“Jack of all trades…”
Hey everybody! I can’t tell you how happy, excited, anxious, intimidated, honored and humbled I am to be today’s guest blogger! When Scott asked me to do this a few weeks ago I was speechless. It truly is great to be here today.
My first question to Scott was… who am I following??? ;-) I will say that it worked out perfectly for what I want to talk about that I am following the incredible post by Mike Olivella from last week. Mike’s specialty in sports photography, and the fact that he has so many other shooting talents as seen on his website, will bring home a point I want to make in just a little while. So, great job, Mike!
My thoughts on what to write about have gone in a multitude of different directions but they always come back to some basic points… creativity, learning and teaching. How can we, as creative people, learn as much as we can from others and also teach what we know to help others? My inspiration to write about something like this rather than a photography “how to” lesson was a quote I read recently in a book my friend, Bill Fortney, gave me…
On Writing Well
by William Zinsser
“If you consciously write for a teacher or for an editor, you’ll end up not writing for anybody. If you write for yourself, you’ll reach the people you want to write for.”
It’s a great book and I totally recommend it. (Don’t take this blog post as evidence that I finished the whole book yet!)
So, who is “the other Scott”? (as I refer to myself when corresponding with “Mr.” Kelby) I am one of those “jack-of-all-trades” type of people that just loves to learn something about everything. In thinking all the way back to my high school days I realize that I have always been a part of various groups that really don’t have a direct link to each other. I think a good number of you may totally understand what I mean by this. What this means to me these days is that I absorb so much information from so many different sources that I have become more well rounded which is very useful in many situations.
I remember my first photography experiences being with a Kodak Disc camera (remember those???) when I was in fifth grade on a field trip. I just found a couple of those pictures recently, too! Very funny! Then my dad got a Minolta SRT-SCII camera with a really great 50mm lens and I used it to take pictures for the eight grade yearbook. High school wasn’t a photographic time for me… I had discovered “Heavy Metal” the summer before going to high school and it was all about learning how to play the guitar after that. (more later on this one)
Besides going to college for a couple of years, the first real career path I took was to go to school for Audio Engineering at the Institute of Audio Research in NYC. This was a very intensive, technical school where the students were primarily creative rather than technical people. If you didn’t use both sides of your brain here you were in trouble. The technical knowledge it takes to make the creative process flow in a recording studio is very difficult. If you think about it, is photography really any different? You need to be strong technically but think creatively to really produce something great. This is where the music industry and the photographic industry really parallel each other. You really could record the most beautifully produced, yet crappy songs ever in a recording studio or the most technically correct exposures with the worst composition with a camera. It’s all part of the left brain/right brain balancing act that we deal with on a daily basis.
I got back into photography after realizing that the audio industry is just too weird! (And the photo industry isn’t???) I was living in Florida and doing photography on my own quickly realizing that I needed to go somewhere to take my photographic knowledge to the next level… or three! I enrolled at the Southeast Center for Photographic Studies at Daytona Beach College (Check out the Southeast Museum of Photography). This is a great photography program with the most dedicated photography teachers. I was required to shoot more than I had ever shot before, think more creatively than I had ever thought before and learn more about photographic technology than I had ever learned before. This was right before digital photography became mainstream so it was color and black and white shooting and printing, 35mm, medium format and 4×5 view camera shooting and studio lighting with portraits and commercial work as well.
Since this was officially my third round of attending college, and my newest career choice, I was older than most of the students there by a few years. I was 26 at the time and I had one path in mind… get in, learn as much as possible, get out and find a job. I realized that what it would take for me to make it as a “photographer” was to be professional and to produce solid work with a quick turnaround time. My good friend there, Jason Quast, would labor over a single print in the darkroom for hours… I would print everything I needed for my assignments that week in the same amount of time. Now, don’t think that I sacrificed quality for time, I just knew that I was not quite as much of a perfectionist as Jason was. It was just a different way of looking at things. Besides, I needed the extra time… I worked at a camera store and had to sell cameras to pay the bills!
While I was in school for photography I saw on the bulletin board one day a small sign that read, “Disney Institute Internship – $5.00/Hour” and a phone number. I had overheard some of the other students talking about how they wouldn’t work for that kind of money… and, “Who do they think they are?”… and other unpleasant comments. This went on for a few days and I decided to call the number. I got what Disney calls an “audition” which required that I create a thirty minute, basic photography class and teach it to a group of Disney Institute “cast members”. I now realized that the most important class I had in college wasn’t any of my photography classes… it was the dreaded public speaking class that I took. This was one intimidating group!
(On a quick side note… The Disney Institute was a resort at Walt Disney World where guests could go to take classes in photography, cooking, animation, radio and television and a bunch of other stuff. Unfortunately it was only open from 1996 to 2000.)
So, after I finished my audition it took a full year to become a photography instructor there… but it paid $20 per hour instead of the advertised $5 per hour! I was very happy that I had called that number… and I couldn’t believe this… not another person from my school even bothered to call! Talk about a missed opportunity!
The Disney Institute was one awesome program! I was there for three out of the four years it was around. We taught classes in Travel Photography (at Epcot), Outdoor Photography (at Animal Kingdom), Photo Storytelling (MGM Studios) and Candid Portraiture (at the Disney Village Marketplace). We were very fortunate to be supported by Nikon during this whole time. Everyone who attended a class got to use a full Nikon setup for the day. At the time is was a Nikon F100 body, three lenses including a 60mm Micro, a Speedlight with an SC-17 cord. Pretty cool gear to use for the day. That support from Nikon was invaluable.
A couple of times a year we would have special events where we would bring in big name photographers and technical representatives from Nikon Professional Services to assist about 125 guests with a week long photography experience. What a great opportunity it was to meet such well known photographers as Eddie Adams, Jay Maisel, Galen Rowell, John Netherton, Moose Peterson, Dan Cox, Steve McCurry, Pat O’Hara, Bob Krist, and Senator Howard Baker (a guest of John Netherton’s).
In observing and talking to these great photographers I learned a lot and came away with some memories that will last a lifetime. I want to take a moment to share a few with you.
While walking through the Magic Kingdom with the group, I was talking with Bob Krist and asked him why he thought that some of the guests were off shooting on their own and not hanging with him and picking his brain for ideas. He said that maybe they might be a bit intimidated and he could understand why. He pointed to Jay Maisel and said, “How do you think I feel when I’m around Jay? I feel the same way.” That really put it in perspective for me.
Speaking of Jay… that same day in the Magic Kingdom it was raining off and on so a lot of people were wearing those bright yellow Mickey Mouse rain ponchos. We sort of lost track of Jay and then saw him on Main Street taking pictures of a little girl with big blue eyes licking a blue lollipop with the yellow poncho on. The overcast light was just making the colors pop and she had the best, expressionless face just staring at the camera. Jay then told her parents to write down their address and he would send them a copy. He was shooting slide film so that meant they were probably going to get an original slide from Jay Maisel of their daughter! Well, these people didn’t really know who he was and kindly said “no thanks, that’s okay” to him. I quickly pulled out a pen and a pad and told them that they really needed to do this and then explained to them who had just taken pictures of their daughter. So, they wrote down their contact information and Jay turns to me and says… “Hey Scotty, here’s a lesson for you.” He snaps a picture of the piece of paper and hands it back to me and says, “Now I don’t have to remember where I put that piece of paper.” Then he just starts walking and looking for the next shot. I wonder to this day if they got that picture and what it looks like. I’m sure it was great. It was a very cool moment.
If you knew John Netherton you know that you couldn’t meet a nicer person. He passed away a number of years ago but he taught me something very valuable. We were walking through what used to be Discovery Island at WDW (before the Animal Kingdom absorbed the animals from Discovery Island), and I asked John why he wasn’t carrying a camera with him. He told me that he was there to teach people how to take pictures and not to be taking pictures himself. So, carrying a camera would have been a distraction and he wanted to have his full attention on the guests of the program. Now, that is a good teaching lesson and I think about that every time I miss an opportunity for a shot but I know that I’m helping someone get that shot themselves. I don’t let those missed opportunities bother me because of what John said to me that day.
Finally one of my most memorable, and humorous moments was when Moose Peterson entered a room full of light tables to critique slides that the guests were shooting. Now, you have to remember that this is Disney and there is a certain level of Disney-correctness that I, as a cast member, had to adhere to (although it really is starting to wear off over the years!). So, Moose comes in the room and there are just slides loaded for editing all over the place. Moose starts looking over the slides and then proceeds to flick them off of the light tables with his index finger and says, “sucks… sucks… sucks…” with each flying slide! Mouths are just dropping to the floor and people don’t really know what to think. I’m speechless at the moment and thinking that I’m about to get into a serious amount of trouble with my group. Then he gets to a slide and stops. He says, “Now, this one is awesome! This is what it’s all about.” The person who he was critiquing, I know, breathed a huge sigh of relief and the whole group did as well. It sure was the no BS way of getting through the editing process and turned out to be a valuable part of the week… as well as the constant running joke of, “sucks… sucks… sucks…”. And, because he’s probably going to read this, Moose likes to point out that I was his shortest lived assistant ever…. that week at the Disney Institute!
We did have a guest in that session that I see every year at either the PMA show or the Photo Plus show. Her name is Donna Bertrand and she told me that one of the best photography lessons she had was when I explained what slow sync flash was to her. I have had many of those pivotal moments myself but it sure is nice to hear that someone has had a great learning moment because of something you taught them. I really appreciated that.
So, the Disney Institute came to an end mostly because the resort itself wasn’t filling the rooms and people were taking the classes but staying elsewhere on Disney property. So, the powers that be decided to not continue with this one-of-a-kind place, unfortunately. It was sad but it did lead me to where I am today and a position with Nikon Inc. (I’ll come back to this one…)
“Becoming a teacher…”
As you can probably tell so far, I love to learn from everyone. It wasn’t until I realized that I could make some extra money teaching guitar lessons back in the mid to late 80’s that I realized that love teaching so much. Maybe it came from the fact that I took guitar lessons for all four years of high school from an excellent guitar teacher. It’s one thing to play well but it’s a totally different thing to teach someone to play well. Isn’t this true for just about anything including photography? Isn’t that why you are all reading this on Scott Kelby’s blog? He’s an amazing teacher…
I met one of my best friends, Matt, through a drummer we both knew. The very first day I met Matt he had just heard on the radio Whitesnake’s song “Still of the Night”. He listened to the song and then instantly learned how to play it from memory. Now, that is natural talent there. I had already been playing and taking lessons for five years so I knew, for the most part, what chords I was playing, scales and keys of music. Matt knew none of that at the time… but he just played what I consider an extremely advanced song pretty much note for note. He taught me how to play that song and I had to teach him what he was playing. Over the next few years his music theory knowledge quickly grew and we started teaching guitar lessons together. We would do an hour long lesson for the same price that a music store would charge for a single half hour lesson. I would take the first half hour and go over chords, scales, theory and all the left brain stuff. He would go over songwriting, how to get a great guitar tone, how to play in a band, how to look cool on stage and all the right brain stuff. It was a really cool idea. We had some students that went on to form their own bands and we actually got to play a couple of clubs in the New Jersey area with them. That was the beginning of realizing that it is so rewarding to see someone utilize the skills you taught them. I was hooked after that.
Now, Matt is still a fantastic guitarist, teacher, songwriter and great friend. We try to collaborate on ideas via the internet since he lives in North Carolina and I live in Indiana. So, the technology really helps. You can check him out at mattbmusic.com and you can also read about one of our more recent efforts here as well.
“Masters of their trade…”
Like I said at the beginning of this, I am a sort of jack-of-all-trades kind of person. I can’t say that I have mastered anything because I always feel there is more to learn. I guess it’s all how you look at it. I do know people who I personally feel are masters in their own right. Some of them are people that you all know already. Scott Kelby for starters… he’s an absolute Photoshop master to me. It’s truly unbelievable how he keeps his busy schedule and still has time to learn new techniques to stay fresh. How about Joe McNally? Need I say more? How about Jay Maisel, Vincent Versace, Moose Peterson, Bill Fortney, Bill Frakes, Dave Black, Cliff Mautner, Rosanne Pennella, Tom Bol, Tony Corbell, Baron Wollman, Rob Van Petten… and the list goes on. These people I consider masters in their own right. Take Mike Olivella from last week’s guest blog entry. He is viewed as a great sports photographer but if you look at the rest of his work he has many other areas of photography that he truly excels in. Everyone I listed here has a specialty that they are known for but they are all very well rounded shooters that do a lot more than what just they are well known for shooting.
Sometimes there are masters in their fields that just aren’t as well known as those I mentioned but are incredibly talented and focused on what their photographic passion is. Another one of my closest friends, Jose Ramos is one of these photographers. I have known him now for fifteen years, and the very first day I met him he was as passionate about military aviation photography as he is today. Jose has never been in the military but through constant networking, research and continuing hard work he has been able to maintain back seat qualifications to fly in Navy fighters since the day I met him. That is no small task to achieve without ever having served in the Navy to begin with. I have always admired his dedication and enthusiasm to keep improving his work every time he goes on a shoot.
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to take a trip with him to NAS Fallon in Nevada to photograph various Navy jets in a very real situation. To say that being on that base with him was intimidating is an understatement. Jose knows how to conduct himself with the utmost professionalism to military personnel, speak to them in a completely foreign language (at least to me it was a foreign language), and get permission to allow us to photograph subjects that most civilians will never have the opportunity to photograph. It was truly amazing to see him in action around these people. I can remember standing there by myself once outside a squadron briefing room while he went to the men’s room thinking… oh crap, I really hope nobody asks me who I am and what I am doing there! I don’t know if I would have even known what to say. All I knew is that I had a piece of paper that said I could be there. Thank goodness he came back before anyone had the opportunity to confront me!
So, there is a great example of a person you may not know about who is an absolute master at what they do. And, it’s not just about the photographs… it’s about learning the system and being able to converse on a totally different level in order to get what’s needed for the photograph. Check out his work here and here.
I have a couple of areas of photography that I personally enjoy the most. The first one is concert photography.
Recently I was asked by someone to give them some pointers on how to shoot concert photography and instead of just writing back to them I decided to do a full blog entry on the subject. You can read about it here.
My next favorite type of shooting can really encompass a good number of photographic categories and that is travel photography. After almost nine years of traveling around the country and the world a couple of times for Nikon I realized that I have accumulated a lot of what are considered “travel images”.
From these I decided to start my own blog and base it around my photographic travels with work and on vacations. This whole “blog thing” was brand new to me a year ago. You’ll see how it all started here. It really is an incredible technology and I have truly enjoyed writing the entries… and I’ve never been much of a writer. (Gee, you couldn’t tell by the novel I am writing here, huh?) It helps me to concentrate on not staying in a hotel room and to get out and shoot instead. Last summer I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work at the Beijing Olympics and that was exactly what I told myself. Even though we all worked long hours I wasn’t going to let myself sit in my hotel room. I was going to get out there and shoot and explore since this will probably never happen again. I did blog entries on an almost daily basis and averaged about four hours of sleep per night. It was an extremely rewarding trip. The lack of sleep sure helped for the flight home!
If you’d like to read my Olympic blog entries click here.
I also enjoy shooting just about anything. I would love for you to stop by my blog at scottdiussa.com and leave me some comments on my posts. I don’t do blog entries as consistently as others, but every time I feel I have something interesting to share I enjoy doing just that.
“Scott… The Nikon Guy”
I want to take a few minutes to give you a perspective on a different career path I took in photography, and that is working for Nikon Inc. I want to tell you what it’s like and then I want to ask a couple of favors of you.
Working for Nikon is challenging and rewarding. It’s a great company with great people. It’s very much like an extended family to me. My title is… Manager, Nikon Professional Services and Training. I wear a few different hats in the company… but so does everyone else. A perception that many people have about meeting “a Nikon rep” is that we are all just sales people trying to push you into shooting Nikon cameras. This could be said for all representatives of all manufacturers to some degree, and what I am speaking about here, I’m sure my friends at Canon, Olympus, Epson, Nik, Photodex, Bogen, etc. would all relate to as well. Our goals are the same and that is to show you why our products are the best choice for you and to give you continued support if you choose to go with our products.
The best part about working for Nikon is that I have all the cool toys to play with! The worst part is that they aren’t mine and I have to give them back! Actually, the best part is that it has allowed me to meet and become friends with an ever-growing number of great people. I am very fortunate.
There are cool moments that come along that truly are “perks” of the job. One of my favorites was when I had to be a technical support person for a wireless Coolpix promotion at the after party for the first VH1 “Rock Honors” show in Vegas. Our PR agency had set up this event and I was originally there make sure the Coolpix cameras stayed working with the wireless network so pictures could be shot of party guests and instantly transmitted to big screen TVs on the dance floor. Since the wireless Coolpix deal was working perfectly my position quickly shifted… to something a lot better!
The goal was to give these particular Coolpix cameras to the winners of the Rock Honors award that evening (Judas Priest, Def Leppard, Kiss and Queen) and get pictures of them holding and/or using the cameras. Well, once off the stage if you don’t know what these people look like then it can be difficult to get the cameras into the hands of the right people… especially Kiss! I was asked to take the pictures of these “celebs” when they were given a camera. It turns out that my (long-time considered useless) knowledge of heavy metal bands sure did come in handy real quick! I was picking out people from not only the four bands that won I was pointing out other famous musicians as well. This was just awesome! The highlight of the evening was when I got to meet my very first guitar hero… Glenn Tipton from Judas Priest. (I wanted to be him when I was fifteen!) I introduced myself to him and thanked him for being the person who inspired me to want to learn how to play the guitar. He kindly said to me, “What you just said really makes me realize why I started doing this in the first place.” He is a truly nice person and is a master at what he does.
My wife likes to refer to these as my “Forrest Gump” moments! ;-)
The hard part of working for a manufacturer is that sometimes I, and my co-workers, get viewed as just “reps” and may not be taken seriously as photographers. I work for Nikon Professional Services which is a support system for pros that shoot Nikon gear. I work for Bill Pekala, who is one of the most well respected individuals in the professional photography market, a great guy and an extremely knowledgeable photographer. He has been doing this for a very long time and I am fortunate to be learning something new from him on a daily basis.
I also have an incredibly talented group of Professional Market Technical Representatives (PMTRs) in the department that are all professional shooters and really know their stuff! Since this group is so knowledgeable about shooting and Nikon gear they are usually the first to staff the large trade shows that you all attend. We also have very talented people in the training department that staff these trade show booths, so there is a wide array of knowledge available to you when you go to one of these shows. You can meet these great people at shows such as Photo Plus, WPPI, Photoshop World, Imaging USA and PMA.
I mentioned asking you for a couple of favors. Here are just a couple of things to keep in mind when you go to a show like this that you may not realize. The people behind the counters don’t normally have any knowledge about future products. It is the number one question that we get… “When’s the _____ coming out?” Unfortunately, only maybe one or two people in the whole booth know this answer… but they can not confirm nor deny anything. It really has always been this way and it needs to be this way. The internet, as you know, is a great but dangerous place. The rumor mill about what’s coming is really not helpful as to how companies try to conduct business. So, when we have to tell you that we don’t know when a camera is coming and that we can’t even speculate about it please don’t be upset. (I’ve had people get pretty crazy over the fact that I wouldn’t give them a wink, wink, nod, nod about a rumor!) We are just doing our jobs.
The next favor I have to ask is that you refrain from playing the age old game of “stump the tech rep”! Inevitably it happens at every show. Remember, we didn’t design the cameras… the engineers in Japan did. So, we only know as much as they tell us and as much as what’s written in the instruction manuals. I wish I were an engineer but I’m only a photographer!
Also, I can’t believe I am saying this… but, be nice to each other! You can’t imagine how many people just cut in front of people at the counter and interrupt each other. I’ve had people almost get into fights over who gets to ask the next question! Amazing! If it’s too busy then just come back later. If it’s near the end of the day and you do find an opportunity to talk to any one of us just remember that it has been a very long day… and an extra bottle of water never hurt! ;-)
As the “Nikon guy” I want to say how much fun it was to film some segments for DTownTV! I had some business in Florida and I called Scott to see if it would be okay if I stopped by the Kelby Media studios to say “hi”. Scott quickly asked me if I would film a couple of tips to share on the DtownTV show. My first thought was… how can I lose thirty pounds real quick???… and my second was… absolutely! (BTW… the thirty pounds didn’t happen! It’s on “the list” though!) I had three topics in mind but when I got there I ended up recording seven instead! I had never been on “TV” before, and it is pretty evident from what you all have seen, but I think the next time I have the opportunity I’ll be much better! I hope! Scott and Matt (along with Brad and Scriv) made the whole process very easy. We had a great time and I thank them for having me on the show.
I’m sure I don’t have to say this, but, I do hope that all of you fully appreciate the effort that Scott Kelby and crew put in to providing top-notch educational materials. Between Photoshop User TV, DTownTV, and Kelby Training you have the best resources available to help you learn to be better photographers. I would also encourage you to check out the Nikon School and Nikon Learn and Explore websites for some great stuff as well!
I want to thank all of you for spending such a lengthy amount of time with me today. I truly hope that with all of the Worldwide Photowalks coming up that you will not only learn from the other photographers you meet but you do your best to be a teacher as well. It’s that mutual participation that brings everyone together. Also, if you are coming to Photoshop World in September I hope to be there. Stop by and say “hi”… and it doesn’t matter what brand of camera you have over your shoulder, if it’s not a Nikon you won’t spontaneously combust if you say “hi” to a Nikon person! If not Photoshop World then definitely Photo Plus in NYC… (that’s such an insane show that I may spontaneously combust!)
I think this post is about as long as one of the songs from the new Metallica CD! ;-)
Take care and keep on shooting!