December 15, 2017

Spooner Talks Photography And Self-Branding

Mark Spooner in the Design Center. Photo by Nate McReynolds.

By Erin Hylen ’19
Arts & Life Editor

If you’ve spent any time on any of the Gordon College’s social media accounts, you’ve most likely seen Mark Spooner, or at least his work.Last month, The Tartan interviewed Spooner, the college’s Staff Photographer and Manager of Social Media, to learn a little about the man behind the camera.

“I spent a summer backpacking in 2009, and that was the first time I intentionally brought a camera with me somewhere,” he said. “I ended up taking photos of the trip just for memory’s sake, and the photos were pretty terrible, but I think that was the first time that I associated the benefits of having photos to accompany a story or the memories of a story.”

Spooner, who graduated from Gordon in 2014 with a degree in Psychology and Communication Arts, said that he originally intended on becoming a therapist.

“In some ways, I fell into [photography] a little bit accidentally… I never took a photo course [at Gordon],” he said. “I did an independent study with Bill Franson, who’s the dark room professor here, but most of the things that I learned about photography were through practice and YouTube.”

“Becoming a wedding photographer was both something that I chose to do and something that sort of happened to me,” Spooner said. “I agreed to photograph a friend’s wedding, and then from there another friend wanted to do it, and then it just sort of snowballed.”

While at Gordon, Spooner said he took a film class to fulfill a core requirement, but ended up liking it so much that he added a concentration in film production to his Communication Arts major.

Spooner discussed how his background in studying film production has influenced his approach to wedding photography.

“I sort of approach wedding photography with a little bit of a documentary style… Essentially, you’re photographing the same thing every Saturday for like six months, so it becomes much more about understanding what bits of the story are important for these people to memorialize and try to facilitate that for them. For me, the cool part about photographing weddings and people within them are the emotions and story behind what is otherwise sort of just a big party,” he said.

Spooner, who also does engagement and in-home photoshoots, explained the strategy he uses to photograph natural reactions between subjects.

“I’ve derived over the years that it’s way less productive to tell people to look at each other and smile, and more so productive to come up with some weird topic to talk about or think about that produces a smile organically,” He shared. “So, I’ll tell people to pull in really close and start whispering their favorite sandwich ingredients in each other’s ears or something like that— something completely uncomfortable and odd that produces a natural reaction,” he said.

Spooner explained that while he wants his clients to enjoy their time working with him and to take beautiful pictures of them, his ultimate goal is for clients to “walk away with [photos that], in whatever way they can, feel like [them].”

When asked what advice he’d give to those considering becoming wedding photographers, Spooner said, “Try to build as much portfolio as you can. Weddings are this weird blend of photojournalism, portraiture, still-life photography, and documentary work. It works all the muscles of photography, so if you’re not yet in a position where you can photograph weddings or you don’t have a client looking for that, look for opportunities to work the same sort of muscles.”

Spooner also said, “Don’t be afraid to start treating yourself like a business too early… I would say really delicately offer free work every once in awhile.  You don’t want to get walked all over, but if it gets you in the door, offer free work once and then start charging right away, because in a world that’s inundated with photographers, it’s really hard to make a livable amount of money with photography.”

Spooner’s final piece of advice was to really think about why you might want to go into wedding photography.

Lastly, Spooner said that one of the biggest challenges working in his field is how, because of social media, there is an element of constant comparison with others.

“It’s a huge temptation to base your self-worth and your talent on how much engagement your stuff gets on social media,” he said.

Spooner added, “I really don’t think that the competition that I have experienced [in my field] has been interpersonal. It’s been internal, a process of finding security and my own worth and value as a photographer and artist and person while I’m always ingesting other people’s work and comparing the quality of my stuff against theirs.”

 

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