One of South Africa’s top Avian and Wildlife photographers, Mark Drysdale, chats to PiX about his photography and his journey in becoming one of the most respected photographers in this field.
Who is Mark Drysdale?
Mark has had a camera and a love for photography from a young age. He chose to indulge his passion more thoroughly approximately five years ago and subsequently left the mainstream of «industry» to make a go of it With the support of his wife, he studied further to gain a better knowledge of photography, the industry, its many genres and the technical aspect of editing. Mark’s main interest is in nature and wildlife photography.
» What photographic kit and gadgets can you simply not live without?
My basic camera gear is the 500mm f4 prime lens, 70-200mm f2.8 and D4 and D600 combination, which has served me in good stead. Also, my cell phone with the full Roberts Bird Catalogue is another essential piece of equipment for me.
» Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
These days, ten years is just around the corner; you blink and it’s gone. Travel and photographic education is part of my life, in ten years or less I would love to see some of our students or fellow safari travellers go on to create real masterpieces of their own.
» What is your photographic comfort zone?
Probably most of the people who know me will say, ‘with the birds», which is not far from the truth, but I find myself most comfortable shooting the creative shot in photography, generally spot metering and manipulating the surrounding light to get something different.
Getting this shot I used…
Nikon D 600,70-200mm lens, a low ISO (200) and Small aperture, F16, Slow Shutter Speed, 1 /100 to show some wing blur and movement. A beanbag or tripod for a steady mount.
»What have been some of your most difficult and challenging images to photograph, and why?
I think all good images have a special challenge of their own; the position of the subject with nature photography does not always fall in the favour of he photographer. How the light falls on the subject determines the style of the image that is to be created. The perfect situation rarely falls into place and the other times determine the skill of the artist. With bird photography a great deal of emphasis is put on the ‘bird in flight» image and I strongly believe that a static image captured with well balanced contrasting light has my vote most of the time.
»What are your tips for wildlife photographers to get the best out of their shots?
Firstly, know your equipment well, if you know what it can’t do, then getting the image that you want, falls in much clearer parameters. Be patient and be aware of what’s around you. Although many images are planned, there are times when something different shows itself, so keep an open mind. Sometimes even the simplest of subjects make the best images. See difficulties as challenges.
»What’s the closest you’ve ever been to the wildlife you were photographing?
A few years ago I had the privilege of visiting a private lodge near Kruger, which had a wild bull elephant visiting the respective houses. Watching and photographing him with a 24-70mm wide-angle lens from a mere two metres away was quite invigorating.
»What is the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you while on a shoot?
Whilst on a night drive, the vehicle broke down. It was a particularly dark night and the ranger walked back to camp to get help; two of us were left on the vehicle in complete darkness with no light or torch. Lions were calling close by, and not being able to see what was happening was quite harrowing.
» What is your opinion on the ethics of wildlife photographers that will stop at nothing to get the shot?
They need an RFS. There are specific rules and guidelines when going on a photographic safari; sometimes these are bent to get something special under the guidance of a ranger, (like getting out the vehicle) I don’t have a problem with that, but then you have the individual who is baiting his prey to get the shot, and I have an issue with that. Quite often the subject is injured, and that’s not in anyone’s interest.
» As a photographer, what inspires you about South Africa ?
SA, as a destination for Wildlife Photography, is one of the best in the world. I know that some destinations are well out of reach as a result of costs. But the Kruger and the Kgalagadi are two that can give you some of the best photo opportunities you can get, for very affordable rates. And if those are still out of reach, even your local park will surprise you with its varieties, I believe there is always something out there for someone.
»What are you working on at the moment?
Like all businesses, there are aspects of marketing and sales that need to be dealt with, so my partner Jay van Rensburg and I are concentrating on the Wildlife Photographic College and new courses that are soon to be released into the market. We are embarking on a collaboration with someone special, soon to be announced, so watch this space!
» What is the easiest animal to take a picture of for first time wildlife photographers?
Birds are probably the easiest to photograph, simply because in S.A. the opportunity presents itself more often. Or, simply lie flat on your belly, position yourself so you have a good clean background and take an image of your pet, low level from about 2m-6m away (depending on your lens), in good light and look at the result If you don’t have a pet go to the local park or dam that has birds and try to capture them from a low level. You will be surprised at the results.
How do you promote your work?
The social media is a reasonably good platform, but as with most businesses you must be out there selling your wares. Magazines, shows and photography retailers are all good sources for the marketing of your skills and product.
» Where do you look for inspiration; for example what are some blogs/websites/publications that you find yourself lost in?
Photographers that are consciously evolving, confident about their work, and not looking for continuous recognition of their product, are the people who inspire me. Joe McNally who recently visited our shores is a great example of such a character. The PiX publication has come up with some really inspiring stuff, that everyone can use in their quest for the perfect image. A young, vibrant Hungarian photographer, Bence Mate, is an inspiration, who, from humble beginnings, has changed how hide photography has evolved to what he does now. His hide photography has given a whole new perspective to bird photography worldwide.
» What are a few things people don’t know about you? I have a passion for peated single malt whisky, preferably from Islay. I thoroughly enjoy good food and wine. Haven’t found my ultimate image yet, but still enjoying looking for it.