Chris Johnston Photography

Chris Johnston is a landscape photographer and photo educator in South Louisiana.

Why I Shoot Landscapes and Wildlife

In 2005 I bought my first digital camera after hurricane Katrina. It was my wife's idea to get the camera, but around 2009 I really started to get into photography and in 2010 I bought my first DSLR, a Canon 7D.

Baby Cottonmouth.jpg

My first love was wildlife photography and even purchased a Canon 100-400mm and it was probably the best purchase I ever made, but I sold it a few months later.  The reason I sold it was because I was following money over passion.

My Bradburn award from the Master Naturalist

My Bradburn award from the Master Naturalist

I thought I could make more money shooting headshots than wildlife and I traded my zoom lens for a couple of portrait lenses and a strobe. The problem was I had no passion for headshots. My passion is not be in a studio shooting headshots but being outdoors. I didn't volunteer at a zoo and nature center for 8 years because I liked the indoors. I didn't join the Society of Environmental Journalist and become a Louisiana Master Naturalist because I wanted to spend my days photographing actors and business people. I want to be in nature, photographing it and sharing it with others. 

I realized that every time I chased money I ended up miserable. A professor I admired got me to go back to college when I was 22 and major in geology. I left that field because I thought I could make more as an engineer but I had no passion for it. I ended up dropping out a few years later with no degree and a bunch of debt. I went back to college later in life and majored in marketing. I even ended up in charge of SEO strategy at the 2nd largest personal injury law firm in the US. I hated EVERY DAMN DAY OF IT. 

Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I'm tired of making the same mistake. I'm pursuing my passion for the outdoors and photography and you get to come along for the journey. 

The Madisonville Abandoned Boat

On the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain is a small town called Madisonville. It's like the Mayberry of South Louisiana. This boat is staple for area landscape photographers who are willing to take the time to drive out the dock where it sits. 

I prefer to photograph it in the morning at sunrise. Depending on the time of year, it will be front lit and therefore fill in many of the shadows on the boat. It's also far less crowded, especially in the summer when the sun rises very early in the morning. 

I have plan to shoot it later in the year when the sun sets behind the boat but I have to wait for the right timing, the right sky, the appropriate clouds, good sky color, etc. There is an exact mix of conditions that will make the photo what I have envisioned. 

If you would like to shoot it, I've included a Google Map below to the approximate location. If you get there you will see it. Best of luck to you.  

Living Out My Dream

Recently I took a trip to Seattle and on that trip I recorded the video below. The video was unlisted on YouTube and no one has seen it publicly since I made it. I feel the need to mention this because of what happened later.

 

I was in Seattle for a marketing conference but while there I took a side trip to Snoqualmie Falls to photograph the waterfall. It was spectacular and while there I came to the conclusion that this is how i want....no, how I need to spend the rest of my days. 

Snoqualmie Falls, about an hour outside of Seattle, is definitely worth the trip. I plan to go back in the spring when the falls are running at maximum width. 

 

You see at that time I was working as an SEO strategist at one of the largest personal injury law firms in the US. For most people this would seem like a good job. Four years before I graduated from very respected digital media program and now I was in charge of SEO for a firm with 15 offices in 4 states making a pretty good salary. The problem was I hated it. 

 

Since graduating, my office jobs had taught me that I'm not suited for the typical 9-5 career. For one, an office feels a lot like a prison and second I don't like someone telling me where i need to be and when. 

 

Back to my trip. About three or four days after I returned I was terminated. At first I was mad but then I realized this was gift. This was the answer to my prayer to pursue the life I wanted. It certainly wasn't the way I would have chosen to do it but as I've figured out most of the time in life things don't go the way you plan, especially when pursuing your dream.

Getting into a state of flow

Despite a masters in journalism and previous jobs as both a copywriter and newspaper reporter it is still a chore for me to sit down and blog on a daily basis. I'm also a parent of 3 children and finding time outside of work to do this has been difficult.. To remedy that I am going to get up a little early to write (3:30am this morning). 

I've been thinking a lot lately about why I take photographs. It started in 2005 as a hobby but it grew into much more than that. Twelve years later it is an obsession that has taken over my life. In fact it is helping me to define the purpose in my life. 

I only feel truly alive when I'm taking photos. Time disappears, hours go by unnoticed, I get into what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of flow.

There have only been a few pursuits in my life when that has happened. The first was when I started learning about wildlife and spending time in nature. I spent evenings glued to my TV watching Marty Stouffer's Wild America and on weekends I would spend hours in the woods trying to get a glimpse of a snake or sitting on the side of a bayou trying to see an alligator. 

This lead to 4 years a volunteer at a local nature center in the wildlife rehab center and 8 years at the local zoo, part of that in the wild bird rehab center. When I took up photography it only seemed natural to combine my love of nature and wildlife with this new hobby.

The problem is that as a parent of 3 children I don't have time to spend hours in the woods scouting locations and building hides and waiting for wildlife to show. If I bring the kids they are so noisy that I can be sure no wildlife will ever be seen. 

This little wrinkle in my plans lead to landscape photography. It is as equally fulfilling as wildlife photography but in a different way. It doesn't have that same excitement as waiting in the nature for the deer to appear or alligator to surface but I get excited when I see the final image. An image that is the culmination of time spent in the field shooting and then post processing in Lightroom and Photoshop back at home. 

I'm on a journey to figure out how to fit wildlife & landscape photography into my life on a daily basis. I'm not sure where this journey will lead but I do know that the outcome will involve me taking photos full-time as a career. I'm not really made for the corporate 9-5.

 

Captive deer with antlers in velvet at the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, LA

Captive deer with antlers in velvet at the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, LA

20 Questions about Chris Johnston

I've fallen in love with the work of Lisa Holloway. When this happens (it happens often) I become obsessed and I search for all the information I can find about that person and their work. I found an interview with Ms. Holloway and I liked the format so I decided to adopt it and answer 20 questions about myself.

Favorite Color: blue

Favorite Season: winter

Biggest Guilty Pleasure: Bacon and eggs for breakfast

The American Alligator (Alligator mississipiensis)

Pet Peeve: People who turn on their turn signal as they are turning the wheel to turn. 

Studio or On location: On location.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A veterinarian, wildlife biologist, or geologist. I’d still love to be an wildlife biologist or geologist. (Ms. Holloway and I both wanted to be veterinarians when we grew up)

The New Orleans Crescent City Connection

One thing no one knows about you is: I once rode a bull in a rodeo when I was in my early 20's.

Pc or Mac: Mac

Lightroom Or Photoshop: BOTH.

White Pelicans in the Louisiana Marsh

Film or Digital: Digital.

Props or No Props: No props.

If you could travel anywhere it would be: Denali National Park in Alaska.

Glass Half Empty or Half Full:  Sadly, half empty.  I’m trying to be more optimistic.

Raw or Jpeg: Raw.

Favorite Music to Edit to: I'm not a big fan of listening to music while I edit but classical relaxes me. 

Frozen Cypress leaves on a rare freezing morning in South Louisiana

Favorite Quote: “Having ADD makes life paradoxical. You can superfocus sometimes, but also space out when you least mean to. You can radiate confidence and also feel as insecure as a cat in a kennel. You can perform at the highest level, feeling incompetent as you do so. You can be loved by many, but feel as if no one really likes you. You can absolutely, totally intend to do something, then forget to do it. You can have the greatest ideas in the world, but feel as if you can't accomplish a thing." -Dr. Edward M. Hallowell

Most valued material possession: My camera gear.

Processing Style: I like deep blacks and a heavy vignette.

Coffee or Tea: Coffee.

If you could photograph a Celebrity who would it be? Mykel Hawke. I know he used to live in NOLA but if anybody has a connection I'd appreciate a hookup.