Focus on the Photographer - Johnny Bambury

This time around we have the legendary Johnny Bambury. Johnny is an amazing photographer specialising in a wide variety of areas with a spectacular flair for commercial advertising and food photography. He was also one of the presidents official photographers for his state visit to the queen in 2014.

Give him a follow while you are on his socials. So here we go......

To Start... How did you get into photography?

My dad was a photographer, but I had no interest as a lad except to accompany him on road trips when he would head off to record some National Monument for the OPW or photograph paintings in Grand Houses or the National Gallery. I had applied to Bolton Street Tech to study Mechanical Engineering after my leaving cert in 1970. While I was waiting, my mother had passed away and my dad sent me to London to visit a cousin for a week. I was fascinated by the multi-cultural life and used to meet for a lunchtime pint in The Tipperary Bar in Fleet Street. At that time it was still the centre of the Newspaper Industry. I decided to stay a while and got a job as a B&W printer. I was there a week when I was headhunted by a Co-Op of photographers called FotoCall International. The ‘Interview’ took place over a few pints of Guinness at the bar in the Tipperary! I was hooked immediately. Never got to Bolton Street, but I got to go everywhere else.

Is there any one particular persons work that has influenced you most?

Not really, but I got great confidence from weekend road trips with my dad and his mate Brendan Doyle who was the photographer at the National Museum. We would do 4 or 5 trips a year with the me squashed into the back seat surrounded by cameras and lenses, map reading  and searching for decent pubs to stop and natter. Usually it was the Antrim Glens, The Burren or West Kerry/Cork. We all used to meet, along with Bill Doyle for a slide show, where each of us would bring 12 35mm slides and a few of our best B+W prints that we had taken and we would have a mutual appreciation critique, I found that very helpful at the time.

What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?

How good I was when I was a young fella! Confidence gets a hammering working as a freelance photographer. You only ever get a complaint!

What gear do you use and why?

For 50 years, I only ever bought what I needed to get the job done, I never bought something unless I could make it pay its way. Nowadays I am using a Canon 5Ds, with a Canon 5D Mk 4, both with battery grips. My lens collection are a 40mm F4, 24-70mm 2.8, 70-200mm 2.8, TS-E 24mm Tilt shift and a TS-E 17mm Tilt shift. I don’t photograph sport and I don’t photograph wildlife, so it has been a long time since I had anything longer. I told someone recently that I zoom with my feet…

In the glovebox I keep a Fuji X-Pro2 which is set on B&W red filter, with a 16mm 2.8 and a 55-200 4.5/5.6. I carry that on travels abroad (I love wandering Venice)and to Classic Car events.

When I go abroad to Classic Car events, I might load my two old Leicas, a 1950 11c and a ’39 111 with Tri X and shoot a bit, but not so much these days.

Have you a favourite lens (or ‘lenses’)?

I could happily shoot all day with the 70-200 set on 2.8…For 20 years I had two Nikon F2’s hanging off my shoulder with a 20mm 2.8 on one and a 105mm 2.5 on the other. Travelled thousands of miles all over Ireland and the British Isles, the Highlands of Scotland and about 10 road trips to Italy and France with nothing else, Tri X in one and slide film in the other. Over 20 years ago, I went thru about 20 Olympus Mju 11’s, as pocket cameras. I loved them, great lens and unburstable. I kept giving them away whenever a friend or client started a sentence with, ‘my son/daughter wants a camera, what’s the best camera in the Wo….’. 

Is there one piece of camera equipment you wish you hadn’t bought or never use? Why?

I never had the wherewithal to spend money on something I didn’t need. I had 3 kids and a mortgage and spent all my spare cash on foreign food and travel to anywhere a Ferry could bring me. I had the desire, but if I wanted to try something, I would buy it 2nd hand or at a Camera Collectors Fair in London. Between my dad and I we had 39 Nikon F’2’s! We would see something interesting and one of us would say, ‘Jaysis, I wouldn’t pay that much for a car’ and we would tell some poor salesman in our favourite camera stores to let us know when some wealthy amateur would trade last years model for the new GT or Mk11 version and we would have a very lo-mileage unused Whatever at a reasonable price. 

Do you take any essential items other than a camera and lens on a shoot with you?

It used to be a hip flask if we were spending the day wandering the Burren! Nowadays I can’t go anywhere without a good book to while away the time while I wait for the client, cloud, rain to pass, or whatever!

Have you got any 'favourite' settings?

Don’t tell anyone, but I love 7.1, you will probably have to ask my therapist what that’s all about!…. and wide open, I once had a Canon Pellix with a 50mm 0.9, but I don’t like 50mm’s!

What do you use for post-processing and what’s your workflow like?

I’m a luddite. Or ‘Old’ as my partner Joanne says, so I took a long time to get my head out of the darkroom and onto these new fangled digital camera yokes.

Because I spent 20 years trying to get 36 individual, perfect exposures out of a roll of Ektachrome or Fujichrome, I can shoot very accurately, so don’t ever find myself struggling to ‘fix’ a diabolical exposure. I edit rapidly and caption on FotoStation and switch to Bridge to process jpegs and Photoshop to edit RAW. I am grey/blue colour blind, but If I really want to impress myself, I ask Richie Hatch to tell me how bad my process is.

And if it wasn’t in the frame when I exposed, I won’t add it later. Except for one time, sometime I will tell you all about a ‘swan’ that appeared in an early morning Cavan lake image over a pint! And I also crop in camera! If it’s in the frame, it’s supposed to be there.

Have you a favourite photo and if so why is it your favourite?

I can pick about 20 that I took between ’68 and ’78 taken when I was fearless. They were all B&W taken either with a Leica 111c and 90mm Elmar or a Nikon F2as with my 20mm or 105mm.….. But they live happily in my memory, everything I shot up to 1978 went up in smoke in a fire in Limerick. So naturally, they are all awesome images. 

I have 3 B&W’s of the Aran Islands hanging in our new dining room, taken in the early 60’s by my great friend Bill Doyle. It took me 40 years to get them off him and they arrived 2 years ago, 20 years after Bill passed away. I love them, they remind me of my dad, Brendan Doyle and Bill Doyle and magical trips and conversations over pints after long days shooting and wandering hi-ways and by-ways. 


Any final words of advice or wisdom?.

Be kind to strangers, stop and help someone in trouble and do a good dead every day. Be happy. And read. 


If you would like to contact Johnny or talk to him about an upcoming shoot or purchasing a print you can contact him through his instagram below.

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