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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Florida Explored

In his home state, John Moran found his true photographic love. He never tires of the visual possibilities and the varied wildlife and landscapes

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A crab defends itself from Moran’s camera in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
“That’s an occupational hazard, to be sure,” he says, “but I don’t worry too much about alligators. This falls in the realm of what researchers call a low-probability, high-consequence event, but the hazards here are very real. I’m reminded of the saying, popular here in the South, that you’ve got to be tough if you’re going to be stupid.”

Moran is full of wonderful quotes and sayings, many of which he picked up during his long career as a newspaper photojournalist in Gainesville. Taking pictures is the only way he has ever earned a living, holding just one job throughout his adult life.

“As an accidental consequence of showing up for work over a period of 23 years,” he says, “I was witness to more of the panorama of daily life of north-central Florida than anyone alive. It was quite extraordinary to be the visual historian for our community. Shooting nature developed early on as a sideline hobby of sorts. Though nature is part of ‘news,’ I did most of my nature photography on my own time and freely shared those photos with the paper.

Shooting west of Key West. Sublime images like these are plentiful in the Sunshine State, and so is the fauna and flora.
“In many ways,” Moran continues, “nature photography was the antidote to the stresses of being a daily news photographer. I never lost my passion for making pictures, and among the photographers whose work I most admired generally are those who aren’t waiting for an editor to hand them an assignment. I was never at a loss for ideas and pictures that I wanted to go out and make. It reminds me of that saying, that writing is easier when you have something to say. And there’s so much that I still have to say with my camera about my love affair with Florida.

“From the earliest days of my work as a nature photographer,” he says, “my style has been shaped by my background as a newspaper photographer. I learned early on to make pictures that are compositionally strong, devoid of extraneous detail and can read well even when reproduced dinky on crappy paper. I appreciate that the average newspaper reader spent about one and a half seconds looking at the average newspaper photograph, and so I welcome that challenge of hooking viewers in a hurry and giving them a reason to linger a bit longer on the page.”

One of the ways Moran engages his viewers quickly is through the industrious use of lighting via off-camera flash. He’s a true gearhead, and working for the newspaper, he learned how dynamic lighting could boost the drama of a scene more often than not. So he carries that same philosophy into his nature work to this day.

“Lighting is key for the impact,” he explains. “Great photography is largely about great subject matter, but beyond that, it’s about the intangibles of the connection that the viewer makes based on the drama of light, subject matter, composition… I’m a guy who, early in my career as a newspaper shooter, routinely set up four electronic flash units on light stands and clamps to photograph high-school basketball games. I’ve always wanted my pictures to look like they were shot by someone who took seriously the craft of photography. I work with flash and alternate light sources a lot, and doing so on film over a period of many years generated about as much anxiety as it did success. I love shooting digital. The ability to instantly review our pictures makes it so easy to experiment and be playful with light.


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