"It is hard work to get to the top, but it is even harder work to stay there."
Photography isn't a easy gig. I mean when I tried it back in the day, I thought I knew everything. Lighting, focus, angles... I mean minus a catchy line in a Drake song, you always have to get the right angles. But once I quit, and realize music was my lane, I quickly realized it's so much more. One man whose established himself as the industries great eye on detail is my guest today, the Monday Night Messiah's favorite photographer, Mark Torres.
DJ Mainstream: Mark Torres, hello sir thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me
Mark Torres: It is my pleasure, thank you for giving me this time.
Of course! Now I use to call myself a photographer but it was because I wanted to add a dynamic to my DJing. What made you start your journey to photography?
I have always enjoyed taking photographs for as long as I can remember. I was always the guy at my family and friend get together that would snap the photos. It was always fun for me but I never gave it much thought after that. The turning point for me was about 5-6 years ago when I finally went back to attending WWE live events after more than a decade away. I have always been a huge WWE fan but I was very comfortable watching the product at home. I went back to a live show after being away for so long and I snapped a few pictures with my camera. I was hooked. Around that time I had a good friend who was an expert photographer, who also would share his work on Instagram. I was totally blown away by his work. That started the wheels turning for me, because I had an appreciation for the photos and I found myself wanting to be better. The fire was lit that day when I came home from the live show. My pictures were OK, but nothing special. However, in the days that followed, I found myself constantly wondering and asking myself, “How can I be better?”
See that's what I love to hear because we are caught up in a world today that is in a "show me" state. Like, show me what you can do now... no training, no expertise, just show me and people don't realize the time nor the effort to put into doing a craft you grow to love. What were some of the ways you found or took to become better?
Countless hours of research, trial and error, and going out there and failing horribly before I was able to get good. Once that fire was lit, I read every article that I could, looked at YouTube videos for hours a day and each day a little more knowledge was absorbed. At the beginning I would read it or see it, but a lot of it I wouldn’t understand. People don’t understand what a precise, magnificent art that photography is. It is not just pushing a button on the camera. I would do all this reading and observing but it wasn’t until I achieved some of my biggest failures that I would finally learn. By failure I mean sitting front row ringside at Madison Square Garden, taking 2000 pictures and having more than half of them come out dark or blurry. I was mortified and embarrassed. But it would be that failure that would spur me and give me even more incentive to get better. Much of photography is trying something out, learning from your mistake or experience, and doing it better next time. Failure will motivate you. Sure, you may take a horrible picture one day. It may not be composed right, it may be too dark or even blurry...as long as you are willing to learn from your mistakes, then every experience becomes a valuable learning experience and that is when the growth happens. Just about every technique that I use today came about because I did it wrong the first time, or even first few times. I learned, I took it in, and I got better. There were many challenging moments along the way where you will doubt yourself, there were many times were I was doing a first time shoot and I was absolutely trembling with fear on the inside. How did I get through? Because I believed in myself. All those first time shoots, I managed to survive because I trusted myself and my instincts and just went out and got the job done.
It's interesting because a lot of people have this belief that naturally just point and click and you are a photographer. That you can start getting bookings and your good and yet to do what Cody has been saying for years.... do the work! In most cases we let ourselves believe in what we can and cannot do so salute to you sticking with it. Now I met you through a mutual friend, Tom Frazier, because you became his wrestling companies' photographer. But before that, you were already taking photos at wrestling events. How did that start?
It ties in to what I said earlier about returning to a WWE live event after being away for at least a decade. When I came home that night, I looked at my pictures and I wanted to get better. My pictures were just average. The time frame for all of this was after WrestleMania 29, because I remember purchasing a point and shoot camera with a long zoom, and I was snapping away from the cheap seats in Met Life arena. Fun fact: I rarely delete any pictures from my Instagram, so for those dedicated or obsessive people that want to go back and look, I posted a lot of those pictures I took for WrestleMania 29 early on in my Instagram. But again, even with a nice point and shoot camera, I think it was about 300 bucks, my pictures weren’t anything special. But that all changed one day I wandered into the Best Buy store on 86th street in Manhattan. I walked through the camera section and there was a salesperson giving a demo on the Sony A6000 camera. It was tiny, about a third of the size of my clunky zoom camera. However the salesperson gave me a quick interactive demo and the camera was lightning fast and the pictures were sharp as hell and on a whole new level...something I had never personally done in my life. I didn’t have the money to get it that day, but I went home and started obsessing about that camera. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Once I set my mind on getting something done, I can’t quit thinking about it until it is done. It consumed my life until one day I remembered I had my credit card on me, walked in and just purchased it on a whim. It was time. I wanted to get to the next level of pictures. That was when it really began, the journey started with that little Sony A6000 camera. I had many and I do mean MANY failures with that camera. That was the camera where I had my epic failure in the front row at Madison Square garden. I really started understanding photography from that camera, I kept on striving to get better. My mistakes were many, but I felt I was getting better. My pictures, which I was now posting regularly on Instagram were noticeably better....but they weren’t the best. I could still do better. I had another failure at another WWE live event, one in which I missed out on many of my favorite superstars, because my camera settings were still wrong. Even though I had an excellent tool for photography in my hands, I was still not where I should have been in terms of knowledge of shooting and capturing the moment. I was still relying too much on the camera instead of dictating to the camera what I wanted done. Too many people these days are controlled by the camera and let it do the work instead of realizing you have a very powerful tool that will do exactly what you want it do so...if you take the time to actually tell it to do so. I was a bit on the arrogant and invincible side now, so after my latest failure I blamed it on the camera and not myself. On a whim, I took the train into lower Manhattan and purchased my first official professional level camera, the Sony A7R2. I wanted those amazing pictures that blew people’s minds and I was determined to get them, even if my wallet despised me. The pictures immediately went up another level of quality and I was very happy for a few months. But I was still fooling myself. I was still relying on the camera and not doing much thinking for myself. The pictures were great but in reality I was a fraud. I still had not mastered my camera and there were still many principles of photography that were complete mysteries to me. That was when my friend and mentor stepped in. He was my friend, but more importantly, he told me what I NEEDED to hear and not what I wanted him to say. He gave me constructive criticism and valuable advice. I would have improved a lot sooner but I was stubborn as a mule and as a result, his advice would only register a little bit as a time. That is what happens when you think you know it all. Only when I finally began to really listen to his advice did I finally take the last step to becoming a true photographer. And that was when he taught me the most important lesson: as a photographer don’t think that you know it all, because you don’t. There will always be something new that you can learn and make yourself better. He told me this a few years ago and even today this still applies. Every event, every time I take out my camera I feel like I learned something new that day and gained even more appreciation for what I love to do.
And if you aren’t passionate about what you do and how you take care of yourself mentally when it comes to doing the work, you have a good sense of what you need to do to get things done. So far you’ve not only done wrestling shots but others as well including events and wildlife. For the novices, how do you know you’ve captured the right photo? What do you look for before clicking?
Each time I take a shot, and with all respect to Marvel Studios and Spider-man, I have my own personal "Spidey sense" that goes off. Everything that I shoot with my camera, whether it be people, animals, buildings or landscape, each has its own angles that are very flattering and more interesting compared to others. I usually try and tell a story with my pictures. With both people and animals you can do that through the eyes. I look to capture emotion, and give the viewer some kind of clue as to what is going on at that moment. I was recently in Spain and I was fortunate to capture a Leopard staring right at me. Its eyes told the story of the hunter now being the hunted and it did not look too pleased. To the novices, I would say that the time to fire away is when you are inspired. Internally, you will know when it is the shot that you want. Trust your gut. When in doubt, you overshoot and gather a collection of angles and moments, and then later on you just go back and pick out the one that inspires you the most. This is my rule of thumb when I shoot weddings...I HATE to miss a great moment so I do not hesitate to keep shooting and figure it out later on. Tell a story with your camera. Make someone feel what you are feeling at that moment. If you are doing a portrait, make sure you get the eyes locked down and capture the emotion on the face. Each thing that you shoot has its own little personal magnificence ...find the right angle to capture that and make sure your intended audience can see what you are seeing.
It's funny because you said capture emotion, which is a much underrated statement. I realized as a DJ and even as a radio host, I had to watch either what I play or what I say because I have to draw back to who my audience is and who is paying attention. For you, it's capturing a moment in time then sharing it with others who can resonate with what your photo is. Which brings up the recent tweet from WWE's Seth Rollins. Now, you've taken photos for a long time but once I shared it on my Facebook page, you had informed me it was the first time a wrestler of his caliber has used your photo on their personal page. How was that feeling?
|A screenshot of WWE's Seth Rollins posting Mark's photo on his Twitter, a first for the photographer (Screenshot by DJ Mainstream)|
Actually the reason for my jubilation was that it was the first time Rollins himself had used one of my pictures on his page. Rollins is a very cool guy but for some reason, he is very selective about what fan photos he shares on his social media. I have personally posted hundreds of Rollins photos over the past 5-6 years and this was the first time he used one of them, so it was a very big deal for me. I don’t pester the WWE stars for anything, at the live events they are like superheroes to me and I feel like an eight year old kid all over again. I respect what they do, especially for entertaining us on a weekly basis, even when they have to sacrifice their bodies and time spent with their family to do so. Rollins was a big achievement on a personal level for me...the best feeling as a photographer who loves the WWE is when one of them shows their appreciation for my pictures. However, many of them have shown their appreciation for me and shared their photos on their social media. Ronda Rousey has shared my photos on her page a few times and she actually follows me on Instagram. The day that happened, I was on cloud nine for like a week. Whenever they show their appreciation, it makes all the hard work I go through to get that shot completely and totally worth it.
And hard work has certainly paid off for you as you were able to finally get that recognition so congrats to that and getting a follow from a former UFC & WWE Champion as well. But I know when it comes to catching moments in pictures and getting appreciation, you want more to this. Do you have any goals or direction you want to go next with being a photographer?
My goal for the immediate future is to simply be the best photographer I can be. I want to do it all, and I don’t want to be penciled in as a specific type of photographer. Of course I have aspirations to have my own studio and team someday. Even when that happens, I still want someone to be able to call me up with whatever idea or project they have in mind and see if I am interested in getting the job done. I have always done things a little different than others, I don’t believe in being the prototypical “cookie cutter” photographer that has to declare what field he is going to specialize in and only do that. Over the next sixteen months, I have a wedding in Greece, a surprise engagement shoot in Paris, and a safari in South Africa all on the road map. All of this is beyond exciting and reminds me every single day why I love photography so much. I don’t do photography so I can be defined by someone else, I do it because I genuinely love what I do. The feeling of showing a new bride all the photos of her wedding day, sitting there completely overwhelmed with emotion because she is so happy at what you were able to capture...that is what I live for. Or your favorite wrestling promoter being so pumped up because showed him the first few shots of the event that you just covered for him that night...when I can deliver like that to people who appreciate your work, it makes all the effort and hard work all the more worth it. And yes, I am referring to Tom Frazier on that last example. Quick story about Tom: a few years ago he contacted me to pick my brain about possibly photographing a potential wrestling event. I never told him this but at that time while I was just starting to get my technique right, I still had not gotten my confidence levels up yet so I was terrified as hell. I had not (at the time) done something like that yet. It is a big difference being a fan with a camera and being the guy responsible for getting all the pictures of that wrestling event that day. The potential event never fully materialized, but I never forgot that Tom believed in me way back then. Wherever this journey takes me, I will always do my best to be there for Tom when he calls. When you achieve success in life or finally get to that personal goal you have been striving for, chances are you did not get there by yourself. Someone helped you along the way. For me, it was huge that he saw something in me and believed, especially when I was still not 100 percent confident in what I could do. I won’t ever forget that, and the beauty of photography is that it allows you to give back.
Big statement right there! Especially the one thing I got out of speaking with Tom is always answer the call, regardless of how cliché that sounds (laughs). But your own studio and team is an awesome thought. I was told this recently that as much as we think we can do it on our own a team is definitely needed to get where we need to be. But even with the goals and dreams, and even with the experience you have now, have you ever thought out sharing it to the next generation? Maybe even eventually teach a class?
I do have the gift of gab, someday I do see myself expanding in that direction. However, I feel I am a dish that is still simmering in the pot and needs some more cooking before it is just right. Teaching is something that will definitely be fun, and I could see myself rounding up the students with their cameras and going out into the field for some hands on training. This is something that I am already doing unofficially, as I have people reaching out to me via Instagram and emails for pointers on camera settings and future purchases and just picking my brain to see in what direction I think they should go. I love helping someone who is genuinely interested in photography. I would not be here today had my friend and mentor not taken the time to help me out. More importantly, he was patient with me when I was dumb and stubborn, and that is the sign of a great teacher. Dwain Sumpter is his name, and I cannot thank him enough for what he has done for me. The only way I can even begin to do so is by helping others out in the same selfless way he helped me...I like to call it the “Circle of Light”. I help someone become better at photography and then someday that person pays it forward and does the same thing to someone else.
Bless you brother, because even in life it seems paying it forward is a complete lost art. We've become a very selfish generation and it’s good to see someone is attempting to at least share the wealth with others to help better people around them. As we close up though, I do have a few more questions to ask. One is an interesting take on the current climate of entrepreneurship. I know privately we discussed you taking on photography full time so, and I was curious, what are your thoughts of surviving as an entrepreneur in the world today?
I’ll use an analogy they use in sports: It is hard work to get to the top, but it is even harder work to stay there. We are in a time where things can get hot or cold at the drop of a hat, social media has a huge role in that. I think hard work will still have a huge role in getting you to where you want to be, but those that are truly successful will be the ones that learn to think outside of the box, that adapt to the hot and cold trends that are born through social media, and learn to give the people what they want. The successful entrepreneurs will work 80 hours a week to get themselves established, but then also switch up gears and adapt to what the people want. They will be the ones to think of that new, hot idea that will trend quickly on social media and ride that wave of momentum and popularity and continue to grow their brands. They will also realize that sometimes to get big rewards, you need to give a little as a sign of good faith. If I really want to work with a client, I have no problem giving them a discount or even doing a job or event for nothing as a show of good faith. You show that you are loyal and accountable to your clients and they will return the same to you. But most of all, you gotta believe 100 percent in what you are doing and in yourself. That is the core of your success.
Amen, brother. Last question. Dream scenario... if you had to choose to be hired to do one event: Wrestlemania, World Series Game 7, NBA Finals Game 7 or Super Bowl?
You could not have picked a harder question for me to answer. Let’s jump right into it with my thought process on this. The Super Bowl, as crazy as that sounds, would be the first one I eliminate. To shoot that properly you would be lugging around a really long lens and that wouldn’t be as much fun as the others, so the Super Bowl is the first to go. Next to get eliminated would be the World Series, Game 7. I’m a huge baseball fan, and especially if you told me that my Mets were in a game seven, I would be too nervous to even focus. However, there are only so many angles you can get of a batter swinging and also, the photographers are usually restricted to an area near the first and third base areas. You can only be so creative with what you have to work with there. Now comes the big two, NBA finals and Wrestlemania. I would absolutely love to get a shot of a Lebron James breakaway slam dunk or a close-up of the beads of sweat dripping down their foreheads as they step to the line to attempt two free throws with the game on the line. So for me it comes down to LeBron James and the Greek Freak versus...WrestleMania. Multiple title changes, a packed stadium, pyro, incredible entrances, and the chance to immortalize many of my favorites with my camera? Or for me to lose my mind and hear the iconic glass shattering and see my all-time favorite Stone Cold Steve Austin come down to the ring? Extremely tough decision, but I would have to eliminate the NBA finals and go with WrestleMania. It has too many potential moments and too many opportunities for an iconic photo.
My guy I was hoping you'd say that. There's nothing like the iconic Seth Rollins cash in. Rusev on a tank to face John Cena. The night the Hardy's returned to WWE. Daniel Bryan's celebration and WrestleMania 30... Ah appreciate answering that question. Where could people find your work? Social media?
On both Instagram and Twitter you can find me, look up @matorr1207, and my official website is www.matorr1207.com, there you can find the best examples of all my work in all fields. If it is a memorable picture then it is most likely somewhere on my website.
Thanks Mark, appreciate the interview.