A lot of thought and developing of ideas goes into John Stranack’s artistry. John believes creativity is learned, not just gifted, and constantly seeks to improve his photography. Seen through his eyes, everyday items and scenes become the extraordinary …
Hi John. Introduce yourself to our readers please … What brought you to the Manning-Great Lakes area initially, and how long have you called it home?
My wife, Wendy, and I moved to Hallidays Point in 2002. I had retired from corporate life in Sydney, and we had spent some time looking for a place to retire. Sydney was not an option for us, as we had no long term links to the city other than our sons. Having arrived in Australia from South Africa in 1983, we had no strong ties to any particular location, so had been looking far and wide.
Whilst exploring the North Coast on one trip for a potential retirement location, we stumbled across Hallidays Point and knew instantly that that we had found the spot. We bought a bit of land almost immediately and built a house.
How did you photography journey begin – who or what initially inspired you?
Whilst I have dabbled in photography over the years, it is only in retirement and with digital photography that I have applied myself. Whilst on a fishing trip to New Zealand, my brother, who is a professional photographer in South Africa, encouraged me to get into photography.
Where are some places you’ve travelled that have especially motivated you to pick up the camera? What was it about these locations that fired your imagination?
Photography has brought another dimension to travel for me, and that now tends to have some influence about where we go. We have travelled to Europe, the UK, New Zealand, Norway and of course, many parts of Australia. A recent trip to the Northern Territory highlighted some aspects that one has to remember when planning travel photography.
Firstly, I have to put in the time. Then I really have to experience a place. A snapshot of a sunset as I travel the outback is unlikely to convey the true feel of the place. Don’t simply be seduced by the subject matter and rush to shoot it, but take the time to develop the idea. A sunset is a sunset, but what is the story, the unique message or character of the place? Finally, we just have to accept that the time (lighting) is not always right, and this can be a real problem with short stop travel.
So whilst travel is sometimes a catalyst for my new ideas, these factors can conspire against you unless you spend time. Living on the Mid North Coast allows me to apply all these elements, so it’s a great place to photograph.
What is your favourite camera/lens combo – and why?
This is an interesting question, as I have just bought a new camera system, the Fujifilm XT1 and lenses. The reason for this decision is to reduce the amount of gear when I travel, whilst maintaining the quality of capture. My stay at home gear is a Canon 5D MK II with a number of lenses, flashes and other items. Both these systems are fantastic tools, but it’s a question of what tool does the job best for what you are trying to achieve. There is no perfect camera system to cover all situations, and there will always be a trade-off.
I have a trip planned to Namibia next year, and I know that the Fuji will struggle with game photography, but I also know it will be the best for cultural images being more discreet.
It seems to me that talented photographers are able to see the beauty in the detail, or in small things, that many others may not observe. You’ve taken many photos of ordinary, everyday things – such as teacups, or footwear, and turned them into works of art. How do you do you know that an object will make a good subject for a photo – are you good at visualising?
A photographer friend of mine has a saying, “If it moves, you shoot it”. I wish it was that easy for me. I need to go through a process of interpretation. I will look at something that catches my attention, and then try to develop an idea.
I find there are three stages in creating an image: the idea stage, the capture stage and the development stage. The easiest is the capture stage, and the most difficult for me are the ideas. I consider myself a photographer, rather than an artist, and have to work at being creative. That’s probably why I have to put in the time.
I don’t specifically aspire to be creative or artistic just for the sake of creativity, but try to see photography as a means of communicating an idea. I believe that visualising is a practiced skill. For me it is, and I’m still learning.
What/who/where do you one day dream of photographing that you haven’t accomplished yet?
I love Australian rural scenes, and I would like to spend time on an outback station capturing the life and times of the stockmen, cattle, horses, the dust and their world. Maybe even a muster, or time on the long paddock.
If you could give one tip to a novice behind the lens, what would it be?
Try to avoid simply concentrating on the capture phase, or the recording, documentation stage. This is something that anyone can do with the modern camera. Shoot in Raw. That captures the most data, allowing maximum development flexibility. Taking that raw data from the camera and converting or developing it into an idea through Photoshop that communicates to the viewer is the challenge. Start from the very beginning to shoot in Raw, and as quickly as possible learn your gear, so you can use manual mode without thinking about it.
Study your craft by looking at other photographers’ work, as well as the art, by studying other artists. Creativity is learned, not just gifted, so work at it.
What camera clubs/associations/publications are you affiliated with, and how have these helped with you photography?
I am a member of the Forster Digital Photography Club and the Australian Photography Society. The Forster club hold regular meetings and monthly completions. It’s a good place to meet people with similar interest and share ideas.
Where can readers view your work?
I have web page and blog at: www.stranack.photography.
Final say …
There have been a few of photographers who have influenced me. Professor Des Crawley seriously challenged my basic understanding of photography. As I once said to him, he “scrambled my brain”. I am still working through his concepts and particularly applying the language of photography. Rob Smith, a Port Macquarie photographer, has also had a big influence about how I think about photography. Guy Tall, an American photographer, has also impressed me with his landscape images.
On the development phase of my photography, Tony Kuyper who developed the use of Luminosity Masking, has had an important influence on my development workflow and finally, David DuChemin, who is a humanity/ travel photographer and author based in Canada.