In Person: The Celestial Photographer, John Novotny

The secret to great photographs: “Nothing comes easily. Mastery comes with time, hard work and effort.”

The Chapel at Franciscan University of Steubenville  All Photos Courtesy of John Novotny

The Chapel at Franciscan University of Steubenville

All Photos Courtesy of John Novotny

By Carrie Gress

I met John Novotny a couple of years ago when I was taping a TV show at Franciscan University of Steubenville. I could tell almost instantly from his accent that he was Canadian and as we drove from the Pittsburgh airport to the Steubenville campus, his story unfolded.

Novotny, who is the creative director of video production at FUS, moved to work in Ohio while his (American) wife and children are still stuck in Canada, wrapped up in unending reams of red tape. Their situation has been further complicated when one of his daughters and his wife came down with auto-immune diseases. Despite these very real challenges, Novtony’s work continues to shine. In between shuttling back and forth to Canada, Novotny is taking remarkable photos of students, staff, the sun, and the stars in Steubenville and beyond. The Ohio Valley has never looked so good.


GRESS: Tell me a bit about your photography background and what brought you to FUS?

NOVOTNY: Previously, I worked for the parks service in Alberta, Canada, the equivalent of a state park system in the U.S. I was able to hone my skills as a photographer for five years, all I did was shoot video and photography on various projects. I spent two years as a contract commercial photographer just before joining Franciscan University.

GRESS: I have dubbed you the celestial photographer because of your use of light. What is your secret? Or your approach to taking amazing photos?

Filming Chris Stefanick

Filming Chris Stefanick

NOVOTNY: I'm humbled and honored by your title. My skill in using natural light comes from shooting over 500,000 photos outside, perhaps over a million if you include time-lapse photography. It seems I've developed an instinct for the best locations and compositions early in a shoot. My first shots are often the best. Nothing comes easily, mastery comes with time, hard work and effort.

GRESS: How do you see your faith play a role in your work?

NOVOTNY: I work very hard to try to create something great for Franciscan University, sometimes I succeed. I try to instill that attitude in my staff at Franciscan. We serve something far greater than ourselves. We are involved in a culture war with ever more alarming implications and thus it is vital that we present the truth and beauty of the Western and Catholic tradition to the best of our ability. One of my favorite quotes is from St. John Paul II, in his Letter to Artists: "Through his artistic creativity, man appears more than ever in the image of God."

Please keep John and his family in your prayers.

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Scroll through the gallery to see more of Novotny’s work