Five questions with… Mark Carter

Auckland-based award-winning photographer Mark Carter talks to IheartNZ's Josie Stanford about finding and living his dream job.

How did you get into photography, is it a tough career to be in?
I first got into photography as a career choice in my mid 20s. I was always into taking pictures as a kid and through my late teens and early 20s I spent a lot of time travelling and living overseas. I would always be the one saying to my travelling companions “Stop here, I need to take a pic” or “Check out the light”. I would end up with tons of rolls of 35mm film (Remember those days?) and process them at some cheap outlet, then have a ridiculous number of photos compared to my mates who maybe shot two rolls to my 20!

Mark Carter
Mark Carter

I was at a crossroads when I returned to NZ as to what I would do with my life and thought that whatever I do I should enjoy it. I didn’t really fancy being bound to a desk and ultimately wanted to work for myself. Eventually it came to me that photography could be a good choice, but already in my mid 20s I wasn’t that keen to dedicate three or four years to study and massive student debt. Luckily enough, photography isn’t one of those professions that necessarily needs a degree by your name.
It’s more about the work you can produce, how you see things and what type of person you are. After a lot of digging around, finding out what I could about the industry, I discovered that assisting established photographers was the key to becoming a commercial photographer – that and a lot of hard work.
Even if you graduate from university and you want to become a commercial photographer you will need to assist if you hope to succeed. If you want to be good you need to be prepared to stick at it and “do your time” assisting which I did for almost four years. It’s a bit like an apprenticeship really!


What’s your favourite subject matter?

First and foremost, the natural landscape. I love being in the outdoors and I’m consistently amazed at the natural wonders of our world. I think this was fuelled by my early travel bug and my desire for adventure and discovery.
I also love shooting and working with people – I actually started my career shooting fashion mainly and this for me was always more about the people in the environment than the latest clothes they might have been wearing.
Over time I have aimed to specialise which is really key in the commercial field – you can be jack of all trades but if you want to get noticed you need to specialise. That and develop your ‘style’, this is something I still feel I am doing but it’s more a natural progression than something you can force.

Kids playing in Vanuatu.
Kids playing in Vanuatu.

I also shoot a lot of underwater work and hope to do more of this as paid commissions or documentary type work in the future. I have been a keen scuba diver since I was 15 and photography naturally combines with this.
Actually, my dad who got me into diving and whom I still dive with regularly, used to also shoot a lot of underwater photos. Back then it was all on transparency film or slide and when he came home from diving in the islands we would all sit down to a slide show evening. I remember being transfixed to the images of what lay beneath the ocean surface so I guess it was written in the stars way back then!

Is the light in New Zealand a photographer’s dream?
The light in New Zealand is a funny thing really. It can be amazing and extremely hard to work with depending on how you look at it. The light is a lot brighter and harsher than say the Northern hemisphere. In photographic terms it’s one or two stops more on your light meter. In camera talk a cloudless sunny day here may read F16 at 125th/sec but for our Northern counterparts it is around F8 at 125th/sec.
This is mainly due to our ozone and lack of pollution or particles in the air, a bit like trying to get a suntan here and not getting burnt is a whole lot harder than say in the Mediterranean!

Kake Ruataniwha just after dawn.
Lake Ruataniwha just after dawn.

So with the harsher sun you get a lot more pop and contrast in your images which can be fine for a landscape image but very hard looking on people. Somewhere like California with its year round sunshine and deserts nearby the light is soft and forgiving making it great to photograph in. It’s often an issue international photographers discover when they come here.
In saying all this you learn to make the most of it, turn it to your advantage and know when to stop and wait till the light’s better.
The best time of the day to shoot landscapes is known as the ‘magic hour’ right after sunrise and right before sunset. That’s when the sun and the light are at their best, soft light, long shadows and especially in the evening that nice warm glow we all love. The early bird gets the worm, be there ready to go and wait for that moment. Patience can have it’s place here, that and no-one saying “come on are you done yet? Photography can be a solitary thing at times!

It can be tough to be in ‘the arts’ in NZ. How is the photography industry here?
I think making a living in the Arts can be tough wherever you live. It doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work and dedication to master your medium. The value put on the arts can be just as open for debate. That perception of value is something I think photography in this modern digital era does suffer from. The ease and accessibility to the medium these days can mean any Joe with a camera and a Facebook page can lay claim to being a ‘photographer’ which can in turn have a dulling affect on the perceived value of photography. Just take a look at some of the stock libraries for example where images are available for $1. As professionals, our job is to separate ourselves from this and take it to the next level, create value in what we do or how we do it.
The industry here does suffer somewhat from our small population base as do many businesses, the rates and budgets here can be pretty tight and many of the larger global companies will shoot their campaigns overseas with images being supplied for local usage. You see it all the time in TV adverts and it’s no different with stills.
I find it’s best to accept the situation and get out and make the most of what is available!
I would like to branch out and look for work overseas in some of the larger markets like Asia and Australia. These all take time to crack and need to part of a long-term approach. That said, I don’t see myself shifting overseas in order to make this happen at this stage in my life. I have a young family and we are pretty settled with great friends and family nearby. I have my career and aspirations but need to keep that in balance with my family life.
We have the best country to live anywhere in the world hands down, it’s just not always easy to make a living!

To me, the New Zealand scenery is pretty stunning and from top to bottom we have some real gems – what are your favourite places to shoot?
New Zealand is an amazing country in so many ways and our scenery, our landscape is certainly no exception. It’s a key part of what makes this such a special place in the world, along with our people of course.

Ice in the Tasman Glacier lake.
Ice in the Tasman Glacier lake.

I have several favourite places to shoot in NZ and I know there are loads I haven’t even discovered yet. The South Island is full of places, Central Otago, Queenstown/Wanaka, Canterbury – it’s all stunning, the huge mountains that rise out of the plains, waterfalls cascading down them into the lakes. I find it quite surreal at times how beautiful our landscape is!
I haven’t investigated much of the West Coast of the South Island yet which is somewhere I would love to spend some time exploring in the future, there’s just so much to see.
I live on the West Coast in Auckland and love the beaches we have on our doorstep. They always make for a dramatic image with the black sand and rugged coastline. You know you are alive when you’re out there which is always a good thing to be reminded about!
It feels like home too…

To find out more about Mark visit his website

Click to enlarge and to view as a slideshow

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