Mark Wallace is a commercial fashion photographer who also is a photography educator. He has hosted a number of web-based video series like “Digital photography One on One” and “How’d they do that ?”. He has inspired and empowered millions of photographers around the world through his videos. We at Cambyte had the privilege of an interview with the man himself.
1) Would you like to be known as a photographer or a photography educator?
Actually I would like to be known more as a traveller. Nowadays most of my work is educational work and when you are shooting to illustrate a principle of photography it is generally not the best photograph you will ever make. I would really like to do more photography outside educational stuff, which is not being filmed because when you are on film it changes everything.
2) How has teaching photography helped with your own photography?
Well, this way I have learnt more than any other way. Recently I was shooting a video and the guys at Adorama suggested I use an IR filter and through that I got to learn more about IR filters, color grading and a whole bunch of stuff. When people ask questions related to my videos, even if I know the concept very well, I go back and do the research because if I get even the slightest thing wrong, the people on youtube are unforgiving. So by this way I do a lot more than what I would normally do for a shoot.
And having friends like Chase Jarvis, Gavin Hoey, David Hobby, etc who are in the same field as you helps a lot. We meet up at the big photo conventions and discuss many ideas for videos and it is really good to listen and learn from each other.
3) Being an online photography educator, what is your opinion on conventional photography courses? Would you recommend going to photography school?
It depends on what type of photography you are going to be doing.
If you are a commercial photographer, you are going to be shooting with high budgets like 20,000 USD and above, so you will need to know money management, payroll management, hiring lawyers, getting legal permits, etc., for which you need to go to school.
If you are just a hobbyist photographer, Adorama TV and youtube would be enough.
And there is a misconception that anyone who knows photography can teach photography. However, it is the contrary if you want to make educational videos and write blogs you need to know how to teach first no matter how good your photography is. This is something I feel is missing in many online tutorials.
4) When did you realize you wanted to be a photography educator?
Well, my father was a Baptist Preacher and my mother was a school teacher as well. So I grew up with teacher parents, but for me teaching is something that could change somebody’s life. More than photography I am passionate about people. I feel the creative arts like photography, writing, filmmaking, theater, music, etc., apart from making something pretty there is also a part that gives us artists the power to change the way people live. During the 2008 recession, a lot of the people who lost their job left the professional world and were passionate about photography. So as a teacher I was doing not just what I loved but also I was enabling people to take something up they are passionate about and help them make a living by shooting events and weddings. So I was changing the way they live for the better. If I was not into photography I would be helping some other medium.
I am not saying I’ve changed the world but I’ve been a part of something that has changed somebody’s life for the better.
5) Travelling working photographer versus stationed working photographer, which one do you prefer?
Definitely the studio because you can control the environment, the schedule and you don’t have to worry about the weather conditions.
But the travel isn’t about travelling as a photographer; the travel is about travelling. I am not travelling to take pictures, but I am taking pictures as I travel and there is a huge difference between the two.
6) How important is travel for a photographer?
I have travelled ever since I was 17-18 years old. I’ve been all over the United States, I’ve driven to every single state, I’ve been all over India, South America, Europe. The thing which travel does to you is that when you have a view of the world only from one perspective, it sort of traps you into one way of thinking which may not be the best way of thinking.
Even other cultures have merit but it is easy to say stereotypical things. But when you actually go there and experience it for yourself you will see a whole new side which you never knew about and it changes you as a person. And what that does is it expands the lens through which we view the world and helps us be more understanding, compassionate and helps evaluate ourselves better. So there’s a bunch of things travel can do for you and I believe travel is very important for anybody no matter where you are in the world if you can you should travel and I am very fortunate that I am able to travel so much.
7) What is your take on specializing in a single genre?
It is extremely important to specialize in a single genre. At first it might be tough because you have to go through a bunch of things before you find out what you like. In my opinion, the best way is to join a photography club if there is one in your city and go there and meet different photographers, then go and assist these different photographers on a shoot. It maybe tough but you will eventually find the genre that you’d learn more about and specialize in.
8) From your experience what is the best advice you would give someone who wants to do photography professionally? What is the best time to make this move ?
Mine is a very extreme case. I worked for 13 years in a production company then 6 years at Intel. Into my third year at Intel, I made the switch from digital to film photography, then I started teaching about photography. A little while later I opened my studio. In the last two years at Intel I was working 40-50hrs per week at my regular job and an additional 20-30hrs at the studio. And towards the end I was working for a combined 100hrs per week which was just crazy. I was very fortunate that I was able to buy most of my professional gear when I was working at Intel with my salary. When I decided to take the plunge into professional photography, I cashed in on all my savings, retirement fund and stocks to get the business rolling. I left around 19yrs of professional experience to become a photographer, so I can’t tell you the exact time to make the transition. But I can tell you a few things to keep in mind before making the jump.
1) Have a support structure in place, because you won’t be making a lot of money off the bat.
2) If want to do professional photography invest in professional cameras, lighting equipment, etc., No one is going to take you seriously if you don’t have professional equipment. It’s just like opening a restaurant, you won’t open a restaurant without a stove or refrigerator thinking that you can buy it somewhere down the line. Think of photography just like any other business. Make the capital investment first
3) Be persistent – If you talk to most of the really successful photographers out there you will find that they worked really hard for 5-10yrs to become successful.
4) Be open to learning – If you are a bad photographer but are ready to learn to become better you’ll probably be successful. But if you are not ready to learn from your mistakes you’ll run out of luck soon.
5) Be friendly – Even if you are an average photographer but if you are really nice to your clients they’d prefer you to someone who is a jerk even though he/she is better.
9) What is the one advice you will give an aspiring photographer?
Failure is your friend.
Don’t be afraid to fail. As long as you learn from your failures, in the long run you will be successful.
You can follow Mark’s work on his