An Interview with Zach Satko
Our first interview of 2017 is with Zach Satko, whose interest in photography started in college, and bloomed over the years as he traveled around the globe. Soon, Zach will delve into the world of newborn photography as he and his wife welcome a son. Read on to learn more about Zach!
You live in Mt. Joy now. Where did you grow up?
Pottstown...It’s a small town in Chester County. About 40 minutes outside of Philly.
When did you move towards Lancaster?
In 2004, when I graduated from high school. I went to Millersville, but my stepdad ended up getting a new job in the area around the same time, so it became permanent.
How long have you been taking pictures?
I’ve had interest for some time. I had a point and shoot camera during my freshman year in college right when digital photography was really taking off, but I promptly broke that. I didn’t pick up my first DSLR until after college, in 2009. So I would say roughly eight years at this point.
Do you recall the stuff you were shooting with your P&S before you broke it?
Pretty much whatever was at my disposal…campus life. I mainly focused on landscape, the swans and geese around the pond at Millersville.
I remember specifically, we had a pretty substantial snow storm during my freshman year, and I took the camera out to shoot, and got (at least what I thought at the time) some pretty great shots. It also had a pretty nice macro setting considering the technology available at the time. One of my favorite shots that I took was a close-up of some flowers.
I was hooked pretty fast, but after I broke it, I didn’t have the means to get a new camera, so I fell out of it for a few years.
These are some of my very first shots. Interesting to look back at them. (laughs)
What brought you back into photography?
I followed a friend at the time who posted a lot of shots on Flickr. I always loved seeing those shots, and was pretty inspired by them. Since I was out of school and working, I decided to save up and venture into the world of DSLRs. I ended up buying a Rebel XSi, which was Canon’s most entry-level camera at the time.
How did you start learning? What subjects were you shooting?
It was frustrating at first, because I didn’t initially seek help, or do research about how to shoot with a DSLR. So, the first few months my photos were horrible, or I stuck to auto settings and wondered why my images weren’t even as good as if they were taken on a point and shoot. Eventually, I started looking to online forums and YouTube to learn techniques. At that point, I was mainly interested in landscape and travel photography.
What were you doing with your photos afterwards?
Initially? Not much. It was during the earlier stages of social media. I had a Flickr account where I would post some shots, but otherwise, they would mainly just sit on the computer.
Were you editing them afterwards?
So, what led to the next step? What happened to push you to do more, to do better?
I was doing a lot of traveling, and wanted to be able to capture the places I was visiting. I figured, a lot of those places, I never knew if I'd make it back in my lifetime, so I wanted to capture them as best as possible.
Where were you traveling to?
Egypt was my first really big trip. Also, I went to California a few times, as well as Paris, and Italy just to name a few.
Egypt! Wow! So, as you're preparing for that trip, you're starting to take your camera more seriously?
Yeah. I think by that point I'd actually picked up my first wide angle lens, and even a new camera body. Seeing the Pyramids was always a dream, so I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing enough to capture them. Looking back, I definitely wish I'd been shooting more regularly to prepare.
By this time, you were shooting off of auto mode? Were you on complete manual?
Yeah, at least starting to get there. I think I would still sometimes toggle to auto for tougher lighting situations to see what settings the camera was using so I could guide myself in the right direction.
I imagine Egypt was amazing. Do you look back through those photos and critique yourself?
It was an amazing place. The culture is very different from the life we’re used to. We were lucky to be there only a few months prior to the Arab Spring while things were still a bit more stable. I do look through the shots every once in a while, and again, go back to the “why didn’t I practice more” mentality. But, all I can do is take that as a lesson learned and shoot as much as possible now.
Is there one shot you're dying to go back for? And you mentioned "we". Were you referencing your wife, Carolyn?
I think if I went back, it would be a completely different experience in what kind of shots I’d be able to get. I feel like I would do a lot more street photography, and portraits. I have a hard time approaching people locally, let alone in a culture that generally views Americans negatively, so I stuck mainly to landscapes. But, I think with the gear and experience I have now, those are the types of shots I would gravitate towards if I had the opportunity to go back.
And no, Carolyn and I had just started dating fairly recently when I went. I went with a friend/roommate at the time.
What did you do with your photos once you got back?
I shared them on Facebook, and with friends and family
When did you start to expand your sharing network?
Fairly recently in terms of how long I've been taking pictures. I started sharing regularly on instagram about two years ago, and more recently, I've gotten involved with the local photography scene. The Lancaster Instagram Group has been amazing. I've met some great people, seen amazing work, and gone on photo walks. It makes me wish I'd discovered this kind of community sooner.
How did you find the local photography scene?
I stumbled across one of the first photowalks someone organized to Shenks Ferry, and I met a few folks there. I also heard about the Lancastergram competition, and eventually, the Facebook group popped up. I'd also attended a few events via the Lancaster Photography Meetup group.
How did all of this affect your photography?
It's been amazing. It's forced me to get out and shoot more frequently, try new techniques, discover new spots I wasn't aware of before, and collaborate with a lot of great people. I also feel more inclined to share. It's such a nice group of people. The feedback is always positive, and/or great constructive criticism.
Did it change what you were shooting?
More recently, yes. I was a sworn landscape/cityscape/nature guy, but I’ve been influenced by others in the group recently who have some great street photography skills. I’ve also had the opportunity to shoot with a model, and be creative in terms of themes. It’s helped me discover a whole other side of photography.
Tell me about that. You recently introduced a friend of yours, Erin Lebo, to model for a small group, including myself. How did that all come about?
Erin is an old friend from my Millersville days. We also ended up working together over the past few years at a local ad agency. She's always had an awesome sense of style, and a very sweet personality. It kind of came about when Dave Berk and I stumbled across a "lady in the red dress" photo shoot in Philly during a photo walk a few months back. He commented that it would be great to have someone willing to model. I told him I may just have the person for the job.
And your wife has been coming to the shoots, but she is not a photographer?
Correct. She's modeled for me a bit in the past, but she's been amazing assisting with reflection, style, etc.
Speaking of Carolyn, the two of you are expecting a son in a few months. Do you think your photography will take a turn in that direction?
It might. I'm sure I'll look to capture things through his perspective. The hope is also there that he'll be interested in photography, and can join me on shoots in the future when he's old enough.
Have you started studying newborn photography?
Not at this point. It's not really something that interests me in general, but I think I have a grasp of the basics. Enough to get some shots in the first few weeks.
What equipment are you shooting with now?
Shooting on Canon. I've been shooting on a 5D Mark II for a few years, with a handful of lenses to cover my needs (50mm, 24mm & 70-200mm).
Are you shooting in RAW? Can you give us a glimpse into your editing process?
I am. I mainly use Camera Raw and Photoshop to edit. Unfortunately, I'm terrible at keeping up with edits, so I've always usually got a pretty big backlog of shots waiting to be combed through.
So, after a shoot, you'll browse through your shots, edit a handful, and move on? What about posting to social networks? Still on Flickr? What else?
Essentially. I like to edit the best shots right off the bat, and then come back to different groups of photos from different shoots at a later time with fresh eyes. I mostly share on Instagram, and Facebook, but I’ve been considering getting back into Flickr as well.
Do you post the same photos to Facebook and Instagram, or do you treat each a little differently?
I try to maintain parity between what I post, but sometimes it can be tough. Social media is extremely time-consuming if done on a consistent basis!
There must be some reward to it?
It’s a good means for feedback, good or bad. And truthfully, what would we do with our photos if there wasn’t social media to share? I think you recently posed this question to me - if social media wasn’t around in its current form, would we all be taking nearly as many photos? I think, potentially, it would have some impact, but maybe we would share in a different form. More prints, and hard copies.
Do you do much of that now? Prints?
Not very frequently. I printed a few canvases initially, and did some metal prints maybe two years ago. I’d like to eventually have a full wall in our house dedicated to prints, so maybe that’s a project for 2017.
Where do you see your photography going in 2017?
I hope to keep improving my skills, testing out some new techniques, and collaborating with more people. I'd like to do some more traveling as well, and also explore new places locally. I guess really diversifying myself is what it boils down to.