Q&A with Scott Dukes
We recently were able to ask Los Angeles-based photographer Scott Dukes a series of questions about his work. An L.A. native, Dukes is still in his hometown and shooting the automotive photography he has become known for.
When did you first get involved with photography, and at what age?
My involvement with photography started in high school, around the age of sixteen or so. Prior to, I had played baseball from a young age through my freshman year. That summer I had relocated schools and continued playing ball, but eventually ended up not making the final cut for the team. That ended up being the turning point for me, when I closed the door on baseball and looked for Plan B. I got into drawing for a minute, which eventually lead to photography. Shortly after, I ended up getting a job at a local camera store, which helped jump start things immensely.
Did you study formally with anyone?
Besides taking a couple of classes in high school and community college, I’ve never had any formal training.
Did you assist anyone?
The assisting I’ve done through the years has been with a couple of photographers who are good friends. Whether it’s been them bringing me in for the learning experience, or me giving them a helping hand, it’s definitely been at a more personal level.
Do you have any mentors or other shooters you very much admire?
On a mentor level, the two mentioned above—Brian Konoske and Steve Demmitt. Both are great automotive shooters, and I’m thankful to have learned a bunch from them over the years.
As far as shooters I admire, there are a bunch from all ends of photography. One other car shooter I’ve always been a big fan of is Jeff Ludes. Sticking with the heavily produced look, Tim Tadder is a big fave for his sports images. Oddly enough, though, two of my long personal favorites are Estevan Oriol and Jonathan Mannion. Maybe it’s their subject matter, or possibly a personal backlash to the heavily produced look, but I love the perceived simplicity of it all.
When did you become a pro?
2007 was my first year shooting full time.
What draws you to automotive photography?
Looking back, I think it was simply a matter of timing. As I was getting more and more into photography, I was also getting into cars. I had bought my first car, and started down that black hole of modifying it. I started shooting it for fun, then started shooting friends’ cars. It was a snowball effect from there, and I can only be appreciative of everything that’s come of it. It was definitely a meeting of two passions.
How has technology changed your own shooting over the years?
For the most part, the advance of technology has made things a whole lot easier. From the basic idea of viewing photos while shooting, to being able to send clients files via FTP from the home office. Relatively speaking, everything’s a good bit more streamlined. On the flip side, things can be a lot more fast-paced and the demands can be greater at times. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere, as long as you can send emails from your phone, some clients like to approve images remotely right then and there. I’m all for it though. I believe everything’s relative, but I think we’re living in such an amazing technological age right now and not embracing it only seems counterproductive in a lot of ways.
Did you previously shoot film? If so, any thoughts on your transition to digital?
I did shoot film for a bit. I took a few black and white classes in school, as well as a color negative class. My first handful of editorial jobs, prior to shooting full time, were shot on 35mm color transparency and black and white negative film. Relatively speaking, new technology is most always based off what it’s replacing. Most digital cameras have derived from their analog counterparts, and Photoshop is literally a digital darkroom. I’m super thankful for my analog foundation, as little as it was, as it made the transition much smoother for me in many regards.
On that note, given what he was capable of doing in the darkroom, I’d like to think Ansel Adams would be on some next level shit if he lived to see the digital age. A lot of people don’t seem to realize how much “retouching” went into his prints.
What kind of cameras are you shooting these days?
I’m a Canon guy myself. For the bulk of work, their DSLRs are sufficient. I love shooting with my iPhone as well. I really enjoy capturing random things throughout the day that I’d probably never bother with using any other camera.
What kind of lights are you using?
I personally own an Alien Bees lighting kit. They’re definitely like a Hyundai equivalent of strobe lighting, but they’ve been through a lot and are still chugging along!
Do you use a tripod? If so, what type?
I do, as it’s a vital piece of gear for shooting composites. I have an older Bogen / Manfrotto tripod of some sort, with a ball head.
Do you use a light meter? If so, what type?
I haven’t used a light meter in ages, but still have one from the film days. It’s a super basic Sekonic meter, the L-308. It was a great tool for learning the technicalities of strobe lighting.
How are things different when shooting, say, automotive shots as opposed to cycling? What do you do differently?
With automotive photography, I’d say one of the biggest differences is the subject is inanimate. It doesn’t move around or talk back to you! All jokes aside, it’s definitely easier in that sense, but shooting a car can be tough. Think oversized product photography on location. You have a large hunk of painted metal and glass on wheels, it can be tough at times to control the light and reflections.
With cycling, you have a much smaller subject to light, but it moves—a lot. As with shooting people in general, the slightest of differences in expressions, posture, etc., can make or break an image. Despite those differences, though, for me they’re pretty similar. From the initial concepts, to the locations, lighting, and treatments in post production, the idea has been to keep that same overall style and feel to my images.
Can you get into details about your use of PocketWizard gear?
With my style being heavily dependent on strobe lighting, the bottom line is I need a consistently reliable wireless triggering system. PocketWizard have been the industry standard for some time, and for good reason. I’m using a mix of Plus transmitter / receivers, and Plus II transceivers.
Any plans for your future in photography?
The basic plan is to just keep the ball rolling. To be able to do this for a living is a blessing. In addition to the automotive work, though, I want to keep working on more people / sports images. I love sports, and it’d be great to come full circle again and put two of my passions together as I initially did with cars.
I’d love to do something with more of my “personal” images as well. Haven’t quite figured out what that is yet, but I really enjoy shooting at its most basic level—just me and a camera. I want show that body of work in a proper manner, but on a more personal level, without coming off as a “one stop shop” photographer.