Pro Photographer Interview: Stephen McAnulla

January 21

15 min. to read

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A photographer's background has a way of influencing the creativity of Stephen McAnulla.

A photographer's background has a way of influencing their creativity. Such is the case with photographer Stephen McAnulla. In this interview he shares with us the unique way in which his interesting background inspires his work. Read on and get inspired!

Maphun Team: What inspires your photography?

Stephen: That's a great question that I'm sure most photographers have a hard time nailing down. And I'm sure most photographers would say everything inspires their photography. I'm really no exception there. I was a musician for over 20 years and toured around the country in various bands, put out multiple albums, created artwork for those albums, designed our websites, etc. So music has been a huge inspiration in my life from the very beginning. And that definitely doesn't stop at photography. Whether I'm doing a photo shoot or I'm in Photoshop taking care of post production there is almost always music going unless I'm outdoors with a family shoot or a wedding, etc. Music has a way of really changing the way I approach a photo shoot or see an image I’ve taken. This is why I often name my fine art pieces after songs or lyrics. There have been certain songs that I would put on a loop for hours while I work on a specific image just to get the right mood.

Beyond music being an inspiration for my work, I would have to say the subject is equally an inspiration. That subject can be a background or a human being, or pretty much anything I'm taking a photo of. When I get behind the camera I can usually tell if a shot is good right after I've snapped the button. I've always compared it to bowling. You know that feeling when you release the ball and before it even reaches the pens you already can tell it is going to be a strike? It's very similar to that.Pro Photographer Interview:   Stephen McAnulla Image1

Photography is all about inspiration, because you're actually just trying to capture something that's already there and taking your breath away. What we do in post is the salt and pepper of an already delicious recipe. So when I'm working with a subject that brings a lot to the table, whether it be clothing, personality, or unique expression in their face, I feel inspiration.

When I go through the possibly hundreds of photos I've taken of my subjects, I do what I call the two-second rule. I flip through the images very quickly, and if something doesn't grab me within two seconds I move on. Some images jump out immediately, and some I move on and then say “Wait, what was that?”. Then I go back to that image. Because some photos are like pop music and stick in your head immediately. Other images are like indie / alternative songs. You don't always like it right away, but something sticks just enough to make you go back and listen (or in this case…view) again and again until it becomes an obsession. So everything inspires my photography….. truly everything.

Pro Photographer Interview:   Stephen McAnulla Image2

Skylum Team: What's one thing that you've learned that you wish you knew when you first started?

Stephen: Patience. Something I was never good with growing up. Even in music I would cut corners to get a product out as fast as I possibly could. Photography was no exception when I started. I would whip out images carelessly fast without paying attention to the fine details and think to myself “wow this is freaking amazing, I have to show this to everybody right now!”. Then I'd have this horrible let down feeling after posting my work on various Facebook groups after receiving criticism that was often quite good advice. But the advice made me feel like I had failed. In my mind the image was already complete. But in reality I was putting my work out there before letting it set for a while. I’ve learned it’s good to give your eyes a rest and come back the next day or longer to see your work with fresh eyes. Honestly I'm still guilty of doing this at times.  Who doesn't want that instant fix? But I've gotten much more deliberate in my process for the most part.Pro Photographer Interview:   Stephen McAnulla Image3

I have what I consider very solid images on my hard drive that have sat for over a year without being touched. After you take enough photos, you realize there is a time and a place for everything to come together. And when I feel that spark I run with it like my hair just caught fire. And if I finish the image, that's great! But sometimes I only get half way through and put it down for awhile. I wait for the rest of the inspiration to hit in its own time. I try not to ever force the process.

I generally try to be more careful (now) about releasing an image before I know it is truly finished. That doesn't mean it won't receive criticism still. You can never please everybody. But if I can walk away from an image and look at it weeks or months later and still love most everything about it, I feel a sense of accomplishment. So much of my early work I've considered going back and fixing. I rarely do this though. I feel all artists grow over time and there's no use rehashing the past. I will make an exception now and then if an image truly calls for something special and new that I was unable to give it earlier on.

Skylum Team: What's one photography goal that you have for 2015?

Stephen: One of my goals for 2015 is to tackle social networking. I find it difficult to balance the time I spend doing photography and the time spent promoting my work. It can be very discouraging to spend endless hours promoting and not get the results you were hoping for. Social media is a landscape that is constantly shifting, evolving…..changing. What works for advertising today is old news tomorrow. I've always struggled with the networking aspect because you have to literally throw yourself out there and all but beg for viewers or followers. This year I'm doing lots of research on more effective ways of reaching larger audiences. I'm watching tutorials about business and marketing so that I can save time in my efforts. Knowing the proper steps and channels that will best serve my art is going to be key for my business this year. I have lots of other goals of course, but this one is a hurdle that is very high on my list at the moment.Pro Photographer Interview:   Stephen McAnulla Image4Skylum Team: Tell us about your favorite part of the process (interacting with people, post-processing, teaching).

Stephen: My favorite part of the process is different from project to project. It really depends on the type of work I'm doing. I love it all so much, it's really hard to narrow down a ‘favorite’. So let me narrow it down to a specific area of work I do first, and what my favorite facet is.

Take composite photography for instance. My favorite part of the process is walking or driving around for hours in a location I've never been to before. Trying to capture background shots for future composite images. It's where my imagination goes wild. I'll drive all the way to a large city just so I can spend a few days walking around with nothing but a tripod and my camera. I'll spend 6 to 8 hours in a single day shooting thousands of photos. I tend to shoot most of them in HDR.

I don't really like photos that ‘look’ like they are HDR anymore, but I still shoot in HDR. This is mainly because of the freedom I have in post to choose how I want the images to look. I can make a photo look like it was taken at midnight or noon, no matter what time of day I took the image. That’s the power of HDR. And I used to really over-process my HDR photography. Overly textured/gritty, super saturated or somewhat desaturated, over the top and cartoonish. I have worked hard to dial all of that style back and go for a more realistic vibe. HDR is merely a tool for me to have as much control over my highlights and shadows as possible at this point in my career. I'd be just as happy getting the perfect shot with a single exposure. And I've had a lot of luck with that lately. It just takes a lot of practice and again… patience.Pro Photographer Interview:   Stephen McAnulla Image5Skylum Team: How did you get started using Skylum apps and which is your favorite?

Stephen: I got started with Snapselect. I got it pretty much the day it came out. I shoot a lot of weddings where there are hundreds or even thousands of photos to sort through. When I found out that Skylum created a program that could drastically reduce the time I have to spend sifting through these images, I didn't hesitate to purchase it. And I absolutely love this program. I can't wait to see how it evolves over the next year. It has dramatically sped up my work flow. It has given me precious time back to put towards my editing and marketing. It's hard to put a price tag on that. Time is more valuable than money to me.

If I had to pick a favorite program by Skylum it would be ‘Intensify’. It is truly an all-in-one tool kit. I would have to write a book explaining why I picked this program as my favorite. So if I had to sum up, I would say this program opens my imagination and has helped me see things in my photo editing process very differently. I love the presets because I can click on them until I see something that interests me with a particular photo I'm working on. Then I go into the fine controls and start tweaking that preset so that it's customized to my liking and unique from any one else's settings. And best of all, I can then create my own preset from that, establishing a uniform look or starting point for a series of images quickly and easily.

About Stephen

Stephen McAnulla is a photo artist that aims to make his subjects look timeless and larger than life.  His images all tell a story or showcase something very specific about the people or places captured. He goes into each new project striving to create the best art he has ever put forth. You can see more of his work here.

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