EWW: When you talk about yourself on your website, you comment that you interact with all sorts of photographers on a daily basis and this enables you to see what works and what doesn’t for almost every type of photographer. Can you describe in general terms the different type of photographers you encounter?
Mark: I work with a range of photographers, from professionals who have been shooting and creating for many years, to people who are just starting out and embracing their creative passion for the first time. Some of my professional clients and students shoot weddings and portraits, while others travel around the world shooting for magazines and industrial concerns. It’s not uncommon for me to get a panicked phone call from a professional client who’s on assignment in Paris or Dubai because their workflow isn’t working the way they should be and they need advice.
I also work with lots of photographers who are making fine art, helping them understand how to get the most from today’s digital photographic tools. Some are professional artists represented by galleries, while most are making art simply because they enjoy the process. Because I work with a number of these clients on a regular basis, I have the unique experience of watching them find an idea and explore it in ways I would have never considered. Sometimes I see two different people working with the same idea, but from completely different directions. Being privy to so many creative processes and getting to know the people behind them is one of the things I like most about what I do.
EWW: from your viewpoint, when does a photograph move from being purely documentation and move into being a work of fine art photography?
Mark: This is always a tough question. Though I was deep into photography and art in college, I majored in Philosophy. I felt that art and philosophy are both concerned with asking questions and exploring the answers. I wanted to learn to ask those questions from a different point of view than what I was used to so I concentrated on philosophy. Anyway, in one class we spent the entire semester trying to answer the question, “What is Art?” We discussed art from just about every direction we could think of, but at the end of the semester we still didn’t have a definitive answer.
I’m still looking for the answer to the question of “What is art?” Whenever I consider the question it usually comes down to two things. What was the maker’s intent when creating the piece? And what is the perception of the piece by the viewer? Either of these thought processes is capable of creating this thing we call “art”. It’s something that goes on inside us rather than existing outside of us.
EWW: After taking a look at some of your photography, it seems to me that “Structures” seems to provide a lot of inspiration for you. Is that correct and if it is, what is inspiring about this subject matter.
Mark: Though I photograph all sorts of things, I’m drawn to structures of all sorts. I know a photographer who won’t go on a shoot unless there are animals. It’s kind of the opposite for me. I enjoy nature and like having animals in my life, but when it comes to photography I’m more interested in the urban landscape. I enjoy exploring shiny new buildings almost as much as dilapidated, crumbling structures. I find the interiors of structures as interesting at the exteriors. I’m currently working on a project titled “After the Shift” that is a sort of documentation of empty workspaces. My goal is to tell part of the story of the person who works in the space without showing the person.
EWW: Are there any other types of subject matter that inspire you or is it the photographic possibilities of a shot with something that you see, which inspires you more?
Mark: There are definitely types of subjects that inspire me. Sometimes that’s because I know the types of possibilities they hold. For example, I really like old, grungy machinery and buildings because I know the subject matter responds to my style of shooting and postproduction. Sometimes I’m attracted to a particular subject because I see it in a new way. This is one of the joys of being an artist – looking for new ways to see things.
I am also attracted to particular scenes because of things that are more about the scene than the things in it. For example, I really respond to bilateral symmetry. Whenever I see it, I want to photograph it. Another example is my work is very much about color and texture. If I see a scene that has amazing color and or texture, I’m going to try to find an interesting way to capture it no matter what the subject matter.
EWW: In addition to your own photography, you are an instructor and author of several books. From your perspective as an instructor, what is the most common issue(s) that people bring to your workshops about “Lightroom”?
Mark: The biggest problem I see with Lightroom users is that they don’t understand Lightroom’s catalog system. A photo doesn’t exist in Lightroom until it’s imported. Lightroom uses a catalog to keep track of photos you import. A good analogy is the card catalog at the library. When new books are added to the library, they are also entered into the card catalog system. The books are on the shelves and information about them is in the card catalog. It’s the same with the photos and Lightroom. The photo files are on the hard drive and information about them is in the catalog.
The problem arises when a Lightroom user does something like move, rename, or delete a photo file outside of Lightroom. When that happens, Lightroom loses track of the photo and places the dreaded Missing File icon on it. Working with photo files outside of Lightroom is like walking into the library, picking up a book, and moving it to a completely different shelf without updating the catalog. No one will able to use the card catalog to find the book.
The most important thing to understand about Lightroom is that it uses a catalog. Everything must be done within that catalog. If I want to rename, move, or delete a file, I do it in Lightroom. Lightroom takes care of the file on the hard drive and updates the catalog. If you follow that rule religiously, you should never have files go missing from the catalog.
EWW: What would you say is the most common issue(s) the people bring to your workshops, about “Photoshop”?
Mark: Total confusion. Photoshop is an incredibly powerful program that has image editing tools for just about anyone who works with digital image files. But photographers don’t need all those tools. Photoshop is like going to a big-box hardware store and asking for one of each tool in the store. Then putting the tools into a giant toolbox. Sure, it would be great to have such an extensive assembly of tools. But if you’re an electrician, most of those tools are in the way of the ones you need most of the time. If you’re just learning to become an electrician, the overwhelming mass of tools in your toolbox makes it difficult to know which tools to pay attention to and which to ignore.
My job in a Photoshop class is to help students find a path through the clutter and identify the tools they need to pay attention to and how to use them to craft the kinds of images the want to make. Learning to use Photoshop can take time, but when it’s mastered the rewards are obvious. An artist fluent in Photoshop can do just about anything they can imagine with its powerful toolset.
EWW: There appears to be a growing number of photographers that spend a lot of time working in HDR. I know this is subjective, but in your opinion, when is HDR used correctly and when is it not used correctly? From your perspective, are their any guidelines that can be used to determine whether a work is created in a more traditional style or in HDR?
Mark: HDR (High Dynamic Range) has become a loaded term in photography. It’s a system of shooting a series of exposures of the same subject and then processing them together to extend the dynamic range of the scene. Some commercial photographers, such as architectural photographers live and die by HDR. Without it, they are unable to record the broad range of tones that present themselves on a typical architectural shoot. HDR is also popular with artists because the process can be twisted and pushed to create highly stylized images. When most people hear the term “HDR” they imagine these stylized images rather than the realistic images, such as architectural, that also make use of the technique.
I have a strong opinion about HDR, which might surprise you. If a user understands how to use the software and is exploring a creative vision, I don’t believe it can be used incorrectly. Some people really hate the “HDR look” where colors and textures are strongly amplified. I recently heard a photographer tell students that friends shouldn’t let friends go too far with HDR. I find this incredibly frustrating. These kinds of rules prevent students from exploring the possibilities and potentially missing out on the opportunity to discover a new way of expressing themselves.
My advice with HDR and other expressive techniques is push them to the limits to see what’s possible on each end of the spectrum. How can you find your creative voice if you don’t try singing all of the notes? If other people don’t like what you’re doing, that’s okay because someone else probably will.
EWW: Tell us about your training in photography as well as in the topic areas that you conduct workshops?
Mark: I got into the photography business when I began working at a professional photolab in 1978. I worked for one of the largest lab companies in the country and was surrounded by lots of talented photographers. Some were coworkers and others were lab clients. All of them were supportive and sharing with knowledge and equipment. It was like nirvana for a young photographer. I spent 20 years in the lab business, always working on the production side where I was involved in high-end image-making every day. During that time I also worked on my education, receiving degrees in advertising art and philosophy.
After leaving the lab business in 1999, I took a 2-year sabbatical and focused on learning about the newly emerging digital photography scene in general and Photoshop specifically. I already knew what great looking images should look like. I just needed to learn how to make them with the new technology. I began doing postproduction work for photographers I knew, but quickly switched my focus to teaching photographers the things I’ve learned from a lifetime in the business.
I currently teach and lecture on Photoshop, Lightroom, HDR, and workflow in general. I’m adjunct faculty at a couple of local colleges and teach regularly at Newspace Center for Photography here in Portland, Oregon. I just finished my latest book for Wiley Publishing, “Zen of Postproduction”, that details the workflow I teach using Lightroom and Photoshop. I also stay involved in the photographic scene locally and nationally. I am President of the Portland Metropolitan Photographers Association and on the National Council for Professional Photographers of America.
EWW: What do you see as major challenges for photographers today?
Mark: One of the hardest things for today’s photographers is staying on top of the quickly evolving world of photography while choosing a sensible path through it. I meet some photographers who are into the technology so much that they need to try every new camera and software program that comes along. I agree that it’s important to be aware of changes in the industry, but people who dabble with everything rarely have the time to master any specific hardware of software because the next new thing is constantly distracting them. Photographers need to find a place in the photo world that’s comfortable technologically and allows them to express themselves. Then they need to spend some time exploring that place and pushing it until they find it limits them. I guess what I’m saying is don’t depend on the gadgets to make art, find it within yourself and then use the gadgets you’re comfortable with to bring your vision to fruition. If you need something new to accomplish your vision, then add it to your toolset and explore everything you can do with it
EWW: In your opinion, what are the minimal activities that a photographer should be doing in terms of promotion and marketing?
Mark: Networking is the number one thing most photographers seem to miss. I used to think networking was about trying to sell something to someone. That’s not it at all. Networking is about getting to know people in your sphere of influence. When you get to know people and they like you, they not only will do business with you, they will also refer you to other people. Get out there and get to know people who are potential customers, as well as potential competitors because you never know when today’s competition will become tomorrow’s collaborator.
An online presence is also important and a website is a must. But when you build your website be sure to have some information about you and what you’re doing. I see way too many photographers load up their website with lots of photos and no story to tell me about them. I know “the photo is supposed to tell the story”, but if you want to develop a following take the time to write about yourself and your work.
EWW: Do you use social media to market your work and if you do, why or why not?
Mark: I actively use Facebook and LinkedIn to build an intentional community of photographers around me. But I don’t use either to do a hard sell of my work or my teaching. Instead I try to share current projects and let people know about me and some of my images. I am actively creating new work but because most of my time is focused on teaching marketing, my art is on a back burner at the moment.