Neil Buchan-Grant is a professional portrait and travel photographer from Edinburgh now living in Winchester. In his long and inspiring career he won numerous awards in the sphere of photography like Independent on Sunday/Insight Travel Photographer of the Year, AOP Open Award and British Travel Press Photographer of the Year in 2013. Currently he runs a few workshops around the world and organises his own shoots for fun. Let’s explore more about him and his work through our interview.
Q: Buchan you are an inspiring photographer. There are many categories in your portfolio and each of them are professionally great. What styles do you specialize in? Which category of your portfolio contains your favorite shoots?
A: I used to favour landscape and but I now prefer making portraits so my favourite shots would be in the ‘location portrait’ or the ‘street portrait’ sections.
Q: Describe your work and post work processes. Which is your favorite lens and what kind of tools do you use for post work flow?
A: Most of my pictures are shot for me, for the joy of making them, without any commercial considerations or pressures. I have been commissioned to make pictures for travel guides and corporate portraiture, but little of that gets into my portfolio and I have probably spent a lot more than I have earned creating it. I view most of the equipment I own as merely being rented for the moment, my rental cost being the difference between what I paid for it and what I sell it for. I exclude from that my two favourite lenses which I will probably never sell, the Leica M 35mm + 50mm f1.4 Summilux. I have used these lenses on Leica M + SL bodies, Olympus micro 43rds bodies and now on Sony Alpha bodies with a Techart autofocus adaptor. These lenses produce delicious and organic looking results on any camera that will accept them. My post processing workflow uses Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop CC and Nik Silver + Colour Efex. I employ these tools in an effort to ‘de-digitise’ my pictures, to give them a more analogue feel.
Q: Tell us about the most important feature a person should possess to become a good photographer.
A: There are too many types for photography to answer that. Different qualities are needed to succeed in different fields of photography. Commercial, journalistic, fine art, they all require their own qualities to excel. For myself, ‘success’ is mostly tied up in a notion of how my work might be improving. It's all about the images for me and the continual effort to make more interesting ones than I have made so far.
Q: In your website you have mentioned the names of people that inspired you as a photographer. But have you ever had a muse_ a person you particularly liked taking photos of or are you more inspired from concepts rather than people?
A: I’ve been lucky to experiment with some really nice professionals over the past 6 years, mostly attempting to make something dramatic or impactful and learning how to get the most out of different locations and different lighting scenarios. Its great to have a week or more with one person to explore all of the facets of someone’s personality, but there are too many interesting faces to be restricted to just one muse! I also love to photograph 'real people’ on the street, it's less artistic but just as rewarding when you capture someone authentic or full of character.
Q: How have you been educating yourself to take better pictures since you started photography? Are there any tricks or tips to get a better photograph?
A: I am self taught and my pictures have evolved from what started as a hobby and eventually became a passion. I have educated myself to some small degree by studying the work of great photographers. Knowing what you like and why you like it is half the battle. In practice, I think it’s important to be sufficiently technically proficient that you can forget about the technical side of things when you’re actually making pictures, that stuff is just getting worked out in your subconscious and your present mind is focussed on the nuances of light, expression, composition, the creative bits. As well as running a few workshops I have also recently attended a few workshops with some leading photographers who’s work I admire including David Alan Harvey and Matt Stuart. I have found these workshops massively rewarding from working with the tutors and the other students.
Q: What motivates you to continue taking pictures? Is it a hobby or something inextricably bound to your personality?
A: Photography is more than a hobby these days, it’s very much part of my identity, although I would never claim to be a "professional photographer”. I make some income from a few workshops, image stock sales and the occasional commission but my motivation is really just to improve my work and to enjoy my life. To that end, the people I meet and the places I go in the course of making pictures, enriches my life. Photography has facilitated a wealth of experiences I would never have had without it.
Q: Do you find yourself always “looking through your lenses” at the world? How does it feel like? It is said that photographers and artists see the world differently from ordinary people, why is that so?
A: I think you can be a good photographer even if you’ve never picked up a camera, I mean you don’t need a camera to sense beauty. I am often recognising the beauty around me whether I have a camera with me or not. You can’t switch off from being visually aware. When it comes to ‘photographers’ and ‘artists’ I think there’s less ‘art’ in photography than there used to be. These days photography (and art) are more about ideas, representation or politics than beauty or aesthetics. I realise that my view on this is old fashioned to say the least. I am excited by images that connect with me visually, images that elicit an emotive response in me more than ones which have a message or a truth to tell, its rare and wonderful when they can have both. The world needs all types of photography but for me, "art for art's sake” will always be true.
Q: Your photographs are mostly in black and white but they don’t seem to ‘lack colors’ Does this have some hidden meaning or is it just a personal preference?
A: I love the simplicity of B&W images, it forces the viewer to deal only with certain elements of an image, lighting, composition, a subject’s emotional impact that might be lessened with the inclusion of distracting colours. I also love colour images where the colours make a substantial difference to the impact of a picture. Colour can add a whole extra layer of emotional impact to an image and after 30 years of making pictures, it's usually clear if an image works better in B+W or in colour.
Q: What are some challenges you’ve encountered during your career as a photographer? In what situations it can be a little tricky to get exactly the photograph you want?
A: My ‘career’ in photography has posed very few challenges given that I have asked little more from it than to 'improve and enjoy’. I have always relied on another business I run, to provide my main income. Therefore my photographic income is only a welcome bonus rather than a necessity. The main challenge in this regard is probably being challenged and pushing myself creatively. With only occasional commissions to liven things up and put me under pressure, I have found myself having to create my own mini-projects to keep things interesting. As for getting the picture I envisioned, that rarely happens but trying to get closer to that ideal is what it's all about.
Q: What type of camera do you recommend newbie photographers?
A: I would recommend an Olympus micro four thirds camera for general photography. Not just because I was an ambassador for Olympus and I use one myself but because I really believe it's a very flexible system. I’ve shot much of my portfolio using Olympus cameras and lenses, they’re fun to use and lightweight for carrying around. That said, making pictures with just your phone can be a great way to start.