On a hectic Wednesday afternoon, I hastened from my tutorial and promptly made my way through the crowd at the Union. I was on my way to interview Abi Reid, the winner of St Andrews Photosoc’s Greenspiration Competition. Abi’s adept photography skills have long been ubiquitous in the photography community on campus. Yet, this photo competition held in celebration of Green Week brought her reputation to a new level as she astounded everybody with her Northern Lights photo. While I was consumed in the buzzing questions that I could not wait to ask, the girl sat calmly in the Main Bar as if she had turned the spot into her cozy niche. She greeted me with a warm smile, paving the way for a fun and candid interview.
The Saint: Can you tell me more about yourself, and your photography background?
Abi Reid: I am a third year studying International Relations and Anthropology. I am from Canada, which helps with photographing nature. My town is quite small, and even though it does not have the prettiest landscape, it’s still nature. I absolutely love the mountains and the water and enjoy taking photos of these landscapes. I got into photography at 16. I like to learn things and acquiring photography skills has been a fulfilling experience. Youtube helped me a lot. For the Northern Light picture that I submitted, I spent weeks before going on that trip on Youtube and random websites to teach myself about long exposure. I would then test this technique out at night by taking pictures of the stars to perfect it.
TS: What does photography mean to you, and what do you think makes a memorable photograph?
AR: When I was younger I took photos during trips as my mom and brother are photographers as well. I guess I gradually I reached a mature age where I learned to appreciate the things around me and this recognition urged me to capture them. Even now when I go home I would bring my camera around to take pictures of the things that I used to overlook. As regards to what makes a memorable photograph, there is no secret formula. You could take a shot of a random thing and make it different. You just have to think about framing and lighting. It boils down to what you feel like capturing at the moment and making it memorable for yourself!
TS: What are some tips that you wish you knew when you first started photography?
AR: I wish I learned to value quality over quantity. I used to take dozens of photographs at once out of fear but would end up not using any of them. I remember vividly years ago when I was taking so many photos of this waterfall and then one picture of something else. I ended up finding that only one picture to be worthy. I gradually managed to capture different things in different lights and not spend so much time taking many photos of any particular subject.
TS: How has social media played a role in your photography?
AR: Whenever I go on a trip and take photos I would upload them the next day on Facebook and Instagram. It’s nice to get feedback. Some of my friends are also photographers so social media is an efficient way to share and appreciate each other’s work. One of my best friends, Lesley, has significantly exerted influence over my works and inspired me to be a better photographer. Funnily enough, if it were not for her encouraging me, I would not have entered the Greenspiration Contest.
TS: When you take photos, do you plan them out in advance or is it a spur-of-the-moment thing?
AR: I love planning. I would go on Instagram and look at the photos that people took of the location that I am heading to. In general I do more planning but sometimes if I see something eye-catching, I would pull over while driving to take photos of them as well. Some of my favorite photos were actually not planned. You can only plan to a certain extent, really. You have to use your intuition as you go along to capture the full effects of what you see around you.
TS: How do you get your photographs to say what you want?
AR: I’m not sure if all of my photographs say something. A lot of them are just snapshots of the beauty of the landscape. They don’t convert an emotion. They are not anything like images that speak to history. In January, I took portraits of people from behind at busy tourist spot. I tried to convey the message that photography could be idiosyncratic. I think it’s powerful if one can deliver a positive message through an image but that would be quite a daunting task.
TS: Could you share your experience of taking the Northern Lights photo with us?
AR: The picture was taken four years ago in Yellowknife, Canada. It is a very isolated area and you can only fly there from two places. The experience of taking pictures during the northern lights was quite overwhelming. Everything was happening simultaneously and I was so committed to take different photos that I was moving around all the time and would forget what I was doing. It was negative 40 degrees Celsius outside so I would take pictures, go by a fire to warm up, then go back out again.
TS: The results were definitely rewarding though! Is there a photography who has influenced you greatly?
AR: I don’t really follow well-known photographers, although I often admire Ben Brown’s ability to capture attention by sheer contrast in his images. I applaud people who can take photos that are unique to a specific place through different styles of framing.
TS: How do you find life at St Andrews?
AR: Life here is very chill, but probably because I’m not the most social person. There are more societies and activities that I could join but I’m pretty lazy (which I celebrate). As compared to the North American grouping style, I find the environment to be much more independent here. My flatmates and I live together even though we all have different interest so I find it exciting in that regard.
TS: Where do you go to take photos here?
AR: In my free time I like going to the ruins, especially the castle and the cathedrals. Both East and West Sands are lovely as well. You know that feeling when you are at the pier during sunset, then you turn your back and you can see the silhouette of the town? Like it was planned for us! A special thing about the small town of St Andrews is that you can walk around multiple times and still find new things every time. There is just so much history that you feel empowered. I specifically enjoy walking down Church Street and admire the red and green door located next to each other. I have a tradition of going there to take a picture after I finish my exams and declare that it’s officially time to celebrate Christmas!
TS: Do you have any photography goals that you set to achieve?
AR: Photography is more a hobby that takes me to different places. With my camera, I can capture what I see wherever I go. It’s pretty much my escape from the rest of the world. I did photography during the summer to help out and I found it to be a burden as I had to photograph events and edit them by a certain deadline. I would rather keep photography as my separate, personal thing and not bring stress to it.
TS: What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer?
AR: The main takeaway is you don’t have to aim for the best photographs in the world. Who’s to say what is best, anyways? It matters more how you find your own works. There is also no need for a fancy camera. You can capture anything you would like with your phone as photography is meant to be an accessible outlet. The internet is there to guide you along the way, and it has been a great journey for me as I continue to learn about myself and define my interests through photography.