"The look comes in part from what we learned developing techniques for automotive CGI images. In a CGI environment, you deal with light, color, and content as separate entities," he says. "Whether I am in Maya, 3ds Max, or CS3, I break the image down to its core components and eliminate anything that doesn't support the feeling. I tend to work on the image converted to black-and-white. When I have what I want, I bring a version of the color back in if it better supports the mood and story."
Johnson and team have created a home base in two 1,100-square-foot production facility buildings in Culver City, California. The space, formerly owned by a motorcycle collector, houses rolling racks of gear ready to be pushed down the drive for loading onto his five-ton grip truck.
"About 60 percent of our ad work is assigned within a week of the shoot day. Last minute is the nature of this industry, so we're positioned like a disaster response team," says Johnson. He smiles about similar preparedness for wedding shoots. "We don't take the big truck, but we do have a lot of just-in-case gear and backups for everything."
Most-requested wedding works are his 36-inch, large-format watercolor prints, handmade and individually toned. Johnson has high praise for his print lab, BowHaus (www.bowhaus.com), in Los Angeles. "Printing these exhibition prints in-house was consuming crazy amounts of time and materials. BowHaus developed special RIP software, which they use on their Canon wide-format imagePROGRAF 12-color pigment printer, and they get it spot-on every time." The studio creates many albums using small book makers on up to Leather Craftsmen. Each wedding couple has a private website for viewing images, and the studio offers digital files as part of the package.
For the most part, wedding clients have been personally referred by other couples and industry partners, but the studio still tracks inquiries from national magazine advertising from publications like Grace Ormonde Wedding Style.
"When I decided to launch my wedding photography business, I looked to the music industry as a marketing model," remarks Johnson. "I wanted international reach to gain recognition and credibility, and I wanted to offer something clients had not seen before. Since the barriers to entry are so low in wedding photography, most new shooters can open a business and offer a very low price point and eventually, after a few years, make a sustainable living. My overhead was really too high to do that, so it was imperative to attract clients who would appreciate our unique approach."
Going the Mile
Despite a rigorous schedule, Johnson finds time to share his knowledge and experiences with aspiring photographers. He's mentor to a stream of Brooks Institute of Photography students and is planning to launch several workshops. "I envision ‘in-the-field' business workshops where photographers can shoot and work, side by side, with professionals," he notes. "Along the way, they will stop and talk with pros about the implications certain decisions may have on their growing business.
"There's a significant need for business education in this market, especially for wedding photographers competing in the lower price ranges," adds Johnson. "Now that the barriers to entry are so low, more and more individuals are picking up cameras and becoming weekend wedding shooters. These photographers are less likely to have had the benefit of working in and understanding the business of photography. Those determined to make a new career of photography are probably learning as they shoot and may not have the benefit of mentors, industry training, or gaining small-business skills. We hope the workshops will fill some voids."
For a photographer whose norm is long hours and loads of work outside the studio, Johnson remains enthused and inspired.
"I truly love my clients, and what more could I ask for than to create something the people I love will cherish for the rest of their lives. . ."