Canterbury Photographic Society


John Kemp

John Kemp


In my early teens I made a crude box camera and took a few black and white images, but never followed it up. In that pre-health and safety age I then dabbled in radiography: I dismantled a gas mantle: at that time they contained thorium and were radioactive; I flattened it, and did a few contact radiographs.

From 1960-1963 I studied Chemistry and unusually (instead of the usual physics and maths subsidiaries) Physiology at Bristol University, and after graduating I borrowed my Dad’s Asahi Pentax SLR for a trip to Poland on an international student work camp, armed with two Kodachrome 25 colour slide films. I put one of my images from my first ever colour film into a national competition, won, and it appeared as the cover image on PHOTOGRAPHY magazine. And it’s been downhill ever since.

After Bristol, I spent 5 years in Manchester researching fluorocarbons at UMIST and got married. Catherine and I came to Canterbury in 1968 where we both got jobs at Pfizer. My career gave me little photographic opportunities, though I tacked on a few extra days to a business trip to America to take a look at the Okefenokee Swamp. I took an active part in Pfizer’s annual science jamboree for kids, and, at a time when photographing kids was not such a sensitive issue, got some nice photos there. (I used to run an astronomy demo, and a physiology demo. When I had my gall bladder out, I had saved my gallstones in case they came in useful, as one does. No longer allowed to do this – human tissue regulations! My demo was the isolation and characterisation of cholesterol from my gallstones. The kids helped, and ran infrared spectra on the cholesterol, which we compared with the spectrum of authentic material. Every year, my demo had the highest number of kids fainting. Too vivid imaginations, I’m afraid!)

I didn’t have my own camera till I was in my early twenties, but went in quite deep with a succession of splendid Olympus Pen half-frames (18mm x 24mm vertical format on 35mm film), ending with their Pen F SLR. I then upgraded to the full frame OM1 And OM2 cameras, which I stuck with for a very long time – straddling my retirement in 2001 – till I went digital about 2005 with Konica-Minolta then Sony APS-format DSLRs – I chose this lineage because they had image stabilisation in the camera bodies, so it works with all lenses. My retirement included three very successful total eclipse trips to India, Curaçao and Zambia, though I’m rationing foreign trips now due to the global warming issue of flying.

I sold my DSLRs (two bodies and several lenses) on Ebay in April 2018, reducing my clutter, and raising almost £1000 towards a Sony RX10 Mk 4, the world’s best point and shoot camera. I’m still cutting my teeth on it. I also have a Panasonic FZ1000, which I picked up 2 years ago as a travel camera, which I’m retaining as I always like to have a backup camera. I also have a Canon 60Da – a special edition DSLR for astrophotography, and a Chinese ZWO ASI185MC camera, a specialist piece of kit for photographing planets.

I’ve been a keen amateur photographer for over half a century, and CPS member for about 48 years. My subject matter is largely centred around my other interests of natural history, astronomy, landscape, music, town twinning, family, now grandchildren – and, I have to add: flummoxing judges too, but I DO  have a very definite interest in photography as a hobby per se. But cutting my teeth on Kodachrome slides (which is EXCELLENT training, as you have to get the finished product right in the camera) has ruined my appreciation of digital projectors (a Kodachrome slide is roughly equivalent to a 20 megapixel digital image, and projected has about 4x the linear resolution of an image projected at 1400x1025pixels).

As well as my specialities, I'm also an opportunist photographer (though there are some popular subjects that bore me stiff). I do largely what I call "pictorial record" – I very rarely do "creative" unless specifically inspired (e.g. "Gemma").

There are two attitudes to Photoshop: those that revel in it (and occasionally over-use its facilities) and those who take the view that if you can tell a picture has been photoshopped it's been done badly. I tend to the latter, though I exempt thoughtful good creative work, which I do admire and respect, from this mild censure!

Somehow, a high proportion of my output is in portrait format, but, owing to the low resolution of screen displays, I have limited my gallery to landscape format images.  Three of the last 36 submissions to my Flickr site have made it to “EXPLORE” - a success rate I'm very happy with. There are two high resolution videos on my Flickr site, including an Aurora in Iceland.

Sir Patrick Moore CHEERLEADERS - John Kemp Barytonists





*(I had read that the surface brightness of Saturn was the same as the Moon, so I reasoned that if I magnified it enough it should be possible to photograph it in daytime. Simple in principle, but actually very  very difficult to pull off. You take the lens off a webcam, put it on a tracking telescope and take a video, then select the best frames and stack them).