Maker of the Month- February

Allan Donaldson


Allan Donaldson is a very keen photographer who likes to capture nature and wildlife images. Although he does enjoy other genres, he always comes back to these main areas. Photography is a serious hobby for him and a good way to switch off from his daily working environment. He also finds it a very good reason to travel and see some fantastic sights, both home and abroad.
At 57 years old, he has been working for the same company since he left school. He currently lives in Renfrew and has done so for 25 years. His family had a small bed and breakfast house for many years in Largs, and he often holidays on the Isle of Bute.
He likes to be by the sea, in particular the Clyde coast as he finds it very inspiring and a nice change from the city environment. As a member of Paisley Photographic Society, he really enjoys the camaraderie and finds it is a great way of learning and sharing knowledge with like minded people.
A few years ago, he worked towards his Licentiateship with the Royal Photographic Society (RPS). He recently attained the International Federation of Photographic Art (AFIAP) certificate. He found this a great way to hone his photographic skills and find his own style of photography. He is involved in the whole process from taking images to the final printing and mounting stage. This gives him full control of the final results. Having used film cameras for many years, before moving to digital, it continues to to be an interesting journey as the technology advances. He likes to embrace technology and learn new processes. Allan likes to take photographs that resonate with people and perhaps jog relatable memories or emotions. 


What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?

The camera is only a tool. Like many people starting out, I thought a better camera produced better photographs. There is a famous saying “Photography is learning to see”.  This is a statement that means much more now than it did when I started taking photographs all those years ago. 
Learning to read a scene for lighting and composition has nothing to do with the camera. It’s a bit like saying to an artist,” that’s a lovely painting, you must have good brushes” 


How would you describe your process?

My process has changed over the years as my skills have developed. I used to just capture images and then realise only later that the background was very distracting. I think a good photograph needs to have a strong focal point and no other distractions. You have to draw the viewer’s eye into a scene. Therefore I always, where possible, consider the background first. Then place the subject within that background considering careful composition. For wildlife or people, I select a wide aperture to render the foreground and background out of focus. This is a general rule I have. 
I always take my photographs in RAW format and process my images on the computer. This provides the widest range of tones, from shadows to highlights. Normally I don’t work on images a lot. I don’t like to do any heavy editing as I feel it detracts from the true representation that I saw when taking the photograph. If a scene inspires me, I like to keep it authentic.


What is your favourite piece of work and why?

This is a thought provoking question. Initially I was going to say the Cheetah’s on the hill in the Masai Mara, as I will never forget that scene as long as I live. Then I realised it is probably the sunrise on Knapps Loch, Kilmalcolm (photo above).
Why a photo half an hour from my house, and not the one thousands of miles away in Kenya? 
Well, I looked at the forecast the night before and it was going to be a very cold morning. Myself and a few fellow photographers knew that there would likely be a mist over the loch. I arrived before sunrise and walked about to find what I though would be a good composition. I used a tripod, set the composition and waited. The sun came through and I knew the light was special. The Loch is usually a damp grey scene, but not that morning. The orange glow and the mist made for a very special and memorable scene that was just magical. 
It also demonstrates that pleasing photographs can be found close to home. Something that is good to remind ourselves of now and then.


How has your practice evolved?

I used to grab my camera bag and head off somewhere hoping for a great photograph. It happened sometimes but more often that not, I would return with very few worth keeping.
Nowadays, I like to plan a lot more carefully. For landscape photographs for example, there are very good apps on the phone or computer that can assist. I study the weather, sunrise and sunset times, and often tide times. It doesn’t always work in your favour, but it is more successful to go to a location well prepared. This has worked well for me for the likes of the Cloch Lighthouse sunset and Glencoe and Rannoch Moor images. I used to carry a whole bag of lenses and cameras. Nowadays I travel light and take only the equipment I think I will need. Probably getting older as well has a lot to do with that to be honest. The less I have to carry the better.


What is your dream project?

One of my dreams would be to go to Antarctica. I love reading about Shackleton and his ship Endurance. The scenery and wildlife look stunning and I have many books on photography from that part of the world. However I am not the best traveller on boats, and the trip would involve crossing the dreaded Drake passage. This is one of the angriest seas in the world and to be honest I dont think I could make the three day crossing, each way without serious consequences. 
So for now I will happily sail to the Isle of Bute, for some fresh air, a game of putting, and of course some photographs.