Piper Mackay is a wildlife and cultural documentary photographer whose work is heavily concentrated on the African continent. Driven to create compelling imagery and stories that make a difference, her work takes her deep off the beaten path, immersed into the cultures and wild environments she is photographing. We were fortunate to catch her in between travels and ask her some questions about her and her craft. We hope you enjoy the answers that follow!
-What type of photography do you prefer and why?
I am an emotional shooter and refer to myself as an action junkie, photographing African wildlife and culture. I like the adrenaline rush of having only a second to capture a compelling moment that makes for a powerful story. There is something magical when you connect with your subject for a brief moment, click the shutter, and freeze it in time, forever.
I also find these genera’s of photography to be extraordinarily important as we are at such a critical crossroads in history; losing ancient languages, traditions, wisdom and wildlife, never to be replaced. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.
-What tip(s) would you give someone just starting out in photography?
Don’t listen to “nay-sayers” and shoot what you are most passionate about. It is your passion that will drive you forward and over the hurdles, when you reach those moments of wanting to give up. This is an extremely challenging business, but it is possible to succeed, if you have a plan, stay focused, and never give up.
Being professional does not mean you have more talent or take better photographs than other photographers; it means you have the skills to successfully run a business. Starting a new business takes time. Take advantage of having a day job to set up your photography business properly; bookkeeping, cards, website, marketing plan, etc. Put away funds to sustain yourself during your period of transition. Don’t quit your day job until you are bringing in at least 50% or more, of your current income.
During this time, shoot often, work on your skills, network, and build a strong body of work unique to your brand and vision. Networking and marketing will be the most important tools for your success as a professional photographer. Most importantly, don’t lose sight as to what made you first pick up a camera and click the shutter.
-Where is your favorite place to travel and to photograph?
Africa; east and south. It is magical, like no other place in the world. It is where I first picked up a professional camera and has been the focus of my work for almost a decade.
-Who is a photographer you have looked to for inspiration?
There are several photographers that inspire me for different reasons and because I shoot two different genre’s of photography; wildlife and culture.
Nick Brant – African Wildlife fine art photographer-incredible work
Greg dutoit – African wildlife photographer- for his passion and dedication, and talent
Brent stirton – photojournalist and culture photographer – his use of light.
Timothy Allen – travel photographer- for his work on BBC Earth
Nevada wier- travel photographer- a true nomad, passionate photographer and role model for female photographers
Angela fisher and Carol Beckwith – African culture photographers- for their dedication, passion, amazing stories, and their talent.
-What made you decide to get into photography?
It was an accident, so to speak. I had a big change in life and decided to take a trip to Africa, a place I dreamed about since childhood. On the packing list it was recommended to bring a 300 mm lens. This was not a photography tour, but a Sierra Club trip. I had never even held a professional camera. I walked down to the local camera store; ask for assistance in what I needed, and hired the guy behind the counter to show me how to use it.
I feel in love with Africa and photography the minute my feet touched the rich red soil; returning twice more in the next 5 months. The passion to capture compelling imagery and stories that make a difference was overwhelming. I made a quick decision to change directions and created an exit plan on a successful career in the fashion industry. I changed my life from one rich in material things, to one rich in experiences. I now find my self off the beaten path, immersed into the cultures and wild environments that I am photographing. My passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.
-Upcoming Safaris and cultural photo tours
Migration Safari in Kenya 2014
Kenya Wildlife Safari 2014
Tribes of the Omo 2014
Planning a photo expedition?
Piper’s ebook, Dream, Plan, Go, is filled with useful information, tips and insights that she has culled from dozens of trips to extremely remote locations throughout Africa.
View more of Piper's images at www.PiperMackayPhotography.com