Image © John Slemp
Third Place – Commercial
John Slemp: It was an advertising commission for an aviation client, Epps Aviation. I had created several other images earlier that afternoon, using available light, but they just didn’t strike me as anything other than “serviceable.” So after a quick dinner of lasagna in the line crew’s “office,” I mentioned that I had an idea for a different shot, which my client was game for. This image was the result.
ASMP: What type of setting do you prefer?
JS: With images of aircraft, I try to simplify the backgrounds as much as possible. Messy/busy backgrounds just drive me crazy, as they often don’t “help” the shot, and my rule of thumb is “if it’s not helping, it’s out.” That often leads me to the far ends of an airport, looking for an out of the way spot on a seldom-used ramp, that hopefully has trees or sky as the predominant feature. If I can’t find anything like that, then I’ll often use a closed hangar door. Open hangar doors look like giant mouths, ready to swallow anything in front of it, including aircraft. They are often stuffed with all kinds of aircraft-related stuff too, and sometimes cars, motorcycles, RV’s and other items are also stored there. Ideally, I want to visually isolate the aircraft, so I find that a plain background is usually better.
ASMP: Is there anything unique about your style or approach?
JS: In the world of aviation, I’d say one thing that makes my images stand out is the use of supplemental lighting. Coming from a commercial photography background has given me the skills necessary to add a strobe to a subject, whether day or night and a strong sense of composition. Control over the background, the time of day, and positioning of the subject also play a key role for me.
ASMP: What type of lighting did you use for this image, series or video?
JS: In this instance, a Profoto B1 500w/s battery-powered strobe, fitted with a medium Chimera softbox, all mounted on a pole was the only supplemental lighting used. The hangar and sky were captured using available light.
ASMP: How long have you been shooting this type of photography?
JS: I began specializing in aviation in 2007, and this is the third time my aviation work has been selected in the “Best of” ASMP competition. It is a subject that has always been of interest to me. Even as a child, I remember watching my dad parachute from a perfectly good airplane while he was in the military. Other brief childhood encounters with aviation also left their imprint on me. Many times, I approach the creation of an aircraft image almost like a landscape. It has many of the same elements.
JS: For portraits, I enjoy following Nadav Kander’s work, and Art Streiber’s work too. Ansel Adams and Michael Kenna remain great influences for how landscape work should be done, and Sally Mann’s work for the mystery of it continues to inspire. Dan Winters, Albert Watson, and Andy Anderson continue to create beautiful thought-provoking work.
ASMP: When did you join ASMP and what do you find most valuable about your membership?
JS: I joined ASMP in 1993, shortly after I began assisting commercial photographers here in Atlanta. I’ve served as a leader on both the local and national boards, and the many friends I’ve made have not only enriched me personally but also have been a wonderful source of knowledge and inspiration.
ASMP: What is the more important relationship you’ve formed through your ASMP membership?
JS: I’d say the most important relationship has been with other photographers who have experienced the same day to day challenges we all face, and yet they not only survive but thrive. Once you get past the petty jealousies or competitive suspicions some may have, most ASMP members are extremely generous with their time, their advice, and their experiences. This is more than worth the price of membership.
ASMP: What kind of gear do you use?
JS: Canon 35mm gear is used for most of my work, and when appropriate, a Phase One camera with a Leaf Credo 60 digital back. Profoto is my lighting gear of choice, as it’s robust, simple, works around the world, and is readily available at most rental houses. Recently I purchased several Nanlight LED video lights, which I’m eager to try.
ASMP: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started your career as a photographer?
JS: I wish that I had known how much time/energy would be devoted to marketing, something that is a constant challenge.
ASMP: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your work? Go ahead, surprise us with something unique and unusual.
JS: One thing I greatly enjoy about aviation is the people, who are generally well educated successful business owners, and often generous with their time. There are also quite a few veterans, of which I’m one, so it’s easy to establish rapport. There is a great amount of history, which I enjoy learning about. In fact, I’m working on a book about WWII “bomber jackets,” and if the veteran is still available, portraits are being created and interviews conducted. It’s a fascinating direct link to America’s past and has allowed me to create images that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do. This has also prompted me to hone my video skills.
To date, 124 jackets have been photographed, including from several museum’s including the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, the Pima Air & Space Museum, the San Diego Air & Space Museum, and from many private collections. Dealing with so many museums has also been enlightening, and has offered a glimpse into the world of preservation that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
The project has also offered up exhibition opportunities and the chance to speak to different groups and organizations, something I enjoy as well.
Many articles have been written about the project as well, including in such publications as PDN’s Pulse, AOPA Pilot magazine, the aviation blog Jetwhine, Pixsy’s blog, and American Photography’s Pro Photo Daily website.
While I don’t have a publisher (yet), the entire project has prompted me to learn many new things including how to approach publishers with book ideas, how to evaluate the market for a new publication, and how to finance the production. In the end, I may publish the book myself, which will also be a new learning experience.