I was asked recently about the evolution of my photography career from an amateur hobbyist to a true professional with my own style and how technology may have helped to change some of that. So I thought I’d blog about just that.
My journey in photography began in 1973, in the 7th grade and came out of nowhere. My best friend, Bob Finke, brought his older brother’s Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F 35mm camera to school one day. It was like a foreign, fascinating and precious invention to a thirteen year old like me. I looked through the view finder, and turned the focus ring on the 50mm lens. As things came into focus, I was thrilled and fascinated. I quickly made photography a hobby. Not being able to afford such an expensive object like the Pentax, I resorted to using my father’s Kodak 126 Instamatic camera. I made a lot of pictures and eventually I had TWO instamatics — one with color negative film and the other with black and white. I just SO enjoyed looking through the viewfinder and composing what I saw into the square frame the camera limited me to. It was a natural, God-given talent. No-one taught me about composition. It just “clicked” with me— pun intended. My oldest brother Larry, who was more like a father to me than my dad; at least more interested in me than my dad, encouraged me in photography and took me many places to make photos along with fishing and backpacking. He got into photography as well. Sometime between the 7th and 8th grade he and I borrowed my oldest sister Trudy’s Agfa 35mm rangefinder camera as step up from the instamatics. About the same time, my brother-in-law Reggie Miller viewed my photos, told me I had a good eye for it, and fanned the flame to embolden my zeal for making photos.
Living in the Bay Area of California many of my first images were of urban areas. But the fishing and backpacking trips Larry took me on gave me a real love for photography of the natural world. Yosemite and the images of Ansel Adams got me most excited. But really, any subject that I saw, I felt it needed photographing. Once I even put a small American flag on a pile of dog poop in our back yard and photographed it from eye level— just because is was different. Weird stuff.
An image I made in the California Sierra Mountains in the mid-1970’s
The Summer before I went into high-school I got even more into photography by buying my first 35mm SLR camera with my paper route money. It was a Canon Ftb with a 50mm f 1.8 lens. It was not long and I had an off-camera Vivitar 252 flash. My first paid assignment was a 25th wedding anniversary of some friends of my parents. Because of my drive for photography, the yearbook advisor at Marina High School, Mr. McDonald, allowed me to join the high school yearbook team as a freshman, something usually reserved for juniors and seniors. I was really becoming hooked, maybe even obsessed with photography.
I did a lot of the yearbook photography for my high school. When I got my drivers license, the photo studio that had the contract to do all of the senior photos for our school and shot most of the sports and such, hired me to do darkroom work and shoot some of the activities for other high schools in the area for which they had a contract. I’d be paid $7.50 per assignment, plus 10 cents per mile I drove. I thought I was in! During that time I learned that the “Science” of photography was equally as important as the “Art”. The photo studio I worked for educated me on taking 400 ISO Tri-X film and boosting the ISO to 1600 by using a special developing solution. This allowed me to make photos of night football games under the artificial lights. With their help, I began to understand the science and technical aspects of photography and see how important the camera equipment was.
I wrote to a photo editor at the National Geographic Magazine, Dean Conger. I told him I wanted to be an NG photographer and asked what I should do to purse that dream. He suggested I find out what I’m most passionate about (forestry, biology, conservation, zoology etc.) and then get a degree in that subject from college. Learn all I can about it and begin to make photos of it. During my high-school years, my brother Larry and I started our own company, Schultz Brothers Photographers, and did a number of weddings and portraits and some other assignments.
One assignment my brother Larry and I had was to make a group photo of a convention of “Germans from Russia” at a hotel in San Francisco. We shot the photo and then spent the whole night in the darkroom making 100+ 8×10 black and white prints by hand and delivered them the next day. We had prints drying all over my brothers’ apartment. What a deal that was!! I don’t think the idea of having the pool in the photo made it the best image we could have made.
I decided not to take Mr. Conger’s advice on college and instead in 1978, 3 months after high school graduation I moved to Alaska to live on my own. Due to my brother Larry’s influence of backpacking and fishing, I loved the outdoors and Alaska was the place to do that as well as continue making photos. I brought my passion for photography with me, including a 4×5 camera that my uncle gave me. Alaska was fantastic to photograph. It was not long after arriving and I made some prints to sell to the Sizzler restaurant where I was working as a cook. At the same restaurant, with a Mamiya 220 Twin Lens Reflex camera, I photographed the restaurant customers with the Easter Bunny and sent them 5×5” prints a couple weeks later.
My brother Larry took a two-week vacation and came with me on my move to Alaska in 1978. He made this photo of me on the Kenai Peninsula with my 4×5 camera.
At the Sizzler steakhouse restaurant I worked at I used my Mamiya 220 twin-lens camera and a Vivitar 283 flash to make photos of the Easter Bunny with customers. I tried to improve my technology in cameras whenever I could afford to.
I began doing wedding photography here in Anchorage in 1979 when I was 19 by answering an ad in the local paper from the owner of a new wedding dress shop (The Bridal Cache) who wanted an in-house photographer to recommend. My girl friend then, and now my wife of 31 years, Joan, knew the holy grail for me was a Hasselblad camera. She was making good money by being a great waitress and with that money she bought me a Hasselblad 500C body with 80mm lens and a film back—in cash. My camera technology was increasing a lot. The “Art” side of photography still came very naturally to me and the “Science” side I learned by reading some books, trial and error and a lot of mistakes.
At some point in my wedding career, I began making a “self-portrait” at every wedding I shot.
By the time I was 22, I finally quit my day job as a cook in the restaurant and was doing full time wedding photography and selling some prints and stock photos. I would do over 400 weddings in my career before deciding to do no more in 1993. In 1982 I took a photo of the father of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, Joe Redington Sr. Mushing his dog team with Mt. McKinley in the background. I sold the photo to the local paper for, I think, $25 or $50. Once it was published many, many people contacted the paper to buy prints. That really started my career in more of the print and commercial arena and a bit away from weddings.
With my friend Ron Halsey helping, I photographed Joe Redington Sr in 1982. This image really started my career in the print and commercial arena. I titled the limited edition print “The Great Ones”… as the name Denali means the Great One.
All the while I did not pay a lot of attention to new camera technology, just to better technology that was already out there. I usually could not afford it though. When new cameras or lenses or gadgets came along, I evaluated whether or not I needed that equipment to stay competitive, to just embrace a new technology or perhaps it would expand my fun with photography. It was really a great invention to have a polaroid back for my 35mm Canon F-1 cameras in order to judge whether the studio lighting I was using on an assignment was giving me what I needed.
I used a polaroid back on my 4×5 camera to make this image in the kitchen of a home I was sharing with my 3-best buddies. It had no commercial value. I was just experimenting with a silly idea and with studio lighting which I really had no idea how to control at the time.
When Canon came out with the EOS series cameras where I had to buy all new lenses, I was angry with that decision. And how in the world could auto-focus actually work?! Obviously I was WAY wrong there. There has been a myriad of changes since then. My vision for photography has, more or less, stayed consistent through time, though with a number of side trails in different artsy areas. Today I still don’t usually buy the latest and greatest new technology—- except for better lenses and camera’s with better sensors. I”m not on the bleeding edge of that.
Now, with he digital age, it is really exciting (and scary to a pro-photographer who is looking to make a living) to see such innovative technology available to both professionals and the amateur markets. These innovations are quite exciting. I love the idea of using a drone or a GoPro, as I’ve always subscribed to the idea of wanting a unique angle on an image and those options can make that happen.
There’s a number of other new innovative technologies that I find just fascinating and worth taking a look at. I have only read about these ones below but these look quite intriguing and you might find worth while:
– A throwback to the “instant camera” days is the Polaroid Snap+. It prints 2” x 3” photos in under a minute after the image is taken. A very fun addition to your shooting style.
– The Light L16 Camera. A very compact size pocket camera that uses multiple lens systems to shoot photos at the same time, then computationally fuses them into a DSLR-52-megapixel quality image. And it boasts precise depth of field where you can choose your focus after the fact. What will they think of next? It also advertises the ability to shoot in 15X less light than smart phones and a 5x optical zoom.
– Looking for the next generation of “go-pro” go anywhere action cameras. Take a look at the amazing Nikon KeyMission 360. It has image sensors on BOTH sides of the camera to create 360-vision. WOW.