Graham McMaster

Graham McMaster has been a member of Corio Bay Camera Club since March 2003. Over this period Graham has served on the club committee, including five years as Secretary. Before the advent of the club website, Graham also produced the club newsletter “Focus”. We asked Graham  about his photography …

How did you get into photography?

As a child, I learned the basics of taking a “snap” using a small 128 black & white film camera. Not being gifted with a creative flare, the snaps were rudimentary family photos at the beach or in our backyard. Later, I inherited a Brownie Box camera but still didn’t aspire to great things. My father was a technician and a genius at constructing instrumentation, including a photographic enlarger. He used this for printing from plates previously exposed in his old plate camera. I remember some of the plates were long exposure star-tracks of excellent quality. Somehow, bending over chemicals in a darkroom didn’t appeal to me and photography soon provided the means to record all the aunts and uncles visiting home.

After I married, happy snaps continued as the family grew. Later on, we lived in Malaysia and Holland where there were numerous photographic opportunities. However, it was only after we returned to Australia that Cheryl and I both joined Corio Bay Camera Club. We soon discovered photo images could be more creatively composed and presented. Nevertheless, achieving that next photographic level would take several years of experiment, frustration and sometimes, success.

What are your favourite subjects and/or locations?

The Australian Outback is always an attraction. Since joining CBCC and learning that an image “warms” either at sunrise or sunset was truly inspirational. The challenge for me is to ensure there is good colour & contrast, avoiding over exposure and not losing detail in the shadows. One day I’ll get it right!

Family photography, particularly with our grand-children is always rewarding. I prefer the kids to be in their natural play environment, and not posed. The problem is they move faster than this older pair of legs. The greatest pleasure comes when the kids see themselves on the computer immediately after the images are taken. Some of the pulled faces always result in laughter.

Who or What inspires you to go out and take photographs?

Living in Holland was the start of the enlightenment process. The old masters, such as Rembrandt and Vermeer showed extraordinary artistic skills in using light and composition in their paintings. There was a deep desire to emulate some of their skills through my camera lens – but my desire didn’t translate into reality as I still lacked the fundamentals of composition. It was only after joining CBCC and seeing Barry Feldman’s and others images that I started to learn the basics. Within CBCC, Ellenor de Boer’s presentations on composition also influenced me to better prepare my shots – I use the rule of thirds (almost) automatically when composing now.

What do you like to communicate through your photography?

I try to present images which have immediate impact on the viewer drawing one to the subject or focus within the composition. In portrait work, the eyes should look at you, warmly or mischievously. In photo-journalism, the story should be readily apparent from the image. In landscapes, I want to be there to bask in the natural beauty nature evokes. In reality, I struggle to achieve these ideals. For starters, I focus on composition as my number one criteria.

What sort of gear do you use/have you used in the past?

In my late teens, I purchased a Minolta camera, again using it for happy snaps. Later on, and after I married, my Olympus OM-2 was regularly used for recording our childrens’ activities. And these very fond memories are enjoyed now by our grand-children. One of the most difficult tasks was to photograph my daughter competing with her horse as she jumped over (and sometimes crashed through) rails over one metre high. I can’t remember the lens but it was small allowing only limited light at a relatively low shutter speed – often the image was slightly blurred or too distant to be interesting. Still the memories were recorded for posterity.

Overseas, I used a Sony Handycam Hi8 video camera; it was the size and weight of a house brick. Much of our stay in Malaysia and Holland was taped; I was reasonably adept at slow traverses so the tapes weren’t too difficult to watch. Just after joining CBCC, Colin Klein provided me with a film Canon EOS 5 fitted with a 24-90mm zoom lens. This camera gave me great enjoyment as I better understood the creative settings. My current camera is a Canon 40D with a 17-85 mm lens.

What’s your favourite piece of kit?

The Canon 40D has been a revelation to me. Being able to view an image and then experiment with other settings has lifted my image composition and awareness skills. An example is outback scenes where the “dynamic range” limitations of the sensor results in excessive burn out or shadow in the image. I now regularly stop-down to prevent burn-out and readjust in Lightroom or Photoshop. Similarly, I stop down when using my Speedlite 430EX flash unit, particularly to achieve good portrait facial colour and texture. When shooting indoors with kids, bounce flash has successfully realised even, natural lighting.

Which of your images is/are your favourite(s)?

“Dune Dwellers” is my favourite image. This “minimalist” shot was taken at Perry Sandhills, Wentworth. I thought the shot worked well – 3 small daisies on a sand dune and although you can’t see it, lots of burrs and sand inside my shirt from scruffing around in the sand! I’ve tried to repeat the shot on a subsequent trip but the daisies weren’t co-operative.

Another image, was the sepia toned “Old Shearing Shed”. The light and dark tones suggest a subdued sentiment in the shearing shed while the shearers tallies reflect their hard earned labour and sweat.

What do you think is your greatest photographic achievement?

A few pre-digital years ago, using my EOS 5 film camera, I was asked to take a friend’s wedding photos – I had never taken on a wedding photographer role before. The responsibility was great as you only get one chance to get it right and there is no digital review! I practised at home taking flash photos inside and outside. Fortunately, most of the images were acceptable. One in particular was well liked by the new bride. Both the bride and myself were striding at a fast walking pace with me turning sideways for a split second to capture the image. Lady luck may have had a hand in this image!

Is there anything that you’d like to improve in your photography?

Capturing images of children at play is still a personal goal. Recently, my grandkids were dancing to Psy Gangnam style music. Getting in close, at a low unusual angle should have done the trick. But the kids gyrated too quickly, with their faces side-on instead of maintaining eye-contact. Using rapid fire might have helped but I doubt the composition would have been picture-perfect. Moral of story – try again next time!

Do you have any favourite photographic books and/or websites?

I particularly like Steve Parishs’ work with his excellent composition and ability to capture nature at its best. With my own digital landscape work, I slightly enhance saturation and contrast to give more impact; conversely, I dislike landscape images that are obviously enhanced and over-the-top.

Recently, I prepared my daughter’s wedding photo book using the “Blurb” book platform. Whilst only a few images were my own (the father of the bride had a day off), preparing the book was enjoyable. The resulting book was both pleasing and to me, rewarding. Without this book, the photos may have been lost in the bottom of the drawer, or worse, lost in digital space.

Is there a photographer that you particularly admire? Why?

To my mind, Barry Feldman’s images always stood out from the crowd. Both in his landscape and portrait work, the composition and lighting always hit the mark. By way of comparison, I have taken images from the exact position Barry composed his image and am incredulous that the two images are so different. I now focus on getting my composition correct. There is still a long way to go but I can see light at the end of the tunnel.

Any final thoughts?

Living overseas for seven years resulted in hundreds of happy snaps providing records of our stay. In hindsight, reflecting on these images, it is a pity that the knowledge gained at CBCC was not known to me at the time. I have vivid memories from Malaysia of the “wet” markets, the sun burnt faces of the sellers and arrays of colourful tropical fruits; all provided outstanding photographic opportunities for the keen photographer.

I continue to enjoy my photography. With Cheryl also enjoying photography, we both tend to take time out from a busy day and compare our images on the laptop at night. It goes without saying that our enjoyment and skills of photography dramatically improved through the outstanding support and inspiration from friends at CBCC.

Below is a selection of images that Graham has chosen to share (click on the images to see a larger version)…

Old Shearing Shed. I like the subdued sepia tones reflecting on the shed’s past. You can almost smell the wool liniment in the timbers. The shadows dimly conceal the shearers tallies on the wall, contrasting with the light rays sharply illuminating the wicker basket.

Baskets: The contrasting textures of the baskets and the corrugated wall caught my eye. The image was shot hand-held in very low light. Conversion to black and white in Lightroom improved contrasts.

Dune Dwellers: The 3 daisies strongly come to the fore and contrast with the linear ripples on the dunes. The small sand grains add texture to the composition. The “minimalist” nature of the image appeals to me.

Painted Desert: Getting the beautiful warm light just on sunset really lifted this shot. An hour earlier, these desolate hills looked bleached and uninteresting. I also like the composition with the 3 separate hills tapering in one direction.

Rawnsley Bluff: The warm light prior to sunset throws shadows in the foreground contrasting with strongly illuminated grasses and rocks. The shadows draw the eye towards the head of the Bluff.

Gorgeous: I can just soak in the beauty of Central Australia. The iconic eucalypt and the red coloured cliffs cannot fail to enthuse. The leading lines take the eye along the creek bed and on up into the gorge.

Look at the View: I like the way the seagull sentinels appear to watch the setting sun. The gulls provide the interest in this shot. The sharp lines of the pier fence provides perspective to the image

Chinese Temple: The colours around the temple catch the eye. Red bunting particularly dominates the image. Smoke from the incense burner in the background casts an eerie light over the forecourt in front of the temple. Of interest, the men in the foreground consented to remain in the shot.

Rickshaw: This old rickshaw hasn’t moved for years. I liked the colour and lines of the rickshaw strongly contrasting with the blue walls of the heritage home behind.

Stand Tall: This night shot of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur was taken with a hand held camera – from the middle of a busy road! I liked the way the eye is drawn to the top of the towers with the diagonal composition across the image. The metallic sheen of the tower contrasts starkly with the dark sky.

Bubs: This shot appealed to me because my 2 young grandsons both took on a somewhat mesmerised appearance in front of the camera. Their round faces, open mouths and the catch-light in their eyes, all say “What’s going on here?” The composition of the image is pretty basic but I still think the looks say it all.

Dance: I find shooting children at play both fun and challenging I tried to catch all 3 from a low, close angle as they danced. By the time the shutter clicked, they had all moved and were looking another way. For me, the shot appeals as their enjoyment and expression is imaginatively captured.