Meet Jo Knight, who lives and breathes photography: her love of wildlife and landscape led Jo to develop her award-winning fine art composite creations…
Why and how did you get into photography?
My Dad used to be a keen fell walker, but in his late 70s he started having mobility problems and couldn’t get out. I’d adopted a little dog and saw lovely wildlife and landscapes while out on our morning walks, so thought I’d buy a camera to take pictures of the things I was seeing simply to share them with my Dad. I bought a 3rd hand camera off eBay but had no clue how to use it, so after months of taking terrible pictures in 2013 I joined my local camera club for help and the rest, as they say, is history.
How did you become an Olympus photographer?
Most normal people who had no experience of photography would just buy a point ‘n shoot – but not me! I thought if I bought a ‘proper’ camera I’d take the fabulous wildlife images like I’d seen on Instagram – turned out to be a tad harder than it looked. However, I have tiny, child-sized hands, so when I was looking for a DSLR I opted for the smallest one I could find, which was the Olympus Four Thirds E-series. I started with a 3rd hand E-450 off eBay but hadn’t realized I would need image stabilization which it didn’t have, so after 2 years I traded it in for a 2nd hand E-520. Then two years ago I saved up and bought a brand new E-M1 Mark II.
What subject do you most often take photos of?
My first love is wildlife, but it is very time consuming and I am stupendously busy, plus I live in the Lake District and it rains here for much of the year, and being outside for hours in the freezing winter was miserable. So I turned the tiny spare bedroom of my cottage into a make-shift studio and started taking portraits – often of myself as I’m the only person available at 7pm on a Sunday night. I then began marrying the two together and a passion for composite fine art was born.
How often do you take pictures?
I take my E-M1 everywhere with me and often take snaps while out walking my dog, as I never know when I might need a background or a bird for one of my creative images. In fairness I live and breathe photography, whether that’s actually taking images, putting composites together in Photoshop, giving talks, studying new techniques, or helping fellow members of my camera club by doing Photoshop workshops.
What’s in your camera bag?
My ‘simple’ bag is my E-M1 Mark II with a spare battery, a lens cloth and two SanDisk Extreme Pro memory cards. Plus a Manfrotto BeFree travel tripod as it’s light enough for me to carry, the M.Zuiko 75-300mm II telephoto lens for wildlife, and the M.Zuiko 40-150mm lens for background shots.
On a longer day out, I’ll also take a remote shutter release, the M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro lens, a polarizing filter and some ND filters just in case I need them, my little camouflage bag hide and a stool to sit on as I have a chronic pain condition and can’t stand for long periods.
What kit’s essential for your preferred genre, other than cameras and lenses?
As I predominantly do self-portraiture my tripod is essential, as is a wireless remote shutter release – the E-M1’s ability for me to set the self-timer so that I can position myself, then take multiple shots with a set number of seconds in between is invaluable. I also use continuous indoor lights with large rectangular softboxes.
Who or what inspires you?
Gosh, where to start?! There are some fine art photographers I hugely admire, such as Brooke Shaden, Andrea Hargreaves and Sharon Prenton-Jones who have been beacons of creative light in the composite genre which often isn’t widely accepted or recognized. But mostly I find inspiration in the world around me – from simple walks with my dog, to politics, my passion for both animal and women’s rights, conversations with my friends and just my own life experiences. The world is beautiful, challenging and limitlessly inspiring to me.
What keeps you busy, other than photography?
My parents are now both elderly and I am the main carer for my disabled Mum, which is very time consuming. However, if I’m honest, photography dominates my leisure time and I don’t think I’ve picked up a book in six years! During the pandemic I’ve been speaking to various organisations all over the country via Zoom which has been a joy, in addition to starting and maintaining my own photography website and the website for my Camera Club.
Do you shoot in Raw or JPEG? (and did you change – and why?)
I’ve always shot in both RAW and JPEG for each image, which is easy to do with Olympus. I can quickly and easily see the JPEGS on my laptop so that I can upload to Facebook and discard the rubbish shots, leaving the larger, detailed RAW images to be worked on for competitions and prints.
How do you know when one of your images is good – what do you look for?
For my wildlife images I generally know when I’m taking them whether they will be good or not in terms of composition, lighting, how close I am to the subject and consequently how sharp and detailed the resulting image will be.
Composites are totally different, in as much as I put them together in Photoshop. I probably give up on eight out of ten of my creative images as they don’t work, so when a picture comes together effortlessly I just know it’s going to be good.
What’s your workflow like?
As a creative fine art photographer, I always start with a concept which I mull over in my mind to become a detailed picture. I then shoot for the image, starting with the background shot or texture, then moving on to the secondary subject which might be a bird or animal, before ending with the primary subject which is usually a person. I then transfer the best images to a folder on my laptop and open Photoshop. I start with the background shot, then add all the other components before working on blending them together to look like they were all taken at the same time in the same space. It’s time consuming but hugely rewarding to see a creative image which only existed in my head come alive on the screen.
How much editing do you do after you’ve taken your photographs?
Loads! With creative fine art you spend as much time in Photoshop as you do actually taking the images.
What do you do with your photos once they’re finished?
When I first started out I used them predominantly for camera club competitions. In 2017 I began entering international Salons and also used my prints for various photographic distinctions such as the DPAGB and EFIAP. More recently I’ve exhibited at the London Photo Show and been accepted into the PAGB Masters of Print exhibition, as well as branching out to global competitions which led to a Fine Art Photography Award recently with my first ever Series ‘Solitary Confinement’. During this past year I’ve used my pictures in motivational talks and have also started selling prints online at the Saatchi Art gallery.
What’s the best feature of Olympus kit?
There are so many, but if pushed it would have to be size and weight. I’m only 5ft 2” and because of my pain condition couldn’t carry around a heavy camera or huge lens.
What’s the most useful piece of photography advice you’ve ever heard?
I have been very fortunate to have had lots of help and support in terms of my photography particularly as a beginner. But I can honestly say that the advice I gave myself to be fearless and do what I loved and was passionate about, regardless of whether anyone else liked my creative images, has been the most useful and ultimately led me to the success I enjoy today.
Aside from photography, what do you wish you were really good at?
I’m dyslexic due to a brain injury from contracting meningitis in my twenties, so I wish I could spell properly as it’s something I’m often criticised for when writing my blog and emails!
If you could only have one lens on your camera, which would it be?
Gosh – these questions are hard! Probably the 40-150mm, as it’s so versatile and I could maybe use a converter on it to achieve my wildlife close ups.
What’s next on your wishlist, kit-wise?
It would absolutely be the new 150-400mm PRO lens, which would be phenomenal for wildlife photography.