21 April 2009

Featured 'tog Tuesday - John Lester

This weeks 'tog is landscape and nature photographer John Lester.

BLAB: Jumping straight in to the important question, what colour would your Ferrari be?

JL: I'd love to give the geek answer of 18% grey so I've got the coolest grey-card around, but I'd go for metallic Black. I understand the purists' point about red ones, but show some individuality! Besides, the sunset looks amazing reflected in a shiny black car.

BLAB: Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

JL: If I was to summarise my photography in just one area, it would be Landscape / Nature photography, but I enjoy other areas as well and am always looking for new projects and experiments.

My interest in photography started in 1988 when I was 10 and my parents bought me a Canon Sureshot point-and-click film camera for my birthday. It went everywhere with me and despite not having a zoom, I managed to get some pretty good nature shots - sneaking up on butterflies, grasshoppers etc. About 6 years later, I took my first shots with an SLR - a 3 frame panorama of Mount St. Helens (post eruption) using a manual Pentax SLR. I still have the pictures framed on my bedroom wall now.

On the strength of my little Sureshot, I decided Canon was the way to go so I saved up and bought a second hand EOS 1000F which I proceeded to improve my photography with. Purchasing various lenses and accessories gave me the opportunity to properly experiment with aperture, shutter speed, filters etc. I was fortunate to have a family who took me all over the world so saw wonderful things you can't get in the UK. I was also lucky to be egged on by a neighbour and now very good friend, Dr. John Davis, who has toted everything from Sony Cybershots to Leica SLRs and is currently using a Leica Range-finder as his main toy.

At University, I did the photography for one of the Sports Club Balls and sold prints from the event - that meant learning how to use, process and develop black and white film and prints. I spent DAYS in the dark room playing with settings. It was by no means profitable for me and in honesty was not hugely successful, but the money helped toward my EOS 5 which to date is my best camera.

In 2004 I went digital and bought an EOS 300D which still serves me well and nearly all my website pictures were taken with it. Despite going digital, I still believe that the skill of Photography lies in the camera and not in Photoshop. I make small adjustments to my images such as cropping and brightness, but nothing you couldn't do easily in a dark-room. I'm not knocking the Photoshop gurus out there but for me that's Digital Art rather than Photography.

I use Aperture on my Mac Pro for all my photo work. I've been a Mac addict since about 1985 and wouldn't dream of using anything else. My MacBook Pro comes with me on photo trips longer than one day and proves an invaluable tool for generating interest in what I'm up to.

I have no plans to be a full time professional photographer as I'm scared of turning my favourite hobby into a chore, but I am working toward selling a few prints / doing a few shoots to hopefully get my photography to pay for itself and maybe buy me the occasional bottle of winjavascript:void(0)e.

I put some pictures on my website, http://www.jalphoto.co.uk a few years back and really must update the site properly, it needs an overhaul so please do visit me, but also check back soon for an updated look at my work.

Right now, I'm doing some photography work with a friend of mine,James Corrin. He is teaching me how to do model shoots and I'm going to help him with his landscape work.

I've recently been made redundant from a small IT reseller so I'm using this time to work on things I don't get time to do whilst I look for a new job. If anyone works at Apple or needs an IT hardware sales guy....

BLAB: Back to the regular blab questions: If you had been paid ten thousand pounds for being our 'Tuesday tog', what photo equipment would you spend it on?

JL: Oooh toys!

  • Canon 5D mkII with 24-105mm F4 L IS (£2900) - This will be my next kit purchase as I've been dribbling over full frame since the original 5D was launched. I love wide-angle landscape work and the 16-35mm L lens I have is awesome, but just not wide enough on a crop sensor... I'm also looking forward to playing with HD video, but suspect that will be a minor part of the camera's use. The 24-105mm lens gives me something good for general purpose work with a very useful zoom range.
  • Apple 30" Cinema display (£1200). I have an Apple 20" Studio display now, but more pixels are required for playing with a 21MP camera.
  • Colour calibration kit (£100). I would like to be a little more accurate with my output. My Canon PIXMA printer is brilliant but is not colour accurate with my screen and that bugs me.
  • A handful of Sandisk Extreme IV flash cards (£500)
  • Canon EF 14mm f2.8 L lens (£1900). As I said already, I love wide angle landscape work.
  • Canon TS-E 45mm Tilt Shift Lens (£1100). I have no idea how these work but the results fascinate me so I'd love to play with one, especially on someone else's money :)
  • Three Speedlight 580 EXII Flash (£1000). Slave flash-lit work is another area I'd love to play in
  • Canon MR-14EX Macrolight ringflash (£450). I've got the Canon 100mm Macro which is probably my favourite lens, a Ring Flash would be very useful for me.
  • Two Elinchrom Freelight Ranger portable flash (£900). I want to get more into people photography, but want to combine this with my landscape work, so portable lights would make the list too.
BLAB: Sounds like that list is pretty well planned out, but which of your images means the most to you and why?

JL: This was taken beside Spirit Lake in Jasper National Park, Canada back in 2004. I love doing landscape photography and the wilds of Canada are just so perfect a playground. This trip was one of the last family holidays we took before my Dad died. He was a huge fan of the outdoors and this shot wraps up the awe and majesty of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

As much as I hate to admit it, the location of this shot was luck more than judgement. We'd spent all day at the lake further up the valley with mostly cloud-laden skies and cool weather (even in August it's cold up there - it's only 3 months from snow melt to snow fall). We were just leaving for home when I saw this view in the wing mirror of the car. The sun had just broken onto the mountain in the foreground. I stopped sharpish and piled out of the car leaving my confused family wondering what had happened. The image is Canon's JPEG (I wasn't shooting RAW then as the camera was 2 weeks old and I didn't know what it meant) but otherwise untouched. The sky was that moody, the water that still. I was very lucky - I took just one exposure and got back in the car. Fortunately it worked.

BLAB: What would your dream photo opportunity be?

JL: I've got two - one that will never happen and one that I hope will.

My Dad was a Botanist and in 1995/96 was applying for budget to create a Flora of Yemen. If he'd managed to secure this, then I was offered the role of official photographer and would have spent 3 months trekking through the wilds of Yemen with a new macro lens and EOS 5 film camera and more film than I knew what to do with.

The opportunity I can still do (and am determined to one day) is to hit Fall in the maple forests of Eastern USA / Canada. This has to be one of the most spectacular events and presents so many photo opportunities.

BLAB: Pictures.... please?

This was taken at midnight by Chun Quoit in Cornwall. I'd set out to take star-trail pictures by the Quoit but had not understood what thin cloud and a full moon would do to my exposures. 5 minutes looked like daytime. Green grass, blue skies, SHADOWS!!. I changed tack and worked on this picture which I like as it shows the undisturbed ancient-ness of Cornwall but with the modern world close at hand. The Quoit itself is "painted" with a standard torch to bring it out.

I took this picture with my newly purchased 100mm Macro lens. It's of some old winch gear in Lulworth Cove, Dorset. Rusted metal has a fascination for me - I think it's something to do with the colour and the fact that it's been abandoned.

I was in Slovakia on a 10 day photo holiday touring the countryside. Near the end of our trip we'd stopped in a tiny medieval town called Spisska Sobota near Poprad. I saw these Houseleeks growing in roof at eye-level and the lighting was perfect.

Taken in Trengwainton Gardens, Cornwall. It had been raining all day and with a very low, flat light there wasn't much jumping out at me. I found these flowers with water droplets on quite fascinating and took this hand-held, naturally lit shot. For me it shows the brutal sharpness and background blur of the Canon Macro lens

BLAB: Thanks to John for being this week's 'tog on Tuesday, if you want to be here in the future comment on one of the Tuesday tog posts with some contact info and we'll be in touch. Your contact details won't be published since we moderate all blog comments.



Clare Naughton said...

So proud of you, bruv!
C x

Anonymous said...

John- you're so right about updating your website more! You must do it! I knew you took lovely pictures, but just had no idea!! Wow- keep at it!