Photographer Spotlight: Interview with Mark Crislip

Rating: 5.00 based on 6 Ratings
  By Julian Rad
Photographer Spotlight: Interview with Mark Crislip

1) Tell us about yourself, where are you from? How, when and why did you get into photography?

I was born in Montana, but have lived all over the world. I have spent most of the last 15 years living and working in Greece, Italy, and Argentina, but right now I’m in Palm Beach, Florida. Will I stay? For now, maybe.
I got into photography when my father put a camera into my hands when I was little after I showed interest in what he was doing. We would talk about what makes a great shot and the mechanics of how to do it. We would also go out on shooting expeditions. I mostly shot with a Minolta XD 11 and a Rokkor-X 50mm/1.2 lens. We would develop black and white photos in the basement and it was the best education you could get.

2) How much time do you spend on photography on average?
The better question is how much time do I spend NOT on photography. The truth is that a large part of every waking day is usually spent on some aspect of photography. And when I’m not spending time directly on it, I’m usually thinking about it.

3) Which gear do you mainly use or what is typically in your camera bag?
I am very picky about my gear. I am currently shooting with a couple of D810s. For the type of shooting, I do the D850 is not an upgrade, though the D810 was definitely a step up from the D800 (which I still have and use). The image quality of the three is essentially identical. I suppose if I were shooting events I would be more interested in the D850, but I don’t. I switched from Canon when the D800 came out and took quite a financial bath, but it was worth it. The robustness of the D800 files in the post was a revelation, and the dynamic range just made switching a necessity. As far as lenses go, I have many, and all are top-quality glass from the Nikon 14-24/2.8 to the Nikon 200/2.0. Nonetheless, I would say about 90% of my shots are taken with the Sigma 50mm/1.4 Art. It is an astoundingly good lens and the perfect focal length for most fashion work. The Sigma Art 85/1.4 is objectively even better, but to frame most fashion shots you have to be at such a distance that you lose communication with the model, especially in an outdoor situation. The Siggy 50 Art really is the perfect lens and I could get rid of everything else and still be able to get along just fine.
In outdoor shots, I often use a couple of Phottix Indra 500 TTL heads with an assistant or two wandering around with them on monopods.

Other than that, I use very little gear and have been known just to take just the D810/Siggy 50 to a shoot if I’m doing natural light. I am in the process, though, of integrating a Sony A7RIII into my shooting. The reason is simple, really: in nearly all of my shots, the eyes of the model lie outside the highly centralized location of the focus points of Nikon full frame DSLRs. There really are only two solutions to this problem, both of which have disadvantages. You can either back up and crop to your final image. This of course wastes megapixels reduces slightly your image quality (distance degrades image quality), and affects depth of field (distance to subject affects background blur, and if you back up and crop, you’re essentially changing your DOF by up to a stop). The other option is to focus and recompose, which is highly prone to error when shooting wide open (which I do a lot), and affects your shooting rhythm and composition. Any time you’re distracted from thinking about just what is in your frame, you’re a worse photographer.

Of course the Sony A7RIII is not without its issues, but I have been aggravated by this focus point issue since 2012, and have been screaming about it to anyone who will listen ever since that time. It is and has been my #1 gripe about the D8xx line. Nikon has kept making more/better/faster focus points, but they keep cramming them into the same area. I’ll take half as many spread out wider and taller any day, and the Sony focus points cover most of the frame. It’s kind of a dream come true.

4) How do you prepare for an image? Is there any preparation at all?
When I prepare for a shoot, I usually have at least one “money shot” that I have in mind that I prepare for pretty extensively, and I keep a very large inspiration folder from some of my favorite photographers. I also usually have an “experimental” shot in mind where I want to try something new that I know may or may not come out. Other than that, I keep my eyes open and always survey the location looking for opportunities. It’s important to work with your surroundings as much as possible and be smart about it.

5) Do you have guiding principles that you follow when you’re taking pictures?
As cliché as it sounds, I pretty much stick to the rule of thirds, but I’ll do center-frame compositions as well, though less often, and watching Wes Anderson films has changed the way I think about them. I really dislike it when novices are told about the “rules” and then the usual caveat of “you shouldn’t let this spoil your creativity” is thrown in. Most novices think “gosh, I don’t want to be bound by the rules. I want to break out and be free!” and then go on to ignore everything. My number one priority is creating a harmonious and minimalist composition with as few distractions as possible. The rules are rules because smart/creative people realized they led to pretty pictures. Am I 100% bound by this? No, but it’s always lurking there in my minds.
6) How important is post-processing for you? Can you tell us what kind of postprocessing you typically do?
Post processing is vital in professional work. It can make a good photo great, and it can ruin a perfectly decent RAW file. I just don’t understand the obsession with getting it right in camera. When you show your photos, your clients don’t care how you got there. An image is everything. Period. There is no such thing as “too much photoshop” or “too much post-processing.” There is good processing and bad processing, and unfortunately, there is too much bad processing and automated programs that look terrible. Usually, proponents of getting it right in camera use the red herring argument of pointing at poorly done editing to decry all photoshop. Good editing doesn’t look “photoshoppy,” whatever that means.

Indeed, I often shoot “wrong” in order to get what I will believe give me the most latitude in post. Often my photos right out of the camera look pretty lousy, but there’s a method to my madness and I will over/under expose in camera in order to get to the final image that I have in mind. Hopefully, in a few years, our sensors will have 30 stops of dynamic range and all of this will be irrelevant. Photography requires a marriage of technical know-how and creative verve, but the more I can focus on the creative and less on the technical, the better. Remember, an image is everything. I suppose a lot of people will call me a bad photographer because of this view, but that’s okay by me.I use Lightroom and Photoshop exclusively with no presets and no skin retouching software. Lightroom I use pretty exclusively for just organizing photos and extremely basic initial editing like minor adjustments to exposure. I think I spend about 10 seconds on a photo in Lightroom and all of the heavy liftings is done in Photoshop. I typically spend between an hour to sometimes up to 12 hours on a single image working on every aspect of every corner of the image, and I can have up to 150 layers on a single image. Quality is more important than quantity. One great image is worth 100 decent ones. Most of my photographer friends are appalled, but I really enjoy it. Editing isn’t something to get over with; rather, it’s just as much a creative process as taking the image itself—perhaps more. It’s fun!


7) What’s the favorite photo you took and why?
Oh, this is an impossible question to answer and often depends on my mood. Some photos I like for personal or sentimental reasons, some photos I like because I overcame some kind of obstacle in order to get the shot, some photos I like because I had fun on a particular day, and others I like for their pure aesthetic appeal. It would be impossible to pick just one.

8) Do you have general advice and tips for other photographers who want to take similar photos as you?
I think that one of the biggest compliments that you can receive as a photographer is “I saw a photo and immediately knew that you shot it” and I’m lucky enough to hear this quite a bit. I try to focus on clean, minimalist compositions shot fairly wide-open. I shoot between ƒ1.4 and ƒ2.2 a lot and rarely go beyond ƒ5.6 unless I really want to include some details in the background. I use focus to draw the eye where I want it to go.

I think if you really like a photographer, any photographer, you need to study his or her photos critically, and not just admire them. By critically I mean, you need to look at the photo and ask yourself “how did they do that?” How was this lit? Where is the light coming from? What is the color palette? If you just say to yourself “I don’t know, I like it because I like it” you’re doing it wrong. You need to really examine the photo and ask yourself first, why do you like it, and second, how did the photographer get there?

A great learning exercise is trying to duplicate a shot that you like. So many young photographers worry about “copying” as some sort of plagiarism, but honestly, unless you’re some sort of prodigy, you’re not going to succeed in getting even 90% there. Most photographers who are admired have been doing this for a long time, and you wouldn’t expect a young basketball player to do it like the pros without a lot of hard work and learning. As I like to say, the difference between an expert and a novice is that a novice looks at a problem and sees a million possible choices in front of them, whereas an expert sees few choices. This does not mean doing everything the same way repeatedly; rather, it means knowing that there are good and bad ways to achieve your goal, whatever that may be. The key, then, is to practice with an eye towards everything being a learning experience.

9) Who or what inspires you to do what you do and why? Are there any photographers you look up to?
I find inspiration everywhere from fashion magazines to artwork, to everyday life. I really love the photography of Lachlan Bailey more than anyone else. His images are truly beautiful. I really do hate the trend, though, in fashion photography to have photos look purposefully amateurish. I think this comes from the popularity of social media and I see a lot of photos and just want to scream. When something in Vogue looks like it was shot with an iPhone, a piece of me dies.

10) What was your biggest accomplishment?
I did a photo shoot for a luxury brand whiskey with an important duke in Scotland at his castle. It was an amazing experience. The funniest part is that the duke gave me his keys to the castle in order to come and go with scouting locations and dealing with gear. I forgot to return the keys, so there’s that.

11) What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
That the most important aspect of actually working in photography isn’t how good you are, but who you know.

12) What are your future photography goals?
The cover of Vogue, of course.


13) Is there anything else you want to say?
Haven’t I said enough? I’ve gone on and on.

14) Where can we find your images?

Instagram: @pitchblackpolo


Rating: 5.00 based on 6 Ratings
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Julian Rad is a self-taught award-winning wildlife photographer, who was born in Vienna, Austria in 1991. When he bought his first camera at the age of 20, he found an expression for the fascination he had about nature & wildlife. He already had many publications in national and internation magazines and newspapers (New York Post, Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Times, GEO, Digital Photographer Magazine...). He has won several photo competitions such as the comedy wildlife photography awards in 2015.

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