We had the good fortune of connecting with Claudia Johnstone and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Claudia, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I started my photography business after the company I worked for went out of business. The silver lining was that this unexpected change gave me the opportunity to reevaluate what I wanted to do with my life moving forward. Although I have a degree in architecture from Germany, photography had always been a passion of mine. Since I had already been contemplating starting my own business anyway, I decided to go for it and embrace this change! Talk about making lemonade out of lemons…
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
As a visual person, I have always had a deep appreciation and passion for art, design, and in particular, photography. I constantly find myself inspired by my surroundings, which may be the reason why I usually prefer doing shoots on location rather than in studio. Working on location usually brings out the best in me. It is interesting to see how improvisation sparks my creativity in an attempt to stay true to the subject in their environment. Inspired by my architectural background, I love to incorporate lines, shapes, and textures into my compositions; along with light and shadow as natural elements of photography. If my photos have one mission or purpose, it’s to evoke an emotion, whether it’s with portraits of people or pets, for editorial, commercial, branding or personal use. While I am experienced in a variety of genres of photography, including corporate headshots, events, lifestyle portraits, landscape and architectural images, I have a special place in my heart for pet photography, in particular dog photography.
My black Labrador, Dutch, a.k.a “The Best Dog in the World,” was such an important part of my life, that he instilled in me a deep understanding of the love and special connection humans have with their dogs. Dutch was more than just my beloved dog, he was also my muse and inspiration! My early photos of him gave me the epiphany and confidence to pursue my professional photography journey. The photos I took of him still bring back this warm, loving feeling. Sadly, he passed away in 2016, but he is outlived by my love for him and the many photos I captured of him. In fact, I’d like to think that his memory and influence on my photography lives on in every photo I take…
Over the years, I have continuously grown as a photographer and small business owner. I started as a mere hobbyist, then took a job as a school photographer, assisted a number of photographers in the Valley, took a variety of classes, watched a lot of YouTube videos, volunteered, and in the meantime I found a group of mentors and fellow photographers, many of whom became amazing friends and associates. Phoenix has a wonderful supportive photographer community, which has been extremely helpful to me on many occasions.
Networking is so important in any business, as is volunteering for something you are passionate about. It goes hand in hand really. Besides Kids in Focus and TEOE, I also volunteer for DLRR, a local dog rescue group. I have fostered over 20 dogs for them, including three diabetic sisters (which we called “The Sugar Babies”). I have also designed their annual calendar for the last 10 years to raise funds. It’s definitely a labor of love, and I am grateful I can give my time to them. One of my biggest lessons and breaks came about five years ago, when I was asked to participate in a live photography contest. I was initially hesitant, because risk taking is not necessarily my strong suit. Eventually I agreed, which was the best decision I could have made for my professional career. I ended up winning the contest, landing an internship with a local publisher. I have been photographing for So Scottsdale and Uptown magazines ever since. My work there began with a couple of shoots per month, to shooting most of their monthly assignments, including covers (see image), fashions spreads and special features. It’s a great team to work with, and I’ve met so many amazing people through these photoshoots, have improved my skills tremendously, and have developed a personal style for my environmental portraits. My most exciting photography project in 2020 came in the form of an assignment for the City of Phoenix in collaboration with the Phoenix Women’s and Arts & Culture commissions. I was chosen to create portraits and videos for a series called “Phoenix Herstories,” celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and women’s constitutional right to vote.
Over the summer, I was honored to photograph 31 female local influencers who were selected because of their civic engagement and leadership within our community. It was an extremely important project to me personally, because the main reason I decided to pursue my U.S. citizenship was to gain the ability to vote. Unfortunately, due to COVID 19, we were not able to go through with the planned exhibit of the images and videos. However, the work can be seen on their website: www.phxherstories.org, and was also projected on the Found:RE hotel’s exterior display wall for the month of September. Hopefully later this year we can do the exhibit at Phoenix City Hall after all. Fingers crossed, and stay tuned for updates.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Being originally from Germany, I often have friends and family visit me from Europe. I absolutely love showing them around my new home state. For longer tours, I usually like to do the Sedona, Grand Canyon, and Las Vegas round trip. I feel that it covers such a variety of different landscapes and experiences, with its wide open land and the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon, to the contrasting busy life in “Sin City.” On the way up North, we usually stop at Montezuma Castle with its Native American cave dwellings – I love the calmness this beautiful place instills in me; next we are off to Sedona to visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross which is nestled perfectly into the red rocks. It’s a stunning architectural achievement, which makes my architect heart jump with joy. 🙂 After a stroll in Sedona and a yummy lunch break at one of the many restaurants with some great views, possibly some hiking, the journey continues along the 89A via Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. Ideally I like to spend the night in one of the park hotels at the rim in Grand Canyon Village. They are pricier, but in my opinion so well worth it. Especially if you want to be there for sunrise. This unique natural wonder is always one my favorite places to visit in Arizona. Same goes for all my visitors, whom I’ve taken there. The next day, we continue our trip to Las Vegas, stopping in Williams for lunch. This quaint town lies right by the iconic Route 66, and definitely has kept its charm. I usually try to stop by at a shop called Open Road Cowboy on Route 66 and 3rd St. When you enter this quaint store, which offers custom leather work, knives, cowboy hats etc, you feel like you took a trip back in time, entering a store from the Wild West era. Definitely worth a visit! After lunch, it’s off to Vegas, baby… 😉 I can only take so much of the city that never sleeps, but it is a nice break once every couple of years. It’s such a unique city, that it’s definitely worth a visit, even if it’s just for a night or two. Going back home via Wickenburg gives you another beautiful scenic ride with its beautiful joshua trees along the road. There is something quite calming about driving on these desert roads… Much more relaxed than the Autobahns in Germany. Haha… If you go the other direction between Wickenburg and Wickieup, you can also stop at “Nothing,” an old rest stop, which only has a boarded up run down building and a weathered sign left. Kind of eerie, but quite cool. Sedona, Jerome and Prescott are great for day-trips. Watson Lake with its boulders is absolutely breathtaking and another one of my favorite places in Arizona. Toward the East, you have Tonto National Park, the lakes around Salt River are amazing, as is Superstition Mountain. If you’re lucky you get to see the wild horses! Cave Creek with its Wild West feel is also usually on my list of places to see with visitors from Germany. I tend to not go South as much, probably because the temperatures are usually similar to Phoenix, so for a break, I tend to go North. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to see in places like Tucson or further South in Tombstone. There is definitely a lot to explore in this state. Yep, I simply love living in Phoenix!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Wow… Where do I start?! I’ve been extremely fortunate, because I have a lot of wonderful people in my life who have inspired, helped or influenced my career. There are those amazing friends and people who believed in me from the start and have seen me grow on my journey. Naturally these friendships are and always will be extra special to me. If I have to narrow it down to only one person, it would be my friend and mentor Karen Shell. She is a local commercial photographer and hired me as her freelance assistant for a couple of years when I first started doing photography professionally. I was able to use my organizational skills in helping her with office work, but I also assisted her on a variety of photoshoots and with retouching work. Besides the technical know-how, I also got some great insight into what a successful photography business looks like. To this day, she is a trusted friend whom I can check in with for advice. In 2013, I also got involved in Karen’s wonderful non-profit organization called Kids in Focus (www.kidsinfocus.org). It’s an amazing program where we mentor vulnerable youth to give them a “new lens on life.” Karen also introduced me to a local non-profit called Through Each Other’s Eyes (www.teoe.org), which I was super excited to become a member of a few years ago. Besides local charity work, we organize exchanges with photographers from other countries to experience and capture different cultures firsthand. The exchanges culminate in exhibits of the photographers’ work in both respective countries, in the hopes of better understanding and appreciating the plethora of diverse cultures all over the world.
My portrait (personal photo) was taken by Gérson Lopes. All other images were taken by myself: Claudia Johnstone (www.dasfotohaus.com)