At the age of ten Scott Stulberg’s father gave him the gift of a film camera. What he describes as opening Pandora’s box to the realm of photography, come adulthood Scott would switch his career as a landscape designer to that of a professional photographer.
Today Scott focuses on travel photography, taking pictures and selling his images to stock agencies such as Corbis and Getty images. He also teaches photography courses and workshops across the globe and is the author of the book, Passage to Burma.
Having just returned from a photography workshop in the South of France, read on to see his beautiful images of the indigenous Camargue horses and other inspiring photographs from around the world…
You just returned from a photography trip to France. What was it like to photograph the Camargue horses indigenous to the area?
Now that I have photographed the horses a few times, I would have to say it’s really like no other photography that I have ever done. You are in such a gorgeous environment in the south of France on the coast and there are these beautiful horses in different farms all over the place.
We hire the owners, some of them who are amazing cowboys, to put these horses in some incredible situations either in the ocean, in the marshes, or on dusty terrain and we have them run towards us at full speed.
Running in different directions, we have our group photographing them Al Servo, which is predictive autofocus, with different lenses and different vantage points. It’s about as exhilarating as you can ever get with photography.
We’ll also have the horses resting in different places as we capture them close up in different angles and lighting situations and it is like eye candy every single day. Needless to say, you really can’t bring enough memory cards.
You have these magnificent animals, which are all white and so gorgeous, and every day we have them running through the ocean and in different environments and we’re all set up trying to capture them. The amount of amazing images that people end up with is astonishing.
We even had stallions on their hind legs fighting and we captured baby foals, which are born very dark, brown and black, and in time change to gray and then to pure white as they get older.
Just being around all of these amazing creatures is such a high, but being able to photograph them in the beauty of the South of France and with cowboys helping us set up amazing shots, well it is just insanely cool! They are my favorite animals in the world to photograph!
What are some favorite photography destinations you’ve traveled to?
Southeast Asia is on top of my list as it is just one unbelievable place for the culture and food, but especially the people. And on top of that list is of course, Burma, my home away from home.
India comes in a close second as the photographic possibilities everywhere you go in this country are pretty much endless. The colors are beyond belief, the transportation, architecture and of course the people are just off the scale.
Photo ops in every direction…every single day. You do have to be careful not to get sick as just about everyone gets sick in one way shape or form visiting India, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run when you look at the images that you’ve captured.
I could travel there just to photograph the incredible cultures as this is one place where you really do feel like you’ve gone back in time and they are so incredibly sweet but humble…and love working with you and your camera.
The Galapagos Islands, which I’ve been to a few times including doing a workshop there, is pretty much unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. This is also a place that feels like you have gone back in time as the sights and sounds of the animals everywhere….on so many of the islands are just mind-boggling.
You can swim with sea lions or lay next to them on a beautiful beach. Blue-footed Boobies, these gorgeous birds, are all over and right in front of you while you’re hiking and they are not scared of humans whatsoever. And the amazing Frigatebirds are constantly flying overhead and look exactly like pterodactyl birds from prehistoric days.
But I also love places like Israel, for its amazing history and beauty and I spent five months there long ago. I also love shooting in Hong Kong with its amazing views of the harbor and Japan, with a culture like no other. Japan is a country with so many possibilities and a dream to shoot in.
However, you can also stay close to home if you live in America, and the amount of one-of-a-kind places that the US has to offer is pretty astounding also. From Death Valley and Monument Valley to the fall colors of the East Coast and everything in between.
I actually prefer to do workshops here in America as there is so much to photograph and it’s cheaper than traveling overseas. The US is as amazing as anywhere I have been to on this planet for photo ops. You just need to figure out where you want to go and when you want to be there!
When it comes to travel photography what gear do you always bring with you?
I bring a lot of gear as you never know what situations you might run into. Along with my Canon 5D Mark III and Mark II as a backup, I bring everything from a super wide lens to a telephoto lens.
I always travel with my Really Right Stuff panorama head, L Brackets and also their ball heads, which are just amazing. They have to be my favorite company for cool photography gear.
In addition, I also travel with my Benro or Induro carbon fiber tripods which are my favorite and I recommend to all of my students.
Finally, I take my Intervalometer for time lapse photography and capturing the night sky, different flashlights for light paintings along with my headlamp, Pec Pads and Eclipse sensor cleaning gear. And of course, my blower as you never know when dust in the sensor is going to ruin your shots.
All of this is packed into my Gura Gear Kiboto 22L backpack, which I think is the best designed backpack ever made for camera gear.
What is your favorite lens for travel photography?
That is a tough one…I like so many from my 14mm super wide Canon to my 500mm Canon. But I would have to say that the one that has helped me out in many situations is my 70-200mm 2.8 telephoto. From portraits all around the world to moving objects like the white Camargue horses, rushing towards me at full speed, this lens is simply irreplaceable.Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8, bhphotovideo.com
The image quality is beyond unreal for a telephoto zoom lens and you can also use a 1.4 extender on it without decreasing the image quality too much.
And what about your favorite photography accessory, other than your camera?
Without a doubt, my favorite accessory is a good 3x to 4x loupe for my digital camera. When I got my first Canon D30 DSLR back in March of 2001, I realized that the LCD screen on the back of the camera was similar to what I had been looking at with my slide film on my light tables. I always used different loupes, from 4x all the way to 10x to check out sharpness, composition and everything else on my slides.
The LCD screen was so similar to looking at those transparencies and I picked up my Peak 4x loupe and used it for years to evaluate my LCD image on the back of the camera. Back then, there were a lot of black dots on the LCD screen so it was harder to really see your image.
Fast forward to now, and with over a million pixels on these 3 inch LCD screens, a good loupe is even more crucial. You can’t just push the zoom button on your camera and expect to really see the entire image zoomed in. With using a good 3x or 4x loupe, it is really a game changer.
What’s the most danger you’ve been in while abroad?
That’s a hard one to say as I’ve been to a lot of places that posed different problems, including walking around areas that I should not have been in at Angkor Wat back in 1996 when they were known to have land mines scattered all over the place.
What really really messed me up the most was wearing Teva sandals, which are my favorite sandals, at the Pushkar Camel Festival in Rajasthan, India back in 2001. I stepped on something that went into my heel and I ended up getting a terrible infection while I was traveling through the country weeks later.
I ended up getting Cellulitis in my leg, which swelled up and nobody knew what was wrong with it. It was so painful and scary – I could not get a flight to Bangkok where there was an amazing hospital (also where my bags were) because the Red Army had taken over the airport in Bangkok, so I was stuck in Yangon, Burma.
Thankfully, I ended up finding a foreign hospital called SOS and they put me on the strongest intravenous antibiotics available and I was able to finally get better. Getting sick overseas is about as bad as it gets. It makes you really appreciate good medical care wherever you can find it as third world country medicine is so scary!
How did you get your start as a stock photographer?
I started to travel with them to some beautiful places like the Galapagos Islands and Southeast Asia…just all over the place, and then I realized I was building up a nice stock archive myself. My friends actually helped me decide on which companies to try and get into after I felt I was ready and the rest is history.
It is easy to make a living selling stock images?
It’s not that easy to make a living off of stock photography and I actually never have. That’s only for the select few that really work tremendously hard at it and pursue it with full force. There are people that make good money doing this and that’s all that they do but most of us do many other things including workshops, selling our work other ways, teaching, writing for magazines and just so many other venues for making money.
A lot of people are mesmerized by those who work in travel photography, and are supposedly getting paid for it. But in reality, we have to for the most part pay our own way for everything. I’m leaving for Paris in a few days and it is all on my dime. I have to hope that my images work and sell to make paying for my trip worthwhile.
So it’s always a gamble. Photographing closer to home without spending a lot of travel costs is definitely important to everyone whether they are beginners or seasoned veterans.
How has the stock photography industry changed since you first started?
The bummer about stock photography is that it has gotten much worse through the years. Everybody has a cell phone, everybody has a digital camera and they go all over the place and pretty much try and submit their work for stock.
It has changed so much over the years when there was a much high-caliber amount of work out there being submitted and stock photographers were a little bit more prestigious.
And then of course came royalty-free and micro stock, which in my opinion absolutely destroyed the stock industry. It allowed people to buy images for just a few dollars that before were selling for hundreds of dollars.
So that proliferated out and everybody joined the bandwagon and traditional stock photographers were really hurt by this. With travel photography, we work so hard and spend so much money trying to get the special images. And then other people photograph similar things, and then end up selling them for almost nothing.
Nothing has hurt the stock industry like royalty free and micro stock, but on the other hand, it helps many people get into stock photography, although making a lot of money from it is often wishful thinking.
Pictures of people are one of the most sought after subjects by stock agencies. What tips do you have for street photography and taking candid photos of strangers?
In terms of street photography, it is actually a lot looser and you can take a completely different approach. I will be leaving for Paris in a few days and I actually do a lot of street photography in cities like this because they are perfect for capturing so many different types of images with different kinds of feelings.
Sometimes, I might see a waiter at a café that looks like he might look incredible in the image, and I will ask him beforehand if it’s okay if I photograph him while he’s working in the restaurant. Other times, people might be sitting and eating or having coffee outside and I often do not ask them if I could photograph them and I just shoot the scene.
But I try and look as though I’m shooting wide angle and not focusing just on them, which also is typically the truth, as I don’t want them to think that I am just focused on them without having asked permission. These shots I wouldn’t submit for stock unless I had already asked them if I could photograph them and if they will sign a release.
In different countries around the world, from African tribes to children sitting by the Taj Mahal, you just have to be careful that your not stepping on any toes and upsetting you any of them, including any parents nearby, and not have cameras in anyone’s face. You do have to be respectful as more often than not, people do not want to be in your images.
It is very much like the paparazzi and how actors and actresses do not like cameras photographing them without their permission. So I’m very cognizant of what I’m doing and respectful to these people and sometimes it’s much easier in some situations and sometimes you have to be a lot more careful. If it doesn’t feel right, then it probably is not a good time to be shooting.
How important is it for a photographer to connect with his subjects to bring out their true self?
I photograph people all over the world and although many people, especially with travel photography, try and capture people from a distance, being a stock photographer I always have to get up close and personal. I also need a signed model release form or I can’t use the images. That is one reason that I always have to deal with the people I photograph.
But I’ve also been photographing family and friends…and friends of friends since I was probably ten years old. Dealing with different people for so long, you get used to all the nuances from how uncomfortable they are in front of the camera to how amazing someone can be captured.
I love trying to capture the real person inside of them and so you therefore have to almost become their friend as having them loosen up is key.
Getting your subject to show his or her persona and be themselves is so critical, but also getting them to push boundaries of how they can be captured is important, whether it’s photographing a little girl with face paint on top of a temple in Burma…or shooting a woman nude underwater, the photographer really is the key to how well these people will look and feel in their photographs.
The photographer has to make the person not only comfortable, but able to really show their true self. I love talking to people and letting them know what I’m looking for and then helping them not only understand this, but get to that moment when it just works. Sometimes it’s much harder than others…and sometimes it’s just magical!
What advice can you give to those looking to sell their work via stock photography outlets?
I think the number one thing that can help anyone selling their photography in any way, shape or form, but especially with stock photography would be to buy The Photographer’s Market.
This $25 book is probably the gold mine for making money with your photography as it is updated every year and lists pretty much everyone out there all around the world who wants to buy photographs from people. They list what they are looking for, how much they will pay and how they want to see your images. Probably no better money spent in buying this book and it is without a doubt the number one resource out there.
You can contact many of the stock agencies out there also and look at their requirements and if you feel you have enough of an archive, and you might want to contact them directly. Most of them want to see a good website as they don’t really want images sent into them randomly.
This will be one way for them to pretty much delete your email right off the bat. A good website is key and that’s actually what got me into some of my agencies long ago.
But don’t be unhappy when you don’t get emails back with good news. It is sort of like a casting call with acting and you can’t be discouraged when people don’t tell you what you want to hear. In this day and age, it’s a lot tougher to get into stock than it used to be. So persistence is key!
Whose work has inspired you the most?
So many people have inspired me throughout the years, but I would have to say the work of my good friend Melvin Sokolsky is just unbelievable. He is a fashion photographer and has been since he was on staff with Richard Avedon at Harper’s Bazaar when he was twenty years old.
Melvin has been a family friend for years and helped guide me so much throughout the years. His fashion work and portraits are so inspiring and just in another league. He has helped push me probably more than anyone else that I know and has made me realize that you really have to be as creative as possible, using your mind’s eye to come up with work that is powerful and different…that sets you apart from others.
Of course, I know so many great photographers and am so lucky to know them and also travel with them all over the world. But it really is Melvin that has changed my vision more than anyone else. His website is sokolsky.com.
When it comes to post processing, about how much time do you spend on a single image?
That’s a tough one as it depends on the shot. I just got back from Antelope Canyon, shooting the slot canyons over there which is not far from our home in Sedona, and sometimes I want to completely change the look and feel of an image. I actually loved using Topaz Adjust so much, on so many of my images from there because it gave me exactly what I was looking for.
Working with one of my newer models, her face always seems to be broken out and takes a tremendous amount of time retouching. I have to make it look as good as possible so I don’t mind spending the time, and I could easily spend an hour or two just on one image…or maybe longer. And then some might take a few minutes.
Some images definitely take a lot longer, but when you know they are going to be used for advertising or displayed in someone’s home or a hospital, then I really have no time limit and I want to make them the best possible as I am incredibly fussy.
Many times I will come back the next day and look at them all over again… and see if I’m happy with what I did or if I can finesse than even more. It’s all about your vision and creativity and where you see the final outcome.
Post processing plays a big part for me and is very similar to when I had my darkroom as a kid. I loved watching images come to life and now Photoshop has taken us all to a whole new level.
Your book ‘Passage to Burma’ has received much success. What inspired you to take your first trip there?
One of my friends whom I used to travel with asked me back in 2000 what I thought about going to Burma. Back then, it was a little scarier thought than today but we decided to do it and we planned an incredible trip in early 2001 to Thailand and Burma and that started my love affair with Burma.
I started shooting monks much more seriously than ever before and I just fell in love with the people and the way of life, and especially the temples and the little children with their face paint. I was so thankful that my friend asked me to do this and he and I and his wife had the trip of a lifetime.
We went everywhere and shot so many amazing things, but it was a totally different place back then. Was nothing like it is now and with what is going on with the huge boom in tourism because democracy has finally taken hold…well it is still absolutely amazing, but you now have to deal with a lot more than what we dealt with.
With so many tourists, I decided to stop doing workshops there for a while, but I’m now thinking of going back possibly next year with a group.
It’s hard not to miss this amazing country as to me, it is the crown jewel of Southeast Asia. The photographic possibilities in this place are mind-boggling and my relationship with the monks and the most masters has always been extremely special. So, it’s hard to stay away for very long. But wherever you go, no matter how close or far….keep that camera nearby.
I hate when something special is right in front of my eyes….and my camera is not with me.