Growing up in Washington State, with its abundance of glorious scenery and wild places, John Shephard always harbored a love of the great outdoors, a passion that manifested itself through landscape photography. Self-taught, he took pictures for himself that often served to illustrate slide shows that he put together, while his main career as a teacher of Spanish generated the bulk of his income.
Things changed dramatically in 1998 following a chance encounter while Shephard was on a photographic assignment to cover the spring color of tulip fields in the Skagit Valley in Washington State. “I was out very early looking for the dawn lighting,” he recalls, “and there was one other person there already, who turned out to be the celebrated Australian landscape photographer Ken Duncan. It transpired that Ken was undertaking a book project that involved him shooting pictures in all of the 50 states of America and, by the greatest stroke of luck, he was looking for someone with local knowledge who could assist him.
“Our conversation turned into a type of job interview, and I suddenly found myself with a new career. It really was a moment when fate took a hand, because the experience that I gained throughout the next two years as I assisted Ken throughout the remainder of his project, covering 40 states in the process, was phenomenal. He was so giving in terms of time and knowledge and, even though I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to shoot my own pictures in that time, it helped to move me up to the next level.”
Shephard followed Duncan back to Australia and spent another two years there, starting to build up his landscape portfolio and to put together the framework for a career as a professional landscape photographer. As part of that process he went looking for a style that he could call his own, and ultimately he decided to concentrate on a panoramic approach, which he felt was particularly suited to landscape and which hadn’t been over-exploited in the US.
“I invested in a Noblex 135U,” he says, “which has a picture format of 67x24mm. I love the angle of view that it allows me to present, which I feel matches quite closely the way the eye sees a scene, and that helps me to achieve my aim, which is to produce work that allows the viewer to almost feel as though they are standing alongside me. Fitting everything that I see into a square or a rectangular format makes it much more difficult for me to express the way that I feel about a scene.
“The Noblex is quite a light camera, and one of the reasons that I love it so much is the fact that it is easy to carry around when I’m backpacking. I supplement the Noblex with 35mm gear on occasions, in the form of a Contax G2 rangefinder camera, which can be used in a very manual way. I appreciate this facility, because the more landscape photography that I undertake the less I want the camera to do for me. It helps me to work faster if I can take full control, and that kind of speed can be vital if I’m trying to capture a particular lighting effect on film.”
With his career now taking off, sales of fine art limited edition prints are helping to provide the ‘bread and butter’ income for the business, and this is an encouraging sign because it’s allowing Shephard to follow his instincts and to produce work that is close to his heart and which doesn’t have to comply to strictly commercial values.