Don't ever try to steal a fur seal's woman-just ask David Schultz.
The wildlife, landscape, and nature photographer, based in Park City, Utah, has had some close calls during his photography tenure, but it was on one of his polar expeditions to South Georgia Island where man came face to face with a ferocious (and territorial) beast.
"The beaches here at this time of year are breeding grounds for fur seals," he explains. "All of the bulls are staking out their territory and trying to keep other bulls from coming ashore. They're usually confronting each other right at the water's edge. On one particular trip, I was photographing some penguins with my back to the surf, and this very large fur seal came charging up right out of a wave. I didn't see it until Woody, one of the other expedition members, shouted, 'David, look out!' I didn't even have to look-I just dove. The seal went on a rampage and smashed my video camera-I guess my backside looked like competition! Needless to say, I ended up buying a lot of beers for Woody during that voyage."
Despite this brush with death-by-fur-seal, Schultz continues to venture to glacier-dotted tundras and other landscapes for his compelling imagery, which he then uses to line the walls as limited-edition prints at his Utah gallery.
A Teen Dream Becomes Reality
Schultz's photography career got its serendipitous start when he was diagnosed with diabetes as a teenager. "I guess if I hadn't become a diabetic, I never would have picked up a camera and probably never would have become a photographer," he says. "There was a big concern in the back of my mind of losing my vision at some point in my later years, so I wanted to at least have the memories. When I got out of high school, I would take off for a few months at a time and just drive around to see what was out there. I picked up a camera somewhere along the way."
After meeting up with a pro photographer during a trip to Ruby Beach in Washington State when he was 19, Schultz decided he wanted to be a photographer. "It took many years-I was all self-taught," he says. "I left Michigan and went to Dallas in 1980 and got into commercial photography, shooting primarily fashion and lifestyle work. I built up a clientele, and after about seven years of that, I came out to Utah on an assignment for a resort. I just fell in love with the area, and a month later I moved out here."
Schultz had figured on continuing in the fashion/lifestyle genre in Utah, perhaps geared more toward the resort/sports industries, but that wasn't the plan life had in store for him. "There were a lot of people out here already doing that; the field was saturated with landscape images as well," he explains. "Plus, while I enjoyed the fashion work and the people I was working with, it really wasn't what I was cut out for. I didn't have the personality or the drive."
Utah's spectacular landscapes were also partly to "blame" for Schultz's switch. "It's an incredible region," he says. "Utah has some of the most diverse and dramatic terrain [of] anywhere I've been. You've got the change of seasons, you've got the mountains, the wildlife, the salt flats; within a six-hour drive, I can be in 10 different national parks. It's a pretty special place."
The seed of an idea for a fine-art gallery was planted after a visit to Robert Redford's Sundance Resort, located about 10 miles from Schultz's house. "One day I was at the resort in one of the gift shops, trying to figure out a way to market my images," he recalls. "I spoke to the manager of the gift shop and asked her if I could put some framed images up on easels on their beautiful deck. It had a gorgeous backdrop, with a creek running by, mountains in the background, and all the autumn colors [in full bloom]. It was the perfect landscape for what I was trying to sell."
Schultz did extremely well in sales that weekend and started approaching other local resorts with the same exhibition idea. "After a couple of years of doing these outdoor exhibits and realizing I didn't like having to deal with the sudden change of weather (you don't want to have your images ruined by a sudden downpour!), I decided to open up the gallery on Main Street in Park City," he says.
While he acknowledges there are other photographers who have ventured down the limited-edition-print path, Schultz tries to differentiate himself from the pack. "I wouldn't say there are a lot of photographers doing what I'm doing, but right here on Main Street in Park City, there are four nature-photography galleries," he says. "You have to take it to a different level, with both the quality and the personal connection-people are always surprised when they call the gallery and discover I'm the actual photographer. The work also far exceeds what you'll often find in most photography galleries. I decided early on that I was going to stick with a very high-quality print and do a number of them signed with museum matte board. Everything is archival, and we use a lot of frames imported from Italy with beautiful woods. The other part of my little niche is the images themselves. My style is trying to find really vivid colors and scenes and getting it in the right light to bring those things out."
Into the Wild
Schultz stays busy during the wintertime at the gallery ("I'm basically in the gallery from before Christmas through Easter without a day off.") In the spring and in the fall is when Schultz sets out for faraway climes.
"A lot of my work recently has been in the Arctic and Antarctic polar regions," he says. "I'll be returning to Antarctica in October to photograph emperor penguins-my fourth trip down there. We'll be on an icebreaker-an entirely different class of ship."
He began his ventures into the deep freeze as a passenger. "I made the right contacts with the expedition company that leases the ship; they brought me on several voyages into the Scandinavian Arctic," he says. "This will be my third trip with them as a guest lecturer on the voyages into Antarctica. I don't get paid for it, but when you figure a voyage like that is like $20,000...plus, you have a little more flexibility than the other passengers might. You know the staff and might help with the launching and landing of the zodiacs (the rubber rafts) and such. If you want to head over to a certain iceberg, you might have a better chance of talking the driver into it!"
Planning for such a photographic adventure requires backups, sturdy gear, and some good old-fashioned common sense. "If a wave's coming, you duck and cover!" he laughs. "I had a video camera that was full of saltwater; it still worked until that fur seal smashed it."
Having extra supplies is key. "You're down there for six, seven weeks," he explains. "It's hard, because you already are bringing so much gear to stay dry and warm, but it's not like there's an Adorama or a B&H Photo along the way!"
Schultz recommends packing extra UV filters for your lenses, battery chargers, and even the right adapters. "Digital photography is both a good and bad thing, because now you have five pounds of power cords and rechargers and stuff like that, and then you have to make sure you have the right adapters (for a Russian ship on top of that)," he says. "But after going a few times, I can easily pack in a couple of hours to go on that type of trip."
Keep Your Eye on the Mandible...
As anyone who's seen The March of the Penguins can attest, setting foot among these dorsal darlings can be exhilarating, suspenseful, and even humorous. "It's absolutely hilarious when you land on some of these beaches and you've got 200,000 penguins around you," Schultz explains. "They come right down to the zodiacs. You're just in the middle of all this noise and chaos; then you throw in some three-ton elephant seals duking it out, and a bunch of angry fur seals. That's the big thing with wildlife-it's right in your face."
For his up-close-and-personal encounters, Schultz often uses telephoto lenses to isolate a scene. "When there are a couple hundred thousand penguins, trying to find a shot in that chaos is the difficult part," he says. "You watch their patterns and try to find the couple that may end up entwining their necks. Or maybe one adult with all the woolies (the big, brown, puffy king penguin chicks) gathered around it."
Schultz relies a lot on his 80-400mm Nikkor VR lens. "It's a perfect range for this type of work-things change so quickly that if I were trying to switch cameras or lenses, I'd miss it," he says. "And when you're out shooting on a zodiac, you're bouncing around; very seldom is it calm. Having a vibration-reduction or image-stabilization lens is very helpful. The 80-400 is very sharp-it's just that you have to be diligent with it."
Looking for a story or a bit of trademark humor in every scene helps Schultz compose his shots. "Rather than trying to get a nice portrait of an animal, I try to capture their personalities," he says. "If I can come up with a real nice caption of an image in a heartbeat, then I know I've done what I was trying to do."
As an example, he cites a visit he took to the Grytviken whaling station on South Georgia Island, where Sir Ernest Shackleton is buried. "There was this old pipe sticking out of an embankment, and a little drizzle of water was coming out of the pipe," he recalls. "A baby elephant seal (we call them wieners) was right under the stream of water playing in it, just twirling around with his mouth open. All these passengers from the ship were walking by, and here was this incredibly fun scene; everybody else was looking at the church. Part of my job is to get people involved with the scenery, so I did bring the seal to a couple of people's attention. Then an Arctic tern landed on the end of a pipe; one of my favorite shots is the expression on this baby elephant seal's face. It had these giant eyes that were just mesmerized by this tern, who was just perched on the end of the pipe, screeching at him."
Photographing polar bears has also become a passion for Schultz. "They have such incredible personalities," he says. "[You'll see them] sparring and doing somersaults and just being themselves. I get people all the time who come into the gallery and ask, 'So, are they friendly?' I'll pull out one of the claws, or the museum-quality replica of a polar bear skull to show them. That's another fun part of the job: educating people when they come in and see the images and relating the stories behind them. Kids love when they can wrap the jaws of an 1,800-pound polar bear skull around their heads!"
Lighting for these types of photographs, be they landscapes or wildlife, needs to be spot-on-something his gallery customers don't always understand right off the bat. "People will come into the gallery and see this mountain scene on my wall that's just got amazing light in it and perfect autumn conditions with wildflowers, and they want me to come out and photograph their resort or their new development here in Utah," he says. "They don't understand that some shots have taken me four years of going back to the same spot over and over again to finally capture it in that nice light. I can quote them a day rate and tell them I have no idea how long it will take. I could go out there every morning for a week and have lousy light. I avoid that as much as possible."
In fact, less-than-ideal lighting has prevented many a shot from being taken. "It's more often that I don't take a shot than I do because of how critical I am about the lighting conditions," he says. "When I only have a very limited amount of wall space, if I can't capture something better than what I already have, it's one of those things where I'll mark it on the calendar and go back to the same place next year."
And it's not just having that revered early-morning or late-evening light. "Yes, that's typically going to be better light, just because you get longer shadows and warmer light," Schultz concedes. "But I've got some shots that were shot in the middle of the afternoon; there was a storm going through and I had little pockets of light coming through the clouds, highlighting the little homestead in the middle of a yellow canola field."
Schultz is currently trying to market a book project based on his Antarctic and Arctic travels. "It's still a work in progress," he says. "I'm trying to find a publisher; I'll even self-publish if it comes down to that. It wasn't my goal initially to do a book-after reading a book about Sir Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance expedition, and seeing the photography that Frank Hurley came back with, I knew I had to go down and see this place, experience it. I feel like the images I've captured are some of my best work; hopefully a publisher will agree."
He also can't deny the excitement inherent in traveling to distant tundras. "To experience it firsthand, to try to land on Elephant Island-we've made three attempts so far and still haven't been able to," he says. "We've hiked the last leg of Shackleton's trip on South Georgia Island a couple of times, and one of my cameras actually got smashed on Sir Ernest Shackleton's gravestone on my first voyage. That was an interesting insurance claim!"
For more of Schultz's work, go to www.westlight.net
DAVID SCHULTZ'S TOP BUSINESS TIPS
1. Use your website as a necessary marketing tool. "It's easy to update immediately, as opposed to a print catalog (which I also have)."
2. Consider a guestbook in your gallery. "I encourage people to sign my guestbook whenever they come into the gallery; that way, if I have any new releases, a special edition of a certain image, or a sale, I can send out an email to direct people to my website."
3. Check out alternate venues. "I would like to open up a couple of other galleries. This is a seasonal area; if you have a real bad winter, you're going to be hurting for the rest of the year. So I'm trying to open up a gallery in another location that's more of a summer clientele."
4. Don't be heavy-handed with the post-production finessing. "I pretty much stick with what I could do in a traditional darkroom, but to a much finer degree, including dodging and burning, color correcting, etc. I'm not going in to insert a penguin on top of a polar bear!"
MOST IMPORTANT TOOLS FOR PRODUCTIVITY
"Digital, continuous-tone printing has made a big difference in my workflow and productivity, as opposed to traditional darkroom work. The accuracy of the color-correcting, dodging and burning, etc., throughout the various-size images I print has made it much easier for me. I know that if a customer comes into my shop and sees a 10x14-inch print and wants it in a 25x40 that the prints will be an extremely close match.
The ability to do the darkroom work on my PC, FTP the files to the lab I use in California by midweek, and have them delivered to my gallery in Park City by Friday is also wonderful. It has completely eliminated the many hours I once spent driving to a 'local' lab, a 110-mile round trip, to deliver a slide, then proof and/or pick up prints several days later. With gas hitting $4 a gallon, not to mention my time, this has been a big savings."