Today I’m really pleased to be able to share with you a recent interview with Scott Kelby: Photographer, Photoshop Guy, Best Selling Author and President of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (N.A.P.P.)
For the interview I wanted to focus more on who Scott Kelby really is and kind of dig a bit deeper than focusing purely on what he’s extremely well known for i.e. Photography and Photoshop.
I’m proud to be able to call Scott a friend and over the past few years I’ve got to see more of what he’s like ‘behind the scenes’ and you know what…he’s exactly the same: what you see is what you get…a devoted husband and father, a Photographer, Businessman and friend who genuinely loves what he does and loves life!
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Glyn: Hey Scott I don’t want to take up too much of your time but first of all I just want to say thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed for the blog
Scott: I’m very happy to do it Glyn so no rush, no rush at all
Glyn: I guess when you’re asked to do interviews a lot of the time it’ll focus on the Photography and Photoshop side of things but certainly over the last year or so having got to know you better I wanted to focus on a different angle; such things as ‘Who is Scott Kelby?’ if that’s makes sense.
I think it would be great to talk a little more about your background so in true Piers Morgan style let’s kick things off by telling us a little bit about what life was like growing up for Scott Kelby…where you come from, what life was like growing up, your family and all that kind of stuff…
Scott: Ok so I was born about an hour and a half from where I’m sitting right now so I haven’t travelled too far from home. I was born in Lakeland, Florida which is very close to Walt Disney World, say about 45 minutes or so and I had a truly wonderful childhood; a wonderful Mom and Dad who were just super, great people, incredibly nice. I know alot of people grow up and kind of like their parents later but I knew I had awesome parents from when I was a little kid all the way through. I was very, very fortunate…my Dad was a Prince, my Mom was a Queen…they were great, I mean just really lovely people. They gave me a very fun childhood and were very involved in my life…I had a ball.
The great thing about it was they supported absolutely everything I got involved in; I wanted to be a musician and they were 100% behind me. In fact most of my early life was being a musician which started in 7th Grade so I was maybe 12 years old when I started playing drums and I played that through High School and then when I was at College I switched to playing keyboards. I played at my church for a number of years so most of my youth was spent as a musician and I wanted to make it full time. I never had aspirations to be a big star or anything. I never was willing to move to LA, New York, Hollywood or Nashville I just wanted to play in a bar and have fun and just play music and that’s exactly what I did all the way until I was 32 years old.
Starting in my late 20’s I did get a day job too and so by day I was a Financial Consultant and I worked many for years for Merrill Lynch and then I worked for one of the largest banks here in the United States as a Financial Consultant for a while, and then I quit that job, I was newly married and so my wife and I started our own graphic design business.
It quickly became where we were like the Art Department for Ad Agencies that were too small to have their own ‘in house’ Art Departments so we wound up writing copy and that’s where I started to learn how to write by writing advertising copy and doing designs and things. We kept growing and growing and that’s basically how we got our start with my buddy Jim. You see at the bank I worked with his wife Jean and so the four of us, two husband and wife teams launched a small newspaper for Macintosh users in Tampa, Florida. Anyway this magazine grew and grew and eventually it became Mac Design and then later that became Layers Magazine.
Glyn: So Layers Magazine was out before the N.A.P.P. was around?
Scott: Oh yes this was our first thing, as I was an Ad Agency guy so what happened was we were literally sitting there trying to think of ways to make money because it’s very hard to make money in the magazine business…you have a lot of influence but you don’t have a lot of money.
So as luck would have it one night I went to a Mac users group meeting and because we ran this Macintosh users type magazine I guess we were like mini celebrities in our mac circle and we had a guy talking about Photoshop that night and this is when Photoshop was back at Photoshop 2.0 and it was great but we held our meetings in a public library which meant you had to be out by 9 o’clock at night
Glyn: And speak very quietly as well huh 🙂 ?
Scott: Well it was a private meeting room so that was alright but we did have to be out by 9 and you know there’s a law here in the United States that says when you leave a users group meeting you must go for pie afterwards and we’re all sitting around like ‘Man I could have listened to that guy for hours’ and one of the guys said ‘Man I could have listened to him for 3 hours’ and I’m like ‘Man I bet people would like a whole day of Photoshop’ … and one person said I wonder if people would go to something like that, and I was like “We could do a seminar”. We all started talking and advertising it in the magazine and as luck would have it besides the guy who was teaching Photoshop, you know who else was there that night?…the Adobe Rep for the Central Florida Area, and I knew him cos he went to my church.
I asked him to step outside for a minute and I said ‘Hey Bill if I did a Photoshop seminar do you think Adobe would sponsor it?’ and he’s like ‘Here in Tampa? are you kidding? cos not only would we sponsor it we’d provide you with software to give away and I’ll even speak at the conference if you want.’
So the next day we had a meeting to plan the first seminar and that was back in 1993. In October 1993 our magazine sponsored our first seminar, 150 people showed up at $59 a piece and at that moment we said ‘Hey here’s how you can make money with a magazine’. So that was it, we never did any mail shots, there was no social media, there was hardly any internet so we did the whole thing through the magazine…and the magazine was free.
After doing the seminars for a few years people would ask us on the day ‘man this seminar was awesome…when are you coming back?’ but when we said well…next year they were like ‘so what do we do between now and then? And that’s how we got the idea for the N.A.P.P. and Photoshop User Magazine. We took the idea to Adobe and when we went to them Glyn we had everything ready…cover of the magazine, spreads, layouts, articles, logos, everything…we just laid it out and the guy that was in charge said ‘We’ve been approached many times about starting an association but no-one gone as far as you guys have. You guys look ready…how long until you’re ready to launch?’ and I said ‘3 weeks’ and he’s like ‘Really?’ and I said ‘Yep…we’re ready to go’ …and so we launched and that was back in late 1994
Glyn: So when you say ‘we’, at this stage then in 1994 how many are there making up this group of people?
Scott: It literally was 4 people…myself and my wife, Jean who is still our business partner to this day and her husband Jim but Jim retired maybe 6 years ago. So the company is run by myself, Kalebra and Jean who is our very dear friend.
Glyn: So not only has it been alot hard work but also being willing to just do it?
Scott: Yeah sure a lot of it has been willing to take risks you know because a lot of people talked about having magazines but we did it, talked about doing seminars but we did it, people had approached Adobe many times but we showed up ready to go so I think yeah we had a lot of lucky breaks and timing was definitely a great part in all of this but if there was anything we did right it was that we were willing to just try and see what happened.
Glyn: Scott, this is always something that fascinates me because you see many people that I know who have become very successful I’m always keen to chat to them and find out what is about that person that separates them from the next person who maybe hasn’t been so successful. Scott what would you say it is about you then that has enabled you to get to the stage in your business life you are now…clearly very successful?
Scott: Glyn if I had to point my success to any one thing I would honestly say that I’m very willing to take other peoples advice and I think very rarely in life we meet people who will really take other peoples advice. I think people will ask for advice a lot but I also think that what they really want is for you to tell them that what they were thinking was correct. They don’t really want to hear other peoples advice. So I spoke to a couple of people who’s advice I really trusted, the main one being Kalebra who has got great business sense and she always has this famous line ‘If we don’t do it somebody else will’ and so you know when she gave me advice on business and so did my brother who also has great business sense, plus a couple of other trusted friends it’s always easier for other people to see your situation and see opportunities from the outside when they don’t have all the emotion on the inside. I think if I’ve done anything right it was to listen to the advice of people I trust.
And you know Glyn, Kalebra gives phenomenal advice. I’ll often hear her finish a phone call with a friend and I’ll be like ‘That was the most unbelievable advice’ and ofcourse the person she was speaking to never listens and they always call back and go ‘I should have listened to you’ My difference is…I actually listen.
So I guess what I saying is be willing to take other peoples advice and not just seek it. Many people seek advice few people take the advice that they get. Glyn I’m sure you could name me 3 people who’s advice you trust and because they’re on the outside they can see your situation so clearly.
Glyn: Ok so back tracking just a little bit then Scott am I right in saying that Photoshop was first and then Photography for you came further on down the line?
Scott: Now that’s weird because I was a photographer first in fact even before I met my wife and we’ve been married 22 years. So yeah I was a photographer first and my brother who was quite a good photographer, he’d done some traveling and came back with some fantastic photos and that got me interested in it. I finally invested in a Pentax film camera and he and I spent a few years traveling around doing that kind of photography and when I was in my early 20’s when I got a job as a financial consultant I started a small portrait studio with a guy there who had won a bunch of awards from Kodak…mostly just for fun and we’d charge just a little bit of money for head shots and stuff like that but not enough to make a living. So I was shooting film, I had my lights a light meter, hot lights, shooting on seamless paper, had a Vivitar flash and all this stuff and I was so into it that I got completely burned out and at some point I was like ‘you know what I’m done’ so I took all my camera gear and stored it up in my attic and I didn’t touch a camera for maybe 10 years. However the first time I saw a Digital SLR and that you could see your pictures immediately that was it…it reignited my passion for photography. So I was a photographer first, then I became a graphic designer and it was digital that brought me back to photography.
Glyn: I remember when I first joined the NAPP, and long story short I’d got my first ever copy of Photoshop, opened it up and was like ‘Ok now what?’ so I went onto Yahoo, did a search and then straight away the N.A.P.P came up so out of complete blind faith I joined. Back then I don’t really remember there being as much focus on photography with the N.A.P.P. and Photoshop User as there is now so how did that come about?
Scott: Glyn what it is, is we followed Adobe. We have to do what Photoshop does. Now when Photoshop first came out it was a tool for graphic designers…photographers didn’t use photoshop but then photographers did start to use it and Adobe started to add things to it for photographers. There was no camera RAW…there was no RAW right? … all those things were added and when Adobe starts doing releases that are 90% geared towards Photography then we had to do it. I remember Dave Moser coming into my office and saying ‘We need to do more photography’ like really concerned that we weren’t following the trend and that everything was about photography now and we’re focusing on designers so it was like ‘ok, ok’
So we basically followed where Adobe were taking the program. When you look at Photoshop look at the last four versions and look at what they’ve added…you could pick out a few tools for designers like vanishing point and ermmmm….well that’s pretty much it.
But seriously think about it how many new tools have they created for designers? Off the top of my head I’m thinking vanishing point, but the rest of it like healing brush is a retouching tool, Camera RAW is ofcourse for Photographers, all of the stuff they’ve added to the Bridge, Carousel and all that stuff, Lightroom they built a whole program for Photograhers so you can see how we kind of had to follow that. Now as for the rumours about Photoshop World turning into Photo World let me just say…there will always be Photoshop world it’s just that if you didn’t have a bunch of photography tracks you’d have a very empty Photoshop World.
Now what we do have is we have one track each day that is just photography, not photoshop. We have one track that is just Joe McNally talking, Dave Black talking and so on but all the rest of the classes are either Lightroom or Photoshop so if you really look at it there’s a lot of Photoshop there.
Actually whilst you’re there I’m going to just open Photoshop and see if I can find anything that’s been added in just for designers in a while…
Well I guess maybe you could say the 3D stuff but that’s the only thing right? Maybe even refine Edge but as a photographer it’s proving really handy so you see what I mean?
You have to go where the people are. Glyn how many conferences are there today for Graphic Designers? Now 10 years ago there were all kinds of conferences for graphic designers, huge big expos but now how many are left? I can only name one in the United States. That’s saying something.
Glyn: Scott certainly during the time I’ve been a member of the NAPP and Kelby training things seem to have really grown with so many more resources available for people to learn.
It’s very rare that I talk to someone be they a professional or a keen amateur who hasn’t heard of ‘Scott Kelby’ so obviously there’s a kind of ‘fame’ attached to it for want of a better word so my question is how do you deal with that? and also on that line, with everything you’ve put together to date do you really realize what you’ve done? I for one have a lot to thank the NAPP and Kelby Training for because without them I very much doubt I’d have ever picked up a camera let alone have my own business.
Scott: Glyn I get letters from people saying that all the time and as an educator I love to hear that stuff. Honestly I don’t sit back and look at it all a whole bunch. Dave Moser says we should stop and smell the roses more but I’m so focused on what we’re doing next that I don’t sit around my house going ‘Hey I’m Scott Kelby’ you know. I’m just focused on what to do next and I don’t think of myself in those terms. I’m very proud of what we’ve done as an organization but I don’t know…I guess I feel so incredibly regular. Hey we know each other right so you know what I mean…I just feel like me.
It doesn’t feel any different you know I stay up late playing modern Warfare with my buddies…you know I have a very normal life.
Glyn: But then that could be part of why you have been so successful to date
Scott: If you love to teach and you know cos you’re a teacher too, you’re happiness comes from teaching
Glyn: Sure it’s the best feeling ever when someone enjoys what you’ve shown them and it’s helped them to move on
Scott: Yeah totally, that’s what makes your motor run. That’s it exactly and you just want more of that. It’s a self fulfilling thing because your goal is to help people learn and when that happens you’re happy.
It’s like you, you don’t do what you do teaching people because all you are focused on is the money…you do it because it’s who you are. Your thing is to share this stuff with other people so it’s just kind of what you do. I don’t want to say it’s a ‘calling’ because that sounds kind of heavy but for whatever reason…it’s who you are.
I love to teach, I love to hear stories about how it’s helped someone’s career and that makes me feel like ‘wow that was really worthwhile’. Every story makes you want to do it that much more. It’s hard to take credit for what you’re supposed to be doing…does that makes sense?
Glyn: Absolutely. I can honestly say that if I could do it for free then I would; I get so much satisfaction out of doing it.
Scott: Yeah it’s like anything else. It’s like playing music right? I mean why do I like to play music? It’s because I love to see an audience enjoying it, seeing they’re happy makes me happy. I don’t do it for the money but at the same time, there was a time when I had to feed my family through music. And so being able to do something you love and get paid for it is phenomenal and so now I do the same thing in teaching…I love to teach, I love that I have a job where I get paid to do it and that doesn’t make it anymore sinister than say my Pastor… he gets paid, he has to feed his family too right? It doesn’t make him a bad person that he needs to make a living; everybody has to feed their family.
Glyn: Scott going back to the subject of family, we see you guys traveling around a heck of a lot doing seminars so I want to ask you how do you strike up a work / life balance because that’s something I have struggled with and I still do but thankfully Anne is very good at bringing me back on track.
Scott: Well I’m very lucky that the business I own has 85 employees so I don’t have to be there all the time and for example I’m here at home every morning with the kids, they go off to school and a lot of times I’ll drive my son there or pick him up and I take off pretty much when I want. I’m at every school function, I’m at every one of my son’s basketball games. If I need to change my schedule then I will so that I can be there. You know the other day I went to my daughter’s school…there’s like 26 kids in the classroom and there’s like 4 Dads. So I feel very fortunate that I can take off time and I can take the whole day off if I want.
My average time to arrive in the office is maybe 10am and a lot of times if my wife wants to hang out then it’s 11am or 12pm. Sometimes I’ll just go straight to lunch with my wife and will call the office and be like ‘I’m just going to hang out today’ and Kathy’s like ‘yeah fine’. Kathy’s my personal assistant; I have two Brad and Kathy and they cover so many things for me to be able to write and also when I’m writing I’m usually at home.
My travel schedule is so bad because of trying to get home. So for instance I’ll shoot a football game…I get up in the morning, I fly to the city, I shoot the game and I’m literally home the same day so a lot of times it’s like man I was up in Boston shooting a game but I was up at 6am and back home to tuck the kids into bed that very same night. So I do a lot of things that are a pain in the butt to make sure that I am home and that I’m not on the road so much. 2011 was different because I launched the Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It tour and it’s only me that does it so I travelled more in 2011 than I did in the last 5 years.
Glyn I took 8 weeks of vacation last year… that’s a lot of vacation and when I go on vacation I don’t do anything. I read books, I sleep late so I take a lot of vacation; this year I think I’ll end up taking about 7 weeks and sometimes in the year me and my wife might just take a week off…we don’t go to the office, we don’t do work and we don’t go anywhere…we’ll just stay home and do nothing.
Glyn: Scott if you don’t mind can I take you back to your photography but in particular how you feel about it. We all have times when we don’t like what we’re producing, nothing seems to click and something just isn’t working and we all have our own ways of dealing with it but what about you?
Scott: Ok as far as my photography goes I’m pretty miserable about it most of the time. It gets very frustrating because I’m not a full time photographer… I’m a full time Photoshop Instructor, I’m a full time businessman and so I don’t get to shoot nearly as much as I want. This is why I’ve signed with a wire service for my football photography to try and get better; it’s something I’ve wanted to do and I’m still not where I want to be. I look at my own portfolio sometimes and I just hate it and that’s because I know I can do better but I just don’t have the time to practice to get to where I want to so personally a lot of the time it’s just frustrating. I do some things that I like then I look at them 6 months later and I can’t stand it and so I’m constantly struggling with my own photography. A lot of the times when I do photography it’s because I have a book coming out and I have to do 7 portrait shoots to fulfill everything I need to do and because it’s on a tight schedule there isn’t really the time to experiment and try new or different things.
One of the ways I get out of this frustration though is when I get the chance to shoot more, but when I’m not shooting I’m frustrated because I’m not progressing in my craft. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining Glyn because I’m not. I have wonderful opportunities, I have a full time photo assistant, a fully stocked studio so it’s not like ‘Oh poor me’… it’s not that, it’s just that I know I can do a lot better things than I am getting to do.
Bottom line is I don’t get to shoot for my portfolio but rather I get to shoot for tutorials…do you know what I mean?
Glyn: So if you could change one thing what would it be?
Scott: Not just to shoot more but to shoot more for myself and put some images in my portfolio that would make me proud and Glyn you know I find it very hard to complain about anything because I have a blessed life but you asked me the question and I’m being honest with you.
Glyn: So many people in this industry go around saying everything’s fine, their photography’s great, life is great, things couldn’t be better and all that and whereas I understand them saying stuff like that, I think people really benefit from hearing what it’s really like sometimes. Clearly this is why Zack Arias’ Transform video made such an impact on people because when it was first published it was like the first time that honesty was out there.
Scott: Yeah Zack’s video was a different kind of inspiration because most times it’s like ‘you can do it, it’s great, just go out there and seize the day’ but he inspired us by admitting something we all go through. You can look at Zack’s work and be like wow he’s great but he has times too when he hates what he does and it makes you think well if he goes through it then maybe I’m not alone.
Glyn: Yeah it made people realize that what they were feeling was normal. Ok changing the subject then Scott let’s talk about ‘Springs of Hope’. How did you come to be involved with that and what plans are there for the future?
Scott: I go to a very small church and the Pastor is wonderful guy … a very hard working, selfless person who started this church and it’s a non denominational Christian church. So in that church there was a husband and wife that every weekend we met who were always taking people in, feeding homeless people downtown…always taking people in and just helping them…people who definitely have a calling to help others. Well they went on a vacation to Kenya where they were helping to feed orphans for a couple of weeks and they came back, spoke with the leader of the church and said this is what we’re supposed to do and they literally sold their home, all their possessions, took their teenage son and moved to Kenya. They just realized that they were meant to do this so they moved out there brought a piece of land and built an orphanage. It’s a beautiful orphanage and I’m hoping that this year we get a group to go out there where we can work for like a week and maybe do a safari too.
But anyway they’re wonderful people and they do so much more than the orphanage because they feed kids who live on the streets too.
Glyn I don’t know what it’s like in the UK but here sometimes we have these organizations that are raising money but then we hear that the person running it is taking an insanely large income from the donations but when you know someone personally and know what they’ve done and that every penny you send them goes to do the right thing then that was something my wife and I knew we wanted to get behind.
With all the problems out there what’s being done in the scheme of things is such a small thing in comparison but there was a pastor at my old church I remember telling a story about a kid walking down the beach and there’s loads of starfish washed up, thousands of them and the kids picking them up and throwing them back in before they die and this guy says to the kid ‘Kid you are wasting your time. There are 5 thousand starfish on this beach and you know what you’re doing just doesn’t matter’ so the kid replies ‘you don’t think what I’m doing matters?’ and the guy says ‘not at all’ but then the kid picks up a starfish out of his bucket, holds it up and says ‘Well it does to this one’.
And so that’s the thing…the orphanage cares for 22 kids out of a million but you know what for those 22 kids it’s transformed their lives.
Glyn: Scott some people sent in some questions when they knew we’d be speaking so I’d like to finish off maybe with a couple. The first one here asks what’s the biggest mistake you see people making today with editing and photography?
Scott: I think the biggest mistake that people make is they’re over thinking everything. None of this stuff is that hard but I think that people almost want it to be a technical thing. They think that the answers to their photography problems are in a menu. That somewhere in there there’s a button to check that when they turn it on magic happens. I’ll give you an example of what I mean…
Epson run the Epson Print Academy and they toured around the United States giving a series of seminars. A friend of mine was running them and I spoke to him the one day asking what the feedback was like and you know the number 1 complaint from the entire tour was people thought we were going to show them something secret about their printer. That there was something in the printer that the Pros use to get better pictures and if they went there Epson were going to show them the secret panel in the back. They desperately wanted there to be something else that they needed to do but there just isn’t. It’s what you do in your camera and what you do in photoshop.
And you know I think it’s the same thing in photography. I think people have these expensive cameras and sometimes get these crappy pictures but put it down to the fact that there’s some menu button they haven’t selected. People can get too much into the technical when what they need to do is focus on the creative side of photography. I think the best advice I can give is to stop looking in their camera and start looking at other photographers’ work. Find what you like and then try to put it on paper… is it the cropping? do they shoot everything wide angle? You know maybe if you realize that all the photographers work you like is shot wide angle but you hate your own work and you’ve been shooting telephoto then maybe there’s your answer.
Don’t just look at other people’s work that you like…analyse it. What is it about the imagery that you like? Is it the location? Joe McNally says if you want to shoot more interesting pictures then shoot in more interesting locations.
You’re not going to get the same kind of picture of your local city hall like some of the images of the Taj Mahal. And what else? Well you’re going to have to probably go to these places many times until you get the perfect lighting and situation but a lot of people aren’t willing to do that.
My buddy Bill Fortney teaches landscape workshops and Glyn I kid you not that Bill has an iconic shot of every landscape place there is in the US. I don’t care what it is, if you name it Bill has the best shot of it you’ve ever seen. And so someone asked him ‘How do you get those shots?’ and Bill said to them ‘You want to know the real secret to getting great landscape photography? You’ve got to go there 25 times. Do you think the places looked like that the fist time I went there?’
But there’s the problem people won’t commit that much time. They’ll get up at dawn get what they get and move on but if you really want an unbelievable sunrise of Monument Valley you need to plan 2 weeks there and then if you get lucky on your 3rd day there, then you can leave. How many people are willing to do that Glyn? How many people are willing to go to one area and stay there to shoot every dawn until they get it? So it’s not a menu, it’s being willing to do what other’s wont.
Glyn: Ok so one more question then Scott and this one’s from Dave Clayton
Scott: Ah yes Lord Jollybottom
Glyn: Dave asks … Scott the Government shuts down the whole Kelby Media Group for harboring a fugitive Canadian for the past few years; what would your realistic job be if there was no more N.A.P.P.?
Scott: Can I give you a non-realistic and realistic?
Glyn: Sure thing
Scott: My unrealistic job would be I’d love to own an NFL team; I would love to be the owner of a football team so that’s my unrealistic dream job.
As for realistic I would love a job at a big magazine; being able to shoot portraits for a big magazine…one where I’ve got some latitude rather than where I’ve got to run in and take a snap shot…make really meaningful pictures of people I think that would be a lot fun.
I do enjoy sports photography but that’s a really tough one but what I would like to do is shoot athletic portraits for a sports magazine or maybe shoot people’s stories but really just to have the time to take a really great portrait like a movie poster or something…that would be fun.
Maybe I’d like to do something in television…produce television shows or something like that…yeah ok that’s my answer…a Producer.
Glyn: Well Scott I just want to again say thank you so much for giving up your time for this and for sharing your thoughts…it’s very much appreciated.
Scott: Hey Glyn it was my pleasure, thanks.
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