Brett Johnson - Walk Wild Photography.
Posted on July 12 2018
Interview by - Katherine Nielsen: www.katnielsen.com
Brett Johnson of Walk Wild Photography has captivating imagery that is sure to inspire. His work tells a story in the most magical way. Learning more about this talented young man was a pleasure. Brett's journey into photography and what drives his creative vision will provide you with real motivation to explore photography from all genres. The passion he has for his craft resonates in his words and his images.
Firstly, can you start with a little bit about yourself?
I was born in South Africa and immigrated to Australia when I was just seven years old. I lived in Sydney’s Upper North Shore and spent most of my weekends down at Whale Beach as a volunteer beach lifeguard and training in Surf Life Saving. I also spent three years studying to become a Chef and earned my Cert III in commercial cookery - of which I decided not to pursue after spending some time in a kitchen (it’s not the most relaxing environment). After travelling for a few years (Africa, Europe, Japan, North America, Indonesia) I decided it was time I put my head down and study towards a degree in Property Investment - this as well didn’t last, and I dropped out after 3 years, and it was probably the catalyst to beginning my photography career.
How would you describe your photography style?
I try to capture as much as I can with as little as possible within the frame if that makes sense. I believe photography is getting a little crowded these days, both physically and metaphorically. The market is so saturated that it’s becoming increasingly hard to develop a unique style. However, the abundance of photographers also shares the endless realm of inspiration. I try to balance elements within my frame - not too busy, not too aggressive, something that teeters on the proverbial edge of curiosity and beauty.
What would you say inspires your creative vision?
The most prominent thing that is always around me and still amazes me is the ocean. My mother would always take me to the ocean when I was a little kid - I remember the days sitting in the shore break in Franschoek Bay and watching the crystalline waters settle between the waves. The silence only lasted a few seconds as the next wave ploughed through with an avalanche of churned brine. Its something that has remained with me my whole life - it holds a sacred place within my being. Developing that same sense of inspiration from the Mountains, I slowly draw similarities between water and stone as they seem to share the same sense of contagious nostalgia that I crave to experience, understand and share.
Can you give a breakdown of the equipment you use to create your work?
I have a myriad of Canon cameras and lenses (both film and digital) however my workhorse is the Canon 5D Mark IV. The image quality is exceptional and allows some wiggle room on the crop.
I also use Aquatech Imaging Solutions Water housing for the Canon 5D Mark IV - this allows me to get into the water and shoot from the waves themselves.
Do you have a favourite lens and why?
It’s easily the Canon F2.8 70-200mm II - the thing is such a beast and gives a diamond-sharp image. It can freeze moments in utter clarity from afar and right up close. Its large aperture allows for incredible depth of field and paints an almost perfect picture when used in the right light.
What are your go-to settings?
I always shoot in manual. It gives me full control of the camera and allows me to manipulate the light coming into the sensor. I'm also a big fan of slow shutter blurs - I have recently been experimenting with panning and slow shutter. Ideal results are few and far between as its quite hard to get a crisp point of focus with blurry surroundings but when they work - they look amazing.
Do you have a favourite location you prefer to shoot?
The ocean is hands down my favourite location to shoot. It's always different and offers different moods that I can hone in on. She never repeats herself, so it’s impossible to get the same image twice. This location allows for maximum creativity but also spares no bias or favouritism. You could be the best photographer in the world, the most renowned, the richest or poorest, and the ocean will spare no thought to any of those external factors, you get what she gives and the more time you put in with her, the more you get out.
What do you enjoy most about your career as a photographer?
The constant challenge that comes with the craft. Not necessarily the challenge of mastering the camera itself but the things that go with it. The new locations, the unique communities and cultures. There is almost always something to look forward to when you go out shooting; it could be experiencing something new or meeting an incredible individual. My camera serves as a key to all these new doors I have opened and explored. It serves as a prompt to my curiosity, a conceptualised being that represents the questions which lie deep in my thoughts.
Do you have any other passions aside from photography?
My passions all lie with the outdoors. I enjoy surfing retro surf crafts like keel twin fins and single fin pintails. Camping and hiking hold a special place as well as free diving.
There's also nothing better than picking up the six string and strumming out to the dirtiest Mississippi blues.
How do you continue to evolve as a photographer?
By placing myself in challenging conditions. There always something more significant than the photos and that's the story behind it. I have recently started to treasure the story more than the photo. I try to intertwine them both. By pushing myself into 10ft surf, monsoon rains, searing deserts and enormous chasms, it allows me to capture moments that share a raw and somewhat deadly story that in the end, is the only validation that a photo ever needs.
Among all your work what is your most memorable capture?
When I lived in San Francisco for six months I decided to grab my camera and go for a walk one day - leaving all expectations, past motives and aims behind, I left my apartment in Clement St and walked South. I took photos of everything that piqued my interest. If you have ever been to San Francisco, you would know that you could pretty much walk to anywhere in the City, its a small metropolis but shares an incredibly vast plethora of people, cultures and communities. I meandered through the hippy strewn street of Haight, once home to Jimi Hendrix and Jack Kerouac, through to the Tenderloin area - a cesspool of heroin addiction and homelessness.
Once in the Tenderloin area, I was a bit wary of my surroundings, people shouting and fighting, lifeless bodies cast out across the sidewalk intoxicated by a cocktail of melancholy and hard drugs. It was like walking through a lawless, post-apocalyptic world. My nerves were on edge, and at last the inevitable happened; someone was shouting at me. It took me a few seconds to hear what they were shouting about from the other side of the road but eventually, I made it out. “Can I grab a photo?” she hollered. I was wearing my camera around my neck.
A young black lady came galloping across the street, cigarette burning the ends of her fingers and her oversized jeans just balancing on the edge of her hips. She came right up to me and asked if I could take a photo of her and her friend, to which I obliged. She took me by the hand and pulled me across the traffic-filled street toward the abandoned cinema on the other side. All of a sudden I was submerged in this counter-culture of San Francisco street life - no homes, drugs, displacement and moment to moment existence. The lady grabbed her friend, an elderly man that was blind and they both posed. I bent down and snapped the photo. Everything seemed to fall right into place. The light, the subject and the story. It all came together.
Whenever I think about that photo, I remember the lessons I learned from that interaction - to let go of prejudices and live in the moment. Those two seemed inseparable, and we talked for almost an hour. She was a loving heart as well as the eyes of her older companion who had lost his sight in a workplace accident. They seemed inseparable. Full of vigour and curiosity - they asked just as many questions as they answered.
What is something you wish you had known when you first started your journey in ocean photography?
Don’t take it so seriously. Photography is one of the greatest jobs in the world, and it allows us to travel and gets us into the greatest office of all - the outdoors. Sure, there will be moments where shit hits the fan, and nothing goes your way, but that's just part of the journey. I remember I drove around for an hour and a half up the coast to a beach to shoot, all to arrive there and realise I had left my battery charging at home. These moments define you and I sure as hell have not left my battery at home again. (Arrive the sign above my office door - “SD’s AND BATTERIES?”)
What methods do you use for editing? Can you explain your workflow?
Once I finished shooting, I go through every single raw photo on my computer and handpick the ones that are useful. I then go on to drop them onto an external hard drive where I proceed to import them to Lightroom. I tend to manually edit most photos as I believe the light is always different in every one of them (Presets aren’t useful for this situation). If I need to remove something substantial ill throw them into photoshop but it’s usually not too much editing. I try to keep them as natural as possible.
Who would you say are your greatest influencers and inspirations?
My friends and family.
Lastly, do you have any advice you would give someone starting out in photography?
Just keep at it. You've got to start somewhere, and with time you will eventually fine tune your style and start seeing results. Establishing a style is also very important, but this doesn’t mean you have to shoot one thing for the rest of your life. Photography is changing. Cameras and equipment are getting better, and access to knowledge is becoming a lot easier. It’s becoming more and more prevalent where landscape photographers are mixing in portrait photography, and wildlife photographers are shooting street style and much more. Photography is supposed to be a journey, and you can’t have a journey with boundaries - be sure to experiment. Be ready to fail and learn but most importantly enjoy it! Photography is f*cking rad.
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