Q&A with Photographer David Marks
David has been a professional photographer for the last 35 years, from freelance photojournalism in the 80’s, commercial automotive in the 90’s, to fine art for the last 20 years.
He is a master of his craft and we are very excited to welcome him on a Ntaba African Safari for the fourth time. David kindly agreed to have a chat with us, before the trip next year, giving us the opportunity to learn a bit more about the man behind the lens and pick up some top tips!
Ntaba: You have been a professional photographer for the last 35 years, what influenced you to follow the career path of a photographer?
David: I suppose as a child, I remembered my great uncle always having a camera and taking Polaroid photos around the holidays. It was pretty fascinating watching the image come alive in those 90 seconds or so! He would let me spread the protective coating on them when I was old enough… That just might have been my first excitement. Then fast forward to my time in the USAF, stationed in Germany starting in 1978 when I bought my first camera, a little Minolta SLR from the BX on base. I just wanted to take nice photos to send home to my family in Kentucky. I soon was bitten by the bug, carried my camera everywhere, and started photographing sports events on the base for the weekly newspaper.
Ntaba: What do you like most about the job?
David: I think sharing the way I see with others. Sometimes it’s the so-called mundane but shown in a different way. It’s a way to express my feelings about a person, place, or thing.
Ntaba: What is most challenging about the job?
David: See above answer! Haha… Sometimes trying to show something different is extremely challenging. I’ve stopped worrying too much about each individual photo being all-telling or ‘deep’. I try now to let the body of the work from a particular area or theme speak more as a narrative.
Ntaba: How would you describe your photography style?
David: Kinda Heinz 57… a bit of everything I suppose! When I was first learning, I read everything I could find about every type of photography and every photographer. There is a graphic sensibility nurtured by the likes of greats like Pete Turner and Eric Meola. A journalistic influence by W. Eugene Smith. A sense of humor and irony by Elliot Erwitt and Mark Klett. More recently, I’ve been following (and drawing inspiration from) the incredible Africa work by Christopher Rimmer, Bjorn Persson, and Billy Dodson.
Ntaba: What is typically in your camera bag?
David: Lately, less and less!! Just walking around Santa Fe, I will carry just one camera and lens… typically a Nikon DSLR or a Fuji mirrorless camera with a small zoom. An Africa excursion requires a little more of course. Usually 2 Nikon camera bodies (and Nikon is just what I’ve used for 35+ years. Canon, Sony, etc…all just as capable), a 16-35mm wide-angle zoom, 70-200mm zoom, and a long 200-500mm zoom. Each camera always starts the day with a fully charged battery of course, and 1 or 2 spare batteries, PLENTY of memory cards, a little microfiber/chamois type cloth. Many folks will ask about filters… I say if it’s windy or blowing dust or sand..then sure, put a protective filter on your lens. Otherwise, I don’t use them very much. I feel it’s another layer of glass in front of that expensive lens.
Ntaba: How important is the camera in taking a great photo?
David: So many iconic, world-class images were taken over the years were made with equipment that by today’s standards wouldn’t make the cut. That being said, those images were taken by photographers that knew their equipment and its limitations like the back of their hand. Bottom line… it’s going to be difficult to find a camera these days that is not capable of giving you excellent results. Even bridge type, super zoom, all in one camera’s are doing an amazing job. You do not have to own the absolute high end of any manufacturer’s camera line to make superb quality photos. Buy what you can afford and practice with it!! Did I say practice with it?
Ntaba: You’re heading to Africa with us next year for the fourth time! You must really love the continent. What is it about Africa that brings you back time after time?
David: I just love being around the animals and the open space. There is such a feeling of well, belonging. It may sound strange, but a feeling of being both excited and at peace at the same time. Also, I have never met more genuine and friendly folks that I have in southern Africa. I even think their good morning smiles have chased away a headache or two!
Ntaba: What do you enjoy most about photography in Africa?
David: See above answer AND… I like watching the expressions of guests when they see (insert fave animal here) for the first time and helping them make great images. I just love it when someone comes up to me and says; “look, David, I got it!”
Ntaba: Is there anything that you hope to capture on this trip? Perhaps something that has evaded you on the previous trips.
David: I make a lot of animal ‘portraits’ on my Africa trips and the one portrait that has eluded me has been the classic ‘leopard in the tree with the sun highlighting his eyes’ portrait. I’m confident it will happen soon!
Ntaba: What variables make for the ‘perfect’ shot?
David: Light, expression or ‘gesture’, and composition… these all go a long way toward that elusive ‘perfect’ image. Sometimes it’s just ‘magic’ that happens. Being prepared to accept the ‘magic’ or ‘gift’ when it appears… that’s the thing.
Ntaba: What are your top three tips for taking a great photo?
- Have your camera in your hands with the lens cap off.
- Know your camera’s functions… practice before you head out on safari.
- Watch for distracting background elements. If you move 1 foot right or left, does it get better? Sometimes even shifting your body from one side to the other can hide a distracting element behind an animal’s body.
End of questions.
A massive thanks to David for chatting with us.
To keep up to date with David and see more of his work, you can visit his website: www.rdavidmarks.com