Hello! I'm John Barclay, ask me anything!

I am John Barclay from Bucks County PA. Originally from MA. As a young adult, my father built me a darkroom in our basement where my love affair with photography started. After many years of study with some wonderful photographers, I started my photography business in 2007. Since then I have loved leading workshops all over the world, working with some incredible people many who have become friends.

Recently I have become interested in Contemplative Photography and have found this approach to work best for me. David and I recently offered a webinar on this topic with wonderful feedback. Flint Sparks and I Co-Lead a Contemplative Photography Retreat on the Island of Molokai where we spend the week teaching and practicing these ideas.

I look forward to your questions here today! Ask me anything. Well almost anything… :slight_smile:

You may view more of my work on my website: https://johnbarclayphotography.com/

You can follow me on Instagram @johnbarclayphoto

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Hi John! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. My question: How have you been keeping yourself motivated, keeping it fresh, while staying at home?

Good Morning Alyssa,

Great question! This sure has been a unique and challenging time for so many. My business has been hit very hard as you can imagine being that we lead workshops all over the world. I’ll be honest, the first 6 weeks or so were very hard as we had to wrap our heads around what had just happened and then figure out how to survive. I am happy to say, once we figured out some things and put some new online offerings together we were able to breathe a sigh of relief. So, to answer your question more directly, I allowed myself to grieve the loss of our plans for the year. That allowed me to accept our new normal if you wil. Then I got busy with what I knew I could do and enlisted the help of some trusted friends to help me accomplish this. With regard to photography, I have been too focused on keeping a business alive to do much new work. That said, I have time to work on older images that I just did not have time for when I made the images. I have been thrilled to find so many images that I had put aside due to lack of time. I have so enjoyed the memories of what I’ve found and loved sharing them. For me is was allowing myself to confront that new normal, grieve the losses, and then choose to be optimistic and get to work! :slight_smile: Once I made the choice to be optimistic and get to work, I started to find lots to celebrate!

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John! Love seeing you here.
My question is a bit of a long one so here goes. I know we chatted about this a bit on my podcast but I’m still feeling like I have more to learn from you :slight_smile: :slightly_smiling_face:

You practice what you call contemplative photography. I personally have a hard time labeling my approach to photography and I know I take elements of this and that to piecemeal my style, which is constantly in flux. When in the field, do you find that you spend time “setting your mindset” before shooting in order to be focused on the “style” you are looking to utilize in your approach, or have you found this to come more naturally with practice? Maybe another way of looking at this or asking would be to think about how your approach in contemplative photography has evolved with practice and time. Thanks!

If you are travelling to a new location and have a week to shoot as much as you can, how do you prepare for locations, timing, etc?
Thank you,

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Hi John,
Good to see you here, or most anywhere, truth be told. I prefer everything I capture to be rendered in black and white. That said, not every subject, nor any quality of light, works well in monochrome. Your black and white images are consistently spectacular. What criteria do you use to determine if an image should be B&W, and where in your creative process do you make this determination?

Hello John, I’ve been fortunate enough to tune into some of your joint webinars with David Kingham and Jennifer Renwick. I love your take on how you think about your images and what to photograph based on what makes your heart sing. How do you go about recreating the feeling at home that you felt in the field? What are some of your post processing techniques? Would you consider doing a pay-to play webinar on post processing techniques for just high level evoking mood methods? Thanks!

Hey Matt! Great to hear from you.

I would say my approach has developed over time. It started when I realized I was not having fun “chasing” images. Then as I worked together with the likes of Chuck Kimmerle, and Cole Thompson and then with Dewitt Jones, Rikki Cooke and Flint Sparks in Hawaii, I noticed their approach was so different than mine. Much more deliberate. Much more settled. That resonated with me and I wanted more. This is when I went to Flint and asked him to partner with me for what has now become our “Contemplative Photography Retreat”. Flint is a Zen Priest and embodies its precepts. I noticed how settled he was. He was grounded, not chasing, but rather allowing. I started reading a ton about Mindfulness, Zen practice, and photography books that related. And then I stared to practice the concepts myself. What I’ve learned is, I’m not always good as getting settled. But, now I am to the point where I recognize it. And then I can gently remind myself of GAP. Grounded, aware, present. My self talk sound like this. “John, your grasping and trying too hard. Remember GAP. Slow down. Allow images to appear.” What started to happen was this. I would arrive at a location where my initial response was. Blah… nothing to photograph here. But then as I settled and listened to that self talk, invariably I would find images. And most times, more and more images. Once I had these very positive and somewhat life changing moments, it became quite clear that this approach better suits me and I was creating much more connected, interesting work. So, over time, with practice, I no longer have a “shot list.” I don’t plan before a shoot, rather I just show up open to what is presented. I am much less likely to judge or label things which is HUGE. No more great light and bad light. Just light. No more best time of the day to make images. Just responding and making images.

I’ve rambled on here… I hope that makes some sense. I’ll noodle more through the day and add as I see fit. Thanks Matt! Keep up the great work on your podcasts.


Hello Howard,

You might read my reply to Matt which will give context to what I’ll add here. I don’t do near as much planning as I used to. I would prefer to show up and be taken rather than grasp for “the” images. I am more interested in what is capturing me and paying attention to that these days.

All that said, I lead tours and workshops, so when scouting new locations, I am indeed needing to prepare for paying customers. As such, I will look at images online, from the locations I might want to add. I will then look at sunrise and sunset times, but times of the year for weather, etc. Then I will go and spend a week or so using this information to find the best opportunities for the workshop/tour.

But, again, for my personal work. I am now very happy to have someone say, “you need to shoot Bryce Canyon John, it’s amazing!” Then I do enough work to know the best time to go and go. I’ll pick up a map from the ranger and maybe ask a few questions to point me in the right direction and have at it!


Hey Mark!! Always good to hear from you my friend.

Great questions. Cole Thompson says. “Everything looks great in B&W except, paint color chips”. So there ya have it from an incredible B&W photographer.

For me, I have learned over time and experience what will be Monochrome or Color as I’m making the capture. One of the main keys I use is to pay attention to what is capturing me. If it is COLOR, then it will likely be a color image. For instance this image screams color. I did not even consider converting it to B&W.

Now lets take this image.

I knew as I went to this location want I wanted. I had scouted this prior to the workshop. Yes, there was LOTS of color on the shore, but, that was not what captured me. It was the possibility of a moody sky, nice rocks in the foreground, etc. So, it was not color here.

Another cue I use is this. If I strip away the color what am I left with? Oft times, it is the graphic nature of the image. The bones of the image if you will are telling a story built of the graphic outline of the image. That tells me stripping away color will help convey the story I was captured by.

Hope this helps Mark. Hope to see you in the future again.


Hello Alyson,

Thank you for your kind words. Always happy to hear positive feedback! :slight_smile:

Your question is very timely. I just posted an image on Instagram today that is a great illustration.

Here is what I posted.

Here is what the RAW file looked like.

Now, of course a RAW file will often look quite washed out and flat as there has not been a white or black point applied. That simple adjustment will greatly enhance most images and it did this one. But, that technique alone did NOT achieve the final result. That came for remembering what I was feeling when I made the capture. And what I remembered might not be what it was and I am totally fine with that. My mantra of “Photograph what makes your heart sing” applies to processing as well. “Process to make your heart sing!” So, in LR I will use Graduated and Radial filters a lot. I will sculpt the light in local rather than global ways. I will push my processing at times like in this example, to pull out the drama.

Yes, I am working on a post processing webinar offering. Stay tuned! Thank you for your idea of “high-level evoking mood methods”. Something to consider to make it more specific.

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John, it sounds like we’ve gone through similar situations with cancelled trips and finding an opportunity to revisit old work. I find it fun to “rediscover” images I may have never touched before as I try to update these older collections for my archive.

When you are tackling your photos from the past, how are you finding your approach to processing has changed many years later? Is it simply a case of advanced technology and your increased knowledge of processing techniques allowing you to open up new possibilities, or do you find that you are “seeing” things differently as well, which may inspire you to tackle images you may have initially dismissed?


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Are you shooting digital now and what editing software do you use.


Hi John - Thanks so much for taking the time to share your wisdom through this AMA. This question overlaps with Matt’s question a bit so I hope you do not see it as duplicative. When you are teaching people who are new to the idea of contemplative photography, what do you consider your most essential piece of advice or most helpful insight? Although I do not call my approach contemplative photography, I think you and I have a somewhat similar approach. When teaching others, it can be such a big shift and I sometimes have a hard time knowing which ideas are most important to distill down and share as priorities. Since you are such an experienced teacher, I would love to learn a bit about your approach in terms of an introduction to these practices. Thanks so much.

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John, that photo of you in front of the old church, amazing! Whoever took that photo is clearly a wonderful, caring, kind, sensitive, thrifty, obedient, brave and GREAT photographer. Who created that WONDERFUL portrait for you?


Hello Dear Sweet, thrifty, obedient, cheerful, Cole,

Why that image of me was made by a world famous photographer. I had to pay him many thousands of dollars to let me use it. His name is Chuck Kimmerle… :slight_smile:


Okay, Okay, you took the picture of me when were co-leading a tour to the Faroe Islands…

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Hello Gill,

Since switching to digital many years ago, I’ve shot Canon and then Nikon and now shoot Fuji.

I do all I can in Lightroom and then typically use Topaz Studio 2 for AI Clear, Precision Contrast and Dehaze if needed. I find Topaz to do a much better job with Clarity (Precision Contrast) and Dehaze and I I adore AI Clear for noise reduction. If I have more challenging noise issues I will opt. for Denoise AI from Topaz. Lately I have been playing with and enjoying some of the features in Luminar 4.

My best, JB

Hello Max,

I would say my approach has changed dramatically! In fact most of the fun I am having is laughing at my old processing thinking I was doing a great job!! HA! I was such a novice! And isn’t that they way it goes for most of us? We start with what we know. We learn as we go and get better. We learn some more and apply that. We live our lives and that impacts the way we see as that is what informs our VISION. So yes, my processing has changed dramatically because I have changed as a person and I have a much stronger knowledge of the tools available. While LR has gotten better with more valuable tools as have some of the plug-ins I use, it really is my approach to processing that has changed more. I have taken to heart my own advice to process in a manner that makes YOUR heart sing. Or in this case my heart sing. I feel I have a much better handle on local processing versus global processing and can now truly craft an image with processing to meet with my artistic goals.

As for seeing things differently. YES! Once again, as we grow as a person I contend we see things differently as we are more informed. I guess it is a perk of being 63! :). With this, when I am returning to 2007 as I was yesterday, I saw a lot of images where I asked… what was I thinking!!! But, I also found images I would have and DID pass over. Now with many years of experience I am looking at those 2007 images and realizing what made me stop and trip the shutter.

So a bit of both to be more succinct… I’m not real good at a few words… No comments from Cole Thompson here… :slight_smile: