Mark Zukowski is a gifted photographer with a fine eye for the natural world, and the patience to set up breathtaking pictures, from the smallest detail on a plant or animal to the sweeping panorama of a mountain scene. His passion takes him to all corners of the world, but when he is home in Sonoma he graciously makes magic happen on our website. We would be lost in cyberspace without him. It was no small feat to corner him for an interview one afternoon in the gallery.
When did photography become part of your life?
I became interested in photography when I was around 12 years old. My parents had a Kodak twin-lens Reflex camera and I was intrigued by it. It looked cool and it was fun to operate. I started taking black and white photographs of things around the house, then moved outdoors where the light was better. I eventually built a small darkroom in the laundry room in the basement of our house (my mother graciously put up with it), developed my own film and made my own prints in my teenage years. Photography books from the library, and magazines such as National Geographic and Outdoor Photographer were the main sources of my education in photography in those days. I particularly enjoyed the work of Galen Rowell and dreamt of taking photographs like him someday. Later, in my 20’s, some generous friends at work gifted me with a Minolta SRT100 camera as I was heading off to graduate school. I made good use of that camera until I finally bought a small Sony digital camera as soon as it hit the consumer market. Subsequently, I invested in more serious equipment around 10 years ago. And I continue to enjoy just about every book, article, blog, and video about photography that I can access, mostly online.
What is your process?
My tagline is “exploring nature with artistic intent.” I enjoy photographing landscapes, seascapes, fauna and flora, but I also do a bit of travel photography too. A Nikon D810 and a Sony a7rII are my cameras of choice at this time. Both have full frame, high resolution digital sensors which are ideal for my type of photography. On a typical outing I’ll take hundreds or even thousands of shots, all in raw format (a so-called digital negative). I use a tripod as often as possible, and certainly use it in low light situations where longer exposure times are necessary. In my studio, I use Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop, as well as some third party plugins, to adjust my images for correct color, contrast and the like, because shooting in raw requires this process. I print my photos myself using archival pigment inks and archival papers.
What comprises a good photograph?
That’s not a simple answer. It depends on the specific type of image that the photographer aims to capture. But in general, the photograph should be well-composed and able to convey a feeling or message without verbal explanation. The photographer should be well prepared, yet open to change perspective for a better shot. Good light is important, though sometimes not available. A good photographer can still make a good photograph in challenging conditions.
Where do your ideas come from?
Many of my photographs are taken locally because we live in such a beautiful part of the world. But I do enjoy traveling to other parts of California, to other states, and internationally when new photographic opportunities beckon. Over the past 2 years alone I’ve photographed in Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Canada, French Polynesia, Pitcairn Island, Easter Island, India, Norway and Iceland. There’s an old adage that states, “If you want to take more interesting photographs, stand in more interesting places.” Many of those places are close to home if you look for them, but I do enjoy taking photographs of distant lands, and sharing those images with others.
What do you feel is the future of photography?
Almost everyone carries a camera of sorts these days, whether it’s on their smart phone, tablet, glasses, body cam, drone, GoPro, selfie stick, whatever, or the more traditional point and shoot, DSLR, mirrorless, or video camera. I think it’s great that nearly everyone enjoys taking pictures. I’ve read that more than one trillion digital pictures will be taken globally this year. If taking photographs brings happiness to the shooter, that’s terrific. But most of these images are snap shots rather than artistic photographs. Photography at its highest level is art. And I see more and more young people exploring photography not only for their artistic expression, but to pursue photography as a career. Some are using film and some are pushing the boundaries of digital images. Videography has captured the imagination of countless emerging talents. These are positive trends, so I’m optimistic that the future of photography is in good hands.
Advice to someone starting out?
Get out and shoot, early and often. Keep your eyes open. Know your equipment inside and out. Share your experiences with other photographers. Pick a genre and become the best at it. Experiment – your own style will emerge. Be your own best critic. Display your best photographs online and in print. Have fun!
What would people not know about you?
That depends on who’s asking. Most people in the art world would not know that I have a PhD in Genetics. Most people in science would not know that I am a fine art photographer. I guess my education paid off – as an undergraduate student at Georgetown University I was in the College of Arts and Sciences!