Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with John Mancuso

Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with John Mancuso

John is a member at Tiburón Golf Club, and I got the chance to meet him a few weeks ago to discuss shooting some photos for us. He reached out and said he was a photographer. We talked for quite a while and he sent me a link to his website. I had no idea he was this good! He is modest, and doesn’t like to brag about his skills. But just look at his work. He shoots sports, automobiles, wildlife, travel… He even shoots food and aircraft. John is incredibly talented and I am honored to know him. Can’t wait to see what he can do this season as we shoot some new course tour photos for the Tiburón website. I was so impressed with his work, I asked for an interview to learn more. I just met him, but is my pleasure to introduce you to John Mancuso.

How long have you been taking photos and when did you know you had an eye for professional photography?
I first ventured into photography just after graduating college. I found a 35mm camera in a park and while searching for the owner (who I ultimately found), I decided to take some photographs. They were not the best but were enough to get me hooked.

I decided to purchase my first camera (Canon AE-1) which at that time used film. I still have it! Along with the camera I bought a handful of photography books (no YouTube or internet in those days) and then it was practice, learn and more practice!

I enjoyed taking photographs and I enjoyed the challenge of composing wonderful pictures to achieve technically and aesthetically pleasing results.

How many different cameras do you own? How many lenses?
Including my old Canon AE-1, I own five different cameras and fourteen different lenses.

Now, I confess to being a “gearhead.” I love to employ different equipment in my photography. I enjoy the technical aspects as much as the creative components.

The technology today has become very sophisticated. I enjoy learning new technologies and using them to create outstanding photographs.

If someone is looking to start taking professional photos, how would you recommend he or she get started? How much of an investment is needed to take photos similar to yours?
You have packed quite a bit into this question.

First, there is no need to invest tremendous amounts of money in gear. What is important is to determine your photographic objectives. Do you want to be a portrait photographer? Do you wish to concentrate on landscape, travel, street, wildlife or sports photography or do you simply want to take pictures of the family?

If you take the time to determine your goals you will be able to tailor your equipment purchases to best suit that specific photographic genre. The equipment you need for great sports photography, for example, is different than that needed for studio portrait work. Some equipment will overlap but if you really want to get to the highest levels you should look to acquire the most appropriate (not necessarily the most expensive) equipment.

If you are unsure of where your interest really lies then start out with a medium priced DSLR camera and kit lens and go from there.

Look, the top equipment is expensive… Especially lenses which can run into five figures! This is why you need to establish your photographic goals. You can take excellent photographs with low and medium price equipment. You just won’t be able to take the highly specialized shots (like close up photos of athletes performing in arenas or on playing fields).

In addition to the equipment, I recommend three other things: 1. Thoroughly read your camera owner’s manual (more than once if necessary) and 2. Find some good training in the basic concepts of photography. The training can come via camera clubs, classes, YouTube or internet educational sites (for a fee) and finally, 3. invest in some post processing software like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or others.

This will allow you to get the most out of your camera and your efforts. All too often people will purchase a camera and never take it out of automatic / program mode because they do not have a solid foundation in the concepts. Yes, it takes work to learn but the rewards will be worth the effort!

By the way, if you do decide to invest in high end equipment, I would also recommend investing in insurance as well.

You shoot sporting events, animals, architecture… You have a wide range of subjects. Your aircraft photos are incredible, too. What subjects do you like shooting most?
Tough question. I enjoy the challenge of capturing the photograph as much as I enjoy the creative aspects. This leads me to action photography i.e. sports, birds in flight, aircraft, or photographs of difficult subjects. It is about the challenge.

This is why I like getting into new areas of photography where I have no experience. I look to get out of my comfort zone. I did this with event photography. When people are receiving awards, for example, you don’t get a second chance to capture the moment! Weddings are like that as well; although I don’t do weddings.

You live in Naples, Florida, but I don’t see many photos of the beach/Gulf of Mexico on your website. Have you tried shooting stuff on the beach before?
You are correct. I am just not that attracted to beach photography. I really don’t know why. Occasionally, I will do something but it is not where my heart lies.

Crazy, right… Being from Naples!

Speaking of weddings, it seems every professional photographer shoots weddings. Have you ever been asked to shoot a wedding?
Weddings are a genre all to themselves. Talk about never getting a second chance. Miss that “first kiss” and you are toast! Weddings also demand a tremendous amount of time, focus and attention to detail; not to mention having to put up with all the friends and relatives! I have a great deal of respect and admiration for wedding photographers.

I have shot at weddings but not as the official photographer. As such I am careful to stay out of the way of the official photographer. It is their show so to speak.

By the way, there are many ways to look at the designation of “professional photographer” i.e. from an employment perspective, a quality and skill level, etc. I am not someone who photographs for a living. I am retired and as such can spend my time making professional grade photographs where and when I wish. Not a bad place to be!

Have you ever printed any of your photos to hang in your house or office?
Sure! In fact, there are many different media available for displaying your photographs.

I make photo books. I have photos printed on metal. I have had them printed on ceramic as well as paper. I also display them on my website.

I have three large size “prints” of my bird photography displayed on metal on my lanai.

Do you sell prints of your photographs?
I have on a limited basis. I do not have a shop or online sales structure. If someone is interested I work with them on a direct basis.

When you do a shoot, how many photos do you take before finding the perfect shot?
Again, you ask a good question and the true answer is, “it depends.”

It depends on what you are shooting, the conditions (i.e. lighting, etc.), the circumstances (i.e. an event or wedding), the genre (landscape, street scene, people), the venue (outdoors, stadiums, theaters, studio, etc.), etc.

For example, if I am shooting something with action like a sporting event or a bird in flight, I would set the camera to burst mode so it would run off, say, 10 to 15 frames a second. I would then select the best photograph(s) from this group and discard the rest. For landscapes, I might take a few individual photographs and adjust for exposure or composition as needed. The same holds for portraits. If I am shooting under conditions where there is a high dynamic range (i.e. the difference in the degree of light between the darkest and lightest areas of the photograph), I might shoot two or more photos with different exposures and then blend them together in Photoshop to get the best overall picture.

When shooting I do what is referred to as, “working the shot.” This means you photograph the subject from different angles and perspectives and later determine which perspective is the most acceptable or pleasing. You would be surprised!

The reality is, today, the digital environment makes it very inexpensive to take multiple photographs and to adjust or discard them as appropriate. As is often said, you don’t take a photograph; you make one.

I like to use apps on my phone like Snapseed and Instagram before sharing my photos. Do you use any filters while shooting or is everything done in post-production?
I do use filters when needed and appropriate. This is mostly for landscape shots (to deepen colors) or when I am trying to cut reflections in glass or other surfaces. I will also use them to lower the shutter speed so I can achieve a smoother, blurred look to waterfalls or bodies of water.

Typically, I am using polarizing or neutral density filters. I will, of course, work the photo in post processing as well.

I’ve taken a lot of photos at concerts over the years. Have you had the chance to shoot any concerts over the years?
Concerts are a real challenge! The lighting is the big issue. Concerts are often dark which requires: slower shutter speeds (increasing the possibility of out of focus shots), higher ISO or sensor sensitivity (introducing more grain into the picture), mixed lighting (which creates white balance issues), faster lenses to capture more light (they cost more).

I have shot performances like a circus, small shows at jazz clubs, and acrobatics. I haven’t shot large mega concerts.

Again, for me the enjoyment would be the challenge of obtaining good photographs in extremely demanding conditions.

I’ve included a small gallery below, but where can people learn more about you and see more of your photos?
As I mentioned earlier, I have a website. This is a great place to see my work and learn a little about me. Interested people can also contact me directly through this site. I would be happy to answer any questions about my work which they might have.

It looks like you’ve visited to some pretty iconic locations internationally. Are there any places you desire to photograph that you haven’t had the chance to visit yet?
During my business career I had the opportunity to travel to over forty countries as well as live overseas and yes, I did have the opportunity to photograph some very interesting places and people.

While there are still a few places I would like to visit (e.g. parts of Italy, Iceland, parts of China), there are also places I would like to return to in order to obtain some additional or better photos of the sites I have already taken.

International locations aside, there are a tremendous number of venues right here in the U.S. which I am looking forward to visiting… Many of the national parks, for example. I have visited a few but not nearly enough!

What’s next for John Mancuso?
I look at my photography career as one of continuous improvement. I am drawn to this field because I believe there is always something new to learn or someone to learn it from. I continually seek to improve my techniques, learn new genres and develop improved skills with software as Photoshop, Lightroom and other products.

I would like to gain more of an entrée into professional sports photography. I have truly enjoyed photographing professional golf events. I would like to do more of that.

I can’t thank you enough for doing this interview. I always enjoy learning about an artist. In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
Well, Ricky, thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed, to explain a little about myself and my work, and to reach your audience in some small way.

Your questions have been very insightful and thought provoking. I enjoyed answering them. I wish you great success with your blog and your work at Tiburón.