Celebrity, fashion and commercial advertising photographer Mark DeLong speaks softly and carries a big camera, or rather two cameras, one for stills and one for the moving image. Whichever tool he picks up, the results are the same, meticulously crafted, striking images.
DeLong is at the cutting edge of the transmedia world, providing multiple visual services. Not every still shooter can "see" in motion. DeLong can. At the core, he’s an extremely solid photographer. This creates the foundation for powerful motion pictures. He uses gear as diverse as ultra-high-resolution Phase One still camera systems to RED EPIC and ARRI ALEXA motion outfits.
With bases in Nashville, Miami, Los Angeles and New York, DeLong is involved in every aspect of a shoot and makes each photograph personal by working on it from preproduction through to the creative retouching and compositing of the final still image or edit of the video project.
DPP: You’re known for being very involved in a production from concept to conclusion. Why this approach?
Mark DeLong: If you put in a little bit more and make a project more personal, it becomes more a part of you. I think the results reflect this level of involvement. This weekend in our Nashville studio, I welded a frame for a mirror that we constructed to be used for a teleportation idea, science-fiction/fashion motion-stills project. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to working. It’s a delicate balance. But if I’m happy with the results, it seems that everybody else is happy as well.
DPP: How do you base yourself in four places at the same time?
DeLong: We’re in the air a lot. We own a studio in Nashville, then rent ones in the other markets when needed. Nashville is a nice place to regroup and work on the pre- and postproduction of projects. My wife, Melissa, is involved in the sales and production. She’s a go-getter. We both really put heart and soul into what we do. We really care about every client and everything that we do. I think that can come across in the end product.
DPP: How did you learn your craft?
DeLong: I did some assisting with some very successful photographers. We worked in film, but I started messing around on my own with the digital equipment very early on. Compared to today, the technology was terrible, but at the same time, it was exciting. I saw the potential.
DPP: You do some compositing from time to time. How do you assemble the pieces and people for ads such as the one you did for HGTV’s Design Star show?
DeLong: We get a lot of assignments where we have to build shots through compositing. It’s a fun side of the commercial work, trying to figure out how to get that to happen for the art director, for it all to come together and look believable. For Design Star, we shot both the people and the backgrounds separately, then put it all together. It had to be done that way because the participants would be kicked off the show as the season went on. So one by one they would disappear from the shot. Those people were not even in the same building when that "photo" was taken. They had to have a group shot, but none of the people could see each other. This is where the medium format has its real strength. If you try to pull this out of a motion frame grab, you’re not going to get that. I use different tools for different jobs. It’s very intricate work.
DPP: You obviously like to solve visual problems. Clients come to you and ask, "How can we convert this idea into a photograph?"
DeLong: "Here’s the challenge. Can you make this happen?" Yes. Absolutely. I feel like we can pull off pretty much anything. There a lot of very talented people out there. The people we work with are extremely professional and make up a really tight crew.
DPP: How do you handle the postproduction for the motion projects?
DeLong: I had been working with Final Cut for a long time, but have recently begun implementing Adobe Premiere. I’m trying to build this grand imagery with all these little parts. Lens choices make a big difference in terms of the look. With the older REDs, it seemed like the softer lenses would help a little bit. I really like the Cooke lenses with the ALEXA; it seems like a really magical combination. With the new RED, it seems like the Zeiss Super Speed lenses have a nice look; the jury is still out on that one, though. They’re all PL mounts. I think in the motion picture world there’s sometimes the approach of using a bigger paintbrush and fixing it in post. I’m looking at it from the still photographer point of view, trying to get it in-camera. There are still differences between the two worlds even though we’ve all come together in a way.
DPP: Transmedia is the new catchword. The difference between "multimedia" and "transmedia" may be that the former is like a stew, while the latter is more blended.
What’s your advice for people entering the marketplace now?
DeLong: Do what you love. The gloves are off. You can do what you want. There’s going to be a market for what you want to do if you can do it well. If not now, then there will be. Everybody is going to have a place in the multimedia world—whatever you want to call it—multimedia, transmedia, new media. As long as I’ve been doing this, it kind of feels like a rebirth. We have a new perspective on a kind of worn-out model. But now with all this technology, it’s almost overwhelming how many choices of media there are for self-expression. We have so many layers, the way that a simple sound or a little bit of music can completely change motion footage. We can manipulate the lighting, the speed, the flow/rhythm with a few clicks of the mouse. Those layers are what’s so amazing to me.
To see more of Mark DeLong’s photography, visit www.markdelong.com.