Stephen “Schaf” Schafer ( http://www.schafphoto.com) has been photographing and teaching in Southern California since 1989, and has done it all in his 30+ year career. After re-imagining his commercial advertising photography studio in 2007 to focus on his love of architecture and his passion for historic preservation, he now specializes on historic built environment documentation: photography of remarkable homes, landmark buildings, built technology and cultural landscapes for inclusion in the Library of Congress. People actually pay him to crisscross America documenting significant places for museums, books, magazines and nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. His photographic technique is a hybrid of digital cameras and analog large format technical cameras shooting 4×5 and 5×7 inch film. In 2021 he co-authored the best-selling book, Preserving Los Angeles, with Ken Bernstein and wrote the tongue-in-cheek book, Don’t Shoot – 66 reasons Not to Become a Photographer, in 2016.
LACP Interviews Stephen Schafer
LACP asks Stephen Schafer ten questions about his background, career in and beliefs about photography.
Los Angeles Center of Photography: What kind of photographer are you?
Stephen Schafer: The good kind, I wear a white hat. Seriously I am an architectural photographer now. In the last 25+ years I have also been a wedding photographer, portrait photographer, had a product photography studio, done aerial photography, and I have always been an art photographer doing traditional darkroom based black and white work.
LACP: How long have you been shooting?
SS: I have been photographing for clients (whether brides or fortune 500 companies) since 1987.
LACP: Where did you get your training?
SS: Two years at Brooks Institute of Photography, a stint at art school at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, plus frequent workshops, books and a whole lot of mistakes and OTJ (on the job training).
LACP: When did you know you wanted to devote your life to photography?
SS: At 17.
LACP: Did you ever come close to giving up?
SB: Many times. I’d get bored with whatever I was doing when the creative part of the work got to be work. I was fortunate enough to be able to redefine my work and reinvent myself from wedding/portrait > to studio > to architecture so that I remained inspired and challenged.
LACP: Have you sacrificed anything by being a photographer?
SS: Fame and fortune.
LACP: What have you gained by being a photographer?
SS: Being a photographer has taken me around the world and doing art has opened my eyes to things and concepts I would never have experienced or thought about. I have gained happiness, knowledge and enough money to make a living, what more could you ask for?
LACP: What classes do you teach at LACP?
SS: I’ve been teaching at LACP for a long time. I used to teach the infrared film photography classes regularly from 2000 to 2008, and also lighting, editorial, and art workshops. Currently I teach “Light Anything, Anywhere, Anytime” as well as photo book and large format photography classes.
LACP: What do you love most about teaching?
SS: It’s reverse mentoring. I learn as much from the interactions with other photographers as I hope they learn from me.
LACP: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making a career in photography?
SS: You have to give it 202% otherwise the ones who do will eat your lunch.