Marc Koegel - fine art photographerIf you are new to this series of Spotlight interviews: my aim is to interview renowned and established fine art photographers who have made their mark in the world of photography and share their vision on fine art photography with our readers. As some of the regular visitors of may have noticed, I see fine art photography, just like Cole Thompson who has been featured in the previous Spotlight interview, as 1/3 the shot (camera technique), 1/3 the editing (B&W post processing techniques) and 1/3 the vision. The shot – basic camera techniques – and the editing are both explained in the various tutorials on this website. The vision however is something that just can’t be explained in tutorials only, although will attempt so in future tutorials. By doing interviews like the Spotlight interviews we will try to reveal a glimpse of the vision that constitutes the style of the art of those extraordinary photographers so this can be used as an inspiration to form your own style.

The third photographer in this series is Vancouver based and international award winning fine art photographer Marc Koegel. His work has been published in various leading photography magazines, his work represented by renowned art galleries worldwide. And on top of that he’s also the director of Vancouver Photo Workshop where Marc, together with internationally acclaimed artists like Joe McNally and Ralph Gibson share their experience, skills and their vision with aspiring photographers from all over the world. Truly one of the best and most renowned workshops in the world. It’s my pleasure to announce that Marc Koegel will share his thoughts on various aspects of fine art photography in this exclusive Spotlight interview.

Please visit Marc Koegel on to see his wonderful work yourself. And if you’re interested in attending one of his workshops then visit

– Joel Tjintjelaar

Note that there’s a workshop coming up in Calgary, Alberta. As of June 25, 2011 there are only 2 seats left available, so you have to react fast! Here’s more info on the workshop:

Interview with Marc Koegel

JT: There’s something that struck me lately: many of the exceptionally gifted long exposure fine art photographers I admire come from Vancouver. Michael Levin, David Burdeny, you, and a few other outstanding photographers that are less known but have won international awards and I’m sure the world will get to know them sooner or later. Is there something in the air in Vancouver that inspire people to create such beautiful art or is it just simply coincidence?
MK: Haha – Thanks for the compliment! Not sure if there’s something in the air, but I am convinced that it’s more than coincidence that so much photography is being done around here. I feel blessed to live in a place that offers such a variety of landscape – from the ocean to the mountains and everything in-between, there’s a lot for photographers to get excited about. Best of all, most of this pristine, seemingly endless scenery is very easily accessible; there are thousands of miles of coastal roads. I belief it’s the sum of all these elements that has made long exposure photography (of seascapes in particular) so popular in this area.
The brandenburg gate by Marc Koegel fine art photographer Nudes by Marc Koegel fine art photographer
JT: There’s a long time discussion going on that there’s a difference between a fine art photographer and ‘just’ a photographer. It’s also the difference between an artist and a photographer, a documenter and a creator. How do you look at this? Do you think there’s a difference and if so how would you define yourself and why?
MK: I am very careful and hesitant with assigning labels to anything or anyone. I do photography because I simply love to take pictures! Photography is a medium that lets me express myself. It let’s me act out my creativity. And it challenges me, everyday again and again. I consider myself only to be as good as my next photograph. And this should be the measure. Labels fail to achieve this.I do speak of myself as a fine-art photographer, but the extend of this definition is limited to the fact that I want people to understand that I do not get paid for my photography in the same way commercial photographers do. I head out to shoot because I simply feel compelled to, not because a client has handed over a cheque…Of course it’s nice to sell a photograph, but this will never become a major driving force behind my photography.
JT: When I first stumbled upon your work a few years ago I was struck by your architectural images because I thought it was different from the architectural work I saw up till then. In fact I’ve been using your work for quite a long time as a reference for all other architectural images I saw or created myself. They inspired me to a large extent. Do you love architecture in particular or was it just a nice object that was useful for your photography?
MK: I thought long and hard about this while reflecting back on my own work and development as a photographer over the years. I do love architecture, in fact this was the initial direction of my photography after I graduated from photography school and launched my commercial career. I am inspired by lines, shapes, textures, and even the incredible variety of (building) materials. A great Photographer once told me: ‘ Photographers must know how to take pictures of two subjects: The Nude, and Architecture. Everything else will be easy once those two subject matters have been mastered.’ As a ‘young’ architectural photographer working for commercial clients, I often had to create images with perfectly straight lines and angles. Today, I approach each architectural photograph by first thinking about what features the architect would be most proud of. I let the camera move and perspective flow freely, which is often the direct opposite of what I would have been able to do working for commercial clients. In many ways, the lines and shapes found in architecture mimic those found in natural landscapes. When I started taking long exposure photographs of urban environments and architecture, I think it was my history and early fascination with the subject that made me ‘slip back’ into it rather easily.
Commerical architecture by fine art photographer Mark Koegel Commerical architecture by fine art photographer Mark Koegel
JT: What is in your view an important aspect in architectural photography, what defines a good fine art architectural photo?
MK: This is a hard question to answer, not in the least because of the issue of ‘labeling’ discussed above. I do think a good architectural photograph is to be characterized as such if it meets well with prior set expectations. If commercial clients order images of their newly built hotel or condo development, they are likely looking for qualities much different from what I would look for in one of my photographs as part of my black and white long exposure series.For me personally, I want to evoke a sense of place in my photographs, and I aim to exercise my artistic vision and interpretation of each location I photograph. In doing so, I often disregard ‘popular’ qualities of architectural photographs, such as keeping straight lines and consistent exposure to show all details of a given location. I am not ‘afraid’ to tilt my camera, and I frequently use a heavy vignette and elevated contrast to show only selective architectural elements I deem visually interesting.

Vancouver vertical by Marc Koegel fine art photographer Vancouver vertical by Marc Koegel fine art photographer
JT: Looking at your work there’s quite some unusual variety in it. Of course there’s your beautiful long exposure work of landscapes and seascapes but there’s also the Tattoo portrait project and the fine art nudes. There aren’t many landscape photographers who can do all of these so very well. I think your nudes are fantastic. Although some may argue that landscapes and the female body may have something in common, it is still quite different! How hard was it to shoot the fine art nudes? It requires different skills from a photographer than when shooting landscapes and I’m not referring to technical skills only but also social skills. Can you tell us also something about the use of light in your fine art nudes?
MK: Photographing the Nude was my first ‘introduction’ to fine-art photography. And here I am referring to the definition of fine-art as given above (i.e. not for commercial profit). I clearly remember the first shoot I did. I was still in photography school, and one of our assignments was to photograph the human figure. Naturally, I choose black and white film (Kodak Tri-X).When I look back today, I see many similarities and parallels linking much of my figure, architecture and landscape work. When photographing the nude I am looking for similar compositional elements, such as lines, shapes, even textures, and I certainly look for the light, and the absence of such. I work with contrast, highlights and shadows. I shoot black and white. BUT, one really important difference between shooting landscapes/cityscapes and nudes/portraits is that people talk back! I enjoy working with models because I see the final photograph as a collaboration of creative minds. Some of my best images are a direct result of listening to my model’s ideas and suggestions, and then mixing it with my own creative vision.
Nudes by Mark Koegel fine art photographer Nudes by Mark Koegel fine art photographer Nudes by Mark Koegel fine art photographer Nudes by Mark Koegel fine art photographer
JT: Can you tell us something about the Tattoo project? What did you try to convey here or is it simply a matter of beauty?
MK: The Tattoo Project was a huge but also very exciting challenge for me. Prior to starting working on it, I had very, very little knowledge of this community and of tattooing in general. After completing it, I am still no closer to getting a tattoo myself, but I have gained enormous respect for the people I met. And I learned a lot about the tattoo industry.The basic premise behind the ‘Tattoo Project’ was to celebrate tattoo culture through photography. We had 12 photographers occupying virtually every square inch of my 7500 square foot studio facility. So much so that I ended up shooting in the underground parkade (as all space upstairs was spoken for by the time I was ready to setup myself).We had about 100 ‘models’ come in over a 3 day period. Each ‘model’ was photographed by the majority, if not by all, of the 12 photographers working on the ‘Tattoo Project’. To view the resulting images, including interviews with each photographer, you can visit: photographing, my intention was to convey a sense of personality and individuality. I wanted to highlight the tattoos, but without loosing sense of the person who choose to get them done. I kept my setup very simply. My location was an underground garage, bare concrete floors and walls. I had 2 fluorescent lights, and shot using Polaroid ‘Chocolate’ film. This yielded instant images, without the opportunity to do any post production at all. The best part was that I could share these images with my subjects instantly, which helped built rapport and got them excited to work with me. While the ‘digital shooters’ took dozens of frames, I limited myself to only 2 images each (mostly due to film costs). Every resulting image is a truly unique original, just like each of my subjects.On my website you can see images that I have scanned, but the gallery exhibition I actually showcased the original 3.5” x4.5” inch original chocolate Polaroid prints.
Tattoo project by Marc Koegel fine art photographer Tattoo project by Marc Koegel fine art photographer Tattoo project by Marc Koegel fine art photographer Tattoo project by Marc Koegel fine art photographer Tattoo project by Marc Koegel fine art photographer
JT: What defines a good fine art photograph in your view and what prevails: aesthetics or mood/a deeper message?
MK: All depends on the photographer’s intention. It is challenging to do either one, and most difficult to do both. I don’t think there is something like a ‘standard’ definition as to which to hold and judge a photograph. The same image may evoke a variety of conflicting feelings in people it is shown to.Ultimately, it is the photographer himself who has to judge. It is crucial to examine your own photographs in great detail, keeping in mind that a great one is a mere ego stroke but a poor or bad images teaches you valuable lesson(s). I have learned tremendously from my mistakes, and I am glad that I continue to make them because otherwise my photography would become stagnant, predictable, and boring very quickly.A good photograph to me is the one that closely follows my intention. This is true whether I want to create something simply aesthetically pleasing, or full of a deeper meaning/message.
JT: And what defines a good fine art photographer in your view? Does he/she need particular skills to succeed as a fine art photographer?
MK: Again, it all depends on your intentions. If you aim to get your work into lots of galleries and sell prints to collectors then your business skills are likely more important than your photographic knowledge. On the other had, if your intention is to find joy and fulfillment in your photography, then you ought to keep shooting until you feel that way about your work. The concept of ‘it takes 10.000 hours to become an expert in anything’ comes to mind. I have been shooting seriously for just over 10 years. That’s really a rather short period of time, and consequently I know that I still have to learn a lot more.
JT: With the arrival of digital tools, the Internet, photo-sharing sites and social media like Twitter and Facebook, photography has changed in many ways: not only in the way we shoot, the way we post-process them but also in the way we share them with the outside world and in the way we try to get exposure as an artist. I feel that there are still many outstanding photographers who continue to follow the traditional path and not using the increasing (marketing) opportunities that this digital era is providing us. In what way are you using these opportunities as an artist and in what way did it influence your way of working?
MK: Very good question! I do agree that the opportunities to share our photography have never been greater. I am only getting started with it all as far as my personal photography is concerned, but I have been following these trends for the past few years and have taken advantage of it when it comes to my photo workshop business ( I am now looking to take this knowledge and apply it to getting my personal photography out there.As far as influencing my workflow I have been taking ‘behind the scenes’ footage (both stills and video) when I am out photographing for the past several years, and now I am looking into getting things sorted and into shape so that it can be shared effectively.
JT: I think most readers are always interested in the equipment, so I have to ask you: what do you use? Digital, film, both and what do you prefer? Large format, Medium format? Filters or any other equipment?
MK: I use both film and digital capture. I think it’s a big mistake to see digital as simply a ‘replacement’ for film. They are both distinct processes with a distinct set of limitations and creative opportunities. To name just one example as it applies to my workflow, film lets me capture very long exposures of several hours without any concerns of quality loss, while digital let’s me capture panoramic images without the need for a separate camera. I routinely bring both, film and digital cameras to my shoots and decide which to use depending on what creative vision I want to act out. Sometimes I shoot both so I can decide later.I am happy to report that I continue to get film shooters in my workshops, and I think it’s a great opportunity for everyone to learn from each other. Digital shooters are always amazed at the ‘quality’ of film when reviewing the contact sheets. Straight out of camera, I belief film can look much ‘better’; Raw files are in color and most need work and post-production before the final look and impact is realized.For film, I most often use either my Toyo 4×5 (for architecture) or a Mamiya 7 (for portability). When shooting digital, I use a Phase One almost exclusively now, but many images on my website have been shot with a Nikon D3s, Canon 1ds Mark III or 5D Mark II. The Canon and Nikon cameras are more portable, and allow the use of tilt/shift lenses, which I prefer to use for my architectural images.
Behind the scenes with Marc Koegel fine art photographer Behind the scenes with Marc Koegel fine art photographer
JT: There are many photographers who claim that a photo should be straight out of the camera and others, mainly fine art photographers, who claim that post processing is essential to align their vision with the actual result. How does your workflow look like after you’ve shot the photo and what are your thoughts on post-processing?
MK: I clearly remember my first ever photography course I took. My instructor was a big believer of ‘getting it right in camera’. With film, there was a huge argument for this, especially when shooting slide film, which left very little to no room for any post production. When you think about, choosing a certain film stock and emulsion is almost like choosing your post-production (but do so before you ever take your first frame).When I look back at my photography, I used to shoot film exclusively until about 5 years ago, when digital camera finally became ‘worthy’ of taking a serious look at. When I shot film, I used very little post-production, if any. I did scan my images, but the reason was to share those images on my website not so that I could do extensive work in Photoshop.In recent years, as I have moved more into using digital capture, I find myself doing a lot more post-production. It has given me incredible freedom and ability to achieve my artistic and creative goals. I have spoken already about the fact that film and digital should be treated not as replacement but really as distinct processes. I strongly belief that In order to achieve the full potential of digital, one cannot ignore post production workflows. I am not saying to rely on post production to fix mistakes, I still try to ‘get it right in camera’ even now shooting digital. But the meaning of his concept has changed. If you are confident and aware of what can be achieved in the digital darkroom then this knowledge will influence the way you shoot with your digital camera.If I am given 10 hours to spend on my photography, I aim to use as much as possible of it on actual shooting out in the field. But I know that I can only achieve my artistic vision by working in Photoshop. I consider Photoshop is part of the picture taking (or making) process now. Ansel Adams was a true master of the traditional wet darkroom, and for those who ever had the privilege to view his original negatives this fact becomes very, very obvious. He couldn’t have achieved the quality, look and feel of his images with ‘in-camera’ techniques alone.Looking back at my own work, I definitely see a trend to increased use of post production. Many people have asked if I would ever consider ‘re-opening’ old images and do more, or better, post production to them. My answer to this is ‘no’. Not only have I sold such images, I also feel that my work should be kept authentic. I’d like to think that I have grown as a photographer, and my process has evolved. As I have embraced more digital capture technologies, I have acquired more skills in using post production at the same time.
JT: Who are your most important artistic influences and do you have any favorite work of (photographic) art?
MK: Where should I start here? There are so many incredible photographers out there, and the internet makes it easier than ever to discover their work. A few influences that stand out to me are Ralph Gibson, Edward Burtynsky, Michael Kenna and Alexey Titarenko but the list goes on much furher…
JT: When I shoot or post process an image I always try to be inspired by another photo or by music. Especially when post processing an image I like to put up some music that evokes a deep emotion in me and seems to affect the way I edit my image and the end result. Who/what is your muse? Or don’t you need one?
MK: When opening an image for the first time, I try to recall what prompted me to press the shutter in the first place. I do my best to re-connect with my initial inspiration, and let the image itself be the inspiration. I keep a notebook with me when I am out shooting, and I use it to help me remember what first attracted me to photograph a certain scene. I usually have a strong sense of what I want to accomplish right from the start. Pre-visualization, how I like to call it, is very important and a skill that needs years of experience to accomplish. It’s a great challenge to teach this to my students, but I belief that a successful photographer should have the final photograph in mind already at the time of pressing the shutter in the field.I think it’s virtually impossible to not be inspired by others. In my opinion, photographic style is discovered ‘after the fact’, meaning after taking a good look at your work after years of practice you should be able to identify certain ‘trends’, visual elements, even techniques you see yourself using again and again.I do put music on while I am editing, and I try to be as comfortable as possible. The goal is to make editing as enjoyable as possible, but ultimately I am inspired by the single image and whether I am able to create what I say in my minds eye at the moment I originally pressed the shutter.
JT: Not only are you a fine art photographer but you’re also the director of Vancouver photo workshops. What type of workshops do you provide and what can people expect from you when attending a workshop?
MK: When I started teaching I thought I would be committing one, maybe two, nights a week doing so. I love meeting, and learning from, my students and fellow instructors. Photography has enriched my life in countless ways, and teaching it has lead to many experiences I will cherish for the rest of my life.I started Vancouver Photo Workshops in late 2004, with the aim to bring unique photographic education to Vancouver. Though the company has grown beyond my wildest dreams, we continue to operate like a small and intimate family business. I’m at the studio 7 days a week, and my wife and daughter are usually with me. When we moved to our current studio facility, my then 1-year-old daughter was excited to have so much space to run around. Everyone working here I consider to be a personal friend, and I feel the same about many of my students. I am careful not to grow so big that I couldn’t be involved in the day-to-day activities any longer. I don’t want to be stuck behind the desk doing administrative work. I want to sit in on courses and workshops, and know my students by name when they come in. One of the most unique ‘features’ about VPW has been our Master Series Workshops. We have had more internationally acclaimed photographers come and do workshops for us than any other photography school or workshop facility in Canada. As the Director, I got to meet and sit in on workshops by greats like Mary Ellen Mark, Jay Maisel, Joe McNally, Ralph Gibson, Greg Gorman, Arthur Meyerson and many more.In early 2007, I started teaching long exposure photography workshops, and I am happy to report that to this day, it has been one of our most popular workshop offerings. Students have come literally from all over the world, from as far as Norway, Spain, New Zealand, Africa, Mexico and Australia. I feel blessed having had the opportunity to meet all those people, and I am aware of my ‘responsibility’ of making their long trip worthwhile. I recall one student sitting and shaking his head in one of my earlier workshops. The workshop had only just started, and I stopped my lecture to ask whether there was something wrong. The student, Michael, replied: “I am just so blown away and in disbelief that you really are sharing everything. All of your tricks and techniques that may have taken you years to build. I asked another photographer once, and he wouldn’t share anything, in fear of me copying and taking away from his business.’I belief that if you’re confident in your abilities as a photographer, then you should have no reservations whatsoever about sharing it with the world. This is what you can expect if you come to one of my workshops. No question or subject is taboo. And the atmosphere is very intimate and personal. I even pick you up from your hotel in the morning…
JT: What can we expect from you in the future, any new projects you’re working on?
MK: Currently I am working on finishing up work on my ‘Canadian Prairies’ Series. It’ll take me another trip out there and a few more months and it should be ready for exhibition. I am very excited about this series, it’s one of the longest and deeply satisfying set of images I have ever worked on. This developing series has received much positive feedback from galleries and independent collectors alike, so I am looking forward to having a finished product.I also have a new blog and DVD project in the works, both of which will be ready for release later this summer! Last but not least, we are expecting our first son on July 2nd, so life will surely be hectic but also very exciting around here. Since our daughter was born 2.5 years ago I must have taken over 15k images of her. So here comes another photographic opportunity!
JT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring fine art photographer?
MK: Bring your camera with you wherever you go. It’s much easier to take pictures that way! This advice was given to me by photographic legend Jay Maisel. It’s similar to the 10.000 hours rule, but stretches further by making you aware that for many masters of the medium, photography is not a mere ‘job’ but a lifestyle. I don’t know many mechanics who take their tools out to walks and social gatherings, but I know a lot of photographers who leave their camera at home despite the fact that they’re heading out to where lots of photographic opportunities exists. Practice truly is king.Another word of advice is to look at and examine lots and lots of (good) photography. I continue to be surprised when students who claim to be ‘very’ excited about photography cannot name a single photographer they get inspired by. I’m not talking about trying to copy anything or anyone, but I think it is not only OK to let yourself be inspired, it is actually necessary to keep you going and growing as a photographer. We don’t exist in isolation! It’s great to try new things, especially if you fail the first time which in turn creates opportunities to learn and improve your craft overall.Finally, I like to pass on another word of advice I was given by Ralph Gibson, who continues to be one of my greatest inspirations. When asked what to do to get better as a photographer, Ralph replied: ‘find a comfortable chair, take what you think is your best image, sit down, and examine that image for at least 3 hours. Don’t take your eyes of the image the entire time. I guarantee you will be a better photographer afterwards.’I couldn’t agree more. If you’re serious about your photography you got to take responsibility for every square inch of your frame. You got to raise questions, think about how to improve an image if given a second chance. This awareness will have you avoid mistakes and give you better pictures next time around.
Britania beach by Marc Koegel fine art photographer Dresden  by Marc Koegel fine art photographer Martha's vineyard by Marc Koegel fine art photographer
Point Roberts by Marc Koegel fine art photographer Self portrait by Marc Koegel fine art photographer Point Roberts by Marc Koegel fine art photographer
Prairie series by Marc Koegel fine art photographer Prairie series by Marc Koegel fine art photographer Prairie series by Marc Koegel fine art photographer

Finally, below are 2 photos of the same subject in the same location that shows how by just altering the camera position you can get a completely different  look and feel of the same wooden pilings in Point Roberts.

Point Roberts by Marc Koegel fine art photographerPoint Roberts by Marc Koegel fine art photographer


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