IN A PHOTOGRAPHIC CAREER SPANNING A QUARTER OF CENTURY MARK JESSOP HAS SPENT PLENTY OF TIME HANGING AROUND IN UNDER GROUND CLUBS. BUT THESE DAYS HE LIKES TO BASE HIMSELF ON A MUCH HIGHER PLANE.
Mark Jessop’s approach to his work has always been strategic. “I knew from an early age that I only wanted to photograph what I was very passionate about. I started taking photos around the age of 13 and very quickly saw that the best seat in the house at any event was always the photographer’s. [I knew then] I was prepared to work other jobs to make ends meet.”
Shunning any formal training, Mark says he learnt how to shoot by employing the tips featured in the photography magazine he purchased each week and then trialling them using his SLR camera.
In the early days Mark says he would write down the settings for each shot and “what I was hoping to see” but would then be forced to wait a week to see the results until his parents found the money to get his film developed.
Clearly this approach was successful as by the age of 18 he was doing live concert photography around Sydney, taking photos of Midnight Oil and other big name Australian pub bands.
“For me it was the chance to capture history of something I loved. I have been shooting for 24 years and I still l spend every spare minute I have around my photography.”
These days Mark is perhaps best known as an aviation photographer where his work has appeared in major aviation magazines around the world and in countless official Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) publications. In addition he founded the website Aviation Spotters Online as a communal hub to support his work and the work of fellow aviation photography enthusiasts.
“I’m proud to work in a team with photographers on all standards, we all learn of each other and push each other to be better photographers. Some of the best days out in the field have been when it’s just the team doing what they love and you turn around and see everyone just smiling having fun.”
Having always harboured a fascination with aviation, nine years ago Mark rekindled his childhood interest after hearing his favourite jet was getting rebuilt to flying condition. Since then he has resided firmly in the captain’s seat when it comes to helping capture Australia aviation history.
“I’ve been invited by RAAF squadrons to go on exercises to record their history as it happens. I have also been asked to photograph [many] pilot’s last flights so that they have something to have in their house as a reminder of their flying career. But [what makes me proudest] is just seeing the reaction of other people to the work I put out.”
Accompanying him on all these missions has been Nikon with whom he has enjoyed a 25-year relationship. His got his first piece of equipment, a small compact Nikon AF600, when he was 17 and which he would use to shoot panoramic shots while out bushwalking. Today his collection encompasses a Nikon F4 film body and Nikon D700, D800, D800E DSLR camera bodies. His lenses of choice include NIKKOR AF-S 300mm f/2.8G IF ED VR II, NIKKOR AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR, NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, NIKKOR AF-S 24-120mm f/4G ED VR, Nikkor DL24-85mm f/1.8-2.8, Nikkor 50mm 1.4f and Nikkor 28mm 2.8f. In addition he also prefers to use the Nikon Speed light DB900.
In keeping with this spirit of innovation, Mark recently took possession of three Nikon KeyMission 360 cameras, where it is believed he will be the first in the country to use the cameras to record flight. In addition to capturing 360° angles onboard, the cameras – which he used for the first time on Australia Day – will also enable him to offer a unique perspective of the layout of the aircraft’s cockpit as “most people don’t have the access I do”.
In his colourful career Mark says he has shot in some spectacular locations however when pressed to name a few he cites the remote canyons in the Blue Mountains, among Tasmania’s towering trees, atop a 280m cliff looking down on a fire with BASE jumpers launching, in blizzards in the Snowy Mountains, aboard a US Navy nuclear aircraft carrier, on a live weapons range, near the RAAF KC-30A refuelling aircraft and time spent on air-to-air shoots of some of the rarest war birds in the country as the most exhilarating.
In the past two years his work has taken him to New Zealand, Western Australia, Darwin (four times), Townsville (twice) and Melbourne twice yet says most of the shoots he is involved with are done at the RAAF base in Newcastle or the flying area to the west of Newcastle.
Mark says aviation photography is no different to normal photography in terms of good preparation being key to staying out of harm’s way. The only time your safety is at risk if you are doing something that isn’t planned, and you almost have to be over-prepared because the time frame for shooting is very small and the cost is very high, he says.
Despite this attitude, Mark knows better than anyone that even the best laid plans sometimes go awry. “The biggest challenge I’ve faced so far would be two completely different shoots. The first one was trying to capture aircraft landing at night with the stars above in the shot. It took four nights to get it right but once I had sorted all the problems the shot turned out better then I [imagined].
“The second shoot was working with the RAAF Roulettes. I was given the opportunity to do an air-to-air shoot with the team and the shot we wanted was the ‘mirror formation’ shot – where two aircraft fly along one above the other but the top aircraft is inverted. I would be in the inverted aircraft looking straight down on the aircraft below getting the shot looking straight down. It took three goes to get it right.”
With a busy year of aviation photography ahead, Mark’s first big event will be the Australian International Air Show at Avalon in March. A week-long event Mark and his Aviation Spotters Online team will be among the first to arrive and the last to leave. After this his focus turns to the RAAF Fighter Combat Instructor course that he says is Australia’s version of “Top Gun” where highly skilled aviators compete to be the best fighter pilot.
While he’s already ticked off most of aviation photography’s most coveted events, in Australia at least, Mark says there remains one thing on his bucket list which he is just hoping to achieve in his lifetime.
“I have always wanted to see a rocket launch into space so I’m hoping NASA has everything going to plan and we see Rockets with Astronauts launching soon.”
Words: Tracey Porter