Focal points Photography

Focal Points: Archived

From 2010-2011, I published a photoblog on the Chicago Tribune’s blog network ChicagoNow. Entitled ‘Focal Points,’ the purpose of the blog was to showcase the beauty of Chicago by traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood and publishing photo sets of each. 

The idea may, at some point, be resurrected and reworked, but for now, you can find a full archive of the blog and its photos here under the Focal Points category.

Chicago General Photography Theatre

This week in thankfulness

To start with I want to wish everyone a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

I’m visiting NY for the weekend to see my family and reflecting a bit right now I’m thankful for a lot. I’ve switched to part time at my retail job and I really have started to find a good work / life balance. I turned 29 on Saturday and had an awesome party with awesome friends. I can’t express enough how important and awesome my friends are. Thank you everyone. This has been a great year. What I am thankful for going forward though are exciting projects. If you know me, dear reader, I’m not happy unless I’m doing a million things at once, here is what is going on right now:

  1. I’ll be working with dynamic improv duo Batterymouth to promote their upcoming run Fridays at DeMaat Theatre at Second City from Jan 21st – Feb 25th. So far we have one publicity photo ready but there are more on the way. In my eyes Batterymouth is one of the best kept secrets of Chicago theatre and I’m very excited to be working with them.
  2. Speaking of comedy… Long Pork is still going strong. The Gentlemen are hard at work on their next show which is set to debut at the Chicago Sketchfest on January 13th 9:30 pm. Also they’ve been invited to preform in the Charleston Comedy Festival for which they are super excited and honored.
  3. Still doing the ChicagoNow thing. Yesterday I published a photo set of Wrigleyville during last Saturday’s Northwestern vs. Illinois Football game. You can check that out here. Tomorrow I’ll be publishing a holiday gift guide for photographers so check back then.

That’s all for today friends. I hope you all enjoy your turkey dinners!

Focal points Photography

Development in Style

Things have been busy lately in all good ways. This experiment of going part time at Apple while attempting to build my photo business has been exactly what I needed for my sanity, business future and sleep schedule. Where things are going is still a bit unsure but sure enough there has been no lack of interest, my schedule is almost as busy as it was before, except now I’m getting to actually work on projects instead of just watching them pile up.

Taking more jobs I’m starting to experience a transition in my work, I’m starting to grow creatively. I’ll elaborate in just a few.

First off I am still working with ChicagoNow and my photo blog Focal Points, although admittedly I don’t publish as much as I’d like to. I’ve got some exciting ideas to freshen things up over there (and here) and I hope I’ll get the chance to share them with you. It’s just a matter of time before I figure out the right way to do things.

My latest entry about my visit to Blue Island I think is my favorite so far. Blue Island was full of grit and decay and realism. The stuff I’m attracted to and really the purpose behind that blog, it has sort of a purest’s angle. Here is a sample shot.


Speaking of ChicagoNow on Tuesday they had their monthly tweetup and I was the official photographer you can find those shots on the ChicagoNow Staff Blog. Here is a shot from that.


Pretty different right? Obviously both in subject matter and approach. Walking around a party with a flash is still a new experience for me. I spent pretty much 2005-2008 refusing to use anything but natural light / room lighting because I think it requires you to hone your craft. For a long time I was averse to shooting with flash because of the effects it causes when used improperly. I also feel like people who heavily use flash photography tend to be annoying. I usually prefer to catch people in the moment than to get people posing.

However I’m at a point now where I feel like I’ve done enough work pushing the Apertures and ISO of my camera and lenses that it may be time to learn something else. Also, the nature of shooting weddings and events are requiring me to move to using flash. So far so good, already my opinions on the subject are starting to change. We’ll see where this leads.

Now that I’ve done all that talking about working with flash I’m going to show you a picture shot without it. Here are my friends Austin and Allysa at my friends Evan and Shama’s wedding.

© 2010 John Morrison - subism

I still prefer this look to any other, there is a softness to natural light that just feels more human to me. I’m often told that I’m more a photojournalist than an editorial shooter and I’m not sure how I feel about that. My preference is to make something feel real, that captures a moment… that by nature sounds like photojournalism but I’m perfectly fine with that moment being faked or set up as well. I want my photography to be believable.

If there is one thing that I’d say that grounds most of my work it’s that.  Realistic beauty. Even when if it’s faked I want the viewer to feel it in a real way. Some would say this holds me back, I think it makes me better. Every tool, every trick can be used and overused. This is sorta why I shy away from HDR photography. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very often beautiful (my friend Megan does particularly good work) but more often than not it’s overused until an image has no depth, no black and no white at all, things become just overblown over-saturated messes of photos. It’s walking that line that makes you skilled, using something in moderation and creating something beautiful is the right way to go.

When I do use it I try not to over-use it.

© 2010 John Morrison - subism

Some might tell you that photo isn’t “true HDR” because I actually have black and white points. I would tell them to go frak themselves. HDR is a tool like any other.

That’s sorta the same way I feel about flash. Now, this is not a knock against studio photography. As photographers many of us are obsessed with light and the fact we can control it for our artistic expression is the equivalent of cavemen learning to harness fire. It’s not something I’m taking for granted, however in this day and age there is an obscene amount of editorial / studio photos that look the same in boring ways. I don’t want to be like that.

Every model on every magazine cover is made up like crazy, lit to death and then photoshopped back to life. I don’t want to do that. I’d like to walk that line and find that balance to create something that is exciting while being somewhat real. I think that’s how I’ll stand out… my editorial work will be informed by journalistic / natural style.

A major influence on my work has been Clay Enos. Clay shoots entirely with natural light and works in Lightroom to do everything else and it’s those restrictions that make him better at what he does. By confining himself creatively he inherently becomes more creative.

The thing is I don’t want to be Clay either. I love his work but there are things I don’t like about it either. I want my own style. It’s just a matter of finding exactly what that is. I think the last few years have taught me well. Now it’s time to learn some new toys and continue to find a balance.


General Photography

Diving In…

Three years ago I moved to Chicago in what seemed to many like a random decision. I had gone through a rough patch in NY where I realized I had been doing the same things in the same places with the same people night in and night out since 7th grade. The weird part though is I had a job I loved working for Apple, but I could not get past the fact that I was working in the mall that I had been going to every day for as long as I could remember living in suburbia. I needed to change something and Chicago offered the perfect opportunity to make a clean break.

I was able to move out here and not only keep my job with Apple but get promoted as well. In the last three years I’ve grown immensely, made amazing friends, traveled extensively, started taking improv classes, started working with Long Pork and really started to build my photo career with the launch of my ChicagoNow blog and a few new clients.

The only down side? It worked too well.

Moving out here has been liberating beyond my expectations, but I find myself so busy pursuing my passions that sleep and friendships suffer due to it. I also find myself turning down photo and design work I’d like to be doing due to conflicts with my full time hours. Three years into living here I once again have found myself in need of a change.

Effective next week I’ve decided to step down from my full time role and leadership responsibilities at Apple and into a more limited part time hours.

This will allow me to pursue my passions even further, recover a semblance of a social life and maybe, just maybe start sleeping again. There is a lot of traveling planned, for starters Long Pork and I are driving to NY next week for Sketchfest NYC at the UCB Theater. I am also going to finally get certified to skydive this year.

Last week on Friday Sydney Owen and I head out to the Chicagoland Skydiving Center to go for a tandem jump and enroll ourselves in the certification program. It’s going to be an interesting summer.

While I’ll admit I am nervous about what I’m leaving behind I am really excited about the road ahead. More to come soon.

Focal points Photography

Wrigleyville: The Training Wheels of Chicago

So, if you caught me on ChicagoNow Radio on Saturday you may have heard me mention I live in Wrigleyville. You may have even heard me refer to it as “the training wheels of Chicago.”

As much as I love to trash on my Lakeview-community-by-the-field I have to confess: I do love it here.

I moved to Chicago in May of 2007 after an epic hunt for apartments that had me flying out from New York three out of four weekends in March. When I finally settled down in a place, I had found one I loved.

The truth of the matter is the neighborhood isn’t that bad. The truth is I am a baseball fan so there is a certain magic and energy to me in living so close to the field, but at the same time I’m just far enough away that I don’t have to put up with the majority of the craziness.

If you can get past the craziness on Clark Street, Wrigleyville has a lot of hidden charm and I plan to showcase more of this as time goes on. What follows are some of my favorite shots I’ve taken of Wrigleyville, most of them have never been published before.