Based in the bustling heart of inner-city Melbourne, photographer Mia Mala McDonald has an unusually good eye for an interesting face, scene or moment. But it’s when she’s out of the confines of the city that her creative energy especially thrives.
We spoke to Mia about her creative passions, her aspirations, and the tools and services an up-and-coming photographer needs to print the highest quality work.
Tell us about what you do creatively and how a typical workday may unfold for you?
“I’m a freelance photographer, video maker, teacher and mother. My days vary greatly depending on if it’s a shoot day, retouching, post/pre-production day, teaching or spending the day with our seven month old baby, Sidney Mala.
“A shoot day would start the evening/week/month before, with a lot of organizing and pre-production. I always pack my gear the night before and make sure all my batteries are charged and memory cards packed.”
“I shoot predominantly on location, so I can find myself heading to some weird and wonderful places around the country. I arrive an hour early to the location so I can have some time to observe the natural light. I try to work with the available light and use my pro-foto lighting gear to mimic and enhance what is naturally presented.
“As I predominately shoot people, I always try and keep it as simple as possible so we don’t waste too much time fiddling with gear and instead concentrate on creating a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.”
How important is printing and copying to your day-to-day work?
“It’s good to be able to print large scale copies of my photos to get a sense of how they look on paper. Sometimes it’s the best way to tell what photo is best for the particular brief.”
What are some of principles of photography that you adhere to and how do they influence your work across the variety of creative mediums you explore?
“I am genuinely interested in people; this is the real principle of my work. I am privileged to meet and work with strangers every day and I strive to tell their personal stories and provide a glimpse into their personality using the medium of photography.
“Photography is a curious medium – we now all shoot on the same cameras. And sadly with digital technology, there is little room for error or technical surprises. You’re not going to accidentally overexpose or cross process, or stumble upon something too unexpected as much as you previously would.
“But what we can really explore are our individual ideas. These creative concepts and our individuality have become at the forefront of the image making process and are what gives the personal distinction.”
Tell us about some of the indispensable tools you use to produce your work and any ‘secret tips’ for getting the most out of using them?
“Photography is innately about light, so any tool that manipulates the light has potential! One of my most used and cheapest items is my $3 silver car window reflector – those things that you put on the dashboard to block out the light! It’s very malleable and easy to use and it creates a beautiful soft light for portraits.”
Where are some of the more unique places online and offline that you get your creative inspiration from?
“For my commercial practice, where I live is one my biggest influences. Recently becoming a new mum, I have found myself pounding the local streets of Brunswick to get our girl to sleep. I notice the people, places and everything in between.
“I store these references and often revisit these locations for portrait shoots, or just to photograph them in different light.”
What trends have you noticed in your creative mediums that particularly interest or excite you?
“I am excited about the new wave of self-publishing photo books. There is a huge community of artists making and publishing their own book and zines. I think it’s in direct response to the ephemeral nature of online images and the need for an offline community.
“A photo book slows me down as a viewer – I pay attention to the nuances of the physicality of the book and consider all of the deliberate decisions the photographer has made.”
What advice would you pass on to aspiring creatives looking to break into your field?
“I am currently teaching at PSC and the students often ask about this idea of a ‘personal style’. I encourage them to mimic and learn from their heroes, and experiment with trying to copy a distinct style such as the vernacular of Eggleston or the highly orchestrated lighting of Crewdson.
“From this point, they then need to break the rules and find out what unique story they can express. To learn from the greats, but carve your own style and resist following trends. And allow room for yourself to constantly evolve!”