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Evolving with my camera

- How an encounter with Nikon turned a local skateboarder
into an international pro photographer -

Photography has no finish line, no limitations

- How an encounter with photography through Nikon inspired Keith to expand his world -

A recent skateboarding photo taken by Keith Ladzinski

When Keith Ladzinski was a teenager, he lived and breathed skateboarding - to the point where he didn't really think about anything else. It was at the skate park that he was first introduced to the power of photography by a friend who was leaving town.

"I used to see him with a camera in his hand all the time, and I remember the two weeks before he left, I noticed him taking pictures not just of skateboarding, but more of his friends. And it dawned on me quickly: he's gathering memories - he's taking pictures so he can take these moments with him."

Soon after, with the help of his brother, he bought a camera of his own - a Nikon FM2 with a 50mm f/1.8 lens - and immediately started to notice how his view of the world changed.

"I started taking time to examine things that I normally would have taken for granted. That's what I like about it: you can go out and find a new beauty - in an otherwise beautiful scene or an ugly scene, you could still hunt down something that was interesting to look at."

Throughout most of his twenties, he developed his photography while working a day job, but eventually faced a "now-or-never" moment when he lost his job and had to decide whether to take the leap into photography full-time.

"I felt like I'd hit my ceiling at work, and that's not a nice feeling. Having aspirations, having a dream is important in life. So when we were told the news that our jobs were going away, it felt terrifying but it felt liberating. I knew without any hesitation that I was going to go for it as a photographer."

One of Keith's earliest skateboarding photos

Soon after, with the help of his brother, he bought a camera of his own - a Nikon FM2 with a 50mm f/1.8 lens - and immediately started to notice how his view of the world changed.

"I started taking time to examine things that I normally would have taken for granted. That's what I like about it: you can go out and find a new beauty - in an otherwise beautiful scene or an ugly scene, you could still hunt down something that was interesting to look at."

Throughout most of his twenties, he developed his photography while working a day job, but eventually faced a "now-or-never" moment when he lost his job and had to decide whether to take the leap into photography full-time.

"I felt like I'd hit my ceiling at work, and that's not a nice feeling. Having aspirations, having a dream is important in life. So when we were told the news that our jobs were going away, it felt terrifying but it felt liberating. I knew without any hesitation that I was going to go for it as a photographer."

A Colorado landscape, the first photo Keith had published in a magazine, from his early days as a photographer

Encouragement, criticism, opportunity

- Personal encounters that led to growth as a photographer -

Keith Ladzinski credits much of his work ethic to his parents. It was his father that introduced him to Nikon, taught him techniques like slow shutter shots that helped open up the world of photography to him even more, and supported him as it blossomed from a hobby into a career.

"He would give me these gentle critiques, like, 'I really like the light in this. Have you considered...' in this really fatherly way."
However, a very different sort of encouragement came from an unexpected place.

"I was working at a manufacturing facility and there was a guy there who would sit with me and look at my pictures. I remember there was this picture of a sunrise I was really happy with, and he was looking at it and said, 'Man, that's a real waste of a sunrise!' He'd join me every day and never say anything nice!"

This curious co-worker turned out to be a former photography instructor, and kept up his critiques. He pointed out what Keith gradually realized were important and valid problems with his work, and at the same time drove him to create an image that, in Keith's words, "shuts this guy up!"

"One time, I went to this spot in this very beautiful Colorado mountain range. It was fall, so all the colors were yellow. It was cloudy, but I got in and waited, hoping they would lift. Eventually they did and this beautiful scene unfolded. So next Monday, I'm back at work and this guy looks at my pictures. When it gets to that mountain scene, it's the first time he said anything nice to me. He held it up to hand it back to me and he said, 'This is the kind of picture people wait a lifetime for.'"

A third important person in Keith's story is Nikon ambassador Dave Black. Keith first reached out to him with the hope of becoming an assistant, but in the end Dave proved to be even more valuable as a friend and mentor, going out shooting rock climbing and other subjects of interest together.

"He was a wealth of wonderful information, encouraging me and introducing me to people. In the beginning of 2006, he helped get me a job for The New York Times photographing climbers on an ice wall. It ended up on the front page and that changed my career."

More than that, though, what makes Dave an ongoing inspiration to Keith is his endless creative energy. It's what keeps him young and his work vibrant, through constantly challenging his limits and reaching for something greater.
Keith might have been guided to a different world if he had not been supported by these important people. And we might have not been able to see these pictures of his.

The Colorado landscape drew Keith's first praise from a tough-but-fair coworker
Keith's ice wall climbing picture that was features on the cover of The New York Times, helping to spread his name nationwide

Pushing boundaries with Nikon

- Reliability and innovation to bring back unseen images from the farthest corners of the planet -

Growth for Keith Ladzinski has come from constantly pushing his boundaries and taking on new assignments outside of his comfort zone. He has gone from skateboarding and rock climbing to catalogue shoots with art directors to documenting climate change for National Geographic. Expanding his own limits, however, often goes hand-in-hand with exploring new photographic equipment.

"In the early years, I think I owned 3 lenses - a 24mm f/2.8, a 50mm f/1.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8.

Later I got a fisheye, and then as I started getting different jobs that demanded a little bit more, I started picking up like a nice prime lens, like an 85mm f/1.4."
Those lenses opened up new creative possibilities, and as new jobs came in, it became necessary to acquire new lenses to meet those specific challenges. The evolution of cameras themselves - especially in terms of quality, low light capability and weight - has also had an impact on Keith's growth as a photographer.

"With every new generation of camera that comes out, I get excited. 'What's the new thing I can do now?' as the ceiling moved up. With low light, that means your day is longer.

We were driving out one morning in the Kalahari, easily an hour before sunrise, and there was this beautiful owl sitting on a tree. It was pretty dark, but I had a 600mm f/4 on the Z 6 with my low-light setting on."
"I got 4 shots at 1/30 of a second in high ISO off before it flew away - and it's sharp and looks awesome! And 3 years ago, I probably wouldn't have been able to make that picture."

Advances in video capability mean that Keith has internalized the need to capture some video footage wherever he goes, helped by the ease with which he can switch from one mode to the other.

Coupled with the longer shooting times modern cameras enable, this has massively increased how productive he can be during a single day's shoot.

Throughout all this time, Keith's photography has developed alongside the tools Nikon provides him, and the reason comes down to trust.

"I have faith in the cameras - that's the big thing - and that faith comes from using them all these years. I trust them. When I pick up a D5, I know the autofocus is going to be there for me. When I pick up a lens, I know it's going to be sharp. If I can handle the lens correctly, I know the tool's not going to let me down. Equipment gets put through the fire, but I know I can rely on it, and it's only gotten better."

An owl in the dark, taken handheld with the Z 6 using a 600mm lens, 1/30 sec. ss, high ISO
Keith holding the Z 6 for the video's rock climbing scene
A photo taken taken by Keith Ladzinski for a big-production commercial assignment
Keith Ladzinski keeps pushing his creative boundaries, and reliable Nikon gear allows him to keep pushing further. These photos are from his recent work documenting natural history.

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