LEE Filters Masters of Photography – Tom Mackie


Tom Mackie came to the UK from his native
America where he worked as an industrial photographer
more than 30 years ago. Once here he began to build up a portfolio
of landscape images of the UK and Europe and started to shoot corporate calendars for
the likes of Norwich Union and BT. He still shoots stock images for clients in
Germany and America and runs 8-12 photography workshops a year, taking in locations as diverse as Norway’s
Lofoten Islands and the Italian Dolomites, with plans to go to New Zealand in 2017. I visited him in his home in Norwich to talk
about three of his prints. Hi Tom, thank you for inviting us here today. Thanks for coming. We are going to be talking about three of
your pictures, starting off with this one, which I believe
was taken in New Zealand. I think this was the first time you had been
to New Zealand and it makes an interesting point about landscape
photography today not being the solitary pursuit it once was. New Zealand really brought that home too; it’s all about wild landscapes there. You think you’re there on your own being
a solitary profession, but it’s not that way anymore. I had a group of other photographers in front
of me and I couldn’t get the composition I wanted. So I extended the tripod legs above everyone, which was great and they all looked round and said “Wow, I’ve got to get one of
these tripods.” I have to try and get a lot of different orientations
out of the landscape. When I’m thinking about composition I’ll
think panoramic, as I love doing the wide scenes. Also verticals and horizontals and intimate
details for example just on the tree. With this scene, I really love the sweeping
coastline with the Poplars as it compliments the single tree. You’ve almost got a circle of yellow, with
the finer details of the leaves here tying in with the small tree, which is
the main subject. It’s important to wait for things to happen, like this cloud drifting over the tree and positioning the tree in between the “V”
shape of the mountains was crucial. On this occasion I was there pre-dawn doing
some shots with the mist that picked up some colour. Once the sunlight hit these trees it all came
alive and you got that really strong colour contrast between the yellows and the blues, which is
what I was after. With regard to the technical aspects of the
picture, you have got some even light so presumably
metering was straightforward? Yes the metering was straightforward. I used a polarising filter to give a strong
contrast between the yellows and the blues, as well as darken the sky down. I also used a 0.6ND (2 stop) grad coming down
over the sky just above the tree to allow me to bring the
tone up in the foreground. Was that a hard grad? Yes it was. Why would you have used a hard grad here rather
than a soft one? The 2 stop soft grad doesn’t give me enough
bite in this situation, but the hard grad allows me to bring the tone
up in the foreground and darken the sky down a little bit. I also used a Little Stopper, which was essential
to smooth out the reflections. A Big Stopper would have been too long. Roughly how many seconds was this exposure
with the Little Stopper on? It was about 10 seconds. I’m really pleased
with the way it’s turned out. The next print I believe was shot in Tuscany. Is this one of those locations you’ve been
back to many times? Yes, I take my groups back there every year. I like to find locations that are a little
bit out of the way, quieter and with no groups. So far every time I’ve been to this location
there has been no one else there. It’s just a beautiful simple composition, with the little tree on the hill and the sunset
over the valley. I think the crucial thing here is the line
of the path going through the wheat field up to the tree. You also have to have clouds and on this particular
evening we had a beautiful sky. Did you see the sky building up over the previous
couple of hours? Yes, you can kind of tell if it’s going
to be a good sunset. You think OK, these are the right clouds, they are really light and there are some dark clouds in there so these could be potentially good. So you just need to be in position and just
wait. So you’re waiting for everything really. The right light coming up on the underside
of the clouds, the right shapes and also presumably the sun
being in the right position too as it’s setting. Yes that’s right, as you can see the sun
is just going into the clouds here and I’m waiting for that to happen, so that you get this little tiny flare coming
out from the bottom of the sun. This will light up the underneath of the clouds
as well, so you’re waiting for the clouds to drift
in to the right position and hopefully everything comes together at
once. As far a filtration goes this was a difficult
one. You’ve got an irregular horizon line and I wanted to
bring the tone of the wheat up. I like really detailed foregrounds, so I used
a grad angled across here. Just skirting the top of the tree? Yes, just skirting the top of the tree. What sort of strength would that one of been? That was a 0.9ND (3 stops) So quiet strong then. When you use a 0.9ND it brings your clouds
down quite a bit and I like that drama, keeping the whole viewpoint centered within
the composition. Often I’ll over expose by two thirds of
a stop anyway, just to lift the shadows. I’m always checking the histogram and making
sure it’s not going too far to the left. I try to expose as much to the right as possible so that I can bring up any detail in the dark
areas. This next picture I believe was shot in Provence. Yes, that’s right. I think what we have here is an example of
a picture that would be pretty much impossible to shoot
without a filter. Would that be far to say? Pretty much, I like to get everything in one
shot in the camera whenever possible. I used a really dramatic grad filter on this,
a four stop. The reason I used this was because I wanted
to keep the exposure dark on the sky, but I also wanted to lift the sunflower field,
keeping it light and airy. I’m shooting at f8 on this, but you have shallow depth of field and everything
has to be sharp throughout. So I did a focus stack, focusing here on the
foreground first and then going right through the scene at
different focus points right through to infinity. I then combine these in Photoshop. The composition of this image is a fairly
wide-angle scene. The temptation can be when faced with something
like this, is to just look at the drama of it and not
necessarily think about your actual composition. But you have got some subtle hints here that
it’s really considered as you’ve got this subtle line running through
the image. Yes that’s right, when you look at an image you take all the
details and discard them and you are left with lines. This is your primary structure of any composition. You’ve got this horizon line coming through
here and you’ll notice I’ve split this in half, so I choose to give it equal measure. But that subtle line draws your eye in, it’s probably not apparent to people when
they look at the image. But because it’s very subtle, your eye tends to come in from the corner
and draw your eye right in to the sunset. You’ve even got the little full stop of
the one closed up sunflower in the corner. Yes, that’s right. It’s been really interesting to talk to
you about these three pictures, all quiet different in their set up and approach and just to learn how landscape photography
is working for you today. Thank you very much indeed. Well, thanks for coming.

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