Hello – my name is Marc, and I'm incredibly honored to be The Momtographers' first featured Poptographer! I'm a husband, father, photographer and a graphic designer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
With respect to my career background, I used to be in the IT field, but very quickly figured out it wasn't for me... after 3 2/3 years and, unfortunately, a college loan - but I'll get into that later. Seven years ago, I moved into graphic design and have been working in web design, environmental graphics and advertising and on projects ranging from handmade wedding programs to interactive calendars and others in between. I've always had an affinity for photography, whether or not I was actually shooting. Currently, I'm transitioning to shooting full-time, with design at the hip. And for the curious, I'm influenced creatively by many things – fashion, illustration and street graphics, just to name a few.
I hold my father responsible for planting the photographic seed. I remember the Canon AE-1 that he brought home from Japan, after docking there when he was in the Navy in the early 80s. The body was heavy, all black and he had two primes, a zoom (the push/pull style) and an external flash. He never let me shoot with it though, probably for fear that I might drop it. Ironically, he dropped it, rendering the auto-advance mechanism useless. So by the time I inherited it for my first photography class, it was all about the thumb for advancing the film. I actually I still pick up that camera today as an exercise in shooting more thoughtfully and less instantly. It was my first photography class that began to grow the seed and the second to water it a bit more. However, my affinity for the art is what has kept me interested in photography, even when the desire to shoot lay dormant.
I had taken pictures of my son, Naya, from the beginning, but at that time they were merely snapshots, taken quickly for the sake of recording milestones. It wasn't until late 2008 that suddenly, everything clicked. I started to develop more of a style,artistry and better sensibility with respect to environments, processing, etc. Along the way, I've had three major "AHA!" moments:
1999: While pursuing a business degree in college the first time around, I had one remaining elective to fulfill my graduation requirement. I decided to take photography. One late night in the darkroom, about a month before graduation, I was developing prints and I had a moment - an epiphany if you will - amidst the smell of fixer and the sound of running water. It told me that I should've been pursuing a career in the creative field from the beginning! I still graduated with a business degree, but that was the just the beginning.
2001: A year or two into my design school experience, I took another photography class. It was much like the first class I took, only this time, I discovered the idea of high contrast in my black and white photographs. When I saw those first prints with deep blacks and bright whites and the clarity of the picture elements, it was love at first sight!
Fast forward to late 2008: I discovered the work of a friend who at that time, recently had a baby girl. Seeing his images inspired me to pick my old DSLR back up again. That's when I really started to shoot on the regular. It was this experience that fueled and re-ignited the log that been smoldering inside of me. Since then, I've been shooting more consistently, honing the craft and developing my style.
The way I tell any story is to approach it with an eye of a documentarian. To me, that means having a background and understanding about a subject, knowing what I want to capture about it and capturing it as best I can. When it comes to actual shooting, I don't always go for the obvious shots. I usually pursue the insightful, non-obvious moments – the kind that occur behind the scenes or as I put it – things that happen outside the crop. It's almost always about the "in-betweeners" and the "moments after", because that's where the goodies are hiding. It's the second the subject lets their guard down, and has little care for the camera. It's also about capturing the real and authentic.
Parents commonly want to see smiling, joyful photographs of their children - while there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, I see something beautiful in photographs where a child, namely my own son, in one of his "down" moments. Life isn't always peachy, and I try to reflect it in my work. Again, it comes back to what's real.
When it comes to telling the story through a series of images, editing is really important. If I shoot 50 images, only about 10 of that lot will be used to tell the story. I might actually have 15 or 20 good images, but that extra 5 or 10 won't be necessary to tell the story. Basically, I only use what's necessary, as it maintains focus.
ON GROWING FROM SNAPSHOT TAKER TO ARTIST...
I try to bridge the gap between just taking snapshots and having artistic vision for a photograph by managing it from the beginning. What I mean is that I think it through to some degree before I start to shoot. Readers might be asking themselves why they'd spend time thinking, when they could use that time for shooting. Earlier this year, I thought it would be nice to photograph Naya riding his brand new skateboard to school. My thought process: "School starts at 8am. We leave at 7:55. Light is generally nice and soft at that time, and there tends to be a lot of open shade." I picked up my camera and got him out the door. He rode while I followed on foot and snapped away. When I returned home, downloaded and imported my files into Lightroom – I was pleased with what I saw. Sure, I had to tweak exposures on a few of the frames, but not by much. By thinking the way I did, I was able to take advantage of the lighting conditions at 7:55am versus waiting till 2:45pm, when the sun is high and the shadows are harsh. Thinking for a few seconds saved me precious processing minutes per image and yielded finished images that I am still proud of.
ON NOT GETTING CAUGHT UP IN THE GEAR TRAP...
My biggest advice to parents and non-parents alike, is to start small and basic. Expensive, complex cameras don't necessarily yield good photographers. There are seasoned professionals out there that actually prefer to pack light and simple. It's the simplicity of your set-up that's more conducive to learning - less worrying about your actual gear and more focus on things like composition, light, etc.
Making thoughtful, beautiful and enduring photographs, beyond the typical snapshot is a great experience. However, going out and purchasing all sorts of high-end gear before you know your needs and at least some basics is likened to running before you can walk. Additionally, when you have a camera with about 2 million controls and deep menu trees to get familiar with, you have less chance to focus on the basics, which in my opinion, are what really make an image great at its most rudimentary level. I've seen solid work produced with Nikon D90s, Canon Xtis, 6-megapixel point-and-shoots and even iPhones. It's about timing, how you see and the press of a shutter button to tie it all together. I shot with a Canon Digital Rebel (circa 2004) for years before I made the switch to a full-frame Nikon. Honestly, I'm still exploring all the menus in the camera.
One thing? I'd say: 1) learn the exposure triangle; (shutter speed, aperture, ISO) 2) find photographers whose styles you admire; 3) experiment; and 4) HAVE FUN! Yeah, I know, that was four things. But when you learn the fundamentals and study other photographers, you get a much better sense of what you want to shoot and from there, apply that basic knowledge to your photographic experiments and grow your knowledge base moving forward. The having fun part – that's a given. We all know that fun keeps things interesting and it maintains a desire to keep pushing and learning. How fulfilling is it to get that "shot"? I could tell you, but the feeling is best experienced first-hand.
Thank You Marc! We're huge fans!