When he first drove into Bellingham more than 20 years ago, Mark Turner knew without a doubt he wasn’t in his home state of Nebraska anymore. First impressions matter, after all, and he was impressed.
In place of gently rolling land and the fencerow-to-fencerow agriculture that he says has replaced most of Nebraska’s native prairies, Turner found plentiful trees, mountains and many other examples of jaw-dropping natural beauty.
“I flew into Seattle for my job interview in Bellingham, and driving up I-5 at night I welcomed the inky black along the highway north of Lake Samish,” Turner says. “That told me there was open space and that Bellingham would be different from the urbanized miles stretching out from Seattle.
“When we moved here that summer, we drove into the county over the North Cascades Highway and into Bellingham from Highway 9 along Lake Whatcom. We’ve never stopped exploring the rural and wild areas of Whatcom County.”
But Turner does much more than check out the places and people of Bellingham and the surrounding areas—he also captures the amazing images he sees. Since he was laid off from his media designer and producer position at Western Washington University in 1993, he’s been making photography his stock in trade.
But Turner in no accidental photographer who took up taking pictures when he found himself at a career crossroads. Since he got his first Kodak box camera at the age of 6, he estimates he’s had as many as 22 cameras (and that’s not including the one in his iPhone).
“I’m pretty loyal to my equipment, but 50-plus years have seen many changes,” Turner says. These days, he uses a Canon EOS 1Ds MK II for his garden and plant photographs, and a Canon EOS 5D Mk II for portrait purposes.
“I carry a sack of lenses with me because that’s where the real creative choices lie,” Turner says. “The camera, as long as the technical quality is sufficient for the end use, is really just a box to keep light away from the sensitive surface except during the instant of exposure.”
When Turner shows slides of his work and signs copies of his 2007 book of photographs, Bellingham Impressions, during the Holiday Art Walk happening Nov. 23-24 throughout historic Fairhaven, chances are good he’ll be happy to share more of the lessons he’s learned over the years about how to take photographs that make a lasting impression.
For instance, he says it’s important to take your time and think closely about what you’re doing when you’re creating an image. Even though he works with digital cameras, he says his mindset is still more in the era of when he used view cameras and “each click of the shutter cost over a dollar.”
Other tips include getting rid of distracting elements in a photograph that need to be cleaned up, looking for relationships among the people in portraits, and enhancing subjects with lighting. He also asks himself if the composition is strong, if the photo tells a story, and if it’s well-executed from a technical standpoint.
He also knows when to wait, and when to act.
“I’m patient, to a point,” Turner says. “I’ll wait for a cloud to move to get the lighting that’s right for the subject. I’ll wait for a gap in the wind so my subject will hold still. I’ll work with a two-year-old who wants to run all over the studio. I’ll wait for a dog to settle down and look his human in the eye.
“Details and relationships both matter,” he says. “Take the time to attend to both.”
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