The MISSBISH Photography Workshop | Johnny Utah
DateNovember 9, 2017
Photographer: Johnny Utah
Location: I’m currently based in NYC. This is a good place for me ’cause everything happens here. There’s so much to photograph and so much work so it’s just perfect for me. This is my home and I may never leave it. They say there’s no place like home and when it comes to my hometown, there’s really is no place like New York City.
Style: My style of photography I guess you could say is urban. I mostly shoot outside–not a fan of studio photography. I love being in the streets and shooting everything I see. Just walking around, shooting everything, climbing on rooftops and going into abandoned buildings. That used to be my thing, shooting inside of abandoned buildings. To me, it was so beautiful. Urban decay, graffiti-filled walls, broken TVs, and just being in a place that once had life was amazing ’cause in a weird way, it still had life.
Going into abandoned buildings became such a thing that it got known as “Bandos” on Instagram and New Balance contacted me to do a shoot for them that was influenced by the Bando photography of that time, this was back in 2013. I felt extremely honored ’cause something that I did for fun with many other photographers got made into a shoe and I got the opportunity to shoot it–of course, I shot it in a bando. I also really enjoy shooting women. I think women are God’s greatest creation. I love strong, powerful women; confident and sexy. I love to capture that and have my city as the background. What better to photograph than a beautiful female in this beautiful city.
Equipment: I currently shoot with a Sony A7Rii. I love this camera, it’s a beast! It’s mirrorless, which is the new technology in photography now. It’s small and compact and it’s better than those big bulky cameras. My favorite lens of all time is the 35mm. It’s perfect for street photography. I take it everywhere I go. I also love the 55mm and the 85mm, those are great for portraits. They give you a really nice bokeh (that’s what you call a blurred background) so those make the image pop really nicely–everyone loves that. My editing techniques I’ll keep to myself but everything gets done in Lightroom.
How did you get into photography? Tell us about your first experience (and your first camera!).
I got into photography by accident, actually. I was a graphic designer but that didn’t grab me like photography did. I had quit a job at a design firm and was bouncing around doing odd jobs here and there. I took the NYPD test and passed with flying colors, I just said to myself, “f*ck it, I guess I’ll just be a cop.” I ended up getting disqualified ’cause I got a bullsh*t ticket on the 4th of July of 2010. I went back to school to finish my degree and one class I needed to take was Introduction to Digital Photography. A month into the class my professor stops me and in front of everyone, gives me praise and tells me how great my photos are. That lit a fire in me ’cause I really enjoyed taking photos. That was in February of 2011, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
What are your thoughts on iPhone-ography?
iPhone photography, lol, this is a tricky subject. I think its great, I love it. When I first got on Instagram, all of my photos were iPhone only. Now we have the iPhone 8 Plus with an incredible camera that has “portrait mode.” iPhones also introduce people to a new talent they may have never known they had–photography. But some people only know how to shoot with an iPhone and are lost when they grab a camera. To me, those people aren’t photographers. You can take great iPhone pics and be an iPhone photographer but if you don’t know the difference between ISO and F STOP then you’re no photographer.
“You can teach someone how to use a camera but you can’t teach ’em how to be an artist.”
Do you shoot things differently/look for different types of shots when you’re shooting for Instagram as opposed to say a larger editorial? If so, can you give us an example?
I don’t shoot differently for Instagram, I actually don’t shoot for Instagram at all. I approach everything the same.
Tell us the story behind one of the most memorable photos you’ve shot…
A good story for a photo that I took was during a blizzard like, 2 years ago. I was with a few friends on the Manhattan bridge at 11 pm. We were all shooting and walking and far ahead, I see a man walking towards us. I waited silently without telling anyone what I was seeing (you don’t want people taking the same shot as you) and as he got closer, I pulled up my camera and clicked my shutter and got a great image of him under the light with snow falling. I made it black and white and it’s probably one of my favorite photos ever.
What is a constant source of inspiration for you as a photographer?
A constant source of inspiration for me is old New York and the images I have in my head of it. I love the ’80s and the ’90s in New York City. It was like no other place, it was magical. It had life and it had a sound. The pizza was the best in the world; hip hop and rock were at their high points. I also have a ton of art books that I look through constantly to keep my juices flowing and of course, documentaries. I hardly watch TV, but I’m all about documentaries. Right now I’m watching The Kalief Browder Story. That is giving me the inspiration to document the prison system somehow.
Three of your favorite Instagram accounts to follow and why…
Three of my favorite Instagram accounts… in no particular order, I love @cynlagos. She has a real strong grasp on minimalism. Her colors and abstract angles are beautiful to me. Another one is @stephenvanasco, He used to go by the name Van Styles, I just love his work with models and his black and white photos are amazing. He really inspires me to keep getting better. Lastly, I love my homegirl @amycollado‘s page. She posts old photos (not of her own) of old New York. Photos of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. I love it cause it inspires me to maybe recreate or visit a certain part of town and shoot it.
Photography is all about capturing that moment. What’s the secret?
There’s no secret to photography. You have to have an eye for it. You can teach someone how to use a camera but you can’t teach ’em how to be an artist. Right place, right time, all the time.
Tell us three photography tips.
Three photography tips, ok… umm, one, keep your shutter speed above 200 at all times during the day then adjust at night. Why? because there’s nothing worse than a blurred photograph. Two–this is the total opposite of what I just said but it can make a for a cool photo–put your shutter speed at 100 or a little lower and wait for a passing car, grab your camera and shoot the car as it’s passing you by. It works better if you set your camera to take multiple shots instead of one at a time. You can get the car in total focus and the background blurred which makes the car look likes it’s going incredibly fast. Three, grab a tripod, set your camera on it and set your shutter speed as low as it can go–usually 30 seconds–then set your F STOP to 22 or anything close to it. Point the camera at lights, snap away and wait for the results. You won’t regret it.
If you could shoot anyone, who would it be, where, and why?
If I could shoot anyone that’s alive right now, it would be Obama. Hands down, Obama. I’d like to shoot him in the streets of Chicago for a real dope street shoot–not the typical white house shots. He was such an inspiration to everyone and still is. He did something that has never been done before. A black President, that’s legendary. I see him as a modern-day Lincoln or even JFK. Imagine how the photographer who shot JFK must feel. Those photos are classic. They’re epic and timeless.
Finish the sentence…
If I weren’t afraid I would… skydive.
I wouldn’t be where I am today if… that *sshole cop didn’t give me a ticket. That ticket changed my life.
I’ve been listening to… late ’90s and early 2000s rock, Creed, POD, My Chemical Romance, The Strokes, etc., etc.
Kids these days... are dumb. Doing more drugs than crack addicts, listening to dumb-your-brain music, flashing guns on social media, getting their lips and *ss done at 22. They are just a mess. I feel bad for the future.
I look and feel my best… when I’m alone. I love being alone.