Whether he’s bicycling, hiking, kayaking, climbing, or working in his expansive garden, Mark Turner of Turner Photographics always has a camera by his side. The long-time Bellingham resident’s passion for the outdoors has made for a comfortable life, a healthy business, and a plethora of spectacular nature photographs.
I first met Turner in 1997, as one of my instructors in the Mountaineers Basic Climbing Class. Originally from West Virginia, Turner and his wife and business partner, Natalie, first moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1990 for a job in telecommunications at Western Washington University. “Around 1994, when I wasn’t working for Western anymore, I decided to return to my photography roots, starting a business that focused on nature photography…landscapes, native plants, gardens, and wildflowers,” explains Turner. He had studied photography since the age of nine both as a hobby and in college. “We’re gardeners. My parents were gardeners. Natalie’s parents were gardeners. It’s sort of in our blood,” chuckles Turner. “We stayed here because I hadn’t climbed all the mountains yet. I still haven’t, and I probably never will.”
That diligence and love for the outdoors resulted in a number of fruitful endeavors including publication of the breathtaking field guide, co-authored with Phyllis Gustafson and published in 2006, Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest. Its accompanying website contains 17,000+ of Turner’s stunning images. “It’s a resource and my way of giving back to the native plant community that helped and embraced me.” Over the years, Turner also captured a garden photography collection that currently holds more than 80,000 photos from broad landscapes to detailed close ups, many of which have been published in national magazines and books.
“In the mid-2000’s the publishing industry went into chaos, with the transition to digital and e-books, and my garden photography work began to decline. Around 2009, I added portraiture to my business,” notes Turner. “We put the time and effort into planning a portrait upfront,” explains Turner, “so that the customer ends up with a classic, timeless portrait with lasting value that they’ll still appreciate in 20, 40, 60 years. I don’t get into the latest trends and fads. And I’ll even hang it on the wall for you.”
That warm, personal approach has translated to a comfortable business. In 2014, Turner relocated his studio from Fairhaven to a five-acre (2-hectare [ha]) property on Wynn Road, just off Slater Road (Exit 260) of U.S. Interstate Highway 5 (I-5). His new studio is a remodel of a primitive feed store, originally built in 1928 and moved to the site in 1960 to make way for I-5. “We have three acres (1.2 ha) of forest, a pond, two acres (0.8 ha) of perennial garden, and a view of Mount Baker available for use, as well as the new studio.”
In addition to photographing humans and pets, Turner co-authored Trees and Shrubs of the Pacific Northwest with Ellen Kuhlmann in 2014. “Both the wildflowers book and this one each involved two growing seasons of photography and around 40,000 miles of travel,” expounds Turner, “which is different than my coffee table book, Bellingham Impressions, about beautiful places in Bellingham, because I had already taken most of those pictures before they asked me to do it.”
The changing technology of photography hasn’t fazed Turner. He also teaches iPhone Photography at Whatcom Community College, blogs at In Focus Newsletter, Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens, and Passions, speaks to garden clubs and native plant groups, and has collaborated with University of Washington’s Herbarium at the Burke Museum to develop a Washington Wildflower Identification app for the Smartphone.
Turner is also sharing his hard-earned wisdom and experience. Students from as far away as Ketchikan, AK have taken his Basic Photography Class that covers knowing your own camera, composition, and lighting. He’ll also present his “Spirit of the Forest” photography class at the North Cascades Institute in May and the Siskiyou Field Institute in June.
The coming year will be both one of rest and hard work for Turner. He’ll plant more eye-catching native shrubs and perennials on his new property and, as Turner explains, “I’m looking forward to catching up on pet projects, some personal creativity, and a little pro bono work. My new year’s resolution is to play more, work less.”