Monday, November 18, 2013

Talking Photography with John Heino

Business executive by day, energetic keyboardist with Centerville All Stars for decades, John Heino has never been afraid to tackle new challenges, adapting fluently into his current role as piano man with the Maxi Childs Trio on Thursday’s at Blackwater Lounge. Artistic expression vibrates through the core of his being, a passion that in recent years has resulted in vivid photographic work and startling collaborations, his latest being Zenith City Lines which will be performed at The Underground on November 22, 23 and 24.

Ed Newman: After leaving your position as president of Como Oil & Propane you chose not to seek another job in the corporate sector and focused on your passion for photography. How did you first become so smitten by this desire to do photography?

John Heino: I was an aspiring artist before I was a photographer. As a freshman art student at UMD, I discovered fine arts photography and was immediately hooked. I'm a walking advertisement for the horizon-expanding value of the "Introduction to Art" course.

EN: Photography is usually perceived as a solo avocation, yet many of the projects you have become involved with (such as 3N6D, Red Interactive and your upcoming Zenith City Lines) are collaborations. Where does this collaborative spirit come from?

JH: In college, I developed a zeal for performance art and the unpredictable power and glory of creative minds rubbing against each other in some sort of aesthetic framework. With Zenith City Lines it was much more pragmatic. I can't dance. And, even if I could, it would be almost impossible to get a leap shot with a timer.

EN: Your nature photography work is riveting. Can you share a few secrets here as regards what you do? It is obviously more than just having a good camera.

JH: The two critical aspects are mindset and enough photographic expertise to be an orchestra conductor of light.

The mindset I recommend is receptivity and anticipation to capture whatever comes your way. Some shooters are very intentional and walk around with a picture in their mind's eye of exactly what they want to photograph. That's never worked for me. If I'm fixated on some ideal, I tend to miss the gifts all around me. I like to get to a location a good 45 minutes before sunrise and spend a few minutes relaxing and noticing what the universe is showing me before I ever click the shutter. When you attain that sort of Zen state of mindfulness, the images tend to rush at you from every direction. You just need to capture the ones that really move you. Most of the time, they will move others, too, because human wiring is pretty consistent when it comes to beauty.

Anyone with a cell phone camera can wander down a trail and get lucky. But to consistently get great images, you have to get as many things working in your favor as possible. The best light for landscapes is going to be the 1/2 hour or so on either side of dawn and dusk. For wildlife--especially to freeze flight or other motion--the best light is usually going to be mid-morning to mid-afternoon. And you'll need some open sky, not bulletproof clouds.

You don't need an expensive camera, but you have to understand how it works to maximize available light. For example, if I had my choice, I would always shoot at ISO 100 or lower because the image is virtually grain-free even in low light. But when motion is involved, like a bird in flight, you have to boost ISO high enough to get a shutter speed fast enough to freeze action.

I could write a book on the technical aspects of light and digital photography, but hundreds of others have already done that. I'm not a technical fanatic, but I advise any aspiring photographer to learn enough about your camera's capabilities and photographic techniques to get comfortable using light to your advantage. Eventually, the technical side becomes almost automatic and that frees you to pay more attention to composition and the finer points of capturing whatever delights your eye.

Tomorrow we'll share Part II of this interview and delve into John's current project, Zenith City Lines. Here are a few more shots that demonstrate why John Heino's work is capturing our attention.

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