How’d You Get That Shot with Kevin Steele

A Spotlight Series About
The Technique Of Photographic Imagery by Photographers For Photography!

 

Mt Rushmore and men. © Kevin Steele / kevsteele.com

 

NAME:

Kevin Steele
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WHAT IS YOUR SPECIALTY:

I shoot People in Motion: active lifestyle, travel and portraiture for advertising and editorial.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS:

Life began in the darkroom every day after high school. Although I went to a university to study astronomy I never became an astronomer.  But I’ve been an engineer, author, climbing guide, and tech specialist before focusing full time on photography the past 7 years.  Photography had been on the side until word of mouth led to my first big location ad shoot.  Which fittingly enough is this photograph on Mt Rushmore.

FAVORITE TOOLS FOR YOUR TRADE:

White gaffer tape. Black coffee. The Nikon D4 and D800 with 24-70 f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8, 85 f/1.4 lenses most of the time.   When shooting motion I love using Pentax 6×7 lenses adapted for the Nikon, nice long manual focus throw, beautiful optics and the full frame 35 sensor uses only the sweet center spot of those medium format lenses.   And really my absolute favorite and sentimental tool is the Rollei SL66 with Zeiss lenses, alas it seldom gets out. It’s original owner, my Dad, handed it down over 20 years ago  – it’s a 46 year old beautiful piece of kit.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE “ON THE GO” CAMERA TO SHOOT WITH AND WHY:

iPhone. I just always have it with me, great for scouting and snapshots.  I’m so bummed about Instagram – I’m about to bid them farewell as they’ve screwed up their terms of service.  I love the simplicity of it (I stick with one filter) and the creativity born of constraints.

WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THE PHOTOGRAPHIC REVALATION GOING ON OUT THERE WHERE EVERYONE HAS A CAMERA?

A fellow photographer turned me onto Seth Godin’s post of the recent Christmas Eve: “True Professionals don’t fear amateurs”. In a nutshell professionals love it when passionate amateurs show up – it pushes us to higher levels. I think it’s great that everyone can create and share and film and edit and experiment.  Maybe it’s just capturing a retro snap of their friends or maybe it sparks entry into a creative field that we don’t even have a name for yet – everything moves forward.  I do feel that those pros in the middle that had satisfying careers for years can’t rest on their laurels, especially if they’re in client direct portrait, wedding or corporate work.

WHAT EXPECTATIONS DO YOU HAVE FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHY INDUSTRY AS WE APPROACH IN 2013:

I expect the tech will always move forward – better tools. I do like where we are right now and feel that we’ve come to where it really is almost good enough. Maybe the industry should take a break for a while and let us flesh out the craft of what’s in our lap.  But people never rest J.  On a recent shoot for Adobe I saw some amazingly talented digital artists stretching CS6 in ways I would not have imagined.  I think the business side will continue to evolve: agency Art Buyers and Art Directors are being hired by their clients: in-house work will expand as the ad side becomes less about a single campaign and more about a broad brush of digital, social media, print and viral campaigns.   Editorial is changing rapidly and favors the niche mag that has great content.  Publications that deliver only good-enough images, design, and story will find themselves behind. It doesn’t matter if it’s on paper or pixels – one doesn’t kill the other, the source material is what counts.

WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR CLIENTS THAT GET TO BENEFIT FROM YOUR CREATIVE EXPERTISE AND PASSION:

My favorite kind of shoot day is when we are all feeling the love.  The client, maybe an agency, definitely the crew, are all making it happen. I’ve had great shoots recently with FedEx, Adobe, Oakley and Polartec. On the editorial side – Runner’s World, Trail Runner, Men’s Journal, WebMD, Parade Mag. There are a few local clients that really get to benefit although my rates are a stretch up from the local norm.  I love shooting athletes of all ages. I love photographing people with passion.  Much of the local work doesn’t go in my portfolio but it keeps my chops up and is always fun.  The locals include Opera Santa Barbara, The SB Triathlon and California’s regional visitor’s bureaus.

TELL EVERYONE ABOUT THE IMAGE YOU ARE CHOOSING:

The concept here was an iconic image that shows the monument with a unique viewpoint.  The client, CMC, manufactures and distributes equipment for the rescue industry: firefighters, police, SWAT, search and rescue teams.  Their customers get into some dramatic locations and each year CMC publishes a catalog with an epic cover shot of their gear in action.

Mt Rushmore and men. © Kevin Steele / kevsteele.com

The immediate issue was access: the client and ad agency worked well in advance, almost a year, to get permission from the Park Service and Homeland Security. We flew into Rapid City, South Dakota and spent three days on location shooting in early morning and late afternoon.

With a climbing background I’m very comfortable working at heights and on ropes. The models were actual Park Service rangers and although some may mistake the rangers for climbing the faces they are actually rappelling down  – part of their job is to inspect the cracks on the faces.  There’s a big one crossing Lincoln’s nose and in 1998 an instrument was installed to monitor the expansion and contraction of the crack with the seasons.

Mt Rushmore and men. © Kevin Steele / kevsteele.com

For this shot I’m standing on the tip of Jefferson’s nose, secured by a rope to my climbing harness, leaning over to frame Lincoln, the rangers and the landscape.   If you watch Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” you’ll see Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint drop down between Jefferson and Washington at the end of the film (they were actually on a replica built back at MGM’s studio).

Mt Rushmore and men. © Kevin Steele / kevsteele.comThe strenuous approach to the top of the heads was almost as exciting as being out on the granite faces. Step off the trail and over the “No Access” fence, up past security cameras and sensors, scramble behind the heads, past the large Secret Chamber which was envisioned as a “Hall of Records” and onto the top.  Ropes secured and harnesses checked, the rangers went up and down, moving across the faces as I shot from different vantages.  Changing lenses had to be done with care.

Mt Rushmore and men. © Kevin Steele / kevsteele.comThis was not the client’s first select. But as I looked through the edit again and again this was clearly the photograph that best represented the sublime feeling of being out on the tip of Jefferson’s nose with a view very seldom seen.

FREE SHOUT OUT:

Shout outs?  All the support from my wife Linda and boys Nico and Aidan. Mom and Dad. My rep Doug Truppe. And of course my interns and assistants Meg, Meagan, and Megan (thank god they’re spelled differently!), Karla, Jerry and Anna.  Those embarrassing light-test photos we’ll save till the next spotlight series…

 

 

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To check out ALL of Kevin’s work 
please go to his website! If you are
a professional photographer or know
of one that should be in this series
please email us today.