John Harper / Member Interview
City of Bath, England, UK
What inspired you to become a photographer?
I have on my wall a photograph taken in the early 1960's by a local newspaper photographer. The circus had come to town and my older sister and father had gone to see the show. I suspect the trapeze act were in full flow and the photographer decided to focus on the audience reaction. The sea of faces were looking up, open mouthed at the performance, all that is except for my father, who was middle of the frame staring straight into the camera. Putting to one side the personal interest it makes for a terrific image. I've adored that photograph my whole life and it remains to this day an inspiration.
Tell us about your first photo that really validated your interest as a photographer.
I suppose the very fact that clients are willing to part with their hard earned cash for your services validates anyone's interest in being a photographer, financially speaking at least. On an emotional level then it would be anyone outside of family or friends that recognizes your work. I don't believe there is one or a first photo for me.
Back when you were just starting out, what was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome that?
Well, gaining business is a challenge for everyone when they start out. As much as the power of social media is used to promote currently, never underestimate the old ways. Referrals are where a lot of clients come from, previous shoots but often from the venues themselves. That demonstrates the ability to communicate and get on with people (You wouldn't be a portrait shooter otherwise.) possibly more than photographic skill alone.
What do you enjoy photographing the most?
People; there are never ending possibilities in their expressions and actions. Portraiture and Street Photography never become boring for me; everyone enjoys people watching. I have shot landscapes, mostly because I enjoy being outdoors, but more often than not I look for some human interest to be included in them. It's rare that I produce any work that doesn't include a person or people - did I say people? Just in case you missed it: People.
What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
Being interviewed by PhotographyTalk? Seriously, moments happen all the time, clients loving the images I've captured of them always induces a sense of achievement, something to be proud of. I generally live in the moment, therefore a very recent example. A photographer friend who lives in Belgium suggested I submit a photo to Black + White Photography Magazine. I laughed, but he insisted. The editor emailed straight back and said she'd like to include it. Proud to be in the magazine, but prouder still that a fellow photographer whose opinion I value thought it good enough.
We all have weaknesses, what is yours relating to photography?
Too many to mention. Here are a couple. As a documenter I lack vision at times. It's about relationships between objects, subject matter, links that tell a story. I would like to see these more easily. Other than that, please don't ask me about long exposure. I haven't a clue. 1/30 is long exposure as far as I'm concerned!
Finding time to get out and shoot is another challenge for many. How do you find the time in your busy schedule to get out there behind your camera?
I always have my camera with me wherever I go. That allows me time to photograph. Nothing worse that missing a shot because you left it at home.
Nailing a prefect composition can be a challenge. What do you think the trick is to mastering composition?
I don't think that there's a trick as such, more a matter of constantly taking photographs and reviewing them. It doesn't take long before you see the errors - what works and what doesn't. After that it becomes second nature. Also being aware of the guidelines regarding composition. You don't have to follow them if you don't want to, but they exist for a reason and should be studied.
There are many photographers starting out, who don't have the money to buy the camera gear they want. What advice can you give to them?
Don't concern yourself with gear; it will become an obsession and an expensive one. Buy used equipment from somewhere like eBay or your local camera shop. Wait until you have mastered the basics and are producing quality work before investing . By then you'll know exactly what types of camera lenses you require. That's the time to invest. Gear isn't really important as far as photographic skill is concerned. That said, charging £1,500 for a wedding and turning up with an i Phone may cost you some confidence from your clients.
How do you feel photography has impacted the way you see the world?
Photographers see the world much differently than non -photographers. We look for light which, as we know, is transient or ephemeral, changing expressions and moods in our subject matter. This means that we need to be in tune with our surroundings, aware of everything that is happening around us. A wise man one told me, "If your mind is constantly in the past, you'll become depressed. If it's worrying about the future, you'll suffer with anxiety." For me, one huge benefit with photography is that I live purely in the moment. It never ceases to amaze me the tiniest things I notice. Sounds a bit "Zen", I know.
To get your creative eye focused, where do you draw your inspiration from?
I spend around 30 minutes a day looking through online photographic communities. There's always something to inspire. There's a vast amount of talent out there. Mostly though, it comes from photography books.
What is your best photography related tip?
Learn to see "manual settings" so that they become "automatic". This will enable you to concentrate purely on capturing the image without worrying about technical details and in a way or mood that you decide to express your vision, not the one from the camera.
What would you like for people take away from your work?
That's a tough question. I suspect many don't take away anything at all, however, if just one or two people view a photograph and feel what I felt, or see the narrative that I had in mind, then it was well worth presenting the image.
What are some "must have" items in your camera bag?
The camera and three lenses (35mm, 50mm and 90mm) are must haves for obvious reasons. A cloth and blower for cleaning, spare battery and SD cards. A couple of f1ashes which rarely get used. but useful for fill, should it be needed on a bright day.
If you were stuck on a deserted island, what is the ONE photography book you would want to have with you?
I have lots of photography books. If I had to choose just one then it would be "Magnum Contact Sheets". I highly recommend this book; it includes many iconic photographs and the accompanying contact sheets which allow us a glimpse into the photographer's thought process.
Final question, and it’s a fun one: Life has been found on another planet and none-other than Sir Richard Branson is piloting Virgin Galatica and has put together a team of engineers, scientist, doctors and has asked you to come along to document the journey. The challenge is you can only bring two lenses and one camera body and two other items. What would you bring?
I'd bring some kind of intergalactic map, just in case Sir Richard gets lost. Also a copy of the "Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy" for a laugh and perhaps a few pointers. My initial thought for lenses would be something wide angle, but now that I think about it that would be absolutely pointless. Endless shots of endless space would get boring really quickly. Nothing produced is likely to zoom in close enough, so no need or one of those huge 600mm lenses either. I would take my Leica and one lens - my 50mm. A great all-rounder for photos of planets as we glide by, portraits of our pilot looking at my map wondering where the hell we were and any obliging aliens we encounter - although technically we would be the aliens!
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