Mike Basher – The Photographer’s Interview
Mike Basher’s (or just ‘Basher’, as he likes to be known), photography is outstanding. His Sports and Product photography is expertly composed with vibrant and punchy portraits of athletes, exciting sports action, including snowboarding and cycling and accomplished sportswear and cosmetic images. He has undertaken commissions from international companies such as Reebok, Under Armour and ESPN.com, to name but a few.
Amongst breathtaking landscape photos, Basher’s personal work showcases black and white studies of natural elements. Images of coastal elements, dunes, trees, rocks are elegantly interpreted by Basher’s photographic vision, resulting in an observable serenity that has been implemented by Basher’s commanding knowledge of light, composition, and technique.
Basher has a Gallery located in Beaufort, North Carolina, where his work can be viewed and purchased. For prints, he can be contacted for price enquiries via his personal work website: https://www.bashergallery.com/prints/
You can view his sports and commissioned work at www.mikebasher.com
His personal work: www.bashergallery.com
Basher is on Instagram
What do you enjoy most about photography and what do you least enjoy?
I enjoy the challenges. I look at every photograph as an obstacle, and I focus as intently as I can on making it as perfect as I can, whether it’s photographing an athlete or sticks in water. Every day with the camera is different, so my work is never repetitive.
I think I can easily say that the least favorite part of my work is marketing it, but in this day in age, where art buyers are constantly bombarded by photography, you have to be aggressive about it–more aggressive than I usually feel comfortable doing.
What challenges have you faced when shooting sports (action) and how have you overcome them?
Working with some of the athletes I’ve worked with, you literally have them for a few moments. As a professional, you have to be able to deliver consistently in those minutes you have them on set. There is so much preparation and focus that leads up to you giving your all for just a few frames sometimes. It’s exhilarating and it fuels me to put forth my best effort.
What do you wish you knew about commercial photography when you started out, that you know today?
I’ve always had this assumption, whether I was shooting commercially, or with my fine art work, that all I had to do was produce great, honest work. This is important, but most importantly, you have to be incredibly proactive about getting your work out there, because it’s rare for people to search for you anymore. Marketing is key, and it’s not necessarily the best photographers that are getting the most work, but the best marketers.
What photographic equipment do you use and what is your favourite lens and why?
I shoot 95% of my commercial with Hasselblad digital medium format systems. A camera has always been sort of a scientific tool for me, and the detail attainable in medium format systems is just head and shoulders above any DSLR. As far as lenses for the Hasselblad system, I have the 35, 50, 80 and 150, and use the 80 the most. I was never really a “normal” lens guy with 35mm cameras, but the look of the HC 80 lends itself well to my style.
With my fine art work, I exclusively shoot 4×5 sheet film, mostly Ilford. I have a few different cameras, depending on what I’m shooting, but work with the same set of lenses for any of the cameras. They’re specific lenses that I’ve chosen because I like the shape of the image they produce. Each lens has its own unique character. Mostly, I use my Rodenstock 210 f/5.6, which is about a 75mm in DSLR terms. My main camera, though, is a Chamonix 045N-2. As for glass, I always have a 75, 90, 135, 210, and 400mm in my bag, but could never live without my 210.
What are your influences when choosing a location for your landscape and scenery photography?
I look at my fine art photography more as me creating a photograph, rather than, like, just going out driving and looking for something. I don’t keep a camera in my car, and in what I’d consider a busy year, I might expose 100 sheets of film. When I’m in the field, composing photographs, I look for a few things, but first and foremost, composition is absolutely the most critical part of a photograph. Some might argue that it’s about light, but where your personal, individual touch comes in is in the composition. Light is light. The landscape is the landscape, but it’s how you choose to work with what is in front of you that is what makes it yours. I never approach my work as just going out and documenting a scene.
I also feel that “black and white” is a style, and I treat it as such. To me, it’s not an instance of shooting a scene in color and desaturating it in Photoshop to see what the results might be. It is first and foremost a style of photographing a subject. When I’m going to try to compose a photograph, I am thinking in black and white before I even pull the camera out of the bag. I believe you have to have an end result in mind while viewing a scene. Also, my approach isn’t to try and cram this whole landscape through my lens or to make any aspect of it identifiable. I’m never necessarily trying to have the viewer look at a photograph, and think “Oh, that’s Death Valley.” I prefer things to remain more obscure, and not bring location into the photograph. I leave it up to creating the cleanest composition I can design, working with light and form, and not let the viewer get lost in labels.
When post processing your personal work, what is your process? Which programs and adjustments are essential to you, in achieving your creative vision?
I hand process my film, based on how it was exposed, and then scan it on an Imacon scanner. The digital portion of my workflow came to be once I started really getting back into shooting large format again in 2009, after not really having worked with it in ten years. If you look at my fine art work, nearly every photograph you see was one single exposure made on one single negative. Unless the conditions are super tricky (usually windy), it is rare that I will make more than one exposure of a composition, and it is also equally rare that I will make two different compositions of the same subject. So, in the process of loading film into film holders, taking them out into the field, and just exposure to use, sheet film is prone to dust, which results in black specks, hairs, etc on a print, and is a nightmare to get rid of. As luck would have it, these pieces of dust always find their way to the most distracting place in your photo, like in a bright white cloud.
So, after a few years back in the darkroom, hand-printing a bunch of my work, spotting it, and trying to carefully bleach black specks out of prints, I decided to introduce a digital middle phase to my work. I have an Imacon scanner, which I scan my negatives with, take care of dust problems, do some dodging and burning, and then output the image to my lab, who then prints them on Ilford Galerie silver gelatin photographic paper via a laser enlarger. The end result is a print from a process that is proven archival for a hundred years, and beyond. Plus, I print up to 40×50 inches, which is nothing short of a nightmare to for me to hand print, and would result in a lot of paper and chemical waste.
Of all your achievements as a photographer, what are you most proud of and why?
I don’t think it’s my achievements as a photographer. I see it more rewarding for being able to be a photographer. I found photography my senior year in high school when I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I took a class, and my future made more sense. There’s nothing else I’d rather be, because as I said earlier, every day is different, and I need that. I’m not a creature of habit, and I don’t like repetition. I like being able to create and think intensely. I’m extremely critical of my own work, but when I get that one photograph that just sings, I like to look at it, and proudly think to myself “I made that.”