How did you get to where you are today?
I got my start in photography during the summer of my Junior year in high school. I grew up in a beautiful beach town on the Jersey Shore and had the opportunity to start taking college courses at the local community college the summer before my Senior year. Like most high school kids burned out from a long year in the classroom I just wanted to make something fun that I might be interested in. This was 1999, and digital photography was still in its infancy, and the course was a 35mm film course, so I borrowed an old SLR camera from a neighbor and signed up for the course.
The rest of that summer was the summer I fell in love with making images. I learned how to develop my own film, how to print my own prints and became enamored with the idea of learning more. I was the president of my class, an honors student and athlete. My whole life all I wanted to do was compete to be the best student so one day I could get into a prestigious school and get a good job. I was one of those kids. The sort that you kinda hate to a certain degree when they raddle off their college resume of clubs and activities they were part of. That summer course changed it all for me.
I wanted to be a photographer, I wanted to study photography, and I wanted to make it my life. In the fall of 2000, I started my degree in Photographic Illustration at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY. It is the oldest and most prestigious photography college in the nation. Although some might argue the Brookes Institute or Yale as alternatives in that discussion. I spent four years learning with some incredibly inspiring people who really were part of the Photography world back when it wasn’t so saturated with everyone calling themselves Photographers.
In 2004, I graduated RIT and being newly in love with a wonderful girl we decided to have an adventure and move to Hawaii. What we didn’t really know was that Honolulu isn’t really a hotbed of activity for emerging photographers and there weren’t really many people to even assist for or work with. Without savings accounts draining I decided to look into other means of employment and got myself a job as a Production Assistant on the ABC television show LOST. Lucky for me, right place right time, the show won an Emmy Award for Best Drama that year.
I was sucked into the Television in Film world for almost six years after that working on a laundry list of shows and films. I moved to L.A. in late 2005. In 2007, I left the show I was working on for a year hiatus to work as an Adventure Guide in South America working for a British company called Kumuka. It was a wonderful time exploring places I didn’t imagine I would have ever seen in my life and I believe one of the real reasons that I have become Travel and Outdoor Photographer and Influencer as the kids call it.
I came back from that hiatus from TV and struggled through a few more years of doing something I didn’t truly feel fulfilled with but knew that it was my way to earn a living and stay close to the entertainment industry. I will always appreciate the things I learned in those many long days on set and have the greatest admiration for the people who make films. It is by no means an easy job. As my desire to make photography my life again. I started to photograph some of the models’ friends I had made a living in Hollywood and being a young 20 something year old it wasn’t long before I was shooting quite often. This was before social media was a thing. When did become a thing I think I realized the Instagram was the perfect platform for any photographer to use for free marketing and since the struggle to make it as an image maker was real, I adopted it the best I knew how and it sort of took off for me. Along the way, as my photographer became better, I had a few really big breaks that I am so grateful for. One was working with Samsung Mobile USA, and after that, I knew I had the skills to work at a high level even though even to this day it feels scary sometime.
All your photographs are amazing. As a professional photographer how do you find your subjects?
When I first started making photographs and working with models many years ago it was much harder. Believe it or not social media wasn’t really a thing so connecting with people to collaborate with was much more difficult. If you wanted to work with real talent you had to get into the good graces of modeling agencies and hope that they had some new talent that needed pictures. When a model, photographer, makeup artist or stylist work together collaborating through and agency its called a Test Shoot. I did test shoots until I was blue working for free and building my book. Every shoot you do you get better, learn something new and take away something from. I get asked often how you get better at making portraits or shooting landscapes. The best advice I can give anyone is to just keep shooting. The more you do it the better you get at it. You will find a better command of the tools and understanding of what you like and what resonates with you as an artist creating your own unique style. Doing something over and over again is the only way to discover and master those things.
What makes the good picture stand out from the average?
In the social media driven landscape of imagery these days its really hard to not look at what is popular or the accounts of creators and not see the same exactly looking images, in the same exact places, with the same exact presets applied to the images. It’s become so formulaic that it drives me crazy. Even though many of these photos are beautiful they all just sort of seem basic to me. What I am really drawn to are people who are telling that same story but in a different way. Someone that puts thoughtful time and effort in to actually making a photograph. You can always tell when someone woke up early to get the best light or went the extra mile to climb higher than everyone else to get a different perspective. A good picture makes you stop. An average picture makes you scroll or stroll right on by. For me the pictures I find the most interesting are the ones which use foreground as a layer to draw the eye to the subject. Foreground, subject and background are so important, they are the layers that you have to work with so finding creative ways to manipulate them is what makes an average photo good and a good photo great to me.
Three years ago I did a photo project while hiking 550 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. I’ve been working on a book project for the trip recently and am very excited to share it one day in the future. The hike took me 29 days and an additional three days to reach the coast. The landscape of Northern Spain is beautiful, the food was incredible but the people I met along the way were by far the most special part of the journey. When you hike a route that has been around since Roman times you run into little treasures of history all along the way. I would recommend this hike to anyone of any age. It will change you life, as it did mine.
What equipments do you use to captures your footage? What are some of the challenges of using them?
I think that many photographers would answer this question the same way that I am going to. It really doesn’t matter what kind of equipment you use. An iPhone can make an image that is just as beautiful as a three thousand dollar camera.
I personally just switched from Canon cameras to Sony. For travel and adventure work you really can’t beat the size, weight, and power of a Sony Camera. They are doing amazing things with their technology that allows photographers to work more efficiently and at a higher rate of speed. Sony is also creating a wonderful community of creators through the Sony Alpha Collective which has been so wonderful to experience.
If I was talking to a beginning who wanted to get a camera to start with I would personally would say look for a camera that shoots videos and stills and has interchangeable lenses. If you could have one lens only to start I would choose a 24-70mm f2.8 lens on a full frame camera. It gives you the most focal range from a wide to a medium portrait lens. I think a great middle of the road camera for beginners is the Sony Alpha A6000 series cameras. They are the perfect combination for a video and photo and produce excellent quality images and video.
A large majority of the gear I use can be found on this link. It is my adventure gear, outdoor gear and photography and video gear lists. Feel free to check it out.
Closing Thoughts … How do you think photography and traveling has changed your view of the world?
I am one of the lucky ones because Photography has been a vessel for me to travel while working in my career. I feel so fortunate to have have the many opportunities to see place and experience things all over the world that I would have never imagined seeing in my life as a kid. I try to be honest with my photographs and the words that accompany them as best I can. My greatest wish for my work is that in some way someone sees it and it inspires them to travel, or to take a hike outside or go see something they wouldn’t have normally sought out seeing. I want my images to show people that you don’t have to be rich to have adventures and see beautiful things because in so many instances those adventures are closer than they might think. Traveling with photography has certainly not changed my view of the world but rather made my view of the world much, much larger. We are all the same no matter where we live on this planet. Some have more than others but we all desire the basic things that connect us all; to be loved, to have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. To feel safe in our communities and make a life for the next generation that exceeds the life we lived in ours. My view of the world is that there is more good people than bad, that kindness, compassion and good will are alive and well in the world and that although we often hear the news of the terrible tragedies of the world, that there are more people who desire peace than war and love over hatred. The most valuable thing any person can do is travel to far away places and spend time with people unlike themselves.
Amazon Gear Lists: www.amazon.com/shop/lukepearsallphoto