Take a Trip With John Emery’s Astonishing Black and White Landscape Photography

All images and words by John Emery. Used with permission. Be sure to follow him on Instagram @jemeryphoto

My number one goal as a photographer is to capture a moment in time as I experienced it when I released the shutter button. I want people to look at a photograph that I took and to feel as if they were standing there with me at the moment I took it. My specialty is the natural landscape in black and white – I’ve always been attracted to the drama, texture, detail, and contrast of a well-done black and white photograph.

I had just turned 23 and had never left the eastern time zone. On a whim I flew to Las Vegas, rented a car, and visited the Grand Canyon. I was woefully unprepared for the trip – I hadn’t seen snow in 15 years and it made me realize that south Florida living had made me ill-prepared for northern Arizona in late November. Regardless, I was hooked. Since that first trip I have been all over the country, and with each successive trip more photographic equipment joined me.

Not everybody is as fortunate as I have been to see the landscape. Through my photography, I hope to pass some of the wonder and awe that I feel when standing along a raging river or towering mountain to those who can’t stand there with me.

I currently primarily use a Canon 7D MkII with either a Canon 17-40mm f4.0 and Tokina 11-16mm f2.8. I also have an infrared-converted Canon T3i (my first digital camera) that I use on occasion. I got my first digital camera in 2012, but I’ve only been very serious about photography since 2015. I use two different Vanguard brand tripods. One, the Veo 265AB, is what I use when I anticipate doing a lot of hiking, as it is much lighter and more compact than my other. I always use a leveling base and Nodal Ninja R5 panohead (with their RD16 rotator head) when shooting panoramas. I love large images, and by shooting multi-image panoramas I am able to create high resolution photographs that are immersive and grand.

I got into photography first as a way to catalog and remember the awesome places that I saw. As my experience and skills progressed, I saw it as a way to take people with me in a way. Clyde Butcher, by a large margin is who influenced my quite a bit. His large format black and white landscapes are amazing, and when viewing one you truly feel a part of the scene. He’s also based out of south Florida, near where I lived for 20 years of my life.

One very major reason photography is important to me is that it lets me dream of being somewhere other than a boring office job. I can look at my photos and get lost in another world for a minute. It also shows the importance of maintaining the environment in as clean and untouched a way as possible.

I feel that I am 100% a documenter. My vision is to translate what I saw onto print or screen, so that if you stood in the same place with the same conditions, you’d instantly recognize it from my photograph. Most of my images today are multi-shot panoramas, so the first thing I do when I come upon a scene is to use my widest angle lens to get an understanding of what the shot will look like when stitched together. I try to incorporate a foreground element – a leading line, a prominent feature, etc., which will serve to accentuate the main subject of the photograph. Mechanically, I have to make sure my tripod and leveling base are as close to perfectly level as possible, so that my panoramic head can perform at its optimum.

I try to keep my processing to a minimum. If the image needs to be stitched, I use PTGui before exporting the image to Lightroom. There, I will convert to black and white, adjust contrast, exposure, and adjust color filters. Multi-image photographs over water often show a seam where the images were stitched, and if that occurs I will then move into Photoshop where I clone stamp the seam into oblivion. After that, a light high pass filter for sharpening is usually applied and then I consider it done.

Finding motivation to shoot is easy – photography gets me off the couch, gets me to go hiking and exploring amazing places both near and far from home. In the last 5 or 6 years I have visited over 20 National Parks and driven thousands of miles across lonely, out-of-the-way stretches of highway (I try to avoid interstates when on photo trips). Without photography, I surely would never have had the experiences that I have.