Richard Photo Lab

Richard's Photographer Spotlight: Jai Long of Free the Bird

Have you ever asked yourself "what if?" That's the driving force behind the life and photography of Aussie artist Jai Long. In less than two years, Jai went from being an electrician to one of Rangefinder's 30 Rising Stars of 2015! Even his business's name, Free the Bird, is inspired by freeing your imagination and soaring to new heights.

Get a taste of the creativity that permeates Jai's earthy, wistful, & breathtaking photography—and every corner of his life—in Richard Photo Lab's Photographer Spotlight!

Image by Jai Long

Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?

Jai Long: I first bought a digital camera from a friend a few years back, when I was working as an electrician in the Western Australian desert. I never had any interest in photography before that, but as soon as I had my first camera, I couldn't put it down. After work, I would take out the four-wheel drive with a few friends to the beach or desert or the national parks, and I would just take photos of everything. Photography was a great hobby because I could do it anywhere and at any time.

Before the camera, I had a guitar. I played guitar my whole life and my dad taught me so much about music. Not just the chords or songs, but how to feel something from music. He taught me how to bring people together with music and how to express myself. I feel photography is a lot like music. Creating a set of images that you love is like writing a song. Often you don't even know why you are doing it but somehow it helps with so many things.

Image by Jai Long

R: Making the leap from photography as a personal passion to a paying gig is a big one... how did you decide to pursue it as a career?

JL: Photography was a growing passion, and everyday I loved it more and more. My best friend at the time would often be encouraging me to do what I love. He would always say, "We only live once, mate". He inspired me with his own passion. He raced motorbikes, and his love for racing and for life was incredible. I would sit for hours listening to him talk about his passion, and afterwards, I would be so pumped to go and push my own dreams! Also, my fiancee has always supported me and encouraged me to do what makes me happy. She is very non-materialistic and she would rather us be happy with a few wild stories then to be safe and living in our shadows.

R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?

JL: I love photographing people. I love the connection and energy I can get from someone. I feel as though when I shoot with a friend/family/model, it is more of a collaboration from the both of us—it's more then just work created by me. I find it difficult to create an image that I like if I don't have a "human element" in the photo. I like the mood that a person brings into an image. Personal work is HUGE for me, and I wouldn't do any photography if I didn't get time to do personal work.

R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?

JL: Some people find it difficult, but I think it is really easy. I keep everything creative! I run my business as creatively as possible—I love coming up with new ideas and new ways to do things that I haven't seen anyone else in the industry doing.

I also love creating new recipes when I cook diner. Or writing a new song on the guitar. I don't think being creative has to be limited to just taking photos just because you are a photographer. Everything in life can be a creative outlet one way or another.

Image by Jai Long

R: What is your favorite camera and why?

JL: At the moment, my favourite camera is of course the Pentax 67. You just have to hold that beast in your hands to understand why! You only get 10 shots per roll of 120 film, and I believe they are always the best 10 shots I have ever taken.

R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it as a pro?

JL: When I first moved to Melbourne five years ago, I started getting interested in photography. My fiancée, Leelou, surprised me for my birthday with a box full of old film cameras and film. I loaded up the Olympus OM1 with some expired film and hit the streets to take photos of what ever caught my eye! I don't think I have ever put down a film camera since. Every time I grab a fresh roll of film or one of my old film cameras, I get excited about taking a photo.

Image by Jai Long

R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?

JL: Well, a film lab is essentially responsible for the finished product of your work. So, if you want to get the result that you are looking for, you really do have to have a discussion with the lab about it. The guys at the lab are great at what they do, but they are no mind readers!

R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?

JL: I usually put on music to get me in the mood. What type of music I will listen to depends on what I am shooting. I think music can really influence the way I shoot and the final product...

R: Tell us more!

JL: I listen to everything—folk, rock, metal, hip-hop. But lately I have been loving the new Radiohead album and James Blake's new album. Those two albums have been on repeat for a while now. Also my brother is a crazy talented musician, Kyle Lionhart, and listening to him gets me pumped because I am so inspired by him living his dreams and supporting his family with something he loves.

Image by Jai Long

R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?

JL: Savory.

R: Chocolate or vanilla?

JL: Chocolate.

R: Dogs or cats?

JL: Dogs.

R: Urban or rural?

JL: Both.

R: Modern or vintage?

JL: Vintage.

R: Breakfast or Dinner?

JL: Breakfast.

R: Warm weather or cold weather?

JL: Cold weather.

R: Biggie or Tupac?

JL: Biggie.

R: Early bird or night owl?

JL: Early bird.

R: Crossword or Sudoku?

JL: Crossword.

R: Batman or Superman?

JL: Batman.

R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?

JL: Historical Non-fiction.

R: Comedy or Drama?

JL: Comedy.

R: Truth or dare?

JL: Truth.

R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?

JL: My grandparents just told me this story—when I last visited them in Norway when I was 11 years young, I told them "when I grow up, I don't need a job". I still kind of live by those words. I don't believe you need a job or a career to make money or to be happy. You can make your own way through life and look for opportunities to keep the dream alive!

I remember when I was working as an electrician before I was a photographer, I used to go to work and be annoyed that I had a job—idea's would be running through my brain everyday, and I couldn't chase any of them. Since the day I quit that job, I have made more money, had much more time to spend with friends and family, and plenty more crazy adventures then ever before. I have been able to build a few different businesses that let me live the lifestyle that I want.

R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?

JL: I always have that dream were I fly—I think that would be the most crazy feeling in the world! I don't know if I would be a super hero, though. I probably would spend all my time flying around for the sake of flying around!

R: What is your favorite word, and why?

JL: "Scrumptious" is my favorite word. It is so descriptive and fun to say!