Sunday, August 16, 2009

Top Photographers Interview: Scott Kelby

NOTE: To new readers of my blog, I always hyperlink topics that for which I have already written an article. Please enjoy these articles when you have some free time.

What do my Top Photographers list, Which Books Should I Read?, and What Photoshop Books Should I Read? articles all have in common? Yep, you guessed it – Scott Kelby is a key figure in all of them. Not only is he one of my favorite authors, but he’s also has a excellent portfolio.

Scott Kelby the Best-Selling Author

Recently I (RM below) had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Kelby (SK below). What follows in this section are his responses to some of the questions I’ve been wanting to ask him for quite some time. I hope you enjoy the conversational tone and hearing the thoughts of this industry icon.

RM: I’m a huge fan of the 7 Point System and consider it to be the pivotal book that helped me get to the next level in Photoshop. Naturally, I’m very curious to know if a CS4 is in the works and how you might do things differently in this version.


I don't have one planned for CS4 because Adobe hasn't changed enough of CS4 to make the system that much different , but I am updating (and further simplifying) "The System" for the next version of Photoshop (though still a ways off). I've learned a lot since I wrote that book; in particular on how people implemented the system, and I found ways to make it even easier, and that makes it more powerful, so I'm pretty excited about the changes I have coming for it next time around.

Ron: 7 Point System for CS3 is one of my most recommended Photoshop books, but I’m also a big fan of Lightroom (especially your Lightroom 2 book).  What I’d really love to see is a 7 Point System for Lightroom 2 for those who really are happy with Lightroom and are willing to live without Photoshop. I think it would be a HUGE hit. Have you ever thought about doing anything like that?


I'll be doing exactly that! :)

RM: You just underwent the pain of building a new portfolio site as I am doing in my Web hosting series where I reviewed liveBooks, FolioSnap, SiteWelder and Smugmug Pro. If you had to do it over again, would you just use a service? If so, which one and why? If not, why?


I haven't really settled on a service at this point, and I think it's because what I really want is something I can update and maintain myself. The portfolio I have in place is a bit of a nightmare to update (to say the least). I bought a template, and it was WAY over my head, so I had my friend RC Concepcion use Flash to customize the template with my images and text, and it totally kicked his butt, too (and he's great at Flash). So, what I'm using isn't the answer for sure. I'm hoping Adobe will take things up a notch with the next version of Lightroom, because it makes total sense to manage it from there, but right now their Web galleries, while great, are missing two big things:

  1. The ability to have multiple galleries linked from the home page
  2. The ability to have clients check off or choose which proofs they want from you with a simple checkbox.

When they fix those two things, it will open a lot of doors for a lot of people. 

RM: Recently you’ve gotten into Motorsports photography, which is my long-term dream. I’ve shot Formula 1 several times and learned a lot the hard way. I know you’ve heard it a million times on the blog, but any recommendations to break through the good old boys club to shoot with the big boys?


It's tough and getting tougher every day. The problem is; you need experience to have a shot at shooting Pro sports, but it's so tightly controlled that people that don't have a connection or an "in" with somebody are really at a disadvantage. At the end of the day, you're going to either have to have a friend that has connections to get you a media pass (which is one way I've gotten to shoot some pro sporting events) or you have to have enough good shots to convince a racing league, or a team, or a sponsor to let you shoot for them (which I've done as well). I wish I had a secret to share, but it's a battle. A buddy of mine, Mike Olivella, who is a pro sports shooter did a guest spot on my blog ( and he wrote an entire article on the topic, and it was one of the best, most open, most revealing looks at how to snag media passes ever, and people loved it. If you go to my blog, search for Mike Olivella and you'll find the post, and you'll get more insight by a [long shot] than I can give. 

RM: I’m a big fan of your Photoshop Channels book that I picked up at Dave Cross’ Maximum Photoshop Tour in Seattle last November (great value), but like the recently updated Down & Dirty Tricks it’s in need of an update. I know not much has changed, but it’s still a bit on the stale side. Any plans or thoughts?


Unfortunately, Adobe hasn't changed Channels one lick, so it's hard to make a push with the publisher to update the book. It still sells amazingly well to this date, because you can do everything in the book in Photoshop CS4. That's how little has changed, so all I would do in an update is use different photos, and update the screen captures, so it's probably not going to happen until at least the next version of Photoshop at the earliest.

Scott Kelby Books I’ve Reviewed on this Blog

I’m a huge fan of Scott Kelby the author and have reviewed more of his books than any other author out there. You can find the following books reviewed on this site:

    1. The Digital Photography Book – Volume 1
    2. The Digital Photography Book - Volume 2
    3. The Digital Photography Book – Volume 3
    4. Scott Kelby's 7 Point System
    5. Lightroom 2 for Digital Photographers
    6. The Adobe Photoshop CS4 Book for Digital Photographers
    7. The Photoshop Channels Book
    8. Photoshop CS4 Down & Dirty Tricks
    9. The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers

I consider 1 – 7 as “must own” books, and 9 is a must own instead of 6 if you haven’t upgraded from CS3 to CS4 yet. My least favorite was Down & Dirty Tricks, but only because it is less oriented towards digital photography. It’s still an okay book, but not a must own like the others.

Scott Kelby the Photographer

Up until recently, I think many people thought of Scott Kelby only as the famous Photoshop or Digital Photography book guy, but he’s more than just a best-selling author – he’s a great photographer. Perhaps it is because he’s so well connected in the industry that he’s had the opportunity to learn from the best, or perhaps it is because his Photoshop skills are so good that he can make his pictures that your or I might toss, look great (as he does in the 7 Point System book). I don’t know, but for whatever the reason I’m starting to see more and more great images coming from Scott that make you realize this guy is just getting started to make a new name for himself as one of the great modern day Photographers. That’s why he’s right along side Joe McNally on my Top Photographers list, not for what he’s done (few could compete with guys like Joe on that) but for where I think he’s going with his work. He mastery of light, reflections, and color represent my ideal of what great imagery is all about.

Take, for example, the image of the motorcycle above and the football player below. The lighting is brilliant and the colors are mesmerizing. This is EXACTLY the type of work I’d love to see myself doing if I had the time (remember, I still have a day job that has nothing to do with Photography). What’s more, is Scott actually goes out of his way to have setups on his blog or in his books that show how he gets these great shots so we can try to learn from this modern day imaging master.


The Interview

The first interview I did with Scott Kelby focused on him as the famous Photoshop guru, but this time I had a chance to get him to talk about some of the gear he shoots with to make such cool images.

RM: What gear do you shoot with (or recommend)?


I shoot a Nikon D3 as my main camera, with a Nikon D5000 as my backup/travel body. My main lenses are the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, a 200mm f/2, the 14-24mm f/2.8, the 24-70mm f/2.8, a 200-400mm f/4, an 18-200mm f/3.5 - f/5.6, a 50mm f/1.4, and a 16-85mm. I have two Nikon SB-900 flashes and three SB-800s. 

RM: What Tripod Legs & Head do you prefer?


I use Gitzo legs (tripods and monopod) and Really Right Stuff ballheads (a BH-40 and a BH-55).

RM: What do you carry your gear in? (Note to readers – A ThinkTankPhoto special offer is available on the Discount Coupon Code page)


This past year I've turned into a ThinkTankPhoto freak! I use their Airport Security 2 as my main rolling bag now, and their belt system when I'm shooting sports. Their stuff rocks!

RM: What studio light gear & mods (barn door, ringlight, grid, etc…) do you recommend?


For strobes I use all Elinchrom gear, including a Ranger, the new Ranger Quadra system, three RX 600 strobes and two BXRI 500s. I have three grids, and about every softbox Elinchrom makes, but my favorites are their 72" Octa, the 53" Midiocta, and their 39" square softbox. I also have two strip banks, and it's all triggered with Skyport triggers.

For continuous light I have three Westcott TD-5 Spiderlites.

RM: What are your favorite Photoshop plug-ins?


I love Nik's Silver Efex Pro, and Color Efex. I love OnOne's PhotoFrame 4. I also use Topaz Adjust.

RM: Do you use Lightroom? (if not, what is your Digital Asset Management tool?)


Absolutely----it's changed everything!

RM: What type of computer do you used to edit your photos?


I use a Mac Pro desktop and a MacBook Pro laptop. 

RM: Do you own a printer (if so, what kind) to print your own photos, or do you use a print service (which one)?


I use Epson printers---always have. I have a 3800, a 2880, and a 7880. Couldn't live without 'em.

RM: What are your Favorite Online Photography Sites (Websites, Blogs, etc…)?


Everyday I visit, Terry's Tech Blog, Joe McNally's Blog, John Nack on Adobe, 1001 Noisy Cameras, Digital Protalk, and The AppleInsider among others. You can see my full list at

RM: Any gear, book, etc… recommendations for the gear heads?


If you shoot outdoors, get a Hoodman Loupe [RM. I agree! Click the link for my review]. Everybody that sees one in person out in the field, buys one.

Scott’s a super busy guy so unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to talk to him over the phone or in person as I have done with other Top Photographers, so there’s not as much here as I would have hoped for this article. However, the good news is that this guy never sleeps and he shares pretty much everything on his blog. If you want to learn more about him, his books or pretty much the industry then read his fantastic (and my favorite) blog.

To see more of Scott’s great images, visit his online portfolio.

A Big Thanks

Thank you Mr. Kelby for sharing a nugget of your precious time with me and my readers! Thank you for all you have done for the industry as well as my Photography education. Keep up the great work and enjoy the successes from it that you so richly deserve! I hope I can continue in your tradition of helping others via this blog as I travel on my voyage to becoming a better Photoshop professional and Photographer.

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1 comment:

The Brit said...

Another fantastic post, with much work to bring it to fruition! have yet to follow the many links, but that's to come back to!

Many thanks,