Behind the Lens with Alan Mackenzie

14 January 2019 | Posted in Emma Chaplin , wildlife photography
Behind the Lens with Alan Mackenzie
Poppies (c) Alan Mackenzie

We've invited Sussex wildlife photographer Alan Mackenzie to do a takeover of the Trust's Instagram account for a week. Alan tells us more about himself and his photography.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am 38 years old and I've lived in Brighton and Hove for my entire life. I work in adult social care, which can be quite harrowing at times. My wildlife photography projects allow me to switch off and immerse myself in the hidden worlds on our doorstep. I've been a photographer since I was 16, but was inspired to become a wildlife photographer by Stephen Dalton's books. I've never met him, but he lives in Sussex. His work showed that you don't need to fly abroad to encounter epic wildlife. I've always loved animals and nature.

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What qualities do you need to be a good photographer?

It helps to possess an ability to visualise images in one's mind. You have to be technical to get the best out of your equipment and surroundings. I'm systematic, but I'm also empathetic. If you photograph things you love, it will always come across in your work. I've had to overcome the temptation to pursue metrics on social media. Being good enough and enjoying my projects is what motivates me.

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What key equipment do you use? 

I use a Canon EOS1Ds MKIII and lenses ranging from 24mm to 500mm. I'm a lover of extension tubes for close-up work.

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What’s your favourite shot?

It's a 2018 portrait of a roe deer buck in West Sussex. He'd spotted me in the woods, before trotting off into an adjacent field, where I found him sitting shortly afterwards. I like to build mutual trust with roe deer and the photo perfectly illustrates this ethic. Half an hour later, I was photographing him again, in plain sight. He was quite content to periodically look back or doze off, as I sat observing him.

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What do you find most challenging to photograph and why?

All wildlife is challenging, but close-ups of butterflies can take an hour per shot. The wings have to be perfectly aligned with the sensor plane to achieve uniform sharpness. Everything from having a clean background to keeping the plant stem still using sticks and clips requires endless patience.

Marbled White

Is there a place or time you could visit with your camera, where would it be?

I would love to go back in time to photograph the Eurasian lynx, when it was resident in Sussex. The lynx is a natural predator of roe deer and it would be great to photograph them interacting. If I want to photograph one myself, I will have to follow in the steps of Scottish wildlife photographer, Niall Benvie, who has extensively photographed the wilderness of Estonia and Latvia.

Six spot Burnet moths

What are you trying to communicate with your photographs?

Presenting events out of context is a modern phenomenon. Events don't just "happen". There is always a pattern and it's my job to identify and explain them to people. I will spend an entire month on roe deer or butterflies and tell their story. Over the coming years, these projects come together as a unified narrative. Everything in nature, including us, is temporary. The patterns are also changing and not for the better. Humans are choosing to emit greenhouse gases in the pursuit of short-term economic goals. How will roe deer kids survive in hot, summer droughts? How can butterflies pupate, if their food sources die off early? Wildlife is a barometer for the health of our planet. 2018 was a crucial year for the public recognition of climate change. If society doesn't wean itself off carbon-based fuels, within a decade, the outlook for 2100 is not looking good for organised civilisation anywhere.

Visit Alan Mackenzie's website

Alan Mackenzie

Comments

  • 14 Jan 2019 19:23:00

    Great shots Alan. I’ve enjoyed following you on Flickr and it’s great to see you here! Well done mate. Regards, Tom

  • 15 Jan 2019 10:29:00

    Thank you, Tom. I hope you enjoyed the interview and I’m glad to see Sussex Wildlife Trust members appreciating my work.

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