For October 2021 Canvas Momentz selected me as their "Artist of the Month"
Here is the series of interview questions and responses
Part 1 - 11th October 2021
Rich from Canvas Momentz (CM): Hi Alex. Congratulations on being chosen as the Canvas Momentz artist of the month for October! Tell us a little about yourself. How did you become interested in photography?
Alex McNaught (AM): Thank you so much for your invitation!
Deep down I am a geographer at heart, it was my core passion at school along with a parallel deep interest in science and from that love of physical geography came a love of the visible landscape and that became the foundation of my interest in photography, to capture the visible landscape that I studied so much at a mathematical, technical, and invisible level both at school then and later at university for both my geophysics degrees.
(CM): Wow! That’s quite a background. It’s great that science and mathematics play a part in photography along with the creative side. What were you capturing in your early photography days?
(AM): For this one I was really thrown in at the deep end!
As a 16yo I was handed the responsibility of the family's first "serious" camera (A Ricoh SLR with a kit lens) way back in the film days to record the family's first ever overseas trip! This was part study trip for my father and then we added a tourist style travel itinerary for afterward.
We were to be based in San Francisco for the first 2 months, so I had to quickly learn the art of using the Kodachrome 25 slide film I selected to use on our trip and there was little room for error as there was no preview or digital delete of course and I very much wanted to not stuff it up!
San Francisco is on the doorstep of Yosemite Valley and my geographic and photographic senses were fused together with this ideal wonderland to view and to capture adequately and that launched me into this genre big time!
I've visited Yosemite several times now over the years and the wonder never stops and remains as true now as it was at the very beginning.
Call it the "litmus test" and re-grounding if you like.. if I ever lose that wonder and awe of what's in front of me there.. I will know I've lost something very vital.
(CM): I’ve seen and heard some amazing stories of Yosemite. Were there any photographers that helped you in the beginning? Who inspired you to become a photographer?
(AM): I was totally on my own with no-one I knew "into" photography, and this was well pre-internet so no ready resources or like-minded individuals from afar to tap into either.. so I just had to go and work it out and be self-enthused!
While in San Francisco right at the beginning of things I became aware of an accomplished mountaineer turned photographer called Galen Rowell and luckily for me he had a gallery just on the other side of the bay so I made the train trip there to get all his available books at the time to give me inspiration and to help me along at the start of my own personal journey!
This process of admiring the works of others, seeing things through others eyes is an invaluable aid to help you develop your own approach and is a principle I follow to this day with so many whose body of work I admire and be inspired by and, to be frank, also to be studied for new or better compositions for particular situations I should try and add to what I do if it works out.
(CM): We get a great response from your work on Facebook when we publish it Alex, it must be amazing to know that you give inspiration to others as well as draw inspiration from photographers. How have you developed your photography over time? What was the last thing you learned about photography?
(AM): If we fast forward to today, with vast internet resources for both inspiration and technical learning, and immensely powerful editing software at our fingertips then I believe my development has very much followed a distinct philosophical line which then drives how I go about my image taking and it's subsequent, and vital, post processing step ready for posting online or for print.
Despite all the tools readily available I often use just the essentials for my finished image, things such as selective exposure and so forth and totally avoid such things as whole-sky-replacement but instead continually refine the editing process I like to be more subtle and powerful instead using the raw material of what the camera sensor captured.
Most times it's a single shot or stitched panorama and then edit, but sometimes, particularly with moving water, I might shoot a series to be merged in a specific way then edited as my goal of what I wanted to display as the final image.
That's just a personal choice and there is no right or wrong to anything, just as long as you're always honest about what went into making the final image.
I do admire many inventive and creative works however so there is an interesting set of techniques based on natural patterns I want to investigate further and see whether that is a good fit for me or not.. so, the process of learning and experimenting is never ending and that is a very good thing!
To that end I also don't confine myself to traditional landscape prints either, although fine art landscapes are, and always will be, a core passion I strive for and is something I sell regularly and I'm so grateful when people see something in my work that they obviously appreciate the subject matter and that is high enough quality in a materials sense to purchase and display in their personal space or for a business to display.
As we speak, I am learning on several new fronts for aerial, 360, timelapse and underwater and for both stills and video to name but a few genres I am investing heavily in on top of my traditional landscape fare and the learning at both the artistic and technical levels is ongoing, and I hope that never ends!
If you asked me on a day-by-day basis likely I will have something new to add to the growing list of things!
(CM): Never stop learning is something my better half keeps remining me! What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew from the beginning?
(AM): I had a couple of decades or so away from photography with family and business commitments as the only thing that has stopped me in the timeline of starting out as a 16yo to now.
I knew photography was going to be interesting, fulfilling, and good nourishment for the soul, it is what I felt in the very beginning and feel even more strongly now and there is nothing I would have changed in this whole process except for allowing myself to be discouraged to continue my original passion during that time.
So, if there is one thing I wish I knew in the beginning that would be don't stop, remain true to yourself and your vital need to explore it, and if need be, it's never too late to pick it up again and this time never let it go!
(CM): Thanks Alex, that has been a great insight into your photography history. It’s great to see the thought processes that go into the work. We look forward to chatting next week about your equipment and your favourite locations!
(AM): Until then!
Part 2 - 15th October 2021
Rich from Canvas Momentz (CM): Welcome back Alex McNaught - Roving-Eye.com photography!
It was great to chat last time about your early years, there was a great response to the interview. Now for part two… how would you describe your style?
Alex McNaught (AM): Most photographers have a style, even if they don't consciously pursue it, based on such things as their preferred subjects, how they portray it, what time and effort they put into it and how it is finally edited.
If pressed I would have to say mine is a "natural" one, I let shadows play their part and not try and make them "perfect"… and the same for other elements in the image.
I decide on the level of exposure for each part of an image, but I don't like to make an artificial plastic "Disneyland" even though the tools exist to do that.
To me it must be subtle enough that you may not realise the high degree of attention every aspect of the image received and then I think I have achieved my goal, my "style" if you like.
(CM): It’s true that everyone has a style even if they aren’t aware. I find I can name the photographer who has taken the photo without looking at the name with Port Macquarie photographers. I think digital post-processing adds to a photographer’s style as well, making the photos easily identifiable. Do you have a favourite location to shoot? What about locally?
(AM): On a local basis I like in and around Tacking Point Lighthouse because it offers a natural focal point and one people relate to put things in context.
Sometimes it might only be a tiny, but recognisable, speck within the image but can be lined up in such as a drone panorama with the setting moon for example.
Other times it could fill the foreground and have a huge storm overheard or the stars and International Space Station zipping by on a clear night.
Overseas that would easily be Yosemite Valley, with so many subjects and perspectives in a
relatively compact area and so much weather variety you could never tire of it.
I'm pretty sure I would like Iceland if I ever went there, it offers some "exotic" (to me) aspects as well as good weather challenges and huge variety too!
It's Australia I really want to cover though, as it too offers incredible variety, it's just that it's so hard to get to much of it, and sometimes there are risky areas too… but to me that is what offers the best satisfaction, to overcome those barriers and come back with something to share and admire.
Yes, you could get very pleasing images with just stepping off a bus in Yosemite and walking just a few steps, but that isn't what I'm after in what I like to do, I'm after something special and unique that really sums up an area in a single image and that, I'm afraid, is just going to take work for such as Australia!
(CM): Capturing the essence of a location, it’s what will relate to viewers of the image. What is the one location you want to shoot that you haven't been able to as yet? Why that location?
(AM): I have so many! I maintain a set of custom google maps where I am forever putting digital pins in when I see interesting locations posted online.
I am drawn heavily to cover every extreme of Australia and particularly the hard-to-reach places, I want to do far flung islands, remote coastlines and deep into the deserts!
From time to time I see a "new" place come up and know that there are thousands of square kms around there that come up empty in terms of available photos and naturally the question comes "what is there?", perhaps there is something amazing, I'd like to find out and bring it back to share and maybe add a pin to someone else’s map to build on!
(CM): The information world we live in gives us access online to places we never would have seen. It certainly makes our bucket lists add up! Do you have any advice for someone starting out in photography?
(AM): Easy. Practice, Practice, Practice.
Use whatever camera you have and work it hard. Cover every possible subject and get a feel for
what draws you on and inspires you. You WILL get better with time and persistence.
I am my own harshest critic; I look at every image for where I could do better and berate myself for having missed something or not done it well enough.
Be hard on yourself to know your flaws, mistakes and limitations and work on reducing that to zero as a constant thing.
When shooting don't be complacent through familiarity, or take things for granted, that's where you might make a mistake and miss the chance to make that "great photograph"!
Be sharp, be alert but above all still enjoy what you do and appreciate what you're looking at the same time... if you're not enjoying it likely you're not doing it right yet, sometimes some stuff just takes time to get there.
(CM): Great advice. I love that there’s always learning in photography, it’s something that you’ll always gain knowledge from. Any tips for someone wanting to make a career out of photography?
(AM): That's a hard one!
The branches of photography are very diverse from obvious commercially driven ones such as wedding or event photography where you are clearly engaged by a client with a set fee involved all the way through to what I do where there is no set client let alone what fee you might earn for your time, effort, and equipment!
I have to say my choice of outdoors and landscape photography is the hardest one for a "career" choice in the traditional sense but the essential thing in common is that it should be driven by a passion for what you do!
If you lack the passion, then I doubt you would survive in any genre to make it financially viable so make sure you love what you do and persist with everything you can find to make it happen for you so you can keep doing it!
(CM): So true. It’s a lot of hard work for little reward in the beginning (and sometimes the middle and end as well). Passion is what will keep you moving forward even if there is little reward. How do you prepare for a shoot?
(AM): That comes down to equipment and logistics on the one hand and mentally on the other.
For equipment and logistics, it might be a rapidly approaching storm front so you know what to grab and put in the bag and head out the door in a minute or less, simple!
On the other hand, I have been preparing equipment, maps and logistics over most of the past year for some locations I want to cover so how's that for extreme ends of the spectrum, barely a minute on one hand and a full year on the other!
Mentally for both however it is the same, don't rush or try to do too much all at once, mistakes happen that way, have a clear outcome in mind and be efficient and precise, even in the total dark at times, but that ability only gets better with time and familiarity with your gear through lots of repetitive use.
When I know I want to capture a sunrise for example I like to arrive early before when I think the ideal time is and get myself into the groove by shooting as soon as in position, regularly check my gear for such as clean lens, doublecheck the focus, the image settings and the results I'm getting and so forth and then during peak time you're already humming and getting it down nicely but also remember to keep going for a bit!
When you're back at the desk and reviewing and editing the results then maybe your pick might be the image from when you thought it would be, but sometimes it might have been from earlier, or later, since the light and conditions are totally outside your control and you would be very glad that you shot that way and it comes down to that mental preparation of arriving and shooting the way you did.
(CM): There’s some great tips there, Alex. I find there’s routines in photography (shooting and post-processing), but we need to be adaptable at the same time to the many, many variables that are thrown our way! What's in your kit bag?
(AM): Through a specific decision to invest heavily in my future I now have an extensive range of gear as I'm aiming to cover a diverse range of media types, and channels, beyond the traditional fine-art land and seascapes so the total "kit bag" would fill a car!
Specifically, I have 2 x SLR with 4 lenses to suit, 3 Drones, 1 Underwater ROV, A google street view capable system, a 360 stills camera, a modular "action" style camera system with several lens and sensors, a personal vlogging setup, a ruggedised and underwater capable compact... so there's a dozen very different systems I can draw on to suit the situation I'm wanting to cover!
Added to that is all the support gear that may come on a shoot such as spare batteries, memory cards, lens cleaning gear, filters, tripod, or pole... so it all adds up without even trying too hard!
I don't have any brand allegiance, I just go with the best tool for the job and so I have Olympus, Fujifilm, DJI, Autel, Swellpro, Labpano, Ricoh, Insta360, Qysea and etc!
I typically do a ton of research on a prospective new bit of gear, absorb as many reviews as I can find and if it sounds as though it is good performer, and any limitations are acceptable then take the plunge and hope for the best that it fulfills on its promises.
I'm happy to share the details of my kit list with fellow photographers as it may give some pointers and save time in terms of finding out what's out there and good to use... just head over to www.roving-eye.com/gearlist.
As you can see, I might need a Sherpa team to carry it all with me if I ever try and take it all at once!
Having said that I also delight in travelling light and simple... I have taken some very pleasing shots that have had a terrific online reception using nothing more than a handheld compact!
At other times if I'm wanting to extract the most from any situation but still travel light as I can (which allows me to go all day and leave room for food & water or clamber up some tough places) I might take the smaller SLR, put on a flexible zoom lens and a lightweight set of filters and that's it!
(CM): That’s an extensive collection of equipment! As you have said, take into consideration weight when preparing for shoots and travel! What’s your favourite lens?
(AM): See above! I love all the bits I have as they do such different jobs for me.
That means everything gets used from a crazy wide angle for such as a big storm front or the stars through to a super long zoom to pick out dolphins playing in the waves!
Typically, it's rarely these extremes that form the majority of shots so something like a flexible zoom in the middle range works very well if you had to pick just 1 lens... it's the last 20% of the shots you're after that likely account for 80% of the gear you have... which is a hilarious irony I find!
The only question to ask yourself is are you happy with 80% or do you want to try for the 100?
(CM): Horses for courses! Nowadays everyone has a camera...what makes a photo a piece of art?
(AM): It's so great to see the explosion in image taking in recent years beyond the narrow confines of "purists".
It doesn't matter if you're taking photos of your food to share, or a selfie or whatever takes your fancy, the fact so many take some form of pleasure in getting an image is what everyone has in common.
The fantastic outcome of this huge uptake in recent years, and the seismic shift in the camera manufacturer landscape this has caused, is that we are spoilt for choice for amazing equipment that was not around even a decade earlier, see my "kit bag" list above as an example!
Of course the majority aren't taking their photos for "art" per se so if we look at the deliberate pursuit of an art subject then just having a camera in your hand, no matter what it cost, doesn't mean you will make "a piece of art”... that comes from tight compositional choices, clear subject and focus, good technical execution and so forth, and that in turns takes time and effort and persistence to pull off more than once beyond just a random happenstance.
So, to answer your question it's either luck or hard work or both if you keep creating good outcomes!
(CM): What makes a great photograph?
(AM): For me it's something that cuts to the essence of the point of focus that the photographer has selected or created.
It should have near immediate impact on a viewer and have zero distractions and you should know it in the first few seconds and then find no flaws in it no matter how hard or long you look thereafter.
(CM): Emote, emote, emote! Thanks so much, Alex! There is so much rolled gold photography advice in this chat! See you next week!
(AM): See you then!
Part 3 - 22nd October 2021
Rich from Canvas Momentz (CM): Welcome back for our 3rd chat, Alex McNaught - Roving-Eye.com photography .
There has been some more great response to our second chat about equipment and locations. Earlier this year you captured some amazing photos and footage of the floods in Port Mac and surrounds. Talk us through that process. Did you have a specific idea on how you wanted to cover it or was it spur of the moment and adapting to what you could capture?
Alex McNaught (AM): It was very much spur of the moment, or really spur of the day since it took that long to gather the necessary clips!
What started out as a single simple beach coverage then made sense to dig deeper and further afield to see what the story was there too, so I did.
As locals would know we had been hammered with torrential downpours in the lead up to the day of the video (Saturday) and in fact for weeks beforehand substantial rains had set the scene for the massive runoff to become a flood.
Early Friday evening I had evacuated my horse from a low-lying paddock. It became apparent the ever-rising waters were going to combine with high tide in some hours, hence, to become untenable for him to stay where he was in his paddock near the airport, so I walked him out in thigh deep water that evening. Just as well I did since it became head high later that night!
Finally on the Saturday there was some let up in the rain, so I immediately headed down to Town Beach to see what the situation was like. It was astonishing to see the muddy brown rapids heading out to sea carrying all manner of debris with it!
Since I had the tools to do so I immediately set to recording a video with the drone since it could get the necessary angles to really show how much water was barrelling past the breakwall.
I don't normally do much video but that is what I decided to do exclusively since it told the best story. Throughout the day I worked my way from Town Beach west to the Airport precinct in stages doing a clip at a time as breaks in the weather allowed until I got a full set together by the end of the day.
I then set to editing it all together to be a cohesive collection from the front of town to the back. I posted it up knowing likely others would be as interested as I was to see what was going on. With an existing following I had on local pages for my photography it didn't take long at all for the video to get passed around, big time!
(CM): That it did, I remember seeing it everywhere on Facebook! Tell us about where your photos and videos were shown (I think there was some worldwide coverage)?
(AM): Yes. I uploaded a single YouTube video (see link at the end of the interview) which got all the attention and over the next 24hrs it went crazy with contacts being made from all over Australia and overseas.
In addition to the obvious historical flood footage there was also a human element in the rescue of my horse at the same time. Both aspects became topics when I was interviewed live on ABC breakfast TV here in Port, over the air on a SA radio station, clips were shown on all the commercial channels and the BBC interviewed me live on TV the next day too!
In addition, news services such as Reuters were granted worldwide distribution rights and I said "yes" to every such inquiry as long as my name and website remained intact on the video and clear credits shown along with any display of the footage. It sure was a great profile booster!
In the weeks following as road access finally allowed, I did follow up videos of surrounding town areas.
I wanted to show the impact there as well as following the Hastings River 40kms upstream into the mountains to trace the origins of it all and even that far up the devastation was obvious.
(CM): There were some real emotions felt by people that viewed your coverage. How did it feel to reach so many in such a personal way?
(AM): At such as my store at the markets for months afterwards I have had many people come over specifically to thank me for the coverage provided.
As far as I'm aware it is the only one with a comprehensive record of that day, all because I was a photographer with a drone who decided to put it up to look around and see what was going on and just kept going.
Even though all this was far from my typical products, such as framed prints and canvases, it struck the same chord that exists in a well-executed still image.
It tells a story and when I have captured something that generates a deep emotional impact and response, as I get with my photography and now video, it generates emotions in me too to see that response in others.
(CM): After the 2019/2020 fires, then the continuing pandemic, people were rightly exhausted. The floods carried nearly two years of emotion with it. Some people have been severely affected by all three (fires, pandemic, floods). Being able to see documentation in a respectful manner will be cathartic for some who have suffered so much.
(AM): The floods were, and remain for some, a difficult time and I respect that. I was careful in what I captured and shared, both then and since with a "before and after" series and I think that is also part of the role of a responsible photographer or videographer, to be always aware of what they are doing and, hopefully, create positive emotions and outcomes for people.
The emergency services I happened to cover one day at their gathering place of people and trucks were very pleased with the images I captured of them. They used them immediately on their pages and later commissioned a promotional video including part of my work, so you never know what's around the corner with what you do. The take-away I get from this experience is shoot, shoot, and shoot again whenever an opportunity comes up because you just never know where you might go with it.
(CM): How can we access your work?
(AM): I maintain multiple channels for both professional and personal outlets.
Website: (for online galleries and regular newsletter) www.Roving-Eye.com
Facebook: (for ad-hoc postings and monthly gallery updates) www.facebook.com/RovingEyeDotCom
Instagram: (for a regular stream of selected images) www.instagram.com/rovingeyedotcom/
YouTube: (for all videos and increasingly in the future, for documenting personal adventures and behind the scenes action too!): www.youtube.com/c/AlexMcNaught/videos
Flood video coverage:
(CM): Thanks again, Alex. I’m sure many people are grateful for your coverage during such a difficult time. We look forward to chatting next week to talk about your favourite images and the stories behind them.
(AM): See you then.
Part 4 - 29th October 2021
Rich from Canvas Momentz (CM): Welcome back Alex McNaught - Roving-Eye.com photography.
Time for our final chat in your series which have been extremely well received. Do you have any interesting or funny stories while on location?
Alex McNaught (AM): I so wish I had a whole bunch of funny tales to tell but given I've been anchored to Port Macquarie to get things off the ground I haven't been able to travel much to generate a bunch of funny stuff apart from getting drenched from time to time!
With the simultaneous change in personal circumstances over the past year enabling me to get what I want and covid induced travel restrictions being gradually lifted I look forward to travelling widely and the past year of getting the tools together to do that will pay dividends photographically and I'm sure there will be the odd funny tale come out of it since I intend to push myself into the far corners of the country on my own and who knows what will happen then!
(CM): Talk us through your favourite image(s) of yours.
(AM): That's an interesting one because my "favourites" list is ever-growing!
With my personal journey being only a few years it's not as if I have a huge history to look back on and reflect on, but there are a couple of images that I hold big affection for.
They are not award-winners or anything like that, but they were received well when put on display and sold well and were vital for me at an early critical stage to have some cash flow to enable me to get through to another month of publishing my wares...and then another month and so on as I lifted myself up by my bootlaces from nothing.
The first is a farmhouse in the back road between Grafton and Glen Innes which I found after it was suggested I go explore this road. It is delightfully simple being a broad daylight shot but it just stood out with a classic Australian farm look and its dilapidated state generates such questions as "Who lived here?" and "What was their story?".
The second is, just as it happens, also of an older time and it was a sequence of old cars left out in the open in the Lightning Ridge opal fields. Again it is not a world-beater in terms of technical details or content, but a demographic who might otherwise walk past would make a beeline for this image and point and discuss it which I think is a great thing.
To cut across every age group and demographic to include them in the "photographic discussion" as it were.
(CM): How do you continue to learn and evolve with your photography?
(AM): A great question and I think an absolutely crucial one for any photographer wishing to stay sharp. Of course, the first assumption is that you want to learn and evolve!
I can't imagine not wanting to and I think a few things are happening all at once in that process. Of course, there are so many genres in photography it'd be impossible to try and do everything equally well or to the same intensive extent for starters!
Firstly, you need to get on top of the essential technicalities of the craft, secondly, you refine and add to that knowledge base, and thirdly your "style" and subject matter will likely evolve and shift during that time as well! Superimpose on that is the fact that photographic technology has evolved in more ways in the past 10 years than in the previous 100 and we have an explosion of creative possibilities available to us!
So, how to manage this happening all at once?
Firstly the basics come to the fore...practice, practice, and practice again. I go out to each and every full moon to deal with lens selections, exposure considerations, composition options, and the dynamics of the Earth-Moon relationship and intervening variables such as clouds and weather!
By doing so repeatedly I am faster on task for the next time since you can recall which settings worked well last time and this in turns makes me "ready" for some future special time when I might have just seconds to nail a special image. I just have to know it down pat and you only get that through repetition.
The same goes for all subject matter, the moon was just an example. I will do birds, the surf, lightning, and a hundred other widely varying subjects repeatedly no matter how many images I already have in my ever-growing portfolio.
Practice and repetition make all the controls of the camera fall to hand readily and your mind is on the job quickly to get you the best and most reliable results when it counts.
Secondly, be inspired by and learn from others. You can't possibly be everywhere at once and cover every scenario to learn it all from scratch from your own experience.
Look at the work of others and look through their eyes. How did they approach this subject? What did you think they had to do to achieve that? Was there an interesting composition or angle you might not have thought of or perhaps had even forgotten about?
Thirdly, save yourself important time and get a leg up and invest in learning material generated by experienced photographers. This could range from the very detailed sequence of steps in a software package to deliver a specific outcome you're after, through to advice on a region or locations or time of year to help you plan and focus your efforts in getting the most from a specific area of interest.
Lastly, I self-help in my evolution to just sit back and look at an image...can I look at it and get pleasure by simply looking at it?
Not a detailed analytical and self-critical look this time, just sit back and look at it. Just like any of the eventual viewers of my work will be doing! If it strikes a chord, and things keep getting just that little bit better and more frequently with time, then you are on the right path.
(CM): Great advice, Alex. I think I speak for everyone (all of us here at Canvas Momentz and all of our readers) that we are grateful for your time and considered words. We look forward to seeing what your photography future holds!