It’s a big honour to have the one and only Mark Metternich featured as our first Photographer of the Month. With over 13 years experience as a full time photographer, Mark has built a portfolio most of us can only dream about achieving. Through captivating images and motivational words, Mark gives us an insight in his life and what it takes to become a professional photographer.
Can you tell us a little about who you are and how you got started with photography?
Sure, thank you very much for the interview. For the last 13 or so years I have been a full time landscape photographer. I am from the Pacific Northwest, namely Oregon, but I live largely on the road photographing landscapes and leading a special brand of adventure photography workshop/tours all over the western United States and abroad. I have many other services such as post processing instructional video tutorials and online private Skype lessons but the main thing is that I am extremely passionate about the sacred beauty of the outdoors and I have been very fortunate to be able to carve out a living doing what I love.
I am 48 and have been taking photos since age 10, but in a strange twist of events in my life, I starting taking photos with real focus when the first decent digital cameras started coming out in about 2002. In those days the idea of not having to buy film, and being able to take as many photos as you wanted was revolutionary. This also led to getting better fast.
Have you attended classes or are you mostly self-taught?
I am self-taught. I did take some early Photoshop and basic art classes when I was going to school for graphic design. I did benefit from the art classes especially, but I have always been a very determined person, so I just learn everywhere I go. I think one of the best things for me, when I got my start, was running into a much older professional who advised me not to go to photography school but instead to join online forums to learn. At the time there were few. I immediately took the advice and absorbed all the learning I could from forum to forum asking many questions. This worked well.
As far as my technical expertise, especially in post processing, Lightroom, Photoshop and printmaking, that was also mostly self-taught. I was so hungry to learn I just could not feed the machine enough. I bought many books and magazines, consulted many experts, browsed various forums and just hammered out countless thousands of hours reading and much more importantly practicing… Today, the access to such information is significantly easier. As an example, people like myself and most of my favorite photographers usually offer “one on one” private lessons online, Via Skype screen sharing. That can massively short cut an upcoming photographers learning curve! I wish I had that when I started. I would have taken full and immediate advantage. In terms of the learning curve, some of my favorite photographers today have been able to get up to speed in about half the time as I did.
At what point did you decide to take the step into full-time photography?
I was in graphic design at a local college and I realized it was very competitive and I realized my heart was really not in it. At about the same time, I was given a digital camera as a gift by my father. I was also given a copy of Photoshop, near the same time, by my father-in-law. I can not really explain it, but the bug bit me so strongly I almost felt like I did not have a choice. It seemed almost like a calling to me.
You often mention your 77-year-old father who is still an active outdoorsman as an inspirational individual. How has his passion for the outdoors impacted your photography and dedication to the wilderness?
I cannot overestimate or overstate it. My dad was a legendary mountaineering machine! He still is climbing at nearing 78! I believe that if he had, had his climbing career during the internet revolution he might have been widely known. He has also just finished a book, soon to be published entitled “Breathing Pure Air” about his amazing mountaineering experiences over 4 decades of climbing. But basically speaking, my dad had me in his backpack as a toddler. He had me in the beauty of the wilderness since I can remember. He also did not merely take me out there. He also made a conscientious decision to point out the beauty to me. He made me stop, take a look and really appreciate the surroundings. I am extremely blessed to have had this legacy given to me. He also taught me another critically important thing, the spiritual connection of nature. Kind of like John Muir and how he saw the great outdoors as “the scripture of nature.” So, I am always profoundly grateful to my dad for having helped establish those critical foundations in me.
A second thing I might point out about my dad is that he is a Marine, has always been tough as nails and a real fighter. I believe some of those qualities, to various extents, rubbed off on me. And in a very competitive field such as the art world they are needed to succeed.
Your images often include storms and challenging conditions to photograph, what is it about these conditions you find appealing?
That is a good question and one I may need to pause to think about or may not even fully understand. There are various reasons. What comes to mind immediately are my photographic influences over the years. Photographers such as Marc Adamus and his often very dramatic work. When you follow certain artists for a while their work can not help to shape your own. He is pushing, and has always pushed the boundaries. He has always done amazing things to get photos that many others will not. This approach has always resonated with me.
Another reason might be that, as photographers, it is hard to set our work apart from the rest these days with all the amazing work out there, so I sometimes feel an inclination to try to capture things a bit more challenging to acquire.
Another reason may be that I love adventure and I bore easily, so I need to do things that are fun and yet challenging to keep my enjoyment factor high. I have always had a bit of an edge to my personality, as my dad has also had, to occasionally push things. The thrill of the chase if you will. I just finished watching the fantastic mountaineering movie “Meru” for the second time and you can see that these guys, in a way, have no choice but to climb. They have to climb! It is in their nature and most others will not be able to understand why. I relate to that.
The last year you have been living out of your car for long periods. I can imagine there are many benefits living as flexible as this, but also many challenges. Can you tell us a little about this experience?
You are right.
After a recent painful divorce I found myself struggling with being in a new town all by myself. Then every time I would go out to photograph I would feel relief from the pain of loneliness. Also, realizing this is an incredibly competitive field I felt it was the perfect opportunity for me to really step up my game. I was by myself, I have no kids, no dogs, no really heavy responsibilities holding me down and also technology had finally gotten to the point where I could do most of my work out of my rig using my iPhone’s hotspot for wifi. So, how could I not get radical?
On top of my normal shooting, I did almost 7 months straight last year (2015) on the road photographing, scouting and leading monthly workshop/tours. It was absolutely awesome! In fact in just the last 6 months I have put over 30,000 miles on my suv. But let me be clear here, I am also a very relational person and by no means a social recluse. So, after about half a year I started coming to the end of enjoying it, and I then decided to head home for a while. It was a great investment of time and energy, was an amazing adventure and I met so many wonderful people all along the way. I have also acquired the greatest backlog of images to date, but it was certainly not all easy! Living in a small rig (Mitsubishi Montero 4WD SUV) away from civilization has plenty of very real challenges. At some point I got my fill and started craving friends, family, loved ones and even society. So, at the moment I am enjoying all of that.
You are considered a legend and source of inspiration to many photographers. Is there anyone in particular that has inspired you?
I always laugh when people call me a legend! Several years ago I started hearing people say that. Sometimes photographers would come up to me out in the field and say, “Man, you are a legend!” Feeling a slight sense of discomfort with that, I have always laughed and said something like, “What? No way! I’m just getting started!” Honestly, I feel like I have a very far distance to go. I’ll probably always feel that way.
As far as inspirations. Heck yes, many have inspired me! I live for inspiration from others, including many non photographers! These days it is not so much certain photographers, but certain pieces of work from many photographers that inspire me. You know, you see a photo once in awhile and it just amazes you for some reason, something magical about the moment. Although I feel like my work is different than my inspirations, I do owe a lot to the inspiration I derive from others.
I can never talk about my work without mentioning people, especially Marc Adamus. Marc is a total animal at his relentless pursuit of cutting edge imagery and adventure. That has often appealed to me. But I also like more subtle work a lot too, that seems to get over looked far too much on popular photography forums today. Although I know Alex Noriega does not get over looked, his subtle approach has a strong appeal to me as well. People like Ryan Dyar and Mike Anderson have been huge inspirations too. Just phenomenal photographers. There is a whole list of folks in my head I could mention but those four have been very big staples in my inspiration. Funny enough, I do not know if you will see their style so much in my own work for some reason.
What are your top 3 tips for a person just getting started with photography?
That is a very easy question for me to answer. Number one is to tap into your passion, no matter where it may lead. It is the wellspring of life and the place I believe God works with. Do not try to be a clone of someone else no matter how much they inspire you. Learn from them, but find out what you love, what gets your heart racing, what you uniquely see and what excites you. Do not let the market or attention seeking drive that. I believe there needs to be a sort of honesty and authenticity in what we do. An integrity if you will. And if you dig deep into your passion, it will unfold.
Number two would be to make it an actual discipline to study work that inspires you. I used to tell people to make it a discipline to view amazing photography 30-60 minutes a day at least 6 days a week. And not just passively. I mean actively study it. After enjoying each image, maybe try to figure out why exactly you like it. Why does it work for you? How was it taken? In other words, really make a study of great work. I believe this goes a very long way in programming our brains to see many more possibilities while we are out in the field photographing.
My last suggestion is to have a monstrous work ethic! Nothing substitutes for simple consistent hard work! I have a lot of photographer friends who ask me a lot of questions about attempting to become a professional or they ask me questions about upping their game. I almost always reply by saying something like: “Well, you are going to need to bust your tail!!”
What will 2016 bring for Mark Metternich?
I don’t know for sure, but I can tell you that I always have very concrete goals and I have a lot of wonderful opportunities to capitalize on this year. I am determined to make incremental improvements 2016. I may be doing some major exhibition gallery work this year. I am working on producing a whole bunch of new post processing instructional video tutorials, as well as doing revisions on the video tutorials I already sell. I plan on leading a workshop a month throughout the entire year in many very exciting and diverse locations. So far, these workshops are booking up fast. I am considering hiring a videographer to film some of the more ambitious personal exploits I do for photos. I plan on photographing a list of things I have not yet accomplished. I am considering some very special trips to some unusual locations in Africa (Uganda / Kenya / Namibia) including a humanitarian stint. I also may scout out a very historical tour combining both landscape photography, photojournalism and biblical archeology in Israel and surrounding lands. So, long story short, I need to get to work!