There are so many incredible images on 500px but we want to know more about the photographers, and stories, behind them. Our Portrait series interviews a talented photographer each week, allowing us to discover more about living life through a lens.
This week's interview is with photographer Mark Bridger.
When and how did you fall in love with photography?
I have always had an interest in photography and have always loved looking at wildlife photos. For my day job I work in pre-press so I retouch a lot of photos for a living, but it wasn’t until my 40th birthday which was 3ish years ago that I actually bought a DSLR. Well, my wife bought me the camera as a birthday present which was a Canon 40D. Almost from the start I felt that this was a hobby that I was really going to love. Then, about 6 months later, my little boy George was born. He has become my favorite and best model by far and I just love taking photos of him growing up.
Have you had any formal training?
No I haven’t had any training at all; I have learnt by taking a lot of photos and making mistakes and finding out why by talking to people or Googling it. Also, the biggest help is talking to a lot of great photographers that I have met, most are from a forum called Photography on the Net which is mainly a Canon forum. There is a South East England thread and I have met and made some great friends on there, we seem to learn off each other as we all like different subjects plus there's a lot of banter that goes on as well so it's not all just photography.
How would you describe your photography style?
I would like to think that a lot of my photos are about the environment as much as the animal itself, what that type of photography is called I'm not sure... environmental wildlife? Documentary style?
Your work on 500px contains only shots of wildlife, however you’re also a wedding photographer. Do you make a living as a photographer? And how do you find a balance between the two genres of photography you work in?
Wedding photography is a new venture for me, I've shot 11 I think up to now and have 9 more booked for this year. I quite like it, it's so different from waiting for hours for an owl to maybe fly past for a split second. Also, with weddings, it is such a long day and you're on your feet for maybe 10-12 hours. I try to photograph the wedding day as it happens around me, a lot of wedding photographers try to make the day about them getting the shot when I just let it happen, but with a few formals and couple shots mixed in. So far I haven’t had any complaints, only great feedback. I'm not sure if I will carry on doing them as my normal job and my family life takes up a lot of time and to fit weddings in, as well with all the processing that goes with it, doesn’t leave much time for anything else!
You have so many amazing photos of deer in the forest. Is this a location you live nearby or do you have to travel to get these shots?
I travel to a few places to photograph deer as they are my favourite animal to photograph, I love them. I mainly go to Knole Park in Sevenoaks Kent as it's only about 20 miles from my house. There has been deer in this park for over 500 years; it’s a great place as it’s a mixture of woodland and open heathland, but you still have to hunt for them there and getting up early is a must for the best light. I quite often can be found walking around there at 5.30am before I drive to work. Another place I go to is Richmond Park in London, this is a fantastic place to go and see wildlife. The red deer there are magnificent and again, with the right light and hopefully a bit of mist, you can get some brilliant photos.
What camera/s do you shoot with?
I have two cameras. A Canon 1D MK3 and a Canon 5D MK2. For image quality the 5D, being full frame, is hard to beat, but for speed the 1D is better so I just use a combination of both.
And your favourite lenses?
My favorite lenses are my Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM and my friend Ian’s Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM which I borrow as much as I can off him. I hate giving it back, hopefully one day soon I will be able to buy one for myself. For weddings and portrait work my Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L USM is a truly special lens.
How about other equipment: lighting, tripod, filters etc.?
I have many lenses, filters, extenders, pocket wizards, tripods etc. I also now have some studio lighting as well.
How important is post-processing to the final piece?
For me, as my day job is retouching artwork and making sure the colour is right on press, it's very important. I only shoot in RAW and make all the conversions in Aperture and sometimes a bit of Photoshop as well. I love using curves to bring out the contrast and details in my photos, I'm forever fiddling with colour on pictures trying to get the scene how I want it to look. I love vibrant colour contrast and sharpness in my photos.
The shots with black backgrounds are particularly striking. Are these taken in a studio setting or is it a result of post processing?
Yes they were taken in a studio with two, or sometimes three, studio lights with different softboxes and reflectors to give different effects. In the softbox is a forest border cutout to give an effect of sunlight through the trees on the eyes. The background is black velvet which soaks up the light beautifully and makes the subject jump off the screen or print. I still have to play around a lot with colour in post-production to get the animal how I want it. They were all taken with my trusty 5D MK2 and macro lens.
How do you market your work?
In various ways. On my website you can buy prints etc, on 500px you can buy canvases and digital downloads and I have sold a few direct to people all over the world who contact me via email. Also, because 500px is looked at by lots of newspaper/agencies, I have had a few photos published in magazines and national newspapers.
What advice would you give to amateur photographers?
Well just keep practicing and shoot a subject you love. I love wildlife so I think my best photos are of nature, one of my friends, Robert Bridgens loves second world war re-enactment and his photos show how much he likes that subject. I think you polish the pictures of your favorite subject just that little bit more without knowing it. The other thing that helps is joining a camera club, I prefer the online type rather than the in-person type club, but talking to people that have more knowledge than you is priceless.
Who or what inspires your work?
I think that my love of nature inspires me to go out and get the photos that I want to take. Of course my wife Debbie and my son George are my other favorite subjects to photograph. Also, seeing the photos my friends take makes me want to keep on improving.
What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
So far I would think getting into the final of the National Geographic Nature Contest or the wildlife photographer of the year competitions have to be the best so far, I just need to learn more and get better so I can maybe get a commended or even win a category one day.
Out of all the photographs you have ever taken, which is your favourite and why?
That’s a difficult question as I don’t really have one favorite image. I would think that the eagle owl in flight is probably one of my best and was the National Geographic finalist. Also, the deer shot I called Aliens is another favorite and I think my highest rated photo on 500px. I love a photo I took in Norfolk of a wild barn owl on a branch looking over his shoulder and a tree frog in the rain. And, just to confuse you, I have just taken some photos of kingfishers which I have been trying to capture on camera for a while now without success, but finally I have and I will be posting them up in the next few weeks on 500px. Hopefully people will like them.
If you could capture anybody or anything on camera what would it be?
I would love to go on a safari to photograph lions, or go to India to photograph tigers.
What’s next for you in photography? Any photo projects you’re working on, or animals you’re keen to photograph?
I will be photographing the fawns that are being born about now over the next few weeks, if I can find them as the does will be keeping them safe deep in the woods. Also, I hope to shoot puffins and razorbills on Skomer Island very soon as well. Besides that it's dragonfly time so that will keep me busy over the next month or so, and of course weddings that are booked up throughout the rest of the year.
Just so we can find out a bit more about the person behind the lens, could you tell us 5 things about you that are completely unrelated to photography?
I hate talking about myself but I will try…
What are your aspirations for the future, in photography or otherwise?
Hopefully one day I will win some sort of photographic competition, maybe become a professional photographer and run wildlife courses, watching my little boy grow up and maybe having another child.
Thanks to Mark for being interviewed and to you for reading. Feel free to leave a comment below, feedback is awesome!