MAIRÉAD MCDAID - INTERVIEW
Tell us about yourself. What is your background, and how did you get into photography?
After university I moved to South Korea to teach English for a year, but I loved it so much I decided to stay for three. It was there that I got my first proper camera.
I was living in a part of the world that was totally different to anything I'd ever experienced before, and so every day was a new adventure that I got to capture with my shiny new camera. I became obsessed, and spent every evening online learning new things, and every free moment during the day and weekends shooting in new places.
I moved to London in 2009, and over the next five years photography gradually changed from my hobby into my job. I've been a full-time photographer for two years now, and I still can't believe how lucky I am that I get to do this for a living.
Please provide us with a list of the gear you use on a regular basis:
I'm Nikon - I use two D750s with my Sigma ART 24-35mm f2 on one and my Nikon 85mm f1.8 on the other. I hate having to change lenses and maybe miss a shot so I always have two cameras attached to my Holdfast. I especially love the Sigma, it feels and shoots like a prime, but a prime that zooms! I love the control and versatility it gives me.
I also have a Nikon F2 film camera for personal use. I hadn't used it for years (for shame!) but then last year I ordered a new compact mirrorless camera to take with me on honeymoon, and when it didn't arrive on time I ended up bring my F2 instead. I have to say, I'm SO glad I did. Shooting film is just such a different experience; it allowed me to slow down and really pay attention to what I was shooting, to be much more deliberate in my choices.
What does your post-production process look like?
I cull on Photo Mechanic (total game-changer!) and then import into Lightroom. I use LXC as a base and then play around from there. I love colour and so it's a big part of the editing process for me - I want to make sure to keep the vibrancy of the colours that were there in real life. I sometimes use Alien Skin Exposure to add grain or play around with blur, but most of the time Lightroom is all I use.
While I'm actually editing I usually watch some easy-peasy TV or listen to a podcast - at the minute it's Grey's Anatomy for TV and Buffering the Vampire Slayer for podcasts!
How has your photography style evolved over time?
I think I've definitely become more consistent, which has come from knowing myself and my style better. When I first started editing photos twelve years ago on Photoshop, I went a bit overboard with the contrast and saturation sliders. It was all just so much fun, and a bit overwhelming to be honest!
For a long time I was heavily influenced by other photographers' work, and I think unconsciously tried to emulate their style, but over time I've become much more confident in knowing who I am and developing my own voice. It's a process that I hope will continue to evolve over the years.
What are your favourite tools for capturing, editing, and enhancing your photographs?
Good light! This is the most important thing really isn't it? If there's good light then I don't need to do too much in the editing and enhancing stage.
Apart from that I love playing around with prisms, or more recently my iPhone, to create effects.
What is your greatest piece of advice for emerging photographers?
Try not to compare yourself to other photographers! I've been guilty of this, I think we all have. When you're just starting out it can feel like there's an insurmountable gulf between your own work and established professionals, and this can be really discouraging. They can be a great source of inspiration, but don't feel like you have to do what they do - it's most important that you get out there and do your own thing.
Also, get out and meet other photographers - go to workshops, join local networks, take part in online communities. This has been one of the most important things for my photography, my business and my life! Sharing ideas and learning from each other is so valuable. Also this can be a lonely job - apart from shoot days, the majority of our time is spent sitting at our computers, so getting out and meeting real people is so important.
What type of photography do you most enjoy?
I love photographing people, no matter where they are. In nature, on a busy city street, on their wedding day, for me it's all about the people. I'm drawn to cityscapes for their colours, lines, and textures, but to me these scenes instantly become more interesting as soon as there's a person in the frame.
What are you discouraged about in your work/business? What encourages you?
Social media can sometimes be discouraging. Instagram and Facebook are important tools for our line of work, but it can be disheartening when you feel like you're fighting the algorithm and nobody is seeing your work. Over the years I've trained myself to rely less on 'likes' in order to see the value in my work. If course it's nice to receive them, but relying on outside validation for your work can lead to a very unhealthy frame of mind. It goes back again to shooting for yourself - this is what brings real joy in your work, in my experience.
On the flip side of that social media has introduced me to some wonderful communities where I've learned a lot and also made some true friends. I go to these people for support and encouragement when I need it.
When was a time you thought you would/had failed? How did you overcome it?
My first winter after giving up my full-time job, things were very hard and the bookings were not coming in. I thought I had made a mistake in taking this risk, that I had failed. With the support of my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and the community I've mentioned above, I found the motivation to keep at it. I worked harder than I ever had before and soon the work started coming in. My business has been growing ever since. It can be difficult at times—as working for yourself never brings the security of full-time employment—but it allows a freedom that makes it all worth it.
What defines success for you as a photographer? If you never achieve that, will you still be satisfied with what you do?
The most important thing for me is creating images that I feel represent me. I work very hard at finding clients who understand my aesthetic and sensibilities, so my business can be a true representation of me. Over the years, this has given me more freedom than my previous 9 to 5 jobs, and in the long run this will give me more time to travel and explore personal projects.
If I don't achieve that, I'll still have the enjoyment of the work I do. The great thing about working in a creative field is that there's always ways to push yourself and find new ways of expressing yourself.