A chat with John Alexander

Outstanding travel photographer John Alexander is an expert at capturing the atmosphere of a place in simple, beautiful compositions.

Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, Piopiotahi Marine Reserve, South Island, New Zealand
Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, Piopiotahi Marine Reserve, South Island, New Zealand

Where are you from and where do you live?

I lived in Hong Kong until I was eight when my family came back to live in Oxfordshire. I’m currently living in a village called Cuddesdon which is about nine miles out from Oxford, with my long suffering girlfriend and two dogs, Bally & Milly

Labrador in field, Oxfordshire
Labrador in field, Oxfordshire

How long have you been a professional photographer?

This will be my twelfth year working as a professional photographer.

Magdalen College, Oxford, UK
Magdalen College, Oxford, UK

How did you first get into photography?

I went on a family holiday to Florida when I was about 16 and my dad let me borrow an old film camera of his. I had absolutely no idea how to use a camera and took everything on manual mode as I had heard that all professional photographers use manual mode. When we got back, I couldn’t wait to get them developed. I sent them to Boots at huge cost and when I got them back, they were all black except for one of a dolphin. After that, I was hooked. I wanted to know everything I possibly could about photography and just take more and more photos. I feel extremely fortunate that I have been able to turn my very favourite hobby in to a job that I love.

Market seller, Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Market seller, Dambulla, Sri Lanka

What are your favourite destinations to photograph and why?

I love to travel and am always interested to explore different cultures and countries so there is no one particular destination that is my favourite. I do keep returning to Asia because it is a place where I used to live and associate with growing up. I am particularly interested in portraits of people at work in different parts of the world, trying to capture their emotion and personality.

Stilt Fishermen, Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Stilt Fishermen, Mirissa, Sri Lanka

How would you describe your style?

It’s probably easier for other people to look at my work and describe my style but I always look for clean, clutter free compositions and try to convey a sense of place to try and take my audience to where I was and experience the emotions I was feeling.

Suricata suricatta, Meerkats
Suricata suricatta, Meerkats

Can you recall a favourite experience on your travels?

When I was in Sri Lanka, I climbed up Pidurangala Rock with some of my friends that I was travelling with. It gave us a great view of Sigiriya Rock that we had climbed earlier in the day with a number of tourists. Pidurangala Rock it much less well known and was recommended to us by our driver. Once we got to the top, just before sunset, there was no-one else on the rock and all we could hear were the noises from the jungle below. The sunset wasn’t great and therefore not good for photography but the experience was just incredible. Sometimes, things just look better with the human eye and the camera just can’t translate all of what you are experiencing. If I had had unlimited time there, I would have gone back every day until I had the shot I wanted.

Kandy Lake, Sri Lanka
Kandy Lake, Sri Lanka

Can you recall a particularly challenging experience while taking photos/travelling?

When I was in Bali, I noticed a man throwing his fishing net out from a coral reef a couple of hundred metres from the shore. I knew it would make a great shot and I was determined to get out to him. Everyone at the beach thought I was mad as I swam out to him with some seriously expensive equipment over my head. Luckily when I reached him and caught my breath, he agreed to have his photograph taken. I got a shot that I was very happy with and my equipment survived the adventure too although I did cut my feet open on the coral reef…

Highland Cattle, Gloucestershire, England, UK
Highland Cattle, Gloucestershire, England, UK

What cameras and equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite piece of equipment? 

I switched from Canon to Nikon and haven’t looked back. I have a lot of varied equipment for wedding photography, travel photography and landscapes but a 50mm lens is always close to hand because it’s light, works brilliantly in low light and produces a very shallow depth of field which suits my style of photography.

What are your tips for taking a good photo?

Eliminate clutter, get as close to the action as possible, try and evoke an emotion from the image, tell a story through your images that your audience will connect with. The more simple the image, the better it will be.

Little Owl, Athene noctua, Wheatley, Oxfordshire, England, UK
Little Owl, Athene noctua, Wheatley, Oxfordshire, England, UK

What advice would you give for young photographers starting out?

Work hard at the genre of photography that you want to pursue, don’t get trapped into doing something that you aren’t passionate about. Don’t be disheartened if success doesn’t come to you immediately. Growing a photography business is hard work and it can take years to build a client base. It’s similar to taking a landscape photograph, you can’t just turn up once at sunrise or sunset and expect it to be amazing, sometimes you have to go back again and again to get the shot you wanted.

Hong Kong Skyline with Star ferry
Hong Kong Skyline with Star ferry

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