A conversation with Pro Team photographer Scott Stulberg

October 29, 2020 0 Comments

A conversation with Pro Team photographer Scott Stulberg

In this piece, we sat down with Gura Gear Pro-Team member Scott Stulberg to discuss how be got started in photography, what inspires him, and his advice for others.




Scott, how did you get started in photography? 

My father gave me my first camera when I was 10 years old which was the best present a kid could ever have. That started everything. He saw how it consumed my life and when I was 13, he built an amazing darkroom for me in our house. That was a game changer. Fast forward to today and everybody is using Photoshop. I’ve been using Photoshop since the mid 90’s and in the late 90’s I ran Photoshop meetup groups at Apple Computer where we had a blast discovering the possibilities of this amazing software.

I’ve only ever shot digital myself. How do you feel as someone who has made the transition from shooting film to digital? 

I’m so happy I had the darkroom and started off shooting on film. Now, I love digital so much and it’s way surpassed film. But, it’s great having those memories growing up. It makes me really grateful for what we went through and what we have available to us today. We had 36 shots on a roll. When I traveled, I’d have to put 80 rolls in a Ziploc bag to get on a flight and have to take it out to get X-rayed. Even then, I had to shoot somewhat conservatively, because if you run out of film, you’re dead. Where are you going to get more film in Southeast Asia? Even these days, I can never carry enough memory cards. I never know when I’ll see something amazing I want to capture. My advice to others is that in a perfect scenario, you would carry enough cards so that you would not have to offload to portable hard drives and then reformat the cards. Even then, if you prefer to download to hard drives, try to avoid re-formatting cards that you used for key shoots where you have a once in a lifetime shot. 

What do you love shooting with and what are some of your other favorite pieces of gear that you can’t travel without?

I’m a Canon shooter and I’ve stuck with them through thick and thin and I think their new R5 is a game changer. Finally, a great mirrorless system for all of us dedicated Canon shooters. The wait has finally been worth it. I’m also a wide-angle freak and always have been and I shoot a ton with the 11-24mm super wide and also their 15mm Fisheye. I am also addicted to shooting panoramas all over the world and my favorite lens for panos is my 24-105mm. Does the job everywhere I go! I also absolutely love to lightpaint after dark and I have a zillion flashlights and other lightpainting tools as after the sun goes down, the fun begins.

The two things I depend on the most in the field other than my camera gear are a great tripod and backpack. I put gear through so much and it has to be built tough and with excellent design as I only trust great gear. My three favorite companies that make stellar tripods are Really Right Stuff, Feisol and the new kid on the block, Colorado Tripod Company. All three of these companies make my absolute favorite tripods in the world and nothing else comes close to any of these companies in my opinion. Really Right Stuff and Colorado Tripod Company also make the best ballheads and great ballhead design is also critical to so many of us out in the field. I just love great gear and these companies make amazing gear!

Last but not least is my favorite backpack. I probably depend on my backpack more than anything else in the field and for travel photography, I put my gear through every test imaginable. I have to be able to rely on it every single day and backpack design hasn’t changed that much in the last fifty years. That’s what attracted me to Gura Gear years ago. The Kiboko was a game changer for me. Their butterfly system was the most amazing innovation I had ever seen and I became a convert overnight. The way it fits on your back is better than anything I had ever used before and it carries a heavy load exactly the way you would hope for! Smooth as silk! I was incredibly thrilled when Gura Gear asked me to help redesign the new Kiboko 2.0. with them and I worked closely with them, day after day, to perfect every little detail and make the best backpack in the world even more untouchable. I can’t imagine traveling anywhere in the world without my Kiboko V2.0 22L. The best is even better now!

A view of the cargo area in Scott’s SUV during his last photo workshop in Acadia National Park


As I look through your work, I’m seeing a bold use of color and wondering what your background is in the arts. 

There are so many influences for me as far as the arts. My mother was an artist and a photographer and my father was in the movie business. He made a ton of movies while I was growing up including Young Frankenstein and Star Wars. Needless to say, I had a pretty fun time growing up. Both of my parents were art collectors and every time they went on a trip, they would buy art to bring home, so I grew up in an art gallery of sorts. I am fortunate to have been given many amazing pieces of art from my parents through the years that have helped make our home our own little art gallery. 

As far as education, my photography class in high school made an indelible mark. Then, I went to college for photography and landscape architecture. Your instructors help mold who you are so every teacher I’ve had has contributed to the photographer I am today. These days, I’m trying to pay back what I got so I’m also an instructor at UCLA Extension. Referring to your last question about film, back in 2004 I even taught a class at UCLA called The Complete Digital Workshop that covered all the differences between film and digital. 

 

That’s so true about the instructors. I think a lot of us worry about ripping off others and try to improve in a vacuum. Who were some photographers who have inspired you?

I pretty much grew up surrounded by the work of Ansel Adams and my father bought me a ton of his books. I also admire the work of Robert Capa as I have always had a lot of respect for war journalists and photographers who got down in the mud with bullets flying in every direction. I was also lucky because one of my father’s friends was Melvin Sokolsky, who was a top fashion photographer at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. He’s still one of the top fashion photographers in the world and I am fortunate to have many of his works throughout my house. 

Lastly, and not to be cliche, Steve McCurry. I’ve admired him my whole life. His photography is timeless. To this day, I look at images of his and I’m just amazed. We’ve shot in similar places in Burma, India and other countries. There are so many rules to follow now about where and how you can shoot. I wish it were still like when he was there shooting film with so much stuff going on. It was so uninhibited. 


As I look through your website, I’m seeing such a wide variety of subject matter. Between landscapes, portraits, and abstract work, what is your favorite type of photography at the moment? 

My favorite types of photography are travel photography and after dark photography. I’ve been traveling since I was thirteen as I love more than anything exploring this big beautiful world. I also often shoot landscapes all over the world and enjoy doing it, but I don’t consider myself a landscape photographer. 

I also can never shoot enough after-dark photography as there are so many possibilities including long exposures, car trails and star trails, architecture, lightning and of course the amazing Milky Way. I moved to Sedona, Arizona from Los Angeles mostly because of the stunning night sky. I walk outside my front door to the gorgeous Milky Way right over my home and have a ton of great locations among the beautiful red rocks of Sedona to shoot the night sky. Shooting after dark in locations like this definitely puts a smile on my face and I get to teach after dark workshops right where I live. Doesn’t get any better than that!

One part of photography that I’ve also been very passionate about since I was young is capturing wildlife all over the world. Great images of wildlife in stunning locations can really be a visual feast and although not the easiest photography by any means, it is incredibly rewarding! One of my absolute favorite photography workshops that I love running is capturing the white horses of the Camargue in the south of France. I have a blast with my guide setting up creative scenarios of the horses from sunrise to sunset in unique locations from the ocean, lakes, tall grasses and marshes. There are almost no words to describe the feeling of standing in front of a dozen gorgeous white horses racing towards you at high speed. It is definitely an adrenaline rush. After photographing these gorgeous white horses for over thirteen years, it’s still one of my favorite subjects on earth to capture as a photographer.

A view of the cargo area in Scott’s SUV during his last photo workshop in Acadia National Park


As I look through your work, I’m seeing a bold use of color and wondering what your background is in the arts. 

There are so many influences for me as far as the arts. My mother was an artist and a photographer and my father was in the movie business. He made a ton of movies while I was growing up including Young Frankenstein and Star Wars. Needless to say, I had a pretty fun time growing up. Both of my parents were art collectors and every time they went on a trip, they would buy art to bring home, so I grew up in an art gallery of sorts. I am fortunate to have been given many amazing pieces of art from my parents through the years that have helped make our home our own little art gallery. 

As far as education, my photography class in high school made an indelible mark. Then, I went to college for photography and landscape architecture. Your instructors help mold who you are so every teacher I’ve had has contributed to the photographer I am today. These days, I’m trying to pay back what I got so I’m also an instructor at UCLA Extension. Referring to your last question about film, back in 2004 I even taught a class at UCLA called The Complete Digital Workshop that covered all the differences between film and digital. 

 

That’s so true about the instructors. I think a lot of us worry about ripping off others and try to improve in a vacuum. Who were some photographers who have inspired you?

I pretty much grew up surrounded by the work of Ansel Adams and my father bought me a ton of his books. I also admire the work of Robert Capa as I have always had a lot of respect for war journalists and photographers who got down in the mud with bullets flying in every direction. I was also lucky because one of my father’s friends was Melvin Sokolsky, who was a top fashion photographer at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. He’s still one of the top fashion photographers in the world and I am fortunate to have many of his works throughout my house. 

Lastly, and not to be cliche, Steve McCurry. I’ve admired him my whole life. His photography is timeless. To this day, I look at images of his and I’m just amazed. We’ve shot in similar places in Burma, India and other countries. There are so many rules to follow now about where and how you can shoot. I wish it were still like when he was there shooting film with so much stuff going on. It was so uninhibited. 


As I look through your website, I’m seeing such a wide variety of subject matter. Between landscapes, portraits, and abstract work, what is your favorite type of photography at the moment? 

My favorite types of photography are travel photography and after dark photography. I’ve been traveling since I was thirteen as I love more than anything exploring this big beautiful world. I also often shoot landscapes all over the world and enjoy doing it, but I don’t consider myself a landscape photographer. 

I also can never shoot enough after-dark photography as there are so many possibilities including long exposures, car trails and star trails, architecture, lightning and of course the amazing Milky Way. I moved to Sedona, Arizona from Los Angeles mostly because of the stunning night sky. I walk outside my front door to the gorgeous Milky Way right over my home and have a ton of great locations among the beautiful red rocks of Sedona to shoot the night sky. Shooting after dark in locations like this definitely puts a smile on my face and I get to teach after dark workshops right where I live. Doesn’t get any better than that!

One part of photography that I’ve also been very passionate about since I was young is capturing wildlife all over the world. Great images of wildlife in stunning locations can really be a visual feast and although not the easiest photography by any means, it is incredibly rewarding! One of my absolute favorite photography workshops that I love running is capturing the white horses of the Camargue in the south of France. I have a blast with my guide setting up creative scenarios of the horses from sunrise to sunset in unique locations from the ocean, lakes, tall grasses and marshes. There are almost no words to describe the feeling of standing in front of a dozen gorgeous white horses racing towards you at high speed. It is definitely an adrenaline rush. After photographing these gorgeous white horses for over thirteen years, it’s still one of my favorite subjects on earth to capture as a photographer.

An amazing panorama by Scott with the Burj Khalifa in the distance

That’s what differentiates you from others. Imagination. Exactly what Einstein said….. "It’s more important than knowledge.”

And my feeling that I always try to convey to others is that photography is more than talking about pixels; It’s about vision, ideas, and allowing your imagination to soar.

When I go somewhere and I have never seen it shot before, then it’s an open canvas. Don’t stay in one place and keep shooting a subject from the same angle. Think different! How can I capture this the way nobody else has? I go after what Joyce Tenneson calls “Stopping Power.” When you see an image, and it doesn't have “Stopping Power”, it might not move others in the way I really strive for. Not every image needs this, but I push myself often to capture unique images.

I teach photography workshops all over the world, in so many amazing locations and I can truthfully say that I feel I’ve learned as much from my students as they have learned from me. I’ll be out with them teaching and showing them something and someone will come up with a question or an idea that blows me away; I realize I didn’t ever think about that! I’m always open to new ideas and creative thinking. Sometimes, they have no idea that they’ve stumbled onto something so profound. I really try as often as possible to push my students to think outside the box. 


Other than the most iconic locations, how do you find interesting locations on your own?

These days, the web is probably my primary resource. But, I also love travel books and brochures and while in foreign countries, I look everywhere  for postcards. These usually showcase great spots that many of the locals have shot and I have relied on postcards for as long as I can remember. And, with the web, all you have to do is type in Google something as simple as "great photo locations in Bali" ...and you get hit with a lot of stuff you never would have known about.


I see a good amount of portraits from your travels, do you have any advice about approaching strangers for their portraits?

You really have to have a good eye for faces. You need to find an interesting subject before approaching them to minimize the chance you’ll waste your time and theirs. I also don’t really like to photograph anyone without their permission.

For instance, If I see someone’s daughter who has a striking appearance, I will typically pull out my business card that has my name and an image on both sides and I’ll hand it to them. This immediately will show the that you’re a serious photographer and it’s the one thing that will help you with capturing unique portraits more than anything else. I also might say something like “Your daughter is so lovely and I’d love to photograph her and would also love to email you an image when I’m done working on it.” I’d say about 90% of time, people have said yes.

Little San San at sunset in Bagan, Burma in 2001

For shots where people are off in the distance or candid, I still like to approach them to show them the photograph I made. It’s part of the fact that as someone who sells images, I have to be very careful about releases and everything. I also love sharing great photo ops with the people I capture as they really appreciate some of the special moments I capture.

A special moment captured by Scott Stulberg in Paris 2014

Thanks for taking the time to go in-depth and share some really great insights into your process.

You’ve got it. Anytime.

 

Follow the Gura Gear Journal for more conversations with professional photographers. We’ll be providing valuable insights into how they plan, shoot and process their images.

Is there a topic you want us to cover? Let us know by sending an email.

See more of Scott’s work and browse his list of upcoming workshops at asa100.com

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