John W. wall – Photo talk #20

December 3rd, 2010 |  Published in F-J, PhotoTalks  |  Subscribe to Comments

This week’s interview is with John W. Wall. I first came across John’s first blog John Wall’s Natural California when looking for some photo locations around San Francisco. I kept coming back to read his really informative articles and look at his photos. Now, John has a book made out of his blog – you can buy it at John’s Blurb site.

John has moved on to start a new group blog – California Nature Photographers. He talks a bit about what and why of this new group blog in the interview.

Here is what John has to say:

Dunderberg Meadow, Photograph by John W. Wall, All Rights Reserved
Dunderberg Meadow, Photograph by John W. Wall,
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: Tell me a little about yourself. How did you get into photography?

JWW: I’ve gotten into it at different times in my life and at various intensities, but my first photos were taken of Hawaii when at age 13 I was heartbroken to learn we would be moving away. One of my favorite shots, taken with a Kodak Instamatic, is of my mother dressed in a muumuu on the Big Island’s Black Sand Beach with palm trees framing one side and the beautiful blue ocean washing up around her feet on the other. My mother passed away a few years ago, and the beach was covered by lava quite a few years ago. I’m sure that treasured image would not still be a part of me had I not photographed it.

I got into photography again while I was in the Navy after high school, getting a lot of support from some of the guys in the photography division. I started out with a Canon AT-1, then graduated to an F-1, but switched to Nikon when the F3 came out. (I continued to use an F3 until I bought a D200 a couple years ago.) My favorite shots coming out of that time are from liberty ports in Italy and Israel, from shipboard life, and from walkabouts around my home port of Norfolk, Virginia — and only now, all these years later, do I wish I’d shot a whole lot more!

I’d heard about Brooks Institute of Photography while in the Navy, so that’s where I headed after serving my four-year hitch. I drove out here with a friend from the Navy and his new wife, and we were mesmerized by the beauty of Santa Barbara, and by the gorgeous Brooks campus. Although I was only able to afford a very brief stint there, I made a quantum leap in my approach to photography by working side by side with other talented photographers, gaining darkroom skills, and shooting with a view camera.

Hiking in the Santa Ynez mountains behind Santa Barbara resurrected an interest in nature’s particulars that I hadn’t felt since snorkeling over the reefs as a kid in Hawaii. Wildflowers caught my interest at first, and in order to learn more about them than just their names I took a botany class at the local city college. I fell in love with biology, but even though my studies started out well, I bogged down in the mathematics requirements and switched over to the journalism department.

I got to shoot a wide variety of subjects stringing for the local paper in Arcata, working for the school paper at Humboldt State, and then for a couple of small daily newspapers after graduating, but I was always a reporter first and photographer second. At one point, in response to a nice form letter response I got from National Geographic, I applied to a master’s program in photojournalism, and although I was accepted and was awed by the school, I decided not to go, mainly for financial reasons, but also because print journalism was already on its way out. The school’s entire crop of photojournalism graduates from the previous year was still unemployed.

Ironically, economic hard times have led to my most productive period in photography. I was able to cut back to a four-day workweek in 2004 and have done ten-times more shooting in the last few years than in the previous 20.

Snow Geese and Shasta, Photograph by John W. Wall, All Rights Reserved
Snow Geese and Shasta, Photograph by John W. Wall,
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: You photograph a lot of animals, birds, wildlife …. How did you get interested in this kind of photography?

JWW:My father bought me a subscription to National Geographic when I was born, and made it a lifetime subscription as soon as it was allowed (you couldn’t get one for a newborn!). Maybe that rubbed off on me. But like I said in response to your last question, my interest in nature bloomed while snorkeling at an underwater wildlife preserve on Oahu called Hanauma Bay. I was learning the names of all the fish and other sea creatures and experienced my first episode of “gear envy” over the Nikonos underwater camera when our family up and moved to Maryland. Santa Barbara revived my interest, but I did very little nature photography until moving to San Francisco and finding Mt. Tamalpais.

Staying in one place for a long time has been new to me, and diving in deep at Mt. Tam opened nature photography up in a whole new way. For a couple of years I hiked its trails at least once or twice a month with just two lenses — a 24mm and a 200mm micro — learning about and documenting its natural history.

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus, Photograph by John W. Wall, All Rights Reserved
Strawberry hedgehog Cactus, Photograph by John W. Wall,
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: You used to write a blog – John Wall’s Natural California which I used to read regularly. What got you started on photoblogging? What has that experience taught you?

JWW:I like to document and share my explorations. There’s really no reason behind it. It’s just a kind of insanity I’m afflicted with. What the blog taught me is that I can’t do what I want to do — document and share explorations of the whole state of California in real-time throughout the year — without a whole lot of help! The jury’s still out on whether I can find enough other folks with a passion for this project to make it happen.

Ruby Crowned Kinglet, Photograph by John W. Wall, All Rights Reserved
Ruby Crowned Kinglet, Photograph by John W. Wall,
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: You have now started a new group blog called California Nature Photographers. What do you envision for this blog in the short and long term?

JWW: In the short term I hope to find a core group of nature photographers from different parts of the state to participate on a regular basis. Everybody likes to travel around the state, but we still have more ready access and know our home areas best. I’d like to see the blog become an artistic documentary project on the natural diversity of California to a degree that no single person could accomplish.

Dawn on the Sacramento River, Photograph by John W. Wall, All Rights Reserved
Dawn on the Sacramento River, Photograph by John W. Wall,
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: Photographically speaking, what are you goals? Do you have any projects / ideas you are working on currently?

JWW: I think about the question of my goal quite a bit. With such an expensive hobby, it’s only natural to ask yourself where all the money is going! Like any other passion it can also be a source of strain in your personal relationships. Right now I’d just like to see the blog take root, but I’m also interested in developing the creative side of my photography and bringing more depth to my nature documentary work. I’ve been getting back to my roots on Mt. Tam lately, building on what I started in 2002-2003. I’m also building a collection of my work on Flickr, arranged by months of the year, that will give me sort of a “full circle” perspective of my California work so far. Since self-publishing books has become so easy I’ve turned several photo projects into book projects, and I don’t see any end in sight for that.

Fallen Madrone Berry, Photograph by John W. Wall, All Rights Reserved
Fallen Madrone Berry, Photograph by John W. Wall,
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: Any recommendations? (like Photographers, Photo techniques, Music, Books, quotes, food..anything?)

JWW: A few nature photography books that inspire me are “Life” by Frans Lanting, “ Yellowstone To Yukon” by Florian Shulz, “California” by David and Marc Muench, “Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” by Subhankar Banerjee, “Lagunitas Creek” by Todd Pickering, “Point Reyes Visions” by Goodwin and Blair, “The California Surf Project” by Soderquist and Burkard, and one that I just picked up for $2.99 in the remaindered stacks called “Between the Wingtips: The Secret Life of Birds” by Brutus Ostling.

I’ve also been inspired by good nature writing, including some of the old-school stuff like the “Audubon Book of True Nature Stories” and anything by John Muir, Joseph Wharton Lippincott, John K. Terres and Ernest Thompson Seton. For California background I like “The Ohlone Way” by Malcolm Margolin.

I always have my iPod cranked on the way to and from my destinations, but when I’m actually at a place where I’m ready to start doing photography I like to shut it all off and just listen to nature.

Big Bull in his Harem, Photograph by John W. Wall, All Rights Reserved
Big Bull in his Harem, Photograph by John W. Wall,
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: Can you mention how people interested in your work can contact you?

JWW: Drop me an email: jwallphoto [at]

Thanks John!

Comments are welcome!

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