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Interview with Marcus McAdam

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing pro photographer Marcus McAdam from Portraits of a Land. Marcus runs photographic workshops on a Scottish Island – I recently came across some of his work and was really impressed. I hope you enjoy learning from him. Lets start with one of his images (click to enlarge – it’s worth it) which Marcus will speak to later in this interview.


How did you first get into photography?

I have been interested in photography since I was a teenager, and used to spend a lot of free time (and money) on pursuing what was then, an active hobby. About a decade later I was looking for a career change, and as chance would have it, I won a UK Photographer of the Year award in 2003 so thought this was a good indication I should try my hand at photography.  I have always loved travel, so I embarked on several years of travelling around the world with my camera, living in places such as San Francisco, Venice, and Beijing.  I made a living selling images and travel information to fund my nomadic lifestyle.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?

That the more control you take over your camera, the simpler the process of photography becomes.   I used to use everything on auto until I bought a Mamiya RZ67 which is a totally manual camera.  Suddenly I was having to do everything myself (focusing, exposure, etc) but once I had got used to it, my photography improved several fold and the entire process became far easier.

What type of camera do you use most?

It depends what the use of the image is for.  If it is for book, magazine or website publication, then I use a Canon 5D II or a Canon 1Ds III.  If however the image is intended for display or gallery purposes then I still shoot on film because the potential for enlargement is so much greater.  My film cameras are a Fuji GX617 and a Mamiya RZ67 II.

What is your favorite lens?

Any fast prime lens.  I love fast lenses, and they are a joy to use.  I love the bright image you get in the viewfinder, and the limited depth of field possible at close focus distances.  I use them mainly portraiture.  For landscapes then a fast lens doesn’t make much difference as I am usually working at smaller apertures anyway.

Could you share a favorite recent image and tell us a little of the story behind it? (image above)

This is the Isle of Skye where I now live.  I chose to live here because it is such a beautiful place, and a photographer’s dream. This image was shot after a night time ascent of one of the tallest mountains, often wading waist deep through snow.  Due to the northerly latitude of Skye, it receives only 6 hours of daylight during the winter, so there’s often lots of fumbling around in the dark to get on location. 

I started climbing at 5.30am in order to reach the summit by 9am when the sun was due to rise.  As I neared the top however, the entire sky clouded over and it was the most uneventful sunrise which – very disappointing considering the effort I had put in.  I decided to stick it out, and a couple of hours later the stormy skies broke to reveal the most amazing light – far better than I would have got had it been a clear day.  I took the shot as a plain landscape, but realised it would work better as a commercial stock image if there was a focal point.  Not having seen anyone all day, I had to use the self timer and run into position myself, being careful not to slip over the edge and fall to an agonising death.  I had to do this several times before I got the posture right, and each time I only got into position with less than a second to spare.  Why do they only give you 10 seconds?!

Do you have a tip for beginner to intermediate photographers that will help them improve their photography? – Don’t complicate photography.  It is in fact a very simple process, but I see too many people making it far more difficult than it needs to be.  This is largely to do with modern digital cameras having too many functions and menus, which just confuses the issue.  I use my digital SLR in the same way I would use my film camera which only has 3 controls on it (Aperture, Shutter Speed, and the shutter button).  Take control of your camera and let it know who is boss.  Once you do this, you can ignore most of the funtions, buttons and menus.

Thanks to Marcus McAdam for his time. Check out Portraits of a Land for more of his work and to check out his photographic workshops.

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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