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Interview with Adam Hoke

Adam Hoke took time out of his busy schedule to tell us about his favorite cameras, lenses, and subjects to photograph. He also explained how stars on maps symbolize his dreams for future exploration. Read on to learn more about Adam!

Adam Hoke Lancaster Photographer
 Instagram.JPG Adam Hoke @
Find Adam Hoke online

You've mentioned before that you have a photography business where you get paid to do shooting. One of you clients is Millersville. Tell me about that again.

Someone I know who worked part-time in the Communications/Marketing department at the University mentioned that I did photography when they overheard talk about needing a photographer. After checking out my work online, we then met shortly thereafter. I’ve been doing work for them since early 2013. Sometimes I’ll shoot various buildings around campus, students in the classroom setting, or getting dirty with hands-on stuff in the labs. Sometimes, it also involves an award ceremony, or donor recognition.

So you were shooting before the Millersville gig, and posting to get their attention?

It wasn’t my intention, but I’m certainly happy how it worked itself out. My full-time employment is with a company that's contracted by Millersville, plus I live close to campus, so it was always convenient to shoot around the area when I felt the itch to get out.

What lead to you starting the photography on your own?

1 night What lead to you starting the photography on your own?

Before I bought my own camera, I'd borrow one from work. It was a Canon Rebel XTi, and really enjoyed using it at family outings. In mid 2012, a trip to Disney was in the works, and I knew I needed to get my own camera.

And what camera was that?

It was Sony NEX-5N. I wanted something that was small enough for me carry around on our trip. I read reviews online, and it seemed everyone else liked it.

Have you documented trips before? What led to this one being the one that made you get the camera?

That's a good question. Like I previously said, I borrowed a camera from work, so I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to take it for such a long time. I would normally just take it home overnight, or the entire weekend, if I knew I wanted to shoot photos of something.

At this point, are you using advanced controls, or are you just using it because it's a good camera?

No, I was mainly sticking in auto. Pretty much pointing and shooting.

What about your cell phone? Were you shooting at all with that?

Somewhat, but nothing special. If I didn’t have my camera along, I would use my cell phone, but the quality back then was unusable in my opinion.

Was there any other form of art that you were into?

Growing up, I was interested in art class, and took a summer camp here and there. I enjoyed drawing, but never focused my time on it. When high school ended, so did my exposure to art, and it wasn’t until after college graduation that I became more exposed to the arts.

How did your first Sony workout for you?

Good. I was happy with the pictures I produced. I'm still using Sony, so that says something. I think one of the big drawbacks to the Sony mirrorless line was the lack of lenses in the initial release. I was just beginning, and didn’t realize how important lenses are, but luckily as my knowledge of the art has improved, so has their lens selection.

What did you do after you first got the camera?

1 waterfall What did you do after you first got the camera?

I wanted to learn both how to operate it, and also what to do after I took the picture. I didn’t want to use auto mode. I knew I could get better results if I knew how to use the controls better. I joined a local photo group (Lancaster County Photographers on meetup.com) in July of 2012, and that exposed me to a lot that I wasn’t aware of. They have a monthly speaker, and photo critique, in addition to random photowalks.

I also attended a workshop by Scott Kelby in Philadelphia called "Photoshop for Photographers" that same month. Between the both of them, it gave me a solid start. I’m still a member of the meetup group, and highly recommend it to anyone looking to learn more, or meet others with the same interest.

Now that you're on the trip, in the heat of the moment with this new camera, were you able to pull that all together? I know it can be stressful!

Yeah. I took so many pictures down in Florida. I feel like I was able to document the trip pretty well, but honestly, anybody can do that when they take 5000 photos. I think it would be interesting to do the trip again after a couple of years experience, just to see how I would approach it differently.

When you got back, you looked at all these pictures, and they inspired you. What do you start taking pictures of now?

1 graffiti When you got back you looked at all these pictures and they inspired you. What do you start taking pictures of now?

I got back from the trip, and I was happy with what I got, but I think it really gave me the itch to create more. I would take my camera wherever I would go, and really began to enjoy shooting landscape scenes. I tried to find neat spots around Lancaster that have a nice view, or sometimes just walk around my neighborhood finding neat scenes to capture.

I really enjoyed the step after pressing the shutter button...taking the photos to my computer, and processing them to what I liked. I already had the Photoshop skills prior to my venture into photography, so I think that was an advantage to my growth.

How did that come to be?

My full-time gig is being an IT manager. I’m responsible for website upkeep, as well as the digital signage around campus. I became familiar with Photoshop by following online tutorials, and still continue to learn today. There are so many things that you can do with it.

Were you finding that you had to take some of the shots that you needed for the websites?

Yeah, at times. On one occasion, I took a photo of a roll of tickets, Photoshopped it out, and used it as the header image on the ticket sales website. Most of the time I was taking something out of a photo, or merging multiple photos, and adding text to it.

Tell me about your photo process, from pulling your image off the camera, to filing your stuff. What do you do from there?

I'll shoot raw on my camera, and then after a shoot, I'll import those into my Lightroom catalog. I have an additional 1TB SSD hard drive in my laptop with my Dropbox account installed there. After I know that Dropbox has synced my files to the cloud, then I'll clear the SD card.

You're backing up your raw onto Dropbox?

1 bee You're backing up your raw onto Dropbox?

Yeah, along with all my other important files. I store everything in Dropbox. I convert my RAW to DNG during the import process of Lightroom. I'll keep an eye on the space of the hard drive to make sure it doesn’t become full. When it becomes nearly full, then I'll transfer the photos to NAS with a RAID array to ensure I never lose any. These photos remain in my main Lightroom catalog, and I update their location to the mapped network drive of my NAS photos. I make sure to create smart previews of the files during import, so I can still view, and edit, my archived photos when I’m away from home.

Are you editing the photos before you're sharing them all?

I think I need to clarify something here. I was told that “editing” is when you take a group of pictures, and you narrow it down to the better subset of pictures. And, the "processing" is when you take that picture, and you change how it looks. I'll initially edit my shots down to a group that I really like, and at times edit that number down even further to just the cream of the crop. After I find the best images, I'll do my main processing in Lightroom. If I want to do any heavy lifting, then I’ll take it into Photoshop.

Are you labeling your photos when you do that?

When I import them, I keyword them based on what's in the picture. I always label the year, city, and state in which I took the photos, and then add other keywords based on what was common between all of them. When I have an image I’m going to share, I’ll add more keywords based on that particular image, and not the entire set of imported images.

So today, half the day is going to be hot air balloons, and half is going to be city. Will you separate those?

Probably for today, I'll do one import with the hot air balloon stuff, and add all those keywords, and put them in one folder, and then do the same thing with the other photos of the city. Give them keywords, and put them into another folder.

Do you find that you're coming back to these keywords often?

Yeah, definitely. I went to Rickett's Glen this past weekend, and instead of looking through folders of past times that I’ve been there, I can just do a quick search, and pull all those pictures up. I also use the flags to mark my favorites. I need to start to use the smart collections more, because they could automate this workflow even more so. These keywords are even pushed when I publish the photos to SmugMug, Flickr, or elsewhere.

SmugMug...are you making money off of that, or is it just a good portfolio website?

1 Fiddlehead SmugMug...are you making money off of that or is it just a good portfolio website?

Initially, I thought it would be a great outlet for me to do some sales, but I came to realize, that for someone to buy a picture, they usually need to have a personal attachment to it. If it's a picture of your daughter getting married, or your kids playing at the ball field, there's a lot more of a desire to have a picture like that, as opposed to a landscape of a mountain, or a bridge. Mainly, I've been using it to showcase my work, but I've had some sales, so that's been a nice surprise here and there. Also, for any client or event work, I can add a password protected gallery for their privacy.

Do you like shooting events?

It's not my favorite. I’d definitely rather be out hiking somewhere trying to find the good light, than shooting an event, but I don't mind it.

What kind of nature shooting do you enjoy most?

I enjoy landscapes, and waterfalls, but I also enjoy going into a big city and getting the skyline, or the traffic zooming around at nighttime.

Those are some of my favorite shots of yours!

Yeah, we're in a pretty good spot here in Lancaster, because we can travel to New York, Philly, Baltimore, or even DC. We're located at such a close proximity to those locations, so it's easy to hit them up when time allows.

How do you find your spots?

1 adamportrait How do you find your spots?

I'd say there are a variety of ways that I do it. Some days, it'll just be me looking at pictures on social media. If I see a shot I really like, I'll find out where it's from. Then, I'll save it to Google Maps with a star. Other times, if I'm going on a trip, I'll go on Flickr’s website and use the feature to explore the world map. I’ll zoom into the area I’m interested in, then sort the search results by interesting instead of relevant. I've also looked at the photos, and street views, on Google Maps to find specific locations.

Flickr's a good research tool?

Flickr's great. You can search the map, but that limits your results to only those photos that have GPS coordinates. I've also found locations just by searching specific keywords, because not everyone adds GPS data to their photos.

What other social media are you on?

I’m on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr. I have a 500PX account, but I am not very active there. I used to be very active on Google+, but it's seemed to have lost its momentum. I’m on Twitter, but I basically just push everything from Instagram, so I'm not active there either. Instagram's been my top choice lately. I’m also on Snapchat. Some travel photographers maintain a daily stream of their adventures on that app, and I really enjoy it.

How does your family react to your photo excursions?

When I was married, I didn’t go on that many excursions, but since we've separated, it's given me that opportunity.

Doing that, is it all about the photos, or is there something else you get out of it?

1 tree Doing that is it all about the photos or is there something else you get out of it?

During the planning, it’s all about the photos...nailing down specific locations and times. Once I’m on the way, or actually at the spot, then I begin to enjoy the experience itself more. I like hiking, and being surrounded by nature, and there’s no describing the feeling you get out of that, but on the flip side, compare that to walking the streets of New York City. Every type of photography gives you a something different. So, it’s definitely about the photos, but the experiences have been just as great.

When did you make the switch from the original Sony to the camera you have now?

I replaced the NEX-5N with the full-frame Sony A7 in the beginning of 2014, and I bought a6300 in March of this year.

Are you happy with them?

Yeah, I am. When the A7 was released, it was the first mirrorless full-frame camera. All my lenses would work with it, so I figured it was a logical upgrade for me. I was happy with the body, and got a few more lenses. A few other bodies came out since then, and then they announced the a6300. I got that the day it was released, and it’s been great. I’m very impressed with the autofocus abilities, as well as the high ISO performance.

And you'll take that over a full-frame?

Yeah. Well, with some of my lenses, it's nice having the crop body. When I use my 200mm lens on the full-frame, that's what I'm getting...200mm. But, when I use it on the crop body, I'm getting 300mm. It gives me a little longer reach.

What else do you notice regarding the difference between full-frame and cropped body?

1 wall What else do you notice regarding the difference between full-frame and cropped body?

I think it's just the field of view really. I’ve got a wide angle lens that I was using on my A7, but it almost seemed a little too wide. However, when I put it on the crop body, it changed the 10-18mm to 15-27mm. It's a big difference, and I tend to like the wide angle better on the crop body. I also like my 70-100 better on the crop body. They're the same megapixel, so I’m not losing any image size.

You also get a smaller camera?

Yeah, the crop body is smaller than the full-frame, but not dramatically.

Does it ever bother you to have a Sony in a Nikon-Canon world?

No, I’m fine with it. If my camera is big, or small, it doesn't matter to me, as long as it’s capable of capturing the photos that I want it to. I know many photographers have made the switch, but I’ve been invested with them since day one. Maybe if I spent a ton of money on Nikon, or Canon, I'd be more against Sony, but they already have my money, and their products have treated me well.

What other features do you like about your new 6300?

I really like the eye auto focus. I use back-button focus, and have one set for regular focus, and another for eyes.

What do you have on your bucket list for images that you're looking for?

It's hard to start! My Google Maps is covered in stars.

How many stars do you have?

Oh, gosh...hundreds!

(interview continued below)

1 beach

How far does that span?

I have them all over the globe, but I doubt I'll ever get to some of them.

Where are some that you know you'll get to soon?

I'm going to New York in a couple of weeks, so I’ve been planning that. Also, I’m hoping to get some shooting in during a trip to Baltimore soon.

Is it ever hard to break free from what you're there for? Do people ever get annoyed when you stop to get a shot? Or, do you have the freedom to explore and shoot on your own?

When I was down on the Florida trip, I came across that. I didn’t want to be a bother to the group by staying a few steps behind to take a picture of something. I wanted to make sure I kept the family happy, as well as take pictures while I could. Other times, when we would go to the beach as a family, I'd sneak in a sunrise shoot, and be back having a second cup of coffee before anyone even woke up. I try to make the most of my time, but my sleep schedule always receives the short end of the stick with that deal.

What gives you the best feedback from your photos?

I feel like different outlets give me different feedback. I'll share a photo to Facebook, and my family and friends will like it, and comment that it’s great. But, what does that really tell me? I think, ultimately, having another photographer respect your work is a lot more gratifying than twenty of your closest friends liking it.

What's your favorite lens to shoot with?

I would say my wide angle lens.

Is that because you lean towards landscapes?

Probably. I really enjoy that it lets you get so much into the frame.

Do you find if you could change lenses more easily, that you would do it?

1 balloon Do you find if you could change lenses more easily that you would do it?

Yeah. I’ll carry around my lenses, and switch them if needed, but having two bodies has given me more flexibility. Before the balloon trip, I jotted down all the focal lengths of my lenses for full-frame, and the focal length on my cropped body. I wanted to narrow down which lenses would make sense to use on each. I used the 70-200 on the cropped body, and mainly the 28-70mm kit lens on my full frame. So, I effectively had 28-70 and 105-300. I also brought my wide angle in my pocket and used that a few times. I doubt a modern auto focus Canon, or Nikon, lens could do that!

Why are you thinking about what the focal length is going to be?

If we're going to be up in this hot air balloon, most stuff's going to be far away, so I want to be able to have a zoom lens to pick out a cool farm from far away, or some horses in a pasture, or something. Then, I'm also thinking about when we were first going up, with all the trees around us, and the balloon going up. I couldn't get the entire balloon in the frame, so having that wide angle there helps if that's what I’m going for.

If you had to go to one camera, and one lens, what would you have chosen?

For the balloon trip, I probably would have gone with the A7 with the kit lens to tell you the truth. Like I said earlier, sometimes the wide is too wide, and sometimes the zoom is too much, so that middle ground is nice. If I had the 24-70, that would be my lens of choice. That's the next one I am eyeing up.

Do you plan on branching out from what you're doing with Millersville? Do you enjoy doing it?

The gig with Millersville is nice, and I get a little income from that, but I already have two other jobs. If the right opportunity presented itself, I would gladly take it, but at this point, I don’t see myself knocking down doors to get my name out. There are so many photographers these days, and to make yourself stand out from them is really hard. I think that also starts to take the fun out of it.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Going to New York in a couple of weeks, and I have a trip to the beach planned this summer. I might also go down to Baltimore and visit a friend. Other than that, probably some shots of my dog in the back yard!

1 boat
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