The girl from down under photographing landscapes from up over.
Anyone with an eye on the Australian photo scene may well have heard of Mel Sinclair. Few Aussie photographers are as busy with their travels, study, blogging and, of course Photography. I first came across Mel on facebook, not sure how we connected, but she was planning a photo trip to Iceland at the end of 2015. Being the natural travel writer that is at the heart of Mel’s work, I was able to follow her journey around Iceland during our biggest lava eruption for over 200 years. Then, as if by accident, I actually bumped into her while I was running a photo tour along the South coast.
I then heard that Mel was touring Iceland again with Timothy Poulton. They actually asked me to tour with them, but my feet and ankles were giving me such a lot of agony, that I was not able to commit. So here we are with the second best thing… an interview with Mel Sinclair. This is my opportunity to introduce my readers to a young Australian Nature Photographer who is worth keeping an eye on.
Question & Answer
TP: Mel, this is your third trip to Iceland. Last time I met you there was a volcanic eruption. What made you come back? was it the hope of more volcanic activity?
Mel: Iceland, for me, is one of those far away places that I had always imagined existed, but never realised where it was until I visited. Three trips over 6 years is not huge in the scheme of things for some photographers I know, but there’s always a different goal or objective with each visit. This one was for the Northern Lights and Dynjandi.
TP: Any plans to return? Why?
Mel: Immediately? not sure. Ooak photography adventures is planning a 2017 adventure which I will probably have a hand in.
I really want to come back in a different season, maybe winter and see snow on everything that I’m used to seeing green.
There’s still so much to explore off route 1, and in the highlands.
TP: Iceland is about as far as you could travel from your home in Brisbane. Do you have any travel advice for other Travel Photographers coming from Australia?
Mel: Iceland is probably one of the most opposite climates to Australia, but anyone thinking of coming needs to realise the planning and preparation required to tackle such a journey. Australians, for the most part, never experience a true cold winter. Some places yes, but snow is not frequently at sea level, so our adventures clothing doesn’t have to be so cold rated. This is an issue for first -time travellers who arrive And are instantly ill prepared.
You can’t just buy the cheapest hiking boots and the cheapest thermals. It’s a different beast all together.
Same thing is that you can’t just wander wherever you want, this is something that I am increasingly becoming saddened about; tourists imitating people who have already gone beyond the footpath. It only takes one set of footprints for thousands to follow.
TP: What did you hope to photograph differently on this trip? Did you achieve it?
Mel: Revisit some locations from my first trip here ; Dynjandi Waterfall was the main one. Early snow and avalanche risk had driven me away in 2014, so it was the lure this time around. I also came equipped with better camera gear, prime lenses and the Nikon D750 camera which was solely for the purpose of night time shots. I definitely got what I came for and more.
TP: You seem to have some success in the Australian, National Photography Contests.
Mel: Yes, I am proudly an Accredited Professional Photographer at Associate level with the Australian institute of professional photography (AIPP). It is a step I decided to take in regards to my professional future, and through competition in state and national awards, I am growing as a creative professional photographer.
TP: What aspect of participating in photo competitions has taught you the most about photography? What advice do you have for anyone thinking of participating in serious photography competitions?
Mel: competition has taught me to be humble and not get pulled down in the undertow of those who use it as a reason to beat their chest and exclaim that they’re the best. A photo that wins one day mightn’t necessarily be the same the next.
For anyone who hasn’t entered a competition, the most important thing is to not even look at the prizes on offer. Look first at what was awarded last year, and pick accordingly. Read about your judges experience and qualifications, and go from there.
TP: What are your biggest surprises and your biggest disappointments that you have experienced in photography competitions?
Mel: The talent pool. The ideas that other photographers convey through their images. I love seeing a great print awarded, talking to the creator and finding out more. You don’t get that with online competition, and while it’s harsh, you grow from your failures and make a name for yourself with every success. The disappointments come from realising a printing error in the final version, or having a flaw noticed. There’s so many variables with a photo print competition. It’s thrilling.
TP: The Buddha said that “Comparison is the road to unhappiness”, do you agree?
If it’s all you do ; compare yourself to others and fail to see your positives, then yes, you may well be on that road.
If you are looking for everything you aren’t, you will be feeling helpless.
If you are looking at everything and counting your blessings of what you do best, then nobody can take that away from you.
But you can also keep a pulse on what they’re doing, and do your own thing.
TP: Your scenic photography has a lot of nice compositions. You seem to share a love of big colourful skies reflecting in water. But then you have a large collection of skinny, naked trees in mist. What is going on there? Do you dream of this?
Mel: I know I have a thing for trees, but that’s because I live and work in a big city. Landscape photography is my escapism from the metal glass concrete world, big open vistas are my way of resetting my brain.
It’s not fair to judge my public work – 500px, pretty landscape stuff – with my art practice photography. The two are separate portfolios, each designed to give me some breathing space to create whatever I want without being pigeon holed as “that chick who does the big pretty scenes “ the work I create for the AIPP is totally different from the rest. The skinny trees in mist was a visual illusion, they’re just trees printed on different paper. There is no mist, your mind makes that up based on what you see. The reason it did so well is because, I think, I broke their minds a little,, gave the judges a visual challenge.
TP: You write a lot to accompany your travels and photography. If you were forced to give up one would it be writing or photography? Why?
Mel: I don’t think I could ever fully give up one or another. I’ve been in a similar situation before where I had to really reduce how much creative time I had, so everything was wound down equally.
If it was a gun to the head, writing would be it. I would be so sad if I had to give up making images.
TP: You always appear to be busy, traveling, writing and presenting great images. This is only the tip of the iceberg. People don’t see all the hard work that goes on behind the camera. Looking back at your life so far, would you say you have had adequate rewards for all those hours of dedication? If you could do it differently, would you include more or less “work”?
Mel: I’m driven by all those people who told me that I couldn’t be what I wanted, that it couldn’t be done.
The thing is, I’ve wanted to be here, in this place of creative freedom ever since I can remember.
Anyone who knows me knows how much work I pour into the background, and I’ve definitely been rewarded where it is necessary.
If you love it, you’ll work for it.
TP: You use your facebook to promote your photography and writing. Do you use any other social platform? how do they compare?
Mel: I can’t be the only one who thinks social media is exhausting. I really only use facebook, my website and occasionally instagram. The reason I say occasionally is that I’ve always said I don’t like to be locked into a cycle of marketing everything I do.
Why host content elsewhere if you don’t have complete control over it?!
TP: Out of your colourful landscape shots, what is your main reason for rejecting an image?
Mel: technicalities. Not getting the basics of exposure, focus, lights and darks right. Composition as well. you need a grabbing starting image to begin to craft a show stopper.
To Wrap things up
TP: when I look at your images I see the development of your “eye”, do you feel that your are becoming more visually observant? (if yes) What would you say is the reason for this?
As a visual artist – not just a photographer – it is my lifelong promise to myself to constantly work at the development of my eye, how I photograph and how I see the world. There is not a single way to create, and that’s the beauty of it all. I can use whatever I have at my disposal. I study the work of others, I read books, I look at other images and deconstruct them by myself. Sometimes it’s just an idea, and so I will work retrospectively from a sketch and then create that in photographs. Other times itll be a moment that I have photographed and then it becomes something of its own. There is not a single reason – rather – I don’t want to become a one-trick-pony and just be known for doing things all the same. I want to keep people guessing, I want to surprise, challenge, question, demand answers that people give me. To do any less is to not be true to myself.
However, if you want to pin it on a single reason – I studied Fine Art and Creative Industries at University/College. Yeah, I’m one of those people. So whenever I think of something, there’s no part of my brain that says “No, that’s too far-fetched” We just go and we just do.
TP: what strikes me most about some of your recent photography is that I seem to be looking into your imagination… I know these are real photographs, but you seem to have imprinted your imagination/dreams onto the sensor. Do you know what I mean? and do you have any explanation for what is going on?
Absolutely. This is the execution of the points I mentioned above. This is part of the master plan. At the moment, I’m channeling a ‘dreams vs reality’ theme. Real things, imagined things. All have a basis in reality, but their actuality is questionable. I don’t just want to be the girl that occasionally posts on 500px and has ‘some’ amazing photos. It’s not all about that. I have two separate practices – the public – ie, everything you’ve seen online. And a private practice – some of the more creative, theoretical, not-so-literal interpretations of a scene.
Many thanks for your time and for sharing your beautiful images with us, Mel.
Reader: take a moment to head over and check out Mel’s work on her website… Mel Sinclair