In the 1980s, Mark Galer probably couldn’t imagine the photography world looking like it does today. A college student at Wolverhampton in the Midlands in the UK, Galer was immersed in the world of analog photography. He had originally planned on being an illustrator and a graphic designer, but found photography to be a better fit with his self-described "restless nature."
Now Galer is an accomplished photographer, an educator and an Ambassador for both Adobe and Sony. A master of Photoshop and Lightroom, he has authored more than 30 books on photography and workflow, some of which are used as textbooks in digital photography classes around the world.
But, in 1980, he was a new graduate with a degree in photography and a need to develop his business. "I originally intended to be a graphic designer," he says, "but was drawn by the immediacy of the photographic medium. I graduated in 1980 and have called myself a photographer ever since."
Galer soon ran into the same issues that every other working photographer faces—the need to balance creativity and income. "Any perceived glamour wore off very quickly after graduation. The most difficult aspect of being a photographer is building a client base. There are very few jobs, and most work comes through networking and word of mouth."
On The Road Again
By the late 1980s, Galer had started growing tired from commercial and studio work. "I have always had an interest in adventure travel," he notes. "I feel confined by the studio space, and I like to interact and explore the world. The happiest photographers tend to photograph what they know and love best."
That’s why Galer set out in the late 1980s with two small Nikon FG bodies and three lenses—28mm and 50mm primes and a 70-200mm zoom—on a two-year documentary motorcycle trip. He visited more than a dozen countries, including Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Syria, Jordan, India and Thailand.
"I found that people all over the world genuinely welcomed the independent traveler and were more than happy to share whatever little they had—even if this was only to be photographed and tell me their story so this could be shared. We all really just need to be acknowledged—I am here; this is my story. The world became my studio, and I finally understood the importance of ‘narrative’."
The equipment Galer uses today would be barely recognizable in the 1980s, and he has begun to work in time-lapse photography and video. (You can download a 45-minute tutorial of "all the things I wish I had known about video before shooting it" on his website at markgaler.com/product/shooting-movies-with-a-dslr-or-sony-alpha-ilce-camera.
Galer shoots with Sony’s full-frame Alpha mirrorless cameras today, in-cluding the new a7R II, and as an Ambassador, has access to some Sony technology before it’s released to the public. For example, he used a pre-production a7R II (see our review in this issue, "Shooting With Sony’s "Disruptive" a7R II") before just about anyone else. He’s also pushing the boundaries of "photography" by working with time-lapse and high-speed photography.
"The craft of creating a high-speed movie clip or time-lapse sequence feels remarkably similar to me," says Galer. "It reminds me of the care, attention, patience and meticulous methodology that you had to approach the craft of using a 5×4 monorail camera and film prior to the advent of digital. Digital introduced a grab-and-run mentality for many photographers—high-speed photography and time-lapse photography reverses this trend.
"Much of the work I now shoot is on the Sony a7S," he explains of his setup. "The huge dynamic range and high ISO performance make it perfect for producing 4K time-lapse sequences."
Galer’s setup and capabilities today would have made the 1980s Galer green with envy and have allowed him to branch out into whole new avenues of photography. "I am capturing sequences of shots of urban or natural landscapes at dawn and dusk, which involves ramping [up] the exposure and white balance considerably over the 20- to 40-minute capture period. By monitoring the live histogram on the LCD screen during the capture sequence, I can ensure correct exposure by monitoring ISO, aperture or shutter speed.
"The jumps in exposure are then ramped in postproduction using LRTimelapse and Lightroom. As I have a generous megapixel count, I can then pan or zoom slowly if I want to create a more dynamic clip."
Unlike some commercial shooters who guard their techniques like the formula to Coca-Cola, Galer is happy to share his step-by-step methods. "I will often try to use shutter speeds of three or four seconds and a time-lapse interval of six seconds or longer. This will usually require the use of an ND filter to ensure the slow shutter can be maintained when the sun is up."
Keeping with his role as an educator, Galer has created a 40-minute tutorial of this workflow, available on his website at markgaler.com/product/dynamic-timelapse-tutorial to learn all the steps.
Galer has also moved into full cinema capture, also using the Sony a7S, thanks to its ability to record 4K video to an external device. Steeped in photography, Galer prefers to stay light when capturing motion.
"I try to avoid working with large rigs. I own an Atomos Ninja for pulling uncompressed HD footage from the a7S, and own a Sony XLR-K2M shotgun microphone, but I often find myself just using Sony’s affordable wireless microphone system. My most recent purchase has been the Nebula 4000 Lite Gyroscope Gimbal Stabilizer, which will enable some more fluid shots that can be integrated into the footage I’m shooting."
Gimbals, external recorders, microphones—it’s all a long way from riding a motorcycle down dusty roads with a bag full of Kodachrome 64 and some rolls of Ektachrome.
Says Galer, "The huge dynamic range and full-frame forgiveness that come with shooting with the a7 cameras is a liberating experience when capturing decisive moments and when working in locations with a huge subject contrast range. Shooting commercially viable images at ISO 6,400 and higher, instead of ISO 64, opens up a whole new world of photographic possibilities."
Leading The Revolution
After shaking off the dirt that comes with countless motorcycle miles, Galer decided to try his hand as an educator and soon was teaching at a college in London, where he stumbled across a new tool called Photoshop. Because he’s a "
;technology junkie," he dove into the program. "I was lucky enough to embrace Photoshop 24 years ago while teaching at a college that was lucky enough to have the very first DSLR cameras—I embrace change."
Galer also embraces postprocessing, and spends a lot of his time working with images after a shoot, much as he did in the days of film, only with much more powerful tools.
"I’m not a photographer who believes everything should be done ‘in-camera’," he notes. "Like Ansel Adams, I believe the negative, now the RAW file, is just the music score, and the work in post is our performance. My own postproduction skills were learned in the darkroom, and I have always considered that these skills are an essential aspect of the holistic process of creating an image."
Working with digital cameras since their inception, Galer knows that what you see is not always what you get. Says Galer, "I believe the camera cannot always faithfully record a scene—the camera merely interprets it. Careful editing of the RAW [file] is often required to restore the subject to how I first saw and experienced it. Image editing is capable of restoring the emotional reality, as well as altering reality."
To create his images, Galer likes to plan out what the final image should look like before he starts to shoot. "Most of the time, I have previsualized the outcome before I start editing an image." With an image look in mind, Galer adjusts images in a mix of Lightroom and Photoshop until he gets what he imagined from the start.
He’s also not one to let a good image lay. “As technology gets better and better over the years, I find myself re-editing files to [achieve] superior results.” It’s not just images he revisits, he also heads back to “old haunts to capture them with more sophisticated cameras.”
Today, Galer finds himself trying to help educate Sony photographers (you can find his Sony-based group on Sony Alpha Talk on Facebook at facebook.com/groups/SonyAlphaTalk, where he profiles the new cameras and lenses he’s using in his daily workflow). His personal website (markgaler.com) is also a treasure trove of resources, not only for the Sony shooter, but also for photographers, in general. On his site, Galer sells tutorials for image improvement and editing in Photoshop and Lightroom.
He also has been working on the EYE SEE project with Sony’s Corporate Social Responsibility division and the World Photography Organisation, documenting the UNICEF program that teaches children to address social issues through photography.
Says Galer, "The revolution that is still taking place, with advanced digital hardware and software, is still serving to give individuals new and better tools that were previously unavailable."
Those tools are also making images that were previously unavailable, as is evidenced by his portfolio.
To see more of Mark Galer’s photography and learn about his tutorials and work-shop opportunities, visit markgaler.com.