"My Death Waits Here" - Photography by Martin McCrae

How would you describe your photography style?

I like nature but I don’t have a style. If anything, I try to tease out the best in my photos to match the feeling I get when I am looking at the scene. It is the looking that counts. What am I looking at and what makes me look. It can be a definite search or spotting something out of the corner of my eye.  

For example, if I am looking at the great lunar like expanse at the base of Ngauruhoe, Tongariro, I feel the space, openness and greatness of the landscape, the intensity of the colours in the rocks, grasses and lichen. I want to portray that feeling of being small in a great, beautiful but hard environment, so I may look at the details, the graphic qualities that show the extremes. But if it is the fragility of the plant life I can see the softness and vividness of the flowers against the hard brutal lava rocks and I want to show that rich delicacy.

I am using my wide angle lens as default at the moment, but no matter what I look at it is probably those standard elements, like the light, contrast, colour and so on that sparks the interest. I also have a sculpture art background so I often look for lines and form, shapes, juxtaposition of objects and the like.

"Tongariro Crossing" by Martin McCrae

How would you say your photography has improved? What mistakes did you used to make and what advice would you give newbie photographers?

Technically I am getting better slowly. I can think, what do I need to use in my camera to enable me to get what I am looking at and feeling. I read a lot of photography magazines to gain other people’s knowledge and skills. It still takes me a while to put into action my knowledge of practically taking a photo and I mess it up more often than not, so I’m often on the back foot.

I need to learn the abilities of my camera and my experience and apply them quicker because usually I am rushing, whether because of other people, the particular situation, light, time etc, to get what I want. Also, it is hard to understand what it is I am looking at that can be translated into a photograph, it often doesn’t come out and more often, within my skill limits, doesn’t approach the quality of the real world but that is what is great about wanting to take photos. It is enjoying the looking, the search, the desire to get an ultimate result from the looking and to work at it.

I get told, “why don’t you just enjoy the moment, just look at the scene”, but that is to deny the pleasures of photography. It is the process, the development of thought and ideas and the puzzle of trying to create something that is the culmination of those things together.

"Otago Transport" by Martin McCrae"

Taking photos makes me look in a different way than just looking. I enjoy looking for particular things, the effects of light, moving water, perspective, contrast. I still enjoy the moment but I also want to materialise what’s going on inside.

Besides, taking photos is fun! Its fun trying the standard techniques, slowing water, bokeh, panoramas etc., but it is also fun finding surprises in your photos or taking them further for the hell of it.

Apart from the amateurish nature of my skill, I am aware that I can only afford ‘enthusiasts’ kit but think that the better the quality equipment you have, the easier it is to support your process. You can apply a lot of pressure on yourself though by wanting what you can’t have, so I would say get the best you can afford because it is going to help if you have a camera that is versatile and good specs, but just have a go because having the best kit can be overwhelming and won’t necessarily make for better photos. I definitely think the small mirrorless cameras (I have a Eos M5) are great if you have small hands and you can take them anywhere more easily than a clunking great DSLR even if it is fantastic!

You describe yourself as a 'sometimes photographer' - when do you tend to get out with your camera?

I do not take my camera everywhere during the week so I do lose the chance of a good shot, when I see something that catches my eye. I have changed to a small Canon Eosm5 because I wanted to be able to carry something small - I used to have a point and shoot in my bag as well for all situations, and that is great for the chance of a snap, but I usually wait for weekends away from Wellington or holidays to spend time with my camera.

As I have said it is the opportunity to concentrate on looking and taking photos that I do mostly, which is why I am a ‘sometimes’ photographer. I definitely like Autumn because the light is more interesting with the angles of light and shadows and how it affects the visuals. You also get much more variety in the colours of nature and trees definitely provide a lot of interest. In fact for me trees seem to evoke the feeling of nature, the movement, colour, and variety in the landscape. The Wairarapa going from Masterton to Castlepoint is magnificent in Autumn for its trees.

"Stormy" by Martin McCrae

Tell us the story behind 'My Death Waits Here'...

Riversdale, Wairarapa is a small beach settlement and I have walked up and down the shore many times and often take photos of the seashore with dramatic sky’s and storms. It's a family and friends weekend getaway space and I always take my camera when we visit.

We were doing the usual walk and as usual I was concentrating on looking. Nothing much was happening though and we were heading back to base. Everything was a bit dull to tell you the truth, though it was a bright and clear winter day.  It was quite harsh light, not very supple. Not much inspiration and because I had walked this stretch so many times, I wasn’t finding interesting things or I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

"My Death Waits Here" by Martin McCrae

We tried a short cut through some trees and I saw this enclosed patch amongst the trees and bordering the wilder ends of a garden. Just a bunch of what appeared to be dead cabbage type trees. But they stood out because they seemed surrounded and enclosed and so somehow private, like we had stumbled upon some secret group. They stood, if you could call it that, in a silent meeting. They had ancient robes which made them seem important but were all headless. It really felt funereal and deathly. I felt like I had invaded this time which had stopped still and all that was left were the husks of some mysterious society. I was aware that I shouldn’t really be there, trespassing and took some photos rather hurriedly because I was particularly drawn to the stripes of the gowns, the graphic nature with so many lines and the vertical grouping, like a fibrous Stonehenge. But reviewing them, they just looked a little washed and flat because of the bright high light.

Later when I put the photos into Lightroom, I went through a sort of standard process of checking the images and applying the processing that I thought they needed. I have a default S curve that gives a bit more contrast which I apply if photos are a bit flat and which can start off a search for analysing an image,  but it didn’t do much to these ones of the Cabbage trees.

I always look to see if any photos that don’t do anything for me in colour would look better in black and white and when I am out looking with my camera I try to keep this in mind for images that lend themselves to different formats, black and white, dark, high contrast, HDR etc. I also have a number of effect presets to play with that can complement the ‘feeling’ of an image.

Playing with images is good fun. With this image it was obvious to me that apart from the story of the characters in it, I really liked the strong lines that created these cloaks so I increasingly pushed up the graphic qualities. I knew that colour did nothing for the picture for me,  so I changed to black and white and found the extremes of this helped the ‘drawing’ nature.

Everything was unified and detailed and made more of a whole, a picture capturing a moment in time. Like an etching I really liked that the processing gave detail to every small thing despite the fact that it ‘blew’ out some in the lightest parts. Later when I was getting it printed and needing to give it a title to identify it, I called it ‘My death waits here’ ( copied from Jacque Brel I think), which I thought gothically and theatrically appropriate of the figures who had done just that at some time.

You can find more of Martin's works on Excio

"Lake Rotoiti" by Martin McCrae

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