Words by Sheri Baer
Colorful boats perfectly reflected along a canal in Burano, Italy. Tannery workers processing leather in dye pits in Fez, Morocco. A pair of Gentoo penguins squawking in Antarctica. Each image teleports you to a distinct, far-off place, prompting curiosity and careful study.
“For me, photography is really a treasure hunt,” remarks Bill Scull, a Los Altos tech executive who successfully merges art with a lifelong passion for travel. “I love trying to capture images that tell the whole story in one image—about a culture, about a person, about a scene.”
In Bill’s case, it’s a creative quest that’s taken him all over the planet—nearly 100 countries to date—from Cuba to Croatia, Ghana to the Galapagos Islands, Patagonia to the South Pacific. Originally from the East Coast (with a childhood that included extended stays in the Marshall Islands), Bill first embraced photography as an engineering major at MIT. “I needed a creative outlet to balance out the highly intense engineering curriculum,” he recalls. “I love the act of photography because it causes me to be very tuned into my environment.”
Stanford Business School brought Bill west and the “spectacularly better weather” and business culture kept him here. In 1984, he settled with his family in Los Altos, eventually pivoting from a career in tech marketing and strategy into executive coaching, which includes mentoring social entrepreneurs and business founders in Africa and South Asia.
Balancing family and career with excursions, travel lectures and commercial assignments, Bill continues to click away. As to what catches his eye, what triggers the snap of the shutter? “A face could be amazing or a reflection. There’s the way colors work. I’m very attracted to human artifacts, human clutter,” he says. “Clothes on the line, shoes at the doorstep, coats on the rack, pots and pans in the kitchen.”
That shared human experience is the basis for connection, he explains. And the act of travel—engaging with different places and cultures—is what makes headlines from distant parts of the world feel less abstract. “When you’ve been there, it’s even more personal,” Bill points out. “The reason I like to take pictures in unfamiliar cultures is that it’s such a discovery for me. If you pay attention and are quick, you can capture those magical moments, those perfect moments—and pass along what it is that was there.”
Bill’s Travel Photo Tips
- Always be looking for shots. When you really look around, you’ll notice things consciously and subconsciously that tickle your imagination: shapes, lighting, leading lines, shadows, reflections, colors, people, markets, street vendors. Experiment!
- Tell a story. Use your photos to tell a story about the place and people you are visiting. Identify what is unique about their lives and create images that capture that sense of place.
- Ask permission. Before capturing street portraits, ask permission. How would you feel if someone popped up in your supermarket and repeatedly snapped your picture?
- Plan ahead. Research your destination, read about its history and search for images. That will spark your imagination and inspire a shot list. Refer to the shot list as you plan your daily adventures.
- Take lots of pictures. The only way to improve is to take lots of photos. Take multiple shots of the same scene using different exposures, angles or framing—then choose the best to edit.
- Keep it simple. Less is more. Discern the primary subject and spend a few seconds just before you press the shutter to tidy up the framing, excluding distracting elements and including important ones. Make sure the space around the primary subject is balanced.
Elevate Art Menlo Park Exhibit
Walgreens Storefront • 643 Santa Cruz Avenue
A collection of Bill Scull’s photography curated to encourage passersby to stop and learn how engaging images are created. elevateartmp.org