Today, I have the honor of presenting an interview that comes from Las Vegas, Nevada. John Clark is a self-taught Photographer who travels around the globe to photograph an array of diverse subjects. Through his travels, John has the ability to capture and convey his passion for the world and all it has to offer with his captivating work. As you browse through his photos below, I think you’ll agree that he’s quite accomplished at his craft.
John, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us and thank you so much for all your thoughtful responses. It’s not every day we get a behind the scenes view of someone with such skill and expertise.
Can you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
I’m just a regular guy with a camera. I’m fortunate to be able to travel around the block, around the country and around the globe in search in interesting subjects. Occasionally I even take a photo that turns out decent!
For me, photography is a passion, not a profession. By day, I work in marketing for a large, global B2B company in the testing and certification industry. My business line specializes in testing for the automakers and their suppliers.
Where do you call home?
Well, I just moved to Las Vegas a few weeks ago, so I guess that would technically now be home, though I still feel like a visitor in a new town. Before that I lived in the Metro Detroit area for 12 years and still feel more like Michigan is “home.” But I’m excited to explore the Southwest as there are so many National Parks and wonderful places to photograph and Las Vegas is centrally located to many of them, which is one of the reasons I chose to relocate here.
After browsing through some of your work and reading your bio, I see that you’re truly immersed in the field of photography. What is it that led you towards photography and how long have you been working in it?
If you ask my parents they will say that I have always had a camera around my neck, and I have a photo of me as a little mop-haired muppet to prove it. But the truth is that I have a strong creative drive but found that my skills in painting and drawing are quite weak – some might even say just plain awful. But the camera allows me to visualize a photo and then execute the idea.
Photography is something that I have started and stopped a few times over the years. I enjoyed as a child, and then quit. Got back involved in college, quit for a handful of years and picked it up again through some motorsports affiliations. Stopped again for a few years, and now do it for fun and to give me an excuse to travel and explore. I think I’ll stick with it for a while this time!
Are you self-taught or formally-taught?
I would say that I am basically self-taught. I have attended a few workshops and conferences here and there over the years, but most of my knowledge comes from reading and experimentation and talking with other photographers.
Where have you found the majority of valuable information along your journey (online, in person, mentor, college, etc…)?
There is so much information available today it’s incredible! When I first started you basically just had books and magazines. One book that was pivotal when I started to get serious about photography while in college was the “Joy of Photography” (yes, quite similar in name to another “Joy” book of the era!) that was essentially a textbook about cameras, equipment and techniques of the time. I would also read magazines, with “Outdoor Photographer” and “Popular Photography” two of my favorites.
Today, the Internet is the greatest depository of information. I’ll read blogs and articles, watch videos, and receive a few different eNewsletters to keep current on news, trends, and techniques to help juice the creativity. And, I still subscribe to “Outdoor Photographer” and look forward to each new issue showing up in the old-fashioned mailbox.
From looking through the galleries on your site, I can see that you’ve been to a variety of locations. Of those you visited, which was your favorite and why?
True, I have been very fortunate the travel around the US and to several countries on six continents. It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite, as there are things that I really like about virtually every place I’ve visited! The nice thing is that I can look at the photos and reminisce those wonderful trips and the non-photography things that also made them special (like the amazing food in Italy!).
I have yet to visit a place and think, “Nah, don’t really like it here.” Issues and hiccups always come up when traveling and you just have to go with the punches. The weather might not always cooperate, or the hotel may not be quite as good as advertised, but with a positive attitude and the ability to “wing it” you can turn even the worst of days into adventures and something fun and worth remembering.
What type of session do you look forward to the most vs what type of session you most often do?
I’m not really into any specific type of photography, but I mostly gravitate towards travel, landscape and cityscape/architecture subjects these days. I don’t photograph people often, and about the only thing I absolutely won’t do is weddings. That’s just too much stress and best left to those who specialize in capturing those moments.
What is your favorite part of being a photographer?
The exploring! Photography is a great excuse to get out and see things. Now that can be as easy as visiting a new part of the city you live in, or a totally different part of the world. It can be tough to crawl out of bed in total darkness, but seeing the sunrise over a majestic landscape can take away all the troubles. And you have witnessed something that most people are too lazy to experience!
What is the most challenging part of being a photographer?
There are so many amazing places that I want to visit, but time and money can be two very limiting factors! I have quite a long bucket list and would love to be able to spend even more time on the road taking photos, but I can’t complain as I have the opportunity to travel far more than most people.
The other challenge is finding the time after a shoot to process the images. It always seems like I have more images that I would like to process and share, and then I do another shoot and get interested in working on those photos. And the cycle goes on, and on… Am I the only one with this problem?
What do you do to keep your photography fresh and how do you stay motivated?
For me, visiting new places helps me stay motivated. I get excited during the research phase about what to see and where to go, and then once on location it’s a matter of working the light, weather, and any other obstacles to create the best image possible.
Of course, it’s not always possible or practical to just head out to a new location. So during the times I go back to a location I’ve shot before I’ll try and see if there are new angles or compositions that might work, or try a different time of day. Fortunately, weather and conditions are always different, so you could photograph the same spot every day of the year and end up with 365 very different looking photos.
Who or what inspires you in your personal life and work?
Wow, there are so many amazing photographers out there capturing these incredible images that I look at mine as being second (or third) rate at best. I love to browse photos on Instagram, Twitter, and other online sites to see what other people are coming up with. It inspires me to be more creative in composition, to try some new photo or processing technique, add to the growing bucket list of places to visit one day, and just marvel at the world and people around us.
What has been your most memorable session and why?
On Bali I hired a local photographer guide me to some locations as my time on the island was limited. He picked me up at the hotel very early in the morning, something like 3:30! We drove to the beach where he knew a local fisherman would be hand-casting a net, just like the Indonesian culture had been doing for centuries. The sunrise started in shades of purple, and then the giant solar ball rose up and turned the world golden and was a perfect backdrop to the fisherman who had probably been doing this every morning for decades. To him, it was just another workday, but for me it was magical and allowed be to capture one of my all-time favorite photos.
Who is your favorite photographer?
I think this is where I am supposed to say Ansel Adams, and while that is a cliché answer he would certainly be a favorite. But honestly, there are so many amazing photographers that I have followed over the years, such as Galen Rowell, George Lepp, Hudson Henry, Jimmy McIntyre, and far too many more to name. I also have a lot of friends who are absolutely incredible photographers but just don’t have the name recognition (yet!) and I am inspired by their images when I see them online.
What industry sites and blogs do you read regularly? Would any stand out as particularly motivational or inspirational for someone who might be interested in learning about photography?
“Outdoor Photographer” has a couple of very good eNewsletters that are free. They have one for general photography, and a second one for wildlife. Both of them link to stories that can be helpful or inspirational for new and experienced photographers. Colin Smith of PhotoshopCAFE.com has great tutorials on that program, and of course LightroomKillerTips.com is quite useful for those using that program. Once or twice a week I usually take a spin through PetaPixel.com, dpreview.com and Fstoppers.com to see what interesting posts and tutorials have been uploaded. ON1 has a lot of great videos about their program to help people learn and improve their skills as well.
There are a lot of great sites for looking at beautiful photography that most people are already familiar with, like Instagram (give me a follow!), 500px.com, Flickr.com, Viewbug and PhotoCrowd.com. Some even have contests that you can enter!
For sourcing places to shoot while planning a trip, I use many of the above sites, as well as Trover.com and ShotHotSpot.com (though I feel like this site hasn’t seen much updating lately and is becoming less and less useful).
What type of camera(s) do you shoot with? What is your favorite lens?
I was a Canon shooter for many years, and still have a closet full of expensive L glass that I just cannot seem to part with. But around 2014 I switched to the Olympus Mirrorless 4/3 system and have been thrilled with the results and use it almost exclusively now.
I can carry nearly my full kit of lenses and the weight no longer breaks the back on long hikes or while walking around a foreign country. The Olympus PRO lenses are every bit as sharp and so much smaller and lighter than their full size DSLR counterparts.
My camera body is the Olympus OMD EM-1 (Mark I) and it’s a few years old now. It debunks the theory that you need high megapixels as it has just a 16mb sensor which would be considered quite low. Yet I have hanging on my wall several razor-sharp 16×20 prints and have gone even larger with canvas prints. The small sensor does have limitations as it has a 2X crop and does get noisy at high ISO speeds, but that hasn’t stopped me yet.
My favorite lens is the Olympus 7-14mm/F2.8 PRO (it has a full frame equivalent of 14-28mm). I love a good wide angle shot, and actually like that distortion it creates at the widest angles. I’ll shoot at wider angles more often than not.
For travel, Olympus has an amazing 12-100/F4 PRO lens (28-200mm full frame equivalent) that is a perfect lens for travel and walking around when you don’t know what you’ll run into for subjects or have time to change lenses. Going from wide angle to telephoto in one package can mean the difference between getting the shot or missing out when exploring, especially overseas when interesting things happen quickly in the cities.
What is your favorite photography accessory?
Is it fair to say my computer? The camera is for taking the picture, but the computer is for making the picture! It’s in post-procession when the vision really comes alive.
I might be an oddball, but I honestly enjoy the post-processing as much or more than taking the photos. It gives me time to reflect on what I saw, and remember how my mind captured it. Then I can process the image to match that vision. Corny, huh?
Do you plan on purchasing any new equipment and if so, what are you on the lookout for?
Ha! Is there a photographer alive that doesn’t want some new toys to play with? I wouldn’t mind upgrading to the OMD EM-1 (Mark II) body that Olympus now has available, maybe pick up a couple of their longer PRO lenses. I also have one Lume Cube for doing a bit of external lighting and another one could come in handy. And maybe a new backpack to carry everything. Hey Santa, I’ve been a very good boy this year!
How important is Photoshop or other image editing software in your final images?
It’s critical! I shoot in RAW so images come out of the camera very flat and dull overall. About a year ago I switched to ON1 Photo RAW as my “go to program” for processing and have been really happy with the progress they are making to that program. It’s excellent when it comes to basic editing (like Lightroom and other RAW processing programs), but when you head into the Effects module there are a lot of filters (and options within each filter) that can take an image to the next level.
Unless it’s just a quick selfie or something similar, it’s doubtful that you will ever see a photo of mine that has not had some type of post-processing done.
Was there a point in your journey when you started to feel really good about your work? If so, what did it feel like to get past that “tipping point?”
Yes, during the mid-to-late ‘90s and early 2000s I was a professional motorsports photographer. I started out shooting boat racing and transitioned into cars. I was fortunate to be involved in most every form of racing from NASCAR to IndyCars to drag racing and even desert offroad events.
One of the premier motorsports publications is “Racer” magazine. I was always in awe at the pictures in their pages, and gorgeous photography is one of the hallmarks of the publication. So it became a highlight of my career the first time that I cracked open a new issue and saw my image and photo credit inside!
The other time I felt that I had made it was when “Road & Track” first published some of my photos. It’s very flattering to be able to walk up to a magazine rack and see your work.
Are there any areas of photography that you have yet to pick up on that you’d like to learn?
I’ve not worked much with people, and I would like to start to include them more in landscapes and similar environmental settings. However, every time I have tried the posing seems, well, let’s just say less than natural. I would like to learn how to better do natural full body posing.
What do you think the future holds for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
For me, photography is a great hobby and something I enjoy and think about far too much. But as I transition ever closer to the end of my career I would like to make it more and more part of my life and be able to help teach people and get them as excited as I am about taking photos of the beauty of the world. I wouldn’t mind speaking more to groups, and possibly setting up events or travel opportunities, or helping someone already doing this. Something to keep me busy in my old age!