Mark Zawila gives five expert tips on how to succeed as a photographer and secure a high-profile clientele
By Holly Morton
With over 10 years of experience shooting still life, food & drink, Mark Zawila shares some exclusive pro tips on how to succeed as a photographer and how he tests ideas by blending CGI and traditional photography.
Production Paradise: Your website promotes an impressive collection of high-profile clients such as Sony, Delta Airlines and Sky. How did you capture the attention of these respected brands?
Mark Zawila: I do feel very fortunate to have worked with some really great clients over the years, from start-ups to internationally known brands. I think, along with having a strong portfolio that’s both current and showcases very high-quality work, a consistent marketing strategy is key here. The aim is to make sure you are the first person on the mind of an art buyer when a suitable assignment comes in. This obviously doesn’t happen overnight though, so you need to be patient and persistent, without being irritating. I also make sure my portfolio remains fresh by creating personal work during down times.
Production Paradise: As you have the opportunity to work with these brands, do you ever feel creatively bound to their concepts or do you have a lot of influence over the direction of the projects?
Mark Zawila: It really depends on the client. There are times when clients or art directors are open to your suggestions and input and it can be quite an energising and collaborative experience. But to be honest, quite often, when an agency or client approaches you to work with them on a campaign, most visual aspects have already been pre-agreed before they even approach you, which, from an artistic point of view can feel restrictive at times, but these kinds of assignments offer a different sort of challenge.
Production Paradise: Your work blends both CGI and traditional photography. How important is the role of CGI in the final image?
Mark Zawila: Most of my work now utilises CGI in some form or another. The ability to seamlessly combine computer-generated imagery with photography has allowed me to test ideas that would otherwise be logistically difficult and costly. I also find CGI extremely useful for light testing before a shoot, whereby, I can create virtual CGI studio and try out different lighting sets, then render these out and send to the client for approval. I think that often photographers feel that CGI crosses a line and that it is no longer ‘photography’, or that it’s too difficult to learn. True, there is a steep learning curve at the start, but I would recommend to all studio photographers to consider adding CGI to their arsenal of skills, as the knowledge of lighting learned in the studio environment offers a huge advantage in CGI, which, I have found can open up many new work opportunities.
Production Paradise: How early in your career did you start specialising in high-end, still life photography? What is your favourite part of creating still life, food and drink imagery?
Mark Zawila: To be honest it was never my intention to follow this career path originally. I studied A-level photography at school and dabbled with a bit of fine-art photography as a module at university. I had given very little thought about photography as a career path, as I wasn’t interested in weddings or journalism and found the darkroom process a bit archaic. I never really gave much thought to the glossy images in magazines and on billboards. However, the turning point for me came when I saw the work of studios such as ‘The Packshot Factory’. The attention to detail and technical skill in the lighting blew me away. So I bought some cheap flashes and a copy of Photoshop CS2 and spent hours trying to recreate the ‘look’ I was after. This has been my obsession ever since.
Production Paradise: You are based in the UK, are many of your clients international? Do you think Production Paradise has the potential to help you reach international clients?
Mark Zawila: A lot of my clients are from overseas which I find really exciting. This includes the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Singapore – I have won a couple of international jobs due to my presence on Production Paradise, in particular, the Spotlight Magazine, which I also find an endless source of inspiration – so, from my perspective it has certainly helped me to reach international clients.
Production Paradise: What is the most inspiring or challenging project you have taken on so far in your career?
Mark Zawila: It´s very hard to narrow it down to a single assignment, as there is something in every job that I find inspiring. For example, I recently worked on a campaign with Gresham Office Furniture, they are currently producing a range of furniture made with recycled plastic and I was asked to create a CGI image to illustrate this range. I thought this was a pretty cool idea and fun to work on too. I also like working with start-ups as they have a real passion and enthusiasm for their brand.
Production Paradise: You have successfully branded yourself, what would you suggest to emerging photographers in order for them to succeed in their own careers?
- Create images you love
- Learn marketing or find a partner or agent who is good at this
- Be patient, it can take many years to become established in this industry
- Be open to new ideas and technology to maintain an edge
- Be prepared to invest in yourself.
Production Paradise: We’re excited to see what work you showcase in the future, what can we look forward to seeing from you? Do you have any exciting projects lined up?
Mark Zawila: I’ve got a couple of projects on the horizon that I’m really looking forward to working on, one is in the US, and unfortunately, I can’t discuss them at the moment but will be excited to showcase later in the year on Production Paradise if all goes ahead as planned. I am also looking to get more involved in CGI animation and motion graphics, combining this with video and photography stills.