Photographer Spotlight: John Carey

John Carey is a 28-year old photographer living in North Carolina who also works as a live audio engineer for a local production company and loves both sides of his career.

He has been part of the online world for just over 10 years starting with his previous online project which had reached notoriety because of all the wonderful free desktop wallpapers he presented but the project was eventually retired to gain a fresh start with his current project, fiftyfootshadows.net.

There he shares his photographs, stories of travel and life, his love for music and more desktop wallpaper. Equally engaging, you can follow his updates on Twitter or Tumblr.

1. How would you define your photographic style?

I have been searching for my voice as a photographer for quite a few years now and this year I am starting to feel things fall into place. I feel I have two distinct approaches, one is the digital side of my shooting where sharpness, clarity, color, and creating a striking, moody version of the moment captured rules my mind.

I love shooting digital and the beautiful imagery I can get with it as well as the malleable nature of it with post processing which I try to do as little as possible because I like to push myself to get things right out of the camera instead because even with digital, good exposure and balance of light is a must.

The rules and compromises within photography still apply with digital photography. But as for style, with digital I tend to look for moments and scenes that I can capture in a way that I can make an ordinary moment feel larger or more grand than it may feel in reality.

Also, I think the photos I have taken to be used as desktop wallpaper imagery for fiftyfootshadows.net have influenced my approach in photography very much. Added a sense of simplicity to my approach photography that has definitely carried through most all of my photos, even the busy ones.

Then there is my film photography which I hold to a different light. I tend to romanticize shooting with film as it captures the light in that one singular place on the film, and in that physical form it feels to me like it is capturing the soul of the moment. I take maybe one film shot for every 30 or more digital photos taken.

When I click down the shutter release on my film cameras I cant help but feel more connected to what I am shooting and my style while shooting with film reflects that feeling. I usually try to capture things that make me feel something. Something that hides a narrative of some kind, even if it is subtle or understated. I guess you could say I am aiming for a more fine art approach to this side of my photography.

2. What does your camera equipment consist of?

Photographic gear of John Carey

Right now, in my camera bag (a simple Lowepro) I carry a Canon 5D with a 50mm f/1.2L Canon lens, a Voigtlander Bessa R3M rangefinder with a Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 SC lens, and, the newest member of the group, a Hasselblad 501CM with the standard 80mm f/2.8 on it.

Along with the cameras I have a Sekonic L-358 light meter, a couple of things for lens cleaning, three extra batteries for the 5D, a few gigs worth of memory that I rarely need and usually a couple extra rolls of film for the film cameras. I love Souldier camera straps and have two red seatbelt straps, one for the 5D and one for the Hassy. I also have a Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod with a medium weight ball head but it lives in my car most of the time.

I have worked on finding a small group of cameras that fit a few different desires I have when shooting and I feel like these three have really been as close to that perfect balance as I can get for now. The big beautiful 120 negatives from the Hasselblad, the quiet operation and small size of the rangefinder, and the handiness and power of the 5D. I choose not to play the lens collecting game. I like to find a capable prime lens for each camera I carry capable of taking the kind of shots I like to take and I love the flexibility and speed of a nice fast prime.

I like to stay as simple as possible with what I have around to shoot with as I like to get to know a camera/lens combo well enough to use them to their full potential. The cameras are like friends to me that help me capture the light around me and each has their place and time where they work best.

The poor 5D is probably my least used camera these days, but it has seen a lot of action and is physically pretty beat up with a chunk missing from the metal body near the battery and some tape across the bottom to cover up a missing screw hole but it still is as reliable and wonderful as the day I bought it.

I have been through a number of other wonderful film cameras though most all of which I have given to other people to use rather than collect dust on my shelf. Notably an Olympus XA and XA2 which I really love. Small but versatile and get beautiful images. Also a Yashica 124 and my personal favorite, a Canon Canonet GL-III QL which I had two of, both broke and I would love to have another working one some day.

One last note, I suppose I should mention the relevance of my iPhone 3Gs camera, as silly and tiny as it is I have managed to get some really nice shots from it using simple post processing apps like TiltShift Generator.

On a recent trip to India I chose to shoot all film and the iPhone started out as a snapshot camera for memories and little moments but ended up being a pretty viable means to capture some things. There are some shots that a simple device like a phone can take where a larger camera may fail simply because of the discrete nature of shooting with a phone. The only downside is the usefulness of the images due to the small resolution of the final image.

3. What’s your post-production software of choice?

I have been using Photoshop since version 3 way back when and still use it (newer versions of course, heh) for really basic things like cropping, sharpening, and touching up scanned negatives. For digital photos I used Apple’s Aperture for a long time and really love the work flow of it but it does drag a bit on my macbook and I have been giving Lightroom a shot the past few months which I have gotten used to pretty quickly.

It’s hard to say which I prefer but at the moment I am surprised to say Lightroom has taken its spot as my main digital workplace and organization tool. Although if Apple would finally give us an Aperture update I may be convinced to move back.

4. Are you considering any equipment upgrades in the future?

I think I will probably be replacing my 50mm with a 35mm f/1.4L soon because I owned that lens before and miss it a lot recently. I prefer a little bit of a wider lens but will replace the 50 eventually I think with a different one. I hope to upgrade the 5D this year as well if I can manage. The low light capability of the MarkII is something I can not wait to get my hands on. Also, because I would like to start putting myself out there as a photographer for hire this year. I will most likely invest in another L lens or two when financially possible, not sure which yet though but maybe the 24-70mm f/2.8L and/or a tilt shift.

5. Share with us you proudest photograph?

Proudest photograph of John Carey

Now there is a tricky question. As I mentioned, I tend to explore a lot of different approaches and subject matter when shooting so its hard to narrow down. Nearly impossible actually because of a few different reasons so I will go with one of my recent favorites.

This shot was from the first roll I shot on the Hasselblad late last year and it really got me excited about my future with this camera and because I am building a darkroom I am developing black and white film on my own now.

In that light this image represents something of a peak into a new beginning for myself and my photography this year. As for the image itself I think it seems very bold and contrasty at first but I love the way the subtle dark shadows start to come to light as you look closer into the figure.

To read up more on other photographers in the Spotlight Series, check out the dedicated page.