Improve Your Photography by Getting Back to Basics

June 18, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | Comment |

Another person commented, “I can’t even hope to create pictures like Tom’s because I am only using 35mm…he’s using medium and large format cameras.” The size of the format doesn’t matter; it’s what you do with it that makes the difference. It’s even possible to make great pictures with a camera phone. I was using the larger formats at the time because of client requirements and I still use large format, though more selectively, mainly because I enjoy using a view camera.

Now with the advancement of technology we have a level playing field. The quality and capability that DSLR’s now provide is astonishing. It has opened up creative possibilities in my photography. I can now achieve images that before I wouldn’t have even bothered to get the camera out of the bag.

Recently, I was photographing a well-known coastal landscape, that in the years prior to digital, there would be several photographers using medium or large format cameras mounted on tripods. Yes, of course, there would be lots of tourist’s handholding their compacts or 35mm cameras, but now the tables have turned. A majority of the photographers had tripod mounted DSLR’s and these tended to be medium or high end DSLR’s. There was only one person shooting medium format film.

For the most part, we are all using the same cameras now so we should all be creating great images, right? Remember, it’s not the camera that makes the pictures; it’s the person behind it. Starting with a good understanding of the basics of photography is much more important than buying the latest gear on the market. Putting these principles into practice on a regular basis will then hopefully become second nature.

Oh, there is one secret that I learned when I was starting out. Knowing when not to make a picture.

Get Back to Basics


Tom Mackie has been a photographer all his working life. His degree in commercial photography took him first of all to Los Angeles, where he spent five years as an industrial and architectural photographer. It was during this period that he travelled widely in the Western States, discovering in himself a previously unknown fervour for the beauty of those vast ‘cinemascope’ panoramas. After that, the confines of a Los Angeles commercial studio were never going to hold him. Tom married his art to this new-found passion and embarked on a ‘til death-do-us-part’ relationship with landscape photography.

Moving to the UK in 1985, he pursued a full-time career as a landscape photographer. Working with digital, panoramic and large format equipment, Tom’s understanding of light and bold use of colour became a hallmark that established his reputation.

"My aim from the first was to develop a clearly defined style of my own: by simplifying images down to their basic elements, I consciously attempt to give my compositions more power."

Calendar, book and magazine work followed from a wide network of clients. Architectural and travel commissions added to his repertoire and his role as one of the country’s leading landscape photographers was sealed by his inclusion in ‘The World’s Top Photographers: Landscape’, published by Rotovision.

His talents have also won accolades from The British Institute of Professional Photographers, the Ilford Awards and Business Calendar Awards.

Tom Mackie has had two books published by David & Charles: a best-selling ‘Photos With Impact’, ‘Tom Mackie’s Landscape Photography Secrets’ and his latest book ‘Digital SLR Experts: Landscape’ is a collaboration with four other top photographers.

He has written numerous articles for photography magazines and lectures to other professionals on the art of landscape photography. Tom regularly holds photographic workshops in the UK and abroad.

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