Be­yond the hori­zon

Mark Bauer’s at­mo­spheric land­scapes have the power to draw us in and trans­port us to an­other time and place.

Practical Photography (UK) - - Spring -

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


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.


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.”

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