Photographer Johan Bos: ‘I stay open to anything that catches my eye’

Johan Bos is a multi-award-winning photographer, filmmaker and graphic designer based in Seattle.

He grew up surrounded by photography and became hooked from an early age. He now has over 20 years experience in the field, and his work has been published in the likes of Forbes, Psychology Today and Entrepreneur Magazine, accumulating hundreds of millions of views, worldwide.

In this interview, he talks to us about his work, his retouching process and why he made the switch to Affinity Photo.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into photography?

My father was a photographer in the city of Bremerton, WA. He had a darkroom and at an early age, I would watch him work. Eventually, he began teaching me the darkroom processes. I was thrilled when he gave me one of his older cameras, a Rolleiflex. That was all I needed, I was hooked! My next camera was a Minolta XD-11. That camera travelled the world with me. Over the years I’ve shot tens of thousands of photographs gaining knowledge and experience along the way.

How do you feel that you’ve grown as a photographer since you first started out?

As a new photographer I was primarily concerned with the technical aspect of photography; exposure, focus and so on. As time went by I began realising the importance of understanding light. Knowing how light creates different moods like calm and serene, dramatic or exciting is vital. I encourage new photographers to study light, indoor, outdoor, day, evening and various angles. Experiment!

“As time went by I began realising the importance of understanding light. Knowing how light creates different moods like calm and serene, dramatic or exciting is vital. I encourage new photographers to study light, indoor, outdoor, day, evening and various angles. Experiment!”

What does a typical day in the life of Johan Bos look like?

When you have a certain number of credits and accomplishments attached to your name it’s assumed every day is an exciting shoot. However, reality is that most of my days are consumed with marketing myself. It’s a necessity. Cataloguing and archiving photos is another. There’s no point to having a great photograph if you lose it or can’t find it. Also, I try to produce at least one usable photo a day, not always accomplished.

What photography equipment do you use?

I prefer Canon EOS gear, however, I have a Sony and an older Pentax. Each camera has different characteristics. For example, I often use the Pentax for landscape scenery.

When I’m out and around town, I will often shoot something that interests me with my phone camera to simply analyse the light. If it looks right I make note of the place and time of day and return with my Canon.

Tell us about your latest project ‘People. Places. Things’.

Whenever I go out with my cameras I never have anything specific in mind to shoot. I stay open to anything that catches my eye like colours, light and shadows, out of the ordinary people and often things that are always around us but seldom noticed. ‘People, Places and Things’ is a collection of my personal favourite photos from my archives of the last 10 years. I realised that each photograph fell into one of these three categories and so came the project’s name.

What do you hope people take away from viewing these photographs?

I believe photographs do many things. Spark a memory, conjure up a dream or fantasy, entice a smile or touch one of the many human emotions. If my photographs do any one of these I feel it’s a success. It’s great if a photo simply causes us to appreciate nature. I also hope that my work would inspire others to pick up their camera. Digital has given us the luxury of shooting unlimited pictures, so keep clicking, you can always delete the unusable.

“I believe photographs do many things. Spark a memory, conjure up a dream or fantasy, entice a smile or touch one of the many human emotions. If my photographs do any one of these I feel its a success. ”

How did you discover Affinity Photo and what inspired you to start using it? What do you like most about the software?

I’ve been a long-time fan of Serif and on a regular basis watched for new products. Even though I used several of the Serif software I seldom used the photo editing software until Affinity came around. It was impressive from the start. It includes everything a photographer from beginner to pro needs. I’m also impressed with the ease and convenience of the operations. It allows me to concentrate on the creativity of my work instead of having to focus on an overly complicated operation. I now use it exclusively.

What are your typical post-production steps for retouching your photographs?

The camera doesn’t see things like the naked eye, it needs retouching to bring the photograph to a place where it actually looks like when I viewed it live. I first use “selective colour” to adjust each of the RGB and CMY values of each of the individual colours. Then I adjust the whites, neutrals and blacks. I then follow the typical retouching process; fixing flaws then dodging and burning. My father taught me “the best friend of a good photographer is his dodge and burn skills.” Black and white is altogether different. Simply removing colour from a photo doesn’t make it a striking B&W. You need to think in tonal ranges, adjusting the colours to give you contrasting tones and mid-tones, then remove the saturation.

How do you go about getting your name out there/attracting new clients?

That’s the 64 thousand dollar question. I consistently look for places to display my work and name. Some efforts pay off, some don’t. You never know which will or won’t, so I try all legitimate avenues. Networking is also important. I don’t view other photographers as competition. Many of my successes have been collaborative efforts.

You also run photography workshops and lectures. How did you get into teaching and what do you like most about this side of your work?

I began teaching when I was requested by a local college to teach a colour correction course. I found that I enjoyed it immensely. What I enjoy most is teaching photographers to think like a photographer and use the software as a tool and not the creator. The software is there to enhance and extend the creativity of the artist.

“What I enjoy most is teaching photographers to think like a photographer and use the software as a tool and not the creator. The software is there to enhance and extend the creativity of the artist.”

What achievement are you most proud of in your photography career and why?

I apply my photographic skills to other types of media as well, for example, graphic design and filmmaking. I have had several films broadcast on national television and have won several documentary awards. I contribute this success largely to experience gained through my practice of photography. This being the digital age where media plays a large role in our daily lives, photography can be applied in many ways. A photo I’m proud of is my photo of the little girl with a blue dress in front of a window. It has been published several times and has accumulated hundreds of millions of views, worldwide.

Do you have an all-time favourite photograph? What makes you so fond of it?

It’s the photograph of the marina with the boats. My family and I have spent countless hours there. My children are now grown and those days are passed, but the memories are many and precious.

Is there a ‘shot that got away’ that you wish you had managed to capture?

Mt. Rainier. It’s near where I live and it’s not often that it is visible and with the right light. Many photographers have made great photos of the landmark, but I have yet to get one. The mountain and I are in a battle, me trying to get a great photograph, and the mountain trying to elude it. It’s the shot that continually gets away.

Finally, what advice would you give to photographers who are just starting out?

Learn your camera well, it doesn’t matter which camera system you choose. Study light. Study it during all parts of the day and in all sorts of weather. Notice the shadows. Don’t let your creativity be determined by other photographers but let your own feelings dominate. Use the software eloquently, letting it assist you in bringing out the emotion in your photographs.

Johan Bos

You can see more of Johan’s photography on his website and learn more about his workshops here.


Spotlight editor
As editor of Affinity Spotlight Melanie oversees the stories, interviews and tutorials published on the site. Outside of work she enjoys travelling, reading crime thrillers, Pilates and dabbling in a spot of oil painting. Get in touch with Melanie if you would like to contribute or be featured on Affinity Spotlight.
Credits & Footnotes

All images are copyright of Johan Bos and used with permission.