Marcus, man of many talents (and loads of gear!)

Rare is it when you meet someone who you're insanely jealous of yet still get along with as if they were family.

That's Marcus' role in my life...

Many Marcii... or is it Marcuses?

 

I'm both jealous of his photographic skills and proud to call him one of my closest friends.  He's a perfect example of why it's important, as a photographer, to have someone in your life who both has knowledge of photography and will be completely (brutally?) honest if needed.

Battling it out with him during competitions, and working with him on paid jobs has most definitely made me a better photographer... and I have the pleasure of presenting him to your through my very first interview. So, say hi to Marcus everyone!

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Though I know technically the answer is “that super photography stud Al Borrelli”… what got you into photography, particularly, buying that first camera which led to me pushing you into it?

Well I've always been a gadget nerd, so I've owned cameras for as long as I can remember and probably always considered myself "into" photography, even though I was completely clueless for years (some may say I still am!). My first "serious" camera was a 35mm Canon EOS 300, but I made the classic mistake of assuming that a nice camera automatically equals nice photos, so I never bothered reading the manual or learning the first thing about photography, and shot in full auto mode the whole time. Later, when digital SLRs were on the scene, I bought a Canon EOS 350D, and continued along the same lines of shooting in full auto and essentially wasting all the goodness the camera had to offer. I guess that changed when I booked a trip to Uganda and Rwanda, to go and see the mountain gorillas and other primates in the forests. I really wanted to photograph them and photograph them well, so I decided it was time to actually learn how to take nice photos. That was where you came in...

What’s up with all the cows? Fetish?

Haha I don't know about fetish exactly, but I certainly find them fascinating. I guess it's partly because they're so docile and will allow you to put a camera in their face without much danger of you getting bitten or mauled, but at the same time I just love the expressions on their faces sometimes, and if you get them at the right angle they're just hysterical. Or maybe that's just me. I'm a bit weird, yes.

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What’s your educational background in photography?

Well I'm mostly self-taught (and partly Borrelli-taught). I've read a LOT of photography books and magazines, but most importantly of all I've taken a LOT of photographs and learned through experience. But I also took a correspondence course in professional photography with the New York Institute of Photography. It was a good way to consolidate the knowledge I already had, expand on it, and explore some new areas of photography I hadn't tried before. And of course it's nice to have a certificate to say you've completed a course, but like I say, just good old fashioned trial and error is the thing I've learned from the most. It also helps if you're naturally awesome, too.

What, if anything, are you trying to accomplish with your photos?

At the risk of sounding pretentious or cliched, I guess I want to create photos that could be considered art. For me, art in whatever form forces the audience to see common things in an unfamiliar or strange way.  If you take a photo of a cow in a light and angle that everyone has seen a thousand times before, it's not interesting and it doesn't change anyone's perception of the world.  It's just a photo, it's not art.  But if you can capture that cow in a way that makes people sit up and go "oh wow, that's cool, I've never seen a cow looking like that before", then maybe you've changed someone's perception of the world ever so slightly, and your photo is not a "snap" but a piece of art. What... what do you mean, stop banging on about cows?!

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Do you find photography to be a release?

Well, maybe you'd assume it would be, given that I have a 9 to 5 desk job. But strangely enough, no, I don't really consider it a release on the whole. The reason is that I work very hard with my photography, even when I'm just taking holiday photos for myself. I always want to do the best I can because I'm such a massive nerd, and my mind is always racing when I have a camera in hand. So I actually find it quite tiring.  So a release no, not exactly, but very rewarding, yes. Does that make sense, or does it sound totally contradictory? I know what I mean, anyway!

What is it that attracts you to photography, as opposed to some  other artistic medium?

Well this is very easy to answer. I can't draw or paint. My musical skills are limited to playing the theme tune to Eastenders very badly on the piano. I quite like writing but don't have the patience to try to write anything substantial. So that basically left me with dance or photography. And I was thrown out of ballet school for looking too good in tights and distracting all the girls. So photography was the only thing left.

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What kind of places would you like to travel to?

I'm totally obsessed with Africa and I'm off to Tanzania in a couple of weeks for my fourth safari. It was a close call between a return to Tanzania or a new adventure in Namibia. I HAVE to go Namibia soon. I think it must be the most photogenic place in the world - the combination of bizarre desert landscapes and wildlife is stunning from what I've seen. Outside of Africa, I would LOVE to do an Antarctic expedition (again, for the out-of-this-world landscapes and wildlife). Madagascar is also on my radar for similar reasons. And then there's also Vietnam, Peru, India, Australia, New Zealand. I could go on...

What has living in the Netherlands done for you photographically?(if anything)

I suppose it's given me an appreciation and understanding of light, which is crucial to photography (literally, "painting with light"). Everyone's heard of the mythical Dutch light that was used by the great masters, and there really is something to it if you study it. You get rapidly changing light here, sometimes four seasons in one day (no, that's not your cue to break into song, Al). Even the apparently flat, grey skies sometimes have a strange, dramatic quality to them. Blue, cloudless skies are nice for vacation photos, but if you want drama you can't beat a Dutch sky! And if I lived in a blue-sky land, I wouldn't have quite the same understanding of light that I do now. In one of the photos I submitted for evaluation in my New York Institute of Photography course, I used natural window light for a portrait, and used the so-called Rembrandt lighting technique. I was extremely pleased when my tutor over in New York picked up on the light without any clues, and she said that it had a "very Dutch quality" to it. I was delighted to hear that, because that was precisely what I wanted to achieve. One of my Dutch Flickr contacts has some beautiful landscapes that really show off this Dutch light (see this set http://www.flickr.com/photos/42443389@N00/sets/72157594577846436/ for example). She makes extensive use of Photoshop, but these photos just wouldn't work without that light.

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Who are some of your influences?

I couldn't really name any famous photographers as direct influences as such. I like to study the photos of the big names, and try to understand what makes them great, but I don't really try to follow in the footsteps of anyone in particular. Yeah, basically I'm arrogant and think I'm the greatest and won't admit to admiring anyone in particular! But I must say I love browsing endlessly through the Flickr website. I get a lot of inspiration there from non-famous, amateur photographers. It's staggering just how much great stuff is on there, being created by non-professionals. For wildlife photography, which is probably my first love, I take a lot of inspiration from these two Dutch Flickr photographers: http://www.flickr.com/people/hvhe1/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/pg-photography/.  They're both consistently brilliant and I'm in awe of their work.

What’s your take on the film vs. digital debate?

I usually yawn and say "haven't we got past this yet?". I shoot digital because I like the convenience of the instant feedback, the ability to edit my work on the computer, and share it easily with people. There is still a place for film, though. Just the other day I saw a 60-year-old large-format view camera (if you don't know what I'm talking about Wikipedia is your friend - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_camera) in perfect condition, a wonderful piece of equipment, and the owner has promised to let me use it... I can't wait! Currently there is no digital camera that can take the kind of photos you get with one of those bad boys. I'd like to own a nice medium-format film camera too (I don't have 40,000 euro spare to buy a digital Hasselblad). But at the 35mm level I can't really see myself ever going back to film, unless for a quirky project of some kind. Nowadays a good digital camera will produce stunning prints as long as you're prepared to put in a bit of work in the digital darkroom - just as you would have to spend time in the darkroom working on your prints in the old days. Still, if a film enthusiast wants to claim that their film prints are superior to digital, that's fine and I won't argue. We all have our different views and there's enough room for us all.

What is your goal, photographically?

Isn't this the same as the question "What, if anything, are you trying to accomplish with your photos"? {give me a break, it's my first interview- Al!)

What’s in your kit bag?

Oh boy. My kit bag is HUGE, and even then I can't fit everything in! I'll give you the basic version: Cameras: Canon EOS 1D mark III, Canon EOS 5D, Canon EOS 40D; lenses - 100-400mm, 70-200mm, 100mm macro, 50mm f/1.8, 24-70mm, 16-35mm, 30mm f/1.4, Lensbaby 3G, 1.4x and 2x teleconverters; two flashes, an off-camera flash bracket and cord, various flash diffuser devices, a flash powerpack, gorillapod, tripod, monopod, infrared and radio shutter releases and flash triggers, polarizing filters, and probably a whole heap of other stuff that I can't remember right now.

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What’s not in your kit bag that should be?

The Canon 500mm f/4 lens. Quite simply the most awesome thing I have ever touched. But I will become co-owner of one very soon, to take on safari with me. But then it will be sold again because it's too expensive. Basically the idea is to buy it, use it, then sell it, as an alternative to renting which is very expensive, even just for 10 days. But I'm already heartbroken at having to sell it, and I don't even have it yet.

What’s the most difficult shoot/project you’ve worked on?

Not sure if this counts, but back in 1997 when I was at university in England, I bought a digital camera. Back then, digital cameras were a very new concept and hardly anyone had one, so I was very proud of my hi-tech Olympus C-400. Its specs were phenomenal: 0.3 megapixels, a fixed 5mm lens, battery life of about 3 minutes, fixed internal memory for around 30 photos with no ability to take memory cards, and no screen on the back to review photos. Now my beloved Torquay United football team had an important match coming up in London (Leyton Orient), and one of the Torquay United club officials posted a message on the internet forum (yes, I had a 0.3 megapixel camera AND the internet in 1997) asking if any of the supporters had a digital camera and would be going to the game, as they'd like some photos for the website... So I eagerly came forward and boasted that I had a digital camera and said I would be going to the game. When I arrived at the appointed place on matchday, I was given a press pass. On the one hand this was great, because it got me into the game for free, and not only that, I was allowed right on the touchlines with my pass. What fun! No. It was the most humiliating day of my life. Picture the scene: all the pros there on the touchline with their huge 500mm lenses or longer, and then me, standing there with my plastic 5mm 0.3 megapixel point-and-shoot. I was getting some pretty evil looks from the pros who wondering who the hell this clown was. And of course without a long lens I had no chance whatsoever of taking any decent action shots, even standing on the touchlines (and you can't exactly crop a 0.3 megapixel photo...). I still cringe with embarrassment thinking about it now. But I still have that camera. I figure it might be an interesting antique one day, rather than just an embarrassing joke.

You’re good at so many styles, where do you see yourself going given the freedom to choose?

Probably shooting wildlife. The reality is that there are very few nature photography pros out there actually making a decent living from it, but in my dream that's what I'd do. I also see myself getting into video more in the future too. I think you need to understand photography first before you can become a good filmmaker. I watch nature documentaries now and really understand what the cameraman had to do to get those amazing shots. So yeah, I'd love to be a full-time nature photographer and filmmaker but whether it will ever happen I don't know. It's good to have a dream though.

I’m floored by many of your wildlife images.. what would you tell someone to do in order to put themselves in a position to shoot similar images?

I guess wildlife photography is one genre where generally you really do have to have good equipment, there's no getting around that. So a really good long lens first and foremost is needed. But there's more to it than that. Light is so important, for example. Many of the best wildlife images are taken in the golden hours when the light is perfect, early in the morning or just before sunset. And it's very important to understand how certain animals behave, because predicting what they are going to do helps you catch them at the perfect moment, or the "decisive moment" if you prefer. This often requires a lot of patience, waiting for that moment. I once waited  for three hours hoping that a leopard that was resting in a nearby tree would come down out of the tree to start hunting. In the end it didn't, but I didn't mind because that's all part of it. You have to take these risks and be patient. Occasionally it will pay off and you'll be rewarded with spectacular photos. When you're shooting wildlife, if you keep moving on and only stopping for a few moments each time, you might get to see more things, but you probably won't get any great photos. So I would say that's actually my main tip: be patient, but at the same time be ready to work fast when the action starts as it can be all over in a second. And one final tip: always try to shoot from the animal's eye level, or even below if you can. Generally shooting down onto an animal results in a boring photo lacking eye contact, impact and empathy.

How does it feel to have not won the Images PoTY photographer of the year this year (do NOT mention the fact you didn’t participate this last year or won it the two previous years!)?

It was a strange sensation. I'm not in the habit of not winning. I'll be back this year!

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Bowling a perfect score, or scoring a photo gig with, let’s say, Scarlett Johansen?

Do the two have to be mutually exclusive? They do? Ah, that's a shame. I was already visualizing a photoshoot with her at a bowling alley, I had her outfits worked out and everything... Well, much as I love bowling, if I can only pick one it would be the photoshoot with Scarlett, for sure. That would be an incredible opportunity - for her, not just me. She would get some really great shots for her portfolio. btw it's spelled Johansson.

What’s the one project/photo you’d like to do/capture most right now?

I'd love to get into underwater photography. I'm a qualified scuba diver but I only have about 30 dives under my belt. You need to be a really experienced and competent diver to do underwater photography safely. If you start playing around with your camera at 30 metres under the sea and lose concentration on everything else, you can fall to 60 metres if you're not careful, and that's not good!

Lastly, how does it feel to wake up everyday and know you’re awesome?

Ha, you should see me in the mornings. I definitely don't FEEL awesome in the morning. I'm just not into a.m., man! The one time you'll see me jump out of bed alert and ready to go at some ungodly hour is on safari. Other than that, forget it.

Strange, didn't expect you have and answer for that last one.

Anyways, thanks a lot Marcus! Be sure to check out his new website and blog at www.marcusrichardson.net!

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