If you’ve ever perused www.kingandprince.com, you’ve seen the beautiful photography of Chris Johnson of Johnson Pictures. He has been bringing beautiful images of the Resort to the eyes of our future guests for several years now. In this interview with Tom Ski, Chris talks about his craft:
A Photographer’s Calling
A Photographer’s Calling
We all have those cameras in our pockets (of course, most of them are cell phones), that we pull out in order to make sure that absolutely every occasion we wish to remember is documented for a later date. From weddings to prom to the most beautiful scenery of all time – photographs are the one and only thing that remain after the memories fade.
So being a photographer in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, must truly be a ‘grade-A’ career. Chris Johnson of Johnson Pictures, Inc., is living that career under the stunning glow of the sun as it rises above the Atlantic each spectacular day.
St. Simons Island – the jewel in the Golden Isles crown located off the coast of Georgia, is where Chris Johnson makes his home. Here, he uses his passion for photography to capture moments in time for his clients, that become pieces of true art in the advertising and marketing campaigns for many of the sites located in this serene beauty.
Being able to speak with a commercial photographer in such a fascinating place was a real gift – a gift that we are about to share with our readers. The following will show you all different aspects and views of the world of photography from an incredibly gifted and ingenious man who was able to parlay a passion into a full-time career. We begin at the King and Prince Resort. There is no more wondrous place on the map than this incredible location that provides 5-star accommodations, fine dining, sports, five-sparkling pools to simply get lost in as you bask in the Georgia sunshine, and more. The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort truly has it all, and their photographer makes sure that the whole world is allowed to see inside the doors of this magnificent paradise.
Chris, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Now, I’ve been told that you have been doing all the photography – rooms, etc. – around the King and Prince for seven years now?
Yes, at least that.
I would love for our readers to learn about your experiences here; what brought you to the island, and what exactly Johnson Pictures concentrates on?
I am a freelance photographer and Johnson Pictures has been in business for twenty-one years now. I actually began in 1990 in NYC and worked there until 2001 as a commercial photographer and in editorial for magazines, etc. I actually came to St. Simons Island in 2001.
Johnson Pictures offers a variety of photographic services from aerial to architecture and interiors, hotels and resorts, lifestyle photography…mostly commercial work.
Why did you move from New York?
My wife is from NYC and I certainly enjoyed my time there. I was actually a resident from 1986 through 2001. We had a two-year-old daughter and we were planning on moving upstate to the Hudson Valley where we spent a great deal of time. But I knew if we were to move up there, most of my work would still be in the City and that’s a whole lot of commuting.
We were visiting here and one Fall afternoon we had an epiphany. My daughter was dancing up and down on the beach and I suddenly realized – here we are! This is it!
I came back to do a little research to see if there would be any work on St. Simons, and with all the resorts, restaurants, sites, etc., there was. It was just three months after that when we picked up and moved! I will never forget it. I mean, it was March and I was swimming in an outdoor swimming pool, which was amazing to me. Being from Cleveland and then living in NYC – outdoor swimming in March is certainly not something one would expect, or be used to. So…it was a truly great experience.
I can imagine. Snow gone, cold gone and into a paradise of sorts.
Do you work with many different resorts?
Yes. Johnson Pictures is 99% commercial work, advertising for several of the resorts as well as their components, such as, meeting rooms, ballrooms, spas, pools, golf courses, etc. There are some jobs that also touch upon the lifestyle component, such as guests or visitors playing sports, hiking, dining, etc.
Do you ever interact with guests?
Sometimes. It can be difficult though, seeing as that they are here for a ‘guest’ experience and not to be harassed by a photographer. But sometimes they do agree to help with the lifestyle photographs. It is difficult because you need to get the proper permissions for their pictures, seeing as that this is all about advertising that goes out over the internet and reaches millions of people.
Have you ever thought about doing artistic photography?
I do, actually. Most photographers have their own personal work. But when you do it for a living, you’re kind of busy earning the dollars necessary to support your family and you don’t have a lot of time to do side work. Even though I have my own personal work, I tend to set it aside and focus on the money earning end of things.
Sort of like being a travel writer. You can’t just sit on the beach and write a novel, you have to get things done!
Exactly. Every ‘artist’ would certainly love to hang a photograph or picture in a gallery, but you always need the money that comes from commercial work.
And, as I said, being that most all of my photographs are for commercial work, there are ownership issues. And you can’t resell, especially here in a small market – a smaller community – where the ‘rights’ issues are a little more difficult than what you would find in, say, New York. People are a little more possessive of their rights here. The uniqueness of the imagery is far more personal as opposed to a place like Miami Beach.
Do you photograph weddings?
I did when I first moved here. In fact, there was one year when we did thirty-five, but we were hit with two things.
First, we were hit with the bad economy, and not many people were purchasing a photographer’s services, or heading to fancy vacation spots like this one for the wedding. The second thing was that digital photography came out and came out big. Everyone has a digital camera, and knows someone who is good with that camera; whether it be an uncle or a cousin, there are many amateurs in the wedding market now. Also there are other commercial guys who saw the changes and jumped into the wedding market, as well. I’ve done about 140 during the last 10 years but it has been scaled back considerably.
And how do you feel about the introduction of digital and the changes to the industry?
Well, you can fix errors with digital, but there are just so many more people who are what you would consider an ‘advanced amateur.’ Everything links to the internet which makes the marketing possibilities so much greater, and the cost is far less than film.
I still have some 50 ASA Fuji slide film in my freezer.
LOL. I cleared my freezer a little bit ago. We still had a bunch, but I don’t think I’ve shot a roll of film since 2004. Are you happy with digital?
No, I’m not. I still like film. I liked reading the light and setting the picture by feel, and I can’t do that with digital and get the same results. What are your thoughts?
There was a point in time where film was still better but we’ve crossed the threshold. I don’t miss film, the mess or the cost, but now that I work with digital I shoot things completely different. You have to understand that something as simple as a hotel room is not all that simple; you have multiple lights to deal with, and when it comes to something as stunning as the King and Prince, you WANT to capture that view just outside the window.
The contrasts between indoors and outdoors are huge. To capture it in the old days you had to brilliantly light up the room so that it was almost as bright as the outside. But with digital, I can now photograph in layers. Then, in post-production, I can work with those good captures for each individual section/layer, so the picture looks much more like what the naked eye sees.
Do you ever miss working in the darkroom?
Yes, but you still can do that somewhat – when you’re making your captures. With layers you can expose the highlights and create exactly what you want for your client, and your hands stay dry. It’s almost cheating but you get the end results that make your client happy.
There is also an artistic portion to digital. There are still similar ‘darkroom decisions’ when it comes to digital post production, but I feel that I am now making illustrations, not pictures. That’s what the commercial photography market has really become. Using digital-touching, contrast correction, perspective correction, layer work – all of these combine to produce an illustration of the scene.
Did you ever teach the craft?
Yes, actually. I was a photographic instructor at the College of Coastal Georgia, and one of the classes was about personal style. There was a great deal of instruction and debate when it came to digital work, but the one question that still comes up is the difference between a real photograph as opposed to a digital one. People, I believe, wonder how far you can go with digital before it’s no longer a picture. How much is too much altering?
This happened to me recently when I was asked to be a judge for the Coastal Photographers Guild. This is a local organization who was running a contest, and part of the judging criteria was how far the entrants were from the original capture. Within the rules they were allowed a certain amount of leeway, digital retouching, etc. – but the lines are truly blurred now, which is what makes me believe that they are illustrations and not pictures.
So, it’s a personal taste.
Absolutely. In fact, I have a friend who feels that there’s no need to create art anymore because the Renaissance gave us the best there will ever be. He said what was done in the 15th Century can never be improved upon. Of course…he also thinks rock-and-roll stopped after Zeppelin stopped. (LOL)
I kind of have to agree with him on that one. So digital is definitely the most beneficial?
The biggest part is that you get instant results with digital; you can capture it right to the laptop so you can immediately blow it up, look at the various sections, and be able to move a chair in the room to a different angle, or take out a prop you don’t need – that way there are no surprises when you get home.
Is there a great deal of investment that must be made in the newest lenses and/or new technology in the digital world?
With commercial work I don’t need to worry about the latest and greatest technology because most all of the work is placed on the web nowadays. There are no sales offices left who want 3-5 foot images. Most all images required are no bigger than 9” x 12”.
You certainly would need to make top investments when it comes to, say, shooting the Super Bowl, but for the type of work I do, it is unnecessary.
Before we wrap things up, can you tell readers a little about shooting the King and Prince?
A lot of what we do here is weather dependent. We need that fantastic horizon, a great sky…so there is a lot of ‘last minute’ photography involved. It’s not like you can really plan to shoot next Tuesday, so to speak.
But that really is part of the fun of photography. It is a true conundrum to work with everything and solve the problems that need to be solved. When it comes to the King and Prince, just the variety of rooms is amazing! There’s truly a new shot – a new locale – every time I set out. In fact, I believe that someone said you could stay here twenty times and be in a different room each and every time. Which is great – because that also gives the photographer a variety of points of view to show to the world.
It is certainly no surprise to this writer that the King and Prince used the enormity of its beauty, serenity, peace, charm and elegance to draw Johnson Pictures to its island home. And to be able to see all those points of view and all those immaculately stunning scenes on a daily basis must truly be the definition of living the good life.
So for all you struggling artists out there who truly have a passion for the realm of photography, take this new knowledge, information, and outlook and aspire to find your very own Golden Isle experience one day!
To see Chris Johnson’s incredible work, head to:
For more information on the King and Prince, head to:
The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort
201 Arnold Road
St. Simons Island, Georgia 31522
(912) 638-3631: Phone
(800) 342-0212: Reservations
(912) 638-7699: Fax