 Mar 09 |  Nature & Outdoors



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