Photographer Spotlight: Justin Blanton

Justin is a patent attorney in Silicon Valley and during his down time he writes over at Hypertext about his unhealthy obsession with coding, gadgets, artificial intelligence and all things Internet. He also has a sweet spot for at photography and he’s as passionate about his work as he is about having the latest and greatest gadgets.

I follow a handful of people who write about technology and regardless of whether I’ve read everything there could be said about a topic, I’m always interested in reading Justin’s opinion on the matter. You can also always follow his sarcasm over on his very active Twitter stream.

1. Who or what initially got you interested into photography?

I really have no idea how to answer this question as I don’t think I can pin my inceptive interest on one particular thing or person. What I can say for sure though is that the proliferation of digital photography played a huge part in my becoming enchanted with the art. I never would have had the patience to deal with the time and effort that film photography requires; never mind that I’m terribly cheap and am not sure I ever could have become used to the price of (developing) film and the related inability to practice for “free.”

Another element that most certainly played a role, at least initially, was the concept of camera-as-gadget. I’m a gadget geek to the n-th degree, and that infatuation definitely had a hand in my buying my first digital camera (a Canon PowerShot S30 for those curious).

Quickly my gadget lust gave way to an appreciation for the camera as an artistic tool. To say I was smitten when this idea ‘clicked’ would not be an overstatement.

2. I think one of the most thought-provoking questions a photographer could be asked is what do they enjoy shooting. I know it may be difficult to pinpoint especially when one enjoys shooting everything. How would you classify your work? Would you say you have a certain style?

Such a tough question, and one that I think any photographer would have trouble answering, especially as it respects his own work. Generally, I think this sort of question can be more appropriately fielded by objective viewers of the (body of) work.

That said, I think a lot of my work borders on the melancholic, or the somber, and to that end one of my go-to post-processing techniques is to desaturate the shot, usually in an effort to mute slightly the colors, and thus the moment. (Example.) The result of applying this treatment often is more appealing to me than the original shot.

As trite as it may come across, I tend to see beauty in sadness more than in happiness, and for me this perspective isn’t limited to just photography, but rather informs my appreciation for all types of art, especially music. While this point of view may not seem as pervasive or as pronounced in the body of work I’ve made public, the majority of the shots I’ve taken arguably can be ascribed it.

3. Photographically, what inspires you? I know it sounds like a simple question but when you’re not traveling, it’s easy to fall into the trap that it’s not worth photographing because you haven’t gone anywhere.

If I’m being honest with myself, the thing that probably inspires me most is jealousy of other photographers’ work. Nothing gets me more excited about photography (and what I may be capable of), than seeing a shot by someone else and losing my breath.

There are times when I see another’s photo and I just have to get up and take a walk around the city with my camera; I’ve no intention to re-create what I’ve just seen, just a desire to re-create in others the feeling I got from looking at the photo.

I want my shots to get stuck in the viewer’s mind; to linger there almost annoyingly.

4. There’s no question that photography is a very gear-oriented craft and people are always interested in know what’s in the other photographer’s bag. With that said, what’s your gear consist of?

Photographic gear of Justin Blanton

(Please forgive the deplorable quality of this picture; it was taken with an iPhone 4 in crappy light.)

I very recently picked up a Leica M9, and bought a Leica Summarit-M 50mm f/2.5 to accompany it. (I wanted the Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH, but they’re impossible to find; I’m currently on nine waiting lists.)

In the few weeks since I got the M9 I’ve purchased a fair number of Leica and third-party add-ons. I’ve bought five straps so far—I’m always looking for the perfect one—and as it stands today I’m quite happy with the Luma Loop. (I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect wrist strap for over a month now, but haven’t come across anything I really like.)

With the M9 I use the Leica Handgrip M (I can’t imagine using the M9 without it) and cover the rear screen with Giotto’s SP8250 Aegis multi-coated LCD screen protector.

I also own a Canon 5D Mark II, which takes turns sitting behind three incredible Canon lenses: the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L , the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L and the EF 50mm f/1.4. Until I picked up the Luma Loop I’d been using the BlackRapid R-Strap (my original review) to lug around this bit of kit; one of the big draws of the Luma Loop for me was that I could use it with the 5DM2 and the M9.

With the 5DM2 I use the Canon battery grip and the Canon E1 hand strap, which attaches to the bottom of the battery grip; when shooting with anything less than the large 70-200mm, the combination usually obviates the need for an across-the-body strap (especially for shorter outings).

Finally, I have a Canon Speedlite 580EX II flash that I haven’t yet used too much, but for which I have some definite plans.

(As you can imagine, I’ve gone through a ton of point-and-shoots, including multiple models from Canon, Leica, Ricoh, etc. (with the last being the Canon S90), but because of the iPhone 4 (and now the M9), I really have no use for a point-and-shoot these days.)

5. I know it’s sometimes difficult to just choose one but share with us one of your proudest photographs and tell us a bit about the story behind it.

Proudest photograph of Justin Blanton

(Not for nothing, but this was my least favorite question!)

I took this shot at FanimeCon 2010 in downtown San Jose. Though I rarely have any idea who the characters are (as is the case with this shot), I always enjoy these kinds of events because the participants are so willing to have their pictures taken; indeed, I think that’s partly why they’re there in the first place. There’s never anything uncomfortable or awkward about asking them for a shot.

I caught this couple walking through an exhibition hall and they were more than accommodating as I tried to get the shot I wanted. It was one of those shots that I just knew I nailed and couldn’t wait to get home to see on a proper monitor. I think I’m most proud of it because it turned out looking almost as if it was taken in a studio with perfect lighting, even though conditions were far from ideal.

(OK, I’m going to cheat a little and point out that this shot of my brother almost made it up here instead.)

To read up more on other photographers in the spotlight series, check out the dedicated page.