God of small things: Herts macro photographer Jon Russell
PUBLISHED: 11:43 25 July 2017 | UPDATED: 13:13 25 July 2017
Fascinated with the small and often hidden, Jon Russell uses his macro lens to bring the details of nature and manmade objects to the fore. Sandra Smith enters the Berkhamsted photographer’s little world
For a photographer who values opportunities to capture the beauty of landscapes and woodland suffused in early morning light, Jon Russell’s subjects do far more than showcase the best of Hertfordshire’s countryside. His macro figure scenes – tiny figures engaging with a human-scale world – prompt smiles while intimate observations of plants reveal glimpses of nature in microscopic detail.
At his Berkhamsted home, where Ashridge is ‘on our doorstep’, the 38-year-old struggles to recall the trigger for his ‘little people’ collection.
‘I don’t quite know how I got into that! I think I saw some photos with small figures in everyday situations and bought about 20 packs of 35mm models. For the beach scene I played around with the idea of actually going to a beach and taking them on the sand. But then I thought the wind would cause a problem and the environment wouldn’t be right. I used demerara sugar as a substitute and tried various locations in the house with differing light conditions, ending up on the kitchen table. From initial set up to composition and production took me most of a day.’
These engaging and amusing images are just one element of Jon’s macro portfolio. Using a Canon macro lens he takes close up shots of plants – honing in on shape, colour and texture. His images often reveal details inaccessible to the naked eye.
Minutiae, such as a water droplet balanced on a flower and the convoluted edge of a cyclamen leaf, all point to a longstanding appreciation of nature.
‘For the first 18 years of my life I lived on the coast. I was always interested in gadgets and was always the person taking photos at an event. After university in Southampton I moved to London which I loved at the time. Then I lived in Richmond where I started rediscovering the countryside – I hadn’t realised I’d missed it. I’m more appreciative of where I live now. Hertfordshire is a great county geographically. Five minutes from a town centre such as Hemel Hempstead and you can be in countryside. I have a massive love for trees, they are very peaceful. I can quite easily walk into woods and lose myself.’ Although largely self taught, attending a course a few years ago educated Jon about the importance of light and identifying composition. This knowledge has given him the ability to spot those moments when favourable conditions create atmospheric images.
‘Light is best early morning or at dusk. The weather really shouldn’t matter because light can change in the blink of an eye. This morning I went to Piccotts End. I like doing that, getting out and looking. I quite often walk around for a while and absorb the atmosphere, get a feel for the day, before taking photographs. If you have in mind an image you’re trying to find, you’re setting yourself up to fail because you might not get it. I’ve done that in the past and felt disappointment. Now I just go out and stop when I see something. The best images are often when I’m on my way somewhere and catch something out of the corner of my eye. Then I stop, turn round, and take the photo.’
Such spontaneity extends to trips abroad. In New Zealand Jon recalls being able to point his camera ‘virtually anywhere’ and capture a good photo. He also appreciates the clean air and sunshine of Greece which guarantees crisp images with vibrant colour – though monochrome is an occasional choice.
‘If the image is a very clean two tone, then black and white is more powerful,’ Jon explains. ‘I shoot photos in Raw which allows me to play with the white balance, saturation and highlights within Photoshop.’
Although taking up to 250 photographs at a time, these are quickly assessed before deciding on one or two with which he is happy.
‘For me, it’s similar to glimpsing an image before I see it. I know what I’m looking for – the emotive part of a landscape, that’s what draws me. If someone likes an image and they buy it, that’s fine, but I’m also happy to share images for people to see. I’m exploring where I want to be.’
Currently juggling fatherhood and a career in IT, his long-term ambitions are unwavering: full-time photography, exhibiting and to be part of a collective of landscape photographers. Meanwhile, enjoy this quietly spoken man’s images. I suspect inspiration from Hertfordshire’s terrain will be the foundation on which Jon Russell’s achievements are built.