What else can you say about Scott Kelby? I’ve become a big fan of all the things he does to help photographers. Scott Kelby is a marketing genius and oversees a huge enterprise in Kelby Media Group that includes properties like the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, Kelby Training, a series of podcasts, an online TV show about Nikon cameras called D-Town and much more. Scott is also a photographer and prolific author. His best-selling books are very popular with photographers and there can be no disputing that he is one of the finest (and most entertaining) Photoshop instructors you’ll ever hear or see.
I am honored to have Scott as this month’s Photofocus interview subject.
1 – Scott Bourne: Please tell me how and when you got into photography/Photoshop.
Scott Kelby: I had been a traditional film shooter for years, and even had my own studio at one point. I was totally overboard into photography and at that point in my life, that’s all I wanted to do. My brother and I were into this together, and we ate, slept and drank photography—so much so that I got totally burned out on it, and one day I packed up all my gear, lights, etc. and put them up in the attic. I was done. I didn’t take a serious non-disposable camera shot for nearly 10 years. Then one day I picked up my first digital point-and-shoot and that was it—-I was hooked and I’ve been having a blast ever since.
I got into Photoshop through a different door. My wife and I opened a small graphic design studio that acted as an art department for small ad agencies that couldn’t afford their own in-house designers, and that’s where I was introduced to Photoshop 2.0. We were hired to produce a newspaper for British Ex-pats living in the US, and we were sending out our B&W to be shot with a stat camera, and we just hated how the final images looked. Then a friend showed me Photoshop, and how to use a service bureau to out to film, and we about lost our minds. But it wasn’t until I hired a consultant to come in and teach me how to use the Pen tool, that I really fell in love with Photoshop and moved to that next level. It was the best $50 I ever spent.
2 – Scott Bourne: What is your favorite photographic location or subject?
Scott Kelby: Right now I’m really into shooting sports (NFL and college football, Motorsports, horseracing, etc.) and I also really enjoy shooting people, so I’d say those are my two favorite subjects right now. I’ve always loved landscape and travel photography and still do a lot of that as well. My favorite photographic location? I love shooting anywhere in Europe, but I particularly enjoy Italy. Here in the US, I love shooting in Maine—what an amazing state for photographers.
3 – Scott Bourne: Can you recall the first photograph you made that caused you to think WOW – that’s a good shot and if so, what was it?
Scott Kelby: The first digital shot I took that made me think, “Hey, that’s a good shot,” was one I took at the top of Mt. Haleakala, in Maui, Hawaii. It was a beautiful summer day, and we drove to the top of the mountain about an hour before sunset, and it was absolutely freezing up there—like 32 degrees—and I was dressed for summer. I didn’t think to bring my tripod on this vacation, so I went to Walmart and bought literally a $14 tripod, and I sat there holding it in the 20 – 25 MPH wind gusts, just absolutely shivering, and trying to keep the camera somewhat still. We were literally right above the clouds, and there was sea of cloud tops in front of me, and I knew this was going to be great, but it was so cold, and I was in shorts, so as soon as the sun went down I threw my gear in the car and hit the heater. I’m driving down from the top of the mountain and as soon as turned the corner, I saw these scene where it looks like the road was driving off right into the clouds—it was just amazing. I stopped the car, and I said to my wife, “Honey, look at that—-that’s amazing.” She said, “Are you going to shoot it?I replyed, “Are you kidding me—-it’s freezing out there. There’s no way I’m pulling my gear back out to stand in the middle of the road and shoot this.” She said, “You’re gonna regret it.” I knew she was right. I took a deep breath, stepped out of the car and that chill went right through me, but I took out my gear, set up the tripod and camera, and took about 15 shots then jumped right back in. That was the shot that I said, “Ya know, that looks pretty good!” and it’s actually been used in all sorts of ads, including one for the Santa Fe Workshops, which was a real honor for me.
4 – Scott Bourne: Do you have any formal training in photography, Photoshop or a related field and do you think that’s important for aspiring serious photographers?
Scott Kelby: I don’t have any formal training in photography or Photoshop. I had to learn both on my own, and when it do it like that, it definitely takes a lot longer. I was lucky in that I had a full time job that required me to use Photoshop every day and that throws you into the deep end of the pool pretty quickly. Luckily, two guys in my area (Doug Gornick and Manuel Obordo) were really, really good at Photoshop and they were a great help to me when I was starting out.
5 – Scott Bourne: Are you more of a technical or an artistic person?
Scott Kelby: Definitely artistic. I’m so not a techie, which surprises a lot of my friends when they call me for tech help with their Macs. They’re like, “Gees, you’ve written a half dozens books on the Mac” and I always say, “And did you notice there’s nothing in any of those books about creating or troubleshooting networks.” When I have a problem, I call my IT guys. I’m more about how to do the everyday things, than the techie things.
6 – Scott Bourne: Who has inspired or influenced your work?
Scott Kelby: Definitely Joe McNally, Moose Peterson, Vincent Versace, Bill Fortney, David Ziser, Jim DiVitale, Anne Cahill, George Lepp, Kevin Ames, Eddie Tapp, and Jay Maisel.
7 – Scott Bourne: What has been the most interesting or surprising thing to you about how people react to photography?
Scott Kelby: Photography, especially photos of people, can be such an emotional experience for the person viewing the image, and as overwhelmed as we are by video, and the amazing things people can do with video today, I’m still amazing by the impact of a powerful still image. One glance can make you smile, cry, laugh, feel great/feel bad/feel sad, and tell a story in one still frame.
8 – Scott Bourne: How would you describe your style of photography?
Scott Kelby: I would describe it as having a very “graphic” feel to it (at least, that’s the way other photographers have described my work). Having that background in graphic design has definitely spilled over into my photography. I’m very drawn to colorful images, and images with texture, and I tend to shoot a lot of that. I had a feature story in Nikon World magazine recently, and that’s what they said drew them to my images—-the vivid colors and textures and graphic feel to the images.
9 – Scott Bourne: How do you decide what to photograph?
Scott Kelby: I have a “what I want to shoot this year” list, and it’s kind of all over the map (except that there’s more sports on that list than anything), so that kind of gives me a year-long guide. I love to shoot while on vacation, and when you’re in that mode, you’re basically on a Photo Walk and you just see what you see. But again, I’ll be looking for vivid colors, simple composition, texture, and lots of white space in my images.
10 – Scott Bourne: Of your many projects, which is your favorite and why?
Scott Kelby: I really enjoy doing live seminars, and I have my most fun when I’m teaching. I’m like that person who finds a really great restaurant and they can’t wait to tell everybody about it—-I’m that way with Photoshop and photography. When I learn something new, I can’t wait to share it with other people, and doing that in a live seminar, and the ideas click with an audience is very gratifying.
11 – Scott Bourne: Is there any photographic discipline that you wish you knew more about?
Scott Kelby: Honestly, I wish I knew more about every photographic discipline. Right now I’m struggling with the realization that I’m not great at coming up with clever shooting ideas. Joe McNally is a master at this. Of course, Joe can light anything, and light it brilliantly, but he’s also a master of coming up with interesting and engaging ways to portray his subjects right on the spot. He’ll look at portrait situation and come up with a unique, clever, interesting way to portray the subject, where I would just have them pose in a standard old way, and that frustrates the heck out of me. So, it is a photography problem for me, and something I’m struggling to get my head around, but like anything in photography—to get good you have to practice an awful lot, so that’s what I’m trying to do.
12 – Scott Bourne: After all these years as a photographer/teacher and author, do you ever find it hard to remain passionate about your work?
Scott Kelby: Honestly, this stuff is just so much fun for me, that being passionate is the least of my problems. I really think this is the most amazing time to be a photographer in history, and I’m loving every minute of it. I love to shoot, I love today’s cameras, I love what you can do in post production, I love the tools we have today and the quality of gear that’s now so affordable. I’m having a ball, so genuine passion and enthusiasm shoots out of me like a Pez dispenser.
13 – Scott Bourne: Everyone will ask me why I didn’t ask this question if I don’t – so here goes – What cameras/lenses do you use and why?
Scott Kelby: I use Nikons cameras, probably because my big brother did. I had kind of a low-end Pentax 35mm SLR back in the day, and my brother had a Minolta, but then he bought a Nikon F3, and we were both just amazed. It was like, “Now this is a real camera” and I’ve been a Nikon fan ever since. I love the way a Nikon feels in my hands—I love the feel of a Nikon shutter, and I think those “feel” things are very important. That being said; I’ve shot Canon cameras, and I got a 50D recently as a gift, and I have to say; the Canon gear is absolutely fantastic. If I wasn’t shooting Nikon, I’d definitely be shooting Canon—they make really great stuff. We really can’t tell which photos were taken with a Nikon and which were taken with a Canon, and they both take really great shots, so at the end of the day it really comes down to personal preference. Hold each of them in your hands, and the one that feels great to you is the right one.
14 – Scott Bourne: What’s the biggest mistake you made when you first started out as a photographer?
Scott Kelby: I thought the key to getting better photos was to really learn how to operate my camera. I thought the key was learning what all the menus did, and which options to set up in the camera, and what button does what. I needed to spend MUCH less time fooling around with the technology, and more time shooting and practicing. I wish I had spent more time doing that, and studying the work of other photographers.
15 – Scott Bourne: Would you like to give any final words of advice to photographers who want to improve their photography?
Scott Kelby: Only shoot in great light. Only shoot people in wonderfully flattering light. Only shoot landscapes around dawn or dusk. Only shoot anything in great light and you’ll be amazed at how you’ll transform your photos. My friend Bill Fortney has a great saying about this. He says, “I’ve gotten to a point in my career where the quality of light is so important, I go in search of great light first, and when I find it, then I’ll find a subject to shoot.”
The other piece of advice I would give is; only show your best work. If you go on vacation, don’t come back and show 122 images from your trip. Choose your best 24 and just show those. This is incredibly hard for most photographers to do, but think of it in these terms. If you took 1200 shots on your vacation, and you whittled it down to 122 images that you like. Are all 122 absolutely fantastic? Well, probably not, right? But let’s say within that 122 group of keepers, you have 30 that are just absolutely kick butt buttons. Then another 30 or 40 that are pretty darn good, and then rest are just good. There’s no bad ones in the bunch. Now, imagine if you only showed just those 30 that absolutely kick butt. What would people think of you as a photographer? They’d think you were absolutely a kick butt photographer, but you only have kick-butt shots (at least, that’s all they ever see from you now). Now, that being said; of that 30, are all 30 equally fantastic? Probably not, right? Go through that 30 and find the six weakest shots and remove them, so now you have 24 absolutely, hands-down kick-butt shots. You just became a better photographer in everyone’s eyes, because your 24 shots are that much better.
Professional photographers are experts are finding their best shots, and only showing those. They are great photo editors, and they only show their cream of the crop. Less is more.
I’d like to thank Scott Kelby for taking time for the interview. For more information on his activities – check out his blog at http://www.scottkelby.com/.
This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store