Capturing Arizona’s grandiose beauty to show off to state visitors is a monumental task, and local photographer and outdoors enthusiast Mark Laverman loves the challenge. The 48-year-old Phoenix resident has been at the helm of the ad campaigns for the Arizona Office of Tourism for the past three years, showing off the wonder of the Grand Canyon State through the award-winning “In One Word — Arizona” campaign. He was even named 2011 Photographer of the Year by the Metro Phoenix Chapter of the American Advertising Federation for his photography for the campaign.
By day, he’s executive director of branding and advertising for marketing firm Six Degrees, while in his free time, you can find him traversing the state for that perfect shot. Laverman produces fine art prints and stock photography, and you can see some of his black-and-white work at the Hotel Indigo in Scottsdale, as well as on his website, www.marklaverman.com. Laverman offered some photography tips, as well as talked about what makes the state of Arizona so great, below.
What brought you to Arizona?
My parents moved here when I was in college, in Michigan. I was spending my winters in Michigan and my summers out here, but I really fell in love with it. I didn’t know much about Arizona, but coming out here and seeing what the state had to offer, I started falling in love with it.
I was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, grew up mostly in Chicago, and spent my high school years in Omaha.
What was your first memory of being interested in photography?
Probably as a second grader. My dad was in a camera club in Chicago and used to take me along. I got into it, and after a few years, he started letting me use his 35mm camera. At the time, that was a big deal. It was something I’ve always been passionate about ever since.
My parents gave my wife and I a camera as our wedding present, and then I got really passionate about photography. We bought a Jeep and started driving all over the state and photographing everything. I’ve been photographing Arizona now seriously for about 25 years.
What has your photography career been like?
It started out as a hobby, but being in the advertising industry, I started seeing what other photographers were doing, and got more and more serious. A lot of art directors were telling me, “Your photography is better than what we see on stock sites. You should start selling stock photography.” Then, I started getting hired to shoot architecture, and that’s how it started from a professional standpoint.
Where does your passion for shooting outdoor photography come from?
I’m a really outdoorsy person and have always loved hiking, exploring, and seeing new things. I’ve traveled all over the world and have been to places such as Nepal and Tibet. I’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I climbed Mount Ararat in Turkey and have been to Antarctica.
I have a special place in my heart for photographing Arizona landscapes because that’s where my photography all started, and there are so many diverse things here in Arizona to see and do. I just love trying to share the beauty that I see with others by trying to capture it with my camera.
How did you become such a world traveler?
I think I’m just a curious person. I get bored doing the same thing and love adventure and getting out and photographing new things. That is the most enjoyable thing to me — seeing new things and people and exploring new places.
What’s on your to-do list of places to visit?
I need to go to Australia, because that is the only continent I haven’t been to.
What are your photography goals?
I would love to do a story for National Geographic. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always read it, and photographing a story in National Geographic would be a dream come true.
What are some tips you have for amateur photographers?
This sounds mundane, but most people don’t take even 15 minutes to read the manual. Reading the manual so you get a good overview will help you learn how to apply the technology you have. I started with film, which I think makes you a better photographer, because technically it’s so much harder to shoot on film. What we have now with digital cameras is absolutely amazing, but not if you don’t know how to use it or apply it.
Another thing is to really study the location of where you’re going to be, so you can understand how things like the different time of year and time of day will affect the images you’re going to get. I learned over the years, the hard way, especially with nature photography, you can’t just go out and make it happen. It’s so different from a studio. You can’t control everything that’s happening and the lighting. You really have to go out and try to find the perfect time of year and day to shoot different locations.
What’s your favorite photograph you’ve ever taken?
One of my favorite shots is a place called the Second Wave, up in extreme Northern Arizona. It was on the cover of the Arizona state map. I’m a map freak — I have this map of Arizona, and I highlight all the different roads I’ve been on. I’ve been on just about every paved road in Arizona, so to have my shot on the cover of the state map of Arizona was pretty cool.
The Second Wave is a really graphic, dramatic, S-curve shaped rock, and the image has a lot of impact.
What are some good places to shoot in Arizona?
Obviously, I think the most common places people will think of are the Grand Canyon and Sedona. I absolutely love going there, but my favorite place is Monument Valley in Northeast Arizona. It’s about five hours from the Valley and really amazing. The people visiting there are from all different parts of the world.
I also love the Chiricahua Mountains in Southeastern Arizona. It’s a really unique place that’s kind of out of the way.
In the Valley, I love the McDowell Mountains. The McDowell Mountain Range is the fifth-largest municipal park in the world. One of the great things about Phoenix is you can just get lost in the mountains and not even know you’re anywhere near a city of millions of people.
What advice would you have for aspiring photographers?
The biggest advice I’d have is really get out there and do it a lot. There is no substitution for shooting a lot.
The other important thing is getting out there with people who shoot a lot, and trying to learn from other people. Joining a camera club or something like that really hones your skills, because not only can you see what other people are doing, you can talk to other people, which is a lot more exciting than trying to read a book or going online and reading a blog. Connecting in person speeds up the process of learning photography.
Would you recommend any organizations in Arizona to join?
I’d recommend the Phoenix Camera Club. It’s been around since 1932, and there are a lot of really good shooters in the diverse group. I’m a member myself.
In the club, you have competitions every month, so you really have to figure out the difference between a good photo and a great photo. Each image comes up quickly, so the judges only have a few seconds to look at the image, and you have to figure out how to make a big impact with your image. People are inundated with so many images on a daily basis, you have to have something with a “wow” factor to make it stand out.
What gives a picture a “wow” factor?
For landscape photography, a lot of it has to do with composition. There are multiple things that play into it, but a big one for me is the sky. I love a day with great clouds.
Also, a cool thing for me with landscape photography is going to see what no one else is seeing. Sometimes, it’s hard to drag yourself out of bed at 4 in the morning, especially when it’s cold, but you can get some really thrilling shots at sunrise.
Nothing compares to being the only person on earth at this point in time, seeing what’s unfolding in front of you. If people get out of their normal comfort factor and do something different, I think they’ll be glad they did and maybe even fall in love with it.
Is there a good starter camera you’d recommend?
I think Nikon and Canon are the best brands. Sony is really coming out with some good cameras, too. It depends on how serious you want to get. There’s something called a mirrorless camera coming out, which makes the camera smaller. I’d say, a new Sony mirrorless camera, or an entry-level Nikon, like a D5300.