Beyond the horizon
Mark Bauer’s atmospheric landscapes have the power to draw us in and transport us to another time and place.
Mark Bauer explains why his epic landscapes are so atmospheric.
LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY IS A bit like Britain’s Got Talent. It proves perennially popular, with willing volunteers queuing around the block for their 3 seconds of fame, but there can be a distinct lack of soul on offer. We can all find foreground interest, connect it to a lead-in line and strategically position the horizon, but convey moods and emotions? That takes talent. Through meticulous preparation, old-school discipline and sheer determination, Mark Bauer has created a portfolio that tugs at the heartstrings and forces us to react. The best landscape photographer in the UK right now? Quite possibly.
How would you describe your style?
It’s sometimes hard to talk about personal style, as it’s mostly an instinctive thing, rather than something you consciously work at. But at a push I’d describe my style as classic, or traditional. I like simplicity, harmony and balance in compositions, with extensive depth-of-field and strong perspective effects. I like ‘structured’ images, often with architectural elements in them and lighting that conveys a tranquil, romantic mood.
Would you describe what you do as a job or an obsession?
It’s an obsession which, fortunately, allows me to pay the bills. I’m in the very lucky position – most of the time – of being able to take the kind of shots that I really want to take and then being able to sell them. People will tell you that this is the wrong way to go about it (and they’re probably right), and that you should study the market first and then try to
“A TRULY GREAT LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPH IS ONE THAT CONVEYS EMOTION...”
meet its needs, but I’ve never been that analytical. And fortunately for me, I’ve somehow got away with it. I guess the only time that what I do feels like work is when I’m stuck in the office doing admin, which sadly, does have to be done now and again.
What’s the secret to great landscapes?
I think a truly great landscape photograph is one that conveys emotion, that gives an idea of what the photographer was feeling when he or she took the shot. If you can truly create a sense of what it was like to be there, then that for me is a successful image. Obviously, this is easy to say but very hard to achieve…
You specialise in the southwest of England – why?
Firstly, it’s an area I love, especially Dorset, where I live. More importantly though, when I first gave up my day job (I was a teacher in a previous life) my son was only 3 or 4, and I didn’t want to spend long periods of time away from the family, so I took the
decision to try to establish myself as a specialist in this area. Luckily, there’s quite a high demand for pictures of the West Country, and I was able to do that. My son’s in his final year at school now, so being away from home is much less of an issue than it was before, and my work takes me a lot further afield, to some very exciting places.
Talk us through your techniques…
I grew up shooting medium-format transparency film. When it costs you a quid or more every time you press the shutter you learn to be fairly disciplined, and I’ve tried to carry that approach through to my photography today, while still enjoying the benefits of modern technology. So, I shoot in manual or aperture-priority mode to make sure I have enough control over depth-of-field, and I focus either manually or using back-button focus. I’m a great fan of Live View – it allows for very accurate focusing and also accurate exposure if you use the live histogram.
I like to ‘expose to the right’ to maximise image quality, although with the increased dynamic range of modern sensors and their ability to capture excellent detail in the shadow areas, this is becoming less critical. I prefer to control excessive contrast using filters rather than exposure blending, as this cuts down on processing time and also avoids the problem of the light potentially changing between bracketed shots. When it comes to processing, I like to keep things simple and, with rare exceptions, try to spend no more than 2 or 3 minutes processing an image.
How do you compose?
Generally speaking, I like to keep compositions as simple as possible, trying to exclude any extraneous elements. I’ll try to identify what it is in a scene that drew me to it and then let this determine how I frame the shot. Often, this will involve finding a strong focal point in the scene and then using other elements to help highlight it and lead the eye to it. Like many other landscape photographers, I favour strong foregrounds, though I think it’s important to make sure that foreground, middle distance and background are linked. So rather than using a ‘big foreground’ approach, I’ll often look to exploit guiding lines or curves.
“IT’S IMPORTANT TO REACT TO WHAT’S IN FRONT OF YOU, RATHER THAN STICKING TO SOME PLAN”
How do you photograph atmosphere?
Composition has an influence. For example, if you shoot a lone object in a lot of negative space, then it will suggest isolation, but for me it’s mostly light that influences atmosphere. The soft light and pastel colours pre-dawn can suggest calm and tranquillity, a silhouetted object against a colourful sky has a mood of high drama, low sidelighting is warm and inviting, and so on.
Talk us through your mental and physical approach to shoots…
I’ll spend a fair bit of time online, checking the weather, tides, direction of the light and so on, and based on this choose what I think are the most suitable locations and viewpoints and the best time(s) to shoot them. I do try to be flexible, however, and if on my way there I think the light is looking better somewhere else, then I’ll change plans. It’s important to react to what’s in front of you rather than sticking doggedly to some plan you’ve made. I’ll make sure that I take with me everything I need – all the lenses and filters etc for what I’m planning to shoot, and suitable clothing and food and water if I’m likely to be out all day. If I’m leaving early for a dawn shoot, then a flask of hot tea is essential.
What cameras and lenses do you use and why?
Until fairly recently I was shooting exclusively with Canon equipment – currently a 5DS and range of ‘L’ lenses. However, I’ve recently added a Fuji X-Pro2 and lenses from 10mm (15mm full-frame equivalent) to 200mm (300mm full-frame equivalent). This was intended to be a second system, for times when I need to travel light, but I absolutely love the camera and find myself shooting with it more and more. It’s a very engaging camera to shoot with and image quality is excellent – more detail than you’d expect from a 24MP APS-C sensor and with really pleasing colours and tonality.
Rather sadly, I have to admit to being a bit of a gear-head. I love playing around with different kit and consider myself very fortunate to be in a position where I get to do this a lot, as I’m often asked to review equipment. I’m very excited about the new Fuji GFX 50S medium-format camera – this could be a real game-changer.
What skills does a landscape photographer need?
In terms of photographic skills, among other things you need to have a good understanding of depth-offield and how to maximise it, and how to use filters both to control contrast and for creative effect. In terms of research and planning, I think things are a lot easier than they used to be as so much can now be done online and there are so many good apps available. It isn’t always easy carrying heavy equipment up steep hills, especially as you get older, so a reasonable degree of physical fitness is necessary.
Any mistakes that have shaped the way you work?
I’m not adventurous enough to have had any serious mishaps! Probably the only thing is a propensity for getting my feet wet – I always stand just that little bit too close to incoming waves…
Above Skadar National Park in Montenegro is the setting for this magical display. Mark used a 70-300mm lens to isolate the most interesting patterns.
Top A glorious winter sunset at Eystrahorn in southeast Iceland, dramatised with a 4-stop ND filter.
Above A lone deckchair sits below grey skies and sweeping rain on Swanage beach one June morning.
Left One of the best sunsets Mark has ever seen is also one of his best images. This is Dancing Ledge near Swanage.
Above Moody seascapes at Trebarwith Strand (above), Swanage (top right) and Durdle Door (right). “You don’t need great colour – overcast days can be really moody too.”