Photographer Robert McCormac has had a long and varied relationship with photography. Sticking to the ethos less is more, McCormac is a veteran film photographer and an ever-evolving student of digital. In either case, he takes a pragmatic view toward the nut and bolts of having a sustainable photographic practice. With the advantages of hindsight, he knows the beauty of an unmanipulated photograph and keeps post-production at a minimum, while also relishing the financial advantages of digital photography. Read on to find out more about his travel photographs and a transition from film to digital.
You have been making photographs for nearly 4 decades. How did you get started?
I actually started out when I was about ten years old with an old Ansco film camera my father had used. It was a pretty basic camera with no real controls. After shooting a few rolls of 127 size film, I had to put it aside because I didn’t have much money to get the film developed at that age. My next jump was to a Polaroid Swinger my sister bought me a few years later. An interesting experience, but again too expensive as a hobby for someone my age. Flash forward to 1979 when I bought an Olympus OM10 and started to get serious as a hobbyist with photography. By 1989 I had moved up to a Pentax 645 medium format camera and had done a couple of weddings at a nominal charge. Then came the winter of 1991 when my house was robbed and my cameras were stolen. That event pretty much killed my photography passion until 2011 when I bought my first digital camera and saw the possibility of the new digital medium.
What was most difficult about your transition from film photography to digital photography? What do you appreciate most about digital photography in relation to your experience with an analog format?
It took me a while to really progress in the digital world and develop a good understanding of how digital cameras work: JPG vs. RAW, digital ISO compared to film ASA speeds, etc. Actually, I still consider myself to be learning. In retrospect, film (analog) seems so much simpler but it’s an unforgiving medium. Every mistake with film has a dollar impact and that is why digital is such a great learning platform – mistakes have only minimal cost (usually) compared to film.
On Your Art Gallery, your work includes mostly travel and landscape photography. What is your approach to this type of work? Do you shoot at a particular time of day? Use available light? Scout locations?
Not being a wealthy person, I try to scout new locations via the Internet and Google maps in order to get an understanding of the possibilities a destination holds from a photographic perspective and to learn about the destination and its culture in general. I shoot at all times of the day using only available light. My shooting process is triggered by the mood that the scene evokes in me when I’m on location; I’m trying to replicate my feelings about the place when I take the shot. I don’t always hit the target but my compositional eye now leans toward more hits than misses these days.
What is the most far-flung place you’ve traveled to? What did you shoot there? Do you find you have to make special adjustments depending on a location or are there some universal aspects to travel photography that always apply?
The longest distance I’ve traveled was to Australia in 1997. Unfortunately, at that time I was just using a point and shoot film camera to capture some moments during the trip – my real passion for photography had not yet been rekindled. In retrospect, being in the Australian Outback was probably the one event that pushed me back into photography. Probably the biggest adjustment with travel/landscape photography is dealing with the weather. On a recent trip to Scotland this year, I had to deal with rain every day; weather conditions often demand an altered approach to the shot sometimes yielding less than what the eye sees.
Finally, you have an elegant color palette in much of your imagery. It has a natural feel, unlike a lot of the oversaturated and artificial looking travel photographs produced in digital formats. Is it related to your past as a film photographer? How do you achieve this?
In the last five years, I would guess that I’ve viewed more than 100,000 images from other photographers both amateur and professional and that has proven to be time well spent. My previous film experience definitely informs my current color palette choices. I want my images to feel natural and not over processed. When faced with a choice during post-processing, I’m remembering in my mind’s eye the scene I captured and trying to bring that same emotion I felt to the final image. That rarely means boosting the saturation, amping up the clarity, or other adjustments that lead to that unnatural feel often seen online. In most cases, less is more.