Scott Johnson Photography: Blog en-us (C) Scott Johnson Photography (Scott Johnson Photography) Tue, 17 Feb 2015 20:46:00 GMT Tue, 17 Feb 2015 20:46:00 GMT Photoshoot Focus: Lake Yellowstone Hotel Ten years ago, I was blessed with an extraordinary opportunity to photograph national park lodges for the National Park Service’s concessionaire Xanterra in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.  The project afforded me the opportunity to visit these parks numerous times, and while most of the work was indoors, I was allowed some time to explore the parks on my own.  After about two years working with the company, the work had basically run its course, and I thought that I might never hear from them again.


In the intervening years, Xanterra changed ownership, and many of my contacts with the company either retired or left the company.  So it was a tremendous pleasure and a bit of a surprise for me to get an email form Rick Hoeninghausen, the marketing director for the Yellowstone lodges last summer. After catching up with each other, he revealed that the Lake Yellowstone Hotel was finishing up a renovation and would need new photos taken.  What follows below is a sample of the result.  Hopefully, this is only the beginning of a rekindled friendship and working relationship.


Lake Yellowstone Hotel ExteriorLake Yellowstone Hotel Exterior Lobby Seating, Lake YellowstoneLobby Seating, Lake Yellowstone Corner King guest room, Lake Yellowstone HotelCorner King guest room, Lake Yellowstone Hotel Meeting rooms, Lake Yellowstone HotelMeeting rooms, Lake Yellowstone Hotel Restaurant, Lake Yellowstone HotelRestaurant, Lake Yellowstone Hotel Sun Room, Lake Yellowstone HotelSun Room, Lake Yellowstone Hotel

]]> (Scott Johnson Photography) Lake Yellowstone National Park lodge architecture interior design interior design photography national park Tue, 17 Feb 2015 20:46:19 GMT
Making Your Architectural Photographs Stand Out, Part 1 I was recently asked by the Cobb Photographic Society to provide them with a challenge to pursue for their upcoming competition topic on architecture.  After some consideration, I decided to give the club two challenges to pursue, both intended to add interest and spark to their photographs.  In this post, I will address the first of these challenges: getting them to look beyond the whole and capture the details and perspectives that tell a larger story for their subject.


In some ways, capturing architecture is easy.  Buildings don’t move or flinch (except in earthquakes!).  If you show up at the right time of day or night and under the right atmospheric conditions, you can take excellent photographs very easily.  But capturing some aspect of architecture, especially iconic architecture, is harder.  Too many people compose their photographs from the same perspectives.  In my work as an architectural photographer, I always strive to move beyond the obvious.  As a working photographer, I have certainly been blessed with opportunities to capture unique perspectives, whether from the roof of a property I am shooting or from a helicopter.  But special access or equipment is not always necessary.  Any photographer can find opportunities to capture something (relatively) unique with attention to the details.


To illustrate, I have included several examples below.  In the first image, I have included two separate images of the Empire State Building, both captured from the same perspective.  While the first image shows the immensity of the structure in relation to its surroundings, the second image, a small cross-section of the building, is the more powerful portrayal of this architectural marvel.  The image captures an intimate perspective that gives a hint or an allusion to the building’s overall size without trying to cram so much detail that the power gets lost on the viewer.  What makes the image “unique” is the fact that most people, when trying to isolate a detail in this building, will tend to capture the top, of the building and overlook this perspective, with all of its angles and levels.

The second image shows two perspectives on the Anchorage Museum.  A fascinating subject, this structure responds well to the changing light of the day.  I tend to favor the smaller, more intimate detail on the right, for some of the same reasons I elucidated above.

The third image provides two perspectives on the Duomo in Florence, Italy.  While the first image, like the Empire State Building image above, shows how immense the church is in relation to the rest of the city.  But for me, the most powerful perspective I have seen of this iconic structure lies in the second, where it emerges from behind the building next to it.

Further examples of what I am talking about can be found in the rest of the images below, intimate views of the Arc de Triomphe and Sacre-Coeur in Paris, the Transamerica tower in San Francisco, and the Lincoln Memorial.


Property of Quintess, LLC : : info@quintess.comProperty of Quintess, LLC : :

]]> (Scott Johnson Photography) architectural photography architecture artistic process creativity photo tips photography tips Fri, 06 Feb 2015 18:10:54 GMT
So You Think You Are a Food Photographer, part 1 So You Think You’re a Food Photographer, Part 1


Listen up, all of you Instagrammers and budding capturers of the culinary arts!  That burrito in front of you might look delicious.  It might sit there looking all cute and coy, as if beckoning “Go ahead!  Make sure you get my good side!  You are going to want to remember this moment forever, and all of your friends are going to want to see this!”   You might think it is saying all of that, but it is not.  It’s a burrito.  Probably prepared by a high school student – someone with no training in plating and presentation.  And you are eating it at a plastic table in a restaurant lit by fluorescent bulbs.


Your inner monologue might be telling you “It’s OK.  I can make this look appetizing, just like they do on the menu or a magazine!”  No, you can’t.  First of all, those ads are prepared and photographed in carefully controlled environments.  The food is prepared by professional chefs.  The ingredients are picked through and organized by professional food stylists, who agonize for hours over whether this bean or that grain of rice is photogenic enough.  The photo was taken by a professional photographer,  with thousands of hours experience with food items and with lighting that is carefully controlled.  So, you would be better off putting down the phone for a minute and chowing down.


But, if you must continue crafting artwork of the edible world, here are some tips.  First, a disclaimer.  Scott Johnson Photography, Inc. does not shoot food on a regular basis.  My primary focus is architecture and interior design (I welcome you to take a look through the rest of my site –  So, everything I say here comes from a limited amount of food photography experience.  However, I have over 14 years of experience in the hospitality industry, so I have had the occasional privilege to capture some great food items and dishes in some interesting settings throughout my career.


So, you want to be a “foodographer.”  Well, here are some things you can do to get more likes and positive comments on your Instagram feed.


  1. Don’t use the flash on your camera/phone.  Unless you are a hipster and shooting your food ironically to make it look as unappetizing as possible, don’t ever use your flash.  For that matter, don’t shoot the food in such a way as the light source is coming from the same direction as the camera lens.  Sit next to a window and use strong side lighting to give the food some shadow and depth, and to reveal the textures of the ingredients.  You can use a piece of paper or a white menu cover to “bounce” some light back on the shadowy side of the dish.  You can also experiment with backlighting, but beware of too much contrast.  But, never, EVER, shoot with the primary source of light at your back, or from the phone itself.

food photography esjphotopro

  1. No “aerial” shots, please.  Don’t stand over your food and shoot it from directly above.  Pick a low angle – get at “eye-level” with the food.  This is not always a hard and fast rule, and you can occasionally break it, especially if there is some interesting texture to the table or some geometric pattern that can best be revealed by shooting from above, but in general try to keep the angle low.

food photography esjphotopro

  1. Watch your background.  The background to your food can often be as compelling as the food itself, and can compliment the shot and make it stronger.  Equally, however, it can distract from the subject and cause your eye to wander unintentionally.  So, you should adjust your camera angle, or reposition your food, to make the background work with the food, not against it.  A drink, tablecloth or napkin can add a pop of color to the shot (but not if they are dirty).  The texture of the table or artwork on the wall, even the action in a busy restaurant can add dimension to the scene, making it more dynamic.

food photography esjphotopro food photography esjphotopro

  1. Don’t necessarily try to get EVERYTHING in the shot.  Often the best image of a food item captures just a small detail or portion of the overall plate.   Get in close, as close as your camera will allow and still keep the important details sharp.

food photography esjphotopro

  1. Most importantly, CHOOSE YOUR SUBJECT CAREFULLY.  You love your food, and it might be the most delicious thing you have ever tasted, but if the entire dish is brown, no one will be interested in seeing it.  Shoot food with different colors – green, red, white, yellow, etc.  Make sure it is arranged on the plate in such a way as to make it interesting.  The shot should make your mouth water because it evokes a Pavlovian response – we should be able to “taste” what you are tasting.  No greasy burritos in cellophane or tin foil, please.

food photography esjphotopro

I will be back with more tips, as they come to me.  I will also discuss how to shoot drinks.  Any questions or comments are appreciated below, or respond to me at twitter.  You can find me there @esjphoto

]]> (Scott Johnson Photography) artistic creativity food photography photo tips photography tips photography tutorial process tutorial Wed, 26 Feb 2014 22:09:28 GMT
100 rooms in 100 days Throughout my career, I have had the privilege to travel throughout the world to photograph amazing architecture and interior design for my clients.  I have captured properties in 45 states and 10 different countries, in some of the most breathtaking destinations throughout the world.  The breadth of my work covers a myriad of architectural and interior design styles.  Each room I capture presents its own challenges and opportunities, requiring a fresh approach.


No matter the setting or situation, however, one thing remains consistent in my approach.  In every room I approach, two overarching imperatives guide my work: context, and connection.


Great architecture and interior design mirrors the surroundings in which it is created.  It is a part of the environment, not separate from it.  So a room’s context is important to the story.  As such, I work hard in the decisions I make about lighting and composition, to capture a room’s context wherever possible.


Context in an image, while necessary, is often not sufficient for an image to move the viewer.  The audience must also feel a connection to the image.  A great contextual image of a room can also be quite sterile.  When I capture a room, I work to place the camera and the elements in the room in such a way as to invite the viewer in, place them in the room, change their role from observer to participant in the image.


Over the next 100 days, I will be sharing images of some of the great interior design and architecture I have captured throughout my career through my twitter account.  My twitter handle is @esjphoto.  You can follow me there or check out my galleries here on this site.  Questions or comments are welcome below, or you can reach me at    A book to accompany this campaign will be available soon at

  Luxury HomeLuxury HomeInterior Design Photography Interior design photography architectural photographyAspen Highlands Village, Aspen, Colorado

Kitchen toward east wallKitchen toward east wallInterior Design Photography

]]> (Scott Johnson Photography) architecture interior design interior design photography interior photography photographing interiors Tue, 25 Feb 2014 20:09:51 GMT
The Triptych One of the competition topics I will discuss next month at a local camera club is the triptych.  Simply put, a triptych is an artwork divided into three panels, deriving from a Greek work meaning “three-fold.”  In photographic circles, the triptych can take on one of several forms:


  1. Lateral - a single scene divided into three parts – this is probably the simplest conception of a triptych, involving the division of a single photograph into three parts or a panoramic sequence of three images.  While the simplest in conception, this form of triptych is surprisingly challenging to compose effectively.  That is because too often the photographer forgets that, for the image to work as a whole, it has to be greater than the sum of its parts.   Each part of the final image must work on its own, stand on its own merit.  An example of this can be found in the first image below, a dawn scene of the Teton Range from Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park.  Be careful in your choices of dividing lines.  Sometimes, however, you can break the rules, as the most intuitive separation of the image is not the most effective in creating a powerful triptych.  You see an example of this below, in the second series of images.  I took a simple street scene looking straight up with two buildings and a street lamp, and divided it into three parts.  At first, it seems that the logical point of division is to separate the three parts – the upper building, the streetlamp, and the lower building, creating three horizontally oriented images.  A more dynamic division of these parts occurs when you turn this thinking on its head and divide the image vertically.  In this triptych, I took it a step further and set the three parts off-axis from each other.  The layout I chose expands the drama particularly in the upper building, by extending the lines of the building through the negative space.
  2. Temporal – a sequence of events – Though a triptych has to tell a story to be effective, the elements of the panel don’t have to be lateral.  The story could also be temporal.  See the beach sunrise sequence I have posted below. I captured this sequence of events over a period of twenty to thirty minutes at Saint Simons Island, Georgia.
  3. Detail - parts of a whole – This type of triptych can capture a scene from three different angles, or can be composed of three parts that make up the whole.  Keep in mind when composing this type of scene that the final image should be coherent.  Two examples of this type of triptych can be seen in the image of the lighthouse on Monhegan Island and the sequence of shots of a 1959 Cadillac I have posted below.
  4. Three of a kind – the similarity captured between three different objects or places.  The similarity must be apparent (type, color, pattern, shape, use, perspective, etc.).  You can see an example of this in the three views of the Pacific Ocean that I took at different times and locations.  Another example can be found in the series of old, rusted items.  The final triptych combines three different beach scenes on the island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos. esjphoto esjphotopro triptychColter Bay Marina at Dawn esjphoto esjphotopro triptychBethesda 1 esjphoto esjphotopro triptychBethesda 2 esjphoto esjphotopro triptychSt Simons Island Sunrise esjphoto esjphotopro triptychMonhegan Island Light esjphoto esjphotopro triptych1959 Cadillac esjphoto esjphotopro triptychPacific Ocean sequence esjphoto esjphotopro triptychDerelict items esjphoto esjphotopro triptychProvidenciales
]]> (Scott Johnson Photography) artistic process creativity triptych Sat, 28 Dec 2013 19:18:00 GMT
Simplicity in photography, part 1 I have been asked by a local camera club to give a presentation at a local camera club in January, to cover the various topics of their competitions for the year.  Over the next few weeks, I will be covering most of those topics here.  Today, we look at the concept of simplicity.


What is simplicity and what does it mean in photography?  It is such a nebulous term, it can be daunting to capture in a single image.  In a sense, all photographs attempt to capture simplicity, in that, when they succeed, they distill a scene down to its most basic elements (more on that in another post).


As a competition topic, however, simplicity is often (and most easily) associated with minimalism.  While all minimalism is necessarily simple, the reverse is not necessarily true.  The term simplicity encompasses much more than that.  An easier way to think of simplicity in photography is not to get hung up on the physical elements in a scene in and of themselves, but to think of the elements in a scene can be distilled to the simplest level of recognition or understanding.  For instance, an image of a butterfly on a bush is one thing – but a close-up of a butterfly wing is a simpler portrayal of the same concept.  We recognize the wing as an object associated with a living thing – a butterfly – but we don’t have to include the whole insect and all of its surroundings to illustrate the concept we are trying to capture.


Simplifying the detail of a subject only make sense when it captures the message you are trying to convey.  In the series of images below portraying Monhegan Island Light in Maine, the first image of the lighthouse and dory is simple enough.  The silhouette of the lighthouse at dawn simplifies the image further, while preserving the concept of the lighthouse.  But if the story we are trying to tell is the simplicity and perhaps the hardship of island life itself, we might isolate the details further as in the third image.  In this image, without context, we don’t know that this is a lighthouse, but we get a sense of the lifestyle of the owner.


The key to demonstrating simplicity effectively in an image lies in the preservation of context.  As I stated above, all photographs attempt to distill a scene to the simplest elements, so that it can be interpreted accordingly.  But when we lose the context of the original scene, the story changes.


Take a look at one of my earlier postings here, where I took an image of sunlight filtering through trees.  The image was simple enough, but the application of a motion blur effect to it distilled the image further into a simpler representation.  The abstract created still carried the vital information of the original – most would recognize it as sunlit forest scene, though the colors and lines were greatly simplified.


When trying to capture simplicity in a photo, try to keep this in mind.  Simplicity in photography is more than a reduction of detail – it is an ironically complex calculation.

]]> (Scott Johnson Photography) artistic process creativity minimalism simplicity Wed, 18 Dec 2013 15:28:36 GMT
A (Simple) Motion Blur Effect Tutorial, Part 2 Last week we examined the application of applying a simple motion blur to a static scene to give it a sense of motion and abstraction.  Today, we will take a look at another image and apply a radial motion blur to enhance the “zoom” effect already performed in the camera.  I shot this image in Times Square, New York after dark a few years ago.  Stabilizing my camera, I minimized the aperture and maximized the shutter speed, zooming the lens as the shutter was open.  The result is what you see in the first image (fig.1).

In the second image (fig.2), I made a copy of the background layer (command-J or ctrl-J) and applied a simple radial blur to the layer, to enhance the blur already applied in the camera.  In photoshop, this can be found under the menu Filter-Blur-Radial Blur.  For blur method, I chose zoom, and set the amount to 100 (the maximum).

This created an entirely abstract pattern of color.  I want some of the original detail to come through, so I had to mask and erase portions of the blur layer -  in particular the stripes on the street and the eyes on the billboard in the upper right corner.  In the photoshop menu bar this can be accomplished by going to Layer-Layer Mask-Reveal All.  Here, I set the opacity to about 40 per cent and brush size appropriate to bring out the details.  I applied the brush a few times to the eyes to bring out more and more detail from the background.  The result is found in (fig.3).

In (fig.4), I cropped the image to set the vanishing point off center and boosted the overall saturation.  Any questions or comments are welcome below.

]]> (Scott Johnson Photography) abstract motion blur photoshop tutorial Tue, 24 Sep 2013 20:45:49 GMT
A (Simple) Motion Blur Effect tutorial, part 1 Capturing the blur of motion can be accomplished a number of ways.  You can do this in the camera (by using long shutter speeds and panning or mounting on a tripod), or on the computer (using photo editing software such as Photoshop).

But how do you impart a sense of motion or abstraction to a stationary object, or if the scene is too bright for long shutter speeds?  Over the next few entries, I will teach you my process for creating abstract images with a sense of fluidity and movement using the motion blur tool in Photoshop.

In today’s example, we will apply a simple, vertical motion blur to this image (fig.1) of trees near my home in the golden light of an early autumn evening.  The first image is the original, unedited version.

In the second image (fig.2),  I applied a motion blur without any other editing by setting the direction to 90 degrees and moving the slider all the way to the right (998 pixels).  While the look is nice, I am not completely satisfied with it because the softness disappears around the top and bottom edges and the evidence of digital editing becomes much more apparent.

So, to maintain the softness throughout the image, it becomes necessary to first blur the details at the margins.  First, duplicate the layer (command-J or ctrl-J in Photoshop) and apply a Gaussian blur (set to about 65 pixels here) to the new layer.  Then take the marquee tool to draw a box that encompasses all but the top and bottom 10 per cent of the image.  Then delete the selection (command-X or ctrl-X)  and flatten the layers to create an image similar to the one in (fig.3).

Now, you can apply the motion blur to the flattened image, and the result is an ethereal, abstract landscape like the one in (fig.4).

Check back here to for the next installment in a few days.  Leave a comment if you have any questions, or if there is something else you would like to see.

]]> (Scott Johnson Photography) abstract motion blur photoshop tutorial Thu, 12 Sep 2013 18:47:52 GMT
A Tablescape for White Peacock Styled Events Welcome, and thank you for finding me here.  Throughout the life of this blog, I hope to both inspire and inform you with ideas, app reviews, techniques, and my latest works.

My twin passions are landscape and architectural photography, so it might seem ironic that my inaugural post here covers an area of photography where my experience is limited: tablescapes.

My approach to any subject remains consistent, whether in capturing a natural  or architectural detail or interior design.  A mountain range or canyon, a skyline, a building, or a room, all present a visual progression from the foreground to the background.  They are all landscapes.  A tablescape is no different.

I created this series of images for Jennifer and Nicole of White Peacock Styled Events, a full-service event planning and event styling boutique based in Minneapolis.  Here, they have set up Harvest Table for an intimate outdoor party.  I applied my experience and skill as a landscape photographer to create images that show off their sense of whimsy, their use of color and pattern to set a mood, and their sense of aesthetic in the use of textures and materials. 

]]> (Scott Johnson Photography) event photography event styling tabletop photography Sun, 08 Sep 2013 22:02:43 GMT