My Interview with Scott Shaw

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Scott Shaw is a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist. Shaw realized his passion was with photography when he bought his first camera in high school. After earning his journalism degree at Southern Illinois University, he entered the work force full-time as a photojournalist. While working at the Odessa American in Odessa, Texas he captured his famous Pulitzer Prize winning photo of 18-month-old Jessica McClure being rescued from an abandoned well. After a friend introduced him to wedding photography, something he never thought about doing, Shaw angled all of his talents to his successful wedding photography business.

Shaw’s portfolio and more information can be found here.

I had the chance to interview Shaw over the phone and gain some insight on what he values in a photographer and how I can improve my own skills.

What’s your one best piece of advice for how a college photographer can prepare now for success in the workplace after graduation?

I would say people skills are huge. You have to have a great eye and great photography, but people skills are really important. I found over the years connections and getting along with people is good because they tend to hire people they like and get along with. If they are picking between two people who are very good, they are going to go with someone they enjoy talking with.

If there were one mistake you could take back in your career path, what would it be?

I would say not being more of a self-promoter. I grew up in the Midwest and was taught to be very modest, which I think is a good attribute, but I think sometimes I could have maybe promoted myself a little more than I did and not try to be so modest. My thinking was, “oh well someone else will do that for me or they’ll bring it up,” but it doesn’t tend to happen that way.

What technical skills for photographers will be valued in the coming decade?

I just think the ability to see good light and how to use light whether it’s available light or strobes. There’s a lot of people out there in the business, more in the portrait and wedding field, that don’t take the time to learn lighting. Obviously an eye for composition is huge, knowing how to frame things and keep things clean so your eye goes to the subject.

With so much devoted toward new technical skills these days, how can photographers best also focus toward strong, meaningful content?

Keep up on current affairs, find projects that you think are important or interest and not just superficial. Work on those things.

When you look at portfolios of up and coming shooters, what do you most look for?

Do they have an eye for composition and lighting or did they just get a few lucky photos? What worked consistently and can you tell that they knew what they were doing? Every photo’s going to tell an aspect of a story, it’s not just a few lucky shots, each one should say something different to add up and tell a complete story.

What led you into wedding photography?

I ran into a photographer from another newspaper at an event and he said to me, “You may not see me around much anymore because this is my last assignment. I’m gonna start shooting weddings and portraits,” and I said, “why would you wanna do that?” and he told me, “It’s totally different now, you’d like it. It’s like a telling a story mixed with fashion and  you’re looking for moments. There’s pressure because it’s one time when it happens, try it out.” I ran into someone who shot weddings and asked if I could go along and I got some really cool photos and decided to go into it more.

What is one last piece of advice you can give me before I head into the professional world?

You just got to work hard. Carry your camera everywhere, you never know what you’re going to find. Look at good quality magazines and books to inspire you and see all the many different viewpoints. Work on cultivating your own style, which can take years.

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