Mark Watson is recognised as one of Australias foremost adventure sports photographers. Creating emotion in his imagery is the challenge which drives Mark to push the boundaries of conventional photography. His work is regularly published in outdoor and sporting magazines worldwide. With a client list that includes Red Bull, Treble Cone, Oakley, Speedo, Land Rover, Tourism Victoria, and The North Face, Mark creates breathtaking images once never thought possible.
What was your first paid job?
First paid freelance job: Snowboarding photo published in Australian Snowboarder magazine in 1999. First comissioned job: Photographing product and mountain biking images for Wild Horizons, a company run by adventurer Huw Kingston, one of my early influences in pursuing my own path in life.
When & how did you go professional?
I really committed to professional photography in 2000 after returning from two years living and working in London. I threw in my real job managing a photography store and established mwphotography (now inciteimages) and began networking. I started turning up at mountain bike events, met with magazine editors and began photographing riders freelance and started getting images regularly published and comissioned work from magazines followed. I did likewise for snowsports to a limited degree but really threw myself into documenting the then new phenomenon of Adventure Racing which later led me all over the world.
Top tip for beginners?
Determination. It takes a long time to get noticed and many photographers give up. Just because somebody says it cannot be done, does not mean that is so. A plethora of friends and peers suggested there was no future in adventure sports photography, I did not believe them…. now I get paid to go heliskiing and trekking in Patagonia! I always email those same people, mostly friends, to let them know where I am … just for a laugh.
If you could photograph anyone or anything, living or dead, who would it be?
1. Ewen McGregor & Charlie Boorman on another endurance motorbike adventure
2. Document one of Michael Palins adventures
Best advice youve ever been given?
1. Follow your passion and if you really want it, turn that passion into your livelihood (Huw Kingston) … on photography.
2. Dont get out of the boat – theres a massive Saltie right there! (Lindsay Cupper) … on crocodiles and keeping my legs.
3. Once youve learnt the rules you can then start breaking them (University Lecturer) … on photography
Who was your mentor?
No real sole mentor comes to mind but I look up to Australian peers such as Peter Eastway and fellow ambassador David Oliver and respect their advice, as I do with sports photographer Delly Carr. I have received inspiration from Huw Kingston (adventurer) and retain respect for my university lecturers who spent three years filling my brain with concepts, ideas and challenges, even though I didnt respect them at the time. I intermittently follow the work of Corey Rich in the USA and recently fellow Red Bull photographer Marcel Lammerhirt has caught my eye – I am constantly inspired by other photographers imagery.
What opportunities do you see as an Ambassador?
1. To have a say in what works for me and what doesnt with the current Nikon systems and provide feedback to R&D to assist in superior future models.
2. To utilise more consumer technology in pro applications. Sometimes the best equipment for the job is not a heavy DSLR but rather a lighter, more portable system.
3. To be able work with Nikon to customise certain equipment for specific applications ie fixing lightweight remote high-resolution cameras to a hanglider for Glorious Days project.
Who are your 3 favourite photographers and why?
Too many to prioritise and name just three, but heres a few that grab my attention at the moment:
Ansel Adams (USA) – A true artist (the reason I studied fine print at university)
Michael Clark (USA) – A true professional, great eye and expert in lightroom, he really creates some amazing images.
Urs Buhlman (AUS) – Amazing advertising work. Just great imagery combined with incredible post-production.
Corey Rich (USA) … inspiring adventure photographer who has suceeded in both the editorial and commercial world.
Whats your biggest photographic disaster?
1. I offered to help set-up some equipment on the first day of a two week long cliff-diving assignment in the Kimberly region of Western Australia. It was a dream job; awesome setting, living off a boat, amazing crew and paid every day to be photographing in paradise. However I managed to get severe rope-burn on both hands hauling some gear up a cliff and couldnt hold my camera. I was hired was to abseil off the cliffs to shoot, however I couldnt even hold the rope. Fortunately with some antiseptic cream under a layer of bandages and then strapped up with gaffa-tape, combined with plenty of painkillers and I was shooting the following day.
2. In February of this year I joined an American duo of an adventure photographer and journalist on a trek into the Patagonian wilderness to photograph adventure-racing teams in the crux stage of a week-long adventure race. However nearly all the teams pulled out of the race or got lost so we managed to spend days battling horizontal rain in some of the most inhospitable terrain mother nature has to offer. Eventually we reached the coast and lived on a tiny two-person Chilean fishing boat for days before rejoining the adventure race. It was a disaster as far as documenting the race is concerned, but a dream in that an adventure race should be about adventure and I was blessed to experience such an amazing part of the world and to experience the life of the Luga divers of the Magellan Straight.
An extract of my article on the event reads:
’Im exhausted, my clothes are shredded and my sleeping bag is soaked. Ive just spent two days on a tiny two-person Chilean fishing boat, which was preceded by a three-day trek tackling the gruelling terrain of unexplored Patagonia. The plan was to photograph elite adventure racing teams, but they all pulled out or got lost. So we continued into the wilderness following a Google Earth map, a trusty compass and a temperamental GPS.
For reasons not even known unto myself, I maintained the illusion that one could stay dry in Patagonia. I imagined there was a certain degree of control over Mother Nature through the use of high tech equipment. What was I thinking?
Every waist-deep river crossing I wondered why I even bothered with waterproof over-trousers, every new horizontal downpour I questioned why the hood on my North Face jacket wouldnt close any further. Maybe the single skin tent wasnt such a good idea, maybe a synthetic bag would have been better than down, and were my Skins keeping me warmer or cooler? Why did I choose to go lightweight? Oh yeah, to be like the racers, to feel what they feel, live what they live, but to do it all with a camera. But would I rather be anywhere else? The answer is undoubtedly “No!”
On the bright side, at least I dont have Giardia like last year and the mountain vistas are simply amazing. Somehow this place feels like home???’
Whats your favourite location for shoots?
Anywhere that is hard to get to and has killer light. The Australian Outback, NZ Alps, Patagonian Wilderness, Bolivia. The more of a challenge it is to get to a location the better the imagery usually is.
Who is the most famous person you have photographed?
Stephanie Rice AUS (Olympic Gold Medallist – Swimming)
Grant Hackett AUS (Olympic Gold Medallist – Swimming)
Layne Beachley AUS (World Champion – Surfing)
Mick Fanning AUS (World Champion – Surfing)
Mark Webber AUS (F1 Driver)
David Coultdhard GBR (F1 Driver)
Daniel Macpherson AUS (Australian Actor)
Robbie Maddison AUS (Freestyle MX)
Rick Kelly AUS (V8 Supercars)
Coutney Atkinson AUS (Olympic Triathlete)
Where do you see the photography industry is heading?
The eventual merging of stills photography with motion picture – primarily for press use. However creative photography will continue to thrive, as it has done since its inception.
Medium format cameras may well be replaced with high-res DSLR as CCD and CMOS technology develops.
What would you like to see more of?
1. Radio slave technology built into speedlights. Why do we still dabble with temperamental IR technology when Radio is so superior? When will we see pocket-wizard technology integrated into SB900s and the ability to use a wireless creative lighting system in all lighting and weather conditions, through and around obstacles and at a larges distance. I dream of the day.
2. Better designed camera carrying systems – backpacks etc for those who travel off the beaten path, sometimes through snow, mud, dust and still have to throw it all on an airline at some stage.
What would you be doing if you werent a photographer?
Probably working in the outdoor industry somewhere, or living back to back snowboarding seasons in Canada, NZ, Aus, Japan . . . wherever. Who knows?
What Nikon Gear are you using at the moment?
The Nikon D3s body is amazing. Robust, well sealed and a fast frame rate but more importantly the 12.1MP full frame sensor is just blow ya mind amazing. So sharp, incredible at high ISOs, no noise. Awesome. Additionally I love the new Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. A corrected super-wide angle zoom is awesome for sport and landscapes but it is also so incredibly sharp. My Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 is also a super-sharp universal lens and the PC-E Nikkor tilt/shift lenses are amazing for portraiture imagery. Additionally my SU800 and SB800s used with the wireless creative lighting system is killer in certain lighting conditions and the new 70-200 VRII lens is the sharpest zoom telephoto since my old favourite and crystal clear 80-200 AFS.