Flipboard’s Interview with Stephen Oachs

Welcome to the Flipboard interview with Stephen W. Oachs. Stephen is featured in FlipPhotos on your Flipboard and he is an award-winning photographer, successful entrepreneur and technology veteran, who began his journey in photography the moment he picked up his first camera.

Completely self-taught, Stephen’s unique and distinctive style has earned him recognition as one of today’s finest nature photographers. He was recognized in 2007 as wildlife photographer of the year by the National Wildlife Federation and was awarded best nature photographer in 2008 by National Geographic. His work has graced the pages of such notable publications such as National Geographic, Popular Photography, Outdoor Photographer, National Wildlife Magazine and many others.

In 2009 Stephen founded The Aperture Academy, a unique combination of fine art photography gallery in conjunction with classroom and workshop instruction. The Aperture Academy is celebrating it’s one year anniversary today, Saturday December 4, 2010. Inside Flipboard will be attending the festivities to bring you a first-hand report of the anniversary event. Now, without further ado, we hope you enjoy the interview…

How did you get started with photography?

Stephen Oachs: In a funny way actually — It was 9 years ago and my wife and I had just gotten a Beagle puppy. I was out in the backyard with Tucker, the new Beagle, and wanted to take some photos of him he was so cute and energetic so I went in the house and grabbed my wife’s digital camera. As I recall, it was a Sony point-and-shoot and when I pushed the button to take the picture there was about a 1-second delay from when I pushed the button to when the picture would actually be taken. Given Tucker was a puppy and didn’t hold still long, it was nearly impossible to get any good images of him. Long story short, I ended up at the camera store to buy a camera that would take the photo when the shutter button was pressed, with no delay — I ended up with a DSLR and really enjoyed the creative side of photography combined with travel, and nature.

When did you know this could become your career?

SO: After I bought my first DSLR camera I spent the first four years doing a lot of shooting — often traveling to locations specifically to photograph particular locations but it was only just a hobby at that time — I never did anything with the images I was capturing other than sharing online with other photography enthusiast. Then, with encouragement from friends and family, I attended my first local Art & Wine street fair and to my surprise people bought my work a lot of it! This inspired me even more so I continued to attend local art shows over the next couple of years selling my work and adding to my collection of work. In 2006 I ventured into teaching others photography and really enjoyed that as well. I was out in nature teaching others something I loved to do myself. It was a perfect match — Now, four years later I have a 4,000 square foot fine art photography gallery located in the Campbell Pruneyard and with the year coming to a close we have conducted 68 workshops and taught over 800 students in 2010.

You’re known for being a more modern photographer, how do you approach new technology and photography?

SO: Mainstream photography today is digital, both from the moment of capture, to sharing whether it be print or on-line. With that said, the approach to photography, whether film or digital, is still quite similar. The camera is still a combination of aperture, shutter speed and composition and developing the result is done in a computer versus a dark room, yet the digital tools are, in many ways, exactly the same as the physical tools used in the dark room.

The biggest difference is that computer software for post processing (i.e. developing) an image is extremely powerful compared to their dark room counterparts so in the hands of a novice photographer these digital tools often &n provide a crutch to “fix” what may or may not have been recorded while in the field. I fell victim to this early in my photography, as many do, but through my photography career have come to learn the importance of capturing the best result possible in the camera so that my post processing efforts are minimal. This is largely due to the fact that excessive digital post processing (just as with film) leads to degradation of image quality, especially when you print large.

So, I know that was a long answer but it lays the foundation to my answer in that I am careful to balance technology with ability. Technology can only help you so much — you still must know how to “see” as a photographer to find those magic moments in time and be able to see the finished product even before you take the camera out of the bag.

Your Gallery, the Aperture Academy is about to celebrate its first anniversary. What has been your experience in the first year in business?

SO: Opening the Aperture Academy has been the combination of fulfilling a long time dream with a heck of a lot of hard work. I’ve been an entrepreneur for the last 15 years, but entirely in the software world, so opening a brick-and-mortar type business meant a big learning curve for me in many business respects. We combined the two existing business channels of print/merchandise sales and educational workshops with a classroom in the gallery to teach Photoshop and Lightroom for image processing, as well as using the gallery as an events venue.

The first year has been very excited, stressful and every other emotion you can imagine.

The community you are building around the Academy seems very creative and hands-on. Can you tell our readers more about the types of events you put together?

SO: The name “Aperture Academy” was a key part of opening the gallery. Prior, I branded everything as “Stephen Oachs Photography” but that was too limiting given that I wanted to build a team and a community. We have worked hard to build a community of photographers and nature enthusiasts that come together for workshops, classes and our open house events. Every 3-4 months we hold an Open House party where we invited in related vendors, such as Canon and Bay Photo, and offer a real win-win situation — drawing in photography enthusiasts and exposing them to our guest vendors. I’ve been amazed by the turn out of these events where we typically see attendance between 600-800 people over a 3-4 hour period.

We’ve built a strong community through many different programs such as our classes and workshops, parties, Photography Contests, on-line photo community, and photographer of the month program to name a few.

How do these events fit together with your plans for the Aperture Academy and your own personal growth as a photographer?

SO: These events work as a conduit to bring the community together — guests socialize, learn about new products and services from our guest vendors, win prizes and just simply have a good time. The goal of Aperture Academy is to provide a vehicle, both online and off, for everything photography. Today, there isn’t anything like Aperture Academy and so as we grow, we can extend the concept to other geographic locations either via additional company owned galleries or through franchise, where other professional photographers can use the Aperture Academy brand to extend the community into their own areas.

Is there any advice you would give to aspiring photographers out there?

SO: I often tell students on workshops that photography is an art and that the end result is what makes you happy. Often times students come with preconceived notions of what’s “right” or “wrong”, yet like painting or drawing, photography has no rules. My advise is to have fun with photography and capture what pleases you.

Thank you very much for your time, Stephen. It has been pleasure getting to know you. I look forward to the anniversary party tonight.

Stephen is the featured photographer in an upcoming Alaskan Photography Cruise. Looks like a once in a lifetime experience for any one who loves photography and nature. It would certainly be an unforgettable Christmas present, if you’re still looking for a super gift for the adventurous photographer in your life.

Following are more of Stephen’s spectacular photos. Enjoy.

Simply breath-taking, aren’t they? What a world we live in. Be sure to take the time to appreciate the beauty around you, especially this time of year.

Thank you,

~ JonV