Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guest Blog #2 - Zach Ancell

Welcome back to the blog! Hopefully you stopped by today for our second ever guest blogger here at Tim Darby Photography! Today we welcome a very dynamic and talented photographer currently based in Oregon - Zach Ancell. To say Zach is an up and coming photographer really doesn't do his work justice. The photographs that he has produced whether they are landscapes or "sportraits" over the past few months make him look like he's been a pro for 10 years. He has taken the photography learning curve, laughed in it's face, put some lights around it, photographed it, and made photography look easy. That's when you know you are dealing with some serious talent and I am honored to have him here today! Thanks for joining us Zach and I can't wait to read what you have to share with us today. Enough of that, on to the interview...

Hi Zach!

The Basics:

Who are you and why are you here?

My name is Zach Ancell and I guess I’m here to tell you all a little more about myself, give you a better idea of who I am as a photographer and the creative process that I go through to create images. But, besides that I’m not sure why Tim would give me an opportunity to bore you all on his blog. I’ll try to do my best to keep this a little entertaining :)

Oh and also, I have to apologize for the horrible picture. I don't have any pictures of me taking pictures that doesn't have the camera completely covering my face. I thought it would be a little more personable to have a photo where you could actually see me.

How do I know you?

You know me through photography. We haven’t actually ever formally met but you helped and supported me with a project I did this past summer and we’ve stayed in touch since. I’m hoping one of these days I’ll be able to make it down there and we can actually meet in person.

Where are you from?

Originally, I grew up south of Denver, Colorado for my entire life. Now, I live in Eugene, Oregon and trying to graduate college and figure out where I’ll be living next.

Something or some things that most people don’t know about you?

I wanted to be a professional figure skater growing up… No, just kidding. I received a scholarship to run Track at the U of O and running has always been a huge part of my life. I think that’s something that a lot of people know about me (at least the people who grew up with me) but I feel like now as I’m transitioning to my life as a photographer that might not be something anyone would know or believe about me.

Where do you go to school?

I go to school at the University of Oregon and am only a few months away from graduating.

One of the things we have in common is your road trip. I drove from Jacksonville, Florida to Seattle, Washington and took pictures the whole way. Tell me about your trip and show us some shots from it!

Well, my road trip wasn’t quite as adventurous as yours but I spent 20 days driving 5000 miles across the western United States. I drove from Oregon, down to California, to Arizona, Utah, and then stopped in Colorado. Then went to Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and then back home in Oregon. Part of the trip was documenting my travels through photography and I had the help of some people who sponsored the trip by donating some money. I then in return sent prints off to all the people. It was a great opportunity for me to test my photography a little bit, see some places I’ve never seen before and have some fun on the road with my dog.

On the Water | HDR

Horseshoe Bend  |  HDR

Moulton Barn  |  HDR

Palouse Falls  |  HDR

Any future roadtrip plans?

Not right now. My goal is to start doing some international travel and documenting those trips though photography as well. Right now, I’m more worried about what I’m going to be doing for a living than what I’m going to do to avoid making a living!

Are you going to school to become a photographer?

Nope. Unfortunately, I picked up photography a little bit too late. I started as a business major and just hated accounting more than anything. I decided to switch to Math and well that’s where things got ugly. I’m still getting my degree in Math but I have no desire to pursue any profession involving my major (i.e. being a math teacher). I’m all self taught and haven’t taken a single class on photography unless you consider my high school photo class which all I can remember from that is the rule of thirds.

How long have you been shooting?

I’ve been shooting for about a year and a half now.

Why did you get into photography?

I got into photography as an escape from some problems that I was having in my personal life. It was a way for me to get out of my apartment and do something but still not have to be around people. It allowed me to look at the world around me in a completely different light and that’s exactly what I needed at the time. I had no idea then that photography would become one of the most important aspects of my life.

What do you shoot most? What kind of photographer are you? Feel free to add photographic evidence as you see fit!

I mainly shoot athletes but I’m not a sports photographer. I consider myself a Sportrait/Portrait Photographer but I don’t want to limit myself to that. In my ideal world, I wouldn’t ever have to work with a model and I could just shoot famous athletes all day long. But, in reality, I know that to pay the bills sometimes (a lot of the time) you have to do things you don’t necessarily want to do. I’m still experimenting and looking for new avenues to go down. The only reason I started shooting portraits was because my friend suggested trying something new. I guess I owe him a big thanks. Thanks Craig!

How often do you shoot?

Right now, I haven’t shot a photo in about a month. School makes it difficult at times to get out and shoot but rainy weather is the best for the camera gear. I’m also transitioning from doing all my photo shoots for free to build up my portfolio to charging and that turns people away at first. But, people contact me all the time about doing photo shoots and I already have some lined up for the spring.

Show me your top 3 favorite photos of all time and explain to us why you like them so much:

Ashton: West Grandstands

Hole in the Wall


I guess I chose these three photos because it encompasses the various aspects of photography that I have dabbled in up to this point.

The first is one of my Sportraits and by far one of my favorites. The athlete is a former teammate of mine and actually just broke the Indoor World Record for the Heptathlon. I feel like the photo captures his passion and aggression for the sport. It's also a photo that Joel Grimes looked at when I was at his workshop and said he really like. To say the least, that was a big confidence booster.

The second, is one of my landscape shots from my road trip this past summer. It's from the Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona. I think the huge part of this photo that makes it stand out to me is how much fun I had going down and taking pictures there. It was definitely one of my favorite places along the trip.

The last, is one of my attempts at fashion photography. I wouldn't say that this is something I see myself doing a ton of in the future but I don't want to limit myself to just shooting athletes. I tried to combine the aspects of a traditional fashion portrait along with my usual processing style to come up with a much darker and dramatic beauty portrait.

Who's photography inspires you?

You are going to be hearing this name from me a lot, Joel Grimes. I saw one of his images when I was first starting out and I couldn’t believe how amazing it looked. That got me into doing HDR photography and eventually doing these dramatic portraits. I still don’t consider my style my own but I hope that I can work with what I’ve learned from Joel and spin off that and create something of my own. I’ve made steps away from copying Joel’s processing techniques but it’ll take a while and possibly forever to create my own style.

What have you not yet photographed that you really want to shoot soon?

I’d really like to dabble in Travel Photography and really get some great photos of different cultures. I’ve never been outside of the United States and it’s always been a dream of mine to travel all over the world. If any of you can get me a job where I can travel and take pictures let me know!

Most challenging thing about the photography you do?

Post processing. There isn’t any filter or plug in that I can just apply to an image and it’s done. Most images I can get done in about an hour or so. Some take a little bit longer and I’ve even done an image that took 10 hours to complete. Every image is different and that’s what makes the post production process difficult. But, at the same time, that’s my favorite part about the job. That I have creative control of how the image is going to turn out. And as long as I don’t have too strict guidelines, the images turn out how I want them to.

Best feeling in the world as a photographer?

Knowing that the client is happy with what you produced. Sometimes there’s a struggle between the creative vision between two parties and when everything comes together and the final product is above and beyond what they expected, that’s the greatest feeling.

How do you learn while you shoot?

I’m not going to lie, I’m not sure if I really learn while I shoot and if I do it’s nothing compared to what I learn after a shoot. That’s the point where I can go back, look through my photos and see what I like and don’t like about the images I took. Here’s an example:

I took a photo of a girl I knew from when I was on the track team and we were working late at night. I used portable strobes so no modeling light. I just let my camera keep hunting and when I looked at the back of my camera, the shot looked in focus but when I took it home it was out of focus. I still processed it and it’s actually become one of my most popular images which makes it even more disheartening to not have it sharp and crisp… But, what I did learn is that I should always bring a flashlight along to help the camera focus when its dark outside.

I love your sports portraits. It must be difficult to capture the essence and excitement of sports in a portrait form. How do you do it?

Athletes are intense and dramatic by nature, I know because I used to be one. So, my sportraits really bring out that drama that every athlete has inside of him/her. But, even more than that, I think I bring in a knowledge of how an athlete should look if they are doing a posed action shot. It’s basically applying the knowledge I had as an athlete and applying it to my photography. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing but I’m really good at getting people to pose angry (even the ones who say they are never angry).

I have heard and seen that you have had some of these portraits published and in large form. Tell us about that.

I just finished a project with the University of Oregon Track and Field team and they are using my photos to promote the 2010 Track and Field season, as well as, the NCAA Championships that are hosted here this year. They have already made a couple of banners and I think they are going to be making billboards and posters. It’s pretty surreal seeing my photos all over town.

Lets see some more of your work!

Cassie #3

Taylor #2



Ashton Eaton

The Equipment:

Nikon/Canon/Something else?!?!?

My Dad bought me my first camera a little bit over a year ago (a little D60) and since then, I’ve stuck with that I know. About four months later, I moved up to a Nikon D300 and that’s been my camera since. I don’t really think Nikon or Canon really have much up on one another. They’ll always be constantly one-upping each other which is good for them and good for all us photographers. Shoot what you know and take out as much confusion as possible.

Are you a gear hound? What's on your photo gear wish list?

It’s hard not to be a gear hound when you are trying to build up your collection. About 9 months ago I bought a 17-55mm and that was the best lens I have/had and it’s the only one I use anymore. You can really tell a big difference between good and bad glass. A couple weeks ago, I sold off all of my lenses except my 17-55mm and my D300. I’m looking to upgrade to either the D700 or D3s. If things go as planned, I’ll have a new camera by the end of the month, I’m just not sure which model it will be. If It’s the D3s, I’ll get the 24-70mm and suck it up with one lens for a while. If I get the D700, then I’ll probably get the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm vr ii. It’s all up in the air right now, I just need to make a decision and live with it.

What is your favorite piece of photography gear other than your camera?

My computer. As far as my style goes, it’s highly dependent on the lighting and post processing. It may not appeal to a lot of photographers who take a photojournalist approach but I really enjoy sitting down at my computer and playing around with an image. To some I may not be a “Photographer” but that’s fine. If I can’t be defined as a photographer, I’m even happier being called an artist.

Like the golf challenge where you're only allowed to use one club in your bag, if you could only use one lens for a shoot which one would it be and why?

If I’m using my Nikon D300 it has my 17-55mm f/2.8 DX and if I’m using a FX camera like the D3s, I’m using the 24-70mm f/2.8. Same focal length but one is on the cropped sensor and the other isn’t. It’s really the perfect range for me because I really like to be up close when doing my portraits. I don’t need much reach and like the distortion that wide angle shots create.

Oh and I know you were wondering, in the golf challenge, I’d use my 5-iron.

Favorite specialty lens or effect?

I had a Lensbaby Composer and just got rid of it. It was a fun lens but it just wasn’t for me. I just have to say that the effect that I use for my Portraits/Sportraits is really fun and what I love to do. It’s especially fun on athletes because it brings out the intensity that I think a lot of athletes have inside of them.

How do you light? Au naturale? Artificial light? On camera or off? Big strobes?

I use a three light technique I learned from Joel Grimes (the master at the style that I try to do). It works using two side lights on the subject and one head on. Once I get more comfortable with lights and buy a couple more, I’ll try mixing things up and maybe come up with my own lighting setup that somebody someday will say, I’m using the lighting setup that I learned from Zach Ancell.

What digital darkroom software do you use? Any other software important in your work flow?

I always import my images into Lightroom 2 and do some small and minor tweeks to the images before I go into the full-blown post processing in Photoshop CS4. Most of the time, that’s all I use. However, if I’m going to drop a subject into a background or just doing a landscape shot, I use Photomatix to make my HDR images. I’ve heard it’s the best and it’s the only program I’ve ever used. They keep on making the program better and I’ll stick with them for a long time.

What digital darkroom tools, plug ins or presets do you use the most?

I have the NIk complete collection as well as the onOne Plug in Suite and they are pretty amazing. I can do a lot of cool things with both of them but I really love the Holga filter in the onOne collection. It’s really fun but I haven’t used it on many of my photos in a long time.

War Stories:

Most memorable project or shoot you've been involved with?

Most memorable shoot had to be the one I did with the U of O track team. It was really a full circle kind of thing. My freshman year, I came in hoping to be on one of those billboards or banners around campus and now I’m the person who’s shooting them. It was a great opportunity to work with a bunch of people I know and combine two of my biggest passions in life. Running and Photography.

Have you ever had any disasters while shooting? Lose or have equipment break? What happened?

Thankfully, the worst thing I’ve ever had happen is losing a couple lens caps. It’s a pain in the butt to replace them because they are $20 but I’d rather lose a lens cap than drop a nice 2.8 lens that costs over a thousand. There’s always the aftermath where you look through the photos and say I wish I shot this that way, or I wish I lighted this one differently but I’m always going to be my toughest critic and I know that means I’m always going to be growing as a photographer.


If you could shoot with any professional photographer dead or alive who would it be and why?

I would like to say Joel Grimes but I feel like I’ve already done that. I went to his workshop in Vancouver, Washington and I got a couple chances just to sit down and talk with him one-on-one. Imagine sitting down with your hero and getting a chance to pick their brain. It’s really a surreal experience. He even looked at a couple of my photographs and was pretty impressed. We still keep in touch and that’ll always be one of those moments that will impact the rest of my life.

But, besides shooting with Joel, I think it would be great to shoot with Chase Jarvis. I think he has a fresh approach and a willingness to help others. I think I could learn a lot from him and he seems like a great guy. I’m not too far outside of Seattle, so maybe I’ll see if I can work something out to shoot with him someday.

Name a photographer you would like to take a portrait of?

I came into photography pretty late in life, so my knowledge of photographers isn’t some big huge list. In fact, Ansel Adams was pretty much the only photographer I knew about growing up. But, I think it would be great (sorry for dropping the Joel bomb again) to shoot Joel using his style. It would be great to do some dramatic photoshoot and then drop him into some parking garage background or gritty downtown scene. I think he’d like that :)

Where would be your dream shoot?

Even though I love what I’m doing now, I’d love to do a small world tour and take a bunch of pictures all over the world. If I had to stay here, I’d love to work with some of the bigger name athletes and it doesn’t really matter where I was working.

If not a photographer or student, I would have liked to be…

Not sure. I was never a person growing up who said, I want to be a doctor or lawyer. In fact, I didn’t even say I wanted to be a photographer. I always wanted to be an athlete so I almost think the photographer is plan B of what I wanted to be in my ideal world.

First thing you would do if you found $10 million dollars?

Make sure I wasn’t getting punked. After that, I’d divvy it up between my family and other important people in my life as well as donate some to charity: water. I know that sounds dumb, but that’s really what I’d do. Then I’d do some traveling and try to find some way to invest a good portion of my share. But of course, I would like to clean up my photography wish list!

If you could be any other kind of photographer what kind would you be?

I think I’m still at a point in my photography career where I haven’t explored all of my options. In all honesty, I’ve been shooting portraits for only about 5 months so I’m still trying to get the hang of it. I’d love to try out some Travel Photography stuff. My dream has always been to travel and once again I think it would be a great way for me to combine a few of my passions. But, I’m really up for anything. I think I’m going to be shooting my sisters wedding in October (so that will be a first and something I thought I would never do). I’m just about exploring my options and seeing exactly what I want to spend the rest of my life shooting.

Movies, TV, Music, Books & Mags (oh my!):

Favorite movie?

Gladiator and the Bucket List

Favorite TV Show(s)?

Lost, The Office, Community, Survivor, The Biggest Loser

Photography publications you subscribe to?

Layers Magazine

Other Magazines you subscribe to or get on the newsstand:

National Geographic: Travelers

Best photography book you’ve read?

Vision Mongers or Within the Frame. David DuChemin’s books are great and he’s always coming out with new eBooks that I’ll pay the $5 for. But, I also think that the best photography book I’ve read will be the next one. I know it sounds cheesy but the next book I read I will learn more than I know now and that’s something that will always make me a better photographer.

Best non photography book you’ve read?

Illusions by Richard Bach. It’s a great book and you can probably read it in an afternoon. If you don’t want to read the whole book, just read the little story the Messiah tells at the beginning. It’s one of the best metaphors for life and something that I’ll always live by.

What’s next in your book queue?

Probably a math textbook unfortunately. I have a few books that I’m trying to get through but it’s just to hard to fit them in. I really want to finish Siddhartha and then read a couple books on marketing for myself.

Favorite kind of music?

Alternative. My girlfriend jokes that the only music I like is whiney boy bands but I of course I have to disagree a little. But, I pretty much can tolerate any type of music but it just really depends on what kind of mood I’m in.

Favorite musician or group right now?

The Killers. I went to a concert with my family at Red Rocks this past summer and it was the best concert I’ve ever been to. The next day I headed out on my way back to Oregon on my road trip and I listened to 10 straight hours of the Killers. Needless to say, the Killers remind me of a lot of driving!

What's playing on your iTunes right now?

Well, nothings playing right now so I’ll just post my favorite song: Lose you by Pete Yorn

Websites, Blogs, Tweets & Tips:

Have any favorite websites or blogs that you check regularly?

Besides yours? Okay, if I must (I’m just going to name drop and you can all go check them out if you want): Joel Grimes, Joey L, Chase Jarvis, Doug Levy, Joe McNally, Scott Kelby, Robert Seale, Strobist and David DuChemin. If you just type there names into google, you’ll find their websites.

Belong to any professional photography associations/groups?

I belong to NAPP but I’m not really big on the whole association thing. NAPP is good because I pay it off in shipping discounts on B&H and I’m able to show my photography to some people who are more into the photoshop and post processing effects.

How do you market yourself and your work?

A lot of the work I receive is through word of mouth and I’ve made quite a name for myself in the athletic department up here. A lot of the athletes have been contacting me to do photo shoots for them and that’s how I eventually landed my job with the Track and Field team.

Do you advertise?

That’s my next step in this process. I’m still trying to figure out where I’m going to be living in 3 or 4 months so I haven’t made a huge marketing effort yet. Hopefully, I’ll be moving two hours north to Portland and can market myself to a good portion of Oregon and up into the Seattle area. As for now, I’m just trying to get a new website put together that’s a little cleaner than the one I have now.

Do you have a website or a blog? Hit me with some links!

At the moment, my website is I’m in the middle of transitioning over to a new website so eventually (and depending on when this gets posted) I’ll have a blog web address as well. I’m hoping none of you get a chance to see my old site and only get to see my brand new one.

I also just added a new blog site that doesn't have too much content yet but I'll start adding to it soon. Go check it out, it's at

Any must follow twitter accounts?

@TimDarby (that’s you!)

Is your website/blog a big part of you getting clients/meeting other photographers?

Websites will always be a huge part of getting clients and meeting other photographers. I always have people contacting me and it’s always through my website. That’s why I’m looking to move to a new site, use something more professional and something that looks less like a blog. I need a photo specific site and a blog specific site, not the unwanted love child of the two.

What is the best way to get more people to view/talk about your work?

Take good pictures and get people to talk about your photos by getting them to look at them. Put them on flickr, facebook and any other place you can think of. Send them out to art directors, modeling agencies and ad agencies. There are so many photos out there and you can’t wait around to be pursued, instead pursue everyone else and get your work out there.

The Future:

What goals do you have as a photographer?

I think my biggest goal is to make a living as a photographer. I figure, you only live once so what better than to do something you love as your career. I still feel like I have a lot of opportunities in the photography world that I want to experiment with and see where it takes me.

5 years from now I will be...

Hopefully either making or have made the transition from a regular 9 to 5 to a full fledged photography career.

10 years from now...

Hopefully starting a family and still living my dream as a photographer. I guess one of my answers to an earlier question could have been I’ve always wanted to be a Dad. I think my father had a huge impact on my life and I hope I can do the same for my children someday. Family has always been the most important thing in my life and I hope to be able to start one of my own.

#1 on your bucket list?

Hmm… Travel but then the question becomes where. Well, I think I can narrow it down to a few. France, India and SE Asia. If I could photograph anything in the world it would be Christ the Redeemer (even though I’m not religious) Statue in Brazil or Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I hope to someday make it to all of those places. Sorry, I’m really bad to narrowing things down to just one thing!

Wrapping things up:

Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?

I feel as if I’ve been really lucky with the progression of my photography. I had images published before I had been photographing for a year and just finished a job with a big name client all within 18 months of picking up a camera. I think I’ve taken the right progression of trying to learn as much as I can about photography but learning lessons from others and how to avoid the many pitfalls that there are. But, in all honesty, I’ve just been really really lucky and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Is there anything you are still learning either in your profession or in life?

I’ve come to a conclusion that the day that we stop learning is the day we die, in our professions and in our lives. Life is about growing and changing and the minute you stop and are content to not learn anything else is when everything falls apart. So, no matter what I’m doing, I’ll always try to be learning more and trying to get better.

As for specifics, I’m still trying to grasp the whole idea of marketing and advertising. It’s not an exact science and that’s the problem with us math types. I want there to be some equation where A is marketing B is my photography and C equals success. But, life’s never as simple as A+B=C

Which five words or phrases would your friends likely use to describe you?

Funny, lazy,

Any advice for fellow photographers that we haven't already discussed?

Learn as much as you can. Follow a person’s photography that interests you. Don’t follow the crowd or do something that others want you to do. The biggest mistake you can make in your life is trying to make others happy at the expense of your own. Work hard and even if people don’t accept what you do, it doesn’t matter. As long as you’re happy, that’s what’s going to really impact you in the long run.

I’m a person who hates advice about how to live my life because it seems pointless to me. When it comes down to it, people can give you the best advice in the world but you are the one who has to live with the consequences of your choices. So do whatever will make you the happiest and don’t worry about anyone else.

(There’s some photography and life advice on the house!)

Who could you not live without?

The obvious answer is my family, I’ve grown to be pretty fond of them over the years and I think I’ll stick with them. My Mom, Dad, Sister and her soon to be husband have had a huge impact on my life and I’m not sure they’ll ever know how much I appreciate all of them. But, there’s no way I could leave out the love of my life Chelsey. Love has always played a huge role in my life and she makes every day in my life better.

What is your biggest fear in life?

Not living my life and failing my high expectations for myself. I’ve always expected a lot more out of myself than anyone else probably does and it’s been a blessing and a curse. It’s always hard to expect yourself to do great because when you fail, it’s devastating. But, it’s given me the drive to work hard at every single thing I do and made me successful in many aspects in my life.

I’ve learned the most from…

My Dad. Every time I talk to him on the phone I feel like I’m talking to Buddha or some ancient philosopher. He has a way of putting everything in perspective in my life and it’s something that I need on a daily basis.

Well that wraps things up here. I hope you have enjoyed reading this guest blog as I have. Big thanks to Zach for taking the time to be "interviewed" and thanks for sharing some of your thoughts and your amazing work! If you haven't already be sure to check out Zach's web page and his blog where you can find even more.

Thanks for stopping by today and be sure to check in tomorrow for Friday's post!

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