Iceland has a tendency to lure travellers with its majestic landscapes and awe-inspiring nature. US-based landscape and travel photographer, John Weatherby, has found himself firmly in this grip.
Having travelled to Iceland several times for photography, he now hosts his own workshops in the Land of Fire and Ice, teaching his students the art of his craft. Though current restrictions have impacted his work somewhat, he has managed to get creative and continues to run educational sessions for people who are currently based in the USA.
This week, we caught up with John to talk all about his work, from inspiration to the finer points of the creative process.
John Weatherby is a travel and landscape photographer who is based in the USA. Photo by: 'John Weatherby'.
Hello John! Thank you for joining us. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? How did you get your start in photography? Which genres do you enjoy shooting?
Yes no problem. Thank you for having me. I went the traditional route and got a bachelor's degree in advertising. While I was in school, I waited tables and handled the restaurant's social media, so I would take photos of sushi with my iPhone and post them for them. One day, a photographer came in to take professional photos for the menu and I was blown away by the quality and look that he got (with a prime lens and speedlites). I instantly knew I had to get a camera and learn how to use it. One thing led to another and I explored different types of photography and fell in love with landscape and travel.
Antelope Canyon Beam. Photo by: 'John Weatherby'.
What is it about travel photography that has really captured your heart?
Aside from the beauty of nature, I really get inspired and humbled by experiencing new places and their cultures. Meeting people while travelling has created some amazing friendships.
You have a particular style which sets your landscape images apart from the rest. Can you describe for our readers how your style differs from that of other photographers?
Thank you. If I had to describe my style, I would say clean, vibrant and detailed. It’s definitely not a secret that I like colour. As far as differentiating from others, I’d definitely call it borderline surreal. Some of my favourite photos are blends and composites combining different moments in time from a scene to create something striking.
Bruarfoss Sunset. Photo by: 'John Weatherby'.
Locations and weather conditions are a crucial aspect to a successful picture. How do you handle these unpredictable factors, particularly when you are travelling and have a limited amount of time to capture a particular location?
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst lol. Yes, it’s super unpredictable for sure. I think it’s part of the thrill of landscape photography. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes it’s beyond belief. The best thing you can do is plan logistics and be at the right place when it’s the right time. But definitely a lot of luck involved.
Vestrahorn Aurora. Photo by: 'John Weatherby'.
In terms of post-production, talk us through the basic workflow for your landscape images. How does that differ when you are processing photographs of architecture or cityscapes?
Honestly the post processing doesn’t change a ton from landscapes to cityscapes. I’m often doing basic RAW adjustments of a few bracketed exposures in Camera RAW (such as exposure, white balance) and then opening as layers in Photoshop to blend (using luminosity masks) and then adjust colour, contrast, and details.
Grinnel Glacier. Photo by: 'John Weatherby'.
Do you think that artificial intelligence will ever take over from human editing? In your opinion, what kind of role does technology play in the future of photography?
I think it won’t completely take over human editing, but I can see it replacing a lot of what we do manually. There will always be a creative aspect that I’d like to believe will require a human touch. It does amaze me though how programs like Luminar can replace skies and add sun rays… the effects aren’t perfect all the time but quite impressive.
Which part of the creative process do you enjoy most and what do you find most challenging?
I like shooting the most. Nothing will beat being physically at a scene capturing it. I think it is also the most challenging. Changing light, wind, people photo bombing… all kinds of unexpected challenges while shooting and you have to not only be quick to adapt in the moment but also think in the future how you will edit the photos, so you can shoot correctly for that.
Ice Wave. Photo by: 'John Weatherby'.
You offer one on one training via Skype for aspiring photographers who are seeking to improve their own images. What can people expect to learn from you when booking a digital appointment?
Yes I do, and more so than ever with the current COVID conditions. I’d say they can expect to improve in an area that they’re struggling with. Aside from physically showing someone how to shoot (which could still be possible with some creativity) you can convey a lot through a live chat. I’ve coached photographers on planning shots, business, travel, editing, etc. I’m actually putting together a course right now to cover a lot of the recurring topics. Launching that in early September. At the moment, the website is only in pre-launch phase but there is free Milky Way training available there for anyone who is interested.
Wild Goose Rainbow. Photo by: 'John Weatherby'.
Aside from post-processing sessions, you also offer group photography workshops, both in New York City and Iceland. Tell us a bit about the planning that goes into your workshops. Which locations can people expect to visit, what will the experience be like and what sets your tours apart from others?
This is a great question… these two destinations in particular are home to my favourite cityscapes and landscapes. I have visited and photographed them enough times to become an authority on them, and it wasn’t until people repeatedly asked for my guidance on them that I decided to do workshops. Through frequent visits, I developed relationships with locals heand businesses, which allows me to offer unique experiences for guests they might not otherwise have access to. In Iceland, this could be photographing glaciers from kayaks for example, in New York, an editing lesson at B&H Photo’s private event space. I think the experience is just as important as the photos produced. So it’s definitely important to me to provide something special to the guests that attend.
Kirkjufell Sunset. Photo by: 'John Weatherby'.
Given the current restrictions brought about by COVID-19, what kinds of challenges have you faced recently with photography? What is keeping you motivated or inspired at this time?
The biggest challenge has been travel, followed by limited in-person interactions. Travel restrictions prevented me from carrying out a few jobs in the beginning of the lockdown phases. The social distancing created some challenges for workshops but we got creative and still were able to create a safe and fun one recently in Utah.
With the challenges came opportunity because I had the time to put together an online course, which I think will become more important than ever going forward with the direction things are heading. This also kept me motivated, to not only help other photographers on a larger scale, but to learn more and improve in the process myself so I could provide the best info.
For photographers who are trying to get their work seen and to establish a portfolio, what advice would you give?
My best advice is to learn social media. It is such a powerful tool, it’s unreal. You can get your work in front of so many people if you learn how and get creative. I always say that if people don’t know who you are, they can’t hire you. It’s a numbers game… the more people who see your work, the more chances you have to sell it, or get hired for projects.
Landmannalaugar. Photo by: 'John Weatherby'.
Outside of exposure, networking is a major key. On and offline, but to be honest most stuff is done online now. You never know where a connection will lead, so I advise to be nice to everyone and put your best face forward.
As far as portfolio is concerned, put your best work out. I advise people to shoot everything in the beginning to learn what they enjoy and then double down on that. Build your style and audience around what you enjoy, and it will be super fulfilling because you will be sharing your passion with the world. Your best work will be from what you’re passionate about.
What are your biggest marketing tools and how did you harness them to create a successful photography business?
My biggest marketing tool is Instagram. Again, going back to the last answer. If people see your work, and see it often you are top of mind when art is needed or an opportunity comes up. Through Instagram I have been able to leverage my photography and audience for some incredible opportunities, either by reaching out myself or being discovered by others and sought out.
Monument Valley Sunrise. Photo by: 'John Weatherby'.
With the advent of social media platforms such as Instagram, some locations are being destroyed by visitors and the preservation of the environment is becoming a bigger concern. As photography is an influential medium, do you use the power of your photographs to promote conservation and environmental awareness? Do you have any thoughts about how photographers in general can become more involved in this important matter?
I personally don’t do enough to raise awareness, if I’m being honest. I agree that these platforms are posing risks to locations and creating challenges for some of these fragile areas. I think the best way is to educate people on best practices, and express how important it is to do the right thing when visiting. I don’t share locations sometimes, publicly (if it’s a lesser known or fragile place). I am a little indifferent about this sometimes because I want others to be able to see the beauty of some of these places in person, but of course be smart about it. So I use discretion with the info I share. I commend people who use their platforms to spread awareness, and I admit, I need to do more of this myself.
What sorts of things do you think might challenge you in the future or do you have any photographs or styles that you want to investigate? Where do you see your photography going in terms of subject and style?
The future is hard to predict right now, haha. Travel will be a challenge (or at least different) for sure. I see myself doing a lot more international exploration once things calm down. Outside of Iceland, I have mainly photographed the US (comfort zones) but my goal is to explore more of the world and switch things up. I really want to photograph old European cities. Something special about them for sure, and they’ve been calling me. As far as style I’m not sure… it’s been my experience that it develops along the way with new subjects and discovered techniques.
Monument Milky Way. Photo by: 'John Weatherby'.
Thank you for chatting with us today and sharing your thoughts. Tell us a little bit about what you’re currently working on and what’s in store for you in the coming year.
I’m honoured, seriously. Thanks for having me! Well, I just wrapped up a job that I’m super excited about (but I can’t share info on yet). More will definitely be revealed on this soon. Also, as I mentioned, I’m currently working on my first course, or “online workshop” I’ll be releasing soon. My focus in the near future is to produce several of them, covering lots of different topics.
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