Vision Trumps Gear | Interview with Street Photographer Iain Anderson

Q: Iain, you’re an Australian street photographer, tell us a bit about you.

My home town is Melbourne where I live with my wife & two cats. I was actually born in England (many moons ago) & at a young age my family relocated to Scotland for work before eventually emigrating to Australia. After spending 3/4 of my life here I’m a little ashamed to say I’ve yet to go back to the UK. Something I’d like to remedy in the near future.

After completing my apprenticeship in graphic reproduction I’ve navigated the ever changing technologies & been lucky enough to have had continuous work as a finished artist. For those not familiar this role it requires creating final artwork as specified by senior designers or creative directors. Kind of like a builder to an architect. I owe these many years working alongside talented creatives to my appreciation and learning of aesthetics.

Although I’d used film cameras in my apprenticeship it wasn’t until about 8 years ago I began my photographic journey. Out of the blue my wife bought me a small compact camera as a surprise birthday present. This camera had a great macro lens and I launched into snapping away at everything in the garden. Soon after I bought my first DSLR and started shooting street in my lunch breaks. Since then even though the tools have changed it’s habit which continues today.

SPL (Iain Anderson) Collins Street I.jpg

Q: Looking at your website, you’ve kept easy to navigate. Very minimal, I like that. Bit like your street photography?

Kinda like me too. Simple ;). My site has been through many revamps in both content & form (I know I’m not alone in this), but I’m pretty happy with where it’s at now, so really glad you like it.

SPL (Iain Anderson) Collins Street II.jpg

Q: So on to your “minimal” street photography. It’s very attractive, beautiful use of light vs shade. Is it all shot in Melbourne?

Yes these are all shot in the Melbourne CBD. I still work full time doing finished art, currently for a state government rail project, so these photos are the result of me escaping the cubicle. In my lunch break I can roam approximately 4 city blocks which is why most of my pictures are titled from the same street but with increasing roman numerals. I chose to title this way because I needed a way to distinguish each image & although I’m not too fond of this system (sounds a bit pretentious) trying to come up with unique names made my head hurt. I guess if I start shooting in other cities I’ll need go back and modify them.

SPL (Iain Anderson) Collins Street III.jpg

Q: Very unique. I think I saw other similar shots elsewhere but your have really made it your signature style and built a solid body of work here. Is it all you shoot in street photography or just all you display?

There are indeed other approaches I work on when shooting street, like reflections for instance, which is another series that’s slowly coming together. However that’s a really great point - what you choose to display. 

I believe that in order to get any kind of traction amid the visual noise I needed to present a clear cohesive vision. One of the most vital skills I’ve learned is to ruthlessly edit my portfolio. It’s tough gig. I mean you fall in love with certain photos right? A huge help to me was an article I read years ago by Zack Arias on his process of culling. Now I go through this exercise about once a year and although it remains a love / hate ordeal it’s also an extremely rewarding challenge & one I highly recommend.

SPL (Iain Anderson) Elizabeth Street V.jpg

Q: How long have you been working on it?

I guess it’s been a kind of evolving process, however I began deliberately shooting for this current series about a year ago. Some years prior, after going through the culling process, I realised although I had some nice pictures there was no emotion. None of it made me feel anything. It was a healthy smack in the face.

So I began experimenting with different techniques and scenarios. Basically trying to do anything which was the exact opposite of what I had been doing. Having heard this is a great way of getting out of a funk for anyone, no matter what your creating, I dove in. I was done with playing safe & started pushing the envelope. Hard. I didn’t care what anyone else would think. That’s when I began making photos that really spoke to me.

SPL (Iain Anderson) Little Bourke Street II.jpg

Q: Can you tell us, without revealing all your secrets, how you achieve this high contrast, low exposure kind of shots?

Ha-ha. No worries. All these images are typically straight out of camera b&w jpegs with little to no post other than a slight crop. I also capture the RAW file if I want the colour version. The ‘secret’ is finding the right photographic location.

Using the bright midday sun to provide the greatest contrast I search for areas where small shafts of light cross footpaths. These can be either direct sunlight or dappled such as through an overhanging tree. An important ‘trick’ is to make sure the background of the frame is mostly if not all in shade. From there I set a low ISO, a high enough shutter to freeze movement & crank down the aperture. With the scene set it’s simply a matter of timing. Watching & waiting for the right person to be in the right place at the right time.

SPL (Iain Anderson) Little Collins Street II.jpg

Q: Has it made it into an exhibition yet?

Not as yet. A lot of my friends have been urging me to exhibit, and I definitely want to, although it’s a pretty costly exercise when you start to look at framing. I’d definitely be up for a sponsored situation. Anyone? :) That being said I’m going to make a book this year & talk to some galleries to suss it out further.

SPL (Iain Anderson) Little Collins Street III.jpg

Q: Print sales. How’s that going for you? Any tips? A lot of photographers wonder how they can sell successfully.

The shopping cart was just added to my site last month. I’ve had a few nibbles, but it’s still early days, so I’ll just have to see where it goes. I hear a lot about getting out from behind your camera or computer if you want to market your work. So hopefully the print book and visiting people in the art / gallery space could be a step in the right direction.

SPL (Iain Anderson) Lonsdale Street I.jpg

Q: And then there’s your studio work. You’ve got great characters there. Does it bring food on the table allowing you to focus on street photography on the side?

I continue to make most of my income as a finished artist so almost all my photography is ‘on the side’ at the moment. However I’ve been fortunate that my current employer has encouraged my photography to the extent that I’ve partly incorporated it into my day gig, mainly shooting executive portraits, so the camera is actually putting some food on the table. Yay!

As far as great characters go - here’s the thing. I’m a big believer in ‘show what you want to shoot’. Which is why I’ve elected to generally show non-typical portraits on my site because, hey… who wants to be typical. Right?

SPL (Iain Anderson) McIlwraith Place I.jpg

Q: Something I ask all the photographers I interview. What is the one piece of advice you wish you were given on day one of your photography journey?

“It’s not about the gear.” I had actually heard this advice. But I didn’t listen. Of course it has to be about the gear. I mean how the hell can I make images like some of my heroes unless I use Y camera or Z lens!?!

Like so many people before me & undoubtably like many more to come I learned the hard way. Parting with a lot of cash. It wasn’t till the money was spent & I’d got well over the 10,000 photos that I truly understood that vision trumps gear. Every. Time.


Thanks very much Iain, wise words, great photos and I hope some gallery out there in Melbourne or elsewhere is listening.

See more of Iain Anderson's excellent photography on his website and make sure you follow him on Twitter.

You can also find him on Facebook, Instagram, 500px and G+.

All photos © Iain Anderson