Mark Fisher

Shooting on the edge: an interview with Mark Fisher

Today’s Lab feature is an interview with adventure photographer and athlete Mark Fisher. Mark’s work often takes him to the far-flung corners of our planet, whether this means attempting the 8000 meter peak of Mt. Shishapangma in Tibet, dangling off the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite, or just navigating a dusty mountain trail on a bicycle. Having done work for global brands such as The North Face, Nike, Patagonia, and Columbia has helped solidify Mark’s reputation as an incomparable action-sports and outdoor photographer. All that experience has allowed him to conquer the photographic aspects of his job, so Mark has recently begun to incorporate video into his shoots – and it’s beginning to gain some traction.

Jennifer Kilberg: First thing’s first — How did you get into motion work?

Mark Fisher: I really got into motion two ways. One, I’ve worked with a lot of film crews for many years and I’ve always been fascinated with moving pictures. I was drawn to motion early on but never had the opportunity to easily cross over. The second big catalyst was the introduction of the Canon 5D Mark II. That camera finally made motion accessible for still guys like me, and got me hooked. Now I’m on to the RED Epic and the excitement continues.

JK: What are some of the challenges of doing stills and motion together on the same shoot?

MF: By and large, shooting stills and motion together on the same shoot works really well. That said, there are some sizable challenges one must overcome, especially in action sports. For instance, the use of strobes works great for stills but it’s terrible for motion—and the two don’t combine well. If you’re trying to shoot motion with sound then it makes stills almost impossible. I also like to work dynamically with my subjects, so it takes a lot of coordination to make scenes work. When I’m on a commercial shoot it’s often possible to do two takes: one for the stills and one for the motion. When you’re shooting action sports there’s often only one take. What this means is that there is often a lot of compromise between the shot one wants, the shot one gets, and which has ultimate priority on a shoot—because one is going to trump the other. At the end of the day, stills and motion can and do work together well, but it takes a lot of coordination and planning to do it right.

JK: When you get assignment work, what percentage is motion, still, or both?

MF: I would say about half of my work is motion. Some jobs call for stillsand motion, but most are one or the other. I figured out early on that one person can’t shoot both, so I work with a team on all of my jobs. If it’s a motion-only job, I’ll shoot motion. If it’s a still and motion job, I’ll shoot the stills and I’ll have someone else shoot motion. In those instances, I act more in a director capacity for the motion shots. It’s really hard to convince clients who want still shots to pay for what motion actually costs—in my experience, motion is way more time-intensive, more difficult, and pays less than stills. I’m still working on figuring that one out….

JK: What are the obstacles in living and working in the life of extreme sports?

MF: I work too much, carry a pack that’s too heavy, and will most likely have back problems later on in life. I also just don’t get enough time to ski or climb on my own. The other thing is that my work is very dependent on what my body’s up for. There’s always the risk I can injure myself and not be able to complete the shoot.

JK: Speaking of which, have you ever had a near-death experience?

MF: I have never had what I’d call a near-death experience but there have been a lot of intense situations in the mountains. When you’re in a serious place, there are no second chances. You really need to respect the mountain, and it will give you what you need. Still, even on simple climbs, you’re constantly battling things like weather, navigation, and equipment issues.

JK: What kind of equipment do you shoot with? Knowing you’re in such extreme locations, have you ever had any difficulties with it?

MF: I mostly work with Canon cameras and lenses, as well asREDEpics. I have never had any difficulties, but there’s often a lot of management required with moisture, cold, or just sheer weight and volume. The durability of the Canon cameras is quite amazing.

JK: You must shoot a ton of footage. How much would you say you actually use in proportion to what you shoot?

MF: I shootwaymore than I use. For example, this past winter I shot approximately 40,000 images. Some of these were time-lapses, though, so let’s call it 30,000 images. I’ll probably only use 200 of them!

JK: What’s your favorite activity and location to photograph?

MF: I’d say my favorite place to work is Alaska. Alaska is an incredibly diverse state that acts more like its own country. I love it. The light is what’s most amazing there: in the winter the long, low sun reflects off the perfect white snow-covered peaks for a dramatic effect. (The aurora borealis helps in the winter, as well.) In the summer one literally has hours upon hours of gorgeous sunset and sunrise light. It’s ethereal, unique, and truly beautiful. Finally, for a lot of these sports, Alaska is really the best place on the planet. Not much else comes close to it.

JK: Last question, Mark. What are you currently working on?

MF: Right now I’ve got a lot of cool projects in the works. I’m wrapping up a couple big still commercial shoots for ski clients like The North Face and Atomic as well as shooting a big campaign for Sony and their new action cam. I’m also finishing two video series for the brands Outdoor Research and Dynafit. I just began shooting on a documentary called An Ironman’s Journey about the first quadriplegic Ironman athlete, which is really inspirational. I’m also in the midst of an awesome portrait assignment about influential Jackson Hole locals for a big travel magazine. In a few weeks I head out on a shoot for Royal Caribbean cruise lines in Alaska. Most exciting, though, is that I’m off to Myanmar on August 8th for a 6-week climbing expedition into one of the last unexplored corners of the Himalaya. It’s going to be wild, intense expedition. Sony just signed on for the film project and there are a lot of great companies and projects involved with this expedition. Stay tuned for the film, still photos, and stories from this trip!

For more of Mark Fisher’s eye-popping work, check out his official site here.

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