Photographer Spotlight: Scott Stulberg

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Scott Stulberg is our special guest photographer in this month’s Perfectly Clear “Photographer Spotlight”. At the age of 10 years old Scott’s parents bought him a plastic camera, and then when he turned 13 they built a dark room that’s where his photographic journey began. If you haven’t seen Scott’s work you’ll be sorry you haven’t! You can visit his website, I can assure you it will be worth your time.

Perfectly Clear Interview with Scott Stulberg

When you’re not out travelling the world… What’s your typical day in the studio?

Scott Stulberg: When I’m working in the studio with models, it starts beforehand talking to the models about the feeling I want to capture that day. So it goes down to the clothes, what they need to bring or what we need to buy for the shoot.  Once you are in the studio sometimes you don’t know in advance what you want to get. I have different lighting set-ups, and I try to figure out how I want the light for that particular shoot. It’s so much fun to be creative.

The number one thing in studio photography is to be creative and come up with different things.  As a photographer, you’re constantly striving to become better and better. So you read as much as you can, you hang out with other photographers, you go on-line all the time, buy different gear and you’re constantly pushing yourself to be the best you can be.


Aside from your travel and portrait photography, you’re also a UCLA instructor? Tell us more?

Scott Stulberg: I love teaching and pushing people to learn and be the best they can be in photography and in 2011, I was honored to win Outstanding Instructor of the Year at UCLA Extension.


How did your journey in Photography begin?

Scott Stulberg: My parents bought me a camera when I as about 10 years old. It was a little plastic camera that was so cool and I fell in love with that thing.  And then when I turned 13, they built a dark room for me that changed everything for me. People don’t realize with digital it’s so easy, there’s no developing, no chemicals. If you had spent time in a dark room, it helped you understand photography more as you had to be more precise with your exposures.

If you were over exposed or under exposed with either black and white film or color slide film you have very little leeway to fix things although print film was more forgiving.  Now with digital, if your picture is too dark or light, you can edit the exposure in a second.  Things have changed as it was harder to be a photographer back then but now, there are phones with cameras that do an amazing job and camera phones are what everyone seems to depend on all the time.

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What kind of tools do you use for post processing? Explain your workflow.

Scott Stulberg:  I’m a Photoshop guy! I don’t use Lightroom even though most of my friends use Lightroom, but they are both great programs. But I’ve been using Photoshop since the mid 90’s and I even wrote book on the best plugins made for Photoshop.  With what I have to do with my images, Lightroom does not have the latitude where I need to be. So I live in Photoshop and also use tons of plug-ins. I beta test and help design plugins from all of the top manufactures. I work in Photoshop all the time, working with layers and layer masks and so much more on every photo but each photo is so unique in what it needs from my vision.

I love pushing the envelope with plug-ins to see how far they can really help your images. I even teach classes on the best plugins out there. That’s why I loved working with Brad from Perfectly Clear on developing the Beautify Presets in the new version of Perfectly Clear. It’s fun to see these companies like Perfectly Clear working so hard to develop Photoshop plugins. I tell my students that these people developing plugins spend so much time and money developing these products to have you come out with amazing results literally in seconds, that can save you so much time and expand your creativity.


Among your work which is your favorite/most memorable moment as a photographer?

Scott Stulberg: When you get to travel the world, there are so many stories to share. But I’m standing in front of one of my images right now and it’s of this little girl with face paint on and she’s above these temples in Burma. It’s an image that I’m well known for and her name was San San. I first photographed her in 2001 in Burma when there were very few tourists, and literally a friend and I could have any city to ourselves.  I photographed her in front of a temple from above in beautiful, soft morning light.

I went back to Burma in 2008 and I saw her again 7yrs later, and it was such an incredible experience.  My guide tried to find her just from that picture I took of her and it was amazing as he finally found her for me from that little photo!  I brought the framed photo of her to give to her family and it was such a special moment when I first saw her years later. It was so incredible that we spent the next three days together with her hugging me the whole time.  I was so happy to meet her and show her that I put her image on my business cards.


San San lived in a hut, with nothing in it except just a mat as it was so sparse. They would cook outside with sticks and pot and then lit a fire and it was so primitive, it felt like I was in Africa. I had very little local money on me but I decided to go to their local village where you could buy stuff.  I bought her a refrigerator, a television, roof antenna which  I even hooked it for them…and I also bought a DVD player and furniture too. I spent all my money fixing up her hut so all the other people could come there and enjoy the stuff that I got for them. It was such an incredible story and they became the most popular family in the village that day!

The funny thing is, I ended up running out of money which was really bad, because right after that I got a really bad infection on my leg.  I searched everywhere for a hospital and there was no medicine at all.  So I ended up going back to the capital in Burma where I found a French doctor in an American hospital  where they gave me the strongest antibiotics made at the time and I had to be hooked up intervenus.  I had no more cash and they didn’t take credit cards in Burma. So the only way I could pay was to give the credit card to this big hotel in the capital, where they ripped me off giving me cash back, but I needed to pay the hospital. It worked as they  saved my leg! This story is the one with the most memories, and her picture is hanging in my bed room, huge on the wall and I get to see her everyday.


What’s in your camera bag?

Scott Stulberg: It’s all Canon gear. I use to be a Nikon shooter, but I really prefer Canon now  as the design and ergonomics are amazing. I have my 5D Mark 3 which has been such a great camera and I love the new 100- 400mm, which has been going with me everywhere.  I have the new 11 -24mm lens, which is a dream as I am a wide angle freak! I always seem to have my 24 – 105mm lens on my camera as the range is just awesome.  But also have a lot of important things in my pack like my cable release, thin gloves, extra batteries, memory cards, small flash lights for light painting and so much more. I put stuff in and out depending on the shoot.

I always have a reflector and diffuser (from Photoflex), in case I see some great faces.  This is the gear that I can’t really live without but I also can’t live without my Pano head (it enables you to shoot multiple images by panning from left to right), which I use all the time. Another tool I use quite often and love is my AEO lightning trigger, as I feel it is the best lightning trigger in the world. Where I live, we have lightning during the monsoon months all the time and a good trigger helps me get some unreal images.

Lightning storm at night over the Grand Canyon

What type of lens do you like to use, and why?

Scott Stulberg: I’m a super wide freak, as I mentioned! That’s why I love new 11-24mm Canon lens, which gives me unique and powerful stuff! I love more than anything, shooting the night sky, and I tested out and bought the new Tamron 15-30mm2.8, as it is one of the best lenses made for the night sky. Teaching a lot of night sky workshops, I I really know what works and doesn’t work and  my Canon 16- 35 2.8 is not great for the night sky because it’s incredibly soft in the corners and vignettes so much. Canon came out with 16 -35 f4 with IS (Image Stabilizer), and it’s so much sharper than the 16-35 f2.8 and works great for the night sky although does add more noise than a good 2.8 lens.

For shooting the night sky, you really want to use a 2.8 lens, that lets in a lot of light and that’s why I bought the Tamron 15-30mm 2.8.  It’s incredible for the night sky, super sharp, almost no vignetting and just a beautiful lens.  That’s one of the main reasons why  I love living in Sedona as it is one out of true dark sky cities in the US.  I’m always shooting in moon light or no moon, shooting the Milky Way and the stars, and I teach how to do this in in so many workshops. I’m in the process of setting up a workshop on the coast of Maine, that shows how to capture the  night sky and in particular, the Milky Way and it’s so much fun and incredibly addicting!

The Big Dipper and reflection, Acadia National Park, Maine

When shooting the night sky, what are your preferred settings?

Scott Stulberg: Typical if you have good DSLR that handles noise well, 30 sec at wide open at 2.8, ISO 3200 or so will get you some good stuff.   It all depends on your lens that setting is for super wide lenses.  If you’re not using that wide of a lens, there’s a formula you can use where you divide 500 by the focal length of your lens. For example , if you have a 16mm lens, you would divide 500 by 16 and you get 31.25.  So if you are using a 16mm lens typical you can get away with a 30 sec exposure because it’s all about not having  any movement in the stars. It takes some practice but then it becomes pretty easy!

So it really depends on the lens you have. The wider the lens, the more the night sky you will capture but the longer your exposure, the more noise you will end up with.  There are other ways to shoot, like using shorter exposures around 10 seconds or so, and stack them together in Photoshop and you end up with less noise. There are many different ways to capture the night sky and stacking images is just one way. You can also shoot a lot of images and create star trails, with many different ways to capture them which is pretty addicting also.


What’s your favorite time to shoot?

Scott Stulberg: Sunrise and sunset of course, after dark. The best lighting is when you have long shadows or the sky is just mesmerizing. It doesn’t matter where you might be anywhere in the world as you want the beautiful light and that is early and late.  Never mid-day, as the sun is too bright and at those times shooting indoors is the best, like going to a museum or shooting in the shade almost anywhere.


Any tips for beginners?

Scott Stulberg:  My best tips for beginners are to take classes anywhere you can. Also, you must learn your camera inside & out and then go online and read everything you can, Google everything you need to know and also subscribe to photo magazines.  Taking photo workshops that let you be out there with other photographers is probably the best.  Local workshops or going far away for a photo workshop is a great  way to jump start someone’s photography.

You can also take a good photography class, which can be fun and easy. There’s a school where I teach online called BPSOP  where there are all of kinds of instructors and they teach all kinds of classes.  There are a lot of resources out there for us to take advantage of…and so many of them are incredibly beneficial!


Any projects you are working on?

Scott Stulberg: Right now I’m working on a revision of my book “Passage to Burma”, as it has been sold out for quite some time.  So now they want me to add new images, and do a revision of it and it should be coming out this fall. Burma is my favourite country and I’m really excited about updating my book!

I also have upcoming workshops in Sedona, Death Valley, the Palouse, Maine, India and the white Camargue horses in the south of France.  For all those photographers needing a jump start, you can check them out here!

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How do you like using Perfectly Clear?

Scott Stulberg: I really love the new version 2 of Perfectly Clear. What’s cool about it is that you can take an ok image and make it much more powerful with a single click!  I think Perfectly Clear is extremely easy as there are not many plugins that are just one click.  Its a really great starting point and helps you get in the direction that you want to be.  You can change the parameters to your liking and save it as a preset also and that is what I love to do!  Perfectly Clear is just an easy, fast plugin to use that  gives great results in seconds.

I teach classes on retouching and there are a lot of programs out there that try to tackle the retouching side it, but I would have to say that Perfectly Clear is the easiest to use, with results that are super quick. The sliders are just amazing and super responsive and you end up with a very realistic look to your images. I was really happy to be part of the development of the Beautify & Beautify + presets. The Beautify presets are just WOW!!

Behind the Shot…

I took this shot at about 4 AM shooting towards Cathedral Rocks, here in Sedona, Arizona. I love capturing  the Milky Way and the night sky and all of the red rocks. It was two different shots, one  with  the rocks being shot by moonlight, just before the moon went down around 3:30 AM. And then a second shot of the Milky Way closer to 4 AM when there was no moonlight at all. That last shot was about a 30 second exposure,  shot wide open  at f/2.8.

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Once I opened up the final image in Photoshop, I realized that using Perfectly Clear would give it that crisp, powerful look – which I think it needed. It only took seconds to achieve those results. I think using the plug-in helped tremendously as a gave me just what I was hoping for.


Anything else you would like to share to our readers?

Scott Stulberg: The most important thing is don’t be afraid to experiment.  And it’s all about being creative and if you’re looking at an amazing image from National Geographic or online  or just about anywhere and you see something that moves you, someone else out there was inspired to create it.  When you see an amazing image out there, don’t get jealous, get motivated. My motto is if they can do that, hopefully I can do something better.  But it does take a lot of work and drive but  it does pay off.

Being a stock photographer I have to motivate myself to be better, so I’m always pushing myself. I think people need to step out of their comfort zone and push as much as you they can and try new things. Looking at other work will help get you to be inspired.  You have to be willing to take the time to learn, try different things and critique your  own work. I’ve learned as much from my mistakes as I do from my home runs.

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Thanks Scott for taking your time and sharing your photographic Journey! I’ve learned a lot from it and I’m sure that many readers will benefit too.

Make sure to check out his blog for upcoming workshops and photography tips!