Today, I’d like to share a very interesting photography interview with Stuart Litoff. Stuart is a native of New York and now lives in Washington D.C. When I first saw Stuart’s photography, I knew I wanted to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes. Well, I’d say I learned a lot through through what he shared. Stuart is quite active in the photography world and does a ton of traveling. His traveling inspires and motivates him to shoot and learn more. As you’ll see from the photos at the bottom of the interview, he’s very talented.
Stuart, thank you for taking the time to answer all of my questions. I truly appreciate it. You’re a very talented photographer and I’m looking forward to seeing much more of your work in the future.
If you’d like to learn more about Stuart, please take a look at his website here.
Can you please tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Who am I? I’m a 66 year old retired attorney who is a father of 2 sons. I spent my entire working career as an attorney for two different agencies in the United States government, and I retired in 2012. I am very close to my two grown sons who both live near me in downtown Washington DC.
Where do you call home?
I was born and raised on Long Island, New York and left there to go to college in upstate New York where I also lived for 2 years after graduating. I moved to western Massachusetts to attend law school and then moved to Washington DC in 1979 after law school graduation. I’ve been in DC since then and I consider it home.
When did you first realize that you wanted to get into photography and how long have you been involved with it?
I have enjoyed photography since I was a young child. My father like taking photos and making home movies when I was growing up in the in the 1950’s. When I was about 7 years old, my parents gave me a Kodak Brownie camera and I remember taking photos at some special events, like a family wedding and a summer vacation. As I grew up, photography would take a back seat to other interests and hobbies, but would pop up at different points in my life. I started to get serious about photography for the first time when I moved to Washington after law school. Being in a new city was sometimes lonely and I found that my camera was a nice companion as I discovered a new life in DC. After I got married and had my sons, I mainly took photos of them. As the years went by I would also take photos on family vacations.
I became much more serious about photography after I retired in 2012. I took a long vacation to New Zealand and Australia and sent emails describing my adventures to family and friends during the trip. I would include some photos that generated very positive feedback. After some encouragement from one of my cousins, I started my website and added my photos. I’ve been consumed by photography since then.
Are you self taught or formally taught?
I am somewhere in the middle, but closer to self-taught. When I came to Washington in 2012, I took a couple of photography courses with a local workshop but mainly learned on my own from reading photography books and magazines. After my New Zealand and Australia trip I started going to photography workshops in National Parks and going on international small-group photography tours, all led by professional photographers. I learn quite a bit during each workshop and trip.
From your website galleries, I noticed many skilled pictures of beautiful nature, flowers, animals and landscapes. What is it that draws you towards this type of photography?
Although I take the vast majority of my photos when I’m traveling, I don’t consider myself a “travel photographer.” Instead, I just shoot whatever captures my eye. It can be any subject, but I find I’m drawn to strong graphic elements, colors, contrasts, patterns, and reflections. I’ve also noticed that I tend to deconstruct a scene, focusing (so to speak) on a smaller aspect of a bigger scene — a window in a wall instead of the entire house, or overlapping slopes of a mountain instead of the bit scene of the mountain range.
What is your favorite part of heading out for a photo shoot?
For some reason, this is a hard question. As I mentioned before, I do most of my shooting when I’m traveling. Often when I arrive at a new place for the first time, I’m somewhat overwhelmed and it’s hard for me to find my photographic bearing. After a little while of just taking in the scene I’ll start shooting, often with poor results at first, but then I’ll start to get the feel of a place or something will catch my eye and I’ll get more comfortable and confident. I suppose that moment is my favorite part of a new shoot.
When photographing subjects, what do you find most challenging?
I find photographing people very challenging, whether it’s a portrait or part of a scene. It has only been very recently that I’ve tried my hand at this and I’m starting to get a little better, but I have a long way to go. Also, learning new techniques is very challenging, like panning moving subjects, or having to aim and shoot very quickly when doing street photography.
I also viewed some interesting artistic shots called “Zoomies” on your website. Do you think there’s a special kind of challenge and reward when it comes to this type of photography?
I don’t find these kinds of shots especially challenging because they’re almost just throw-away shots. I may be in a place where these isn’t enough light for a good handheld shot and I don’t have a tripod, so I’ll just play around with handheld long exposures, either zooming my lens or shaking my camera. I’ll try different shutter speeds at the same time and hope that something interesting turns out. I suppose the occasional good result is a little more rewarding in the sense that I didn’t necessarily think I would get a good shot under those challenging light conditions, so it’s a nice bonus when I do get a good one.
From reading your “About” page, I see that you’ve been involved with photography for much of your life, during different eras. Which was (or is) your favorite era and why? (Youth, college, retirement)
My favorite era for photography and life is now! I’m having a great retirement and photography is big part of it. I have the time, health, and resources to go to wonderful places to photograph and I can spend as much time as I want on post-processing without work, school, or family obligations taking me away from it. I’m truly blessed to have this time in my life.
How do you stay motivated to keep learning about photography?
I think travel is big part of my motivation. Going to new places is very exciting and stimulating. Being around other photographers on group-tour trips, whether they are the professional photographer group leaders or other photographers like myself is also very stimulating and I love seeing what attracts someone’s else’s photographic eye while we are all in the same place. It opens my mind to looking at things differently. I also watch instructional videos for post-processing to stay motivated about learning.
What advice do you have for somebody who would like to break into the field of photography?
I am careful about giving advice because I don’t need to make a living from my photography. I do it purely for enjoyment. I would, however, give the same advice I would give to most people trying to decide on what path to take — follow your passion and love what you do.
Do you have any preferred photography websites that you like to visit on a regular basis? If so, which ones?
I mainly use Luminar, by Skylum, for my post-processing so I go to their website and to Youtube to look for instructional videos for that software. I’ve learned a lot from Jim Nix’s instructional videos. I also go to various websites for small-group photography tours to see where I might want to travel in the future.
What type of camera(s) do you shoot with? What’s your favorite lens?
I shoot with a Fuji XT-2, and I take most of my photos with either the 16-55 f2.8 or the 50-140 f2.8 lens. I also use the 10-22 and the 100-400 zooms. Though I don’t take as many photos with those lenses, I probably get a higher percentage of shots I really like when I do use them.
What is your favorite photography accessory?
Obviously, a variety of lenses and tripod are all indispensable. Now that I’ve gotten older, carrying heavy gear around can be problematic. When I’m out for a shoot, I’ll pick and choose the lenses and accessories I think I’ll need, so I don’t have to carry everything, but when I am flying to a new place, carrying all my gear in a heavy backpack through the airport was getting very difficult. A friend and mentor advised me to get a Think Tank Airport Advantage rolling camera bag and it is great. It holds all my gear and I roll my way through the airport. It fits in the overhead bin or under a seat. I pack my smaller camera backpack in my checked luggage and switch the gear when I arrive at my hotel.
How important is Photoshop or other image editing software in your final images?
Post-processing has become more and more important to me and is a part of photography I enjoy very much. I currently use Lightroom as my digital asset manager and use it to make some initial basic adjustments to a photo. Then I use Luminar as a plug-in and do most of my work on the photo with that software.