Mark Watson is a well known commercial photographer based in Sydney, Australia. Specialising in the area of adventure and sports, his photography has taken him to some of the most remote places on the earth, capturing people doing sport in every walk of life. Freelancing or what is known as working for yourself, Mark Watson photographs for various magazine and editorial companies, and is Red Bull Australia’s key photographer. From shooting surfing, to rock-climbing to mountain hiking and skiing, Mark Watson is a photographer who is only going to make his name bigger. Below is our interview with Mark in which we talked about what it’s like to photograph in places so vastly different from the Australian landscape.
How did you begin photography?
Photography was probably the only thing that really peaked my interest when I was younger, say 16 or 17. I loved playing sports, but it wasn’t until after school that I went and completed a course in scientific photography. The course that we did was heavily based around the scientists but then also doing the history of photography, photographing nudes with the art students, then going along and photographing a dissected frog – it was very dynamic (laughs). It’s nice now to enjoy a challenge with photography, I’m always looking for the next opportunity.
What has been one of the best experiences travelling overseas?
(laughs) That is an incredibly tough question I have hundreds (laughs). The things that most stand out in my memory probably have to be photographing for Red Bull. One of the first jobs I did I was photographing on a boat in the Kimberly’s and our subject were the cliff divers. It’s such a majestic sport, and they were basically doing high diving, but off a 25 metre cliff face, it was incredible to photograph and watch them. From an inspirational point of view it was definitely one of the highlights of my career. Actually another sort of wow moment was when I was photographing a cloud (it sounds very interesting I know) but it was so fascinating to see this shock wave in the sky made of a fluffy cloud (laughs). It’s a crazy cloud because you can surf it in a hang glider and it was very mesmerising – no one knows how or why it occurs which made it so unique.
What made you think, “I’m going to do this on my own, I like working for myself.” Did you have an opportunity to work for a larger commercial company or was freelancing the best option for you?
I naturally fell into freelancing. After a stint living in London I came back to Oz and basically said to myself “now it’s time to give this photography thing a go properly” and so I just launched into photographing the sports and activities I loved. I looked for my niche and approached magazine editors, I networked and spoke to industry professionals and then networked some more… my career stemmed from there. I have been fortunate to land on my feet on a number of occasions with some great clients but I am a huge believer in : “You make your own luck” and so I pursued everything I could to do exactly that. I never really pursued a position at a commercial agency.
What do you think makes a photograph of a person so special? Is it the lighting, their expression or a combination of all those elements?
Photography is about “the moment”. It is a combination of personality, expression, composition, ambience, lighting, energy … and more. When all these elements come together you achieve a great photo. However I truly believe lighting is the key to all great photos. The difference between a nice photo and an amazing photo is often simply good ‘lighting’. So much can be done with light… backlighting can create a soft look by exposing for the foreground and blowing out the background, side lighting can create a dramatic look of the same subject … there is a reason landscape photographers photograph predominantly around dawn and dusk – the low warm light portrays our planet in it’s best possible hues.
Do you think living in Australia limited the growth of your career when you first began working as a photographer?
Living in Australia can be both an advantage and disadvantage. For myself I think it helped in my initial years, that I was able to concentrate on the field of adventure photography where at the time there were limited others pursuing this vocation professionally. Personally I do not tend to ‘travel to find work’ but rather ‘my work allows me to travel’… it is natural in my field of commercial & editorial adventure photography. There are certainly a plethora of amazing opportunities both here and internationally, and no doubt more-so overseas because the numbers and demand are greater. I am sure in the fields of fashion and more mainstream commercial applications there are only limited opportunities in Australia but for many applications including my focus, there is plentiful work here as long as you can prove you are reliable and able to deliver the results your clients demand… but this philosophy works worldwide. Living in Australia with a smaller pool of full time professional photographers also helped me achieve both Nikon and Lowepro sponsorships because my profile was more recognisable and distinguishable from my competition whereby in the USA there would be 10 times as many photographers competing for the same titles.
What image are you most proud of and why?
I really do not have a ‘favourite image’ because my everyday emotional state will change one favourite to another. I have a great BASE jump / climbing photo that was difficult to co-ordinate, but I also have a really nice portrait of chilean fisherman that evokes amazing memories of an adventure of Southern Patagonia. I have a blow-your-mind photo of a hanglider cloud-surfing a phenomenon called an undular-bore which resulted from a combination of extensive planning, a little luck and an amazing athlete, but also a mountain bike photo I photographed for a commercial client that really portrays what mountain biking in the Australian Alps is all about. Only a few days a go I was able to remotely fire a camera fixed to a freestyle motocross riders handlebars while also remotely firing 3 flashed to enable the system to hyper-sync and capture an image just after sunset… which is bloody hard to do and a photo I am super proud of – simply because technically it is very difficult to achieve and not many people could pull it off. The list goes on.
What are five things you wish you had been told about before beginning photography?
1. Don’t drink and shoot – out of focus party photos are not ‘art’.
2. Don’t stand in knee deep snow on top of a glacier at midnight or you will get first degree frost bite.
3. Professional photography is not about getting a great photo’s but rather ‘guaranteeing’ great photos.
4. Always have a UV filter on all your lenses or else a rock will definitely go through the front lens element.
5. Don’t carry 17kg of camera gear on a dual-sports motorbike luggage-rack only rated to 13kg.
You can view Mark’s portfolio and latest projects at his website at www.inciteimages.com. Thanks for the interview Mark and good luck on your future endeavours.