Tag: Abstract

Photographer Focus: Stephanie Johnson Photography – An Iowa based Abstract, ICM and Landscape Photographer

In my latest installment in my Photographer Focus series, I talk to Stephanie Johnson Photography. An Iowa based Landscape photographer. Her aim, to Re-imagine The Landscape using ICM (intentional camera movement) techniques and Abstract styles of shooting.

Stephanie Johnson, owner of Stephanie Johnson Photography was actually a student/client of mine several years ago. Before going on to launch Stephanie Johnson Photography as a business, Stephanie attended a two-day Landscape Photography Workshop with me in the south west of Ireland. Since that time, Stephanie has further progressed her photography skills and has developed a unique style. Stephanie Johnson Photography certainly has a refreshing outlook on life and photography.

Read on to find out more about Stephanie and her photography vision.

Who is Stephanie Johnson – Tell us about yourself?

I’m an abstract ICM (intentional camera movement) and landscape photographer. I left the business world about 15 months ago to build a more creative life for myself. I came to the realization that if I didn’t take the chance to pursue my creative desires more passionately, I’d be living a less fulfilling life. So, I stepped out onto the path of following my inner voice. And I haven’t looked back!

When did your photography journey begin?

I first became interested in landscape photography in 1996. Some of my first favorite experiences were shooting sunsets over the East China Sea when I lived in Okinawa, Japan. Soon after, I moved to Southern California, where Joshua Tree National Park became my playground. And from there I further immersed myself in the world of landscape photography. These early experiences really set the stage for what would later become the passion work I do now.

Stephanie Johnson Photography

What was your first camera?

The first ‘real’ camera I owned was a Canon EOS A2E 35mm film SLR. This is the camera I learned to shoot within Okinawa and California. I made the switch to digital (a Canon Rebel XT) in 2005. But interestingly enough, I only did so in order to photograph my daughter playing various sports during her school years. I did not do much landscape work at that time. I upgraded to a Canon 7D in 2012 while living in Kansas City. And there I learned to enjoy shooting scenic skylines and cityscapes.

What camera are you shooting with now?

After traveling a few times to shoot the magnificent landscapes of Ireland with the 7D in 2015-2016, and as my passion began to really move me in a new direction with my life, I decided it was again time to upgrade to the full frame Canon 5D Mark III in late 2016. I still have and frequently use the 7D, though. As well as an advanced compact, the Canon G7X Mark II. These three cameras cover all my shooting needs. And I generally always go out with all three at hand. And all my lenses are Canon f/4L series lenses. I’ve had a longstanding relationship with Canon, I guess you could say.

Stephanie Johnson Photography

What type of imagery do you love to shoot/produce?

I consider myself first and foremost a landscape photographer. Landscapes are what I love to shoot. It is essential for me to spend time out in the natural world. My energy comes from connecting to nature and landscapes in an intimate way. This need to be immersed in nature actually led me to a new way of seeing landscapes. As a result, I have been primarily focused on shooting abstract ICM landscapes for the past 15 months or so. I still love to shoot traditional landscape images. But abstract ICM landscapes are what I have become known for. And I developed a somewhat recognizable style apart from what a lot of other ICM photographers are doing. My ICM work is all done in-camera. Using various types of movements, speeds of movement, and settings to create the effects seen in the images.

Do you have a favorite piece of kit – what is the one item that Stephanie Johnson Photography could not do without?

I have two favorites, actually.

The first is my Canon f/4L 70-200mm lens. It has been permanently attached as my go-to lens on either the 5D Mark III or the 7D for doing my abstract ICM work. Traditionally, most consider wider lenses best suited for landscape work. But for the abstract ICM work I do, this lens better enables me to achieve the results I’m going for with the images I create.

The second is, believe it or not, the advanced compact G7X Mark II. It offers most of the features of my DSLRs. Shooting in manual and RAW, and it shoots at 20MP, which is actually more than the Canon 7D. So, it is very handy to carry with me everywhere I go, especially when carrying the larger DSLRs might not be ideal. So, I never leave home without it.

Stephanie Johnson Photography

Tell us about Stephanie Johnson Photography as a Business? (When/how did it start? Where is it currently at? And where do you want it to go in 2019?)

I consider the official start of my photography business as 2016 when I realized the passion I had for it was more than just a hobby, it was what I wanted to do with my life. But, I did at the time continue to work a regular job while I continued to learn, and grow, and evolve my personal vision.

November 2017 is when I stepped out on my own and began devoting my time and energies full time toward building a creative life.

Currently, I feel I’m in the best place I’ve ever been with my photography, with my creativity, and with my business. Momentum is on my side these days, and I’m very positive about the forward progress I am making. I have a lot of ideas flowing for how I want my creative work to influence and impact the world, as well as for where I want to go with it in 2019.

Biggest challenges faced so far?

The biggest challenges for me have been more internal than anything else, I would say. Sure, there are always the typical challenges with moving a photography career or business forward. Because everyone wants to be a photographer these days. And it is a very highly competitive environment for anyone choosing to do it. My internal challenges have been about learning to think and see beyond fear and doubt and limitations. As well as to have faith in the knowledge that I am on the right path. That I have something different to offer and that the work I do makes a difference. I don’t measure success in monetary terms. Success for me is about having an impact and making a difference.

Stephanie Johnson Photography

How do you see your photography journey and Stephanie Johnson Photography as a business progressing?

I envision my photography journey progressing to become something that is about so much more than just my own journey and my own work if that makes sense. My vision is to start a movement and to build a community of like-minded landscape and nature photographers who “see” the world differently.

I am working very diligently to create and build a global project that will be mutually beneficial and meaningful for all who are involved in the project.

Any projects that Stephanie Johnson Photography is currently working on?

Landscapes Reimagined ( https://www.landscapesreimagined.com ) is the global project near and dear to my heart. And it was borne out of my own personal desire to see landscapes and nature differently. The world, and especially social media is saturated with grand-scale images from so many of the iconic locations around the world. I want to be different. I don’t want to shoot what everyone else shoots. And, I want people to realize there is beauty right in their own backyard if they will just take the time to think about it differently and to see it.

So, this project is about seeing the beauty in new ways. About capturing the essence of the natural world through less traditional methods, and about creating a new path forward in landscape photography, rather than following in the thousands of footsteps that lead to all the same places around the globe.

All of this is with the goal of also bringing awareness to the fact that the natural world needs more careful attention to conservation and preservation. We, as photographers, should be more mindful about caring for the environment, and we really can use our cameras to speak for a different way of seeing the natural world.

Part of the path forward for the Landscapes Reimagined project is also the development of a charitable fund/organization, Cameras for a Cause. This will be used to support other environmental charities, and at some point will be a platform for photographers to actually do charitable environmental work around the globe.

Stephanie Johnson Photography

Any advice or tips that you can give to others looking to pursue photography as a career?

My biggest piece of advice for anyone looking to pursue photography as a career is really to spend a good bit of time immersed in their own work and their own creativity in order to find the true vision for what they want their work, their career, their photography, and their art to represent and express to the world.

In today’s extremely competitive landscape photography environment, I feel it’s really important to stand apart from all the noise. By having something new to say. By having a recognizably unique vision. And by creating work that has a different kind of impact.

Stephanie Johnson Photography

Where can people follow Stephanie Johnson Photography?

My personal website is at www.stephjohnphoto.com. And I am identified as @StephJohnPhoto on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Twitter.

Stephanie Johnson Photography

Photographer Focus: Coastal Photography with Rachael Talibart

Ever hear of Rachael Talibart or see her photographic work? Well, when you reach the end of this article I hope you will ask yourself “why have I not heard of this amazingly talented photographer before!”. In this second edition of my Photographer Focus series, I am placing the focus on Rachael Talibart who is a Professional Photographer based in the United Kingdom (UK).

1) Who is Rachael Talibart?

I’m a full-time professional photographer specializing in fine art coastal imagery. I live in Surrey, England now but I grew up on the South Coast, in a yachting family. For the first twelve years of my life, every weekend and all of the school holidays were spent at sea. Those years left me with a lifelong fascination for the ocean. Although I now live in a landlocked county, I go to the coast at least once a week.

I first became interested in photography during my teen years when I was given a little cartridge-film camera for Christmas, one where the case folded down to make a handle. The obsession really set in when I took my first 35mm camera on a 9-week solo backpacking trip around the world. I had just qualified as a solicitor in a big City of London firm. This job allowed me to take unpaid leave before settling into the rigors of practice. When I returned, I spent my first paycheck as a qualified solicitor on an SLR. And that was it – I was completely hooked!

Photo by Rachael Talibart

2) A question we ask all photographers – What is in your kit bag?

My main camera is a Canon 5DSR. That is accompanied by the usual selection of Canon lenses, a Benro tripod, and LEE Filters. I’m proud to say that LEE Filters now support my photography and workshops. I like the flexibility of a DSLR and I’ve been using Canon for so long now that the cameras are like an extension of my hand. This means I can concentrate on creating without any distractions. While my preferred cameras have stayed the same, my preferred lens focal lengths have changed in recent years.

My Canon 16-35mm lens used to be the most often-used lens in my kit bag but now I use it the least. I like the Canon 24-70mm and even more the Canon 70-200mm, which is probably my go-to lens these days. Using telephoto lenses and longer focal lengths enable me to simplify my compositions, allowing me to think carefully about what I want to depict.

Photo by Rachael Talibart

3) How crucial is post-processing to your photography?

I try to spend as little time on post-processing as I can. This is not because I have an attitude about it or think it’s more ‘pure’ to get the shot in camera but rather because I like being outside and not on my computer. So, obviously, I am going to be more creative in a place I enjoy. However, I do shoot RAW so I must process my images and I do almost all of that in Adobe Lightroom. I rarely need to go into Photoshop but if Photoshop helps me create the picture in my mind’s eye, then, of course, I will use it.

The other important thing for me is to try to leave a decent gap between taking an image and processing it. Sometimes, if I look at the pictures on my computer too soon after a shoot, I can feel disappointed. I’m sure we’ve all had that feeling at some point in time or another. A time gap between the capture and processing stages enables the emotion of the experience to subside and that results in a more considered edit.

Photo by Rachael Talibart

Photo by Rachael Talibart

4) Do you have a favorite image?

I find it hard to choose a favorite image but if pushed, I would probably pick Poseidon Rising. This image is one of my Sirens series, the set of images that has done most to raise my profile. Although all the photographs in this series were taken with very fast shutter speeds, they were a long time in the making. I had worked it out that the beach at Newhaven in East Sussex often had good surf. I had been going there almost every week all winter, capturing the sorts of images everyone else makes there. Essentially that of waves crashing against the lighthouse.

But I was frustrated because I felt I was making photographs similar to other people’s photographs, and I hate that. However, all those visits, while yielding no ‘keepers’, were very useful because I was working out exactly what sort of image I wanted to make there. One day, I captured a photograph of a wave, with no lighthouse and no other landmarks. Next thing I knew, an idea clicked in my head. I wanted to capture a series of waves that looked like monsters and name them after mythological maritime creatures. And so my Sirens were born.

I picked Poseidon Rising in particular because it most typifies what I was trying to achieve. A wave of attitude, named after a Greek god with plenty of attitudes, in an interesting light and unlike the images made by everyone else on that stormy day. I am so glad to see that my Sirens project has been well received. They have been winning multiple awards including Black and White Photographer of the Year and the Sunday Times Magazine’s award in Landscape Photographer of the Year. The series is being published as a fine art book, due to be released in February.

Photo by Rachael Talibart

Photo by Rachael Talibart

5) Are there any challenges to being a Landscape/Nature Photographer?

I think the most challenging part of being a nature/landscape photographer is that title! I do not really see myself as such, but that’s how I am often pigeonholed. Photography struggles to be considered as an art, in the UK especially, but to a certain degree everywhere. I think that is even worse with ‘landscape/nature’ photography. People expect images in that category to be records of recognizable places or creatures. With that sort of photography, there is still plenty of scope for artistry, skillful composition, beautiful light and subtle editing. I admire and enjoy photographs produced by many excellent photographers in this genre but it is not what I am trying to do.

I am less concerned with representing a place. When I go out on location, I am not trying faithfully to show the scene as it might have appeared to you if you had been standing right next to me. Instead, I want to show you the one thing in that scene that appealed to me personally. I want to convey how it felt to me to be there in that moment. Perhaps we should call it ‘interpretative photography’ rather than ‘fine art’ but it is all semantics in the end. Some might even argue that all photography is interpretative on some level and I can hardly disagree!

Photo by Rachael Talibart

6) Any tips for other photographers?

One piece of advice I give to my workshop clients – find a place you love, and return there repeatedly! When we travel to far-flung places, that we may never visit again, we are likely to capture the obvious and clichéd shots. We become ‘photography tourists’ to some extent. It is difficult to avoid influence from photos we have seen, that were produced by others at that place. When we return to somewhere often, we can just relax. We can risk wasting time on experiments because we know that we will be back. I think that is when people start to find their own unique vision.

Photo by Rachael Talibart

7) What does your photography future hold?

I have a lot of plans in the pipeline for 2018. There is the Sirens launch, several exhibitions, and I would like more gallery representation by the end of this year. My Workshops and Photo Tour business are continuing to grow. In fact, it is becoming hard to satisfy demand! I’m also starting to lead residential photography holidays/workshops for Ocean Capture, a leading fine art photography workshops business owned by Jonathan Chritchley.

I have a full schedule of speaking engagements and I will take on writing commissions whenever they come up, as I enjoy them. The category winners of Outdoor Photographer of the Year had been announced at the time of writing this interview. I was one of the judges for that competition this year and I’m looking forward to continuing in that role. Creatively speaking, I want to continue refining my compositions to simplify them, and seeking subjects in the smaller details. However, even if I knew I would never win another award, sell another print or run another workshop, I can honestly say that I would still be out there, in the teeth of a storm, having the best time ever and I hope to be able to do that for a very long time to come.

8) Lastly, where can we see more of your great work?

Photo by Rachael Talibart Photo by Rachael Talibart

My website is www.rachaeltalibart.com. You can also check out more of my photographic work over on my Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/RachaelTalibartPhotography/, on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/rachaeltalibart/ and finally over on at Twitter at https://twitter.com/RTalibart.

The Power of Seeing Monochrome: Tones of Black and White

Colors have a way to give you a bright and cheerful feeling. There is just something about a photo that speaks colors. It brings out that energy and brightens up your day with it. Did you know that even photos in Black and White/Monochrome can intrigue you?


Black and White definitely gives you a retro feeling of the olden days, when photographers like Andre Kertesz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Fan Ho created wonderful artistic memories. At the same time, in current times you will find many photographers including myself, trying to experiment shooting or even editing in Black and White to create a different moment with a touch of the past.

How do we find the right photo to edit in Black and White? Or maybe capture a moment in Black and White?

In a recent assignment titled “Cities in Black and White” on National Geographic by Matt Adams, I tried to experiment and submit to the assignment. We were allowed to edit photos into black and white. In the assignment, Matt gave us a guide as to what to see or how to find the right photo to edit. It was not easy to choose the colored photos to transform them in Black and White yet, it was a fun learning experience. It has also continued to help and guide me to keep improving and trying out various edits to get the right tones of Black and White.


Seeing through black and white can be a challenge but it can be simple. We have been quite accustomed to having the option of shooting in color that when looking at black and white it feels too plain. It is in that simplicity that many great moments have been created in the past and even today.

The photo above has been shot in pure black and white. There was the “Weekend Hashtag Project WHP” on Instagram at the time titled “Shadows and Light” if I recall correctly. This project helped me to experiment capturing in black and white. I saw the chair and the sunlight during the day was pretty good to create a shadow effect. From a particular angle, I captured the shot, to portray the serenity of the moment using the chair as my object.

We now turn to comparing between color and monochrome photos to see how editing and conversion can also bring out a good black and white tone to photos.



This prominent red colored photo of an art gallery brings the moment to life with the red, the artwork and the structures. I chose this photo to transform it into black and white. As you will see once transformed, there is a completely new sense of the moment. Everything is the same the artwork, structure, and perspective. We can’t say that color is missing as the essence is the same. It is now just a matter of personal preference.



In this photo, the raindrops with the bluish green background bring the raindrops to life with every detail of it. After we convert it to black and white we can see not just the raindrops are alive but every single aspect of the photo is visible. There is complete clarity. The black and white is my personal preference as it defines what I wanted to capture the moment.



Walking around Patan Durbar Square, Nepal this scene was quite pleasant. The details of the wonderful palace building with the sunlight blue skies and people walking around created a lovely moment. Capturing this in color and after a while transforming it to black and white, made the moment feel more captivating. The details of every aspect pop out more through monochromatic tones.



The insides of Patan Museum, Nepal was a feast for the eyes. The architecture and intricacy kept me fascinated looking for various aspects to capture this royal beauty. As we entered, without thinking I just clicked this scene of the girl standing and people sitting around. After completing the National Geographic assignment, I tried experimenting by converting this image to black and white and turns out the transformed version is much better. It focuses completely on the girl standing thus, creating a complete moment around it.


This moment was another pure black and white capture inside a Cathedral. The lighting inside was perfect to bring out the details and the black and white tones defined this moment entirely.



Lastly, through this patterned inside ground of Istiqlal Mosque, we can see how the colors combined with the skies form symmetry. Patterns can help to define black and white tones in moments more. Changing the image to black and white gives it a refined touch where all the lines and structure come in harmony together.

There is no perfect combination or formula to doing it right, just simply practicing. Fan Ho said, “it was always his goal to wait for the lighting and composition to fall into place when photographing.” That could be our benchmark when capturing in monochrome. As for editing, there could be many things we can take into consideration like patterns, structure, architecture or even people. It really all depends on finding the right balance and tones to convert it. Requires a lot of trial and error to get what you are looking for in the photo.


Monochrome will continue to be something we experiment on as we do not have the limit of films and that is what makes it a challenge. The questions of how did they do it in the past? How did they learn the balance of composition? The simplicity and limit enhanced their creativity to get it right. They were able to capture the essence of what composition is not quickly, but smoothly. With color, it can feel like we have more distractions when focusing on an object or moment. Both has its positives, eventually, the choice is ours to make and create photos to share and inspire.

Abstract photography – Playing around with your camera

Most of the people start with photography by getting a camera (no matter what type), going out and trying different things. It usually takes a while until one finds what topics or types of photography are the preferred ones and, once that happens, it takes even longer to develop the technique to a relatively good level. What takes even longer, probably a lifetime, is to develop our own vision of that type of photography that we enjoy the most. Making good photos can be difficult, but making unique photos is what makes good photographers stand out and it is indeed the most difficult step of all.

In terms of learning curve, a common problem that arises once we acquired a good technique is one of stagnation. It usually comes a moment in our life as photographers (both amateur and professional) when we find ourselves satisfied with the results we achieve, but where our production rate falls steeply. In fact, for most people, the better one gets as a photographer, the fewer photos one takes and, I think, this is a perfect combination to get us to that stagnation point I mentioned. To get out of that situation it is necessary to find ways to motivate yourself, and trying out different things can be a great idea.

Now, while simply taking a trip or trying a style of photography you are not used to (like, for instance, making some portraits for a landscape photographer) can help you find motivation, today I want to focus on different ways of perceiving and capturing the world with your camera that can be considered as abstract. Some of the ideas I explore in this article are alternate ways of using your gear, while others are just related to the way you look at the world around you. That said, the abstract is a very broad term and creativity has no limits, so don’t be afraid to try different things with your cameras and always be careful with sensitive parts (especially the sensor) when doing so.

Zoom blur

This is probably the easiest way of using your camera in a non-standard way. In fact, you may have probably already tried this but if not, it is worth a shot. You basically need a camera with a manual zoom lens. By manual here I simply mean that you can control the focal length with your hand in contrast to using a motor like in compact cameras. You then compose your image and, while taking the photo, move your zoom (either in or out) so that the movement is captured by the camera. For this, you need a relatively slow shutter speed (about 1/10 should do it) and the trickiest part is to actually move the zoom while taking the photo, not before and not after. Also, since the motion of your hand will surely affect the stability of your camera, you might want to try this with your camera on a tripod. Although the technique is very simple, if you carefully choose your subject it can provide an interesting and visually appealing effect.


Leave your lens out

A camera can be clearly divided into two parts: body and lens. The body is simply the interpreter of the incoming light (through a sensor in the case of a digital camera and through the film in the case of analog cameras) and the lens is the part responsible for focusing the incoming light so that the final image makes some sense. Something you can try is to replace the lens of your camera for some other focusing mechanism.

If you take a photo simply without any lens, you will get an almost completely white image without any information on it. However, if you put some type of focusing object between the camera and the subject and play with your exposure times, you can capture the world under a completely different light. As a focusing object you might try things like glasses (crystal works pretty well), narrow apertures (mimicking a pinhole camera) or even liquids; in general, anything that diffracts the light on some way.


Be very careful with this experiment and do it only under conditions you can control (preferably indoors). When you take a photo without a lens, for the exposure time you are actually exposing the sensor to the surrounding environment and this can lead to a dirty sensor in the end. In fact, even before exposing the sensor, any dust particle flying around can end up deposited on the mirror of the camera and from there it doesn’t take much until it reaches the sensor!

Abstract compositions

A simpler way to experiment with your camera is by going out and looking at normal subjects from different angles and perspectives. Instead of looking at the global scene in front of you as you usually do, concentrate on small details and, when taking the photo, position yourself in different ways than you normally would. The idea is that, in the end, the photo doesn’t resemble the subject you were capturing, being simply unrecognizable or difficult to identify.


These are just three ideas and I am sure you can come up with much more. The main aim is to avoid repetition and routine to prevent you from practicing your skills. Simply go out and play with your camera and your subjects and you might end up pleasantly surprised!