Chris Johnston Photography

Jealousy and the social media highlight reel

Trey Ratcliff and R.C. Concepcion at the Google+ Photographers Conference

Trey Ratcliff and R.C. Concepcion at the Google+ Photographers Conference

I love social media, but sometimes it can be a little depressing. You see lately I've been unfollowing a lot of people on Instagram. I've decided that I want to use Instagram as source of photographic inspiration so that means people who post pics of the their kids or their dog need to go.

This change means most of feed is photographers. The images in my feed are amazing, but for some unknown reason, most of the people I've followed live in the Pacific Northwest and the Canadian Rockies and 90% of them are single and in their twenties. The scenery in that part of the world is fantastic. Much better, in my opinion, than the flat, mostly green landscape of South Louisiana. But recently I've been feeling a twinge of jealousy.

I've been kind of resentful of these 20-somethings running around in beautiful mountain locations while I'm leading a boring, rather unremarkable life as a father of 3 in the flat, featureless South. Then I remembered when I was in my 20's I was doing the same thing. 

I spent 6 weeks camping in northeast Wyoming as field assistant for a paleontologist. Twice I drove from NOLA to Canada: once to Sainte-Adèle in Quebec, and another longer 2-week road trip to Banff and back. 

On my way to Banff

On my way to Banff

Since getting married I've traveled a bit too. In 2003, I spent several days in New Hampshire doing some work for the Republican Party in the 72 hours leading up to the 2004 presidential election. In 2010, I went to New York City to review a movie for Dad-o-matic.com, and in 2012 I traveled San Francisco for the Google+ Photographer's Conference.

Me and Guy Kawasaki at the Google+ Photographers Conference

Me and Guy Kawasaki at the Google+ Photographers Conference

I've also made amazing friends through all of this and I've been given the opportunity to meet many of my photography idols like Trey Ratcliff, Scott Kelby, Pete Collins, and Peter Hurley.

I need to remember that social media is like the highlight reel of someone's life. Most of these people I follow have jobs and live rather boring mundane lives just like myself (I still think they live in more beautiful location than I do but they might disagree). The amazing photos from their travels do not represent the totality of their lives no more than my Facebook post, or this blog for that matter, represent mine.

Sometimes you need to take a little time off social media and reflect on the highlight reel of your life and look at your accomplishments and be grateful for what you have.

Next Generation Staff Shoot

To tell you about Next Generation requires I tell you an interesting story. My church had it's beginning 21 years ago in the lunch room at East Jefferson High School, when a young Steve Robinson began teaching students about the Lord through what would become Next Generation. Twenty-one years later, Steve Robinson is now pastor of a church with over 5000 members meeting in 3 locations: Mandeville, Biloxi, and in the gym at East Jefferson High School. Less than 100 yards from where Steve Robinson began his professionally ministry career he now has church that is part of a larger organization that has pastored tens of thousands of people in the Greater New Orleans area. I became aware of Next Generation through that church.

The Executive Director, Cynthia Hassenboehler, put out a message on Facebook looking for someone to help them out with some staff images for their website.  I was more than happy to help out. I also need to say this was probably the most fun I've ever had on a shoot.


Listening to God and obeying him

Over the past few months I've been in a weekly men's breakfast meeting through my church. One of the things we've been discussing is obedience to God's word. When you are obedient, you are obedient to all of his word not just the parts you like. Part of the reason we are hesitant to be obedient is because God never gives us the entire message.

I've been struggling with where to take my career since graduating at the end of last year. I spent a lot of time in prayer on this issue and God keeps telling me something that honestly I'm afraid to hear...

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9 Ways to Take Better Pictures Of Your Children

As a parent we get all caught up in taking photos of our children but then later we look at them and they aren't as spectacular as they could be. As a professional photographer, and a father of 3,  I'm going to share with you a few tips to make your photos looks almost as good as the ones taken by the pros.

1. Turn off your pop-up flash 

There are few things in a photo that look worse than the harsh light from that little pop-up flash on your camera. It is also the source of red-eye in your images. If you only do this one thing, your images will improve dramatically. 

While there is no red-eye in this picture, the flash is harsh on his face and creates a nasty shadow on the wall behind him.

2. Figure out the areas of your home with the best natural light

Start a list of areas in your home that have great natural light and the time of day it happens. Let's say you are a stay-at-home mom and you're fixing dinner and you see great light streaming in through the kitchen window. Stop and note the location and time of day in your iPhone. If you do this regularly, over time you build up a list of times and locations in your home when you know you can get great light and thus a great photo. When you are planning a shoot this list can be very useful. 

As I was doing this myself I discovered that the master bedroom has great light at 1:50pm. I made use of that light when I shot this photo.

3. Learn to see good light 

Something professional photographers are very good at is noticing great light. It can be the warm red and orange tones right before sunset or the cool blue tones on a cold winter morning. Maybe it's the soft light coming in the living room window, created by reflections off the huge white concrete patio deck just outside. When you learn to look for good light first, then it's simply a matter of putting your kids in that light and clicking the shutter.

One of the reasons I saw the opportunity in the previous image was because I've trained myself to notice good light. Here is another photo from that session.

4. Buy a fast-prime lens like a 50mm f/1.8 (includes Amazon affiliate link) 

Buying a fast lens like a 50mm will make your photos look amazing. You will get that smooth bokeh (that blurry out of focus background is called bokeh) and you can take pictures in less light. One of the problems with the kit lens that came with your camera is that it sucks in low light. If you are trying to get a picture of your newborn in their crib, and and you don't want to turn the light on, or use the flash (see #1), you might get  a slow shutter speed like 1/4 second and your photo will be blurry. When you shoot at f/1.8 that is less of a problem. If you were shooting with your kit lens at f/5.6 and got a 1/4 second shutter speed, with the 50mm at f/1.8 you would get about 1/50th second, fast enough to handhold a 50mm lens.


When you shoot at a low aperture like f/1.8 or f/2.2 you can blur even really busy backgrounds and make a picture workable in a way that you couldn't with your kit lens.

5. Shoot from their eye-level 

One of the things that makes photos look like snapshots is when they are taken at our eye-level. We stand up, look down at our kids, and shoot. This is a recipe for BORING! Get down on their level.

If your toddler is on the floor, lay down on the floor and shoot. If your infant is laying in the crib, get down and shoot through the crib rail. It provides a different perspective.  

Also try different angles. If the kids are at the playground and coming down the slide, lay on the slide and shoot them as they are coming down. If they are on the swings in the backyard, try swinging with them on an adjacent swing and shooting them at the same time (this could be tricky, so don't drop your camera).

Getting down on their level is often a better perspective when shooting little ones. Here I got on the ground as my daughter crawled down the hall.

6. Pay attention to your background 

Nothing can ruin a photo faster than a tree branch or a lamp post coming out of someone's head or a pooping dog photobombing your background. Learn to visually scan the edges of your frame before you click. Look for unsightly things jutting into the frame.  

Photographer Zack Arias has a mantra that was drilled into him in photo school, "Head in a clean spot". It means makes sure there is nothing distracting behind the head of the person you are shooting. If you learn to always say to yourself "Head in clean spot" when you shoot, your photos will improve. 

This is a cute shot except for someone's feet in the background.

7. Learn to shoot in manual mode 

OK, this one is tough and will take some time to master. I fought learning to shoot in manual mode and tried to stick to something easier like Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority, but to really get the best possible results you will eventually need to learn how to master manual mode. It's far too much to go into in this short post, but I'm working on an e-book on the subject. Enter your email address in the subscribe box below this post to be added to my newsletter and you will be one of the first to know when that e-book is available. 

While a goofy shot, this kind of thing is impossible in any of the auto modes. If you like those wonderful backlit photos, shooting in manual is a must.

8. Always have your camera with you. 

Having a camera available at all times is one way to dramatically shorten the learning curve. It would be ideal if this is your DSLR but you could also use a small mirrorless camera like the Nikon J1 or Fuji Xm-1,  or even your iPhone. The main thing is to always be practicing. 

Right after our youngest was born I carried the camera around everywhere. This was shot in the hospital, but it was only possible because I had my camera with me to capture it.

9. Take a lot of pictures 

A dirty secret of photography is that it takes a lot of bad photos to get one good one, and only once in a while do you get a great one. Ansel Adams said, "Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." In our photo centric world of Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, 365 projects, and the like, this seems like an absurd statement today, but I believe it's still true. The rub is that to get those 12 photos means possibly taking hundreds or thousands of images.

I went with my son on a field trip and took maybe a hundred photos. From that hundred there were 3 or 4 that I was happy with. This is often the case whenever I go shooting.

If you take the time and practice using these tips, you will find yourself taking images you can be proud be of. I would urge you to print one or two of them and hang them in your home. In this digital world we often don't see our images in print and that's a shame. Seeing a photo you shot, printed large and hanging on the wall, feels very different that looking at it on a screen. You should try it.

Leaaf Environmental Headshots

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to shoot some headshots for wife's employer, Leaaf Environmental. I've shot there before, but  the company has expanded and added some new employees and they need photos for the website. It's an easy job for me when the subject's are so photogenic.