|Written by Mark Harwood & Tina Dieterle|
|Thursday, 06 September 2007 11:33|
Mark is a graduate of the University College for the Creative Arts in Kent and worked as an assistant with some of the world’s best advertising, fashion, corporate and editorial photographers before establishing his own central London studio. He shoots a very broad range of work for an extensive a varied clientele, both in his studio and on location worldwide. During his career he has gained many awards including British Design and Art Direction (D&AD), The Magazine Publishers Awards, The Ilford Awards and The Mead Annual Report Show, New York (best of show).
‘I got my first camera at the age of four and I can still recall the moment. I was at the seaside with my Mother and we had no bucket & spade, so went to the beach shop to buy one. Whilst waiting in the queue, a little Kodak camera caught my eye and when we got to the counter I asked if I could have that instead. I’ve still got it.
I started out by shooting reportage work because I love travelling, meeting people and getting involved with stories and capturing moments, but I was also hungry for knowledge and to try other things so I went to art college for 3 years simply to immerse myself in all the creative opportunities that were on offer.
My interview was comical really, I had no prior experience of art education and I realized that I would have to show some work. Almost everything I shot in those days was on Kodachrome, so I took a little yellow plastic box that they used to send the mounted slides back from the lab in, chose a couple of dozen of my favourite pictures and put it in my pocket. When I got to the interview there was a hallway full of art students with the biggest portfolio cases I had ever seen, I was hugely intimidated and realised my error. The interview was with all the senior staff of the department and I could see them all looking around me with puzzled expressions and when they asked whether I’d brought a portfolio I answered ‘yes, of course’ and placed my little box on the desk. I think they were genuinely stunned at my naivety but they didn’t laugh out loud and offered me a place.
During my time there I would get myself work in the photographic industry during the holidays and through this, got to meet photographers who started to book me as an assistant on shoots. It was through this work that I was able to appreciate the technical demands and creative opportunities of all aspects of commercial photography and I loved the variety of experience that it provided. Art College was a great broad creative education but the working environment was what provided me with the tools of my trade, so to speak.
I continued as an assistant photographer immediately after Art College, first as a full-time assistant and than as a freelance while I was developing my own portfolio of work and then finally took the plunge and moved into my first studio in Covent Garden. The Sunday Times Magazine was my earliest regular client I think, followed by other magazines, design companies, advertising agencies and corporate clients.
It was good that as a photographer I was able to continue to do the broad mix of work I was familiar with as an assistant because I’ve never wanted to specialize in just one thing. I do shoot a lot of studio still-life, I like the discipline and perfection but then the next day I can be out on location for a corporate client in the middle of a noisy factory, shooting a portrait from a ladder on top of the BT tower (health and safety….pah!), or a landscape in a Dutch snowstorm! The main thing for me is to avoid repetition and to be discovering new things and making new pictures.
To this end I have equipment that enables me to produce the technical and creative quality that my clients expect of me. I use all camera formats and types, both film and digital and have studio and location lighting equipment for every eventuality, including some custom designed lighting which I’ve has built for specific purposes.
Large and medium format systems were therefore the norm, 35mm was mainly for my ‘happy snaps’. Now, with small format digital having grown so rapidly in quality, I can go back to shooting with Nikon for quite a lot of my work, especially where variety, speed and portability are key elements of the shoot. If there is a client with us they can then see the results in glorious detail on a laptop and even edit and drop the images into layouts there and then.
It’s great to have access to super wide, super telephoto and zoom lenses of such versatility and quality that I can happily put the results together with material shot on medium and large format film and digital backs. I am super-picky though when it comes to my choice of lenses and will admit to being nerdy enough to shoot tests on new lenses before I use them on jobs. I have several Sigma optics which have become firm ‘must-haves’ whenever packing for location and often in the studio as well.
I think the 14mm was one of the first, mainly because when I tested it, it seemed to equal the Nikon version in image quality but at a far more attractive price. Having seen the results obtained from this I started to look at other focal lengths and the 100-300mm fitted a gap in my lens collection and has proven to be an excellent performer. This was followed by Sigma Macro lenses, which are superb, the 180mm being a big favourite. The 12-24mm fitted another gap, its lack of distortion is truly remarkable in such a design and the 30mm f1.4 has proven indispensable for available light photography and travel.
I think Sigma are great optical innovators, often seeing a gap in the market and providing photographers with unique lens designs of high quality and at very keen prices’.