Q & A with Stock Photographer Scott Stulberg

We got the chance to talk with Scott Stulberg about his journeys in the professional world of stock photography. Find out how he has adapted to industry change, who has inspired him and more as you read below. We think you'll enjoy what he has to say!

A lot of your work features fascinating people in far-off places. What have you learned from connecting with these people?

Traveling to some pretty exotic places since I was about 13 years old has definitely given me a different perspective on life.  I remember spending the summer in Spain when I was about 15 and I have never experienced the camaraderie that you can have with people your own age and a completely different lifestyle that you are used to from your home city.  You sort of grow up fast and realize that the whole world beyond your little comfort zone is really so much bigger than you could have ever imagined.

But then venturing off to distant places like Burma and India, or even Africa, and that is when it really hits home that we really have it pretty sweet back in America.  Spend a little time  seeing how people live in some of these far-off lands,  it really makes you realize so much about yourself. But I also love more than anything making friends and eventually photographing so many incredible faces in these  unusual places…. and for me it has been the most eye-opening but satisfying feeling to relate to people from so far away.  I feel so at home with so many different cultures and I love sharing my images with them  even if it means coming back on another long journey to get them they images as I love the expressions on their face when they see images of themselves.

I would have to say my favorite part of traveling around the world and shooting stock and travel photography are the people I meet and the friends that I will have forever.  It happens just about everywhere though…. and I think it's the most rewarding part of what I do.

So many people go to Africa to capture the most amazing images of the beautiful animals that seem to be everywhere and anywhere. But for me… much of the time I prefer searching out those amazing tribes and I love working with them in different ways because I know ultimately,  the images  that I capture of those unique faces and their culture are the ones that really captivate me much more afterwards. I've always been attracted to people and their cultures in distant lands and it gives me a different perspective that almost humbles me.

Feeling like a brother to some of these people sort of puts me in their footsteps, if only for a few days, but it changes me forever. You are never really the same.

What do you hope to have accomplished through your photography before you die?

That is a tough one.  I think I've  actually accomplished much of what I had wanted many years ago and it makes me feel that I'm in a good place. 

If I could have, I would have been an astronaut.

I always wanted to move away from the craziness and hustle and bustle of Los Angeles,  where I was born and raised….and I watched the city never stop growing.  Living in Sedona puts a whole different perspective on so many things… and it's all good.  But I also teach a lot of photography workshops here in the United States and also around the world and that is something that I had wanted to do forever.  I just planned a new workshop to Burma, a few days ago, as I have not taken a group there in a couple of years  and I was amazed as it sold out in three hours….. so I had to planned another one because so many people were unhappy that they were not able to go. Things like that make you feel good about yourself and your photography as you feel  that others respect you and want to learn from you, and that means so much to me.  Actually teaching at schools like UCLA and even here in Sedona at the Sedona Arts Center is about as satisfying of a feeling as you can ever have as a photographer. People seem to trust you and want to learn so much from you and for me,  there is so much more than just being a photographer. Being an instructor and helping others really understand photography and understand their gear is quintessential and is what really makes me tick. 

As for what else I hope to do before I'm not on this planet anymore…. I really am not sure.  I think the one thing for sure is that I would like to visit as many countries as I can that I haven't been to  and continue my exploration of this planet.  If I could have,  I would have been an astronaut.

Meeting and hanging out with Buzz Aldrin has always been one of the highlights of my life and it doesn't get any better than exploring this world and that is what he and his two compatriots did so long ago.  Not sure I can go into space,  but sometimes I'm on 13  different planes just on one trip.  Gets pretty crazy but nothing more than I'd rather do! And I do want to throw in that Gura gear packs have made a huge difference for me…. and it feels so good to know someone has finally figured out what many of us really need. The best designed gear in the world. Thanx you guys!! You did it right!!

Who or what have you looked to for inspiration? How has that been reflected in your work?

I guess I would really have to say my father.  As far as I can remember,  he was larger-than-life but the most giving person in the world.  Although not a photographer; my mom was the photographer,  he was in the movie business and ran many movie studios including 20 Century Fox,  where he made Star Wars, Young Frankenstein  and a ton of other movies….. and growing up in the movie business is something that he tried to steer me away from.  It worked too!  And although I was always on the sets…. meeting and hanging out with everyone from Steve McQueen to Muhammad Ali… going to the Academy Awards.... even having a screening room in our guesthouse and screening the latest new releases every Friday night,  I learned that I absolutely never wanted to be in the movie business.  Growing up in Los Angeles,  it seemed like everyone thought they were the coolest because they said they  worked in the movie business.  For me it was just a big turnoff.

I think my father knew when I was only 10 that I probably shouldn't and wouldn't follow in his footsteps and he bought me my first camera,  a plastic Anscomatic.  That was a day that changed my life and I really never looked back.   And three years later,  when I turned 13,  he had a fantastic darkroom built for me downstairs in our house.   Talk about really falling in love with photography, having your own darkroom when you're that young,  and spending night after night,  immersed in chemicals;  well,  all I can say is my father really was my hero and I would always look to his approval when I was shooting or even developing my images. But my mom was pretty slick too and a nifty photographer. She was the one who really knew how to push me here or steer me there. She had the eye. Between the two of them…..  was a pretty amazing childhood. I was pretty lucky!!

But I was also so incredibly lucky to have as our good family friend while growing up, even until today,  one of the top fashion photographers in the world. His name is Melvin Sokolsky and he had been asked to join Harper's Bazaar when he was about 20 years old  and was put on staff with Richard Avedon.  He was a prodigy and having him as a friend but also as a mentor has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.  Working with him on shoots but even more importantly, sitting with him in his home  and listening to him detail his thought process on so many amazing images that he created for Harpers or Vogue or so many other magazines,  well for me…  it was really similar to sitting with someone like Michelangelo. 

Learning the importance of creativity and imagination over counting pixels was priceless. Watching his vision come to life right in front of me while  standing next to him, while he is shooting;  priceless.….. 

Even especially being his Photoshop guru but watching him use Photoshop in ways that still astound me…..  again..was priceless.  He would think of something and somehow work Photoshop to get him to his vision….. sometimes calling me at one in the morning to figure out why it wasn't working the way he wanted and how I can help him fix it.   But in his words,  he had to figure out how to end up with what was in his mind's eye.

So for inspiration,  although I've had so many great photographers that I've been able to meet, work with,  assist and even travel with all over the world,  being with Melvin and still being around him when I go back to Los Angeles has always been one of the best parts of my life.  But so many other things inspire me in so many different ways from looking at Pinterest online  to television commercials and everything in between.  And believe it or not, one of the things that inspires me the most is to watch what my students come up with when we do different shoots all over the place.  

I'm astounded at how different one is from the other and how their vision is so different. I think, quite often,  that I learn as much from my students sometimes,   as they do from me,  and I bet they have no idea!  This even goes for my fiancé Holly.  So many places that we go,  especially overseas, she is shooting right next to me and I have no idea how she ends up with something completely different than me and it just blows me away.  I'm so fortunate at times to travel with her… and to teach and lead workshops  as I get to see these other people's interpretations of what we are witnessing.

As photographers…. we all  feel that  we are taking "The Shot".     That we have it figured it out and that our eye  and then our capture is the real interpretation.  Such a great gift to witness what others do at the same time.  It humbles you and really makes you grow up an in turn, ends up making you a better photographer!

As a stock photographer, how have you adapted with the changes in technology and availability of images?

Now we're talking about a touchy subject.  You shouldn't have gotten me started.  I have taught classes in stock photography for such a long time and have so many friends that have been stock photographers forever.  All I can say is,  it ain't what it used to be.  I guess technology has changed much of it to be easier in many ways and also so much faster, actually light-years faster. But at the same time, technology… especially the digital world has made it so that everyone has a camera near them all the time.  There is no buying film,  being  careful on how many frames you shoot, developing  your stuff and then of course when we had Photoshop….. scanning it all into the computer.

But the bottom line is, you still have to have a lot of talent.

Fast-forward…. and forget about people knowing what it was like to work in the dark room…. but how about them not even knowing what film was altogether.

I've adapted seamlessly as I'm very technical but at the same time,  everyone thinks they are now a stock photographer and it has pretty much ruined traditional stock photography especially with all of the royalty-free and micro stock stuff going on all over.  Things ain't what they used to be.

I love being a stock photographer and work on it so hard almost every day and it's really helped me have a great life and I think the technological advances are amazing and it has made my life so much better dealing with agencies and art buyers.  So, there has definitely been a lot of good to come out of the tech side just as technology improves so many things in the average person's life…. but at the same time, It has made it so much easier for everyone to go out and shoot and try to become a stock photographer.  But the bottom line is,  you still have to have a lot of talent. The good agencies know exactly what they're looking for and submitting your images to them nowadays seems light years better than it used to be!!!  I love Cyber Space!!

Tell us a little bit about your book, Passage to Burma. Why Burma? Do you have any more books you’re working on?

I guess I have loved traveling to Burma pretty much more than any other country that I've ever been to  and that's why I have gone so many times  and why I do workshops there.

It is about as photogenic as anywhere I've ever been but it's really the people  and the culture that never let me stay away too long. And the landscapes…. the mind-boggling gorgeous sensory overload that you get from sunrise to  sundown…. in so many directions is just mind blowing.  But if I had to pick one thing that brings me back more than anything else… my favorite part of Burma,  it has to be the monks.  Those amazing little faces,  under those beautiful saffron robes…. with their whole life dedicated to achieving nirvana.

It's almost more than any of us can really comprehend. You are right there,  with them all the time,  and you have no idea what you are witnessing.  None of us do.  To me you really have to go back  multiple times to really truly appreciate what is going on.  That's why I spent so  much time with the monks… and their monasteries and why I have so many images of their culture in my book.

But I also love so much of the special things that makes this country so unique.  They are 90% Buddhist and about as sweet of a culture as anywhere I've ever been.  Hop on over to somewhere like Vietnam and talk about culture shock.  If you don't mind hearing car horns 24 hours a day… and people ready to run you over with their moped in a second…. then that is the place for you. Or try India for real culture shock….but make sure you bring some antibiotics!!

The respect, and courtesy and just good-natured way of life of the Burmese is amazing and I tried to document a lot of this in my book.  Trying to capture what I feel when I am in and about Burma is actually pretty easy because it's right there in your face.  One day I might be teaching English to little kids in a Burmese school with my fiancé and the next minute I might be high on a temple shooting hot air balloons drifting across a sea of temples, during a spectacular sunrise.  

I just think that everyone should never stop learning. I never do.

 I have photographed in so many countries for as long as I can remember…. but nothing really captures my imagination or my heart like Burma does.  I think that's why I love doing photography workshops there,  with small groups.  I want them to experience what I do and I love trying to expand their awareness on how to not only capture but also appreciate what they are witnessing.  To be in your favorite country…. and help others really understand how to create a compelling image…. well..it doesn't get much better than that.

I'm actually going to be working on the second edition of the book so I can't wait to shoot more stuff on my next trip.  I have so many ideas well before I even leave for overseas as you can't just wait and hope that something appears before your eyes.  I learned long ago from my good friend Art Wolfe that if you can design it in your mind,  you can make it happen, very much like art direction in the movie business.  Sometimes like déjà vu. Keep those eyes peeled and something amazing will present itself and as long as your camera is with you…you are set!!

But there's nothing like venturing out of your comfort zone…. and the ultimate is traveling overseas…

Being somewhere far, far away…..  and then coming home with some of the most powerful images of your life….well, for me,  is sort of like the holy Grail. Hard to capture some of these images in your own backyard.  Traveling out of your comfort zone….sometimes thousands of miles away…..can be cathartic. You only live once. Unless you are James Bond of course.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I just think that everyone should never stop learning.  I never do.  I'm always reading, everything I can.  anything that can help me with my photography or my vision.  I'm always on Google…always checking out Pinterest and 500px.  there are so many amazing photographers….. so many incredible ideas out there.  I learn so much and see so much  just by keeping my eyes open and in this day and age with the Internet being everywhere,  and all the knowledge about camera gear and shooting methods and settings…..   well…. life  has changed  for the better for so many of us. There are classes all over the place. I teach online at an amazing school called PPSOP, the picture perfect school of photography and it is so cool to have students in countries all over the world.

The internet has made the world so much more accessible!!

Just never stop learning.  Keep on taking classes…. and keep on pushing yourself.  I think it's the same in any business…. but for many, photography is not a business, it's a passion.  So just keep that passion strong and alive…. and never settle. And the more you shoot,  the more you will grow.  You will look at things that you photographed years ago and probably wonder what you were thinking.  How did you think that was an amazing shot?  It happens to all of us.  That's what it's all about!! That is when you realize…. you're finally understanding what photography is all about!  You are able to critique yourself…. and you will only get better and better… probably by shooting less and less…being more careful…. because you are really understanding your craft…   finally.

You can find all of Scott's work on his website and learn more about his book, Passage to Burma, here.

Q & A with Landscape Photographer Alex Mody

Alex has been putting out some amazing work recently. We reached out and he graciously accepted an offer to talk about how he got started and share some of his experienced wisdom. Enjoy!

Give us a bit of your background and how you got started in nature photography.

I acquired my first point-and-shoot camera when I was 4 years old, and I was hooked from that point forward. My photos were absolutely atrocious (some might say that about my work today!), but I just loved having a way to capture and record all of the things I saw around me.

I have always enjoyed hiking, skiing, and simply being in the mountains. As my interests in the outdoors grew, and I got my hands on a DSLR, I realized that these two passions of mine could be combined. As I slowly discovered photographers whose work I enjoyed, and many of the amazing online resources there are at the disposal of a novice nature photographer, the snowball effect began to take place, and has led me right to where I am now. I have also been extremely fortunate to have great friends and mentors in Joe Rossbach and Ian Plant.

Walk us through your creative process. What happens before you click the shutter?

When photographing, I sometimes set out with a specific subject or composition in mind, but I find that I just as often come across images spontaneously in the field, when reacting to the conditions around me. I look for decisive convergences of light, weather, and form, and make an effort to arrange them in a way that pleases the eye.

What advice would you give to the younger crowd looking to get recognized for their photography? 

I take issue with this question. I believe that if a young photographer is looking to get recognized for their photography by others, more so than they are looking to find their unique vision and create their own art, then they are most likely destined to fail. 

I’m not sure that I can give advice to the entire younger crowd, but this is what I would tell a younger version of myself:

Be patient. Nobody has become a great photographer overnight. It takes a long time to hone in your vision. You will undoubtedly return home from the field disappointed – and often. When this happens, address what you think you did wrong, remember it, and try not to make the same mistakes the next time you are presented with a similar scenario. The process of trial and error, when combined with a positive, resilient attitude, will teach you so much more than anything else.

Don’t put too much stock into the praise you may receive on social media sites. Try to build relationships with other photographers whose work you admire, and listen to what they have to say instead. Having a sound mentor or two will do so much more for your art and craft than listening to what hundreds of practically anonymous people on the Internet might have to say.

What plans do you have for the next year?

This July, I will tour Europe with my band, Vestiges. After this, I plan to head to arctic Norway for a month, photographing the beautiful mountains and fjords. In September, I head back to Olympia, Washington, where I live, to begin my final year of college. This next fall, winter, and spring, will include: photographing Polar Bears in northern Alaska, Canada’s Banff and Jasper National Parks, a brief visit to the Appalachians, and of course, photographing as much as possible near my home in the Pacific Northwest.

Talk about one of your favorite places to photograph and include an image with it’s backstory. 

 I suspect my answer to this question may change after I spend a month in Norway later this year, but for now, I have never enjoyed photographing anywhere as much as the islands which make up Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. These remote, empty islands of Scotland have absolutely remarkable coastlines and mountains, harsh weather, and way more sheep than people! Ian Plant and I spent ten days exploring and photographing there in 2012, and we had a both amazing and productive time.

Any upcoming workshops, books, etc?

I am currently in the middle of three weeks of almost nonstop private and group workshops. After this, I will focus on my personal shooting and traveling, until September, when I will lead a soon-to-be-announced workshop in the Pacific Northwest.

Using Slow Shutter Speeds for Adding Interest in your Water Shots

Gibbon Falls
A 70-300mm lens at f40, and a ½ sec exposure, gave depth and helped to isolate the pine tree from the waterfall.

This insightful post comes to us from Gura Gear pro, Joe McDonald.

One of the easiest ways to make your water shots more interesting is simply by using slow shutter speeds, which blends flowing water, ripples, bubbles, and even floating objects into a soft blur. Admittedly, some photographers hate the look, considering it overdone and something of a cliché, which might be the origin for one of the names used to describe the effect – ‘cotton candy.’ Another name for the effect is ‘angel hair,’ but don’t ask me how that name originated. Regardless, sometimes using a slow shutter speed gives a familiar scene a completely new look, and it is certainly worth exploring when you’re shooting.

When I’m photographing water I usually avoid two shutter speeds, 1/60th and 1/125th, finding that these speeds neither freeze the motion of the water sufficiently (on the fast end) or blur it enough (on the slow end). At 1/250th or faster, water, usually, appears ‘frozen,’ and depending upon the shot that might work well. Conversely, ‘freezing’ the water may add unwanted or unnecessary detail which may compete or conflict with other elements of the image.

Back in the ol’ film days photographers either used a particular shutter speed by default, or bracketed shutter speeds to insure that one or more of the images would have a pleasing look. Of course, digital photography has taken the guess work out of this, allowing you to review the LCD monitor to discern what shutter speed works best. As a general rule, the slower the better, so I’d start with 1/8th of a second or slower to achieve the effect.

Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls, Brazil at 1/4th at f20 with a 70-200mm lens, giving some telephoto compression to incorporate the distant waterfalls.

Depending upon the ambient light level, getting a slow shutter speed may require taking one or several routes. The easiest is simply lowering the ISO to the lowest setting possible, but if that is not enough then try using a polarizing filter to reduce the light by one or two stops, or a tele-converter, as a 1.4X cuts out one stop, and a 2X cuts out two stops. Or use a neutral density filter, especially one of the variable ND filters that reduce the light traveling through the lens by one to nine f-stops. I prefer to use one of the variable ND filters for the flexibility it offers. At 9 stops, a ND filter so reduces the light that the lens essentially goes black, but a 7 or 8 stop reduction provides enough light, usually, to compose. I’d recommend focusing first, then rotating the filter, reducing the amount of light only as much as is needed. That might be just a reduction of 2 or 3 stops, or it might be more.

Big Horn Sheep
We normally use fast shutter speeds for photographing wildlife, freezing water motion in doing so. Using a slow speed gave an entirely different look, although I had to shoot several .8 second exposures before the big horn stood still long enough for one to work.

Depending upon the season, time of day, or the environment, reflected color can really jazz up your images when combined with this slow shutter speed technique. In spring, as new leaves burst from their buds, calm, relatively motionless water may reflect an interesting Gator Aid lime green, while in the fall that same waterway may be colored red or yellow or orange from the reflections of fall foliage. In some canyons, late afternoon light reflecting off of cliffs may turn the still water gold, but finding these colors will depend upon your angle. You may need to walk up or down a stream, keeping your eyes open not only for the white water rapids but also the color reflected in the still areas, and on our photo tours I find that many photographers do not automatically watch for this.

Although I’m most often frustrated in my attempts, I love to try to incorporate wildlife in these slow shutter speed water shots. Most don’t work because the animal moves during the exposure, but heck, with digital, who cares? Provided the subject stays in the frame, I’d suggest shooting as many times as you can for you might get lucky and get a crisp image. I love those shots when I am successful.

Gardiner River
I walked up and down the road paralleling the river to find a spot where the late evening light striking the cliffs was reflected as gold water, and the 13 second exposure softened the rapids and ripples to a pleasing blur.

Also consider using longer zoom lenses, rather than lenses in the wide-angle range, to capture vignettes of the scene. While wide-angle images can be very effective, especially when you have a powerful foreground to anchor the scene, longer focal lengths will simplify the scene to its essential elements. A point we always stress in our workshops regarding composition is this: If you were a painter, you would add elements to your blank canvas until you achieved the effect you desired. As photographers, the reverse holds true, as most scenes are busy and complicated, and your goal is to simplify and eliminate the busyness to achieve the same result. Using a medium focal length zoom lens and slow shutter speeds may help you to do exactly that.

Joe McDonald