#262. Markus Renner on formats, composition and learning

By pascaljappy | Interview

Jul 30

Markus Renner is an award-winning photographer from Austria whose images appeal to me a great deal because of their composition and out of time quality. In this interview, we discuss his format choices and decision-making process. All images are copyright Markus Renner and all link to the Purity Gallery on Markus’s website. I urge you to visit Markus’s website for the consistently stunning quality of his interpretations of the landscape in the most inspiring locations on the planet.

[Pascal] In your recent photography, you seem to be using the square format and elongated panoramas, with very little in between. What attracts you to these formats? Do you have strong views about composition ?

[Markus Renner] I prefer the square format, because of its harmonious appearance. In fact I decide between the 1:1 and 1:3 format, when viewing a scene through the lens on location. The decision is influenced a lot by the scene itself. I always try to become one with the scene before I push the release button. That’s very important for my work! Then I choose the format that gives the image all the mood and atmosphere, that I feel on the location. Composition is very important for me – because I still photograph analog (film).

purity_SQ_15[Pascal] In your “Purity” series, there are no shadows. Objects simply emerge from the screen / print as if lit from inside or photographed at night. How do you achieve that “purity” and what do you look for in such a scene ?

[Markus] Like the old masters in painting, I try to reduce the picture to the maximum in my Purity series. I look for special structures, patterns and objects. I ignore the small details in the picture. Water or fog in combination with longtime exposure help me to fade out unimportant details. Following the motto: all that is not long enough in the same position is not important. That´s how the pictures get that soothing atmosphere.

Purity SQ 16 (c) Markus Renner[Pascal] Can you describe what gear you use and what directed your choice ?

[Markus] As I said before, i´m still shooting film. The square pictures are done with a Hasselblad 503 CW. For the panoramic images I use the Linhof Technorama 617 SIII. It’s important for me as an artist to make my pictures with an analog workflow. The whole working process is slower and very different to the digital photography. If you take film pictures, you have to consider composition, exposure time, f-stop and so on before you shoot. It´s the opposite of digital photography, where you can point and shoot endlessly and always check your result on the display immediately.

Purity H 4 by Markus Renner[Pascal] Looking at your photos, it seems you use a very wide range of exposure lengths, rather than following a standard recipe. How do you decide or experiment with exposures ?

[Markus] Yes, I often have exposure times of 10 minutes to 1 hour. From many trials I learned how long I have to expose to get what I want.

Purity H 25 by Markus Renner[Pascal] There is very strong consistency in your photographs from very different locations. How did you evolve that style and vision ?

[Markus] I trained myself to see the world with different eyes. I have no elaborated scheme what I want to photograph. When I see something special in the landscape, I simply know it´s time to shoot.

Purity SQ 24 by Markus Renner[Pascal] What sort of training / exercises would you recommend to young photographers wanting to work on defining and strengthening their vision ?

[Markus] Learning by doing and always being critical to your own images, is what I find most important. Look at your pictures and figure out WHY your personal favorites are your personal favorites. Compare them and try to figure out what they have in common. So you can go more and more in the right direction and build your own style.

purity_SQ_31[Pascal] Where can we see your work, outside of the Internet ?

[Markus] Right now I am organizing an exhibition tour in China. Also Other exhibitions are planned. To stay updated, please visit my website www.markusrenner.com

purity_SQ_11[Pascal] What training/education did you follow to become an artist ?

[Markus] Originally I started with photo-realistic painting, when I was 14 years old. I took pictures in order to paint them on canvas. Over the years I reduced painting and concentrated more on photography. I´m a self-educated person. I think learning by doing is the best training you can get. As far as I can remember, I always looked at photographs and tried to figure out why I liked them and why I can’t get enough of them. I think, that it is very important to be different to other photographers. It took me years to get my personal view and my own style. Now I’m 41, so it was quite a journey ;).

Landscape panorama by Markus Renner[Pascal] Thank you very much Markus.


Markus’s artist statement

Reduced to an absolute maximum: On journeys all my senses are awake for new point of views or perspectives. I discover here those extraordinary views in which the world starts to shine in an exciting light.

“Purity” symbolizes ideal clarity in which a moment transfers into lively pictures with timed depths. The perfect moment does not count for me for the perfect staged photograph. I do not compose an idealized image of reality. My pictures are rather the visual expression of a time frame which i literally absorb with all senses. When I arrive at a certain place, I allow the encounter with this place to flow through my lens into my emotional world during my presence. I turn my view then onto certain shapes and shades which have attracted my attention by their uniqueness and their aura full of character. Like this, small details are especially important for the entire artwork. This created artwork language is a pure mirror image of my personal perception and goes beyond terms like day time, lightening conditions, light shade, and lightening. Resting and moving are flowing into each other and unite in one picture my impressions and the richness of nuances in nature as a matter of face.

I allow my camera to catch the moment of a photography in its whole. My pictures aren’t snap shots. They rather invite the viewer to experience its creation in all its intensity and to see every “stroke of the brush” growing and to feel it. They invite the viewers to feel my art (as I do) with all senses.


Portrait of autrian photographer Markus Renner

Markus Renner

Markus’s CV

Markus Renner was born in 1972 in St. Georgen / Austria. His artistic path guided him already early from photo realistic painting to a unique style of photography which has a lot in common with building art at first sight. Being an autodidact, Marcus Renner found his own highly emotional connection to photography. His internationally rewarded pictures and series of photos are created from the moment and awake from their inner engagement to life. He stages mainly spacious landscapes from around the world with great passion. His photographic journeys brought him to Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Iceland, Namibia, Peru, Kamchatka, Nicaragua and the USA.


More photographs by Markus

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  • PhA says:

    Great pictures: where artistic sensibility meets strong technical skills!

  • Philber says:

    Wow! It is difficult for me to decide wha I find more inspiring, the pictures or the comments. This just great stuff. Vielen Dank, Markus, and thanks, Pascal!

  • Bob Hamilton says:


    Quite honestly, I find his comment, made in response to your third question – “If you take film pictures, you have to consider composition, exposure time, f-stop and so on before you shoot. It´s the opposite of digital photography….” – utterly ridiculous as exactly the same principles apply to digital photography as applied to film photography and it assumes that all digital photographers are members of the “spray and hope brigade”.
    As a landscape shooter of some 50 years experience, covering all film formats and now digital formats, my technique has hardly changed over the years. I use ND, ND Grad and polarising filters as required to obtain the appropriate combination of shutter speed and aperture for the image in question; I compose in the camera and only use the rear LCD screen to check the histogram; in short, I aim to get it right first time, applying the experience of too many decades to do so.
    Admittedly, digital photography has made things so much easier – instant feedback of exposure, instant access to the final image without having to wait for the lab to process and for the photographer to scan if a digital version is required and a very clean digital image compared to even the best of scanned images – but that gift should be embraced rather than being regarded as a negative.
    Keep the articles coming.


    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Bob,

      Markus probably didn’t mean that all photographers use digital in a lazy fashion. And you’re right, we should consider the benefits of digital as such: benefits. What I do note is that most (not all) photographers using long exposures for the sort of aesthetics Markus is going for, use film. Think Michael Kenna (though others are using digital with great success, such as Joel Tjintjelaar). My guess is that sort of slow and deliberate shooting probably finds favour with photographers trained in the days of film, whatever they use today. Whereas digital natives are more prone to experimenting rather than careful planning. What do you think ?


      • Bob Hamilton says:

        I can only agree, Pascal and I do realise that the comments were a generalisation.
        The one real benefit of film over digital, especially of medium/large format film, is the ability to use extremely small apertures, such as f32, which would only result in terrible diffraction if used in digital. The digital photographer, even with top quality lenses, such as those for the Leica S system, is really limited to f16, or f19 at a push, and needs to resort to extremely strong ND filters, such as the “Big Stopper”, to obtain similar results. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, however, and both mediums have their own issues with long exposures – film with colour shift and digital with increased noise.
        I for one don’t particularly like deliberately manufactured, long exposure images which result in a world I don’t recognise of, for example, excessively milky, abstract water; however, each to their own – variety is the spice of life.


        • philberphoto says:

          Bob, Pascal, let me interject here. My reading of Markus’ text is different from yours. If, to use his words, you don’t need to consider composition, exposure time, f-stop before shooting digital, it is not because you can afford to be lazy and correct everything in post. It is, in my humble opinion, because, with digital, you can afford to either try everything once, chimp, and shoot again if you don’t like the results, or shoot every combination and then cull in post. This means shoot very many shots, which wasn’t/isn’t really practical with film. If my interpretation is correct, Markus wasn’t suggesting you can get away with being lazy with digital, but that it lets you try more things out. Different tools for different fools…

          • Bob Hamilton says:

            I don’t disagree with your interpretation – it’s always difficult/dangerous to judge someone by an article such as this where comments are, of necessity, somewhat abbreviated. Digital has, indeed, provided the “benefits” you describe, if one regards them as such.
            The benefit of the doubt goes to Markus.


        • pascaljappy says:

          Sure know what you mean. Some seem to master the long exposure technique while others use it as a gimmick. In Michael Kenna’s photographs, for instance, I really like that exposures range from a few seconds to all night. It depends on the intended effect, so there’s little repetition and the sense of location remains, whereas others just drown every scene in that technique to the point that only the technique remains in the final image. I like the ethereal nature of Markus’s photographs for that reason. I still feel in an beatiful setting not in a stainless steel replica of the place.

          How does the big stopper work for you? Never had one myself and would love to get one for daytime long-ish exposures. Any nasties?

          • Bob Hamilton says:

            I’ve never used one, Pascal, and have no wish to having seen many resultant images. Whether it’s because the subject has been inappropriate or the practitioner inexpert, the results have always looked completely artificial to me.
            As I said above, each to their own – variety is the spice of life.


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