Growing up in a family of eight, Stephen Kent Johnson moved around a lot during his childhood and adolescence. After studying design he moved to New York City to a small agency called the Valentine Group. From there on he moved on to Martha Stewart Living where he became art director. He has the opportunity to work with talented photographers who will influence his style. Suddenly, and after other experiences, he decides to change his profession, takes the camera in his hand, and begins to capture the spaces of some friends, without being too serious. And instead he begins a second life as a photographer, which leads him to collaborate with the most important interior magazines as well as various celebrities. It is to his eye, in fact, that Ryan Murphy, Jessica Alba, and many others rely on. An extremely versatile eye that draws on various genres, and knows how to be serious, easygoing, amusing when needed. Its interiors can be glamorous and refined or intimate and relaxed. A character that can emerge from the masses, but also, in contrast to the trends, from less popular points of view, such as furnishing details. The important thing is that there is room for his taste, and this is the advice that he gives to young photographers, read to believe.

1) So you started as a designer and then became a photographer. How did the transition happen?

As an art director a large part of my job was commissioning and working with photographers. Shoots were always my favorite part of the job and when I went freelance as an art director, I found it was harder to find work that was shoot-focused. And when I was on shoots I wanted to take the pictures! So I just went for it, bought a camera, and hired a couple of great assistants who I would do test days with and grill them for all the technical details of the craft. I joke that I am an honorary RIT grad, as a lot of great assistants I’ve worked with studied there. My training as an art director made it easy for me to articulate the kind of images I wanted to make, I had to work harder to learn the technical side of how to achieve that.

2) You were art director at Martha Stewart Living and Everyday Food. How did these experiences change your views and your style?

They were like an aesthetic graduate school. Everyone who worked at Martha Stewart was very passionate and opinionated in the best way about everything aesthetic. My bosses there had such great taste and really helped me hone my eye.

3) You practice many genres. How can you combine them when shooting interiors?

I like a lot of genres because I think most photos are solving the same issues, how do you want the light to look, what specific things can you do with composition, light, and color to get at the feeling you want to convey?

4) You have the luck to shot mostly outstanding interiors. Did ever happened to you not to like what you were supposed to shot? How did you deal with it?

It is so important to find clients whose aesthetic you respect. If that mutual respect is there it is the best-case scenario. There are of course days when that is not a matchup, and it’s always a harder day. If you are lucky enough to mutually like each other’s taste, then it is always an easy and fun day. That said, I’ve got to pay the bills like anyone else. If there is a mismatch of style on a shoot, I try to focus on the things that resonate with me even if I am not drawn to the project as a whole.

5) You shot the private residences of some famous personalities and creatives, such as Anne Hathaway, Rodman Primack, Pierre Yovanovitch, or Adam Lippes. How do you approach this kind of works?

It’s no different than any other shoot. All the people you listed are truly lovely and it’s a real treat to spend any time with someone who has such a specific view on the world. I would also say as a former art director, my approach is always collaborative, I am open to any suggestions, if they work well, it just makes me look better too:)

6) What is the most important thing to consider when shooting interiors?

For me, the most important thing is trying to convey what it feels like to be in the space I’m shooting. It is NOT about documenting every single stick of furniture in a room, or always using a super-wide lens to get everything, it’s about trying to show someone the tone of the space.

7) What is the most common errors you should avoid while shooting?

Shooting is all personal and aesthetic. For me, I like images that feel daylit, graphic, usually softer, not too wide-angle. More romantic maybe? But I have a lot of respect for photographers who do the opposite and do a great job with it. It’s perhaps most important to find the style you like shooting and find people to hire you who let you do that.

8) Tell us something about your little Moonman.

Moonman is a plastic figurine I have taken hundreds of pictures of. I carry him around and it’s a fun exercise to make mundane surfaces and places look like other planets. He’s a good excuse to look carefully at things around me.

9) What is the question you hoped for and that I didn’t pose? What’s your answer?

Advice to someone starting out?

A stylist I really respect told me when I started shooting-“People are hiring you for your taste. Don’t ever put a picture of something in your portfolio that you don’t like every part of. You could create the most beautiful light in the world, but if it’s for a picture of a tacky chair, people will think you like that chair and that that is your taste.”

10) Tell us 3 young photographers that we should follow.

David Mitchell @davidmitchellphoto

Ethan Herrington @ethanherrington

Emilie Johnson @emilie_joly_johnson

 

www.stephenkentjohnson.com