Jason Johnson / Member Interview

My name is Jason Johnson I am 32 years old and reside in Santa Cruz, CA. I work full time at Verizon Wireless as a Solutions Manager. I am east coast born and raised and my passion for snowboarding drove me out west 8 years ago after College. Since then I have fell in love with California’s beautiful coastlines and landscapes. A trip to Yosemite 5 years ago triggered me to buy my first camera and I haven’t looked back since. I started doing weddings and portraits because that’s where the money was but that wasn’t where my passion was. So, I stopped doing that and got back to doing what I was passionate about, landscapes and nightscapes. I also enjoy taking pictures underwater when I scuba dive, but for now it’s on a go-pro. Just this past year I have really got into night photography and dedicated a lot of energy into learned the techniques necessary. I have been lucky to have found a photography buddy, Annie, who has enabled me to do some serious traveling. Just this year we have been to Alaska to capture the Aurora, Oregon for waterfalls and milky way, Eastern sierras down to Trona pinnacles for milky ways, all around sf bay area, and last but not least our latest journey to Iceland for auroras, waterfalls and everything in-between. It really helps to have an adventure buddy to get you out of the area. Outside of photography I love to snowboard, scuba dive, golf, footgolf, skate, and play darts. I do travel a decent amount so you will likely find me on the couch watching Netflix in my free time if I’m not editing photos.


Santa Cruz, CA USA

What inspired you to become a photographer?

It was something that enabled me to express my creativity and motivated me to travel the world.

Tell us about your first photo that really validated your interest as a photographer.

It was a star trails photo I did a few years back called Time Warp. About 240 photos merged for trails then a light house in the middle separately exposed. It was quite a challenge for me to accomplish and the look on people faces sold me.

Back when you were just starting out, what was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome that?

When I first started out in photography I didn’t believe in editing. I thought if you had to edit it, you didn’t take it correctly. As I learned more about dynamic range of the eye vs the dynamic range of what the camera could capture I realized that if I wanted to take awesome photos I would have to learn and accept the fact that editing was necessary. I read somewhere that stuck with me, editing can’t make a bad photo look good but it will make a great photo look awesome! I eventually bit the bullet and got Lightroom.

What do you enjoy photographing the most?

The night sky. Either milky ways or auroras. Something about capturing and showcasing what is there but not easily seen by the naked eye. I also love long exposures, similar idea, gives it a different unique look.

What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?

I think my proudest moment was when a band reached out to me and wanted to use one of my photos as their album cover. That really made my day.

Tell us about time in your photographic journey where you failed at something and how did you pivot to overcome this?

When I was just getting into photography and shooting the night sky I traveled to one of the darkest places (big bend Texas) and was able to do a 2.5 min exposure of the milky way using Pentax K3 with the star tracker attached (moves the camera sensor with the earth’s rotation to eliminate star trails and allow more light to be captured). I thought for sure I would be able to capture these detailed milky way cores like I see all the pros do. It came out pretty crappy, my raws these days are way better than the finished copy. I actually stopped photographing the night sky for about a year and got into weddings, landscapes and other types of photography. I gained a lot better understanding of how the camera worked during this time. Not until recently (last year) I really hunkered down, watched countless hours of YouTube videos on photographing the milky way and slowly shot by shot I was able to produce shots that now I get asked how I’m able to capture.

We all have weaknesses, what is yours relating to photography?

My weakness is taking my time, or lack thereof. I find myself getting to locations just before the sunsets and not allowing myself enough time to find the right comp. I am getting better but I’m realizing it take about an hour at least to find the killer comp and sometimes you don’t.

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?

This is a tough one being most (myself included) work a full-time schedule outside of photos. I am lucky to be a part of escaype, a photography community that predicts good sunsets/sunrises etc. So, it lets me be a little choosier on when I go shoot. When they are predicting a fire sunrise, I’ll do my best to get out there since I know it won’t be a complete waste. I think this is why I like the night sky; I have more time at night and am not rushed by the sun setting/rising. But ultimately if it’s your passion, you’ll find the time.

Nailing a composite right can be a challenge. What do you think the trick is to mastering composition?

Well this took me a while to figure out and I am still figuring it out. First you have to know what to look for. But before that you have to know why you like certain photos, what elements does the photographer use to draw you in. I started with rule of thirds and I still use it today but additional I’ve found that I like leading lines, V shapes, U shapes or even straight lines that all lead you eye to the subject. These aren’t always possible but most of the time you can get something close to it.

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?

Gear is only as important as the brain that operates it. By the time it took me to figure out how to use the camera inside and out, you could afford what you want with saving 20/month. You can take some really epic shots with any camera, it took me 3 years to realize that I ready to invest the time and money into a nice camera. You can buy refurb full frames for just as cheap as a new crop sensor if you must but I recommend really thinking if this is a something you like to do or a serious hobby.

How do you feel photography has impacted the way you see the world?

My eyes are always looking for the perfect comp, sometimes I’ll see a hillside with rolling hills and make a mental note or even drop a pin on google maps to mark it to come back one day. When photographing, I try not to see it as the majority does so I get low, get high, imagine what different times of day would look like, etc. It forces me to look at the world uniquely.

What do you see photographers doing today, that if done differently tomorrow would improve their success?

Don’t get overwhelmed by the awesome photographs out there. Find what style drives you and picture by picture develop your own style. Try to make each picture better than your last, practice really does help.

To get your creative eye focused, where do you draw your inspiration from?

Mostly Instagram, I try to follow any photographer that I view as unique. Then see why I like it and see if there’s an opportunity for me to get better.

What is your best photography related tip?

Bracket your shots at least 3, 1 stop apart. The worst is finding out that your sky is blown out or your foreground is too dark on a comp you really like.

What would you like for people take away from your work?

I try to inspire people to live life to the fullest. I try to show people that you can do the things that make you happy, whatever it may be.

What are some ‘must have’ items in your camera bag?

Extra memory cards, extra batteries, lens wipes, remote intervalometer.

If you were stuck on a deserted island, what is the ONE photography book you would want to have with you?

Honestly I don’t read too many photography books. With the digital age, I can research exactly what I want when I want. That being said I do look at outdoor photographer from time to time.

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 Galactic 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?

Well I think I would bring the canon 16-35mm 2.8 for the night sky and auroras (they happen on other planets too!) and probably sigma 150-600mm to get those close-up shots of potential moons and what not. My body would be my Canon 6d with battery grip. The other 2 items would be a sturdy tripod and an extra memory card (128gb).

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