Love What You Do
Firstly, I’d like to thank Scott and Brad for inviting me to write this blog, it’s a real pleasure.
I write blog posts and articles for magazines all the time, with no problems at all and I thought it would be the same with this one as well, until I actually sat down to write it haha… A thousand ideas running through my head yet I was finding it hard to pin down one that I thought worthy. Who knew one would struggle with it even before I’d even began.
I blame it on a photographer’s mind for having too many ideas!
So, after much deliberation I thought I would write about what I like as a photographer. Well, just a little bit of it.
I’m a fashion, beauty, and advertising photographer. I’ve been in this industry for around 25 years. It’s been a tough journey with a lot of ups, but also a fair share of its downs too; the biggest being quite a few years ago, when a spinal injury took me out of the game for around six years. It also took all my clients and my established name too.
Coming back from that and having to start all over again without anyone knowing your name or your work was hard… not impossible, but certainly very hard, especially in a fast paced industry like fashion and beauty. It’s almost soul destroying when you phone one of your big magazine clients and say, “Hi, It’s Wayne Johns, I’m back!” and you get the empty reply of, “Sorry who are you?”
BANG – thats a tough pill to swallow! This industry changes so fast, so sleep with one eye open! Hey, we may fall down but we can always get back up and carry on, can’t we? It’s what I did!
So, not wanting to make this a negative feeling post, what’s changed? Photography gear has for sure, not really in what it does but more how it does it, things are so much faster, better, sharper, more intuitive and so on. But most of all and more important than gear – I’ve changed. What I shoot, what I like to shoot, and even how I shoot. Even my preference to what kit I like to use and shoot with.
I’m certainly not saying photo gear is any sort of substitute for creativity or ideas. We all know that’s so not true, and you don’t need a camera to have an amazing idea/concept. But this can bring change in all of us, which can be good and bad. We often run to keep up with the speed of a fast moving world/industry when perhaps we should slow down a little to absorb and appreciate our creativity as artists. One of the most important things of all for us!
It’s funny, we often see photography as ‘capturing a brief moment in time,’ yet I always feel I never have enough time to capture all those beautiful moments or ideas I constantly have rushing through my mind. I’m pretty sure a lot of you out there also feel the same, but hey, there are only so many hours in a day.
I have a whole sketch pad full of ideas and concepts I’ve got nowhere near to shooting yet, not sure if I ever will as I always have new ones popping up. That said, photography is a beautiful thing! We love what we do and we do what we love. I think as photographers/creatives we’re very lucky to have a passion as a profession that we can call work. Even if it’s not your profession and you’re an enthusiast or hobbyist, modern cameras have given us all the opportunity to capture all sorts of images and memories. It’s a great place to be in.
I love to photograph people, so I’m most definitely a people photographer. I enjoy being around people; they can be so diverse and everyone is just a little bit different. Their quirks, skills or personalities can sometimes help make or break a shot, and also make for an enjoyable shoot on set for you and your team. I’m sure we all like those moments when we’re out and about, having a nice coffee, and we sit silently sipping away while we indulge in a little ‘people watching’ as the world passes by. Ah the moments we could capture if we always had a camera in our hands.
So people are definitely my thing to shoot and they fill me full of inspiration. I love a happy studio/location. I like to smile, joke and be happy with who ever I’m working with so we can all enjoy our day. I find it really helps the shoot be more productive and fun too, and coffee and biscuits are a must though!
I’m happy to say I’ve progressed over the years and stepped up a notch since my very first Hanimex 110 flip film camera as a child. In fact, it wasn’t even mine. It was my mother’s, but I used to ‘borrow’ it on occasion when she wasn’t aware.
Now I love shooting with medium format. I always have since the days of film before moving over to digital. I kind of like the way it weirdly but naturally and instinctively slows us down, slows our erratic minds, our shooting process and the way we control and manage our shoot. We seem to take our time to enjoy our moments just a little bit longer. It’s a lovely tool that slows us down without us really knowing why.
Perhaps because on the film side of things we know we only get 10-12 frames, and in the digital world we know that medium format file sizes are huge and we’re aware that we have to store what we shoot on a vast array of hard drives. Or perhaps it’s just the way that medium format is one of those tools for helping us to relax and engage in a more creative and controlled process. I’m sure everyone has their own reasons. Either way, it’s a nice feeling to occasionally have that calm pace and breathing space.
I’ve used many MF systems in my time, both film and digital, but one I really love (and more importantly enjoy) shooting with is the one I use now, for 80% of my commercial work, and that’s my Fujifilm GFX50S mirrorless system. It’s an awesome piece of kit! Why do I love it? Well, apart form the physical form factor and truly amazing image quality, it’s smaller, lighter, and quieter than a lot of cameras, its even smaller/lighter than a Canon 5D, but this is medium format we’re talking about. It’s a small but rather big beast.
Medium format does give an image a different look and different feel compared to DSLR’s or Mirrorless CSC/FF cameras, The image quality of my GFX has an unsurpassed beautiful depth to its tonality with very smooth gradations of tonal ranges across the image. It gives a very creamy feel to backgrounds while your subject is ridiculously sharp and a subject to background separation almost reflective of 3D, even without shooting wide open apertures.
The dynamic range is incredible. I often demonstrate this in my workshops by purposely under exposing my image around 4 stops then pulling it back 5 stops in post, and it’s completely usable with little or no noise in the shadows. It’s sensor technology gone nuts, it’s almost like cheating! My GFX gives my images a very filmic look reminiscent from the film days which I adore, but with mind blowing detail and sharpness which is just out of this world. It’s a joy to handle and feels so easy to use, and, as it should be, you almost forget you’re holding a camera.
Bizarrely, it’s reignited my excitement for shooting again, which my other MF systems never did. I think that’s important for inspiring your personal work too; generally if you’re in a happier mood you’ll find you want to shoot more things. My GFX is now small enough that I often take it out with me wherever I go in a little shoulder bag that I used to carry my rangefinder around in. It’s so brilliant!
If you’ve never shot medium format, then I urge you to go out and give it a go, film or digital it’s your choice. Take your time, master your equipment and learn your skills, but enjoy it. You’ll find a new found love in your images for sure.
Lighting wise, I’m a firm believer that simplest is best, and we don’t always need to complicate things, yet often we do. Now I’m not ignoring the fact that some projects require more complexed set ups than others… but I can’t help liking ‘one light set ups.’ I’d love to shoot a whole book project on it. There’s just this lovely simplistic beauty to them and also so much you can do with just one light and a bunch of reflectors. I’m aware my commercial world may dictate a different approach, but being able to create beautiful imagery with one light can be magical in the simplest form.
If you haven’t done it for a while, push yourself to go and do it again. Play with different light shapers to help you achieve different results, and remember reflectors can make all the difference. One camera, one light and a reflector… it’s already sounding simple and refreshing for the soul. Hard light, soft light, moody, emotive, high energy, seductive, expressive so many options and all achievable with one light. Go and get creative (and share your images too, it will be nice to see)!
Commercial work can be quite draining and sometimes very uninspiring creatively. We’re often shooting what a client wants and not what we want or how we want. Rightly so; the product is the most important thing in that shoot and not us. It comes with the job we have to accept that, and we all do it to pay the bills. So where can we break free from commercial constraints, apart from having a free rein in commercial projects? Our personal work of course!
I’m guilty, like most, of not shooting enough personal work, and I can’t instill the importance of shooting personal work. For many valid reasons, it certainly helps you to grow as a photographer, you can experiment with style, concept, approach, technique and lots of different ideas, you find what you like and what you don’t, it helps you see and realise what you’d do differently, and it helps build not only your body of work but also your character. It’s that kind of work that clients like to see because it says a lot about you as a person and they almost get to see the real you the artist.
If you get stuck for inspiration, even though there is a lot of amazing work out there to get inspired by, I sometimes use this little tip to get my creative thought processes going. I pick just five words and give myself a challenge of creating a shoot from it. It can be any five words you wish; try this right now, five words like: blue, shiny, cold, metal, fairytale. Hopefully those five words already has your mind crunching some ideas. If it inspires you go straight off to shoot something, please share your five words and your final image. It really is that simple to get inspired and sometimes the little lift we need when we have creative block or need a boost.
It’s kind of weird, as some of the ultimate greats like Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, David Bailey, Paolo Roversi, Herb Ritts, Albert Watson, Guy Bourdin, Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson, Patrick Demarchelier and many many more were some of my idols and inspiration throughout my developing career. They were quite simplistic in their approach, but with some outstanding results and imagery that helped shape where we are today. I almost feel that the commercial world and what I shoot now has taken me far away from what I followed as my inspiration. It just goes to show, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the industry, sometimes we all need to reflect on our work both past and present. Are you going in the right direction on your journey right now? If you’re lacking inspiration what do you need to do to get that creative buzz back again?
All of our journeys change throughout our photographic career, and how you do what you do can sometimes steer you into certain directions and open up other doors. For me at my current point in my journey, I find myself giving more talks, seminars and live workshops around the world, and I have to say I’m loving it. I’m at a point in my career where I have a good mix of commercial work too, which is a nice balance. I also have a young family, my 3-year old daughter, who I absolutely love spending time with. When she was born, I made to point to clear my diary of clients every Friday so I could have what I call ‘a daddy daughter day,’ as I didn’t want to miss her growing up. In three years I’ve only missed five Daddy Daughter days. Importantly a good life work balance can help you enjoy those moments of creativity and development a little bit more. :)
Photography is fun – sometimes challenging, but that makes for more fun! It can be a beautiful, creative, inspirational thing to do – go and enjoy it. Experiment, master your skills and create some beautiful images of your own. Shoot more (personal work) but shoot less (frames). Take your time to capture just what you’re after and keep in mind what you do now helps carve a path for tomorrow.
I think I should take a lesson from myself here on all of this!
I hope my words have given you some inspiration, and something to think about, please share some of your images with me if it has, I’d love to see what you’ve done (five words is all it takes).
Thank you for reading this.