Say hello to Marcus :
Where are you from? Where have you been?
I’m nothing more than a simple New Yorker/Long Islander currently living in Brooklyn. Went from elementary to high school in Long Island, and eventually went to the City College of New York in Manhattan. Though I’ve done most of my living in Manhattan, I recently told someone, “I pretty much only slept in Long Island.” College was an eye-opening experience for me, and over the years I’ve learned to be as open minded as possible. Granted that’s within reason, since you won’t see me hopping out of an airplane anytime soon.
What’s your favorite place in the world?
I don’t think I’ve done enough living yet to really have a “favorite” place. I’m not much of a traveler because it’s pretty expensive, and I don’t think I have the patience to deal with airplane travel. Though I would love to go to Tokyo at some point, as long as I could be tranquilized for the entire duration of the plane trip. With a 22 hour flight, I might just hop out of the airplane.
What’s on your “bucket list” of ideas to create?
This is something that I hope is constantly evolving. I honestly hope two years from now that I’m not stuck with the same exact list. Right now, I’d like to get paid for a shoot and have something published in a magazine. I’d also like to get my first full frame camera. I would like to do a cosplay shoot at some point, especially since I have a passion for anime and video games. Just being a part of something like that, where I would be able to help capture the amount of detail and passion that these artists put into these costumes, would be great. It doesn’t help that I have such a long list of female anime and game characters that I adore.
How would you describe your visual style?
It’s kind of hard for me to describe my visual style. I guess for me it’s all about trying to keep people as human and natural as possible. Sometimes I just stand there, waiting for that one moment where a person does exactly what I want them to do, and then I snap the picture. To the outside observer, I probably look like a borderline stalker, but waiting for eye contact really just helps the image. I have also found myself tweaking how I edit stuff occasionally. I used to just edit each and every picture individually, without giving much of a care for consistency. There would be jarring shifts of contrast and exposure, but I’ve refined it a bit. I mainly just edit them in bulk, and pretty much only touch up exposure or highlight clipping here and there if need be.
How do you find your inspiration?
I think I mainly find it through curiosity. I go out and experiment occasionally. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. But the main point is that I went out and tried something different. Another key point is that, hopefully, I learned something.
Do you get photographer’s block? If so, how do you overcome that?
Yes occasionally. I go through an occasional phase where I think everything I shoot is horrible. But, I can’t really let that last for too long, since one of my responsibilities at my job is doing event photography. So if I sit on my butt being a tortured artist for too long, it will just hamper my duties at work and I can’t have that.
Tell us about your career. How did you get into it?
This is probably going to be one weird answer. I grew up with my dad having a passion for photography, but he never fully got into it till the digital age. He used to do product photography for his job. I paid him no mind for years, because at that point in time I had no interest in it. I’m cheap, and “If I’m not going to be using it then why waste my money on it” was my mentality when it came to buying a camera.
I didn’t get my first camera until around May of 2015. That only really happened for two reasons. I got a promotion at my job, which put me onto the video team responsible for shooting student and professor interviews, with the occasional panel being thrown in. I figured I’d get a camera to get more acquainted with stuff like composition, learning what the hell aperture and shutter speed are and how they affect the picture. Also at around that time I ended up having a girlfriend, and I figured I’d want to get a camera to capture some of the memories that we had. I eventually settled on a Nikon Coolpix P530. It’s a not too complicated mega zoom bridge camera. I learned so much on that thing, but eventually felt like I was outgrowing it.
This is one of my earliest pictures on my Flickr page. I took it on May 17th of 2015 with the P530. It’s not the first picture snapped or anything, but it’s a picture that I can currently look at and not feel repulsed, so I figured I’d share it. This is free of Lightroom edits, but I think it captures a nice mood and is quite romantic.
Eventually, I settled on getting a DSLR. Boy, was it hard figuring out what I was going to get. I was thinking frugally at the time, and was like, “I’ll just get a used Nikon D5200.” I mean it would’ve done the job just fine for where I was at at the time, but with where I’m at now, I can’t see myself using it, but I digress. After probably a month or so of going to B&H and Best Buy, testing out cameras and getting used to their weight and button layout, I got a refurbished D7100, which is currently my bread and butter. I eventually started doing some portrait work, and since I didn’t have much of a budget for lenses, I just used my Nikon 50mm G lens as my main lens. Nothing teaches you about zooming your feet and composition like a prime lens. After becoming more competent, I eventually asked my boss if I could photograph some events. He said yes, and eventually I was given some stuff to do. The lead photographers liked what they saw on my Facebook wall and were looking forward to working with me. The rest is history…
What types of photography do you do?
I’m currently doing event photography, fashion, street, parade, and portraiture. I think I enjoy street stuff the most since it’s pretty stress-free. Nobody cares how the pictures turn out except for me. I don’t get paid for them, I don’t have to submit them to work, if something is off focus I’ll just kick myself in the butt for a bit and move on. That aside, I mostly enjoy all of it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing any of it, and if I wasn’t doing any of it, I wouldn’t be typing out this interview. I think doing the street stuff helps me learn things. I actually find myself going out a day or two before I have an event, and I spend an hour shooting. I try to practice my composition and make sure I know what settings are ideal, and just try to find my flow. I think it keeps me from getting too nervous. It also helps that I don’t have to worry about directing or posing people, like I do with fashion. It’s almost like wildlife photography.
My second favorite is probably the shoots I do for my job’s parades. It’s pretty much just a giant mix of event and street photography, combined with photojournalism. You have to be on your toes with those because you really can’t predict what’s going to happen, which is why I find myself swapping lenses a lot. You want to get certain things, or focus on a certain look or person, and just hope to God that you have the right lens on your camera when that money shot happens.
What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?
I believe I was at an Autism Walk with my at the time girlfriend at Flushing Meadow Park, and I was just taking in the scenery. It was all very nice to me, and I even took a few pictures with my phone camera. A week or two after that, I bought a camera. I still wouldn’t call myself a photographer at that point, more like an aspiring photographer. It took me a good couple of months to get my eye in gear, though. My early pictures were… let’s just say they were pictures. Every time I go deep enough into my Flickr account and see my older pictures, I start critiquing them, and I’m like, “well what the hell was I taking a picture of here?”
What is the strangest situation you’ve ever faced as a photographer?
I was doing a shoot with a couple. Boyfriend was cool as a cucumber, his girlfriend was whatever the opposite of that is. She didn’t like her look, demanded everything to be deleted. Her boyfriend kept trying to reason with her. I mostly just used it as experience. They still got treated with respect and their pictures delivered promptly.
What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?
Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism and don’t let it deter you from continuing. When you start out you’re going to make mistakes, it’s inevitable. Honestly, you’re going to make the occasional mistake till you stop taking pictures. The most important thing is to learn from your mistakes, go on out there, and keep shooting because that’s the only way you’re going to get better.
Another thing, don’t say, “I’m never going to need that.” That thing you said you’re not going to need? You’re going to need it. Granted, there are exceptions to this one. Nobody really needs a 200-500mm lens, but it really depends on what you’re taking pictures of. The best thing a person can do is try to plan out what they do the most, and which specialty lenses are essential for what you do. I used to think that I would never need a 2.8 70-200 lens. I have one now, and it’s pretty much part of my street photography bag now. I love it. I’ve gotten into doing street portraits of people, and these just would not be possible without the added reach. It’s pretty much essential for portraits and event photography as well. Another tip is, don’t be afraid to buy refurbished and second hand. My camera is refurbished and my lenses are second hand. It reduces the price significantly, just be careful not to get burned on anything.
What is the best thing a model can do to make the most of a photoshoot?
I find the best thing a model can do to make the most of a photoshoot is what they do before the photoshoot. One of my biggest complaints from a few that I’ve dealt with is their email correspondence. Why it takes some three days to answer an email is beyond me.
What’s the funniest story you have from being a photographer?
I messed up a shoot because I was shooting with a foreign camera. I’m not much of a Canon shooter. I can theoretically use one, but I think I was trying to be too advanced and ended up menu diving once too much, or blind turned something and ended up changing my picture quality. Every shot after the first five were shot in low resolution. I was quite annoyed. A real funny one was when I got a new lens. At some point, I changed my AF point and locked it off center without realizing what I had done. So for about a week I was shooting with an AF point that was pretty much at the bottom of the viewfinder. At least after that I knew how to change my AF point around, and I do it regularly now.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to being a great photographer?
Take it seriously, but also keep having fun. I’d also like to say don’t get caught up in GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). Photography is a really fun hobby, it motivates me to actually not go straight home from work, at least until the winter hits. If I don’t need to be shooting, I don’t need to risk my fingers. I say this now, but I can’t wait for the winter as well, because Bryant Park has this ice skating rink that they set up for the winter that I love. It’s just great for taking pictures of ice skaters. I got my 2.8 70-200 right after they closed it up. I can’t wait to see what kinds of photographs I’ll be able to get with it that I couldn’t get before I had it. I guess the exuberance of that digression proves that I find it fun, and that fun is key to being a great photographer. Even if it’s your job, you still have to do it, and the lust and passion for a great image just fuels you. It’s that thing that keeps you from going “f**k it, I’m going home.” When I say stay away from GAS, I’m saying it because stuff gets expensive. If you really can’t justify having specific things, then you most likely really do not need to have it. Research what you need, then get it as long as you can afford it. I’d like a 300mm F2.8 prime, but I don’t really need one and I’d probably never use it. Can’t do street photography anonymously if you’re walking around with a monopod attached to your camera. Now if I shot sports, or did a vast amount of exotic birding, then yeah, different story. I’m in Brooklyn, I don’t need that thing to photograph pigeons.
What’s a deal breaker for you when deciding to do a shoot?
I usually go over what they want and I opt out if it’s some sort of erotic shoot idea. There are enough people doing that, it’s not really my thing. Now if there’s actual money on the table I can be swayed, quite easily actually. Now if you’re asking me to photograph a straight up porno, then that’s a hard no.
How do you bring out your model’s personality in a shoot?
I honestly just do my best not to direct too much, though I do need to get better on that front. I want their natural personality to come out, instead of them looking fabricated.
What photography advice do you wish you had when you were first starting out?
Just to get out there and shoot. Sure, your first thousand or so pictures will suck, but it’s worth the time knowing what not to do so you don’t suck as much.
What are 3 tips you have for aspiring photographers?
Progress at your own pace. Don’t do certain things unless you know you’re confident enough to know that you can actually do it. Another thing would be to know your strong points and find your niche. If you can’t photograph people, but you can make an omelet look sexy, then do food photography and read up on the tricks of that craft. Final thing would be to not let criticism deter you. You’re going to be criticized, the key thing is how you handle it.
What kind of gear do you have? What’s your favorite?
Nikon D7100, Sigma 2.8 17-50, Nikon 1.8G 50mm, Sigma 1.8 18-35 Art and a 2.8 Sigma EX OS HSM 70-200. My favorites are pretty much the 18-35 and 70-200 for my portrait photography. I would like to get a 1.8 85mm, but that’s going to have to wait since my main priority is a 2.8 24-70. I’m looking at the one Tamron makes since it’s stabilized. I like the 18-35 for its sharpness, and the moments I want to get more up close to the model for a more intimate feel. I adore the 70-200 because of how it blows out the background. I still need to know exactly how far back to stand with this so I’m not awkwardly cutting off limbs, but it’s just a great lens. Though I’ll admit I just started pulling my 50mm out more recently; you can’t replace a good prime lens.
What’s one lighting tip you’d like to share with other photographers?
Don’t go crazy on flash gels. I’m learning this one myself actually. Unless you know exactly the best way to use them, then don’t bother. For example, I like this picture, but others don’t seem to because of the coloring done on it, due to the use of the orange flash gel.
What’s one post-processing tip you’d like to share with other photographers?
Don’t go overboard on your sliders. It’s very easy to make a good photo into something a bit over done by going too crazy on sliders. It’s something I’ve toned down a bit over the last couple of months. I try to not go over certain numbers unless I’m really trying to pull off a certain look.
Do you have any projects you’d like to show off?
I very recently shot an event called the Make Up Artist Tour. It had some pretty top-tier makeup artists explaining what they do and use. I got some good shots out of it, and I can tell the clients liked what they received.
What is your most life-changing event?
Moving out of my parents’ house. Life becomes a completely different bag of worms when you have to worry about rent payments. That whole situation hit me hard. I pretty much moved out the week after I broke up with my girlfriend. Since my girlfriend was one of the main reasons I began photography, it sort of felt weird taking pictures without her in my life, but I’m at the point where I can’t exactly just stop. I’ve invested too much time and grown too much to simply stop. It’s a part of my life now. Just because she’s not in my life now doesn’t mean I should stop. So I just persevere and keep on going. Funny enough, she’s using pictures I took of her as dating site pictures. So in some sort of deranged fashion, it’s a compliment of my work… though she’s not even using the best set I did for her.
What has photography done for you as a person? How has it changed you?
It has made me a lot busier as a person. Before this, my main passion was gaming. I still enjoy a good video game session, but it really feels weird now when my face isn’t stuck behind my viewfinder. Gaming is a very insular hobby. Nobody really cares if I beat a boss in Bloodborne. Nobody on Instagram or Flickr is going to notice, but people seem to care about my photography.
What’s something no one knows about you that you’d like to share?
My favorite cake seems to be carrot cake.
What will you be doing five years from now?
I would hope to be doing more photography.
For anyone that wants to get in touch with Marcus, here’s some contact information:
Marcus, thank you for taking the time to share your journey!
If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.