Behind The Photo, Allan Mackenzie, Australiaposted on 6 May 2019
Becoming a professional photographer isn’t easy. There’s no shortcut, hack, or Instagram filter that leads to financial reward. If you’re fortunate enough to make a living behind the camera even success can bring unforeseen challenges. After 20 years shooting professionally with multiple reboots, independent architectural and yachting photographer Allan Mackenzie’s story of endurance is a testimony to his artistic roots and drive to leave a legacy that outlives his body of work.
This is Behind The Photo with Allan Mackenzie, Australia
Allan, you built and lost a very large photography services business, can you tell us about that journey?
Well, it started amazingly well, we grew so fast that in the first year we had a growth rate of 68% and this was through the GFC. From 2007 to 2010 our turnover was beyond anything we imagined. But because it was within a franchise system it became unsustainable maintaining the volume of business and we were cutting corners to push out demand. This soon compromised my internal values and I found myself becoming extremely frustrated. Then came the unexpected.
What happened which was unexpected?
While the immediate financial rewards of running a large photographic services business were incredible, my health took an impact and my family life suffered too. I never really enjoyed the spoils of our success in the pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Was it the amount of work you produced? Why did it all fall apart?
Our deliverable volumes were off the charts, and this was all before the outsourcing of retouching. Eventually, it was a personal calamity leading to a physical breakdown that was brought on by post-traumatic stress that saw the loss of my business. For me, my body said enough you need to sleep for 3 years, reset and start again.
Let’s go back to the beginning, when did you 1st develop an interest in photography?
There were two pivotal occasions. When I purchased my first still camera a “Canon T-50” using my first tax refund cheque in 1983. With that camera, I shot Kodachrome across the globe throughout the ’80s & ’90s. What a blast that was. Absolute freedom to express myself through the lens and film!
And the 2nd occasion?
The 2nd occasion when my son was born in 2001. This is when I purchased my first video camera and documented the first 3 years of his life. Back then I was using Corel Ulead editing systems to show the family at Christmas. From that moment on I fell in love with moving imagery, this was when my obsession with moving imagery started. By 2006 I turned my full-time passion/hobby into a full-time commercial video production & photography agency.
What was your 1st professional job with a camera ?
Haha well, I found it soul destroying but my first paid gig out of Film & Television school was of all things wedding video. I did wedding videos for a while as I found it a good vehicle to experiment and cut my teeth on cinematography on that beasty Sony Z1.
But from looking at your portfolio you’ve obviously stopped shooting weddings ?
Oh yes. Today I shoot mainly commercial, architectural exteriors, interiors, high-end yachts and both aerials on yachts and locations. I will do portraits if I’m asked but I’m more comfortable filming people at 25fps.
With your work today what inspires you?
It’s a bit daggy but I love going to the movies for inspiration or watching those eighties blockbuster movies like Indiana Jones on Netflix. My kids also keep me motivated, my daughter who has just started high school this year and my son who finished last year and just turned 18. In terms of photography the acclaimed cinematographer Gordon Willis is the guy that blows me away the most.
What do you do to stay motivated and keep the creativity flowing ?
Since a young age, I’ve always been around creativity. I started playing the guitar at age 9 and had a musical career in the ’80s and ’90s. Though I mostly played in bands and did session work, a song I composed was used in a Warner Brothers movie in the early nineties which was pretty cool. I was also a stage manager with a theatre company for over 10 years. Throughout my photographic career maintaining my musicianship has been core to my creative process.
After 20 years behind the camera, which work of yours do you cherish most?
Tough question. I see all my photographic work as my babies, thus it’s hard to pick a favourite. If my life depended on making a decision I would say my yacht videos for the Hudson Bay 50 and the music video Tiny Islands for Young Griffo and Cello Suite # 1 for Richard Oddie.
Are there any challenges you face today different than when you started ?
A couple of challenges, I think firstly the isolation of working on your own, it would be great if there was some kind of industry community whereby we can come together and share leaving the competitiveness and egos at the front door and I think the other is innovation.
Is that challenge the most difficult part of being an Independent photographer for you?
No, I think being able to continually innovate is the biggest challenge. For me being aware of your surroundings gives you the ability to diversify and survive professionally.
What challenges and opportunities do you see for today’s independent photographers ?
There’s so much work out there for talented photographers. I’ve never seen so much money spent on visual marketing as there is today. But the challenges remain, finding the right opportunities, identifying clients and selling your services.
In closing what would you tell to the Allan Mackenzie of 2006?
Never give up on your passion and creativity, work hard and never forget life is meant to be enjoyed!
Allan’s current showreel and contact information can be found below:
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The first 3 instalments of the blog series Beyond The Photo can be found below:
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