The mostly clear blue skies in Australia ensure Fraser McCulloch’s work with drones is generally easier than in his native, often rainy Scotland … but Fraser loves the magnificent coastline here too. Operating 120 m in the air, Fraser obtains a bird’s eye of our area, and he’s able to help his clients realise their creative vision for an array of projects …
Hi Fraser. Correct me if I’m wrong – but your name sounds very Scottish! What’s your background, and when did you move to Australia?
I guess it does! I grew up in the countryside near the village of Carnwath, south-west of Edinburgh. I went to Napier University in Edinburgh, where I studied a business degree, and went on to work in public procurement for about 10 years.
I met my Australian wife (Janet) in Scotland in 2004, and we got married in 2008. Our daughter (Amie) was born in 2011, and we moved to Australia in 2013.
Why did you choose Port Macquarie as your home base?
Janet grew up farming in Walcha, and her family is now based in Newcastle and Armidale. We came here on holiday a couple of years before we moved, trying to pick a new “home”.
We first looked around the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, but chose here after a trip up North Brother. I love the ocean, and you get a great perspective of the whole area from up there. We spent the first five years in Port and then moved to Bonny Hills to be part of a great local community.
What’s your backstory behind the lens … how did you first become interested in photography?
It’s something I’ve always been interested in, but probably saw more as a hobby than a job. I did a course via correspondence with the New York Institute of Photography about 15 years ago, which encouraged me to explore my more creative side, and I found that I enjoyed that far more than my real job! This led me to stock photography initially, and when my images started to sell, I saw the opportunity to make a change.
How much of a part has overseas travel played in your photography training/learning journey?
Massively. I’ve been lucky enough to visit many countries in Europe, North America, Africa and South East Asia and the inspiration you get, not just from the places themselves, but the people you meet has a big impact.
I once went to an orphanage in Vietnam, with a couple photographers I had met. Most of the children there had a disability, often lost limbs, caused by land mines left over from the Vietnam War. Some had ended up at the orphanage because they were no longer productive members of their families, due to their disabilities. It was extremely sad and confronting, and the photographers I was with were taking pictures (I had thought it was wrong to take my camera).
As they were working with film, they had their images developed that day, and only needed the negatives. We returned the following day with the prints to give them to the children, and the obvious happiness this gave them had a profound effect on me. What we hadn’t realised was that there was no mirror in the orphanage, and the kids had only ever seen their reflection in glass.
I’ll definitely return to Vietnam at some point, as it is an incredibly beautiful country – so different, but with very warm and welcoming people.
What are your thoughts on how new technology, such as UAVs/drones, has changed the photographic world?
The speed and quality of technological advancements in recent years is amazing, not just the kit itself, but the access to information and learning materials. If you have the drive and ambition to learn, almost everything is free via platforms like YouTube. I refer to it all the time when I get stuck, and it’s very rare that I can’t find the answer.
Also, although they don’t (yet) have all the functionality of a high-end SLR, the quality of mobile phone cameras now is fantastic, and the speed at which you can get your images on to the social platforms is a big benefit.
I’m a firm believer that anyone can take a good photo; however, you only become a photographer once you can take good photos more often and understand why it is good.
With regard to UAVs (drones), their impact on photography cannot be overstated. I had to wait four months on pre-order to receive my first drone in 2016, and in little over two years they have become an integral part of the photographic landscape, both for creative and commercial use.
What slows you down, particularly living in regional Australia, are internet connectivity speeds and the mobile network. I think it’s extremely important that more investment is made to help entrepreneurs and small businesses compete and thrive during this technological revolution.
What photographic equipment do you generally favour for shoots these days (and why)?
The vast majority of my work now is done with the drone, and I wouldn’t look beyond DJI. They are currently miles ahead of other manufacturers. Any handheld images I take are either with a Canon (SLR) or Samsung (mobile), although I have heard very good reports about the Google Pixel 3.
The other piece of kit that is very impressive is the GoPro Hero 7, particularly for image stabilisation when working with video. I don‘t do much video work right now, but there are huge opportunities for people who do.
My advice for anyone looking to learn is to really understand the kit that you have and not feel the pressure of constantly upgrading with every iteration a manufacturer releases. Your images will improve much faster that way, and you’ll know when you need additional functionality.
What most motivates you to head out the door each day with camera gear in hand?
My dad once said to me that the hardest part about running was putting your trainers on. Translating this to photography, the hardest part is probably keeping your batteries charged. Once you’ve done this and got out of the door, motivation and creativity will find you.
The images I’ve taken that I like the best are usually not the ones that I’ve planned to take before I go out. That said, it is very satisfying to finally get the image you wanted after many visits over many months.
I spend a lot of time watching weather reports. Wind and rain are problems when your camera is 120 m in the sky! Fortunately, Australia is a bit more accommodating that Scotland in this regard; however, if anyone knows how to slow the sunrise or sunset to give me more time to work, that would be much appreciated.
Right now, I’m working on a project with Port Macquarie Golf Club. I’m even more obsessed with golf than I am with photography, so it’s really not difficult to find the motivation when you get to work on projects as fun as this one.
In what ways can you help potential new clients share their vision through your images?
The most important thing for a client to do is review the portfolio of potential photographers and choose one whose style matches what they are looking for. It’s very easy to do this via the likes of photographers.com.au or even on Instagram via hashtag searching.
It’s equally important for the photographer to decline work that doesn’t match their style and where possible refer the client to someone who’s better suited.
When you do find a good match, I’ve learned that some clients are creative and some aren’t. For those that are, it’s important to listen to their ideas, incorporate them as much as you can, whilst explaining any limitations. For me, that often means time, as I’m waiting for the right weather conditions.
It’s great when clients prefer to pay me to be the creative one, but in this instance, I like to provide more images than set out in the brief. It’s a bit like wine … most of us can’t tell you why we like one over another, but all of us know what we prefer when we drink it!
What I’ve found is that my images that sell the best are often not my favourites. If you want to make your hobby your business, ultimately it’s up to the customer to decide what they like. You just have to give them choice.
Where can we see more examples of your work or contact you?
Search @FraserMcCullochPhotography on Facebook or Instagram or visit my website www.FraserMcCullochPhotography.com
I love to get feedback, both positive and negative, as it encourages me to do more and motivates me to get better.
Interview: Jo Robinson.