Photographer of the Month Interview: Scott Donschikowski | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, June 2013:   Scott Donschikowski

This month, our featured guest is a member of our great photography instructors, Scott Donschikowski. Knowing his crazy schedule, we really appreciate that he took some time away from his ApCad students to answer questions! Please visit his links to see more of his terrific work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: How did you get your start with photography?

I got my start when my dad bought me a new Canon Rebel XT for a college class. I needed a minor in a similar discipline to Radio, Television and Film, so photography seemed only natural. I soon found that I liked it a lot more than my major.

:: Your beginning with the Aperture Academy you started as the Lightroom expert, and then moved in to Photoshop AND Lightroom…what challenges does teaching the processing side of the spectrum have that the field-side doesn’t?

The challenges are always about available time. I have to cram enough material into 3 hours so my students feel like they learned some valuable skills, but aren't overwhelmed with too much. I often find that due to tangents on my part, and the part of of my students, (which are totally welcome and I love their input) that I may have to sacrifice something minor or run the risk of going over the allotted time. We don't really have that problem in the field.

:: When you began your photographic odyssey what was your ultimate goal? How has your goal changed now that you’ve landed in your current role?

I think when I started that I wanted to be a travel photographer. I wanted to go to exotic locations, photograph the local people, food, scenery etc. And in a way, the only thing that has changed is who I work for, and who comes to the locations. So I still get to go to some amazing places, but instead of having to photograph it alone, I get to spend time with like minded individuals.

:: How many people screw up pronouncing your last name in a given week?

It's kinda weird, when I was younger, it seemed to happen all the time. But now, it happens a lot less. I don't know why. Maybe I just do a lot of shopping online so no one has to pronounce it. But almost every time I go into a gas station when we're on the road, I get the phrase, "wow that's a long last name there, I'm not even gonna try."

:: What is your favorite subject to photograph? Why?

Large, sweeping landscapes would be my favorite. When I bought my first full frame camera and first really nice lens, my eyes had been opened to a new world. I think that I only thought in wide angles for like 2 years. I wanted to capture everything I saw in one frame. I still try to this day. My favorite lenses are still on the wide side.

:: Having come from the college side of photography, what did you learn in college that you found to be the most useful in your current photography routines?

I think it helped me technically the most. We were educated in proper techniques first and foremost, like the law of reciprocity (look it up) and stuff like that. I was forced to learn how to take pictures correctly to make great prints, so the technical limitations of the film, paper, and then later the sensor was kinda huge. It really helped, cause that is often times where we see the beginners struggle most.

:: What did you learn from your own shooting, post-college that you’ve found most beneficial that you WISH they would teach more in college?

I wish they would have told me thats it's very tough to make a living as an artist. They focused on photography as an art the entire time, and skipped over the crucial part of "after I graduate, how can I make this profitable instead of just a hobby." There needs to be a photography-as-a-business class. I struggled for years afterwards because I just simply didn't know how to start as a professional.

:: What do you find as the biggest challenge with your own images? How do you try to remedy that?

My biggest challenge is the time I take with a given scene. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the places I go and I forget to look for the shot I want to take. I'll often not take enough time choosing the best composition and realize when I get home that I missed a crucial element in the shot. I pretty much need to slow down and pretend it's film.

:: What is your favorite piece of non-photographic equipment that you can’t live without?

My iPhone. Does that count? I rarely use the camera on it. But I have become so dependent on it in my daily life. All the information in the entire world is in this device. It's pretty amazing to wield that kind of power.

:: This summer you’re heading out for nearly three months of solid shooting and teaching, this is a first for you…how do you plan for something like this?

For the first time maybe in my life, I haven't really planned anything, except to bring the right equipment. It feels weird to say but the only thing I know - set in stone - about this trip, are our arrival and departure times. Everything else is just a list on a paper that I've glossed over once or twice. I am excited to see these places with my own eyes, and not necessarily through the eyes of others by way of their photographs. It's really liberating.

:: Your website says that you’re a ‘tech-geek’ at heart. What does that mean? I’ve always seen you as a crazy analytically brained person who knows how EVERYTHING works. Sometimes, and I’m sure you’ve noticed this with teaching, those who are very technically orientated struggle with the creative side of photography and composition…do you struggle with this? How do you deal with it and help others deal with their need to be ‘too nerdy.’

As early as I can remember, I have always had a fascination with how things work. My parents fostered this the best they could and I always used to take things apart and put them back together. Legos were huge. (And still are!) And I try to read everything I can get my hands on about the equipment we come into contact with as photographers.

Learning about photography from an art standpoint in college, also really helped to subdue the analytical part of my brain while engaged in photography, letting the creative side flex and prosper. You're right, it is a challenge helping those who are very analytical and I indulge them as best I can, but I always offer up multiple ways to view to scene that we are working on to have them see what I see, and that really helps to have something on my camera screen for direct feedback.

:: What was the first time you really had that ‘Oh man, THIS is really my job!’ moment? Describe what it’s like to be able to do photography on a full time basis. What is the one thing people that don’t do it full time might not realize about what it’s like living ‘the dream?’

That's hard. It might have been on my first two-day workshop, which was in Yosemite in February of 2011. We had the best conditions I have ever seen in the park, still to this day. And when we were shooting Horsetail Falls, all gathered around and joking and waiting, and then at the right moment the light hit just perfectly on the falls and everything fell silent. It was pretty amazing to realize afterwards that I was just paid to talk about what I love in an awesome place, surrounded by really cool people. It didn't feel like work, and still doesn't to this day.

:: Which photographers were influential to you early on? What about now?

Again coming from the college side, I was influenced at the beginning from the greats, Adams, Weston, Cartier-Bresson, Avedon, Gursky, Winogrand, just to name a few. I was heavily influenced by Brian Rueb, Stephen Oachs and Scott Davis, and as the fourth member of the [Aperture Academy] team, I learned how to shoot landscapes and wildlife in a much different way than I learned in college. But I also pull influences from the masses of contemporaries we have in the industry.

:: You teach a summer camp for high school kids, with these young people who might be thinking about a career in photography, what is one piece of advice you try to pass on to them?

I give them the advice that I wasn't given in college. Life after education may be a tough road for a couple years until you find your voice and your eye. You will need to develop (no pun intended) your own view and specialize in something unique to get noticed and make a living in the industry. Just being knowledgeable in the skills of photography won't cut it anymore.

Say, if you really like mountain biking, you should strive to be the best mountain bike photographer on the planet. Get really into it and know the world inside and out. That's what will make you successful. Specialize. Focus on one aspect and be the master at it. For me it was post-processing. I really love the technical side of photography, and I had a childhood that fostered a life among computers, so that really worked, once I figured out to stop being multifaceted and focus on one thing. I landed this job, and now as the years have progressed, I can be multifaceted again.

Scott Donschikowski

"...develop (no pun intended) your own view and specialize in something unique to get noticed.... Specialize. Focus on one aspect and be the master at it."

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