Crash Taylor Interviews Paul Johnson

This week I welcome Paul Johnson. Paul is a destination documentary wedding photographer based in Panama City, Florida. He and his wife Mecheal run the company together and what a great team they make. I love Paul's imagery, it really does push the boundaries in wedding photography. The interview is rockin'! You will definitely come away inspired and as always with some new tips for the bag. I look forward to meeting Paul next time I'm in Florida and photographing a wedding together would be even better.

This week I’m giving away a brand new Kingston 8GB USB Flash Drive for the best comment. I’m sure you know by now that I LOVE COMMENTS! The winner will be announced next week on the blog along with a link to their website. Okay back to the interview.

Hi Paul,

Tell us a little bit about Paul Johnson – I’m a destination wedding and portrait photographer based out of NW Florida, USA.   My wife Mecheal and I are both photographers.  We shoot every assignment together and work together every day along with one other employee.   I’m 37 years old.  I’ve been married 15 years.  I have two daughters, Laura -12 and Kayley – 8.  I was born in Florida but grew up near New Orleans, Louisiana, where I acquired a taste for spicy food.  My Grandfather was a cartoonist.  My father runs a computer software company.   My mother is a musician and I was a drummer at church most of my life.  I’m a serious coffee geek who has a standing order of espresso beans shipped in from Seattle every two weeks and makes a triple basket cappuccino on my two group La Marzocco every morning.   I used to race amateur Motocross.  I’m a car lover (get that from my dad) and currently drive a 2008 M3.  I’m sitting here writing this, it’s Christmas morning, and the ham Mecheal is preparing in the kitchen smells so heavenly I can barely concentrate! ☺

Where is home? Panama City, Florida with a new studio in Rosemary Beach, Florida

What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview? Cautiously optimistic.

Did you go to school to study photography? No, I’m self-taught.

How long have you been a photographer? Since I was 11 years old.

How long have you been a wedding photographer? Professionally since 1996

Who or what got you started in wedding photography? It started as friends (and friends of friends) asking me to shoot their weddings.  I didn’t charge enough and didn’t really approach it as a full time profession at first.  I eventually burned out and stopped taking weddings.  A few years later I decided to start doing weddings again, but with a new approach, and with the goal of building a self-sustaining full time photography business.  Photography has been my only source of income for the last 5-6 years.

How would you describe your style? I’d like to think I have a wide variety of tastes in life.  On any given week you’ll see me eat Mexican, Thai, Cajun, soul food, Sushi, meat n’ potatoes, you name it.  I love variety and hopefully my photographs reflect that aspect of my personality.  That said, I also see value in consistency, where consistency is important.  I hope you consistently see clean, well-executed images that always contain an element of feeling or impact.

How many weddings do you average per year? I’ve been averaging 40+, but I’d be happy with 35.

Do you have a few recent images you can share with us?

What type of cameras do you shoot with? Nikon D3’s

What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera? Is this where I insert a plug for my favourite inventor?  The R-strap is cool, and the Shootsac too (you can thank me later Jessica).

If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why? My logical side would say “hey, grab the 24-70” but that would be boring.  My adventurous side would say, “get the 35 prime” but that would still be too safe.  I would actually choose my 14-24 because the challenges and approach required to using that lens exclusively would produce a really unique result!

What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot? I’m definitely an all-natural kind of guy, but when there is NO light you have to make some.  I bring sb-900’s and 800’s.

Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding? One of the reasons I use the D3’s is because of the excellent low light capabilities, this allows me to use the natural light that I love throughout most of the wedding day.  Even when I use flash there is usually a strong existence of natural light that the flash is blended with.  I use filters on the flashes to match the color of light to the available light.  Here in Florida we see many receptions under white tents.  I bounce flash into the tent at different angles, depending on where I am and where the subjects are.  On the dance floor, many times I use a blend of available, on camera, and remote flash to create interesting three-dimensional lighting.

What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer? Lovin’ me some Wacom!

What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.? Most used would be my own custom built actions, but if you would like another product advertisement Alien Skin Exposure 2 (combined with my own custom presets), Rocks!

How important is Photoshop in your final images? m&m’s are good; m&m’s with peanuts are very good.

Are you a Mac or PC lover? Mac’s are sexy and I have 3 of them, PC’s are complicated and I have 2 of them.

Do you plan on buying any new equipment in the near future and if so what do you have your eyes on? Nikkor 200/f2.0 mounted to a D3x!

What’s the best part of being a photographer? You know, it’s just something that I really really enjoy doing.  To get paid for it just blows my mind.

I choose photographers for these interviews because their work really inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery? I think it has a lot to do with my personality and getting quickly bored with sameness (is that a word?).   Luckily when I’m bored I’m also easily inspired, it keeps me moving forward and I really enjoy the adventure of constantly changing things up.   Everything is constantly evolving for me, from the way I interact with clients, to shooting techniques, and processing methods.  For example, this time last year I was using a different brand of camera and a different brand of RAW development software.   Someone once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

What has been your most memorable assignment and why? When I was like 12 years old I was hired to shoot a friends wedding.  I used my Canon AE-1 and 50mm lens.  When it was over I handed them all the rolls of film and never even saw the photos.  How could I forget that?  And what were they thinking?

If you could shoot a wedding with someone who would it be and why? I’d love to shoot a wedding with Angelica Glass.  Oh wait! I’m doing that next month. ☺

Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on wedding assignments? My beautiful wife Mecheal, but she’s not an assistant, she’s probably a better photographer than me!

Where would be your dream destination wedding? I’ve yet to travel away from this side of the world so our wedding in Scotland next year is really exciting for me.

A website and/or blog you visit often? I’m a bit of a gear nut so I hit dpreview pretty often.  Also DWF.

The hardest part of your job? Hard? I’m not complaining.  Hard is my brother-in-law working long hours in all kinds of weather building buildings.

How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your Nikon D3? I’m really a very shy guy but if you put a camera in my hand and tell me to take a picture, some kind of sci-fi transformation happens.  I do crazy, stupid things.  What can I say? It’s what works for me. ☺

Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it? I’ve had a few equipment failures over the years and had to switch to backups and/or improvise.  Having two people helps tremendously to guard against many of the things that can go wrong.   Once, I almost fell off a cliff and died while shooting a couple in Mexico, I learned really quickly to watch my footing while shooting!

What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings? I think when photographing weddings in the documentary style, as I do, one of the challenges is to be in the right place at the right time to capture moments really well.  In a staged or controlled situation the photographer has time to manipulate the lighting or move the subject into desired lighting and perfect composition and exposure until the desired result is reached.   I try to produce images captured from real moments, in real time that are as clean and well executed as images from a controlled situation. This can be a real challenge.  That being said, the challenge is an absolute thrill to me.. to sense the moment begin to build, follow the instinct to move to another vantage point, pre-focus, mentally construct a creative composition for the scene that has yet to completely unfold before me, I'm ready, wait.. here it is.. nailed it!  So fun!

It’s almost that time of year for a Taylor family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say - he/she took my portrait? I’ve had portraits by Tina Wilson and Susan Stripling, loved them and had a great time.  I’d be stoked to have portraits by Anna Kuperberg, Jesh de Rox, and many others too.

The first photographer that comes to your mind and why? Jesh de Rox, I really like Jesh, he’s very unique that’s for sure, but he’s genuine and has inspired me to see photography, and the world for that matter, in a more free and positive way.

A wedding photographer who inspires you? Greg Gibson rocks!

The last workshop or seminar you attended and why? The ONE conference with Jeff and Julia Woods.  This was a conference for couples that work together in the photography business.  It was a great experience and getting together with other husband and wife teams from around the world was a blast!  If they had another ONE I wouldn’t hesitate to attend again.

Do you conduct workshops for aspiring photographers? Our first one is coming soon!   We are planning a few hands-on style workshops here in Florida in 2009!

What photographic organizations do you belong to? PPA, WPJA, AGWPJA

One way you market Paul Johnson Photography? Word of mouth.

How important is an awesome website for your business? It is very important because for many people it delivers the first impression of my work.

Do you advertise in bridal magazines? Sometimes.

What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now? The economy has slowed but people are still getting married.  I'm amazed at the amount of talent in the industry right now, there is some incredible work being created in the industry.  It sometimes seems like an over-saturation of new upstarts, but I still think there is enough work to go around for those who have well defined businesses.  I think over the next 5 years we will see a sifting of the industry.  Many will become frustrated and will struggle, some will not survive.  Those with well executed business practices and the ability to define their uniqueness' while adapting to their clients needs will continue to thrive.

If not a photographer, I would of liked to have been an F1 driver. What would you have been?
A Motocross racer, or an inventor.

I realize that each great photographer has a particular penchant or love for photographing a certain subject whether it be nature, portraits, sea or landscapes, shadow and light, etc. as a result we would love to have you share whatever images you feel appropriate of your own private obsession in the magical world of photography. I don’t do as much personal shooting as I would like but I love travel photography.  I would LOVE to have the opportunity to travel the world and photograph it’s beauty.   I have had the pleasure of shooting weddings in the Caribbean and Mexico but I’d love to explore more and have more personal shooting time.   I did some plinking on a trip to the Smoky Mountains a few years ago.  The shots are nothing special but I hope you will enjoy them.

Photographing elephants in Africa, Bengal tigers in India, Polar bears in Alaska or the wedding of Brad and Angelina? The wedding of Brad and Angelina.

If you could be invisible for one day with your camera... How about the day after with Brad and Angelina!

Tokyo, Helsinki or Cape Town with a Hasselblad H3DII-50 and Kate Moss? Helsinki

Lately I have wanted to photograph the summit of Mount Everest. Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph? I would love to go back to Alaska in the summer with a camera and plenty of time!

When I was 2nd shooting I was picking everybody’s brain, I still am actually. That’s why I love these interviews so much. Every interview I learn something that makes me a better photographer. What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue wedding photography? Sign up for one of our upcoming workshops!   LOL, in all seriousness it takes time to build a well-rounded photography business so try not to just throw up a slick flash website template with a few great images and then under price everyone in your area.  Pace yourself, it should be a joy to go to work every day, if you’re shooting too much, not charging enough, and spending every waking moment in front of the computer editing there’s not much joy in that.

I’ve learned the most from…My Grandfathers, they were a huge part in whom I’ve become.

At the moment I’m finding a lot of my photographic inspiration from cinema, fashion photographers and old skool music videos. Personal inspiration always comes from my family. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration? My wife Mecheal and my daughters Laura and Kayley are everything to me.  I love spending time with them and they inspire me more than anything.  For photographic inspiration I’ve always been inspired by life.  I hope to create images that have a quality that feels genuine and will inspire people to love life.  Composition, lighting, and post processing are all secondary contributing factors to me.  I do appreciate seeing images that are really cool looking but what really moves me goes beyond the technicals.  I think if everything that could possibly go wrong at a wedding DID, I could still find something positive or humorous to say through the imagery, I know I’d try.

What talent would you most like to have? I wish I were a great speaker and not so shy about that!

Something you’re still learning? Everything!

Something that is overrated? Megapixels on a point and shoot.

Something you’re saving up for? We’ve been living in the same house for 10 years and I would love to get my family a new one while it is still a buyers market.

What item do you wish you had designed? The Rip Stick and the Rubik’s Cube.

If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be? Bill Cosby ☺

Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.? Probably dinner or a movie with my family.

Your favourite film (movie) of all time? Probably Star Wars Empire Strikes Back or ET… that really dates me huh?

First thing you would do if you won the lottery? Buy Mecheal that house we have been saving for.

Which three words would your friends use to describe you? Driven, dedicated, decorous

What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now? Both of my daughters will be teenagers by then and I seriously hope to keep my hair.   I’m fine with whatever I will be doing in five years as long as I’m having just as much fun as I’m having now!

And the last question, if you had one wish… I would ask for a wish voucher giving me unlimited future wishes.

Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Paul Johnson?’ What would you say? Find your own unique strengths and go after them with all your heart.  You will be the best YOU there is and that’s much better than being a Paul Johnson.

Your readers can find out more about me:

Website: www.pauljohnsonphoto.com

Blog: www.pauljohnsonblog.com

  • Another fine interview Crash. Paul seems to have a fresh and relaxed outlook on life. Love his use of surrounding space in his weddinigs (the ship and beach images}
    Again, inspiring, looking forward to the next

  • I love this guy Crash! These interviews are so cool. Thanks for sharing Paul, I love your style and passion. If only I could take pictures like that :-)

  • Keep it coming, Crash. This is, let me think, the fourth interview I read, and I am looking forward for the next ones to come. As for Paul Johnson interview, that worked for me better than a morning coffee: pushed be to grab my camera bag and go out in the rain and shot some stuff. Nice work Paul.

  • Another great Interview Crash - thank you to you and Paul.

    Love Paul's images, especially those taken on the beach - unfortunately it's not something I can easily replicate in Manchester...

    I wasn't aware of Paul before but having read the interview and visited his site I will keep checking back to his blog from now on. Cheers

  • I've said it before and now it's official, you are the Jay Leno of photographer interviews or should I say David Letterman. I prefer Jay. Well done Crash, I can't believe your success with only 3 years in the photography game. You passion is addicting and so is your work. Exceptional interview, love PJ's work. You can hand over the flash drive now!

    Kojak :-)

  • thanks paul :)

  • I love this guys images, just checked out his website and there are some really unique ideas on there. Beautful work and aproach to business.
    Jut why r the Americans s much more willing to share their secrets?
    Terrific interview again Crash,

  • Being American (Los Angeles, Mulholland Drive) myself Martin it's just the way we are raised over there. We see it as the more you help others the more successful you will be yourself. It's surely but slowly catching on over here in the UK. I love helping others and sharing what I have learned, people appreciate it and it will only make you a better person and spread positive vibes.
    Thanks everybody for the great comments so far. Kojak how can I be the man if you're the man!


  • I remember the first day I came across Paul Johnson's web site...I was absolutely mesmerized by his images. The blue skies, the emotion on people's faces, the little details he captured...it was totally inspiring. He is still one of my favorites even among the plethora of blogs that I follow today.

    And I can totally relate to otherwise being shy but coming alive with a camera in my hand. In fact, that pretty much sums up the About Me on my web page. There is something absolutely freeing about creating imagery.

    Paul, you totally rock!

  • Crash,
    another great interview. you're getting pretty good at this ;- )
    we spend so much time learning techniques, shooting and PP.
    It's refreshing to hear what inspires other photographers and what
    their motivation is. the human aspect.
    i'm lovin it

  • Thanks for posting Crash. Paul is hands down the king of the sunset beach wedding. I remember several years back when he posted a full wedding for review on the dwf. I was amazed at the extremely high level of quality in both his capture and post production. (I am a little sad that he's moved to Nikon though... any chance we can lure you back, Paul?)

  • Yay for Paul! :)

    When we started out Paul was one of my inspirations. I still love his work and his approach.

    Oh, by the way--a shy drummer?! There's no such thing!

  • I just love to see humour in photography and there are often opportunities at weddings to catch it. The frog on the cake is brilliant and the bride under the hood of the car is a clever idea. Love the spontaneity in these images and the extreme close - ups are quite unique in their execution. Some terrific ideas here!

  • Crash, another good interview. It's great to be introduced to photographers like Paul Johnson, who despite his great ability of capturing 'those magic moments' as a documentry wedding photographer, I may have not come across him.
    I am now inspired to do some "plinking". Is that a real word, or a Paul Johnson word? Pehaps it's a common term I haven't heard of before, but "plinking" is going into my personal dictionary. Great pics on Paul's Blog.

    Just need to find out what an R strap and a shoot-sac looks like now!

    Cheers Crash, happy plinking, look forward to the next one.

  • You had me at "Bill Cosby"!

  • Great interview! Paul is a huge inspiration (as a photographer and human). Thanks for sharing!

  • One of our top 5 fav photogs! Glad to see him on here!! 😀

  • The images have inspired me to be creative, to enjoy the moment and to continue to have fun. Although maybe in a different setting and climate, the spirit of weddings can and should be captured everywhere, whether in sunny Florida or cold Aberdeenshire. Roll on Saturday....:-)

  • Great interview Crash. I am continually amazed at the variety of photographers out there. Being new to this hobby (profession) I am busily trying to define my style and seeing interviews like this one with Paul Johnson certainly inspire me. I only wish I had started this photography "thing" when I was eleven, but then I am glad I have started it now.

    Happy New Year and thanks for these remarkable insights to some of the most innovative minds in the business!

  • loving these as always.... thanks Cash :)

  • My husband and I had the honor and priviledge of hiring Paul and Mecheal to capture our wedding last month. They were such a joy to work with. I don't know how they do it, but our wedding was more beautiful than I remember.
    Thank you for the wonderful interview. Nice insight into one of the greatest photographers of our time.

  • I have been following Paul's work for sometime now. This interview gave me great insight into a photographer who has inspired me with his fresh, creative, and unique persective on wedding photography. These elements are what sets him apart from all of the other photog's in our area. Keep up the excellent work Paul and Mecheal and thank you for the interview Crash. You guys rock!

  • I just wanted to say that I'm extremely humbled by all of the kind comments. It was an honor to have the opportunity to be interviewed. Crash, thank you, you did an awesome job and I look forward to seeing your future interviews!

    Nigel, I borrowed the word "plinking" from another type of "shooting". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plinking :)

    Todd, Can you tell me which wedding images above were shot with Canon? 😉

  • Crash, you've done it again! WHERE do you dig for these golden nuggets?

    Paul Johnson's work is inspirational and I'm going to be a blog stalker now!

  • Thanks everybody for supporting the site. Over 500 subscribers and approx 500 visitors a day since starting the site 3 months ago, so things are all good. May we all have a healthy and prosperous 2009! Happy New Years! Remember life without passion and photography is unforgivable.


  • Thanks! Great insight.

  • Very unique set of images he has. I love the clarity in each one. They look as though very little (if any) post processing is done on the photographs.

    Thanks Crash! You're finding some gems!

  • I really like Paul's perspective, wonderful photographs.

  • Alison Henneberger
    January 10th, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    We were thrilled to have Paul and Mecheal shoot our wedding in November. They were an absolute joy to work with and the we couldn't be more pleased with the photos we have seen! This is a great article

  • Excellent!! I Love his photos!