Interview: Kent MacDonald Reveals a Colorful Inner World in His Mysterious Self-Portraits

Kent MacDonald finds inspiration in the lush green forests of his home on Vancouver Island, and he uses them to cultivate a colorful inner life. Photography is his preferred medium for expressing his interior existence, which takes shape as mysterious and marvelous self-portraits. This artistic endeavor is a retreat from the stress of leading a modern life packed with schedules and schoolwork.

In his work, you'll often find a beautiful balance between light and shadow that brings us into the story while inviting us to discover our own meaning. We were grateful to be able to catch up with Kent for a Behind The Lens look into his self-portrait photography. Scroll down to read our exclusive interview.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey into photography?

Looking back on it now I would have to say I was quite reluctant to even use a camera. It's silly to think that at one point in my life I resisted it. Originally it was my sister, Kapri, who wanted to be a photographer. Though she's a year and a half older than me, many people have mistaken us for twins. I felt that photography was her thing and I didn't want to take it away from her as we already were so much alike. It's silly to think that way, I know. But it's nice to have something you can call your own. I ended up going on a high school band trip when I was in grade eight and brought my sister's old digital camera with me. I just dived into it head first when I had the chance. I ended up buying my own DSLR the following summer and haven't looked back since. 

What are some of your interests?

I've been so consumed by work and school that I haven't had much time for anything, so I guess I can say only photography. I will always make time for photography. But ideally I would love to travel more, play my instruments, draw, even to read more would be nice.

What does photography mean to you?

Photography has become a part of me, it is an extension of my mind. I've been so devoted to it this past year that I can't imagine my life without it. Whenever I'm stressed out, I can just pick up my camera and go on an adventure and I instantly find my peace. I can go to it when I'm happy, or when I'm sad, I know either way I'll always have something to turn to as my escape.

You incorporate such imaginative concepts into your photos, what keeps you inspired?

When I first started photography, I found a lot of my inspiration from music. But when I started my 365 project, taking one photo a day for a year, it became difficult to create. I wanted to do something new every day. I wanted to push myself to become a better photographer. I tired to sketch out ideas every night. But that fell through fast. Eventually I stopped trying and just created. I let go of the pressure of perfection and started to do whatever would make me happy. 

How much planning goes into a shoot?

When I was working on my 365 project I stopped planning out every detail, and just created whatever came into my mind that day. Time was a luxury for me and it wasn't something I could afford. Even now I don't do a lot of planning. I just go out into the world and whatever happens happens. About 95% of my 365 is just picking an idea at random and let it bloom.

A lot of your portfolio consists of self-portraits, can you tell us a bit about how you get the perfect shot?

It's been an interesting process. At the beginning of my 365 project I was shooting with a Nikon D3100. I had no remote, just a self-timer and a tripod. Let's just say I was really fit for a bit, constantly running back and forth between shots. It was hard to get the perfect shot when I couldn't pinpoint my line of focus. When I finally upgraded to a Canon 6D that all changed. I now sync my phone to my camera, giving myself a live stream view, and use it as my wireless shutter release. It's honestly so much easier as I can get the perfect shot a lot faster now. Even though it has become easier to see, it still takes a lot of goofing around to find the right pose.

How do you light your photos? Do you use artificial or natural light?

For the most part I tend to stick with natural lighting. Partly because the sun is free, but mostly I prefer natural light as it only enhances the style I tend to shoot in. The artificial lighting that I have access to is just too harsh.

What's a must have in your gear bag?

I like to work inexpensively so all I have in my bag is just my camera and one lens. But as long as you have a good piece of glass and a good head on your shoulders you don't really need anything else. The world is your oyster, go crazy, get dirty, and experiment within the limitations in your environment. It'll only make you better at what you do.

When is your favorite time to shoot?

As I had mentioned earlier I view time as a luxury. Living a busy life I've been forced to shoot in all sorts of conditions. I'll take what I can get, and work with what I got. Sometimes a concept takes specific conditions and specific lighting. If by chance I have the time to wait for the perfect lighting, I would have to say the hour before and during golden hour.

How would you define your style?

I would consider myself a fine art/conceptual photographer. But I'm still experimenting, so who knows where I'll go and what I'll be creating over the next year. I'd like to try to do a bit more professional portraits and dabble into fashion photography.

What message do you want your photographs to convey?

I've never really thought about what message I want to convey. Most of the photos taken during my 365 are open for interpretation. I want my work to make you feel something, but I think it's something for you to decide. Sending a personal message that's needed for each individual. You see what you need to see.

What challenges have you faced while creating?

Just coming up with a concept is challenging enough. I mean when you're creating every day for a whole year, you get worn down fast. I've learned to just keep shooting. Eventually I'll get something. Sometimes you need to start shooting before an idea will even form. Also finding the time to shoot has been very challenging.

How much post-processing goes into a completed photo?

I probably spend a minimum of 30 minutes out shooting and then I can easily spend hours editing. This past year, as a whole, maybe about 3-5 hours on each photo?

What are your plans for the future? Do you have any upcoming projects?

Well, as of right now, I'm now working on a 52 week project. I still want to be active, but I need to put more time into my studies–something I haven't been doing much of lately. I guess I want to start moving toward a more professional level as I still consider myself an amateur photographer. I know I'll be taking part in a small gallery show at my university, which is pretty neat. I'd like to get my work out there a bit more. Also, having a bit more knowledge about being a professional photographer would probably help me.

Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

As often as everyone says it: Shoot as often as you can. Experiment, get dirty; if you don't push yourself, you won't get better. At the end of the day if you've put you best effort in then you'll see improvements.

Thank you so much Kent! If you would like to stay up to date with this creative photographer's work, please visit his Flickr.

Are you a photographer? Would you like to be interviewed for our Behind The Lens series? Leave your website in the comments below!

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