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Peachpit Exclusive: Interview with Legendary Computer and Photography Book Author Scott Kelby

In this exclusive interview, bestselling Photoshop and technology book author Scott Kelby speaks with Peachpit Publisher Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel about being the top-selling computer book author for the fourth straight year, making the transition from podcast to television, his latest book projects, his photography equipment, his workflow, and much, much more.
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Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel: Congratulations on being named the number one best-selling computer/technology book author for the fourth year in a row! A simply amazing achievement. And what’s even more exciting is that your weekly podcast, Photoshop User TV—which has been on iTunes for over two years and has been downloaded monthly by an average of 2 million times—just landed on national television. Congratulations! What has it been like to work in a different medium and make the leap to national TV?

Scott Kelby: It’s been a little stickier than we thought. The first show we sent to Fox was 8 seconds too short, and they couldn’t air it, so we missed our first week, which was really disappointing. There have also been some issues with how we master the video to tape, and well ... there are definitely some bumps in the road when you go from a simple podcast to broadcast TV, but not nearly as many as we had learning the whole video podcast thing, so I’m pretty optimistic about getting the kinks ironed out in the next few weeks.

Nancy: Let’s talk about your latest bestseller: The Digital Photography Book, Volume 2, was just released, which was a follow-up to the original The Digital Photography Book, which sold more than 175,00 copies. What can readers look for in this new edition?

Scott: Well, first ... it’s all new stuff. It’s not just an update of Volume 1; instead, it’s an entirely new book that picks up where the old book left off. What makes it different are some of the topics. People that bought Volume 1 wrote me and asked me to do a second volume that covered off-camera flash, and how to build a studio from scratch, and they wanted that next level of wedding photography tips, and travel tips, and well .... just more! The most exciting part for me is reading the reviews, which say that Volume 2 feels exactly like it picked up right where Volume 1 left off. That was my goal all along—to keep the same flavor, voice, and style, but just bring my readers the stuff they wanted to learn next, and I’m thrilled to read that that’s exactly how it’s being received.

Nancy: A lot of readers want to know what you shoot with when you go out on a shoot. What equipment do you use to get the best shots and why?

Scott: I shoot mostly Nikon gear—right now a Nikon D3, and a D300 (which I dearly love) but I’ve also shot some great Canon gear as well, including a 5D, and an EOS 1D Mark III (both incredible cameras). But the accessories and lens are as important as the camera (maybe more). The one accessory I can’t live without: a good tripod and a ball head. If you want to get photos with the same sharpness the pros do, you’ve got to shoot with a tripod. It’s one big thing that separates the amateurs from the pros. (By the way, my good friend and mentor, renowned landscape photography Bill Fortney, has this to say about tripods: “There are two types of tripods: small, lightweight tripods, and good ones.”

Another thing is: you’ve got to have “great glass, ” so I try and shoot only with zoom lenses that have the same f/stop throughout the range of the lens (meaning, if you buy a zoom that is f/2.8 at 70mm and is also f/2.8 at 200mm—that’s good glass. If it’s f/2.8 at 70mm, but at 200mm it’s f/3.5 or f/4, that’s what I stay away from). Good glass is key!

Nancy: What is your typical workflow? Do you use Lightroom? Bridge? Camera Raw? What do you like and dislike about each? What do you wish Adobe would build into these programs in their next upgrades?

Scott: I have to be honest, I’m not a big fan of the Bridge (and that’s being polite). I always say, “There’s a reason why it’s free. ” I’m a Lightroom guy, and I imagine these days I spend about 65 to 70 percent of my time in Lightroom, and the rest in Photoshop. Lightroom is just a brilliant tool for photographers, and the more shots you take, the more you need it. Camera Raw is great, but the version of Camera Raw that’s built right into Lightroom is better (it has features that, to this day, the CS3 version of Camera Raw still doesn’t have).

Nancy: You just received Professional Photographer magazine’s Hot One award for The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers, a perennial bestseller and the leading book in its category year after year. How does it feel to be the only book among all the hottest products, like cameras and accessories, to receive this prestigious award?

Scott: I was just thrilled. Professional Photographer has been one of my favorite magazines for years (maybe even more so, now, eh?), and to be honored by them was really special. Their audience is professional wedding and portrait photographers, along with some very serious amateurs (many are pro-quality shooters, but they don’t make their living doing photography), and because of the type of work they do, they’re very demanding on their hardware and software tools, so when I learned their judges choose my book as their only pick for 2008, I was just on cloud nine.

Nancy: You rub shoulders with some of the world’s top photographers. What are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had traveling and shooting with them?

Scott: Shooting with Joe McNally and Moose Peterson on location has been just invaluable. Watching Joe do a location shoot, with on-location lighting, is just amazing. You learn so much that your head explodes. Also, being with Moose, out in some incredible setting, and hearing him explain how he would shoot the scene, and then actually looking through his lens to see how he sees the scene, is just an incredibly eye-opening experience. I also spent a morning with Vincent Versace shooting on a small island in Puget Sound. It was a beautiful, crisp morning, and we were just about the only people there. It was incredibly memorable. Also, I spent four days with Bill Fortney shooting the Antelope Canyon slots, and sharing stories, and just enjoying the moment. We sat on the outdoor porch of a restaurant on the rim of the Grand Canyon during that trip, and it was close to a perfect evening of food, fun, photography, and laughter as I’ll ever get. It was a magical night.

Nancy: If one of your readers told you he was just starting out in his career, what single piece of advice might you offer him to get him started as a digital photographer?

Scott: It’s a three-step piece of advice: (1) First, figure out which kind of style of photographer you want to be, be it a people photographer, travel photographer, wedding photographer, etc. (2) Find your "heroes" for that style of shooting —the people whose published work makes you think, “That’s the kind of shot I want to be taking.” (3) Find out which one of your heroes does workshops, and go to his or her workshop absolutely as soon as you can. If they’re teaching a workshop in Tuscany, then skip buying the fancy lenses, and go to Tuscany and shoot and learn alongside them. It will get you faster to where you want to be than any piece of equipment ever made. Of course, make sure you buy one or two of my books for the flight over.

Nancy: Before we conclude here, share with us, if you would, what you are most excited about in 2008 —both books and otherwise.

Scott: I’ve got an amazing 2-year-old daughter and that is absolutely the most exciting thing in the world to me, so it’s going to be hard to top that (excitement-wise), but for other stuff: Lightroom’s over a year old now, so I’m excited about the prospect of a new version of Lightroom being released sometime this year. That’s really got me psyched.

Also, I’m really enjoying watching all the cool, new stuff that springs forth from Apple, and I love covering their stuff—it’s so creative and so much fun to write about. I’m speaking in Dubai at a photo conference this spring, and I’m really excited about that, and I’m excited about being able to devote more time to photography this year, because I’m cutting back my travel schedule. I want to spend more time this year being a student, and less time being a teacher, and that has me pretty psyched, too, but in the end, I make my living as a teacher, so the two go hand-in-hand, because I always pass on everything I’ve learned to my readers. I’m like that really annoying person who eats at a great restaurant, and then has to tell everyone he’ve ever met about it. That’s me—just for photography, Photoshop, and cool tech gear. It drives my wife a bit nuts, but at least we get to eat at some really great restaurants.

Editor's Note: Scott Kelby has published a slew of best-selling computer books. Here are a few of his newest and upcoming releases:

The Photoshop Elements 6 Book for Digital PhotographersThe Photoshop Elements 6 Book for Digital Photographers

The Digital Photography Book, Volume 2The Digital Photography Book, Volume 2
The iPod BookThe iPod Book

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