07.15.2022 John Stambaugh

The Great Outdoors

John Stambaugh

Hi there, I’m John Stambaugh, I’ve been making films full time for over 6 years now. I’ve traveled all over the world for work and my clients have ranged from wedding couples and local small businesses to touring musicians and international businesses, and lots in-between. I currently pay my bills in Kansas, but don’t spend much time at home.

The majority of my work in 6 years of filmmaking has been in the wedding industry, but I love every opportunity to expand my skill set in other fields. I hope you’ll follow along with my journey as I continue to grow. My first creative loves were landscape photography and astrophotography because I love the outdoors and traveling. The Pacific Northwest of the U.S. is probably my favorite location for creating. 

In the breezy peace of open-air locales, John Stambaugh creates a string of intimate portraits. Brisk and crisp, X-H2S facilitates a process defined by organic interactions and heartfelt exchanges

Charles Lindbergh once said that ‘real freedom lies in wildness, not in civilization’. Lost in the boundless expanse of nature’s handiwork, John Stambaugh is a regular dweller in that unshackled space – crafting an idiosyncratic portfolio of wedding snaps and movies, candidly fashioned amidst lush, rustic settings. Untarnished by digital distractions, it’s a fertile breeding ground for his art. Here, he records the dynamics of couples criss-crossing the ups and downs of love. 

“Telling those stories in the outdoors, that’s where my heart lies,” he says. “We want to do that in an unaffected way. Natural environments create honest, unadulterated connections.”

In this context, the ‘we’ refers to John’s long-running partnership with wife and fellow collaborator Liz. Balancing married life with artistic endeavors, a demonstrative link binds the two together. It’s the ideal predisposition when dealing with the many subtleties of coupledom.

“We have a fantastic relationship, and the clients we work with recognize it – that’s really important. Couples interact more fluently when they understand that they can be themselves, and I think a lot of that has to do with the relatability of another duo, present during the whole process.”

Photo 2022 © John Stambaugh | FUJIFILM X-H2S and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/250 sec at F2.8, ISO 800

Where there’s mutuality, there’s reassurance. Working with a fellow couple encourages a free-flowing, forthright response, as does the richness of the scenery at play. It’s a blend of these aspects that characterizes John’s body of work.

“I love things that are real and tangible. Kindle just doesn’t smell the same as a book. There’s no sensory understanding. That desire is there in my life, constantly – expressions of the real,” he explains.

“When you explore what I’ve done, I hope it’s always a faithful representation of the landscape. Those we work with – they find value in the backcloth they choose to pursue in their session.”

Photo 2022 © John Stambaugh | FUJIFILM X-H2S and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/50 sec at F5.6, ISO 800

Informed by the ways in which humanity and nature interlink, John takes a stance against the ‘connected’ paradox of modern times, and how a complacent attitude can corrode meaningful associations.

“I believe that humans are generally connected to the world at large. It’s ironic, we live in the most sociable times, but observationally, some of the loneliest,” he observes. “There’s a distinct lack of unprocessed connection. In my work and life, I’m aiming to change that. More people need to get outside and experience these wonders, preferably with the people they care most about.”

Adopting this philosophy for his latest video project, John chose his subjects carefully. Discounting trained professionals, he eventually opted for Adam and Ashley – a real-life couple facing a crossroads in their marriage. The rawness of circumstance provided an authenticity that matched the intent of John’s initial concept.

“I didn’t want a hired set of models. It would have been meaningless,” he reasons. “Beautiful content, but superficial. By telling a real story, I think people identify.

“These guys were confronting a juncture. They’re moving home at present, back to Kansas. I was the videographer at their wedding, around two years ago. This film was an opportunity to provide a capstone to the newest chapter of their lives.

“It was a creative decision – I knew their correlation with this place would be meaningful. It’s been a time of transition. They’ve had to endure all sorts of struggles, supporting each other through various adversities and hardships. The strength of their bond is what made these pictures work.”

Photo 2022 © John Stambaugh | FUJIFILM X-H2S and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/80 sec at F6.4, ISO 800

It would be easy to scoff at the sentimentality of John’s depictions, but there’s a sincerity here that refreshes.

“There’s no shortage of cynicism or skepticism in the world. We tend to be short on faith, hope, and love,” he says. “When you’re able to create that feeling in a genuine way, it’s so important. Sentiment tends to be discomfiting these days. We should all embrace it.”

It may be unapologetically romantic, but at the same time, unorthodox cinematic techniques materialize throughout John’s short – offsetting expectations with subversive flourishes of intrigue. Images are overlayed and reversed, communicating a sense of imperfection that counterpoints the film’s tender focus.

“The transitional elements are drawn from my appreciation of cinema, and its history. I really enjoy the analog process – the flaws and blemishes are built-in, much like any real relationship. When we digitize things, they become smoother and dreamier than reality. Using transitions like these lets the film feel. It’s supposed to jar. It’s a more interesting style that hopefully disrupts your idea of what a wedding/relationship film should be. Not everything needs to crescendo to a happy ever after.”

  • A couple affectionately press heads on the coast of Portland, Oregon
  • Pasty, spindly trees stretch upward on the coastline of Portland, Oregon

Photos 2022 © John Stambaugh | FUJIFILM X-H2S and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F2.8, ISO 800 | FUJIFILM X-H2S and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/500 sec at F2.8, ISO 400

Taking place in Portland, Oregon, John employed X-H2S. An aforementioned love of celluloid was a causal factor in his choice of kit – the equipment had to parallel the tactility and perceptiveness he wanted to convey.

“My love of film isn’t too dissimilar from my love of all things genuine. It certainly informs my color palette too. The earthy, grainy tones are something that the Pacific Northwest has in spades, but I needed a camera to bring that to life.

“I’ve always loved Fujifilm’s ability to replicate the filmic look. Whether it’s the simulations or the advancements in F-Log, the dynamic range was an amazing benefit. The HDR of X-H2S competes with high-end cinema cameras. When you have ProRes and 14 stops, you can rest assured that the end results will compete, at a fraction of the price.”

Photo 2022 © John Stambaugh | FUJIFILM X-H2S and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/30 sec at F5.6, ISO 800

Operating in harsh, unforgiving environments, John found this addition to X Series a resilient match for the elements. Pairing it with the weather-resistant FUJINON XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, he relied on linear motor AF capabilities when fashioning these moments, keeping his subjects focused and clear. IBIS permitted an off-the-cuff, handheld approach – forming the very basis of what John’s work represents.

“I never use gimbals or stabilizing equipment. I want to feel the environment, so I’ve always got the camera in hand,” he confirms. “When you see movement happening in the end result, you acknowledge the user – the creative behind the lens. If the wind is blowing in the trees, I think the camera should correspond with that movement. At the same time, the footage shouldn’t be unusably shaky or blurred – that’s where the IBIS and auto-focus components were invaluable.”

Photo 2022 © John Stambaugh | FUJIFILM X-H2S and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F2.8, ISO 800

“When it comes down to it, I could go on and on about the techy specifics. Recording 6K video at wide focal lengths was so useful, knowing that I would be able to magnify those shots if needs be. The speed of that stacked sensor was also handy when we started moving around. It allowed me to be more instinctive.”

As well as appreciating the more impressive specs, John offers his reasoning behind Fujifilm’s permanence in his ventures.

“In the end, I place a lot of value on the intangible aspects of using a camera. I find other brands uninspiring in that regard – Fujifilm’s interface is simply a joy to use. I can’t see myself switching.”

Far from perfection, the beauty of the natural world exists in spite of its shortcomings and limitations. Love is much the same, and in the eye of John Stambaugh’s X-H2S, the photography reflects just that.

Photo 2022 © John Stambaugh | FUJIFILM X-H2S and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F2.8, ISO 800

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